Book Review: A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta

I read about this book in a Newspaper and the way in which it was described drew me in. I recall, it was said to be a book about exploring the differences in culture between the Nigerian protagonist and those she comes into contact with within her Western environment. I bought the book with an expectation of something Americanh-ish. I think part of my problem is that I have been spoilt by Chimananda, and now expect all African writers to sound like her.

Well, Atta does not sound anything like Adichie, and that in and of itself is not a criticism of Atta. I’ll start with some positives.  I like that the main character’s name is not introduced until she is addressed by another character and we learn her name is Deola. Up until that point she is only referred to as “she”.

Deola is in her late 30s, single. This information is provided to the reader, but other aspects of her character, who she really is, remained somewhat of a mystery. She works for an international charity in London, but visits “home” which is Lagos for her late father’s memorial. Some of her thoughts and dilemmas seem more typically associated with an adolescent. I can understand this is some way, because in some West African culture, a woman has not truly become a woman until she is married with children. Yet I found it hard to connect her thoughts and feeling to that of a woman of her age and stage in life. Deola clearly has dissatisfaction with her life in London, but the reason for this is not made entirely clear.

What is clear is Deola’s love hate relationship with religion, and Christianity in particular. Now this touched a nerve with me because of the sweeping generalisations made about the Faith. Again though, I have understanding as to why “African Christianity” is criticised because I know from experience how distorted it is from the Christianity of the bible. Religion is certainly a theme in this novel, but I was not expecting it to be tackled in a way that could be seen scornful and disrespectful.

In terms of some of the other themes explored, I found myself asking at one point, is this a book about HIV and Aids? A bit like the MTV series “Shuga” based in Nigeria, (where almost every character either had HIV, or was about to catch it), was the thinking that, seeing as this is going to have a mostly African audience, I’d better do my best to educate them about the importance of being tested for HIV, seeing as most Africans are dying of Aids?

Perhaps not the biggest let down, another thing I found disappointing was that I could in no way relate to Deola and her privileged background. I had waited to find a novel that was based between Nigeria and London, and having finally found it, I couldn’t connect with Deola as I shared very few of her experiences. I did not go to an expensive fee paying boarding school and I do not have any friends who were educated at Harrow, for a start.

Fatally, the book included too many scenes that did not move the story forward, and an ending that leaves the reader hanging. Not hanging from a cliff as such, as that would suggest an exciting ending. More like hanging from a set of monkey bars.  I kept returning to the blurb to remind myself of what the story was supposed to be about. A love story? Deola’s love interest, hotel owner Wale, does not feature enough for it to be described as a love story.

With no lucid understanding of where the story is going, what is driving the main character, and what message the writer is trying to give, a Bit of Difference, was a bit of a flop for me.

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Cursed Culture? Spiritual vs Superstitious

It is rare to meet an African atheist. Africans generally believe in something. A lot of Nigerians I know are “Christians”. I would included myself in that number, but I am a little unusual in that I don’t attend a church pastored by a megalomaniac, who struts up and down a stage shouting and sweating in front of a congregation who sway, swoon, and ultimately empty out their pockets to fund the profligate lifestyle of the said megalomaniac. In other words I don’t attend the ever popular charismatic church.

 

At times I find it mystifying that so many Africans do attend such churches. In the days I used to attend, the pastors would have the cheek to declare that theirs is the spirit filled church, and the more conservative and traditional churches are “dead” churches. It was a similar story at home, after I left the charismatic church. Whenever my mother would be watching Supernatural on the God channel, and I would decline to join, informing her that I do not believe in such things (as people being transported to Heaven and back), she would declare that I have no faith. On the contrary I do not need to witness lying signs and wonders in order believe that God exists.

 

In the end I’ve concluded that the reason there is so much delusion in African churches, is that African people are just too superstitious. I know Africans that don’t like it if a black cat passes by in front of them. Or apparently if you’re pregnant you should not look at something scary or unpleasant, otherwise your child will be born ugly, to cite but a few examples.

 

In many parts of Africa herbal doctors, or “witch doctors” still operate and are heavily relied upon. I’m almost convinced that many African pastors are nothing more than “Christianized” witch doctors. Witch doctors will tell you to bring personal items to be prayed over; so do the African pastors. Witch doctors tell people that if they do something, or neglect to do something, a curse will fall upon them; so do African pastors. Witch doctors profess to possess special powers, and command respect and authority; so do African pastors.

 

It is just so annoying that so many African pastors are able do all these things in name of Christ, with no biblical precedent or authority. It is just so frustrating to see people in their thousands being sucked in. When African churches are caught up in a particularly peculiar folly, the secular media have a field day. I wonder if the members of those churches are aware of just how… for lack of a better word… utterly idiotic they look. Did any of the Rabboni Centre Ministries members who obeyed instructions to eat grass feel a little embarrassed when they saw pictures of themselves sprawled out on a field like goats, printed in international press?

 

What aggravates me the most is when superstition has destructive impact upon peoples’ lives. It can range from a person marrying the wrong spouse because a pastor “had a vision” that it was meant to be, to a sick person throwing away vital medication because they’ve been told that God doesn’t want anybody to ever be sick, and they should there “receive their healing”. Church goers can see their life savings depleted by believing the lie of the pastor, that as they sow (financially) they will reap blessings.

 

But perhaps one of the cruellest results of blindly following people who claim to men or women of God, is the suffering of children. Just today I read in the Evening Standard of a woman named Helen Ukpabio, who is currently in the UK, from Nigeria. Campaigners want her to be deported because she accuses children of being witches. She has been quoted as saying that any child who cries at night or is feverish is “a servant of Satan”. Her preaching has led to many children in Nigeria being abandoned, starved and abused. It is appalling that this disgusting practice of labelling children and babies witches still continues. Lessons still have not been learned since the Victoria Climbie case that shocked the media all the way back in the year 2000.

 

An excerpt from the book "Prayer Bullets for Winners" (War against Haman 8). I guess there were previous books waging war against Haman 1-7

An excerpt from the book “Prayer Bullets for Winners” (War against Haman 8). I guess there were previous books waging war against Haman 1-7

One of things that I can’t help but find slightly amusing though, is different names given to various “spirits” or “kingdoms”. Ms Ukpabio or “Lady Apostle” claims to deliver people of “ancestral spirits” and “mermaid spirit”. Many will also be familiar with the terms “enemy of progress”, “spirit husband/wife”, and “household wickedness”. A more sobering thought is of the endless prayers, or rather energetic chanting, uttered within superstitious churches. With so much time and energy dedicated to these supposed dark forces, do those prayer warriors realise that they are actually idolising those dark forces, and so in effect worshipping them? Wouldn’t it be a miracle if those worshippers in their thousands, devoted the hours they currently spend chanting, into to actually studying the bible and finding out what it really says. Maybe that would help to avert the problems mentioned above, and perhaps avert the greatest tragedy of all; false conversions.

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.