February 21, 2009

Grace Clinic

There’s a clinic situated in an area called Obigbo, on the outskirts of Port-Harcourt. I went there to visit someone who is related to someone I know well. The clinic sits on a large piece of land, but the building is not big and it looks smaller than it really is because of size of the land. Only the side of the building facing the gate is painted and the area is secluded, I had to walk a good distance inside to get to it. It’s called Grace Clinic.

I went inside the clinic and walked up to the front desk. There was only one nurse standing behind a box shaped desk. I heard sounds coming from a radio set but I did not see the radio. She looked up and kept staring until I reached the front of her desk. I gave her the name of the person I wanted to see and she gave me directions to the ward. On my way to the ward, I walked past doors with see-through glass on them. I could not see much and I did not try to peep. All I heard as I passed were indistinct voices and coughing. Before I reached the door of the ward I was going to, three nurses came out. I paused and spent a full minute, wondering if I should just turn back and go home, and then I walked inside after turning my tape recorder on. The nurse had said that his bed was the fifth one from the wall on my left. The guy that sat in the fifth bed was very thin, but not as thin as I thought he would be. His cheeks were hollowed, his arms were thin. He looked like he had shrunk, like he used to be big before. He saw me enter and stared at me until I reached his bed.

‘Good Afternoon.’

He stared at me and then at my Bagco bag. He was sitting down with pillows between his back and the iron post of his bed. He cleared his throat slowly and nodded, and then he pointed to a chair two beds away. I carried the chair and as I was returning to his bed, I noticed some of the other people in the ward were looking at me.

‘My name is Nnamdi.’ I told him after I sat down. ‘I’m Chiagozie’s (not his real name) friend. I don’t know if he told you I will come.’

‘Yes, he told me.’ His voice sounded tired and he took his time to answer. We were silent for sometime. He was looking at me and I did not know how to continue.

‘He said that you write.’ He asked me after a while.


‘What do you know HIV & AIDS is?’ He asked quietly.

‘It’s a disease that makes people get sick and die. It has no cure yet and it’s spread most of the time by sexual intercourse.’ I kept quiet and wondered if my answer was too elementary. He made a derisive sound in his throat, scratched his arm and looked at the empty bed beside us. After some time, he turned to me and said:

‘HIV does not make you sick, it only makes your immune system weak and that means your immune system cannot protect you again when other sicknesses and infections come your way. It’s a virus that damages the body’s immune system and allows other illnesses and infections to make you sick. Any infection that comes, your body’s cells will not be able to fight it. Shay you understand? Now, contacting any of those infections means a person is diagnosed with AIDS. I don’t know if you get me. Having HIV doesn’t mean you have AIDS. They are not the same thing.’ I nodded. To say I was embarrassed at that point is an understatement.

‘Did you come here by yourself or your family brought you here?’ I asked quietly.

‘No one brought me. I came when I felt too weak to continue work. All the excuses I was giving people about stress from work and exercise could not explain why I was becoming very thin and people began to show they suspected I had the virus. I don’t want to talk much about my family. My father is an educated man who doesn’t believe people with this illness should be doing all those adverts you see on NTA where people come out and say they want to be open about their status.’

‘How is this place? How does the staff treat their patients? I looked around. There was a crude structure on the ceiling to support his mosquito net, now brown with dust and dirt in some places. There were some broken louvers in the windows. The other people in the ward were either sleeping or lying down quietly. There was a small TV set in one corner that I know will be hard to watch from his position because of its size. Breeze was blowing across the ward because of the strategically placed windows that make cross ventilation possible.

‘As you’re seeing it, that’s how it is. NEPA wahala is worse than usual here because there are not plenty people living in this area. Anytime it comes, we take. There are some people who cook for the clinic. There are not enough nurses working here because people don’t want to work in this kind of place. We’ve had some nurses and caretakers who tell us to our face that we lived a bad, immoral life and now God is punishing us....God never sleeps, that kind of thing.

Some people who come here are brought by their family at night as if they have been hiding them since. The people that have money pay for private wards and special food. The patients who have Tuberculosis are kept at the other end of the hospital. This ward has more space now, before when there were more patients, they moved in more beds to contain more people. One thing is that many people come here in the final stages of the disease and die quickly, like the people that stayed in these two beds.’ He pointed to the empty ones by my side. ‘The ones that their people don’t come to carry their dead bodies- which is eighty percent of us, the clinic people bury themselves, there’s a special place they use, I don’t know exactly. Mosquitoes disturb us a lot, especially since that window was broken early this week. Sometimes, only sometimes, they spray insecticide inside here, those types that don’t bother us because we can’t leave the room. Some of us, who have it, always use treated mosquito nets every night.’

‘Where do you people get your medicine from?’ There were some medicine bottles on his side table but I could not see their names because I was far away.

‘We have to pay a different amount for the drugs. People complain most times about missing medicines, which is not funny when you look at how expensive it is, so everyone locks their own inside their bedside locker to keep them safe. The drugs are really expensive and then, sometimes we get good reason to believe some are fake. For instance a lot of our drugs have certain side effects. Some times when we take the drugs, we don’t get the usual side effects, it can be scary. I don’t bother myself with that one because I have no option. Only God can help us.’

‘How do you pay for all this?

‘I used to work for...' It’s one of the BIG telecommunications companies here in Nigeria. ‘My salary was okay. When I was working, I did not have a lot of people who depended on me so I kept most of my salary. A lot of it has gone into buying drugs and feeding, but there are so many people here that I’m better than. People with this illness need to eat very well and drink a lot of water, especially to wash down the plenty medicines. These medicines stop the duplication of HIV inside the cells and this stops the virus from taking over the immune system as it does when it’s not checked.’

‘There’s a bill the government approved that makes it punishable to discriminate against people with HIV & AIDS.’ I told him.

‘I heard about it, forget that thing. It won’t change anything. People are just too scared of the thing. Would you let somebody related to you stay in your house if you find out they have AIDS?’ He asked watching me carefully.

‘Yes.’ I replied. He looked doubtful.

‘Even if, will you still treat them normally?’

‘Yes I will.’ I answered.

‘So why is your chair so far away? Why are you sitting so far away, do you think you’ll catch it?’ His voice was still quiet and tired but I did not miss the accusing tone. There was silence. I was surprised by his directness.

‘When I came I was not sure if you had TB or not so I decided not to sit too close.’

‘Even if, there’s still a way you’re doing your body like you are afraid of contacting.’ After that statement, I did not know how to continue, I just shut up.

‘Where do you say you publish what you write?’ He asked me again, still watching me.

‘On my blog...it’s like a website. I write stuff and put there for people to read and sometimes they comment.’

‘What kind of things do you put there?’ He was asking in the same tone he had used to answer my other questions. It was as if nothing happened.

‘Experiences, sometimes stories…anything I can put.’

“Won’t they think this is another one of those your stories?’

‘No. There’s a way I let them know whether what I’m writing is true or made up.’ (Dear Reader please check the Label at the bottom of this post) ‘Do you want to read it before I post it on my blog?’

‘If it won’t stress you, bring me a copy.’

‘Okay. I brought some fruits...please manage it.’

‘You’ve tried. Thank you.’

‘I have to go now so I can get home early. There’s always hold up at Oil Mill junction on Wednesdays.’ He nodded. I stood up nervously, went closer to him and then I extended my hand. He looked me in the eye and grasped it. We shook and then I turned to go, and I felt his eyes on my back even when I closed the door of his ward. There were some other questions I had wanted to ask him but I lost the nerve.

I can’t find words to label the experience. I can’t find words my parents would use if they ever discover I went to visit someone living with HIV. My brother will never ever believe I did this. It’s another one on my list of unforgettable experiences.

February 17, 2009

The Abyssinian Boy by Onyeka Nwelue | Book Review

"No family in Delhi, or the whole of India celebrated Diwali more sweetly than the Rajagopolan family." So begins Onyeka Nwelue’s curiously christened debut novel The Abyssinian Boy, we are then drawn into the daily lives of the Rajogopolan’s, an extended family resident in India.

Rajaswamy Rajagopolan is a career-driven polemicist writer, who may have married a Nigerian wife for a reason other than love, and who harbours a troubling secret. Eunice Rajagopalan is the daughter of a former secretary at the Nigerian High Commission in New Delhi. Fully aware their parents won’t consent to their interracial marriage, they decide to force them into conceding by getting Eunice pregnant. They get hitched and give birth to David, the protagonist, the Abyssinian boy, who is now a precocious preteen with a penchant for swear words. David is puzzled about his identity, his race, the fact that unlike his friends, he has an Indian father and a Nigerian mother. He’s very familiar with racial bias because it’s something he deals with daily. He is like every other nine year old around him except he is being visited in his dreams by a mysterious albino dwarf. On one occasion, the dwarf visits him, his mother and his father in their dreams in one night. But for the most part, his parents and every member of his extended family go on with their daily life while David is traipsing with the dwarf, to strange places and going back in time. When the family makes a brief trip to Nigeria, the dwarfs’ visits become more regular and more disturbing.

Setting his story against a period of strained relations between Nigeria and India, Onyeka brings to attention the complexity of interracial marriages. He shows how discrimination can be mind-corrupting and pervasive and silly. He humourously shows how people sit in one corner of the planet and make ill informed generalizations about people who live far far away. People they've most times had no contact with in any way.

I found the many characters Onyeka created and the fact that he gave each of them attention, distracting and tiresome at times. In some places, he sort of rambles on, giving background knowledge about a character we need to know little or nothing about. It’s like having flies buzz in front of you when you’re trying to focus on something. It could have been better done. Onyeka’s sentence constructions are not the usual type. He tries to sound different. It’s the kind of thing Arundhati Roy does in The God of Small Things, and it suits this novel in some parts, in others however, it just doesn’t sound right. Towards the end, where the reader is supposed to feel loss, it’s fleeting. Even the grieving of the characters at that point seem rushed in a way. It doesn’t sink in heavily like it should. He doesn’t let us follow the bereaved immediately but distracts us with someone we do not want to read about just then. It’s frustrating. There are a few flaws, but nothing that mars the novel seriously.

The Abyssinian Boy is definitely unique. It’s unique in its storytelling, and in the way it handles the issues it deals with. I think it’s bold and commendable that Nwelue did not choose to write on something familiar, but he chooses instead to go into unfamiliar territory, and then juxtapose the two cultures at the heart of this book, so we can see into lives far away from ours. Onyeka’s debut novel is charming and laudable.

February 14, 2009

Second Edition of "From Caves of Rotten Teeth" Now Available

From Caves of Rotten Teeth by A. Igoni Barrett is a collection of short stories that was first published in Nigeria in November 2005. The Orange Prize-shortlisted author Laura Hird described the book as 'a brilliant debut collection' and in an interview with the literary magazine Pulp.Net named 'The Phoenix', a short story in the collection, as one of the best stories she had ever read. 'The Phoenix' won the 2005 BBC World Service short story competition.

The fourteen stories in this edition of From Caves of Rotten Teeth (five of which did not appear in the first edition) deal with circumstances that reflect the day-to-day existence of modern African life. Although the stories may at times seem surreal the reader will recognize the truthfulness and realism with which they delve into the lives of their characters. The author has an uncanny eye for detail and a deadly accurate, though sometimes satirical, ear. With these stories he has achieved a vision that is both lighthearted and profound.

Praise for the second edition of From Caves of Rotten Teeth

'In this collection, Barrett entrances the reader with his lush language and imagery that brings the essence of struggle alive…the effect on the reader's imagination will last for a very long time' —Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beasts of No Nation

'A. Igoni Barrett's prose captures, with enviable depth, the emotions and circumstances of his characters…from addiction to everyday survival, these stories are delivered with sincerity'
Kaine Agary, author of Yellow Yellow

'These stories share the same beauty of language, the same keen sense of observation…reading the collection is a journey into a world that is sometimes humorous, but very often a reminder of all that is wrong in our world.'
Chika Unigwe, author of The Phoenix

Orders can be made by calling the number +234-702-533-5538 or sending an email to fromcavesofrottenteeth@gmail.com

The book is also available from the following places from Kachifo LimitedGlendora/Jazzhole, and Onyoma Research Publications, Victoria Island, Lagos (Call: +234-807-763-8752), Quintescence, on Awolowo Road, and Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. Visit here and here for more information.

February 06, 2009

The Way I See It...

The way I see it, the last time I visited a promising blog by a newcomer was when I read the stirring first post of Journal of a Lil Woman. Everyone was excited on her arrival (I know because she has more than 60 comments on her first post. That's no mean feat.), but I have to admit that I’m still waiting for her to deliver…

Yesterday, I visited my friends’ new blog and…I think he’s got it, judging by his first post. However, only time will tell. Please check out The Way I See It and give a HUGE Blogville WELCOME to Stanley Azuakola.

Stanley, I’m hoping you bring that uniqueness and verve every blog needs to survive in this competitive cyber village. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Osondu Nnamdi Awaraka

February 01, 2009

Reader Recommended Nigerian Bookshops

Irritated because I could not find most of the books I wanted to buy in the bookshops I know, I invited my readers to send me the name and address of good bookshops around them so I could post on my blog. I hope this will help anyone in these areas who has difficulty getting books to read. Here are the responses I got -

ABUJAPen and Pages
Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja

Lanterna VenturesNo. 13 Oko Awo close, Victoria Island

IBADANBook SellersIt’s on Jericho Road (that’s all I got from the contributor. Hopefully it will be easy to spot once you get to that road). The contributor also suggests the open terrace displays of used books on Bank road, in Dugbe, Ibadan.
Iqra Books Nigeria
Here you can order Nigerian titles online or "request a reprint". The contributor says (in a comment on this post) "Iqra will get you any book once the book exists."

I want to thank everyone who bothered to respond to my post. Thank you very much and God Bless. If you want to contribute, just leave your response in the comment box of this post and I will update later on.