Thursday, June 29, 2006

Murder Kemi wrote

Saw this story in yesterday's Guardian. Kemi Adeyoola, was clearly intelligent, and privileged - so why she ended up commiting such a heinous crime, we'll never know. It raises the usual questions of whether people are born evil, or if it's their surroundings which matter more.

I question the father saying that she had been obsessed with money from an early age. He lost contact with her when she was 11, an age at which a father should still be able to instill discipline and values in a child. If she had any obsessions with mammon from before then, he would have had the responsiblity of curbing that desire. Alas, he wasn't there in her formative years, and now, without an ounce of guilt, he says the signs were always there.

The fact that he is a rich man, can't possibly help his argument. If anyone could tell her about love, money, roots, and evil, he would be that person. But once again, he wasn't there. Is he to blame for how she turned out? No. She's responsible for her own actions. Do his comments betray a certain culpability in the path that led to her actions. Perhaps.

In my youth I used to think all people were born good, and that society made them evil. But when I feel more cynical, I tend to think that all people are born evil, and goodness needs to beaten into them - the rod speaketh. Neither position is true, and the reality is probably somewhere in between. This case raises those questions. A close look at the case shows shows not an obsession with money, but a thirst for the acclaim which leads to getting money. A desire to be an author, being an escort with a friend shadowing her, James Bond-like, a plotted murder. All the actions of a thrill seeker. Like I always say, it's a thin line between insanity and genius.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

We're still Ghanaian (and partly Brazilian)

The Black Stars acquitted themselves well, but they suffered from the perennial African disease of non-scoring-itis. Brazil, on the other hand were clinical, and 3-0 was a flattering score. Fat Ronaldo scored after being written off by the media, and he has now scored the most World Cup goals ever. Ghana missed Michael Essien desperately, because he would have been the one to check Brazil's marauding midfielders. He must have been bitterly disappointed.

I should be sad and depressed at Ghana's loss, but I'm not - for several reasons. When you follow Nigeria's progress at international competitions, you get used to heartbreak. And over time you build up resistance to crushing defeats and upsets. Ghana's loss was nothing compared to being hammered 4-1 by Denmark in 1998, or losing to Cameroun on penalties in the 2000 African Cup of Nations. In Nigeria, we live in hope. All. The. Time.

I was able to conduct four interviews with Marcel Desailly (born in Ghana), Leonardo (World Cup winner in 1994), Frank Lebeouf (former Chelsea and France defender), and Patrick Barclay, who writes fot the Sunday Telegraph. Missed out on Mick McCarthy and Graham Taylor due to stretched resources. One camera can't be in two places at one. But we live and learn. So on a personal front, a good outing.

The German public were fiercely partisan in favour of Ghana (see picture above). Brazil even got booed, and constant shouts of "Ghana" echoed through the stadium. Ghana might have been underdogs going into the game, but it didn't feel that way. Ghana is now firmly on the football map, but I'm sure their World Cup perfomance will lead to even greater tourist awareness. Ghana Tourism should expect an influx.

And finally, after leaving the stadium, we bumped into some Brazilian fans sashaying to some samba rhythms from Rio (below). How could I stay upset? I said to myself, "Thank goodness women are not one of my vices". Then I thought, "actually, that could easily be fixed".

I'm not working today as there are no matches on today and tomorrow, so I have a couple of days off. I feel like listening to some Kardinal Offishall - Fire and Glory, some Tribe Called Quest - Beats, Rhymes & Life, and maybe some Police - Message in a Bottle... Will walk the streets of Frankfurt with no immediate worries, wind in my hair, sun in my face, sand in my feet.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Africa - still second class

Ghana play Brazil in Dortmund today. This has got to be the most anticipated game on the African continent since Turkey beat Senegal in the 2002 quarter-final. In preparation for the game, yesterday we went to Bergisch Gladbach, just outside Cologne, to a Brazilian press conference and open training session. How many African media representatives were present? One. Us. As the only black man there who wasn't obviously Brazilian, they kept asking me if I was Ghanaian so that they could conduct an interview. They had to make do with a Nigerian television substitute.

After leaving Bergisch Gladbach, we went to watch Switzerland vs Ukraine. At the Rheinenergie Stadion in Cologne, I saw Jean Pierre Kongue-Esso, who I first met at the African Cup of Nations in January. He had been at the Brazilian training ground the day before, writing a report for Camfoot, (which you should check out). And guess what? He was the only African there. The day before Ghana play their biggest football game ever, and there's no African representative nobody to ask the opponents about how they plan to deal with Stephen Appiah (which I asked BTW), or if Ghana's reputation as the roughest team (most fouls commited) at the tournament is justified. Our resources are overstretched, but we still sent out a crew 75 kilometres away to do Ghana's camp, which was running at the same time as Brazil's.

This is something I've seen time and again at this competition. African media have been barely visible, and moreso in broadcast. A country as football obsessed as Nigeria should be covering the World Cup to the hilt. But they have to make do with us, a six man crew working round the clock to produce a daily 15 minute show. The simple fact is that Africa can't compete in the global media market.

To do justice to a tournament like the World Cup, you need to have broadcasting rights. Very few African media houses have the loot to buy the rights. FIFA might be a money sucking monolith, but even they can predict much more than a riot if they prevent Nigerians from watching the World Cup. So they have the LiM Group, which oversees distribution of media rights to the empty chest broadcasters in Africa. Infront Sports and Media, deal with FIFA's media rights, and you can see the World Cup rights allocation in this pdf. If you look at the African broadcasters, you'll see that almost every country's free-to-air station is affiliated to LiM. The national carriers can't afford it.

LiM is no television charity which drops broadcasting rights from the sky into football starved homes of Africans - they have control of advertising. After all, they've got to eat, right? LiM give the carriers the right to broadcast, but can only give them the barest minimum package, any extras are at the IBC arbitrators discretion. In all honesty, this package doesn't require the national carrier to even have anyone in Germany. The package allows NTA, say, to show the football, and then the official press conference, (there's a general media one after the FIFA one). This package doesn't allow the "money shot" of a studio presenter at the stadium, on the pitch, or in the mixed zone (where media and players mix). What viewers get is bland, identity-less coverage. Imagine the BBC doing football without Motty and Lawro being in the stadium to commentate.

The BBC World Service has a package which allows them to broadcast only 90 seconds of material from inside the stadium. After the match, you find reporters rushing for the gates so that they can file their reports outside the stadium gates. The World Service still had to pay for its measly 90 seconds. When Ghana beat USA, there was us, SABC, and Ghana's Metro TV, as the few African representatives. Metro TV have a similar package to ours, but do have priority for matches involving Ghana. SABC have a tiny crew here, but not nearly enough for a broadcaster that will probably be one of the host carriers in 2010.

That said, much can be done without being in the stadium, and that's what we've done. Globo TV of Brazil built a studio at the Brazil training ground. But Globo is the world's largest maker of Portuguese language programming, with 80 million daily viewers. NTA could be an African equivalent, but alas...

I understand that not every country can have a representative at every match, but the paucity of African media representatives is worrying. There would have been some matches with no African television media in attendance. Paying for the rights would be a great expense for any television station willing to take on the task, but having people on ground in the host country would be even more daunting. To make it work, you need immense television broadcast expertise. Outside broadcasts are the most complicated and expensive things in broadcast media, and very few African national carriers have the resources to do it justice.

Africa has had very little to shout about by way of qualification for the second round. Off the pitch, behind the cameras, Africa hardly exists. Here's to hoping that Ghana deal a blow for the millions of people watching soulless football coverage from their television sets in the shebeens, beer parlours, and shisha bars of the continent.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

New Age Ghana

One of the brilliant things about being abroad, but still being in Europe, is that I can still read British newspapers. A little kiosk down the road sells all the broadsheets, and the main train station has everything including the tabloids. In the mornings I walk down to the kiosk, get a bottle of apple juice, of the "freshly pressed apples" variety, not the "from concentrate" diabetes-inducing type - and I pick up a Guardian, or an Observer.

Yesterday, there was a double page spread on the Black Stars in the Observer's sports pages:

Senegal, January 1992. At the end of Ghana's seventh African Nations Cup final Abedi Pele's emotions are scrambled. The captain and three times African Player of the Year had been pivotal in Ghana's efforts, scoring against Nigeria in the semi-finals and being voted player of the tournament. read on...

Scandal on Leopoldstrasse and other tales

So there I am in the middle of Leopoldstrasse in Munich, doing a "piece-to-camera", when two girls plant simultaneous kisses on my cheeks, and then disappear as quickly as they appeared. I giggle like a little girl whose teacher has just asked her to sit beside a boy she fancies. I'm busy trying to make an honest living, but meanwhile, there are German frauleins involving me in a lip smacking plot. How is a man to survive, I ask? Whenever there's a match, Leopoldstrasse (a major thoroughfare) becomes a street carnival of song, dance, beer, and of course, kisses. There's no better place to be than in the city that has just witnessed their Mannschaft qualify for the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

The Allianz Arena, otherwise known as the Schlauchboot (German for "inflatable boat"), is truly breath-taking. It looks like some kind of space wheel which has fallen off The Michelin Man. It was daylight when Germany beat Sweden so I didn't see it in its nighttime glory, which sees it change colours (see picture). I sat on the very first row, which doesn't have a very good view of the pitch because of the sideways, rather than overhead view. But if you ever want to grab Miroslav Klose's bottom, or tell Freddie Ljunberg face-to-face that he's a prissy pretty boy, it's as close to the action as a spectator can get. In fact, the ball once came to where I was sitting, and I artfully punched it towards the ball boy. I could spy Klinsmann from the corner of my eye - the poor fella had an envious "if only he were a Deutschlander" look.

Today, we take it easy. England play, but we have no guaranteed tickets for the match. There is more media following England than following the host nation. As Nigeria aren't in the competition, so NTA is way down the pecking order. If England loose, the fans will get drunk and smash up Stuttgart, and if they win, they'll probably get drunk and smash up Stuttgart. I shall look for a church, seek peace from the madness of multi-city travelling, and give thanks for tiny mercies. Then Italy and Brazil training sessions beckon. Azzuri, or the Boys from Brazil? Only one is possible, as they are both held several kilometres apart at pretty much the same time. Might do Brazil. Might do Italy. Dunno. Choices, choices...

On the day Ghana beat USA, we went to a Ghanaian joint in Frankfurt called "Heart of Africa - Kenkey House". I had eaten plantain there last week, and needed another fix, so I ordered fish and plantain - I drooled throughout the meal. Eating it brought back the most improbably memories. It reminded me of school dinners. And in the split second that I recognised the taste, I realised how privileged I was at school. Most people think of school dinners with puke inducing disgust, but I was eating at a home-from-home bar/restaurant, and I thought of Mr Prosper's cooking. It now seems obvious that our diet was predominantly Ghanaian. The kenkey, the rice and beans, the way the plantain was fried, the fufu, the okra - all Ghana.

Witnessing the Ghanaian community here has made me respect immigrants even more than I already did. The Ghanaians here are among the most prominent of the black communities in Germany, with two members of the German World Cup squad (Gerald Asamoah and David Odonkor) of Ghanaian origin. It is a sign of bravery that they would chose to emigrate to an alien German language and culture, rather than an Anglophone one readily available in Britain. The quest to make a better life for oneself has no limits, and I applaud those who put in the hard work. More power to your elbow.

Swathes of yellow-clad Swedish fans in the corner.

The stadium after the final whistle, look at all the flags. Oliver Bierhoff walking past.

All team coaches have mottos on them. Team USA coach, United they lose. But United nonetheless.

Ghana coach, with motto in Twi. Translation would be appreciated.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Yay, Ghana oh, Yay, Ghana oh, Yay'yay!

This is now the familiar cry of victorious Ghanaians the world over. They occupied just a small part of the grounds, but the rhythms sent shockwaves through the ground, into the distance. Vesuvius has nothing on Ghanaian fans. Ambrosia dancing, gyration of the gods, trance-like response to a spherical leather thing crossing a white painted line. Who needs syringes of adrenalin when you have goals. "Bring on Brazil, bring on Brazil", they chanted fearlessly.

The Americans had just the one unimaginative cry, "USA, USA". And when the referee gave Ghana the penalty, "bullshit" they bellowed. The Black Stars of Ghana shone bright. The star spangled USA were Black Star struck. This was a historic win for Ghana, like when David's sling and rock felled the mighty Goliath. I heard that Lagos was in a frenzy, imagine what Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast would have been like - ablaze with ecstasy.

In retrospect, I'm slightly ashamed of my behaviour. I couldn't cage my glee at Ghana's victory. Impartiality was defenestrated. People kept coming up to me and congratulating me. Kofi might be a name given to me by an over-enthusiastic father, I might know Kokrobite, and might have once had a haircut in Kumasi, but I'm still not Ghanaian. The top I had on certainly didn't help. The day after the Twin Towers tragedy, Le Monde ran a piece with the header: "We are all Americans". That solidarity was in a time of tragedy, but today our solidarity is held in unfettered joy. Today, we are all Ghanaians.

The usually shy Michael Essien even had time to talk to us. The self belief was palpable, one could almost touch it. Ransford Abbey, an eloquent spokesman of the Ghanaian FA was proud of the GFA's achievement. Simple formulae: people who understand the modern game, long-term planning, reducing reliance on the sports ministry. Nigeria, are you listening?

"You'’re working for Nigerian television? But Nigeria isn'’t here, what happened to you guys? You should be here!" If I had a euro for every time someone said this to me, I'd be dining with Gates and Branson, having tea with Her Majesty, turning left when boarding a plane rather than right. In other words, I'd be rich - I've heard it too many times for comfort.

The experts here will tell you that Nigeria should have learned her lesson, and will surely qualify next time. My greatest and most plausible fear is that she hasn'’t. Right now, the country has no FA. Nigeria will sleepwalk into qualification for the major tournaments before South Africa in 2010. As usual, they'll be favourites, and and as usual they'’ll come third (which many feel should be patented to Nigeria). When they should have been giving the players practice (like Cameroon and Senegal) by playing pre-World Cup friendlies, the FA and Sports ministry were squabbling.

Saidu Sambawa is a twit, and I'd like to be quoted on that. He had to leave his post as Sports Minister earlier this month, and it'’s because of his interference that FIFA threatened to suspend NFA. Good riddance. I only hope his sucessor doesn'’t continue the nonsense tradition of bribing journalists. Okay, it'’s not blatantly a bribe, but stop giving journos money. And journos, stop taking money, broke though you are.

But on to more pleasant thoughts. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hitler held rallies in Nuremberg, a clarion call for the National Socialist cause. In 2006, about a mile from where the original rallies were held, a Black nation triumphs against the odds. Hitler must be turning in his grave. Let's hope he keeps turning. We are all Ghanaian now.

Above, Ghana fans after scoring: Highlife/hiplife and any other life versus Samba and Joga Bonito.

Monday, June 19, 2006

How would Jesus surf?

And I don't mean of the Waikiki variety surfers for Jesus. If Jesus were here today and he didn't nick unlocked wireless broadband, then he'd do the next best thing and encourage the needy of internet to be fed. Out of the blue popped up this open wireless internet connection in Frankfurt. So I'll probably post more often. Herr Schmidt, I'm sorry, but I'm sure you have one of those unlimited downloads at 10 terrabytes per second for €2 a month packages. Ta.

Have a look at some of these pictures.

Below is Ronaldinho's uncle, complete with teeth.

Remember the screen on the River Main? People sitting to the right, Frankfurt skyline in the background.

I'll put some up as and when. Must dash, the sun rises.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

No rest

Sunday. A day of rest. Not on your nelly. 4-hour train journey to Munich, where Oz face Brazil. I'm tired... but will I stop? Will I heck. I'll need a holiday after this.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Football and identity

Football is a religion, the stadium is the temple, and the fans are the worshippers. There is no other way to explain what happens when people gather in one place in the name of football. I’m gradually building a catalogue of cultural stereotypes: the Trinis are party animals, the Aussies are crazy party animals, and the South Koreans are good natured crazy party animals (see video).

Frankfurt was painted a sea of red as South Korea defeated Togo 2-1. The city rang out to sounds of “Daehan Minguk” followed by a rhythmic clap. The South Korean song has been by the far the catchiest, due to it simplicity. If you shout “Daehan Minguk” (which is traditional name of the country) to anybody in Frankfurt, they are sure to respond automatically with the now familiar clap.

When the Aussies beat Japan a few days ago in Kaiserslautern, some Japanese fans were crying. That was how much a first round game in the World Cup meant to them. I’m having to reassess my views on nationalism and pride for one’s country. I tend to question pride for one’s country, especially as nobody chooses where they are born.

CNN showed images of Seoul, the people drunk with delirium over the win. It means a lot to people for their country to win in football. Are there any psychologists out there who can explain this? The excitement is contagious, but I’m having to experience it second hand, vicariously through the people we film and interview. If Nigeria were here, it would have become a personal obsession.

In the past, I’ve found it difficult to refer to Nigeria in the first person plural “we”, plumping instead for the dispassionate third person: “Nigerians tend to be…” as opposed to, “we tend to be...” I am passionate about Nigerian football, and this could be the medium through which I learn to appreciate my Nigerian roots and culture all over again. Should football be the catalyst for this? I don’t know.

Germany is filled with people from all over the world, here to support their teams. Mexican American Angelinos are here to support USA, and cheer for Mexico on behalf of their parents. Ecuadoreans from Oz fly more than half way across the world to watch Oz and Ecuador. Germans who once lived in Togo scream, “Allez Togo”. The world, as far as football fans are concerned, is jumbled up in a blend of nationalities, allegiances both false and true, and despite the (harmless) nationalism, it becomes an acknowledgement of our oneness as human beings.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m trying to say, because it’s a nebulous one. I haven’t pinned it down to some grand narrative which encompasses all that’s in my head. How does one combine football, nationalism, humour, culture, heritage, passion into a single thought process – it’s a difficult one. Do you know what I mean?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Aussies are mental (and fairly chiselled)

I haven't got much time to post. But below is a video which shows that the Aussies are mental, and rather chiselled. Never seen so many bare chested men who didn't induce vomiting as soon as you saw them shirtless. Yesterday, we were in Kaiserslautern, where Australia had just beaten Japan, in what was one of the more insignificant games of the tournament. Not for these guys. If Guus Hiddink works his magic as he did with South Korea in 2002, parts of Australia will disappear after being drowned in beer. Look out for the guy in his underpants immitating Mil Mascaras - jumping from the top rope. Stay chiselled.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I'm moving to Trinidad

My Nigerian tv debut had to be delayed because of a technical problem. I think the problem has the technical term, "NTA", but enough sniping. I'm not sure when we'll start properly, but hopefully from Monday, we'll be on everyday. We still haven't got internet at the flat, so I have to make the daily trip to the internet cafe to post these. Very frustrating. Thanks for the advice, I shall be giving my mum advance warning.

Trinidad and Tobago (above) might be the smallest country to ever qualify for the World Cup, but to compensate for being a small country, they brought the biggest party machine ever. After their 0-0 draw against Sweden, one could be forgiven for thinking that they had won the World Cup. The Caribbean rum company Angustora has organised a few free events centred around Trinidad games. And after the Sweden match, fans of all hues and colours converged on downtown Dortmund, and threw possibly the biggest party since Borussia Dortmund won the Champions League.

The Trini fans held a mini-carnival. Actually, they held a proper carnival. The stage had massive sound systems and booming speakers, along with customary toaster shouting “jump, jump, jump, jump, jump”. The women and girls where doing some escandaloso dances which surely cannot be legal before dusk. Blonde Swedes and a kilted contingent from Scotland joined the Trini fans in the partying, downing rum and gyrating to the alien but seductive rhythms of the Caribbean. So as not leave out any carnival detail, a costumed temptress performed a dance of such move-your-body-like-a-snake-ma-ishness, that jaws were being scraped of the floor. If I was Catholic, I'd be looking for the nearest confession booth (below).

Even though I was supposed to be working, interviewing fans and some of the stars they brought to perform – Dekstra and Maximus Dan – I couldn’t help but down tools and do a jig every chance I got. The mixture of people was astounding, a colour palette of jet blacks, royal whites, fuschia pinks, wooded maroons, verdy greens, all with the same finish, same accent. Dulux has nothing on Trinidad. It reminded me of my Trinidadian friend from school, who was always talking about his friend back home, whose name was "Rastaman Clint". Would you believe that Rastaman Clint was Chinese? Exactly.

We got back to Frankfurt at 2am, but didn't go to sleep until about 5am. I'm posting this at 9.30, all dressed up and ready to go to Cologne for the day. This job ain't easy, but someone's got to do it, right?:-)

Friday, June 09, 2006


Disaster! When disasters strike, they arrive like buses – in twos or threes. In my case, 25 disasters. I was going to grace the Nigerian television screens resplendent in African shirts for each of the 25 days on screen, but, it turns out that patterned shirts are rubbish for television. They create a dizzying effect, and can cause fits in epilepsy sufferers, or so I’m led to believe. My suitcase is packed with African shirts, enough to open a shop, is now useless. I brought two plain tops, two!

I will be forced to wear boring plain shirts, or I might have to invest in football related tops. Why can’t someone invent a camera which is compatible with African shirts? It would do people like me a whole lot of good.

Anyway, I went to do my first shoot today. We started off by going to Römer, a square just near the River Main, which runs through Frankfurt. The Germans are kings of technology. There is a fans viewing area with large screens to watch the games. But the coup de grace is a hugenormous (pronounced "huge-normous")screen which is in the middle of the river. Fans can sit on either side of the river bank to watch the game. The word is “espectaculo”. I didn’t get any chance to take pictures, because I was busy working. There’s still a month to go, so I’ll be sure to get some before I leave.

Today was a day of making discoveries, happy ones, and not so happy ones. The happy discovery was getting to the stadium to sort out accreditation and finding out that England were going to be training about half an hour after we got there. Off we went to set up and capture the England stars playing, Rooney kicking at the ball like one of those vicious kick-boxers on Bravo, Crouch surprisingly subdued and not sparking any new dance crazes. I also bumped an old journalist friend from Egypt, who has just published a book on his football journeys in Eastern Europe.

A not so happy discovery was a small bout of self doubt, that I think I’m slightly rubbish on television. I know, it’s not the most auspicious time to find out. They can’t exactly fire me now, it’s too late. It must have been rustiness, as I haven’t done any proper camera stuff since last year. Never fear, underdog is here. As time went on, it got better. Even though it's not blarney stone material, it’s okay. I hate watching myself on screen and I hate listening to myself on screen. It might appear that thinking all these things and still carrying on with it is masochistic. I agree, it is. But there’s nothing like a bit of self harm, ya know?.

I make my Nigerian television debut tomorrow. My mum and all her friends are going to be watching. The question now is: to tell or not to tell? Yep, it’s the hair again. I have cornrows, and I’m about to go on national television, but my mother doesn’t know. She will receive a shock when she sees it, but I could lessen the shock by giving her advance warning. Or, out of principle, I could refuse to tell her, and expect to be open-minded and tolerate my hair. The latter option is looking more likely as I type this. She’ll be shocked, and then she’ll have to explain to her friends that Nkem is still a good boy. That his hair doesn’t mean he does drugs or is an irresponsible person. The irresponsibility thing is a bit debatable, but she doesn’t know that.

Last night, I didn’t dream of San Pedro, but we had a little quartet outside our flat (above), playing a little chanson. The area is all middle class families riding their bikes, walking their dogs, and drinking beer on broad sidewalks. It’s called Merianplatz, which is the heart the German Green Party. The former Foreign Secretary, Joschka Fischer has his parliamentary seat here. Our fixer, Knut, described it as “a little bit liberal, a little bit left wing”. Think of an upmarket Edgware Road, with the quietude of Bayswater. The local authorities appear to have had a guilty conscience with regard to tree planting. After churning out a few gas guzzling Mercs and BMWs, they had to atone for their sins by planting whole rainforests in their neighbourhoods. At night, the streets are so dark because the lights have been blocked out by broad, tall trees.

Frankfurt is a centre of convergence for all the fans, and this is probably because it’s also the main hub for Lufthansa. One rather curious moment was when we interviewed a few Neo-Nazis. One of them turned out to be very knowledgeable about Nigeria, asking if we were from Lagos or Abuja, and then wishing Nigeria luck in qualifying for the next World Cup. Harmless little puppies they were. They might have had grand gothic tattoos, and invited us smoke grass with them, but harm us? They were as soft as Andrex.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

We were supposed arrive at base for 10am. I did, but they didn’t. We were supposed to drive. We didn’t. So we got the Eurostar to Brussels. Between Brussels and Frankfurt, we were supposed to pass by Eupen to see Sunday Oliseh (who should be contributing to the programme), which was why we got the train in the first place. We didn’t. So we got the train to Frankfurt via Cologne. Left London at 1413hrs, and arrived Frankfurt at 2300hrs last night, each costing more than 300 euros. Basically, we should have flown. We didn’t.

I’m not too fussed, as I fulfilled a boyhood dream of going on Eurostar. There’s nothing particularly glamorous about it, after all, it’s just British grass, tunnel, French grass. (And to answer that age old question: French cows look just the same as English cows. No baguettes attached to their udders or garlic cloves hanging from their ears). What’s the big deal with the Chunnel? The Channel Tunnel is a boyhood dream turned into reality. The fact that you can go underneath such a huge body of water, and emerge unscathed on the other side is mind boggling. It’s the technological equivalent of schoolboys holding their noses and dipping their heads underwater to see who can hold their breath the longest. The Channel Tunnel does it for 20 minutes, and wins every time.

For the Brits, the Channel Tunnel Rail link is simply the fastest line on the British railway network. What a pity it leads out of the country. As everyone knows the Brits don’t do public transport very well, and sluggish railway lines are the depth of this abyss. Europe has railway travel supremely organised. There are high speed trains between any two major cities, and lateness is an alien word. Contrast this to getting a train from Newcastle to Birmingham, a distance that of merely 200miles, yet the journey becomes the railway trek through the Penines. Plodding along merrily, taking in the scenery, but not getting anywhere very quickly.

In JFK’s brief tenure as American president, he made many speeches which remain iconic even until now. And his Ich bin ein Berliner speech was one of them. He was obviously trying to say, “I am a Berliner”, but his accent was so rubbish that what he said translated as, “I am a donut”. Jackie O would probably agree, given his philandering ways. I type this from internet café in Frankfurt, so like JFK, I should express my solidarity with the people of Frankfurt. You know where this is going right? Ja, ich bin ein Frankfurter, which in a manner of speaking, means, “I am a sausage.” It doesn’t matter too much, as long as I’m a tasty sausage. Tchus.

Ps I notice from the retorts that quite a few readers have thing for German beer. Naughty, naughty.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Fur Frau Kouevi

Frau Kouevi was our German teacher in school. We were the first set of pupils in our school to do German, linguistic guinea pigs, effectively. All five of us in the class were only allowed to learn German because we already proficient in another language, French. Those in our group were the doyens of French, which was more or less a second first language to most of us. What could a little bit of Bratwurst and Jugend Arbeiter do to us? Nothing, we thought. Heavens, were we wrong.

Possibly from the very first lesson, Frau Kouevi warned us that German was an incredibly difficult language, and that none of us would ever get above a B. To the suspicious eye, this is but a curse. Our new teacher was dooming us to the nothingness of Bs and Cs, even before an umlaut could be dotted in anger. I wouldn't take such a statement lying down. Over the next three years, right up to GCSEs, I worked harder in German than in any other subject.

And I was the best at it. But I still never got above a B. And in Year 11 when I was good enough to get the school prize for German, I still only got a B for GCSE. At the time I was learning German, I never thought about what use it would be. The only thing on my mind was some obscure polyglot record, which I still haven't broken. After all only Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have German as an official language, it isn't as widely spoken as French or Spanish.

But I'm off to Germany today, for that little thing called the World Cup. And even though an unscrupulous human trafficker might try to sell me, at least I know how to order Black Forest cake in German. Who cares if you don't know how to say, "don't shove me in the lorry, I'm not an illegal immigrant" when I can always tell them, "Ich mochte ein Schwarzwald Kuchen bitte". I might be in a cramped lorry with fifteen Iraqi refugees, but who cares? I'll have a Black Forest gateau, and they won't.

Frau Kouevi, this is for you. Danke schon. Entschuldigung. Nein. Ja. Schwarzwald Kuchen. Bratwurst. Those should last me a month. I'll be fine.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cheeky Monkey

Everchange accused me of thinking I'm too cool to accept any tags. I am... a very modest person, and proud of it too. So at the risk of being too "cool for skool", I shall do the "meme" (whatever that is), and do it with gusto. No holds barred. Shame on you Everchange, you cheeky monkey! BTW, this is not a license to tag.

A-Z meme

Accent – Fake. I have been slated for my accent before, and no doubt after the World Cup I’ll be slated again. It’s been through a few transitions, and in the past, it was described by a friend as a “mid-Atlantic” accent, which is supposed to be mixture of British, Nigerian, and American. Why American, considering I’d never lived there? I never liked having an American accent, and it took me a while to come to terms with it. I had to acknowledge that American popular culture had enormous influence on me through film, and especially music. I don’t have it anymore, dropped it like it was hot. As for how I speak now, this is a post in itself…
Booze – I don’t drink. Not for religious reasons, but I genuinely don’t like the taste of alcohol. Also, I’ve seen how alcohol turned perfectly gentle blue-eyed innocents into ASBO deservers. However, I am rather amenable to Ribena. Many a woman has tried to woo me with it. And succeeded.
Chore I hate – Shopping. Shopping malls are filled with pregnant women and their husbands, family planning having clearly failed, because they also come armed with their little toddlers to torment me and make my few hours in Bluewater a daymare. My idea of hell on earth? Ikea.
Dogs/Cats – Cats. Cats are independent, you don’t have to walk them, and wait for them with a poopa scoop. They come, they eat, they leave, they come. That said, when I when I was in short trousers, we have a French friend, whose cat used to freak me out as a child. During dinner, while sitting at the dining table, Pataboum would jump onto my lap and eat from my plate. Makes me shudder even now.
Essential electronics – Laptop, with wireless internet and webcam, and mobile phone. Laptop has everything on it, and can even record interviews on it with the webcam serving as a microphone. With wireless, I have tv and radio, and of course internet.
Favourite Perfume – 212 by Carolina Herrera.
Gold/Silver – I like my teeth gold, and my piercings silver. But even I couldn’t face down my mum over having those, so neither.
Hometown – What does this mean? I spent the first 13 years of my life in Ebute-Metta, Lagos. My father comes from Umu Onaga village in Awka, Anambra state. My mum comes from Omoku, Rivers State. I’ve been to Awka four times, Omoku a bit more than that. I don’t even speak Igbo or Ogba, so can hardly call either “hometown”. Haven’t lived in Lagos in 13 years, lived in London for only three. Hometown, what hometown?
Insomnia – Not as an ilness, but as a result of readjusting sleeping patterns. Nothing stops me form sleeping.
Job Title – Freelance journalist. Emphasis on the “freelance”, which is a euphemism for the dole queue. But things have looked up recently.
Kids – How many I have now, or wish to have? On how many I have now, none. None that I know of. Hold on, postman ringing – twice… What’s this? Looks like a letter from the child support agency… How much? You’re kidding me. I’m not paying anything until I get the DNA results. On having kids. I have a declaration to make, I don’t think I’ll leave them any inheritance. They should make their own way in the world. Mama, if you’re reading this, don’t choke on your pepper soup.
Living arrangements – Room in a house. But since Prescott has now vacated Dorneywood, who knows?
Most admired trait – If people knew my history well enough, they’d say luck. I’ve had more second and third chances than you can shake a stick at. Yep, He is a God of second chances.
Number of sexual partners – Male or female? Nobody wants to answer this for fear of being judged. I’m not about to be branded as promiscuous, a stud muffin, a prude, or a native of Virginia. Having said that…
Overnight hospital stays – Twice, I think, that I can remember. Once for the first and only time I had malaria. Another time for what the doctors suggested was epilepsy, despite never having shown signs. Looked it up years later, turned out it was a panic attack. Silly Togolese doctors.
Phobia – Mild peeves like grotty Victoria station pigeons, and rain. Like Melissa Elliott once sang, “I can’t stand the rain”.
Quote – “Modesty will get you nowhere, flattery will get you some places, and self-promotion will get you everywhere.” I made that one up.
Religion – Christian. Pentecostal, of the liberal variety. And no, it is not an oxymoron.
Siblings – As they say in Spanish, depende. Single child to my mother. Number two of seven (I think) to my father. Very intriguing story which I won’t blog about, because I intend to make some money from it, by selling the story in future. My family won’t thank me…
Time I usually awake – Depende. Ideally at 7 or at 9. Before 7 is annoying and is an indicator of being a fully paid up member of the rat race. In between 7 and 9, and I’ll miss the Today programme. After 9 is just laziness and/or joblessness – both to which I often subscribe.
Unusual talent – Haven’t found it yet. Gave up looking after the roof incident when I took R. Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly a bit literally.
Vegetable I refuse to eat – Most. Grass is for cows. Mushrooms are fungi, cooked onions might as well be worms (which are rumoured to be nutritious). I have very unsophisticated palettes, and I get suspicious of any food north of the Sahara. After school once, I went into my mum’s office in tears, for fear that when I got home, “they will give me food”. Only heaven knows how I grew. This explains why my mum calls me a “bush man”.
Worst habit – Procrastination. I am the king of procrastination. I hold a black belt in procrastination, I am the cruiserweight procrastination champion of the world. I’m sure you get the picture. So yah… What was I supposed to be doing again? Blogging? Nah, I’ll do it later.
X-rays – Once, for secondary school. Come to think of it, the earliest traces of my condition (craziness) started then. Who can I sue?
Yummy foods I make – Ah. Fried plantains, of course. Before you sneer, there is an art to frying plantain, and I have it down to a tee. On a deep fat fryer, 170 degrees or just below is perfect. Flip it about 7 minutes in. And, I make what can only be described as badass stew.
Zodiac sign – Taurus. The Bull. Didn’t realise I was stubborn until a couple of years ago. Plus my room looks like a bull just chased a red rag through it.

Friday, June 02, 2006

1966 and all that

For English people, 1966 means only one thing – when England won the World Cup at Wembley on July 30. For Nigerians though, 1966 was the year Nigeria lost its innocence. In January of that year, it had its first coup d’etat, during which Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa was killed, a coup which was the precursor to the Biafran War of Independence (known in the rest of the country as the Nigerian Civil War). Forty years on, and Nigeria is still reeling from the events of that year. There's still talk of Biafran secession, nobody is quite sure which tribe should produce the next president. 1966 was when it all started, the very beginning. The roots of all Nigeria's problems can be traced to that year.

But this isn't a rant about Nigeria or Biafra, but a couched paean to Wole Soyinka. Yes, I dissed his grandiloquence only a few weeks ago, and my feelings remain staunch. But he is still Africa's greatest dramatist. I came across some New Statesman archive material, in fact, a theatre review of The Trials of Brother Jero, when it debuted at the Hampstead Theatre in 1966. The review opened my eyes to what now seems like a distant past in Nigerian cultural and political life.

To give you an idea of how highly regarded Soyinka's work was, in the review he is compared to Ingmar Bergman (see Magic Flute, and Fanny and Alexander) and Frederico Fellini (see La Dolce Vita, and La Strada), two of the most prominent auteurs of the 20th century. This is no faint praise. The critic then talks about Soyinka's influence on his teacher, Professor Wilson Knight, a well-known critic and academic, and even suggesting that playwright, David Rudkin could learn a thing or two. Soyinka went to on share the inaugural prestigious John Whiting Award with Tom Stoppard that year.

Reading the review makes me want to read the Jero Plays again, glean all its hidden meanings, and draw parallels with modern Nigeria. A character in the play is referred to as an “MP”, which no longer exists, as Nigeria has since switched from the Westminster system of government inherited from the British, to the presidential one it now has. But also, when the play was written in 1964, Nigeria still had a democracy, before General Aguiyi-Ironsi dragged the country into an irreversibly long and deep mire.

DAN Jones mentions ‘neo-colonialism’ and ‘Smith-Wilson collaboration’ in one breath. At the time, the British prime minister, Harold Wilson, was in talks with Zimbabwe’s premier, Ian Smith, to end white minority rule (which didn't happen until 1979). Compare that cosiness with today’s relationship between Blair and Mugabe, which is more or less a war, only missing the bits where bombs and missiles get dropped. One of my favourite phrases is ‘neo-colonialism’, because it aptly describes the state of post-independence developing countries. A friend at university refrained from using terms such as Global South, Third World, or even Developing World, and insisted on calling them ‘Neo-Colonial States’. Debt relief might be one of those things which will hopefully reduce neo-colonialism.

On the cultural front, I’m curious about the actors. It turns out that Robert Serumaga was one of the most prominent pioneers of post-colonial African theatre, an actor and playwright who founded the National Theater Company in Uganda. Jumoke Debayo. Who is Jumoke Debayo? The only online reference I could find was of someone with the same name, and a similar artistic background, opening an exhibition in Brisbane. The last entry on IMDB was in 1984, on British television. And of course there’s Athol Fugard, who’s being rediscovered with the recent Oscar winning adaptation of his novel Tsotsi. Where are these people? These are the holders of the African cultural crucible, yet we don’t know enough about them.

This segues perfectly into the new international Ijinle companies of African theatre, Tiata Fahodzi. Yesterday I got a letter from Tiata Fahodzi, publicising the forthcoming run of Oladipo Agboluaje’s The Estate at the Soho Theatre. I saw The Gods Are Not To Blame last year, and it reminded me of the rich oral tradition in Africa, and how well that tradition lends itself to theatre. It’s once again directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr, who was also direct The Gods, so I’ll be watching it next week before the World Cup starts. To get tickets for £8, call the number on the website, and quote “Tiata Offer”.

The review is taken from the New Statesman, 8 July, 1966. Reproduced with the kind permission of the New Statesman.


D. A. N. Jones

We were hoping to see a double-bill by Wole Soyinka among the African plays at the Hampstead Theatre Club. It's a pity the Ijinle Company had to cancel The Strong Breed. This sombre and difficult play concerns the ritual persecution of a scapegoat, like several recent English productions; but Soyinka lives in a society where it's genuinely possible for an ordinary man – a suburban schoolmaster, say – to visit an aunt in the country and suddenly feel himself in the wrong century, among impressive even admirable people doggedly practising a cruel rite. Soyinka's treatment of the situation would be a lesson for our Rudkin blood-kin: the fantasy grows from life.

In the event we have only his short rogue comedy, The Trials of Brother Jero, which may seem a bit trivial to those who recently admired The Road, his more complex study of another sub-Christian prophet. Soyinka has something of an obsession about these people: there's not only 'Professor' in The Road but the haunting Lazarus in his novel, The Interpreters. I would guess that, as with Bergman and Fellini, this interest is connected with an artist's doubts: how much of his work is genuine magic, how much a mountebank's tricks? Brother Jeroboam is Soyinka's most straightforward creation in this line. An admitted charlatan, a Jonsonian 'alchemist', he winks at the audience as he gulls his victims. By making ambiguous promises and thwarting natural desires, he exercises total control: the political analogy is implicit.

In The Golden Labyrinth Professor Wilson Knight acknowledges that his essay on Shakespeare is influenced by his pupil, Wole Soyinka. Possibly the link here is Knight's insistence on the curious authority possessed by rogues and even by seedy solitaries like Shylock and Malvolio. For Brother Jero, that simple crook, has got a kind of 'charisma': his graft breeds exhilaration and his ecstatic flock seem almost justified in the infectious piety of their holy rolling. See him at the play's close, canonised in the eyes of his latest conquest, an ambitious MP who's been wondering Lagos beach rehearsing the oration he's too shy to make. There's an addition here to the printed text: that hopeless speech, hilariously rendered by Robert Serumaga, now deals with neo-colonialism and Smith-Wilson collaboration – a parody designed to cause African politicians maximum offence. This lengthens the brisk play; its pace could be improved by following Soyinka's lighting directions and by bridging gaps with music, as was done so well in the recent Third Programme version of Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel. The quarrel between the nagging wife and the fish-seller has also been extended, but Jumoke Debayo makes it worthwhile. She's a gorgeous shrew: every gulp and gasp, every slump into what Soyinka calls the woman's 'Kill me!' posture, expresses her incredulity at the possibility of opposition. She's well matched by Euba, her luckless mate – plunging into pidgin under marital or religious stress – but some of the South Africans in Athol Fugard's company must be finding Nigerian style difficult. Cosmo Pieterse has a white-commonwealth accent, almost comparable with Smith's; it works better in the concluding jazz and poetry session.

This deserves a visit in its own right. The verses – English, Afrikaans, Zulu – come from southern Africa, as do most of the musicians, Chris McGregor's Blue Notes. The jazz is exceedingly 'free': the alto, Dudu Pukwana, is an admirer of Ornette Coleman. But there's also much African stuff here – Cape-Malay rhythms, I'm told – and the show does (to use a ruined word) swing. There's something agreeably weird in Pukwana's switch from highbrow American-style flourishes to verbal Zulu interchanges with the poet, Raymond Kunene.