Sunday, March 06, 2016

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Hola peeps.

I am not even going to apologize or promise to blog more often as we all know it’s a lie. All I can say is reading two books just published by close friends (Baron Of Broad Street and And After Many Days) has reawakened the writing ranting spirit in me. Long may it last……but we know it mightn’t.

With oil price achieving record lows daily most people in South Sudan are panicking, but I have always had this preternatural sense of not bothering about stuff I cannot directly control….except when it comes to sports. Thinking of signing on to Twitter just so I’d keep alive the #WengerMustGoNow hashtag. C’mon this is just plain ridiculous. Good thing I spent a significant portion of the season buffing shoes whenever Arsenals games are on, else watching the games woulda been a complete waste of time. The punks. Didn’t catch the Oscars last weekend as hotel cable network did not show it. So, yeah in essence, I, ahem, boycotted the Oscars in solidarity with Will and Jada. Talk about wrong spokespersons to head a campaign. Then Snoop Dogg/Lion/Zoo jumped on the bandwagon as well ranting about his lack of Grammys. Boo hoo.

So what’s good? Since last blog entry…hold on, lemme check when that was…May 2015! Oh my, I have been a lazy boy, haven’t I? So let’s make up for lost time. Since last blog entry I have moved hotels, visited Zambia for business – where I spent a night on transit in Addis Ababa and got to understand why Ethiopian men never bother with women outside their country…man, even the ugly women were hot – I am still trying to get effected (more on that later), done Kampala a number of times to take a break from the Juba heat, few days Mozambique for business, and Nairobi for business where I was held up at the airport for over an hour even though I had a multiple entry visa, yup, amazing what respect is afforded one with a Nigerian passport. Kenyan mate insisted the immigration folk were angling for a bribe and didn’t believe her until a few days later on another trip when an airport police officer under the guise of searching for drugs blatantly requested a bribe. I mean, what gives?! Shameful.

So what have I learnt with all my African waka? Travel within Africa is a huge pain in the backside, what with all the crap airline connectivity between countries and visa requirements. It took two months to get a 6-month Kenya multiple entry visa even though I was assured it would take a quarter of the time. Travel to Uganda from Juba using Kenya Airways is just as ridiculous as one would have to fly over Uganda to Nairobi, and then hop on another plane back to Uganda.
Also learnt Ethiopia has the best-looking women in Africa, Kampala is the party capital of East Africa, Nairobi traffic is at par with Lagos only they are more organized and don’t hoot the car horns like crazy Nigerians do, to avoid travelling to Kampala on a Friday evening as the traffic from Entebbe airport into town is ridiculous…not as bad as Nairobi’s though.

Work load’s crazy intense now, but when things were a bit chill in July/August I was in Kampala every other weekend. Got to the point my pal David’s help got tired of me. Initially it was “Hey, welcome sir!” then eventually transformed to “this n*&%ga’s back again?!” sotto voce. You cannot blame me though. Efforts to get mates to reciprocate visit so I could show them the sighT and sounD of Juba have yielded no takers.  Things got so boring I tried to enroll for both boxing and yoga classes on same day. Taken to wearing watch on right wrist now ‘cos….just ‘cos. Hey, it’s just another way to say I did something different.

Back in the UK I once bumped into Kinzo practicing Will Smith’s moves in the Men In Black music video.
Let me see ya just bounce it with me, just bounce with me, just bounce it with me c'mon / Let me see ya just slide with me, just slide with me, just slide with me c'mon / Let me see ya take a walk with me, just walk it with me, take a walk with me c'mon / And make your neck work, Now freeze...
Recall that part? Yeah, so I walk into the living room and there’s my older brother in front of the TV doing the moves. I crack up and tease him no end that day. What he didn’t know was I had been practicing same moves too, furtively, some days prior…under the duvet…while lying on the couch. Heck, ain’t no way I was gonna be the subject of family’s mirth-inducing tale! And why am I telling y’all this? ‘Cos one of David’s mates in Uganda reminds me of Kinzo. Alan is the ne plus ultra of the old guy at the club that initiates a dance-off with others to demonstrate how hip he is. I love him, but dude must spend most of his babysitting time practicing shoki instead of looking after his kids when his wife ain’t home. U know u old when u see a grown-ass man dancing shoki and u think to urself, “ain’t that dude too old to be attempting the shoki dance?” while u console urself by dancing like the dude from Erasure. Er, speaking of Erasure you know what David’s most frequently asked question of Siri is? “Siri, why can’t white people dance?” David and his mates deserve their own reality show.

Zambians are real slow when it comes to business decisions and recognizing the time-value of money, but still enjoyed my time there. I left there thinking one should undertake some research into how idiosyncrasies develop in each country. For instance, in Zambia they recall time in 24hr segments unlike everywhere else I have been. Took a while for ears to get used to “eighteen hours” as opposed to “six pm” or “oh-two hrs” instead of “2am”. Quite delightful if you ask me. Plus, they have had (when I visited) constant electricity supply and even exported same to neighboring countries. During recent blackouts, due to maintenance at transmission stations, folk had no electricity to power cookers so resorted to charcoal as hardly anyone uses gas for cooking. My Zambian friend was once evicted from his apartment after landlord discovered he had a gas canister. Dude was accused of trying to burn down the house. To avoid a recurrence his current landlord is unaware he still uses gas for cooking. Amazing. In Zambia also tried Chikanda – African polony.For some reason one cannot refer to it just as ‘Chikanda’ it must be ‘Chikanda – African Polony’ like it’s a movie sequel or something. Even movie titles get abbreviated, e.g. First Blood part 2: Rambo is now just Rambo, but noooo, Chikanda has to be Chikanda: African polony. All in all it definitely is a taste that I did not acquire while over there. While departing for the airport it suddenly dawned on me all the billboards in Ndola, Zambia seemed to be owned by the G. Rutherford Advertising agency. Weird thang is they have more billboards advertising their agency than actual client products or services. Most of the billboards are of smiling females. Go figure.

Oh, Job, yes dude from the Bible, probably spent some time in South Sudan before he got afflicted with disease as that musta been the only way he learnt to be patient. My goodness! There must be something about Juba that makes people just regard work as a hobby. I have come across lazy, carefree workers in Nigeria but what I have seen right here takes the piss and then adds some drips. I had a full head of hair - it was an afro wig but, still - when I arrived in Juba; now I am fully bald and beard is all grey. With associates I have tried everything from Obama-esque rousing speeches to threats to taking over their tasks in an attempt to shame them into working, but nada seems to work. Tried prayer too and if this keeps up I am gonna open my own church with a fancy Nigerian-esque title like Church Of The Praying Eye Bags. Speaking of eye bags I look constantly tired and doesn’t help that I spend my weekends thinking up ways to motivate staff. I really need to set up that church…well, maybe not so fast as I’d probably end up being pastor cum usher cum choir cum congregation. Remind me again why I chose to come to Juba?

If I had written this blog two months into my Juba sojourn I would have crowed about how impressed I had been with the folks here. Do you know while trying to register company visited loadsa government institutions and amount paid was what was reflected on receipt? Not one person asked for "lunch money" or "something for weekend"?  Had only seen traffic police now and then harass mostly foreigners for bribes…..until this punk at the airport in July.

Got to airport early enough and while in departure lounge it occurred to me I had left funds in hotel room. Now hotel’s less than five minutes’ drive from airport so pleaded with one of the officials there to let me out as I’d be stuck in destination without funds for hotel and the like. After hemming and hawing and spouting some official line about not being allowed to leave after entering departure area he said he’d let me go if I gave him “something”. U’da seen the rage I felt inside, almost smacked the guy. 3 whole months of South Sudanese worker integrity as my rubric to folk in Nigeria and then this doofus ruins it! Boy, was I disappointed. Told him he wasn’t gonna get squat, then I called a colleague who came by, picked up keys to hotel and returned with funds. The bribe-seeking airport official musta felt embarrassed because as soon as I told him off he furtively crawled away and didn’t see him until I boarded flight. Or maybe it was his lunch break, who knows? Saw same dude at airport early this year and he obviously didn’t recognize me because he approached me with that same ‘I-am-engaging-in-mindless-chatter-with-you-so-I-can-get-something-off-you’ look all frequent travelers through Nigerian airports must be used to.

First trip to airport after I moved here in April was no less dramatic. It was a local flight and had to get off plane 2ice after boarding. First time we were informed one of the engines was faulty and when we boarded again plane sped up until end of runway, but couldn't achieve lift. We disembarked and a standby plane was flown in from over two hours away. Finally, we get to leave for our destination….not so fast as air conditioning on backup plane was faulty. Had to wait for original plane to be fixed so spent a total of 5hrs before departing from Juba – the Juba airport is not a place you want to spend a significant amount of time due to inadequate seating and poor ventilation. My South Sudanese colleagues kept insisting we reschedule, but told him I'd experienced worse in Naija. If we had returned another time it'd still be same plane we'd travel on so why bother? Naija hardens folk, man.

Pluses about Juba? The people are uber nice and in order to avoid ennui I do the gym about 4x a week now in addition to 3x a week intense cardio stuff I did to get my fancy shoes. Yup, I am slowly shrinking into…well, let’s just say this: I didn’t learn to whistle until my 20s and so when I discovered dimples some months back I thought it was just another of those late developmental things until I discovered it was not as I suspected. You know you getting real gaunt when you develop faux dimples. I am like a walking Zoolander poster now. I suspect the problem’s due to the high intensity cardio workout but I am too scared to stop as I know how difficult it was to complete the routine. Yes, my name is Tunde and I am a high intensity cardio workout addict….. Oh, and also recently noticed left foot’s slightly longer than right foot. Now having to wear two pairs of socks on right foot in order to compensate.

So ten months in Juba now and time does fly. Juba has its quirks, it’s only place I know that has more Chinese hospitals than Chinese restaurants. Had to visit one in August after I overdid it at the gym – that’ll teach me for trying to one-up gym instructor in front of his Ethiopian girlfriend. Anyways they had a South Sudanese dude interpreting my ailments to the doctor and afterwards I was given some tablets and two aerosol sprays. One spray smelled of oyster sauce and the other like freshly plucked chicken; tablets tasted like wood chippings. Did it cure my ailment? Can’t remember actually, all I know is I always developed an appetite after using the aerosol sprays, plus stray animals would cozy up to me.

Everyone has all their names, well at least three of them, in official docs, biz cards, plaques, etc., and they are addressed as same to boot. So if JFK was South Sudanese he’d always be addressed as ‘John Fitzgerald’, only with first part of name being his English/Christian name and second being indigenous. Guess it’d work for those Nigerians who introduce themselves as – my pet peeve by the way – “my names ARE…” No, surely you mean your name IS…
Had to ask a South Sudanese about the multiple name thang and she didn’t even realize they did that. Guess it takes strange/different eyes to notice things. Must be why other folk say Nigerians are loud and yet we VIGOROUSLY DENY IT WITH OUR EYES WIDE OPEN AND OUR VOICES LOUD ENOUGH TO BE HEARD FROM SPACE.

The South Sudanese greet each other by touching shoulder, handshake and then a hug. Not as creepy as the Middle Eastern nose-touch though. They love shaking a lot too. Yesterday I shook someone’s hands and immediately saw him pick his nose. Did he do same before he shook my hand? Hmmm….I have taken to carrying a hand sanitizer everywhere I go now. Oh yeah, Juba’s probably still only airport where temperature screening is carried out on incoming passengers. Problem is weather’s hot so how could one tell if high body temperature’s as a result of the weather or Ebola?

Just returned from the Nigerian Community Association meeting. Attended my first in July last year and do utmost to attend these monthly events regularly. Honestly, after first meeting I swore I’d give it one more go, and if there was no improvement in time-keeping I’d boycott them. After second meeting I realized I’d not have as much comic relief anywhere else in Juba should I avoid these meetings. You can take the Nigerian outta the country, but for obvious reasons you cannot cleave the country from him. Meeting that shoulda begun at 3pm didn’t kick off until 430pm – today’s started at 450pm - and when I asked one of the officials why, he said "u know African time na".

That first meeting was akin to a Nollywood movie in some instances: Anyone getting up to speak would follow the established format which is a call and response. One’d say “good people”, and everyone else would chorus “great nation”. Sometimes some would repeat it more than once, or even switch up the order to “great nation” first and we’d all respond “good people”. One time some dude stood up to make a point before he was beckoned, and when told to follow proper protocol he took exception to way the official – as it turns out it was the same “u know African time na” dude - spoke to him, and that resulted in 5 mins of back and forth. "Gerrraway, am I ya boy that you talk like that to me?!" Bloody hilarious. Apart from that, quite liked the fact that most folk wore traditional outfits. Some dude came with NYSC hat and shirt though. That confused me. I get it if it was laundry day, but a bad hair day as well?!
Best thing about first meeting was appeal for funds to help out members whose shops got burnt. There were also a security advisory by another guy who almost got mugged some days before in the daytime.

For 2nd meeting I made sure I arrived at 4pm yet meeting didn’t commence until thirty minutes afterwards. Some dude argued against giving bucks to just one of the dudes whose shop got burnt, but his point was pooh-poohed after it was explained to him that monies raised from members of the Nigerian Community would only be given to those who attend the meetings regularly. New members included two footballers, yup, there is a local league apparently, a policeman on international duty, and a guy that came “to visit his Nigerian in-laws”. Another new member – owns a bar - was asked for his passport after he said he was from Imo State (Eastern part of Nigeria), but gave two English-sounding names. Apparently, our Igbo brothers couldn’t believe there exists an Igbo guy in this world with both names being non-Igbo. These meetings are really my source of mirth in Juba.

The past ten months have been a valuable experience in running a start-up, but was most happy during breaks to Nigeria (and the UK) I took in August and December. During trip to the UK last month I couldn’t, ahem, download movies ‘cos most torrent sites I knew were barred so ended up securing, ahem, bootlegs off some trader in Lagos. You know Juba’s lack of cinemas has had an effect on you when you exchange numbers with a bootleg DVD seller and feel like it’s the most normal thang in the world.

Mom turned 70 in August so the entire clan went to the UK – she usually spends her summers there - for a celebration. As was a family event I was asked to MC and actually surprised myself with the heckuva job I did…if I do say so myself. Almost turned out to be a roast where select folk came forward and spoke about mom. Chief provided clipped remarks about mom’s vituperative mouth, uncle sent a message about mom’s sacrifice, aunts spoke nice stuff, sisters spoke about mom’s stroke of the cane, and it was left to me to round up the occasion. I was in my element, man, y’all shoulda seen me. Went on about us kids getting her a mirror as a present due to her vanity, even did Chris Rock’s patented leg stamp when making a point. Was excellent to see family guffawing. I am definitely volunteering to host more family events. This way I can diss everyone while couching it in humour. Me likey.

Oh, to show that age hasn’t slowed down mom’s “world revolves around me” vibe. I recently asked for confirmation of bank details in order to pay in some money. I got, “Atuns, so you don’t know me? What if I dropped dead? You want to tell me you don’t know my account details?” Oh my. Speaking of not changing, good to know fatherhood hasn’t affected my bro Loye as dude failed to contact someone I told him to. Had to frantically get someone else to reach out to said person before she departed Nigeria. Loye ended up calling the girl while she was on her way to the airport. This is same dude that forgot to hand over a present I bought for one of my nephews until I saw it ensconced in his suitcase nearly a year later! Yup, some things never change. Oh yeah, he and his wife recently gave birth to my 17th nephew….and if y’all keeping count at home that makes 23 grandchildren for Chief. Oh yes, now it all makes sense why I chose the move to Juba - no babysitting duties for moi.

Tot ziens and God bless.

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