Friday, 10 August 2012

Back in the Groove?

Two weeks ago we arrived back in the UK to a bitter winter evening and the potential for serious hypothermia. We have sort of re-acclimatised thanks to a suitcase of wooly socks, vests and padded shirts that we had in storage. The winter wind no longer whistles round my ears thanks to my rediscovered wooly hat but the damp greyness is hard to get used to again.
We are currently jobless and homeless, staying temporarily with my daughter until we get our lives sorted out again - and therein lies the problem:
Our time in Nigeria has been jammed full of experiences and left us with mixed emotions regarding what we want to do next. We have gone from being appreciated and valued by many people to being ignored and marginalised by many people, such that we don't really feel we fit in any more. We certainly don't feel that the jobs we were doing in the UK before we left with VSO were making the difference we felt we were making in Nigeria.
We have gone beyond the phase of wanting to tell everyone who was patient enough to listen, about our experiences, answering their polite questions and showing them our photos ans video clips. We are not coping too well with the understandable follow-up question: 'So what are you going to do now?'

A Nigerian Anthology

Since arriving back in the UK and trying to get my life back to normal, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences. I have put together my thoughts and reminiscences in the form of two collections of poems written whilst serving with VSO.
The first is a collection of haiku-style poems. I hope you like them:



 
Another Power Cut

A collection of Nigerian haiku
by
Lea Knowles

1.
Lonely airport lounge
Dull echoes in my heart
Desolation Row

2.
The slap of runway heat
Knocks me back
Stepping into Africa

3.
Blur of noise and hustle
Pounding head and pounding heart
Looking for an exit

4.
Cool leafed foyer
Filtered consoling smiles
So now it truly starts

5.
Daily duties done
Porter asleep on the stair
No naira for home

6.
Amid the rage and roar
Of ceaseless traffic
There is Jesus

7.
Freak storm streaks the night
Pounding the dust with
The warning of thunder

8.
Trying to rise
Against the weight of its past
This city of rust

9.
Swarms of okada
Buzzing these crazy streets
Dropping and taking off

10.
City of rust
Children in the gutters
Fragility of dust

11.
Red clouds churning
Choking life with grit
Burying the poor

12.
Goats nibble at garbage
Seeking a decent meal
They have a mountain to climb            

 13.       
Struggling to comprehend
Dust starting to settle
But will not blow away

14.
Thoughts of the coming day
Staring down
Deep crevasses in my porridge

15.
Cheeping cheerily
Chickens play roulette
Before the crushing tyres

16.
Startled infants clutching skirts
Peeping at the oyinbo
Will you smile for me today?

17.
Red dust road
Staining my shoes
Turning my white shirt pink

18.
Drawing bolts, turning keys
Feel the sun flood in
Welcoming the morning

19.
Yoruba road
Market women watching waiting
Spiders in their webs

20.
Astride a shaded bench
Cheating at cards
Our red-striped guards are laughing

21.
Women from the fields
Heads piled with brushwood
Sway like galleons

22.
Slow walking through hot air
Baking head aching  feet
Thinking of nothing

23.
Beating ceiling fan
Stirs languidly
This  viscous afternoon air

24.
Thick and heavy heat
Neem tree fluttering
A welcome to her shade

25.
Frying plantain in the street
This African sun
Frying my brain

26.
Collapsing into the shade
I melt into my beer
Sit back and smile

27.
Sun melts into its own hot sky
Drowsy as the palms
Ignoring calls to prayer

28.
Cattle on the move
Fulani amble silently
Along the lakeshore

29.
In hotel pool
Cooling... watching
Circling eagles watching me

30.
Eagles circling
Tracking their next meal
Creating this pleasant breeze

31.
Home thoughts
Shadows spread across the floor
Fire in the kitchen went out

32.
Mma picking okra
Laughing with her friend
Wrapped in colours of Africa

33.
Slow drift of cloud
Buzzards scan in hot sky
Lizard scurries for shade

34.
Sitting with a cold beer
Trying to learn Yoruba
Trying to stay awake

35.
In Friday colours
Prayer mats cloak the road
The faithful pray as one

36.
Kwara radio
Yoruba- burbling
Suddenly the BBC

37.
Powerful women
Calling to tease you
Into the bush-meat cafe

38.
Distant thunder
Or are the women
Pounding yam again?

39.
Goat’s head soup and peppered yam
Blistered tongue flaming lips
Sorry-o!

40.
Pounded yam
Resting in my belly
So hard to keep awake

41.
Youths wild and excited
Waving brooms in the air
While fat cats sit and purr

42.
Governor’s compound
New cars gleaming in the sun
Each a vote of thanks

43.
Flash!  – blown fuse
NEPA’s drunken surgings
Have silenced the appliance

44.
Ceiling fan fades and dies
NEPA can’t be bothered
Gone to sleep

45.
A sinking sun
Framed with golden light
Pours Into my prison home

46.
Through iron bars
I watch the sinking sun
Sensing the freedom of home

47.
Bats by the thousand
In fast fading light
Flee the flower garden

48.
Ceiling fan
Whirling cicada
Cools the night-sweat on my back

49.
Another power cut
Flashing fuse box
Another shock to my system

50.
Ripping the generator
Firing up the lights
Fuelling my guilt with noise

51.
Generator roars at the night
Content to give light
Till we can take no more

52.
Generator cacophany
Even with finger plugs
Wrecking my head

53.
Far above the compound
Venus listening
Talking football in the dark

54.
Laptop tapping
Searching the right keys
Candles in the night

55.
Saving Naija’s forests
How many candles
From a single match?

56.
Candle gutters in the breeze
Stalactites dripping
Onto my papers

57.
Sleepless nights
Long hours thinking of home
Mosquito whining somewhere near

58.
Lying under the net
Yellow curtains billow
In a welcome night breeze

59.
Night watchmen
Standing fast asleep
Ready for inaction

60.
Is that a nightbird
A goat or child
Crying into the dark?

61.
Rattling and whistling
In the deadly hours
Vigilantes on the prowl

62.
New bars at the window
Vigilante patrols
Not the same any more

63.
Packed tight as a fist
Still the roads rattle your bones
On the Kwara Express

64.
Logs across the road
They emerge from the bush
Police trap

65.
Small children
Waving excited greetings
Timeless as dust

66.
Roadside toddlers
Twixt gutter and the wheel
Risk of simply living

67.
Enveloped in fume and dust
Babes wrapped against the sun
Growing up too soon

68.
Infants crisp and clean
Small small lunch box
An angel shaped hole in my heart

69.
Hot dusty trek
Pupils run to fetch my bag
Sharing the final path

70.
Pouring through the steel gate
A flotilla of lemon and lime
Sails to greet me

71.
Heavy bulbous sky
Rainbombs  clatters the school roof
Drowning my voice

72.
Midday chokes and clings
Children of the dust learn
Their country does not love them

73.
Wanting to know so much
To follow me to my place
How do I like their environment?

74.
Shuffling through gloom and dirt
Crammed in benches
Seats to tear your clothes by

75.
Voices from dark windows
Distracted from lessons
Calling Mister Lea

76.
Gnats swarm in midday heat
Chickens seek out shade
But these classroom walls a cage

77.
Goat family attends our class
Sees what’s going on
And promptly leaves

78.
Drowsy buzzing classroom
Shutters slam in the breeze
Wake up sleepy heads

79.
Sitting beneath a tree
On plastic chair or twisted root
Discussing the world

80.
Released by a bell
Children burst from stuffy classrooms
To get pure water

81.
At the end of day
Running to the family stall
Actions worth more than words

82.
Cold beer
Trickles down my throat
Washing the dust of the day

83.
Sitting on the balcony
Cool morning air
Small birds flit through the palms

84.
Short sweet songbursts
Among the locust beans
The birds are shrill this morning

85.
Short sweet songbursts
Inside the church hall
The women are shrill this morning.

86.
 Mutilated body
Ripe for pecking
Vultures wheeling  overhead

87.
Egret pecking
At filth on this backwater
Why?

88.
Lifted from a tearless grave,
Rescued by her God 
Small miracle in far-off land

89.
Thinking of loved ones
Can’t send my love in the mail
Feel so far away

90.
On a stave of wires
Constantly changing the tune
Birds bobbing to their song

91.
Big yellow bird
Hiding in the tree top
Big yellow bird, don’t go!

92.
Among the egg plants
Turkeys scrabble
Pecking by my window

93.
Christmas approaching
Turkeys squabble noisily
Plotting  escape

94.
Dredging the well
Bringing only wet sand
Longing for clarity
    
 95.
Exploring temple ruins
Seeking shade
And thirst for knowledge.                 
  
96.
As they watch from high
In damp forest air
Women make offerings to the gods.

97.
Voices echo
Calling forest spirits
From the silent mists

98.
Calling forest spirits
Voices echo
Into the mists of Osogbo


99.
Dripping pines
Breathing the air of the spirits
Feeling lighter as I age.


100.
Dwindling days
So much left to do
Yet feeling gone already

101.
Sunflowers dip their heads
Or look away
They sense we’ll soon be leaving

102.
Dancing to the rhythms
That feed the night
Africa never stands still

103.
Farewell celebrations
Head to toe in African colour
Feeling I now belong

104.
In  cool morning sun
Crows pick over last night’s party
Like crows everywhere

105.
Dishevelled rising
Forgot my overnight things
Palm fronds serve as a comb

106.
A hole in my heart
Leaving for home
Never to return

107.
Afternoon sun on my skin
Thoughts of home
Dreading the blasts of winter

108.
Suddenly  I realize
Our neighbours have become
Our friends

109.
Sorting through memories
What to take and what to give
Packing for home

110.
Too many goodbyes
Roots so deeply sunk
This tree will never die.

111.
Quiet, so quiet
Sun tiptoes into the sky
Even my breath seems loud

112.
Gazing out to sea
Back to his native land
Searching a horizon of dreams.