Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Carnival 'Free'

Another good ‘fortnight’ to all my good people. The dreaded night arrived; the night my mettle as a monarch with the royal dance steps would be tested, the night that would validate this talented artiste as a competent carnival scion or ridicule this ‘bloody’ actor who thinks just because he’s some celebrity he can jump out of nowhere to come and wrestle the crown from those in the know and in the system and have actually worked hard to get where they are. I could see it in their eyes as we made our way to our stand past some other stands. The blaze of colour across the length of the different stands was amazing. The vividness of colour went even beyond the spectrum – red, scarlet, fuscia, rusty brown, turquoise, lime green, lime yellow, colour that would shame the brightest plumed parrot or peacock. It was a pleasing rarity seeing people take absolute pride in their work even if it was going to be showcased for just a fleeting night.

I hid under the shade of the mermaid costume that my queen was to strap unto her back away from any possible person that might recognize me, biting my lips and almost my nails as I went through my routine on that damned vast stage and her theme music I would regally dance to while pushing the winged cart all over the place over and over again in my mind. Then it was our turn. I was already strapped in complete with my bow tie, robe, sceptre and orb. I wheeled myself out close to the ramp I was to push myself up only to face a huge barrage of flashing light bulbs. There was a solid wall in front of me, of dark figures from which the blazing eyes kept winking. I fought back. I just stood there staring at them with a stolid baleful look in my eyes, my face set as flint. I know how I looked because I refused to give them anything until I’d finished the dreadful business of the night. I wasn’t going to waste the precious reserve of energy I’d built up that evening only to burn myself out when the rubber hit the road. My band leader came up to me, a worried look in her eyes, and asked me if I was okay and I told her I was fine and wheeled myself up the ramp unto the stage to the booming voice of our narrator and my theme music feeling the weight of every one of my band members on my shoulders.

I got unto the stage and immediately began executing the ‘M’ formation I’d so diligently rehearsed without my props or costume in my head. I tried to dance in rhythm to the music and at the same time tried to manoeuvre my winged wheeled throne and quickly abandoned the dancing bit feeling very silly. Seeing the vast waves of faces looking up at me and the bright lights looking down at me from around the stadium, I made for the front end of the stage and quickly found myself looking over its edge at the dark abyss miles below me. Almost panicking at the thought of toppling over and having the ‘obong’ and all his regalia landing unceremoniously in a heap among his ‘subjects’, I made to turn back towards the centre of the rear stage to execute the second stroke of my
‘M’ formation only to find I couldn’t turn. I tried again and still couldn’t move! Subtly panicky and smile still frozen in place, I cast surreptitious glances at both ends of my wings to see if they’d been caught by the overhead cables but they were free. I then saw the wings fluttering and realised what had happened. The huge wings had caught the attention of a hearty breeze and the resultant drag prevented me from turning. After straining for a lengthy while of about half a second, or two, I obeyed my wings and turned back to my audience, my tight smile now straining against my ears and wondered how I was going to get out of the mess.

It was at that moment I remembered who I was; the obong! These were my subjects in front of me – the judges, the governors, everyone! This was my stage, I wasn’t answerable to anybody, I wasn’t bound by any stupid rules; I made them and tonight I was going to bend them to my will! Turning and facing the right side of the stadium, I lifted my hand and waved as sedately as I could, my smile softening into a benevolent one. A huge roar rose from that side of the wall. I tried to turn again and found myself rewarded with a gentle push from behind towards the place I’d previously aimed and found I only had to struggle mildly to turn around again to make for the left side of the stage. I waved again, this time with a million watts on my smile and got an even greater roar in response. I moved to the centre front stage and showed myself off in full splendour. It was rapturous. I turned, left the stage, went down the ramp into another waiting wall of flashing bulbs exploding in front of me and answered them in kind with my thirty two, sorry, thirty one pearly whites. My band leader came and hugged me tightly telling me how unbelievably regal I looked on stage and how she couldn’t believe it was the same person who had been fooling around on stage earlier in the afternoon.

Suffice it to say we won the coveted king award, among the numerous awards we carted away in the course of the competition – and it was fierce; a product of dedicated teamwork from everyone in our band of whom I was merely the icing. All that is nothing compared to what is happening on the other side of the world, Haiti. Let us spare a thought and many prayers, if that’s all we can offer, for our brothers and sisters across the lake. I haven’t been brave enough to even conceive what it would be like having almost everyone I love or know being wiped out in a matter of minutes. May God never let compassion and empathy die in our hearts. This post is dedicated to all Haitians, living and asleep, God be with you. Have a great week everyone.

PS: I am most likely to end my carnival experience here but if, and only if, you my dear ones want a post on the carnival proper then please do let me know. Otherwise you can let me know through your questions what you’d like me to write about so we can feel more connected with one another. One love!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Carnival 'Too'

Good week everybody. I’m sure everyone’s begun the year with that typical sombre look that always heralds the aftermath of an indulgent festive season. Most patriarchs or matriarchs of families bear that look of, “I shouldn’t have eaten that much! How in “$@#’s name am I going to lose this fat?” Or, “You’ve done it again, Father Christmas! Gone and given all your money away to grabbing relatives that would sooner pour wet concrete than throw in a rope were you to be stuck in a hole! How are you going to pay the children’s school fees now? God, shoot me dead if I ever, ever go to that village again for Christmas!” Fortunately, for now, I have no such worries; I’m still single but heck, who knows, might have enjoyed my last Christmas of irresponsibility and by God I did, hopefully, go out with a bang! So, where was I?

I sneaked out of the hotel in disguise and jumped straight into the waiting arms of my friends who were waiting for me in the parking lot. I made sure I dived into the car before the three sisters knew what hit them and before we began smothering one another with hugs and kisses. The reason for sneaking out? Well my reason for being in Calabar was supposed to be kept secret and to hide my identity, I was to remain in the confines of the hotel until the carnival was over. Try entrusting a tuber of yam in a goat’s care! The congregation of even the mildest hedonists, sorry, revelers would not have forgiven me if I’d stayed cooped up in that glorious tomb during such a festive haven. We went to the cultural centre first, I think it was because one of the girls had a stand there, to have a drink or two. I, for some reason, stuck to water for the duration of my time there. I tried some ram suya but abandoned it almost immediately on account of the meat being too tough. Why people love to punish themselves I’ll never understand. They might as well season it with salt and pepper and eat it raw; that way you know you are suffering for suffering’s sake. But, being in the company of such a bevy of beauties more than made up for the lacklustre stimulation provided by the beverage and I really hammed it up as they jostled one another for my attention. Hehehe, king of the hill! We went to one other bar, where I stuck to my water before being dropped off at the hotel at about 1am. There was a sticky moment on our way to the hotel though. A friend of theirs, who offered to drop me off at the hotel before dropping them off at home, while at the steering wheel, suddenly turned back to me and asked how I was. I said I was fine hesitantly, observing he had a knowing look in his eyes. “Do you remember me?”, he asked, a smile playing on his mouth. “I, I’m not sure…” I hesitated. “We met at Annie’s baby’s dedication”. And then it clicked! “Ah, yes I remember! How you dey now?” And then I sank my foot in it. “How’s Christie? She didn’t come with you?” I could kick myself in the shin ten times. What if he had a girlfriend among the five ladies that were with us? What trouble had I brought upon him? “She’s in Lagos .“ was all he answered, and smoothly too. I slept very fitfully that night because Christie happens to be like my baby sister; always extorting money for phone cards from me and gives me a lovely hug and a smile whenever I go to see her in the bank. But, that is a matter for another day.

The next day dragged in at about ten in the morning. I had a lazy breakfast with the ubiquitous twins, Uti and Ajibade, the two rascals shown in the pictures with me in The Carnival 1, before going off to the stadium for the dress and tech rehearsals in preparation for the night’s kings’ and queens’ competition. Our band leader, the senator, came with us and made sure we were comfortable with the size of the stage. The stage. I had been stumped by that phenomenon once before in university and I was not going to let it happen to me again. This time I drank in the vastness of the intimidating arena and also made sure I was well accustomed to its every corner. As if that wasn’t enough our leader came up to me with the theme music for my appearance and told me I would have to dance to the rhythm with the grace fitting for an obong (king)! Me, Kalu, that am famed for dancing with two left legs, dance to the rhythm? Well, I tried to do as she asked and got laughed at to derision for my troubles. I looked at the senator and saw the genuine fear in her eyes. “Aunty”, I said, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Don’t be afraid, I never go into anything and expect to lose. I will uphold my own end of the bargain. Don’t mind these faithless hooligans”. I know she didn’t believe me but hey, what else could I say?

The kings’ and queens’ competition that night? Well that will come, hopefully, at the same time next week. In the meantime, have a blessed week everybody!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Carnival Won

Good celebration week everybody. I hope everyone’s week was just as colourful as mine – never mind that I haven’t slept for more than ten hours in the past five days. It has been a very interesting week for me; from experiencing things I haven’t experienced since my tramping days in secondary school – I walked for nine hours and still bore a grin all the way - to modelling clothes on the catwalk. I’m back in Lagos now and am fully rested. My main headache is trying to put my experience in Calabar on paper in the best narrative way.

I will not bore you with the details of my journey from Lagos to Calabar. The truth is, there really is little to write about it except to remind myself of the anger and irritation I felt at the flight delays that are synonymous with Christmas holidays in Lagos when people try to travel down south. The jostling, hurling of abuse - and getting sprayed in the face in the process - bribes and ... The hotel, when I finally did get to Calabar, was nice and comfy and I quickly settled in and reminded myself that there was still work to do. The sweaty nightmares I’d had in the weeks before of the heavy burden I’d be carrying on my shoulders and being forced to smile as I walked hundreds of kilometres to cheering crowds I wouldn’t dare drop dead from exhaustion in front of, were going to have their prophecy validated, or not, that night as I went to try out my costume. Oh, did I forget to mention that I was to be the king of the band I was representing, to be in direct competition with the kings of other bands in the carnival and this was to be taken oh so seriously? So seriously that I was squirreled into a secret room, sorry hall, in the basement of the hotel where there were about twenty different seamstresses hunched over their machines and spinning furiously away as though the devil himself bore down behind them with a curly hydra headed whip. There were heaps of coloured twisted nothings or should I say i-know-not-whats in the far corner of the hall as the senator, the leader of the band excitedly showed me my orb and sceptre I would be using on my throne. She also helped me decipher the different layers of the heap of leather, textile and wire by showing me what they were for; costume for the children’s band, the mermaid’s tail, drapes for the truck and so on. All this I looked at and listened to with just half an ear – all I wanted was to see what load I’d be hauling for the length of my time on the streets.

I met with Daniel, an amiable shirtless Trinidadian who had designed the throne I would be hauling about. Let me regress a little. The reason for my anxiety and trepidation was because I was told that I would be carrying my own throne that was designed in such a way that it would seem that I was sitting on it. The import of it meant that I would, while hauling that heavy contraption about for tens of miles, look like a true king, relaxed, smiling and waving at his subjects while concealing the strain and stress seething underneath the mask. I had enough reason to be worried – I take my work seriously when I am committed. If I had committed myself to being the king of the band, I was going to be a true king all the way – no short cuts or quick fixes! The first question I asked Daniel when we were introduced to one another was to be told how many kilograms I would be hauling about and he said to my utter relief, no more than ten. My heart grew even lighter when he told me that instead of carrying the weight, I would be pushing the throne while walking along. Crimson butterflylike wings spanning about twenty five feet from one end to the other were attached to both sides of the throne and I got into it and walked about in it, in the darkness of the hotel’s courtyard of course – too many spies about, testing the wind resistance of the wings.
It was a much happier and relieved man that went upstairs to have a shower, change and check out what the balmy Calabar night had to offer now that most the headache had gone away. A drink with friends, go clubbing or go seeking out local thatched out of town taverns to sample fresh palm wine and bush meat or fish were on the menu as I pulled my baseball cap over half my face as I sneaked out the hotel lobby thirty minutes later.

The rest of the story, are they not to be revealed in the weeks to come where I hope to exhaust the experiences and delights I had with different people in the wonderful city called Calabar. I also wish to, once again, apologise for the late entry of this post; I have been inundated with a backlog of work that has been waiting for me and I had to attend to them to free my brain to attend to you my good people. Welcome to a new decade and have a great week everyone!

**More pics to come! Just having problems uploading them to my laptop**