Sunday, 13 April 2014

Half Of A Yellow Sun - Review of the movie

The flag of the Republic of Biafra - Courtesy of Wikipedia

A history missing
I was born just before the first military coup in the fledgling Federal Republic of Nigeria, far away from the madding cacophony and chaos that presaged the breakdown of order, the massacre of Igbos in the North and the civil war.
We returned to Nigeria, in the year the civil war ended, my parents excited and ready to participate in the new Nigeria led by the military leader Yakubu Gowon, whose surname became the reconciliatory acronym of Go On With One Nigeria.
The history of Nigeria that I did in school ended just after Nigerian independence and took off again after the end of the Civil War. It meant we as Yorubas from the South-West of Nigeria could choose wherever we wanted to live in the country, as we first set up base in Kaduna and then in Jos.
The stories that informed the reasons for the turmoil in the Western Region, the corruption and misgovernment that led to the first and second military coups of 1966 and the swagger of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu were just the subject of folklore.
Making history obvious
The closest I came to appreciating what happened in the Civil War was in the photographs taken by Peter Obe, in a book titled, Nigeria: A Decade of Crises in Pictures (Paperback) which contained iconic and haunting photographs of the Republic of Biafra during the Civil War.
Enter, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a novel that apparently wove the realities of Biafra into a human interest story of everyday lives and how people were affected by the war.
I never read the book, but I have just returned from watching the Half of a Yellow Sun film showing in just one cinema theatre in Manchester.
Having read and watched reviews of the film, it had somewhat prepared me for possible disappointment, but there was a compelling need to see for myself.
Half of a fading sun
The film was well made, the acting superb and worthy of great accolades, but I am not sure if what is said of the novel did translate properly to the screenplay that became the template for the film.
I cannot say that I learnt anything I did not already know of the Republic of Biafra apart from the visual representation of the geographical landmass that constituted Biafra.
The flag of Biafra, composed of a horizontal tricolour with the yellow glow of a rising sun was as optimistic as the braggadocio of the man that led the secession from Nigeria, but one can safely say the sun had already set on Biafra from the get-go.
A warped history
Whether much could have been done to have the original coups more encompassing that it did not seem like an Igbo coup in a futile power grab can be the subject of extensive debate, but the birth of Nigeria as an independent country was as flawed and fractured as it could ever be.
There probably was never a golden dawn of Nigeria beyond the speech that the Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa gave on the night we gained independence on the 1st of October, 1960.
A privileged view of the war
However, back to the film, the narratives were unusual and somewhat foreign in my view, as it revolved around two highly educated daughters and their love and family lives.
Thandie Newton playing Olanna with her love interest Odenigbo played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, and her sister Anika Noni Rose as Kainene with her American husband Joseph Mawle as Richard.
I did not recognise the songstress Onyeka Onwenu for her part as Odenigbo’s mother; times do mature the visage of those one once knew so well, decades ago. Since, I am not a Nollywood fan, the other actors were just actors.
Half of a Yellow Sun in the movie was the Biafran War from the perspective of the very privileged and well-connected in the early 1960’s.
An unfamiliar Nigeria
Throw in infidelity, a love child, an adoption, an interracial marriage and the luxury of being able to pack a bag and drive off in a car when trouble came close, and this became a very different Nigeria from that of those who did see suffering.
The violence and tragedies in the film cannot be said to have done justice to bringing life to a history very few Nigerians born after 1970 know anything about.
Yet, there were two characters that found opportunity by being in privileged surroundings, Ugwu the houseboy who witnessed much, said little and had the benevolence of being sent back to school where at the end of the film we are told became a writer and Baby, the love child who was accepted by Olanna as her daughter and eventually became a medical doctor.
Just a good film
I do not know if the film was to spare us the gruesomeness of the war or it was more intent on the love soap opera at the expense of the war.
Yet, the mind of Odenigbo was interesting enough about his revolutionary zeal and his fearful view of Nigerian identity as was the capitalist machinations of Kainene as a profiteer in the war, who in one of her runs went missing and was never seen again.
A good film in general, but not one to do Nigerian history at a leisurely pace with sweet popcorn and Pepsi Cola.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Thought Picnic: Losing anger to gain more understanding

My little troubles to their deep grief
Just two days ago, I was about to write one of my stroppy blogs having been irked by an event as I returned home from work.
The first piece of news I read as I returned home, shocked me beyond words. At that point I realised that whatever level of pique I had could not in any way compare to the deep tragic grief people most affected by that news could be feeling.
A young mother of two toddlers, the mother who could easily be my daughter had in unexplained circumstances been pronounced dead.
No blame
This woman had only 14 years before lost her mother to unfortunate and tragic circumstances in an inadvertent suicide leaving a 4 daughters, the youngest, the half-sister of the other three, became an orphan, she had lost her father to suicide just a couple of years before. The pain was palpable for even the distant to feel.
Peaches Geldof had died. Yet, in the stories that followed her demise was something so profound about a short and one time wild life, haunted by tragedy and grounded by new reality.
In an interview in 2012, she said of her mother Paula Yates, “I don’t blame her, I’m not angry with her, I understand her… I honestly understand what she was going through.
Between anger and understanding
The emboldened part of that quote was more prominent to me and says a lot about some of the fractured relationships we have with our parents.
With time, I have understood my parents better, yet, some memory crosses my mind at certain times that still brings forth some seething anger.
Then again, Peaches never had the opportunity to talk things over with her mother, to go over the issues that would have pained or haunted her about her mother’s death, she worked through the issues without the option for engagement and got to a point where she could understand well and yet neither blame nor be angry with her mother.
Unresolved to resolution
It behoves us to realise that there are some things we would never get to chat to our parents about, about the past, the present, their decisions, their influences and even their mindsets as they move into the sunsets of their lives.
We however must begin to live our lives out of the shadow, the hauntings, the hurts and the unresolved anguish of being either the fortunate or the unfortunate offspring of our forebears.
What has happened has happened, whether we have been accepted or rejected as we strive at times to live up to the expectations of others limiting the scope of what is the pursuit of our own individual happiness and the lives we have built around ourselves quite separate from those who brought us into this world.
Finding purpose
There is a blessing in finding a way to move on, moving on from blame, extricating ourselves from the clutches of anger and getting to a point where we know nothing in perfect, but perfection comes from ability to adapt, to appreciate, to understand, to accept and to embrace the fullness of our humanity in our relationships with those close and afar.
It is time to escape the imprisonment of anger and walk into the freedom of understanding. With that little lesson from Peaches, I pray that she find peace wherever she is and that those that survive her might find strength and the fortitude to bear their very tragic loss.
Rest in peace, Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Thought Picnic: The Power of Example

Where I thrive
I am a man with many questions, seeking answers to many things some of which I really should not be bothered about, but then such is my nature, my curiosity and a kind of precocity that in ways have become the kind of person my parents believe I am.
Besides this, I am sometimes surprised at the amount of information that comes to the fore when I have found myself in all sorts of conversation.
People are interesting, people are amazing and people are amusing. Engagement brings new relationships, many of which I hope to walk away from with some kind of mutually beneficial impartation. Sadly, it is not always the case.
The power of example
What impacts me most is example, more pertinently, the power of example as opposed to the example of power.
Like yesterday, I attended a training session that revealed possibilities of automation related to the work I do. Just seeing the trainer do things revealed not only what could be done but also how it could be done.
The how leads to enthusiasm and the desire to practice what has been learnt, which in turn might create ability and the power also to demonstrate what I have learnt to others.
Rising to a challenge
In some ways, I have been slow in demonstration being preoccupied with other distractions I am trying to resolve to clear the air for opportunity and expression. These are constant churnings in my mind, sometimes over-active playing with logic, probability, preponderance and rarity, seeking to do something completely radical or at least somewhat deviate from the conventional and average.
Example is something I also saw in church today, a couple celebrated and honoured for their work and commitment in the church community.
With that one suddenly realises that the barriers one has once put up can be removed and replaced with new opportunity. There is always a place to make a difference where the power of example can be the kindling for the example of innate power and ability we have at our disposal to be and to do.
If … I can too
It starts off with, “If” and culminates with “I can too.”
Another question tackled and an answer dropped into my purview by situation and circumstance to consider and act upon.
Thank you for the many examples of exemplary ability and conduct you have all been, in all this, the quest to be a better man continues.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Thought Picnic: Those Conversations with Chris

Was good whilst it lasted
The memories that return as you find yourself doing something you enjoyed doing with someone special.
The realisation that the person with whom you did those things is now a just a memory, gone into a void into which you have no reach but depending on what you believe, there is nothing after or an eternity to live beyond this life.
The memories however are felt strongly tinged with some sadness and laced with a longing you can never fulfil, except if someone else takes that place.
Long instant conversations
Good old variants of the Instant Messaging utility, from MSN Messenger through Windows Live Messenger and today as I typed away in Microsoft Communicator though the more current version is Microsoft Lync in the enterprise.
I tried to remember the old emoticons that broadened our conversation from saintly to sinful, from angelic to devilish, from nice to very naughty.
Those were hours and hours of chat with Chris, besotted and infatuated, crazy and madly in love, hopeless romantics at keyboards between London and Amsterdam, what seemed far was quite near.
O, the memories as time flies, and in October, it would be five years since … the memories and another day.
Never forgotten.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Please do not walk on by

Life is not fair
As I passed through Manchester Piccadilly Station the other day, I saw an advertisement poster with the message, “Don’t fund the habit, fund the charities.”
There is a message there, but I do wonder if it is the true reflection of issues to do with many of the people I have encountered who beg on the streets in the many big cities I have been to.
In my own personal life, I have had plenty and very little, I have enjoyed extravagance and after illness I was reduced to penury, needing more help than my heretofore independence was able to ask for.
Doors slammed in my face
When I did ask for help, from a system into which during the good times I had paid all my dues and more, I encountered hurdles, bottlenecks, indifference and difficulty. [It took the hospital to unclog the system.]
The things I was entitled to were denied me because I did not look vulnerable enough or did not tick all the boxes of desperate privation authored by some comfortable apparatchik oblivious of the realities on the street.
I cannot vouch for anyone in terms of whether they are struggling with drug or alcohol problems, but I can say that if the so-called charities were really doing the jobs they suggest they are doing with the funds people throw into their collecting buckets or the ones that can be transferred through the simplicity of Short Message Service (SMS) text messages, I should not be seeing beggars on our streets.
Who helps these people?
Yet, step out into Manchester City centre every evening and quite every major street corner has someone begging for spare change. Then there are others who would approach you with a story, long or short, their need is immediate and it makes no allowances for the smartness of seeking the nearest entrée to officialdom to get help.
In a few recent encounters, these were people who truthfully or otherwise on a cold damp night needed a place to sleep in shelters that would demand a payment before accepting them.
Where these people have fallen through the safety net with holes big enough to let elephants through without entanglement, they simply have nothing and sometimes not even a blanket to take shelter in an open street doorway.
No way out
They are usually in a catch-22 situation, for without an address you really cannot do anything, even if someone ignorantly and naively thinks the system and the welfare state is in overdrive, on anecdotal evidence alone, I can well assume that many who need that help cannot get beyond the first hurdle to get the help they need.
I cannot ignore such people, having lived so close to the edge, the people who were once invisible to me are too visible to walk past. Having been given a second chance of life after cancer, in the little and plenty that I have, I desire to have an open hand.
Prepare to give
An open hand is one that can give and it is also open to receive, the former being more impactful. Much that we donate goes to child welfare or animal welfare in faraway lands and that is good, but we stand in rank hypocrisy if at our doorsteps there be many who are needy and we in response to those advertisements decide not to do the needful.
These people are our neighbours, the ones on the furthest spectrum of our diverse humanity who have for all sorts of reasons happened upon hard times. Times we may never and I hope many never come to experience.
However, I know what a very little gift can do for someone desperately in need, and if we challenge ourselves to address that need generously, for some, we would have become angels.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “There are people in this world so hungry, that God cannot appear them except in the form of bread.”
Where charities cannot bring bread to the hungry, I will do my bit, I hope the help I offer is helpful, but I would not agonise over what is done with the help I have offered.