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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Our inevitable hope

Re imagination of our stories to illuminate our future)

Let me tell you a shit story.

Tell the story

I was born poor although l did not know it at the time. We moved from one little room to the other, all ten of us. I didn’t feel poor as most people around us were like us besides I was never hungry, at least not in those early days, what I didn’t like was the toilets. About fifty people shared one bath and a pit lavatory. The bath was a discarded corrugated roofing sheet wrapped around three bamboo pillars, since it was out doors and exposed to the elements, its dirty maroon colour was broken by little holes through which neighbourhood perverts peeped at young girl bathing. The concrete floor was always green and slimy so maintaining bare foot balance was important. In all, the bath was better than the pit latrine, which was on a raised platform similarly protected by rusty roofing sheet. It was sort of like squatting on a throne of decay as quite a number of people do not get the aim right and yet some do not make it up there before discharging their contents.

However, we were better off than our neighbours who lived in a house without toilets. It was the last house on a street, which ends at a swamp that doubles as a refuse dump. The people in the next house thus did the most logical thing; they wrapped their wastes in polythene bags, which they threw across their backyard into the swamp. This swamp was also our playground, as we loved to throw stuff at the migrating flamingos. Once, when I was six, as I walked back from the swamp a neighbour miscalculated on her swing and the content of her bag landed squarely on my face. I can still smell my panic as I cried for my sisters. Yelling, breathing, moving all worsened the matter as I got it all into other orifices. It took an hour and the combined efforts of the contrite neighbour and my sisters to wash it all off.

What is the point of this story?

Well it always makes people laugh and it is just that a story, a way of brings situations to life. It’s about the stories…

Things did get a lot worse but we were poor not stupid. My father not only ensured we got an education, he taught me a love for books which painted pictures of life far removed from my reality. These fired my imagination and served as fuel for building the radically different future of my present reality.

Last year I had to shut down my very popular 8 year national talk show, I had become weary of the unending censorship, the failed infrasturure, the corporate corruption and deal making.

I had persevered through the years because, well I am a bit of an idiot and because of the stories.

People always seem to tell me stories, at airports, clubs, bars, and schools, everywhere.

The stories haunted me so I returned to TV this year having persuaded other crazy people like my friend and co producer Chris Dada who sits right there and a single angel investor to support an audacious plan to travel around Nigeria filming as people talk to me. Of course the project is killing us but what amazing stories.

Why do it?

Run still pictures

Because of them. The voiceless majority never allowed to speak for themselves and of themselves.

How do we interpret the stories?

Lord Lugard, the colonial governor general of Nigeria between 1914 and 1919 once said something about Nigeria which Nigerian curiously like to repeat. He said:

“In character and temperament, the typical African of this race-type is a happy, thriftless, excitable person. Lacking in self-control, discipline, and foresight. Naturally courageous, and naturally courteous and polite, full of personal vanity, with little sense of veracity, fond of music and loving weapons as an oriental loves jewellery. His thoughts are concentrated on the events and feelings of the moment, and he suffers little from the apprehension for the future, or grief for the past. His mind is far nearer to the animal world than that of the European or Asiatic,…”

One must forgive him as he spoke the wisdom of his time, his interpretation no doubt coloured by an inflated sense of self-occasioned by the privilege of his life in Nigeria. Surprisingly, I find that many Nigerians think he is right, with the exception of course of themselves.

How will you interpret this video

The ignorant interpreter might call these residents of one of Nigeria’s most notorious urban slums grotesque, thoughtlessly fun loving and uncaring about their future. However the people and youth of AJ city are some of the most hard working, creative, ambitious, endlessly innovative and resilient people you can encounter. Their strong sense of self is at the genesis of the explosion of the new Nigerian hip-hop, rap and pop music which begun here at this house where the boys are dancing. The first generation of internationally successful Nigeria footballers emerged out of her heaving seething bosom. The dance is a poem about their reality. Ajegunle is a reclaimed swamp and mosquitoes are one of the biggest worries for the people so the body grabbing part of the alanta dance and face contortions depicts the war with mosquitoes whilst the moves are a mixture of the dance cultures of the Yoruba, ijaw and ibo settlers mixed with a bit of AJ madness.

The ability to interpret our stories with honour, hope and knowledge is a skill we must seek. This fosters understanding and removes the barriers, which alienates, feeds a festering self-loathing and encourage the sort of head grabbing self-flagellation that promotes devolution of responsibility and lead to anarchy. We should instead interpret ourselves in a way that fires our imagination and ignites our passions. It may yet be our salvation.

I am an idealist idiot yes but it is by choice for what is the alternative?

Play makoko video

When we arrived at makoko, area boys descended on us and threatened to beat us, kidnap the crew and destroy our equipments. Maybe it was fear but l just needed to pee so I asked to use the toilet. Taken aback, they led me through a maze of rooms on stilts to the toilet. This toilet was an exact replica of the slum dog millionaire shit scene but without the beautiful soft focusing of that film. I peed mater of factly and descended into the canoe that took us into the community of the people who live exclusively on the water. Now let me tell you about the water, it is the blackest, dankest, oiliest, smelliest water I ever felt in my life, yes felt, as it was so wrong it had a fetid life of its own. There were large and small pieces of feaces and other wastes flowing calming by as Dami my canoe man‘s paddle sliced through it all. You can smell it and once in a while you might taste it as bits fall off the paddle unto your skin. The people drink water piped through a hole dug into the shallow end of the water through broken pipes which letting in the shit water.

I wondered how they remain sane but slowly through the day as I talked with them and collected their stories of triumphs and failures, fears and measured success; I saw their strength, humanity and our commonality. There were many outstanding stories and some sad ones. But there is one really amazing one.

A one-story building houses the four classrooms that serves the whole community, it was built by some foreigner I was told. There are no seats, no tables, no books, and no teachers for the 130 children who are ferried there free by the community daily. No teachers but for two young boys, secondary school leavers who can barely speak English. They volunteer everyday to teach the children; they are unpaid, their own future uncertain. The other thing I noticed was how all the area boys have slowly shed their aggression on seeing our good intention. I saw these aggressors transform into the confused and sidelined youth they really are and I saw them, as they could have been if we did not have all those decades of ruinous leaders who have consistently thrown shit in the face of the people of this nation, how they maybe still could be.

Go back to the picture of the makoko girl

Perhaps I am an idiot in thinking that like my six year old shit in the face self, this girl who sits upright and bright on the canoe in the shit lagoon can transcend her circumstance, that it is our responsibility to build the systems and structures that will allow her do this.

Yes I am an idealistic fool but I ask again, what is the alternative?

I recently saw the film THIS IS IT having loved Michael Jackson’s music all my life. I was fixated on the part that described the making of the …video, how the six dancers are digitally recreated into a mass of matching warriors as the music climbs to a crescendo

All l want to say is that they don’t really care about us………

The area boys, the prostitutes, the 419ners, the militants, the kidnappers; the desperation is clear in the increasing audacity.

All l want to say is that they don’t really care about us…………………………..!!!!

Music stops. It is very important what stops it and what comes next after the silence. The choice of whether it is strides towards a good society or anarchy such as sub Saharan Africa has never seen lies in all our hands. To be hopeful is not to be blinded to the challenges or fatalistic about its solutions. It is to consciously choose a better vision of ourselves, a vision of what ought to be for our children and grandchildren. One that lights the fires within our bellies and illuminates our way into a brighter future. That is the challenge to our generation, our inevitable hope.


Simysola said...

I am a new comer into this world of blog... But i must say i am loving it already. Your write-up is a master piece...Kudos Aunty Funmi... you are definately an inspiration

Femme Lounge said...

the most touching part of this for me, is the response to the question 'why do it'. i think it's a very powerful statement.

honestly there are so many inspiring and disheartening untold stories behind all these shit.

thank you for being a voice and for helping others find theirs.

Pusoro said...

"Yes I am an idealistic fool but I ask again, what is the alternative?"

The so-called 'realists' need to see this and indeed the entire post.

I think you're doing Nigerians a serious national service with your show. There are so many stories Nigeria has to tell amidst the inane political farce.
Is there anyway at all that I could watch it in the UK?

Unknown said...

Funmi delivered this talk at TEDxEuston! Watch this and other talks here http://www.tedxeuston.com/

Ifeoluwa said...

Well, everytime time i read your blog, i feel motivated and determine. I feel nothing is a barrier to achieving gretness.

Anonymous said...

wow.....thanks Funmi