July 17, 2013

Are you Nigerian?

Just like the hurricane, Nigerian Reunion 2013 has come and gone.  We are now left with fond memories of the brotherhood and camaraderie.  It always feels like home where two or more Nigerians are gathered, even if you never met them before.  The usual colloquialisms only known to us, the familiarity is always there.  I definitely met lots of folks from Houston, out of town; the movers and shakers in the diaspora.  It's always good to watch these folks to see your potential, to see where you could possibly end up in your life if you put in the time and effort.  Hearing the accomplishments of some of the image award nominees and recipients, I know I can absolutely do anything and excel, give back and bring about change.
There are probably one million and one Nigerians that reside in the Houston area alone, add that to the visitors from everywhere else, including Nigeria.  Houston turned into little Nigeria for a moment.  I wouldn't consider myself a social butterfly, but it felt nothing like it the whole week.  We dominated the little town of Westchase; holding the local Marriott hotel hostage (in a good way).  On the first day, I arrived on the scene to meet the NRC organizers who were hard at work, I immediately joined in with  the team members and volunteers, making sure the event got off to a good start.  I was "Hello, Msadaku - Photographer."  They were all smiles as they welcomed me to the fold.  I became part of the NRC family almost instantly.  

One of the event organizers - Tunde Oni was very gracious, a joy to work with.  He made my transition easy.  Always smiling, asking if I found everything okay (How couldn't I)? I took out my gear and started shooting the scene around me.  My goal was to capture rare moments.  It's always a little unnerving to shoot people you meet for the first time; there's always a feeling of uncertainty.  You have to thread softly, be sure they want their pictures taken.  They willingly took to the camera, it's like they read my mind, aware a camera was shooting they continued with their work.  The fun really began when they started posing for me; then there was curiosity over my Nikon D5200.  My friend Jide took over and started playing with it, helping me capture great shots of the crew.  My lens flickered at everyone hard at work.  People trickled in by the numbers; it was the presenters, comedians, contributors.  I'm amazed though at how many people were from out of state or country—majority were.  The jokes were not just saved for the show, pretty much started right away.  I wondered when comedians switch off.  
Later on that day, we moved on to Zanzibar for the kick off party.  There's always the element of timeliness to considerNigerians are never on time.  You just have to set a time and please allow at least 3 hours for them to get there.  When it comes to "Nigerian time" or "CP time," here's the trick: if you plan your event for nine o'clock and want it to start on time, set the time for six o'clock.  Our culture is not A-type at all; we loooove to take our time.  For one, we always want to look good, it takes at least two hours to get dressed; it's a process.  Any event we attend is months in the makingfunny isn't it since we end up three hours late?  We dress to the nines and make sure everyone notices.  No one likes to be the first to arrive at the partymiss the opportunity to be the center of attention.  Zanizibar was waiting for us, party already kicked off.  Deejay Tunes was on the spin table; R&B/Hip Hop, Afro pop permeated through the crowd.  Initially, folks held the wall or hung around the bar checking each other out, waiting.  Not long after that, the dance floor filled-in as the crowd took to their feet—good music will do that to you.  Being the still life anthropologist, I observed through my lens as people interacted with one another; guys stood in the corner checking out the girls; girls hurdled in groups, eyeing the guys in return; then you had folks who were there to look cute and "flex."  You can tell the folks who put up a front—dark sunglasses in an already dark room sitting or standing solo; hoping anyone notices how "fly" they are.  The rest already initiated contact and danced to the music on the floor.  Leave it to the the good looking folks with confidence to own the night, they weren't afraid of my lens at all.

The festival at Cullen park was a refreshing start to the second day.  The park venue was far out of the city though.  If you know Houston, then you know how far and stretched out some areas of the city can be.  You give yourself at least 35 minutes to any destination outside of Downtown.  Cullen park is huge—so huge, there are 4 phases; total of 10,534 acres.  If you plan on ever visiting, make sure you got the phase right.  One thing I learned, it might be far out, but cost effective for event planning, compared to any other park in the city (note pointers).  I arrived to a band of musicians, tents of vendors, people gathered under the sheds cooling off the sweltering heat.  You can count on some good Nigerian cuisine: jollof rice, fried beef and chicken, moi moi and suya were served (for a price).  We love good music and good food; it doesn't take much to have a party.  The festival was a family affair.  Times indeed have changed; kids use to horseplay with one another, now they play on their iPads and smartphones.  You had the young children, then precocious teenagers and young adultsI mean it's hard to tell a teenager from a young adult these days, they all dress alike.

Live band provided afro beats; Femi the entertainer cracked me up with his Obama impersonations; deejay Butter—sexy DJ as I like to call her, kept the digital music coming when the live music was off; amateur music artists used their opportunity at a shot to discovery and fame.  As they all entertained, my lens flickered, capturing rare moments: a mother's interaction with her baby, couples canoodling, girls being girls, boys being boys, the loner that isolates himself; I got them all.  When you're having fun, time flies.  By the time I knew it, it approached dusk, the sun calmed down and so did the crowd, and gradually, they all trickled away and to the next venue.
Nigerian Women's basketball team (D'Tigers) team members L-R: Tolu Omotola, Mercy Okorie and Charity Szczechowiak  
The Marriott hotel at Westchase was the house to most of the events; suitable to the crowd.  We all made it that same evening to the comedy of Basketmouth; turn out was mostly the same folks, elegantly dressed.  It helped to already be lodging in the hotel.  The comedian took the stage, immersing the audience into his life and misgivings.  Comedians always have the gift of spinning inflammatory topics, turning it into truth that you have no choice but to laugh at.  For the regular folk, talking about your dating indiscretions would elicit anything but a funny reaction, but for Basketmouth, it's freaking hilarious!  Two hours of undiluted and uncensored comedy had the audience reeling.  For most of us "Oyibo's," we are taken back to the motherland, reminded of the lives we left behind.  

Fast forward the next day: Speed Dating—dating musical chairs.  To play this game, a man sits at a woman's table for what seems like a minute before a buzzer goes off, he then switches seats with another. He rounds every woman's table, hoping to get lucky.  Another minute, another face; the woman hopes the next guy would be prince charming.  More power to folks who participate in this, because your thoughts literally have to be like a rolling dice.  The laws of attraction and chemistry would have to be on your side. Two couples got lucky this time.

Diner confidential.

My lens flickered as models prepped for the fashion show.  On stage they practiced their walk; backstage they primped, primed and prepared.  They must've been there for hours, some looked exhausted.  Makeup artists hard at work, the designers putting finishing touches to their collection and models taking final directions.  It looked all glamorous really.  There were tables with assorted makeup and tools, racks of clothes, flickering lights and pumping music; the models, the crew... What does this remind me of— Fashion week in NYC!  That's it.  I couldn't tell if I was looking at Andre Talley or a hog.  Imagine someone so big with a lump of animal fur, he wore it the whole week (Dude, aren't you a Vogue editor?).  Deejay Butter spins while up and coming musicians rehearse their musical numbers.  I really enjoyed capturing those moments.   I've always loved my work, a picture holds the story behind every image. A picture holds the story, the promise and the mystery.  They say a picture is a thousand words worth, I'd say it's more than that.  I meet my photo buddies Bobby McKinney and Mauricio Brown; they've got the big guns—Nikon D3 and Cannon 5D mark ll; super sharp focus lenses. When I grow up, one of those would be my weapon of choice.  Bobby was intrigued by me, he took so many shots of me in action.  These folks where pretty cool; we clickedat the subjects and with each other.  I would work with them again.  The show commenced and we all just had a field day shooting the runway.

Forward, yet again to the next day.  It's the YAP (Young African Professionals) talk show.  I touched on the topics a little bit (post here), now I'll expand.  Panel of speakers included Wamilele and others (I don't remember names at this point).  "Hot Topics" (reminds me of Wendy Williams) included raising a family and building a home when a couple have two different religions, challenges of dating in our society and gay rights in Nigeria.  Well... Any thoughts?  Here's mine.  Nigeria is a society deeply rooted in conservative, traditional and religious values.  Any part of the country you go to, those reflect in the value system and culture.  Nigeria is also a country infiltrated with western civilization.  For years, we've emulated the western culture, it also reflects what we do ("Hot topics" is a case in point).  We are yet to form our own identity, independent of outside influences.  We want to eat and have our cake.  Problem with that is we can't have both.  Homosexuality go as far as Sodom and Gomorrah—at least history tells me that.  Do we really think incarcerating these folks is any solution?  Is this a political matter?  Don't we have other things to worry about, like lack of electricity.  How is it that we supply steady electricity to other countries, but can't do that in our own country?  Shouldn't someone be incarcerated for keeping us in the dark since 1960?  For any plan, there's an agenda, for this plan the agenda is far-fetched.  Let's just say the plan to incarcerate gay Nigerian citizens would be like U.S anti-plan for gun control.  A lot of us Nigerians weren't exposed to homosexuality growing up, we learned it in Western culture.  As unnatural as it may be to most of us, who are we to judge?  Nollywood movies perpetuate homosexuality these days, yet the same society want to now ban the lifestyle.  We are absorbed and even adore the Western culture, how can we truly extrapolate ourselves?
It is of the opinion that single men are afraid of successful and independent women.  It that true?  Is the road to a man's heart designed to dumb women down?  I can't count the many times a man have told me they like me because I'm smart, is that a cliche? Should women stop having goals and aspirations because they won't find a husband otherwise?  I had a conversation with a young man recently and he told me that his potential woman has to be a "professional"—a doctor, nurse, lawyer (Did he say engineer?  I forgot).  So, on one hand, a man wants a successful woman; on the other hand, they're deathly afraid of them.  The men also say they love "the chase," if a woman gives up her cake too early the chase is done and they move on; she's not a keeper, she's a "sports fish."  If a woman gives up the cake, they'll eat it.  Who doesn't love free goodies?  Lack of good men is a stereotype perpetuated too often by women that they lose their sense of self and lower their standards for just about any man that comes along.  Then, they turn around and complain later that he's a "duche bag" or "immature" or a "player." Our clock is always ticking.  It started ticking long before we realized it.  When we notice our girlfriends marry off, the pressure is on.  We wonder how many bridal showers and baby showers would lead us to our own; how many ankaras and formal wears we have to construct before our wedding gown.  Lots of us jump the gun way too fast, we rather be married than single; in a relationship with a "duche bag" than be caught alone holding the wall at a club.  For those who've lived long enough to realize their standards and want to maintain it, the men are afraid of us.  Sounds like a catch-22, a double standard of sorts.  Should women relax their standards?
Are you haunted by the shadows of your past?

It was obvious that a lot of the views expressed were from the single men and women, mostly of the younger generation; dating is more of an adventure; views expressed from personal experiences.  The tone changed when a young married couple took the platform.  While there is no standard blueprint to dating into marriage success, it's good to have an example of a successful one.  They shared their story and how it worked for them.  One thing I learned: when a man is ready to commit, he's simply ready to commit; there'd be no games, no guessing of his intentions—at least that's how the young man got his lady.  I also enjoyed Linda Igbinigie's viewpoint: women who set standards need to do a self-check.  Being a woman with standards, you have to live up to them.  "You are what you eat."  You attract the attention to put out.

My lens flickered right into the red carpet.  Time flies when you're having a good time.  I captured Onyeka Onwenu when she first arrived and rehearsing.  I froze when she initially saw me and waved at me to stop (oops, my first blunder, I'm in trouble now).  Rehearsals went by swiftly and guests started to arrive.  I found myself in an amazon jungle of photographers and media folks, staking their territory in front of the red carpet.  I had a zoom lens to my advantage.  Image award nominees, supporters, everyone else dominated the scene.  I directed my subjects as they posed for my lens.  Some folks were a natural at posing, didn't need much direction at all, made my job easy. 

Did you know there was a team Nigeria women's basketball league?  I didn't.  I learned about them when I met Charity Szczechowiak - Small forward/center; Tolu Omotola -Power forward and Mercy Okorie - 3-guard and one of the presenters of the image awards.  My, my they were tall.  D'tigers is currently ranked as number 1 in Africa and in the top 20 in the world.  They participated in 2004 summer olympics, 2006 FIBA championship games and 2009 Nations cup.  I'd be on their tail from now on.  They are an example of the unexpected.  As I conversed with them, I imagined what it's like in their shoes; are they well received and celebrated in Nigeria?  How does a Nigerian girl wake up and know she'd be a basketball player?  Turns out Charity is quite a star in her own right; playing for the Polish team Artego Bydgoszcz.  Toluwani Omotala hails from London, England, now a Houstonian, played for TCU and Liberty college, now welcomed with open arms by Nigeria Basketball Federation with sights at the WMBA (rooting for you girl!).  Mercy Okorie's been around in the B-Ball scene a while, playing for Texas State Bobcats, been a part of team Nigeria since 2006.  Observing them, I couldn't help but notice how elegant they looked, knowing fully well they participate in an alpha male type sport that requires you to be rugged and strong and on your toes at all times.  

My lens continued to flicker as the Image awards commenced, nominees accepted their awards from presenters, delivered speeches.
Award recipients include:

I can only hope that I'm half the person they all are when I grow up.  I'm always inspired by the act of giving back, being a trailblazer.  It's so easy to be swallowed up in ourselves.  We all need to step out and take a look at the bigger picture.  We are equipped with the vessel to make a difference in the world; intelligent and capable, we just have to put our talents to work and not throw them by the wayside.  I had the chance to briefly interview some of these folks.  Knowing your self worth and letting your work speak for your character is a powerful thing.  Folks who realize this don't sweat the small stuff, they always command attention.  Another characteristic is humility, they were all approachable and willing to be interviewed. 

I was particularly impressed by Ugonna Annosike's voice when she sang the national anthem, commanded a standing ovation.  She took on one of Ms. Onwenu's classics, a prelude to the legend herself.  I can imagine it being a proud moment for her.  "Ka-anyi-ga-na-nke-bishopu-na-five-akuola....(you know the rest)."  Onyeka eventually serenaded the audience, singing the classic "One Love" by popular request.  We couldn't help but cheer on the veteran, the performer came to life in her element.  I remember thinking "that's exactly how I remember her watching her on T.V."  For a moment she was on stage, then off, involving everyone in the chorus.  My lens continued to capture the moment; she came to my left, then she was in front of me, then to my right; the photographers just had a field day.

The last day of this event started on Nigerian time (What else is new?), a 3PM slated event didn't start till approx. 7PM.  ROTFLMAO finally took the stage with their comedy routine; the audience enjoyed the gospel music performances by Dare David and Uche Agu; Jazz musician Seyi Alesh.  Nigerians love their gospel.  Everyone rose from their seats to the chorus of the gospel songs; hands waving in the air, hips shaking—the audience went to church!  Uche Agu's charisma pulled the audience in even more, there were no idle souls.  After much singing, supplications and blessings, it was time for the last bit of the program: poetry by Linda Igbinigie.  "He spoke and she wrote" is a poetry inspired by Linda's personal experiences and and spiritual connection with God.

It's been a whirlwind.  Learned a lot, met lots of folks, impressed by some of them.  It's admirable when we can come together for a cause, regardless of challenges.  We're troopers; we survive and thrive where ever we find ourselves.  This is my family, this is my country.
Photo credit: Bobby McKinney
This last bit would be for the non-Nigerian folks I met who showed their support to our cause.  "Mr Houston," Kendall Baker is the voice of the local 311.  If you've ever used the directory, you know his voice.  He loves the motherland so much, he's been there nine times; when that wasn't enough, he married into the family—her lady must have made some really good pepper soup!  He's quite the comedian that one.  I loved his Michael Jackson dance moves on the stage.  Then my fabulous peoples: Daniella Desiree and Ava.  I photographed the Caribbean princess and her bosom friend.  They were just a joy!  They know how to work the camera those two, it helps when you're a model and T.V personality. Daniella have posed for countless hair magazines, a budding entrepreneur.  Ava is a Global Icons editor and reality star.  Be sure to check her out on Oxygen's upcoming reality series, centered on   single girls living in the jungle of New York on a tight budget; the misadventures of being a single girl in a big city where a girl must survive with the support of her girl friends.  We bonded instantly to my surprise.  It's not very often that I meet people that capture my intrigue.  Turns out the fear and apprehension we have is not just reserved for the opposite sex.  At first I imagined they were maybe too  fabulous for me, but they were down to earth.  I have come to believe the power of a great connection; sometimes is hard to find, but then you can't really look for it.  These ladies are the most genuine individuals I've met in a long time.

I'd like to thank everyone I worked with: Tunde and Segun.  Jide—thanks for helping me figure out my camera.  Kendall, you'd be hearing from me and thanks for recommending a great pepper soup joint in Houston; Bobbygreat and wonderful photographer; look forward to working with you again soon; NRC team members and volunteers; pals Duru, Mauricio, Josh, Mahe, Butter babyyou are all cool peoples...ha ha.

Thanks for reading.
I appreciate you.
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  1. very well written and eloquently delivered. i felt like i was there and journeyed with you through the event. It was definitely a joy and pleasure to read. Keep nurturing this talent of written. Don't hide the gift.


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