Acacia Hotel, Kabalagala, Kampala, Uganda.
I am sitting at the balcony of my hotel room in Kabalagala. Above the thatch top of the restaurant bar, the red roofs of the houses of Kampala dot their way up and down the city’s many hills. There is the hum of staff going about their duties coming from downstairs. I am working on a policy document, for a government agency client. The ideas flow on the page, i find i am articulating myself very clearly. The PowerPoint has the ease of these slow, low hills.
And I confront myself on why I love travel so much.
On the Ethiopian flight to Uganda, flagship of a country whose history is important to me, on the very last stretch of the Abuja-Addis half, i checked the personal entertainment system. Amongst the West African audio selection was an album by someone called #Somi–a jazz artist i had never even heard of. The album–The Lagos Music Salon. I was swept into the music, her poetry and her concerns, above all her very involved foreignness. Here in #Somi’s songs was Fela and Victoria Island and ashawo, here was a certain angle to Nigerianness–at a point there is a line about street boys pounding on the windscreen and how she looks away. There is an intimacy in her landscape of Lagos, of Nigeria. There is a style that captures everything, from the squalor to the wealth, from the creative to the inexplicable and wrong but nowhere is the quality of a mime present–she sings it as it is, and she sings it well. Far better than those who know all these, for whom this is reality…
I will be showing my face at the ongoing #Writivism festival, will present a keynote speech for my author Chika Unigwe, chair a panel on Nigerian writing. Will have a strategy meeting with the BN Poetry Foundation on whose board i sit, meet with a Rwandan friend who is setting up a new publishing house in Kigali. And then Nairobi. Nairobi–city I love, where there is a creative delight in every street. So, then Nairobi.
Why do i like travel so much?
I think, now, as i pick out a woman far away hanging out her washing atop a four storey building, it has to do with my acceptance of all my adjectives, all my identities. In a creative and literary space where the dominant strain is the insistence of emphasizing the exclusivity of marginalities, the dramatization of second rate dissidence and the fetishization of powerlessness by pretending one lacks agency, I cavil. I welcome my Nigerian, my northern Nigerianness, my West Africanness, my Africa, my street, my history in all its broad scope, my parents, my lovers, my loathings… I am curious about all the filters i am capable of leaving some of me behind through, each remnant adjective is essential but it is not all there is to me. Yet i welcome all these with a sense of pleasure and surprise. There are no insistences, no inconsistencies, everything complements, there is no anguish.
They say she’s sweet
She walks the streets at night
They call her names
She offers her bosom and flame
Brown Round Things, #Somi, The Lagos Music Salon.
I think i like to travel because I feel the jazz of me in all its cadence and eloquence when i am away. I am never, it seems, more fully in any of my many wheres than when I am not there. That is good enough an understanding for now.