Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Memorable Ride!

Good week everyone. Once again I hope everyone had a good weekend? Mine? Mine was good, albeit speckled with highs and lows from trying to coax my ancient but beloved Beth into going easy on her thirst for fuel during the fuel crises, to the joyful news of the grand entrance of a new nephew into this world. Welcome guv’nor, hope you can handle it!

Last week, I spent time whining about the challenges I went through last year. This week I’ll spend whining about the rest of the year …. not! I’ll dedicate this week to extolling God’s mercies on a rascally young brat like me. Hmm, Kalu, your own no go spoil o! I hope my kids don’t give me as many heart wrenches as I give my loving God and my loved ones. (If only my mum knew!)

It was earlier on this year when I was working on a movie set somewhere along Alpha Beach road in Lekki, Lagos. I’d parked my car at my friend’s, JB, house as the crew had come to pick me up for the day’s work. It turned out however, that for the sake of logistics, my scene would have to be the last scene as my venerable colleague, Uncle Olu Jacobs had a crowd scene to shoot at a church that served as a location. This meant that I had about two to three hours to kill. I immediately called JB to come pick me up. I specifically told him not to come with his car but to come with his newly acquired ‘touring’ bike.

JB, my very dear friend, is an avid lover of motorcycles, especially the racing kind. In his living room leans a relic of his hell raising days, an indistinguishable mishmash of plastic and rusting iron mercifully covered by a large tablecloth. A glossy calendar of various models of the classic Harley Davidson adorns a wall, an attestation of the undead embers of his passion for bikes. In the same living room equally with its pride of place sits his new bike, a grudging compromise and a symbol of hope for better things to come. It’s a budget Chinese replica of a Harley. I hesitate to name the make an model, fearing to invoke his ire, as he has preemptively sprayed it over with black spray paint. It’s an impressive display of chrome, plastic and steel complete with swooping lines of twin mufflers and handlebars. The rider’s seat and pillion are low slung giving it the classic look of a touring bike until one looks up the engine capacity on the manual, the obvious testament on the tank being obliterated by the ubiquitous spray paint. The heavy bike is powered by a 150cc engine which with the extra load of its rider is very much like powering a large Mercedes Benz limousine with a small Toyota hatchback engine.

My phone rang, heralding his arrival at the church gate where I had been waiting. Admonishing him on his tardiness and for making me wait, I gleefully hopped on the pillion and put my helmet on. It took some trouble moving off as the road was sandy and, I supposed, JB getting used to an extra weight on his bike. The bike struggled to find some traction on the loose sand and on finding some firm rock, finally took off and we were on our merry way. It was a sunny Saturday morning and the road was already abuzz with people going about their business. Children played under the tables of their mothers’ roadside stalls while customers haggled over prices of wares displayed. Hawkers milled about, some sashaying with their laden trays proudly borne on their sturdy necks, making one not sure what wares were being advertised. Young men and women, the colour and drive of any society, dominated the atmosphere, different motives in their footsteps. Observing the atmosphere, I took off my helmet, a considerable part of me wanting to be seen on this fine bike, a sharp contrast to days on an okada (commercial bike), rushing to get to an airport or escape from a taxi stuck in traffic. I hadn’t a care in the world, cruising along the road with my friend amidst playful banter until we got to the expressway at the end of the road.

The junction was a medley of commercial buses, motorbikes and conductors and commuters at the bus stop and all manner of vehicles zipping past on the expressway. I waved heartily back at some passers by who waved a greeting on recognizing me. With some difficulty owing to the bulk of our vehicle, we negotiated our way through the maze and finally got on the expressway. We got to the roundabout and did a u turn in the opposite direction and headed towards his house. Traffic had already built up due to a busy bus stop a short distance ahead and weaving our way through the columns of vehicles was hard going. The under powered bike struggled labouriously through gears and curses of embarrassment from us and blares of irritation from the much more nimble okadas behind us until we got past the bus stop. The road suddenly cleared as vehicles sped away from the busy stop and we made to do the same when our engine suddenly stalled right in the overtaking lane! In a wild panic I looked behind me and saw a huge sand laden misshapen ten wheeler truck trundling toward us. Even at a distance of about ten metres the bumper and grill loomed well above our heads. The windscreen was barely discernable so I waved frantically and screamed at JB to get us to the side of the road in the prayerful hope that the truck driver would at least spy my flailing arms and begin work on his brakes. We managed to get to the slow lane only to veer into the path of a flat nosed midsized commercial bus pulling out of the bus stop. My long arms and expressive face must have struck a chord with the otherwise typically impatient driver because he actually slowed down and let us pull over to the side of road before hurtling past us into the distance..

We rode home in silence; on my part because I didn’t want to spark off an argument while we were still on our journey. The rest of the journey was uneventful and suffice it to say that I never quite looked at that bike the same way after that day. While not a little shaken by the incident, I also realized how much God protects us every day from things we take for granted. This also gives us the impetus to live our lives to the fullest, work towards realizing our dreams the best way we can in the knowledge that someone has our backs at all times. Moral of the story: Beware dodgy bikes and even dodgier riders! Have an incident free week everyone!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bed of Roses

It’s funny how simple decisions lead to big achievements, and big trials. Here I was ready to change the world and create a better place for me and mine. So armed with my little crusading sword of truth, integrity and commitment to quality, I stormed my beloved Naija with a vengeance in January. I quickly hooked up with an acquaintance with whom I’d (earlier in the year) discussed the modalities of placing structure into my career.

I went to visit the gentleman in his office and was met by his effusing staff at the reception. I was asked, very politely and apologetically, to wait a little while as their boss was in a meeting with some clients. That was okay with me as it was only 11am and the traffic was still moderate enough for me to dispense with a few other things before going home. You see, I have a healthy respect for Lagos traffic and always take her into consideration when going about my business. Come out at the wrong time in this city and you’re fried! You’ll spend hours trawling through traffic, jostling for position with irreverent drivers brazenly trying to cut into your lane and at the same time being careful not to hit them, or should I say trying not to let them hit you, in the knowledge that they, with their battle hardy Danfos and cabs, have nothing to lose. On hitting you, they’d simply alight, prostrate before you or, if the damage is considerable, they’d think nothing of laying down in front of your vehicle and beg you to run them over as compensation for the expenses of fixing your car which you’d never get from them. Or to be stuck in traffic going uphill behind an aged petrol tanker that’s lilting precariously to one side. You sit there wondering if the tanker will lose control, roll backwards and depend on you and the ten cars behind you to stop it or worse still, should it be leaking fuel from a faulty valve and a smoker somewhere in the queue throws his half spent cigarette out the win....

I was ushered into his office five minutes later and the man stood up from behind the desk and enveloped me in a warm hug. Feeling very good about things to come I sat down and surveyed the place. It was a nice office, more so because it was so alive from the large windows that generously admitted the daylight without being overly intrusive. The colours of the walls were a quiet serene pastel light green and the tiled floor a muted gray. His desk was expansive but did not dominate the room. The posters of movies he’d funded on display on a wall on one side of the room, while noticeable, knew their place. It was a good meeting. I listened attentively as he enthused about his plans and structure he’d put in place to skyrocket my career through the glass ceiling. Leaning forward, he told me, in confidence, that the people he met with earlier were from a bank and had come to seek his help with a project and was toying with the decision of accepting or rejecting it.

He then proceeded to regale me with his clientele list; two of them very respectable and the others… Well, they showed quite a lot of promise otherwise they wouldn’t be worth his time. He pressed a buzzer on his desk and a waif like man appeared whom he introduced to me as his accountant. He rattled out a series of instructions to him and dismissed him telling me on his departure that he had to bring the accountant on board in anticipation of the impending work load that would be coming in the weeks to come. (The travails of a much sought after man I could see.)
Observing and taken by his self assured nature and optimism I agreed to sign the necessary documents, hand over my contacts of producers and directors and begin a new phase of my career.

A week later, my contacts called me up to let me know there was work and I, in adherence to my contract, and to their amazement, referred them to my manager to talk. They, understandably, asked what happened to our usual arrangement, whether they’d done anything to offend me to which I replied that I had a new structure I was working with to give them the best possible service. They agreed, met with my manager, and called me back! They complained that he was being difficult; He wasn’t even willing to listen to what they had to say let alone concede in any small measure to their requests with a view to finding some sort of balance to do business. With a promise to find a workable relationship I promised to have a word with him. I met with him and asked him how it was all going, if things were going according to plan, and what the outcome of the meetings were. He began by bemoaning the illiteracy and unprofessional nature of the marketers and how they were not up to par with his level of understanding. Opening and then shutting my mouth, I thought the better of what I wanted to say and humoured him by presuming not to encroach upon his field of expertise.

A month went by and with some anxiety I confronted him, demanding to know what had become of my state of affairs. In his typical grandiose manner, he haughtily replied that it was not his fault but theirs. He was the architect of his well thought out structure and if they were not going to bow to his structure and his way of doing things then so be it! I stared at him in silence. I looked at him again and saw a man that loved being the boss but was not prepared to climb up from the mailroom. He did not seem to understand that as a manager he ought to have his clients’ best interest in mind and to avoid burning bridges- In short, the man ‘burned my cable’ big time!

The next few months were spent clawing back the confidence of the people I worked with. Some of them are still out in the cold and there’s still a lot of work to do, fences to mend but hey, the road to greatness is all roses; one has to get past the thorns first. How have I been able to claw my way back? Enter Nkem, my new manager, and boy, does she have her work cut out for her! The poor Gem has been making do with three to four hours of sleep every day trying to plug holes I blew wide open. Hope she knows I appreciate all she’s trawled for me.

For me, this was the dawn of my first lesson – never entrust anyone with your hard work until they prove themselves to you…
This bit has been particularly hard for me to write especially as I’ve had to admit to my errors in judgment and the challenging time I had last year. I do so in the hope that I might in some small way encourage someone passing through some challenge or the other. In saying this I am glad I have gone the same path as my good friend the Agama lizard who, after jumping down from the top of the iroko tree, acknowledged to himself that he had indeed accomplished a great feat even if no one else would. Have a wonderful week ahead everybody!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"Yes to Quality"

Good week everyone!
Well, I’m thinking that since we see on a weekly basis, this would be the most appropriate form of saying hello – just a thought. Anyway, this is a new week and I’m fishing in the dark trying to sift through my archive for the most appropriate bits to throw out to the light.
Last year was a mixed bag of memories, predominantly those of the not so nostalgic kind (I plan on sharing them with you in the future). I began the year with a view to expanding my horizons following an inadvertent incident with my mother. I’ll explain…

I had, on request by my mum, taken some of the movies I had done to the UK for her and my siblings to watch.( I sort of have this long drawn habit of not letting any one of my family members or friends into what I do in my everyday work. It’s probably to shield them from my everyday job, or just nervous that they might begin to see me in a different light than before.) Anyway this particular year, my mum insisted that I bring some of my movies along for Christmas and I obliged.

On Christmas day, stuffed to bursting point with food and drink, we staggered to the living room where I slotted in one of my movies and we all sat down to watch. As the movie progressed I noticed everyone was engrossed in the movie and apart from the occasional jibes from my brothers about my mannerisms- which my mum had scolded me about in my younger days- they seemed to enjoy it. And then the time came to change the disk. My mum looked at me nonplussed and asked if that was the end of the movie to which I hastily assured her that it was only the A disk of part one that had run out and I would put the B. Everyone relaxed as I smacked Iyke, the baby of the family, on the back of the head to go and change the disk.
We managed to get through the B part of disk one onto the part two disk A where the movie got to the romantic part. For some inexplicable reason in the moments just leading to the kiss between my character and his love interest, I found myself in the bathroom upstairs staring in the mirror and listening to the roaring guffaws of my brothers downstairs. “How is it possible?” I asked myself, “That a grown man like me cannot bear the thought of my mum watching me kiss a woman!”

My mother is a formidable woman of the gentlest variety. When colleagues at work took her messages for me, they always teased me about my ‘cradle snatched girlfriend’ and when I told them who it was they wouldn’t believe me because my mum does sound like a 16 year old girl. She is also a very quiet unassuming lady who minds her own business but fights like a tigress when her territory is threatened. I know so because I vividly remember my frustration when at age 17, she turned girls who came to ‘return’ notebooks back ever so rudely at the door, accusing them of trying to despoil her son.
I remember when in my final year in university, Ebele, my then girlfriend, came to visit me at home – I lived in the B/Q (Boys’ Quarters) for understandable reasons- and I went to the main house to get us lunch. My mum, with an averted gaze, while dishing the food said, “I know you’re no longer a virgin…” at which point she paused, the ladle of food hanging midway between pot and plate. “No I’m not mum” I replied trying to muster the driest tone I could that would brook no scolding. A sigh and then a very terse, “but I hope you know what you’re doing with that girl! You haven’t finished school yet” as she attacked the plate with an intensity that wasn’t there before.
Here I am, in the bathroom, many years after, still squirming at the thought of being caught “pants down” by momsie. What would happen if, when married, my wife and I spend a weekend at hers, christen the guest room every night and morning- hopefully be loud enough to distract her from her knitting or even perhaps, her gardening!- and we come down for a very late breakfast with a smug smile on my face., what then? Hmm, that’s a thought. Anyway, I digress…
When I went downstairs the kissing scene was over and, amidst my brothers’ teases and mum’s shy laughter, we settled down to watch the movie. Alas the disk came to an abrupt end at a dagger point to everyone’s consternation especially my mum’s. “Is there another disk we have to go through to get to the end?” she asked, exasperated. I assured them that B was the final disk they’d have to endure silently thanking God for not letting me bring movies with parts 1, 2 and 3. Granted, they enjoyed the movie, but I felt it would have been a lot more enjoyable if it wasn’t so frequently interrupted. At that moment, I made a resolve not to do movies that would irritate, exasperate or bore my mum or many like her. I decided to give people who watch my movies something they deserve – more bang for their buck.

With the decision to say “yes to quality” another story ensued but I’ll save that for another week. You see, at times I think we sell ourselves short too often and fail to see the lofty heights we can attain if we’d only believe in ourselves. If we say yes to ourselves, the whole world says yes with us. Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter holiday and looking forward to hooking up with you next week!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Debut..

Hello everyone! Not quite sure how to handle my debut writing, so I’ll first of all ask you to bear with me as I try to express my thoughts, feelings and experiences with you as best as I can. Please don’t be too critical of me as I am still an infant in the worldwide web of writing.
First things first, welcome to my blog! On this journey, I’d like to take you through the patchwork of my weekly life in colours of highs, lows, the drab, the zany, joy and pain… pump it up, pump it up! lol Ok, maybe only the old skool connoisseurs would get this joke. Feedback from you my lovely people would be very much welcomed. I de beg una O! Hm.

This week started on a not so palatable note, actually it was quite disturbing… Got an email message from a friend that showed graphic details (the pictures were to graphic to post on this site) of a young girl named Stacy, who was decapitated in South Africa. Stacy was murdered by Shorn in broad daylight and in full view of people going about their business. Her crime? Apparently, she turned down Shorn’s love advances for about a year and he, on that day, decided to remove the object of his “affection” from this world through the most violent means possible.
Armed with a sword and length of rope, he dragged her from the minivan she’d just embarked, cut her hand off from the wrist before proceeding to chop her head off….and this was done in full view of passers by!
This incident, while occurring in far away South Africa, touches us all. This event should touch every parent to the soul, The thought of burying one’s child is heartbreaking, not to talk of the knowledge that one’s child perished in such a gruesome manner. How does one start to comprehend such a loss? What did she do to warrant such treatment? Saying no??!
If he was so sure that she was his for life then he should have, after hacking her to death, dispatched himself as well by diving into a ready vat of hot oil or worn a lit rubber (tyre) necklace! There’s absolutely no excuse for this sort of behaviour especially as it adversely affects the lives of many. The only excuse would be mental instability and if so why wasn’t it detected immediately?
I’d like to know if the young man is aware of what he has done? Does he know he cut down a young woman’s dreams and shattered the peace of her family? If not, then for the duration of his incarceration the four walls of his permanent cell should be pasted with blown up pictures of the gruesome images that our senses are being assaulted with. He should have bright lights all year round so he doesn’t have any reprieve in darkness and should be cut off from all human contact until he fully understands how horrendous his crime was. He does not belong in our society!

I know I should have begun on a lighter note but this one’s hard to ignore as it could easily happen to any one of us. How many times does a woman have to say no to a love advance before she’s taken seriously? Is it right to stand by (this happened in front of a crowd in broad daylight) and watch while a fellow human is hacked to death just because you don’t know him or her? Why don’t we let our minds drift to the possibility that it could well have been our mother, sister, wife, girlfriend or even daughter that was subjected to such a gruesome ordeal? How would we be able to pick our lives up after that? If we don’t want to have to go through that experience then let’s come together and make our society a real society by being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. I’d like to know your thoughts on this.

Yes, I know this is a bit heavy for my first blog but I promise to make it much lighter next week by talking about the summary of my life last year. It’s like putting the cart before the horse but then again, you did ask to take a peek into the goings on in my life! I know I sound a bit cryptic so I’ll explain…. My original plan was to start by charting what direction I’ll be going this year, taking you through the lessons I learned last year, the things I’ve experienced so far this year, and discuss the last movie sets I worked on but impulse drove me ( to my manager Nkem’s surprise) to write on this piece. Sorry Nkem!
Sooooo, next week is your chance to laugh at me, or with me, as I cut out a slice of last year. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!