Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Diasporan Arriviste

(Welcome once more to activities in the Junction. Already, two of our regulars are here, and it looks like the third is just entering... with a guest in tow.)

Nat: Max, Zack, I'd like you to meet a very good friend of mine, Julius.

(Julius stops and looks round the shabbiness of the Junction with evident distaste.)

Nat: We were very good friends in secondary school, but he left and went abroad shortly after finishing. He studied accountancy...

Julius (interrupting) And now I'm employed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in London as an external auditor. I travel to big companies and do high profile consulting work... and needless to say, I earn big bucks for doing so!

(Zack and Max glance at themselves as if to say "which planet did this guy come from?" But Julius continues, oblivious of this.)

Julius: Yeah, I've been able to buy myself a classy apartment in an upmarket area of town, and I've got myself a Porsche and a Lexus SUV. I've done very well for myself... much better than if I had stayed back in this hellhole.

Nat (looking nervous): Er, yes, Julius. Can we get you something to drink?

Julius: What do you guys normally drink?

Nat: Oh, we usually have a few glasses of kunu, although...

Julius: Kunu? What's that?

Nat: Oh, I don't think they were selling it in this part of the country before you left. It's a local...

Julius: 'Local'? Don't they sell any imported drink in here? I can't be drinking local stuff!

(There is an embarrassed silence as Max and Zack stare at Nat with expressions of outrage and disbelief at hearing this disparagement of their favourite drink.)

Nat: It's all right, I'm sure there will be something for you at the bar. Can I get you a Guinness? Please take a seat while I go and get the drinks.

(As Nat goes off, Max and Zack stare at Julius for a few moments in cold silence.)

Zack (with barely concealed contempt): So. You have just - 'arrived' - from London. Welcome, sir.

Max: How long are you here for?

Julius: Oh, I'm just here for about a week. I just want to see my family and catch up with old friends like Nat. Of course, I have no intention of staying a minute longer than that.

Max: Why not?

Julius (surprised): Why not?? Where do you want me to begin? Look at the place! The roads are untarred and badly maintained, there's rubbish everywhere, there's hardly ever any electricity, you can't find a decent Starbucks down here, drinking the water is an invitation to death... I tell you, Nigeria is an absolute disaster!

Zack (irritated): Your problem is that you look at things on a superficial level, in terms of material things only. As far as I am concerned, Nigeria is the only country I could ever consider living in... it is the only place where I believe I can be free to be who I really am, rather than putting on a fake accent or restricting myself to wearing my traditional clothes on the two or three days a year there is any real sunshine. And most importantly for me, it is a place where there are massive opportunities, once we start getting used to the democratic way of doing things.

(Julius throws his head back and laughs.)

Julius: D'you know, every time I meet a Nigerian who is stuck in Nigeria, these are the very words that he utters to console himself that he can't escape. My friend, you're not fooling me at all! Underneath your braggadocio, I know there's an emigrant hoping and praying for a ticket out of this hell on earth!

Zack (visibly angry now): You know what your problem is? You have this bitter and twisted idea of Nigeria being a place where everybody must uniformly conform to your vision of wanting to escape! And you know why? Because to admit otherwise is to admit that you were too weak to cope with the challenges of life in Nigeria – and you took the coward's way out!

Julius (getting angry himself): If wanting to leave a place where I can see no future is cowardice, then I plead guilty to being the greatest coward on earth. At least, I have the sense not to waste my energy in a place where it will not be appreciated!

Zack (still angry): And how do you expect the place to have a future when you are too cowardly to stay around and make that future, even with all your 'big bucks' and your 'consulting skills'? At least we agree on one thing – you're a coward!

(Just then, Nat is returning to the table, and is horrified to see the 'war' that has broken out.)

Nat: Guys, please, please! There's no need for this anger! Let's try and enjoy ourselves here instead of quarrelling. (Turns to Max, who is reclining in his chair and obviously enjoying the exchange.) Shouldn't you be trying to make peace between these two?

Max: Nonsense, Nat. You should know that quarrelling is the way we amuse ourselves here. (Turns to Julius.) Erm, please remind me... why did you say you are in Nigeria again?

Julius (surprised): Eh? Er – visiting old friends, as I said.

Max: Really? You took a whole week of your time just to visit friends? Couldn't you just have phoned or e-mailed? We do have e-mail in Nigeria y'know, despite all the bad roads and power outages that you mention.

Julius (defensively): Sending e-mails and phoning is not the same as face-to-face communication.

Max (with a mocking smile): So what words were so special that you had to say them face-to-face to these friends? Or did you want to whisper sweet nothings into their ears?

Zack: It's quite obvious why he had to come back – he wanted to show us that he had 'arrived' so that we could bow down and worship him.

Max (in mock horror): No, brother Zachariah! Surely not! This... this... high profile consultant (gestures to Julius) is surely above such petty displays of ostentation.

Julius (becoming irritated): My friend, I don't know what your problem is, but if you can't accept that someone can voluntarily travel down to Nigeria to see his friends, then that's your problem.

Max (in mock apology): Ah, sorry o! Abeg, no vex. You know say I jus' be local man. I no sabi as dem dey talk to someone wey don come from yonder.

Nat (cringing in embarrassement): Please Julius, don't mind Max. He can be like this sometimes. Here, have your stout and tell us what you've been up to since you left.

Julius: I was just telling your friends about my work as an external auditor...

Max: Auditor? What's that? Do you manage auditoriums?

(Julius looks at Nat as if to ask him "has your friend just smoked some controlled substances?". Then he carries on.)

Julius: I'm going to assume that you truly are ignorant of what an auditor does. He examines all aspects of a company, including its operations, its accounts...

Max: Accounts! Ah, then he would be useless in Nigeria. Here, we don't bother with accounts – they would get in the way of our rampant stealing!

Julius: Huh?

Zack (noticing a surreptitious wink from Max and getting in on the act): Didn't you hear? You've obviously been out of the country for so long. Last year, the government figured out that it couldn't fix the problem of corruption – so it declared open season on all forms of stealing and decided to sign the Stealing and Embezzlement Act into law.

Julius (confused): Hold on – are you guys joking or what?

Max: Joking? Why do you think Nigeria is in such a state? We've been having a ball, looting our respective federal, state and local government treasuries!

Zack: Then of course, there's the Road Damage and Pothole Act that was signed into law just after that.

Max: Yeah, that's the one that decrees that each Nigeria must dig at least one decent sized pothole every week on the road of his choice. I think the reasoning behind that was "what's worth doing is worth doing well" – if we're going to have poorly maintained roads, we might as well maintain them poorly in style!

Zack: And then there's the related Power Infrastructure Sabotage Act which sets out the provisions for an orderly vandalisation of power lines, transformers and electric poles.

Julius: You guys are lying. This is just ridiculous!

Max: Hold on – you don't sound happy about this. Why not? Shouldn't you be glad that we're going to end up in an even bigger mess after these laws kick in? Then you'll be able to even more easily compare your fantastic lifestyle abroad with the abject poverty that millions of Nigerians will be in. Of course, so will many of the other people you work with abroad – they might not come up to you directly, but they'll talk behind your back about "that basket case of a country where nothing works".

(Julius gapes in mute embarrassment.)

Nat (gently): I don't think anyone has a problem with you saying how much you've achieved. I think it actually inspires a lot of Nigerians when they hear how their compatriots are fairing abroad. But it's a shame when you return and use your experiences to make people feel dejected when you could be giving them hope. Do you really have to throw it in people's faces how hard things are here? Don't you think they know already?

Julius (apologetically): I guess you're right. I think it's been hard for me to be aware how I've being coming across to other people.

Zack: No problems. No hard feelings at all.

Max: Abi o! Especially because as our honorary rich man, you are paying for the drinks!

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