2014: The Year Of…?

As 2013 drew to a close it was time to reflect and look to the year ahead. 2013 was like a flash in the pan. I can’t believe it’s nearly over! As is the case every year, I have much to be thankful for.

 

When the year started out I did not know what would be in store. I did not know that I would start writing a blog for instance. I had wanted to start one for a very long time, but then I just decided to stop stalling, and just do it. The response has been interesting and at times surprising. For example, my most popular post by far has been my post giving tips on transitioning to natural hair. I have written about political issues (a little more than I expected to!), as well as diet and nutrition, but it seems that most people are particularly concerned about… hair. Well I am adamant that I will not turn into a natural hair blogger, but if it’s helping people, then hey I may as well add some more posts about hair this year.

 

2013 also turned out to be the year I learned how to ride a bike. Yes aged 26, with the help of my partner, I learned how to ride a bike. I can’t explain the mixed feelings I had when the bike finally stopped wobbling, and I was able make some distance. I felt happy to have conquered, but sad that I had missed out on such an exhilarating activity for so many years of my life. This year, I hope to become more confident on a bike, and I may even try to learn how to swim too while I’m at it!

 

I turned 27, and it truly feels like old age beckons. I have quite a granny personality as it is, but now that I’m getting older, it seems that my energy levels are dipping, and just want to curl up in bed half the time. As a result, my body is just not what it was back in 2012. However, this presents another challenge that I am ready to take up this year; getting my body back in shape!

 

All in all, 2013 produced some good memories. Before I moved to the reformed church I now attend, the charismatic Nigerian dominated churches of my past would be coming up with themes for the New Year at this time. “2014 the year of Jubilation”, or “2014 the year of Fruitfulness” for example. I don’t know what 2014 is going to turn out to be, but there is no way I am going to stand still. I hope it’s going to be a year of moving forward. A year where I don’t make the same mistakes I made the year before, and progress in my Christian faith. A year of new things, new adventures, and new accomplishments.

 

Here’s to 2014! The year of the unknown! I hope I have fun discovering it.

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Why Do the British Film Critics Hate The Butler?

I went to see The Butler a few weeks ago, a decision made out of my expectation of a good historical film about the presence of a black butler serving in the White House. I hadn’t seen a trailer, read a review, and in fact I didn’t even know exactly who was in it. But I usually get an instinct about a film I know I will enjoy. I did enjoy the film even if “joy” is not the best word to describe my cinematic experience. There were moments where I did laugh, but I also cringed, winced and felt extremely saddened in a dramatised version of real events that occurred in the history of America, involving the fight for African American civil rights. It brought home to me, just what many African Americans have been through; the shocking maltreatment, the police brutality, and the sheer injustice of living in an unequal society. A society that that still lives in the memory of those alive at the time to witness it. By the end of the film I was in tears, and by the sound of sniffles elsewhere in the theatre, I doubt I was the only one. I thought all the characters were played well, and even Oprah, who I was expecting to be a flop, did a fantastic job of playing the wife of Cecil Gaines.

I went home feeling very moved and inspired, and even feeling a sense that more needs to be done in America for a more equal society, given the stories we still so often hear about racial tensions, and discrimination. I wanted to learn more about the true story upon which the film was inspired by, and went online to see what I could find. I came across a review of the Butler on the Guardian online. The reviewer was eager to point out every departure from the true story that the film had made. For instance, there was no record that Eugene Allen (Cecil Gaines real life name) had been a slave, and witnessed his father killed, and his mother go crazy after being raped by her slave master. Allen only had one son, as opposed to two, as the film depicts, and his son was not involved with the Freedom Writers or Black Panthers. The reviewer also used the word “farcical” to describe the film, and pretty much rubbished it.

 

After reading the review, I toyed with the idea of writing a blog post about it. As the reviewer was a white British person, I wanted to point out, that maybe they did not enjoy the film because he just could not relate to it, as it is a race-themed film. Maybe he just wasn’t all that concerned or moved by how black people have been treated in America. Maybe he thinks that we should just stop talking about all that racism and slavery stuff already. Maybe there was no single character he could relate to because he has not experienced anything similar to the struggles that the black characters faced, or just because, the colour of their skin automatically made him feel detached from the film, and made him to immediately view it as a “black film”.

Well I got rather busy with other things and then forgot about writing the post. Then I read this piece:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-cole/the-best-man-holiday-race_b_4295853.html

by a blogger who took issue with the New York times lazily labelling The Best Man Holiday as a race themed film, and thought that maybe I would write my piece after all, as race and film seem to be a topic of discussion at the moment. I wanted to try and find the review I had read in order to get the name of the reviewer, and carefully pick apart the review, but I could no longer find it. Instead I found another two negative reviews in the Guardian, one by Mark Kemode (a white male), and the other by Peter Bradshaw (who also happens to be a white male). These men both dissect the film in a very cold and deconstructive manner, without paying much attention to the substance. Bradshaw relegated the film with a comparison to Downtown Abbey. Kermode is slightly more generous by giving the film 3 stars instead of 2 as Bradshaw did, but still manages to denounce the film as a “fanciful retelling of contemporary history”. Both men totally miss the point.

The fact that these British film critics have a difference of opinion about the Butler to me (and all my friends who have watched the film), could be dismissed as just that; a difference of opinion. But I remember reading an interesting article about research that had been carried into film critic’s responses to films that have a black leading character being reviewed more harshly than films with a white leading character. If this is correct there is a potential knock on effect of less people going to see the film because of reading the negative review, and the film receiving fewer takings. Even in a small way then, the difference of opinion can be significant.

I’m not saying that the British are wrong about the differences between the film and real life. Clearly they are right. But the film is only “inspired” by a true story, and not based on it. And it is actually quite clever, the way the film weaves into the plot what was going on at the time with the Freedom Riders, and Black Panthers. Even though various things that happened in the film did not happen in Allen’s own life, they did actually happen. Slaves were raped and killed. Freedom Riders were repeatedly thrown in jail, and the segregated society was an appalling affront to the rights of black citizens. Allen did live through segregation to seeing the first “black” president of the United States. That’s the substance of the film that I refer to.

civil rights dog attackcivil rights hosed down freedom rides burnt bus

Maybe critiquing a film is supposed to be a very academic exercise devoid of any heart. If that is the case then fair enough, but perhaps these British Film critics should consider that for many movie theatre goers, The Butler is a touching and sensitive encounter with the past.

Review: The Spider King’s Daughter

I’m always excited to read the work of new authors, such a Chinundu Onuzo, a fellow Nigerian, and from the sound of her name, of Igbo heritage too.

 

I found her first novel “The Spider King’s Daughter” intriguing, at times witty, and quite punchy. It is what I would describe as an almost love story between a spoilt rich daughter of a corrupt Nigerian businessman, and a street Hawker, converted from a life of relative wealth and comfort, to a life of hustle on the streets of Lagos, as a result of his father’s untimely death.

 

The novel is easy to digest as the story is not a lengthy one. This could be because of a technique the writer uses where she narrates an account through the eyes of the rich girl, Abike, and then narrates the same event through the eyes of the Hawker. By doing so the reader is invited into the world of both protagonists, and as such gains a deeper understanding of what makes them tick.

 

What could be said to be a classic tale of two star crossed lovers from the opposite ends of the social spectrum, is also a critique of the huge gap between the rich and the poor in Nigerian society. The rich in this novel are portrayed as obnoxiously rich. It almost seems to be a trend that wealthy characters featured in novels set in Nigeria, have obtained their wealth through corrupt and criminal conduct. Having been born and brought up in the UK, I cannot comment on whether this representation is true to life, though my instinct tells me that it is not far removed.

 

lagos busy street

 

The picture that we are to see is that in Nigerian society, there is a sickening disregard for the poor. The Hawker is not even given a name, as though indicating that the name of one who has no wealth is of no significance. The way Abike’s father treats those he sees as beneath him (including his own children), is particularly disturbing. At the end of the novel, when the reader comes to the realisation that there is not going to be some grand reversal of fortunes, the alarming sense of inequality and injustice becomes almost depressing.

hawkers-nigeria

 

 

A source of some light-hearted relief is the character of Mr T, the half-baked homeless man with one arm, who has an unlikely friendship with the Hawker. He provides most of the comical content of the book, with his wild stories and eccentricity. Alongside the comedy, the overly dramatic narrative has the ability to make you feel that the stories and characters are far removed from reality, even if the truth is that they are not.

 

For another interesting take on this novel check out: http://weeklytrust.com.ng/index.php/my-thoughts-exactly/14022-playing-the-nollywood-game-in-chibundu-onuzo-s-novel-the-spider-king-s-daughter

My Top and Flop Pick of Places to Eat

Back to one of my favourite topics: Food!

 

One thing I really wanted to do with this blog is review places to eat around London. I will try to every month or so choose a restaurant that I’ve been quite impressed with, and also pick one, that you may wish to avoid! This of course will depend on how often I go out to eat, and as winter approaches, I may just find myself hibernating at home, with the number of a decent Indian takeaway saved in my Favourites list on my i phone.

 

I have tried a few places for the first time in recent weeks, and feel a couple of them are worthy of a mention. My “Top” pick is Wahaca, located on Waterloo Road. It’s a fresh and vibrant bar and restaurant specialising in Mexican street food. The first time I went in I was early in meeting with a friend. Before you head down a flight of stairs to the main restaurant, there is a cute reception area with an unusual basin where you can rid your hands of bacteria. This was a good sign because it implied that diners had permission to get messy and eat with their hands. (I still chuckle remembering my “Miranda” moment, when led by my curiosity I almost fell into the basin when trying to wash my hands).

 

wahaca stairs

Moving downstairs, the atmosphere has a cool trendy type of vibe to it. The waiters, who are nice and friendly, tell you their names and encourage you to yell at them when you want service. The menu is so vast, that it makes it almost impossible to choose just one thing (that was my excuse anyway). It also meant that I was already planning my next visit in anticipation of getting to try out some of the other beautiful sounding delights, such as some of the Tostadas and Quesadillas.

 

I ended up going for a grilled chicken main with black beans and rice. It fulfilled the criteria I always look out for – was it full of flavour? Did it leave me feeling like I’d just eaten a main course and not a starter? Was it like something I’d never had before anywhere else? I also had side of plantain and sweet potato fries, which were shared between my friend and I (I feel I must stress). The plantain came wrapped in a tortilla with salsa and guacamole dressing. It was an interesting way to serve plantain, although when it comes to plantain, my only requirement is that it is fried. That being said, it’s the interesting twist on Mexican food that makes this place special, and with all the style, there is no compromise with substance.

 

My “Flop” pick has to be Byron. I had heard such positive things about the place that when my partner and I were trying to decide which one of the Greenwich pier restaurants to stop off at, I convinced him to give it a try, which wasn’t easy as he was put off by the poster outside boasting of “Proper Burgers!”.

 

Why would anybody do this?

Why would anybody do this?

 

There are picturesque views of the river and skyline on the left hand side of the restaurant. And that I’m afraid is as far as my positive comments can go about this restaurant. There wasn’t much to choose from on the menu, which seemed to comprise of burger, cheeseburger, or burger with cheese and bacon. I went for the burger. For something as simple as a burger, it would be hard to go wrong. But they did. The gherkin was strangely on the side of the plate, laid delicately as though it were some kind of dressing. Why would I want my gherkin on the side? Another grievance was caused by waitress recommending courgette fries. “That’s what everyone comes here for” she said. We ended up trying them, (though regular fries as too, as I wasn’t convinced) and unsurprisingly, I preferred the regular fries. Some things were just not meant to be, and sliced courgettes disguised as fries, are one such thing. When it comes to food, I’ll try anything once. But I’ll be saying bye bye to Byron, for good, as I don’t plan on going back.

Nice Views. Shame about the food.

Nice Views. Shame about the food.

  • Wahaca (twentyfoursevennoms.wordpress.com)

Book Review: Americanah

americanah

I must start by confessing that I actually finished reading Americanah a few months ago, and in the unwritten laws of writing book reviews, I’m sure there must be a rule somewhere about completing a write up no later than 7 days after completing a book. But I press on.

 

If I have to sum up what the book is about in a sentence, I would say it’s a tale of two teenage sweethearts, Ifemulu and Obinze, who having grown up in Nigeria, take different paths at the stage of studying at university, which leads them to experience life as foreigners abroad. Or I might describe the book a sociological essay opening up dialogue on subjects such as race and immigration, class, and politics. As one who enjoyed the study of sociology at A Level, the latter description is the one that resonates with me the most.

 

When Ifemelu goes to get her hair done at a black hairdressers at the start of the book, the description seemed to mirror so well my experience of hairdressers (and the experience of many other black women according to what I’m told), that I immediately thought “I’m going to love this book”. My prediction proved true about 65% of the time. For example, I agreed so much with the contents of Ifemelu’s blog posts about race, that I felt a little thwarted by the fact that I hadn’t written them myself! And even though I was born in the UK, my parents being immigrants, I could  relate to Obinze’s experience’s in London as an outsider and reflected on them with a slightly pained amusement.

 

I felt sympathy for Ifemelu over some of her early struggles in adjusting to American life, but ultimately I did not warm to her, or root for her. It forms part of Adichie’s style to present her protagonists as flawed, but in this case the flaws generated a mild dislike within me. It perturbed me because I felt that Ifemelu’s character was loosely based on Adichie’s; Ifemelu undertook a graduate degree in Communications in Philadelphia, and was granted a fellowship at Princeton which echoes Adichie’s own life. Did that mean if I ever met Adichie, that I might not actually like her? That’s a thought I’d rather not dwell on.

Chimanda

In the end I couldn’t root for the love story either, which I would like to point out seemed to only simmer in the background for much of the middle section of the 477 page novel. Parts of the narrative seem to drag on and I’m not sure the book really needs to be as long as it is. After nearly losing interest and irreverently flipping through what I will call the “Obama” section of the book (I don’t see what the big deal is about Obama), things picked up again on Ifemelu’s return to Nigeria, especially as the subject of Nigerian people returning “home” highly topical at this time.

 

Adichie has not surpassed Half of a Yellow Sun with this offering, but that would be a very difficult feat given just how beautiful the story of love and Biafran war is.

 

Nevertheless, Americanah is definitely worth a read, not so much because it is a stunning piece of literature, or a particularly romantic love story, but because of its subtle and not so subtle observations of social interactions, stereotypes, inequality, and social mobility. And for that Adichie should be commended.