Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tosin Otitoju Interview, Part II

Erik's Choice (EC): You’ve lived in Nigeria, the USA, Egypt and Yemen. Your next poetry collection (Yalla! / Let’s Go) was inspired by your stay in Yemen. What is it about Yemen? Do you have any comments about the tumult that’s going on there right now?

Tosin Otitoju (TO): Yalla! has poems from several places - Nigeria, America, Arabia.

What is it about place -- place matters. Humans can move. When one place sucks, you move and guess what? End of tyranny or the particular problems of that place. It describes place, takes the reader to some places . . .

What is it about Yemen? It was the most special place I had been. It was a preserve of something pure, less average. In other countries, the copying from other cultures is so much that new experiences are rare. Here, newness was all around. Love the architecture, lessons for us about choosing functional designs, lessons in attention to beauty. Then I did really feel such happiness, such release from being somewhat depressed in California. I can't imagine not being a little depressed in California. Hot summer days were much better. I did like the food and restaurants. I once had a sunny boyfriend. I did many happy things. But in Yemen I was the complete opposite of depressed.

The tumult -- Yemenis will often fix Yemeni society. Yemen is not about the USS Cole or whatever intersection with US National Security. Sad that for now the economy must be suffering. Proud that they are fighting for something better. God let me go back, Amen.

EC: Nigeria has approximately 155 million people and is about 50-50% Muslim-Christian and also about 50-50% urban-rural. Lagos has some eight million people, fifteen million in the greater area. Nigeria’s population will probably surpass that of the USA in the second half of the 21st century. What is Nigeria’s ideal place in the world? What is your ideal place in the world?

TO: I can't verify the data; I won't be surprised if the US has better data on Nigeria than Nigeria. :) Ideal is what we want it to be and for many Nigerians it would be a return to good values (kill corruption, for instance); respect among nations (living up to the name 'giant of Africa' for instance); wealth (and it's not going to come from oil, it's going to take work, at least some large and efficient structures/organizations, attention to the minimum/the poorest, increased access to capital). I think Nigerians are irritated that we fail so much, when we think we ought to be winners.

My ideal place: I still want to travel. I still want to honeymoon in Yemen (assuming I marry that Rafa character, lol). I learned from Caltech to see work as central to a person's life. This is a little bad, perhaps, but in life I want to be where I'm doing the important work that I must do. This instant it's in Nigeria (in a writer's residency - see? we have one . . .) but I'm considering California again. Variety rocks, so yeah I want to do the Morocco/Turkey axis with its colours and spices, but also the beach -- which Nigeria has, but also the black -- in Africa, Cuba, wherever, but also the Louvre and the cold, the wealthy, the old, the run-down, the natural. I want to see my old friends, I want to hovel in my little room, I want to go on the cheap, and I want to do Monte Carlo in expensive style. Is there enough time to live all these lives? Hmm, maybe I should be an actor, lol.

EC: Can you say something about the different groups such as Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Edo? And the role of OPEC and oil and gas production in Nigeria?)

TO: On Oil and Gas and OPEC - Nigeria fights the so-called "resource curse." For a while now, this distorted our economy, too easy to rob the nation at the center, too easy to ignore every other possible source of income, when you have oil. Cool story: illustrates.

On ethnicity: So many languages. Three are said to be major, but is it really three? Or four?

The North, with predominantly Hausa and Fulani speakers reminds me of Arabia; it's the more Muslim half of Nigeria. I felt at home up North but many Southerners don't see the value in going to the North. I am from the South, in the Yoruba region, i.e. I speak Yoruba. We like to stereotype one another. The distinct groups are still large and important, but there is quite some traveling and inter-marrying so we're not free to really hate one another. There is a system of government in which we try to make everything equal, regionally speaking. It insures against civil war, although some would say it slows down our development.

Cool story: here on stereotypes; and a sad story on the worst of our follies: here.

That writer (former colleague, amazing work) also wrote this.

I've got to rearrange, edit and publish it someday, he's so damn lazy, but it's clear that he has a real insight into our miscommunication across tribes.

Endnote: I've dated a few Nigerians finally but never dated a straight-up Yoruba guy. The closest I've got were mixes. But most Nigerians, even in faraway countries or in mixed cities/universities/environments, seek out exclusively their own ethnic group.

Today's Rune: Movement.  For more, please also see here.


t said...

omg, shy and blushing now.
If you haven't read or watched The Yacoubian Building, go find. These Egyptians rock. Check out: Alaa Al-Aswany interview with ft.com

Erik Donald France said...

That looks good -- I just ordered a copy of the book for the library, and will catch the movie version -- nifty-fifty!

the walking man said...

Eric I think that was the best interview you have presented. Thanks dude.

t said...

PS Here is Part One
Thanks Erik.