I started reading Chris Abani’s Graceland a couple of days ago and felt compelled to share ‘the story so far’.
Graceland is the story of Elvis a teenager growing up in one of Lagos’s most notorious shanty towns Maroko. With a mix of social commentary on corrupt Nigerian society and the casual way in which violence is acted out and tolerated, a charming and lovable protagonist with whom one cannot help but feel empathy, woven between praise for the KOLA NUT (a must read) and Igbo recipes, Abani provides us with an insight into the underbelly of Lagos and post-colonial Nigeria.
GRACELAND, Maroko and KOLA NUT
Here is classic Nigeria that all Nigerians will recognise. – the dead body on the road is a particularly disgusting phenomena.
Elvis is riding the bus when the car in front hits someone and he turns to the man next to him.
"We are crazy you know. Did you see that?"
"Uh-huh" the man grunted
"Why can’t we cross with the bridges? Why do we gamble with our lives?"
"My friend, life in Lagos is a gamble, crossing or no crossing."
"But why not even the odds a little? Did you know that they have soldiers standing on the islands in the middle of the roads to stop people from crossing the busy roads instead of using the overhead walkways?"
"Ah dat’s good," the man said.
"Yes, but that’s not the point. Why do we need to have soldiers there to tell us it is dangerous to cross the road?"
"I don’t understand".
"If you cross the road without using the overhead bridges, you increase the chances of being hit by a car. Simple logic, really".
"So what is your point, my friend? We all have to die sometimes, you know. If it is your time, it is your time. You can be in your bed and die. If it is not your time, you can’t even die even if you cross the busiest road. After all, you can fall from de bridge into de road and die. Now isn’t that double foolishness?"
Elvis shook his head and went back to staring out of the window. Outside, the road was littered with dead bodies at regular intervals. "At least take away the bodies", he muttered to himself.
"Dey cannot," the man interjected into his thoughts. "Dis stupid government place a fine on dying by the crossing road illegally. So de relatives can only take de body when de pay de fine".
"What about the Sanitation Department?"
"Is dis your first day in Lagos? Dey are on strike or using de government ambulances as hearses in deir private business. Dis is de only country I know dat has plenty of ambulances, but none in de hospitals or being used to carry sick people. One time, American reporter dey sick in Sheraton Hotel, so he call for de ambulance. De hospital tell him dat he must book in advance and dat de nearest available time is de following Tuesday. When de hotel staff insist, talk say de man was about to die, de ambulance department told dem dat dey only carry dead people for a fee as part of funeral processions. If de man was alive, dey suggest make de hotel rush him to hospital by taxi" the man continued, laughing.
"How can you find that funny? That is the trouble with this country. Everything is accepted. No dial tones or telephones. No stamps in post offices. No electricity. No water, We just accept."
"Listen, my friend, anybody rich enough to afford telephone in country where most people dey fight for survival, dey should have de decency to wait for a dial tone."
Elvis could hardly wait for his stop and trudged home wearily………………..
On KOLA NUT
This is the kola nut. This seed is a star. This star is life. this star is us.
The Igbo hold the kola nut to be scared, offering it at every gathering and to every visitor, as a blessing, as refreshement, or to seal a covenant. The prayer that preceeds the breaking and sharing of the nut is: He who brings kola, brings life.
(Igbo) Ji Minni Oku)
Fresh bonnet peppers
First, peel the yam and cut it into chunks. next, put in a pot of boiling water, add a pinch of salt and put it on to boil. When the yam is soft, take off heat and drain. Put another pot of water to boil. Add about three dessert spoons of palm oil. the crayfish, the dry fish and a pinch of curry, salt and fresh peppers. Pull the fresh ahunji apart and drop ithe shreded leaves into the mixture. Leave to cook for about twenty minutes. Bring off the boil, dish the spicy sauce into a bowl containing the boiled yam, and serve.