Monday, February 27, 2006

What Celebrity Big Brother taught me

In Oxford on Saturday, a group called the Research Defence Society, took part in a march organised by Laurie Pycroft, 16. What struck me was, that finally, a group of people were standing up to the animal liberating, human annihilating Animal Liberation Front (ALF). It is good news that people are making their voices heard, coming out in support of animal testing. But despite their sometimes murderous intent, I still find myself on the side of the ALF’s arguments against carving up fluffy little bunnies for the advancement of science.

For the record, I am not a vegetarian, I am a carnivore, bloody fangs and all. No meal is complete without some kind of proper meat. I am not an animal-lover, I have killed chickens in the past, and own no pets. The only animals I have responsibility for are the rodents and cockroaches that sometimes invade my pantry, and trust me, I don’t treat them with an ounce of mercy. It’s just that I’m yet to hear a compelling reason as to why we should tolerate animal testing.

The biblical argument (see Genesis 1:28) about going out and having dominion over the "fowl of the air", and "every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" is a lazy argument. If we took everything the Good Book said at face value, then women would be forbidden from going to church between days 1 and 7 on the menstrual cycle. Then who’d look after the sprogs in the crèche? The argument is not just one of animal testing, but also of eating meat, and the general coercion of animals for human benefit. What right do we have to make a horse carry us through desert sands on its back?

The diet argument isn’t good enough either. I’m sure if roles were reversed, we wouldn’t like to be born and bred just to be slaughtered for someone’s full English breakfast. Is that the argument of a child? “Why did you kill that ant? Imagine if you were the ant and somebody stepped on you, would you like it?” Childish, yes. But it’s simply a “walk a mile in an ant’s shoe” argument, designed to make people empathetic to the struggle of the lowly ant.

If you subscribe to the premise that humans are glorified monkeys, just lucky to be better evolved, then we shouldn’t be treating fellow animals in this way. We treat fellow human beings with respect, surely we should do the same to animals. If you think that humans are not glorified monkeys, but a higher species, we still shouldn’t treat animals badly. If we’re more intelligent, and better philosophically evolved, it is our duty to protect lesser species.

The key to being human is apparently having a sense of self. I think, therefore, I am. Do animals have this? Who knows. Animals have shown themselves to be very intelligent, from politically scheming wild monkeys to tool making crows. It has also been suggested that animals might feel pain, but cannot anticipate it. Not true. When I lived in Nigeria, there were some stray dogs that would roam the street, doing nothing in particular. I was a paranoid (read scaredy cat) little boy, and I soon learnt that to get rid of the dogs, all one had to do was bend down, as if to pick up something. The dogs would run as if my doing that conjured up some kind of apparition. What the dogs knew was that human being bending down, usually meant stones and sand, which in turn meant pain in eyes and body.

However, there is the survival argument. During a very brief period watching the recent Celebrity Big Brother, I learnt a very important moral story. Don’t judge people who wear fur. The British audience were reliably informed by Gorgeous George Galloway, MP for Gallivanting East, that the Inuits in Greenland had to kill bear for their fur to keep warm. As simple as this sounds, it was an earth shattering moment for me in the animal welfare argument. What is one supposed to do when there is no other way of keeping warm? I suppose they could just buy a fleece from Gap or something.

It is unlikely that I'll ever be fully convinced either way, but in the meantime, arm yourselves with your arguments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The beautiful ones are not yet born

"The beautiful ones are not yet born" is the name of an email thread I participated in (passively) with friends today. People recounted their experiences of racism, some silly, some sad, some disgusting. I'll tell of my own experiences and then I'll do a cut and paste job of the emails in the thread.

I did my A-levels at the
Royal Grammar School in Lancaster, something which I'm strangely proud of. As someone who spent his early years in Nigerian schools, I know that where you're educated has much to do with the depth of your parents' pockets, the weight of contacts in the address book, or the smile of the gods. It seems almost pointless to be proud of where you were educated, it isn't necessarily of your own doing, even if it's a selective school . If you gained a scholarship, gloating might be slightly tolerated, but even the tutoring of children for entrance examinations also sometimes depends on the pockets of parents.

Anyway before swirling forces distracted me from the topic at hand (quote from Boris Johnson), I'm proud I went to LRGS. I went to a grammar, but got the standard of education of an independent school. It is a grant maintained school, so I only paid for boarding, and nothing for tuition. LRGS consistently ranks highly in the
league tables, something I contributed nothing to (I didn't get all As, or all Bs, or all - you get the picture). It felt like I was making full use of the system, not being fleeced for my right - the right to be properly educated. But of course education is a privilege rather than a right, just go to the global south, or the geopolitical south, or the Third World, or the developing world, or (my personal favourite) the neo-colonial states and see what I mean.

I'm still digressing. Lancaster was a small town, no faces of colour, just history, bridges, rivers, a castle, and a university. Whenever I saw another black person, we'd hug like old friends, such was the excitement. My white friends who I'd abandoned for a quick platonic fumble with another "darkie" would ask, "so who was that?". And I'd reply with glee, "that guy? I've never seen him in my life." Clubbing was always fun, Born Slippy and Oasis. I was sixteen, and thanks to my puritanical Nigerian past, always sober. The bouncers would always gimme a "sup bruv?" look when I stepped to the door, while my mate Al would be stopped and asked for ID. I'd stand behind the bouncer and make faces at Al. We were both illegal (pre-eighteen), but I would get through by virtue of being a potentially "double 'ard" black man, while Al could never be as 'ard as me, the poor white fella (well three-quarters white, if you can quantify these things) would have to brandish his "Brighton University Student's Union" ID.

In school, I had no problems. I was one of four black boys at the school of over a thousand boys. Actually, I lie. At our peek, we were five. Oddly enough, we were all of Nigerian origin, only the sixth formers being "fresh from yard". Some silly little boys would do mock Jamaican accents when talking to me. And I'd just shrug, "that's Jamaican, I'm Nigerian. Get it right..." Some people thought that because I was black, I was stud muffin. They were right, I was a stud muffin. But at the time I didn't show it, and sadly the restraint was involuntary. My mojo was a little dead (like being half pregnant) for those two years. The bottom line is I didn't experience any racism while I was there. I did have a ginger-haired friend who got teased a lot, and of course like the true lad that I am, I joined in. One day he called me "nigger". "That's racist", I said. "Well you called me 'ginga'". I didn't think he had a point, but I couldn't really argue with him. So I stopped calling him "ginga".

When I lived in Sunderland, my experiences of racial discrimination were real, but also fed my vanity. I tried out for the university football team, I didn't get in. Not even the 3rd XI reserves. This was before the my defining feature became my paunch, and when I was young and sprightly. I wanted to go with the Nigerian team to the Sydney Olympics, so I figured university football would help my chances. Don't laugh, I was serious. I was a defender, and anyone who knows anything about football knows that Nigeria do not have defenders. I was a cinch for Taribo West's jersey. It really upset me that I didn't get into the team, especially when I played very well at the trials. But, hey, c'est la vie.

Apart from being a failed footballer, I'm a retired wannabe actor. Oscars, Baftas, Césars, and maybe even Razzies, I would accept them all. I went for auditions at the local theatre when it was panto season. I put on an Oscar winning display, the Don Cheadle of Wearside. The best people would be given parts, and the others would be called back. Yours truly was called back, and I shouldn't have been. People I saw at the callback were surprised to see me. In the end I don't remember if I was offered the non-speaking part of "hind legs of cow" and turned it down, or if I was offered the role at all. Had to be racism.

I've only ever had proper racial abuse once. It was Birmingham, summer 2000. The summer of Big Brother 1, summer of two-step garage and the song "Summer of Love", the summer of Wyclef Jean at Notting Hill carnival. I was "summering" with my uncle in Mosley, Birmingham. Mosley is an upmarket area of Brum, down the road from Edgbaston, a village strewn with parks, lakes, detached houses.

One evening, I was on my way home, skipping gaily with a beautiful summer sunset behind me, when I heard the words "nigger" shouted out of a moving vehicle. A group of lads in a small car speeding past me. In the distance, the car started to slow down. The car pulled over, and one of the boys came down and the car sped off again. Wonderful, I thought. He didn't look that big, I could probably take him one-on-one. My steps quickened so that I could get to him. Adrenalin began to swirl in my bloodstream, fight or flight had come to the surface. I wasn't flying anywhere, I would stand fight. I probably thought, "he's white, I'm black. How strong could he be?" But I was too slow, he had already gone in. I saw the house and paused for a bit. I could either report the stupid kid to his mother, or I could firebomb the place as soon I'd done an internet search for instructions. In the end, I did nothing. I very much regret doing nothing about it, at least I could made sure the cars parked outside had suspiciously failing brakes. But that is the sum of my racism experience.

If you're not yet bored, read the thread stuff below. I haven't got permission so I should steel my lawyer for the writs. The first story is poignant, poignant because of the extremity of the action, and the age of the perpetrators. They haven't been edited, only names have been removed, and some spelling.

Number 1

ok, i wish i could start your day on a lighter discussion but during dinner with my aunt and uncle last night i heard the most disturbing story.

their son had gotten into a couple of fights because he was being teased in school about being black, so we started discussing the racism issue here. my aunt works in the british school and said that what her son went through was nothing and recounted an incident that took place during break time in her school:

a boy had used a skipping rope to tie up one of the black girls in the school (by tie up i mean he wound the rope around her upper body), and was screaming at her "this is what we do to slaves, my daddy told me you are my slave and so you have to do whatever i say, you're a dirty slave...". (please bear in mind that these kids are like 6year olds) he kept saying it over and over. when my aunt saw what was happening she went over and asked him what he was doing. the kid then says "i'm not wrong, my daddy told me she's my slave, he showed me on the video and i read it as well. so she has to do what i say". my aunt at this point tried to talk sense into him but of course she couldnt get anywhere. so she gave up and told him to go and apologise to the girl as he had hurt her feelings. she reported the incident to the head teacher. the school called the parents and spoke with them and that was it.

imagine, i was disgusted to say the least when i heard this story. perhaps i have been naive in thinking that things were getting better. but then what am i saying? when i stayed with my sister in cambridge and was taking my nephew to school (he is the only black kid there), i couldnt help noticing that the only kid that really ever wanted to play with him had a mixed father.

one thing is for sure - kids can be cruel - if it isnt your colour, it's your glasses, it's that you're fat, or you're skinny etc etc. they have too much to deal with already without having the added burden of dealing with racism at such a young age dont they? i am even more convinced that i'm right in wanting my kids to spend their early life in Naija.

Number 2

Racist at 6 and fully armed with such surety because the very people who are
supposed to lead him right are the very ones miseducating him.

I went to high school and A Levels outside London. I was one of two black kids in the
entire school and bar the silly bint who asked if we lived in trees in Africa and do we have cereal in Naija, I cant think of anything totally bad that happened.

In that little town of Surrey, it was actually cool to be black, the Asians loved you and the oyinbo's let you be. I guess that in itself is rather racist considering they didn't bother me coz they figured I knew some black gangster who would take them out. This was in the days of 2Pac and early years of cable tv and widespread mtv nation fever. People would constantly ask me for a dealer and I wasnt bullied either- so what if it's coz they thought my drug supplier would come with his Brixton massives and take them out.

Oh and I was always put on track field even though I cant run to save my life. But
hey! Number 2 is black, she MUST be a fantastic runner. I think they got the message eventually when I lost a major inter school relay.

Besides all that randomness, I was never really bothered, people just thought it was "cool" to be friends with a black kid and to be black, so I'd have people come up to me and say stupid things like "yo" , wassup "dawg" and whatever else it is they picked up from last night's re-run of Seinfeld.

The real talk of racism actually came when I moved into London. My nephew who was about 6 at the time, had to move schools because he was constantly being picked on by teacher as well as pupils. If anything went wrong, it had to be the black kid. He started doing badly at school too because he wasnt participating, started to feel really withdrawn and even his usual happy go lucky attitude.
Number 3
Racism sucks. Makes me wanna cry sometimes. Used to think I could just shrug it off and just charge it to ignorance, but when it hits you out of the blue, then the sh*t hurts.

My Story:
Was walking friend's house in Marble Arch (DJ "Air Miles") a couple of months back, just to say hello to his peeps as they were leaving for Naija for soon. Now Mr. and Mrs. Ignoramus had just come back from shopping and were off-loading their the goods into the house. As I was walking into the Mews that same faithful night (see exhibit A) (due to technical difficulties exhibit could not be uploaded), Mrs. Ignoramus, noticed her husband had left the door open behind him and beckoned to him to close the door. As he turned round to do so, he saw me and I kid you not, dude looked like he had just seen a ghost. Old and frail as he was, he ran down the hallway, damn near fell on his wrinkly a** to quickly slam the door. He was terrified and I couldnt understand it. Who would be terrified of lil 'ol me. I cried that day!! Well not really, but I was pained, cause I didnt expect it.

Number 4
welcome to the north of the equator.........i worked in the admissions office last yr to make some extra quid while finishing my masters o...and everytime a black person with good grades who lookedlike aa prospective admit came in oga introduced them to me with a bright smile........i no kuku get why....until she told me that its good that they see that "people like you can excel"!........not only that they wanted me to give a talk to underachieving high school students.....and i told them i knew nothing of childpsychologyy...they told me..its okay..what they did not say of cos is that .."its are black..most underachievers are they need to hear you talk"..Of cos there are only like 10 black law students in the entire University
of Toronto......

Number 5

yesterday i was trying to cross the road on my daily walk to school. i had crossed the first half of the road when the light changed, so i stood at the divider. this woman was driving an suv was filtering into the road from my left, and so she had to drive right past me. as she she approached me, i noticed her fidgeting in her seat, and i thought it was a tad curious until i noticed that she was locking her door as she drove past me. she couldnt speed, because it was a corner, but she slowed down just so that she could be sure her door was locked as she drove past me. it made me feel really bad, standing there, over-educated lawyer on his way to school where he's working on a phd. im not even big, and all she saw was black man on the road. i thought i had put it behind me until i read Number 3's email. its brought back all the pain i felt yesterday.

i cant imagine how that would affect that little girl as she grows older.

What does the title of the thread mean anyway?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ignore Nigeria at your peril

I wrote an article a couple of years ago titled, "Ignore Nigeria at your peril". It was meant to be an alarmist cry to the West to forget not Nigeria simply because she now had a civilian government, or at least one that didn't wear military garb. Fears had been raised over Nigeria having a Pakistan assisted nuclear programme of some sort, and also talking to Axis of Evil state North Korea about nuclear weapons. I thought it was a very well written article, one which would have sat beautifully on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, the Economist, or some such highbrow publication. The Economist wouldn't print it because they said the nuclear programme accusations were unfounded and far-fetched. So I qualified it with a sort of "rumour has it", but that wasn't enough. They were obviously fobbing me off, but that's not why I'm writing this.

Over the weekend, Nigeria hit the international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Mend militants kidnapped more oil workers and attacked oil infrastructure, just as cartoons protests turned sour in Maiduguri, killing up to sixteen people. These stories are making headlines here in Britain, but not for any altruistic reasons. Lord Palmerston was the one who said that a country has no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. And right now, the interests and fortunes of Nigeria are as intertwined with the West's as Hansel's fate is tied to Gretel's. In the nineties, when Abacha was raping the country, the West couldn't give two hoots. Nigeria was just another failed state, known for advance fee fraud, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Daniel Amokachi. But one man changed all that. Nope, not OBJ, but the mighty Osama bin Laden.

In the years BO (before Osama), House of Saud and House of Bush were cosy, oil was guaranteed. House of Saud could sponsor Wahhabism in Kano or Aden, so long as the black stuff kept flowing and, nobody attacked US interests. When the mulitnational (though mainly Saudi) nineteen brought down the Twin Towers*, the US figured out two crucial things: 1) the US cannot rely on Saudi Arabia for strategic partnership in the Middle East, especially oil, 2) the US has to fight Islamist terrorism wherever it may or may not rear its head.

These two positions forced the US to invade Iraq. You couldn't have some of the world's largest oil reserves being sat on by a despot like Saddam Hussein, especially when Iraq's neighbour Saudi Arabia wasn't such a great partner anymore. The US's objective has been to reduce reliance on Middle East oil, and this is where Nigeria comes in. Why rely on the mad mullahs of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, when you have pliant Nigeria, and Venezuela? Except that even Nostradamus couldn't have forseen the impact of Hugo Chavez, and Mend, leaving the US State department up a Delta state creek without a paddle.

When the Twin Towers went down*, there was a spike in the number of children named Osama in northern Nigeria. I have thought since then that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in Kano state, but people laugh. Yesterday, someone who was in Jos around 2001, told me that motorcycles (okadas) had pictures of Osama on them. Some riders would say, "he's a good man, he helps us". Potential Islamist bombers don't just come from the Middle East, they come from Morocco, Indonesia, Leeds, Nigeria, and so the US has taken a special interest in Nigeria, and the Sahel region.

Mend attacks Shell facilities, and world oil prices spike. People protest against Danish cartoons (a few weeks after everyone else) in Maiduguri, and people die - potential recruting ground for terrorists. The West can't ignore Nigeria anymore, because Nigeria will bite them in the arse, hard. I only wish I could find that article.

ps. There's also bird flu, but I reckon Nigerians will eat all the chickens before any WHO or Minsitry of Health official dares knock on their door.

*I hate using the term "9/11", it turns the event into a brand. Not cool.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Players and followers: followers.

In the world of football journalism, there are two categories of people: footballers and the rest. This categories are even more defined in African football where some of the players earn in one month what the whole press corps earn collectively in one year. In Egypt, there was a siege mentality among the players, a feeling that everyone who spoke to them was trying to suck them dry, literally and figuratively. Granted, I was always trying to get something from them, but it was merely a story I wanted, not coppers falling out of their wallets. The Nigerian press corps were "looked after" by the Nigeria FA, which meant they received sports jackets (which shielded against the cold), jerseys, shorts, etc.

Some of the items were perfectly harmless, souvenirs picked up like one would pens and pencils at a trade fair. However towards the end of the competition, a list of Nigerian journalists was drawn up for the Minister of Sport, Saidu Sambawa (the same one with bird flu on his farm). The lucky hacks on the list would get one thousand Egyptian pounds (LE1000), which is about £100. The journalists would have picked up this money on or about the 7th/8th of February, a couple of days before the final. I have no idea what services were performed by the journos to receive this money, but it seemed inappropriate to me.

I'm not part of the "old guard", nor was did anybody really know me, so my name wasn't on the list. I was the one who was constantly mistaken for being Ghanaian, prompting cries of, "oh, you're Nigerian sef. I thought you were one of the charley boys." The money was seen as a "gift" from the ministry, probably some excess left over after win bonuses weren't given out for Nigeria's loss to Cote d'Ivoire. There were some journalists who refused to accept the money, saying it was only journalists who had "sold their souls" that accepted such. I told the story of Jack McConnell's holiday in Kirsty Wark's Spanish villa, and how that had caused such a furore. But apparently, the rules for sports journalism are different.

Small Man spoke about how he had accepted gifts of money from some Ghanaian players, some of whom he's been friends with since childhood when they played keepy uppy with eaten oranges. He said there was no shame in it and when he interviewed them, they'd complain, "look at the relationship we have, and yet you were asking me those kinds of questions." This, Small Man felt, was a sign of his impartiality, maintaining his ability to do the job regardless of personal friendships.

In a country like Nigeria where all lines of propriety are blurred, it can be difficult to determine what is an actual taboo, and what isn't. One could argue that the journalists are underpaid and undervalued, financial help (a subsidy perhaps) from the ministry shouldn't be judged harshly. The question though is whether the Sports Minitry's records will show that money was given to certain journalists. I doubt that it will, and that is the big problem for me. Hiding that kind of information undermines the journalists, and could hamper their ability to write articles that are critical of the ministry. The Sports Minister apparently has a habit of summoning reporters whenever he choses a platform from which to spin his yarn. How can a journalist resist a minister's overtures when he is seemingly in the minister's pocket?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tales of love, or something.

Since it's St. Valentine's Day, I'd thought it'd be good to tell a romantic story, romantic of sorts. I had a telephone stalker in Egypt. She was calling me all the way from Italy to talk to me. On the first night she called, I told her that I had no idea who she was. It seemed a bit odd that someone would be calling a wrong number all the way from Itay, and what's more, she was Nigerian. Very often in London, whenever my phone rings on a wrong number, the person turns out to be Nigerian. But the chances of a random Nigerian in Italy calling another Nigerian who is temporarily in Egypt?

Someone had given her my number, and I could just about guess who gave it to her. Even though we'd never met, she knew sketchy details about why I was in Egypt. The next time she call, I realised she was mistaken. She had this misconstrued idea that I was a Nigerian footballer. "I just finished watching your match. How come I didn't see you?" Erm, I'm a journalist. I'm here covering the Nigerian team, not playing with them. "But you're with them sha?" Maybe what I said didn't make sense. I was tempted to say, "well you see this coach guy, he's jealous of me, so he doesn't want to pick me to play." But I thought the better option was to hold my tongue, literally, feign choking and spluttering. Which I did. "You'll call me sometime, won't you? This is my number." In my haste to leave, I think I might have said "yes, I'll call."

Never tell anybody you have no intention of calling that you'll call them back. She called again the next day, complaining that I hadn't called her. I came up with the "it's been hectic around here" cliché. For the sake of common courtesy I stupidly said again that I'd call her. The next day, the phone rang. I recognised the number, so I passed the phone to Small Man, who was only too happy to entertain her. She and Small Man had a long conversation about goodness knows what. I think in the end Small Man even gave her his telephone number in Ghana. Now that is what I call industry. I think she called again once before I left, but as usual, Small Man was on hand to entertain her with cartwheels and juggling miniature pyramids. I'm back in London now, surely this is too far for her.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

So it's still winter.

London... I land at Heathrow. Luggage doesn't arrive (first time ever). Terminal 2 still as drab as three weeks ago. Get on the tube to go home, same British accents. Same groups of girls with cans of larger going clubbing. In Egypt, the women are more or less covered head to toe. In London, the women look naked. Should the winter air be blowing those bits? Saturday night perhaps. The Sikh man asks someone who looks Asian something in an Indian langauge, "only English, only English" the man replies, heavily accented, evidently upset. Why don't you immigrants leave the mother language behind.

Got to Green Park, the interchange between the lines still as long as ever. This time I stroll, I'm not rushing anywhere. No friends to meet up with. No urgent meetings that I'm running late for. People walk past me. No questions about where I'm from. Nobody curious as to which football team I'm in London to watch. At my destination, music blaring. Suspicious-looking man standing at the entrance. I clutch my laptop harder. Strap the buckles on my jacket. Brace myself for the cold, then cring as I step into the open. As usual, my ears freeze. Nothing changed, dustbin still in the same place. Pavement works progressed. Plantain shop closed. Saturday, can't miss the Guardian on Saturday. Missed British newspapers and current affairs while I was away. Look at the magazine shelf. Zoo: Chantelle with nipples on display. Some other magazine, Preston dumps Chantelle, goes back to... whoever.

Walk home. Streets are quiet. Car is still there. Council sticker on about it being an abandoned vehicle. Must sort out road tax, or move it into the garage. The letters have piled up. No red letters yet, but they'll come soon I'm sure. Room is a mess. Always is. Broadband works like a dream, I gush. I check bank account online, I stop gushing. Have barely slept for two days, body clock is two hours ahead. Need sleep. Stare at the ceiling in darkness. I ask philosophical questions. What's it all about? Why am I here? Why is it all so ordinary? These questions didn't crop up once over the last three weeks. Had no time for thinking about life, was living life. Perhaps pause for thought is good.

I go back online. Where will I go next? Where is the next adventure? I see the prices, reality bites. I bookmark the pages. I'll come back to them. I promise I will.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Apologies accepted?

It seems the byline/credit story is relatively dead. Fair enough.

One of them wrote in an email he sent:

"I don't know - it may be that it was in the paper; I'll ask. If they haven't put it in, I'll be complaining - it would be the second time they've done this, and it's really annoying. I don't think they realise how it can damage the relationship between a journalist and a colleague or a contact: just some idiot sub decides they haven't got room or something. My apologies - did ***** get you a credit in the *****?"

And this is what the other person said:

"Hi Nkem,

May have been a misunderstanding on our part, to do with newspaper jargon. A credit means dosh,a payment, which you'll get for research. Sorry if you thought otherwise. It would in any case have been a no-go for my paper to have the same by-line on a story that was in the ***** the same day.

Thanks for the help, and chase it up if you haven't had money in three weeks or so, which I'm
afraid tends to be how long it takes."

Be not afraid brethren

Be not afraid, o ye brethren, for I am in the land of the pharoahs. The lord hath taketh me to Cairo where access of the wide web of the world is but a commodity scarce and injurious of pocket. But lo, I am alive.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Who's the mug?

I've just looked online at the Sindy and Sunday Times, no credits for yours truly. I'll say nothing about it until I find out more, because if let rip, I'll do much more than cause offence. I'm too pissed off to blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Only clichés will do.

You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. The tension was palpable. We were on tenterhooks. We had our hearts in our mouths. We held our breaths for minutes. Then we breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was sweet revenge after 2004. "Nigeria advance to semifinals after tense penalty shoot-out."

I've run out of clichés. The Tunisian fans threatened to replicate their behaviour in 2004, when they pelted us (Nigeria fans) with plastic bottles. This was Port Said, not Tunis. We were the home team here, and wouldn't be intimidated. The Tunisia team had huge travelling support here, easily drowning out our trumpets and "he's a miracle working God" chants. But the Tunisians aren't liked in Egypt, everyone we bumped into over the last couple of days asked us to shaft Tunisia. Though not in such polite terms.

As usual, the "independent" press corps led the singing after Enyeama saved Bouazizi's penalty. I cringed (again), but also smiled because I was pleased we had won. Nigeria winning on penalties is a rare thing. We lost to Tunisia on penalties in the 2004 semifinals, and also in the 2000 final against Cameroun. I was also pleased to see Kanu score a penalty. The man of the match was Mikel, but Enyeama comes a very close second. The man has saved Nigeria time and again in this competition, and the defenders owe him half of their match winning bonus.

Sitting in front of me was a spy, sent by the Cote d'Ivoire coach, Henri Michel. If they beat Cameroun, he'd have notes to consult for our semifinal clash. As soon as Tunisia scored, he turned and said to me, "problem of concentration". The man also reckons that Mikel is a more defensive option than Jay Jay or Oruma. He shouldn't be deceived. That perception is probably due to the differing styles. Oruma and Jay Jay dribble past players, Mikel doesn't need to that. He takes players out of the game with his passes, rather than by dribbling.

Cote d'Ivoire have just won 12-11 on penalties, beating the Ghana v Cote'Ivoire 1992 final of 10-11. See you in Alexandria.


I am kicking myself for being very slow in jumping on the ferry disaster story. It is heartless, no doubt, but it's journalistic instinct. I didn't realise that there had been an accident until Alaye Scoro told me online, at 5pm local time. It was pointless going to the dailies, because they'd be going to print in a matter of hours, and I definitely woudln't be able get to Safaga (the destination of the ferry) before they went to print. The next best thing was to get in touch with the Sunday papers, but even that was pushing it for time.

I did get in touch with the Sundays, but I suspect it was too late. Before coming on the trip, I wanted to buy a shortwave radio, but I'm the king of procrastination and last minutism. If I had one, I'd have been listening to the BBC World Service, and heard about it as soon as it came off the wires. I grew up listening to the clipped tones of the World Service. I remember during the Gideon Orkar coup d'etat of 1989 the local radio stations had bene shut down, but if you tuned into the BBC, you could hear the gunshots rifling around Dodan Barracks.

I haven't given up yet, but right now, there's the small matter of revenge against Tunisia.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Egypt ferry disaster

No doubt most you have heard that nearly 1,400 people are feared dead, after a ferry sank in the Red Sea. Call me heartless but my first thoughts were that I should be out there covering the story. Such stories are a wonderful opportunity for journalists like me to work. When the London bombings happened last summer, my first instinct was that I shouldn't be here in my house, I should be close to the action. This time, I am close to the action, not necessarily physically, but in the sense that it could take a while before news organisations get people on the groud.

Right now, all my efforts are being put into seeing if I can make any journalistic capital out of this tragedy.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Quiet days - Sindy, Sunday Times

The days since getting back to Port Said have been quiet. There was Nigeria's victory over Senegal, and Ghana dumped out of the competition in a 2-1 loss to lowly Zimbabwe. The Nigerian press corps displayed the most blatantly biased behaviour ever seen at football match. It is understandable for Nigerian press to cheer when their country score a goal, but to sing victory songs at the end of the match? I bet the players were confused as to who were the real supporters' club, those in the stands or in the press box. They were openly cheering for the Nigerian team without an ounce of reticence. I was slightly ashamed to be among them, but what can I do? My name is Nkem Ifejika, there's no anglicised version to duck beneath.

Small Man was depressed, irate, despondent, and any other adjective you can find to describe the feeling of the hopeful Black Stars loss. He threatened to write a story accusing the football officials going shopping and frolicking with a harem of pliant Egyptian women. There's apparently photographic evidence of the shopping trips, but the harem might have been a slight fabrication of Small Man's. A couple of days before the game, Small Man was talking about how Duya (the Ghana coach's nickname) was the Second Coming. But after the game, even Duya's head on a silver platter and entrails on a skewer wouldn't have assuaged Small Man. He wanted the man axed, and not axed as a euphemism, but literally axed. Such was his rage.

The next day, the Ghanaian players were holed up in their hotel rooms. That was when they were at their most inconspicuous. No hobnobbing with fans, no strolls to the convenience store, just avoiding the gaze of a media baying for Black Star blood. Small Man Big Brain had a bit more hustling to do, he wouldn't let the players leave without paying for their mess up. Truth be told, they'd have paid for their success as well, had they won.

Helnan Hotel, where the team is staying, is packed with members of the supporters club. Some of them are regulars who I met for the first time in Tunisia in 2004. They are basically Alaye boys registered as members of the supporters club, entitled to go wherever the Eagles dare. The players do well and get match bonuses, the Alaye boys do well and get some spending money. Extortion would be a strong word to use, but the players "see" them in the Nigerian sense. "Seeing" someone is not just a Nigerian phenomenon, but it's difficult to describe, because it isn't bribery, and it isn't extortion either. It's probably somewhere in between. My nickname with the supporters club is "London Based". I'm sure Nigerians reading this know exactly what I mean.

Port Said is on the Mediterranean coast, on the mouth of the Suez Canal. I had seen some ship masts passing by in the distance, but hadn't actually seen the water on which they were floating. I convinced Small Man to come with me for a seaside walk. After the walk, I went to the players hotel, and stumbled upon Jonathan Wilson (freelancer here with the FT and Sindy), and Ian Hawkey (Sunday Times's European football man). I had met Jonathan after the first Nigeria game, and I met Ian at the Nigeria v Senegal game. They were in the hunt for world famous John Shittu, John Obi Mikel's agent. Not very much is known about Mikel's background, so they were keen to find out about the boy wonder, and who better than the man who brought him to Europe.

I knew a fair bit about the Mikel story background, so I helped things churn along while John Shittu was saying his bit. I was in the middle of a good story, but as a relatively new freelancer I don't have an express outlet. If I was to sell the story before Sunday, it might have messed up Jonathan, who was selling his to the Sindy, and it would also have messed up Ian, with the Sunday Times. So Ian said we could share credits on the Sunday Times piece, and he'd organise payment for me. Yay! Sold my first story.

On Sunday morning, run to your local newsagent and get a copy of the Sunday Times and Sindy, or if you feel like an El Cheapo, check it out online...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

It's been a few days..., part 2

Now, where was I. I forgot a tiny detail about the Ghana v Senegal game. There was a fight among the Ghanaian fans. In that small microcosm of Africa, I could see why there are so many pointless civil wars on the continent. The reason for the fight was simple. Some spectators were standing, so the people sitting behind them couldn't see the game. This all started because the Ghanaian supporters' club at the front of the stands were singing and dancing, which meant that the subsequent rows behind them had to stand so that they could see. Some people told the supporters club to sit down and watch the game, so that those behind could sit and watch. They refused. A man pointed to the Senegalese section, they were singing and dancing. The Ghanaian supporters weren't about to be outdone, so they were going to sing and dance as well.
Someone very annoyed, sitting near where I was splashed water from a plastic bottle on those in front, and then someone threw a bottle back in retaliation. Then another bottle flew back to the front. This time, someone from the front charged through the crowd to attack one of the men next to me. If you look at the picture above, you can see the man standing to the right has water marks on his cap and denim jacket. The man second from the right is being restrained, and most of the people in the background are looking back to watch the drama. People eventually calmed down, but not before the intervention of riot police (whose main job is separating rival fans).

The main cause of the fight was that nobody agreed to back down. It was trivial, yet it seemed the stakes were high - like diamonds in Sierra Leone, or banana plantations in Somalia. On a purely superficial level, that is the problem in many African conflicts, nobody wants to be the mug to back down.

29/01 - Kasr El Nile
The day after the night before, the Trooper, Small Man and I went walking around Tahrir Square. The aim of the walk was to find food pronto, but it ended up being a two hour sightseeing trek. I had an emotional moment when I realised that I was on Kasr El Nile, a street which had the hotel where my mum and I had stayed when I was eleven. That summer was one of my most memorable. I started that summer in Cote d'Ivoire, and then flew to India from Cairo. The summer ended with a road trip from Nigeria to Ghana, where I was a young delegate for a conference my mum was attending. Kofi, they called me.

I hadn't used my Ghanaian name before, nor have I since. I'd love to say the story about how I have a Ghanaian name is a long and convoluted one. But it isn't. Nigerians love giving names, everyone has to name the child. The paternal grandmother has to give one, the parents have to give several each, even an estranged aunt, whom you've never seen, but had a word of "prophesy" about your birth gets to give you a name. Most names don't appear on birth certificates, but all the different individuals call you by the different names. In my case, Kofi made it onto the birth certificate. My dad went to school in Ghana, and had an affinity for Ghana, kenkey, and highlife music. So he gave me a Ghanaian name.

My mum figured that at age eleven, it was the last chance to take advantage of half price air fares for children under twelve. No half price fares on this trip though, but prices have been quite good. After walking around for two hours, we found a most wonderful restaurant, Felfela. The interior was very kitsch, but this didn't detract from the quality of the food. The menu had autographs of Jimmy Carter, and other ambassadors to Egypt. The man serving us was superb. The people sitting down to dine were the most cosmopolitan group I'd seen in Egypt. Copts, Muslims in traditional wear, Muslims in not so traditional wear, foreigners (like us).

While eating I set up a meeting with Video Cairo Sat. Luckily they were only a few minutes walk from Felfela, on a main road called Corniche El Nile, right by the Nile. They helped me with details about a story I'm chasing, and I also got a chance to talk to some producers and directors about potential collaboration and story ideas in Egypt. All in all, a very fruitful meeting.

After Video Cairo Sat, it was off to the Angola v Togo game. The Trooper had told me there were some rather attractive Angolan women dancing seductively to some Salsa type music at the last Angola game. But wasn't why I was going. I was going to watch football, and it was only because the Trooper forced me to that I sat among the Angolan fans.

30/01 - Back to Bur Said
Bur Said is obviously Port Said in Arabic. We left in the afternoon, but not before having a long conversation with a football scout. What does it take to be a football scout? "Well, speaking ten languages might help a little," said the Dutchman. Cheeky bugger. He was looking for African footballing talent, something he'd done for years. During the course of the tournament, he had become an official scout for Anderlecht. The Trooper seemed slightly envious. Here was a man who made a living out of the beautiful game, searching the globe for the next Ronaldinho or Rooney. The Trooper, on the other hand, has to deal with a desk job as a chemist in the concrete jungle that is Holborn, and make do with the fantasy of football biographies and autobiographies.

The people at my hotel were wondering where I had absconded to over the past two nights. They didn't think I was in trouble though, they only assumed I was shacked up with an Egyptian woman. Way off the mark?