Book of the Month: Behold the Dreamers By Mbolo Imbue

Art is so subjective. Ha. Sometime in the past few weeks or so while I was reading the book of this month, I shared a picture of the cover on Instagram Stories, saying it was a fantastically written book, and someone responded that they found it so tedious. Lmao. She said it felt like the author was rambling unnecessarily. I laughed so hard when I saw that. Because how can a book that I enjoyed so much both for its story and style be so irritating to someone else? And the beautiful part about art, about storytelling in particular, is both of us can be right; it's just about how we perceived it.




That said, I hope I will be able to convince you that the book of this month, Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, is an amazing read. The novel details the story of a Cameroonian couple in New York who grapple with the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. And in my opinion, it's one of the best books to tackle the experiences of immigrants in America. Jende and Neni, the main characters of the novel, have recently moved to America from Limbe in Cameroon hoping, as most immigrants do, for a better life for themselves and their six-year old son, Liomi. 


But of course, America is not all roses and they begin to experience this as they struggle to make ends meet with Neni working as a home health aide and Jende driving cabs. Soon, their luck changes dramatically when Jende gets a job as a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers, Clark Edwards and his family. If you recall, the eventual bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, one of the largest in America's history, was one of the reasons behind the recession of the 2007-2008 that rocked the financial world. But anyway as Jende works for the Edwards, Clark begins to trust him even more. And so we see the lives of these couples intertwine against the backdrop of an historic election and America's devastating slide into one of the greatest economic depressions in its history. Sounds familiar? Alongside all that is happening, several things happen in the Edwards' family that show the Jongas that not only is money not everything, but as they say the "rich also cry". But the Jongas too are dealing with their own struggles. Jende has to deal with visa issues and all through the book we are confronted with the faint idea that the family may get deported to Cameroon as Jende waits for his asylum approval. 


One significant part of this book is how it shows us the idealization of America by immigrants; this relentless belief and trust in America that immigrants like Jende and Neni have upheld. Only to see many of those come crashing. Mbue shows America as both bountiful and troubled. I especially loved that because, in many ways the system is much more fragile than many Americans are willing to admit.  She weaves stories of these two families together to show how the quest for the American dream can break you and can sometimes, no matter how hard you try, elude you.


We also see how insulated the wealthy are, how even in the worst economic downturn, they continue to remain enveloped in their cocoon of privilege. But Mbue does a fantastic job of not bashing the wealthy just because. In fact, she allows you to sympathize with them almost as much as you sympathize with the Jongas who life kept hitting over and over due to circumstances beyond their reach. 


Some other important things to note: For instance, it's funny how even though this was written about a recession that occurred more than a decade ago, it is still as relevant today. Second, the best, absolute best part of this book is the dialogue. My goodness, Mbue is masterful with crafting amazing dialogues of the characters. Witty, wisecracking, emotional, joyful, all the emotions we could depict just from characters having conversations with one another makes the book stellar.


Most importantly though, it depicts some of the toughest choices immigrants must make in this country. This country, beautiful as it is in many ways, has wrung out so much from so many people. And I think this book shows that well. In that way, this book is great.


Another thing I like to point out as I often do with books by Africans is that this book does not pander. There are descriptions of Limbe, in Cameroon that remind you that she is an authentic, an original. I love it. 


This book captured me from the very first page till the end. 


I will say that knowing what I know about immigrants, the ending surprised me a LOT but that's all I will say about that. You will have to read it yourself to make your own conclusions. 


This was a debut novel that held its own and can qualify as a masterpiece. But don't take my word for it? Read it and let me know what you think.


Well, that's it for this month! And make sure to come back next month for the book of the month, ok?


Love,


I

Why We Should Amplify the Historical #EndSARS Movement to Stop Police Brutality and Authoritarianism in Nigeria

When I am enraged, I write. So here goes. I explained here that there was an unprecedented movement going on in Nigeria. It started as an organized and collective anger against police brutality. See, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit of the police force was established years ago to deal with crimes related to robbery, kidnapping, car theft etc. Over the years, however, this unit had devolved into something of a rogue unit; a squad of thugs in uniform who began to perpetuate the very crimes they were meant to stop. They harassed innocent young men and women, they robbed, they raped, and worst of all they literally killed citizens. Now, the evidence reveals to us that the success of any policing unit whether in an ostensibly developed nation like America or a developing one like Nigeria is trust between citizens and the police. Where there is no trust, there is no legitimacy for the police. But how can citizens trust you if you arrest them for driving nice cars or using iPhones? 




So of course, people became frustrated. Year after year, people would just randomly disappear after encounter with the police. There were reports of extrajudicial killings, excessive blackmail, sexual assault and rape, innocent citizens getting framed by these thugs who sometimes went around without their uniforms. The long record of abuse continued to pile up and gradually, people started to complain. First, on social media a few years ago with the hashtag #ENDARS. But as with most important social movements, there was a tipping point. That tipping point—one  unlawful arrest and seizure and another point blank murder—occurred  this month when mass demonstrations began across major cities in Nigeria. This movement sparked something I had never seen in Nigeria. It was also when we realized that what we thought we knew about SARS barely scratched the surface of the monstrosity. BARELY. People shared stories, videos of heinous and wicked crimes committed by SARS; the impunity with which they killed Nigerians. 


I especially want to highlight Chijioke's story. Chijioke Iloanya was 20 when SARS officers arrested him at a child dedication ceremony in Anambra State. He literally committed no crime at all and yet instead of releasing him, these ghouls told his family to bring some money for his release. Like any concerned and desperate parent, his parents sold their property to obtain the funds. But upon returning, he was no longer in the SARS office. He has not been found since. Is he dead? Is he alive? His family don't know. And like Yoruba people say, it is better to lose one child's to death than to be held in the despair and hope of the purgatory that is "missing". At some point, news got to Chijioke's father about a river where the SARS officers of that branch often dump the bodies of their victims. In what no human being should ever go through, this man went through a pile of dead bodies, turning them one after the other, looking for his son. This is the kind of overwhelming anguish so-called officers of the law inflict upon the very citizens they swore to protect. Anybody that puts another human through this is an animal that should not live among the rest of us human beings. Such a person deserves to rot in prison for the rest of their miserable lives. 


So you will understand why Nigerians took the streets. And what a beauty to behold. Organized, unified, determined, energized, and yes angry, the protesters demanded an end to injustice and police brutality. The movement cut across class, gender, political ideology and was forceful in refusing to retreat.  In the weeks during which this protest was going on, the governance and collective good shared by organizers superseded anything the Nigerian government could have ever done for its citizens in all 60 years of its independence. The feminist group, Feminist  Coalition raised more than N140 million from contributions of Nigerians home and abroad to provide food, security, mental health, and legal aid to protesters and even relief for victims of police brutality and families of the deceased.  The utmost transparency with which they handled every expense is one for the history books. At some point, the Nigerian government tried to disrupt their fundraising. They found other creative ways to continue to raise funds, even getting the attention of Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey. People remained undeterred by these subtle efforts to disrupt the movement. Young people came out with a drive and passion you rarely see much less in the middle of a global pandemic that has catapulted ennui into almost everyone. Social media became a valuable engine to spread people's voices. And so it did. The world heard us. Soon, international celebrities amplified voices, #ENDSARS started to trend globally. It was a joy to behold.  


The truth is SARS is a symptom of a much worse cancer—inept leadership, incompetent leaders, and failed governance. And I suspect these same leaders knew that; they anticipated what was brewing. It really is the most basic things. Isn't it always with African leaders? It's terrible healthcare, education,  roads. It's skyrocketed unemployment rates, abysmal systems. It's the basic things intrinsic to a functioning society. Yet, they are inexistent in the Nigerian society. President Buhari has failed in more ways that words can describe. To live in that country is to play Russian roulette with your life. Nothing works: not justice, not governance, not civil service. But the leaders continue to amass grotesque wealth; they continue to go abroad for their own medical treatments while Nigerians die from easily managed diseases; their own kids get the finest education from prestigious universities abroad while  Nigerian kids continue to wallow in dilapidated buildings, poorly staffed schools, and unappreciated teachers. 


You tell me.


Why wouldn't Nigerians protest? It was only a matter of time. Instead of listening, the government used all types of tactics to repress protesters' voices. One operation allegedly transported mercenaries and disbanded thugs to break up the protests, incite violence, set protesters' cars on fire, and intimidate protesters.  Police killed some protesters, detained so many, but people continued and refused to be stopped. After all, the hallmark of any democracy should be the freedom to dissent, to protest, to express your disappointment with your elected leaders whose job it is to SERVE YOU. 


But then, suddenly, in a manner only a man who was once a dictator could so muster, things changed. 


On October 20, 2020, a curfew was announced that was supposed to begin at 4pm, which made no sense because how did they expect people to even get home? But before anyone could say Jack Robinson, men in military uniforms started firing at UNARMED peaceful protesters. There are videos of this online; of solders shooting into a crowd of people. Allegedly, government officials turned off security cameras and lights at the Lekki Toll Gates just before the massacre began. Think what you will about that. All I know is that it was a bloodbath.  They fired weapons into a crowd of protesters peacefully singing [the national anthem], sitting, kneeling. The particular details of the amount of victims (many of whom are either dead or receiving treatments in hospitals across Lagos) is still just as blurry as the video of the event. No one has been held accountable for the murder of innocent citizens. No one.




The handwriting became clearer that night at Lekki: this was state repression. The brazenness is appalling. What began as a peaceful protest devolved into the state murdering and terrorizing its own citizens. What Buhari and co wanted to do was to instill fear in the hearts of people. So that the next time we think of holding them accountable, we would think twice. Right now, the government keeps insisting all of this happened because protesters were violent. But it makes no sense that  people so organized, so committed to change would then compromise everything by suddenly becoming violent. People dared to ask for human rights and were killed for it. My first instinct was to say I couldn't believe it. But I could and I still can. Buhari was a dictator and what we are learning is that he will always be one. Because what kind of a democracy do you kill people for protesting? Sometimes, I wonder and I think, why were people so willing to vote  for a dictator twice? Why?


For days after this state-sanctioned murder, the president (nay, head of state), a former dictator, Muhammadu Buhari was conspicuously quiet. He refused to address the nation. For days (though it felt like years given the circumstance) we waited. And like Nero who fiddled while Rome burned, Buhari set fire to Nigeria and then fiddled. When I say the collective trauma of the past few days have been heavy, I might be understating it. I had never seen as much dead bodies, bloodbath, and massacre as I saw through videos and photos these past few days. I saw blood gushing from people's necks and chest cavities. I saw a mother hold the lifeless body of her son in her hands while she wept in abject despair.  As I write this, the wail-like sound emanating from her mouth continues to ring in my ears. But the head of state was quiet. And when he finally spoke, it was to threaten peaceful protesters even more, warning and giving the indication that he was ready to continue killing protesters if need be. The president of Nigeria did not offer  a single word of condolence to the families of the victims. He has doubled down, insisting that enough was enough and it was time to stop...protesting.


So yes, in a sense, it was time to retreat. But it was no surrender. What he and his cabals have done is to further embolden young Nigerians in our quest for a better nation and for better governance. People now realize the need to strategize and plan NOW for the 2023 elections. Because we can NOT go back to status quo.  So what can we do?  The past few weeks have taught us that we can do the work. We can use our education, skills, tools at our disposal towards a better society. And gosh, it has taught us that there are so many problem solvers among us. We can mobilize, educate and engage, we can continue to remind people, we can strategize and mobilize the grassroots across Nigeria. But it's not just about the presidency. It is local offices, local governments, state legislature, national legislature, the judiciary. We know now that we are not powerless. If anything, what the Feminist Coalition has taught us is that as a unit, we are powerful and can organize. So we need time, we need to be resolute, and we must never ever settle for anything other than a better Nigeria. A Nigeria that works. As I always say, this is a fight EVERYBODY must participate in. You can't leave it for a select few. You can't abandon it. you have to find a way to serve. You must speak up and engage and do better in whatever corner of the world YOU are in. It starts with all of us.


As for those of you that continue to deny the truth, that continue to remain loyal to an administration that has shown time and time again it has no concern for the people, that continue to obfuscate, that continue to deny the deaths of protesters despite glaring evidence of the murder and intimidation, you are stupid and you have no one to tell you. So here I am doing you a favor.


I want to end with a word for Nigerian women; so fierce, so organized, so resourceful, so wise. When the time came, they (we) rose up to the challenge. So I want to thank them for being so so so transparent with funds, for organizing ambulances, for feeding people, for providing legal help, for providing spa treatments, for providing free therapy, for setting up response lines, for speaking up and out, for tweeting, for posting relentlessly on Instagram, for being angry, THANK YOU. I have never been prouder to identify as a feminist—a  radical one. Women, we get the job done. 


Love, and continual solidarity


I

Friday Reflections

 1.) You know, the other day, even my father asked me what happened to the "Friday stuff" I always post. That is how long it's been. That said, we are back






2.) First of all, let us shine the light on the AMAZING revolution going on in Nigeria right now. What a beauty to behold. In a nutshell, Nigerians are protesting against police brutality and oppression using the #ENDSARS hashtag. My goodness, the past few days have been history-making. 


3.) There is so much so say. So so much to say about this protest and I will in my next blog post. I left a long comment on Ijeoma's blog post that made me realize I have a LOT to say about the protest, reactions to it, identity.  Remember that I also literally study things like this: social movements, protests etc. so I have stuff to say from the social justice angle and from the scientific angle. Whew.


4.) So I will definitely be back. But for now, let me say unequivocally: #ENDSARS and #Nigerianlivesmatter


5.) Black lives matter whether in New York or Ogbomoso or Namibia or Congo.


6.) I read this heart wrenching essay by a woman whose husband took his life two years ago. There are so many emotions that it evokes in you especially when you realize the reason he did. I want to remind anyone reading this: if you think you've run out of roads [options], remember that there is ALWAYS more road. ALWAYS.


7.) I also want to shine the light on another heartbreaking personal essay, written by Fahim Saleh's elder sister titled "Mourning my Baby Brother, Fahim". Fahim was heinously murdered in his apartment a few months ago by a former assistant who owed him money. I want to remind anyone reading this: the heart of man is DESPERATELY wicked. 


8.) Black men guarding the home of black mom who was being harassed by white neighbors with feces and dead squirrel. 


9.) How this man went from atheist to Christian. 


10.) Okay the past entries have been too heavy. Here's something foolish and lighthearted: this woman cheated on her husband a week before their wedding. Okay okay, it is more foolish than lighthearted. Still. 


11.) Chimamanda Adichie wrote this beautiful eulogy for her father who suddenly passed away last month, proving once again that she has a way with words. These notes on grief remind us how personal and lonely, yet completely devastating grief is. 


12.) Future grad students, get in here! Lol. Seriously though, if you are applying to grad school this fall, here are tips on how to write your application essay or statement of interest. I will try to continue to share this as application season continues on. I know the earliest deadlines are in December (first week or so). So start that essay NOW.  If you are a black woman, I'm more than happy to go over your application essay for you. 


I am Back, I Think?

I think last month was the first time an entire month would pass without a single post on this blog. And goodness, there are so many reasons for that: evaluating whether I want to continue blogging to begin with (it takes soooo much time), whether it's even worth it, a general sense of ennui about everything, exhaustion with the state of the world, getting tired social media, and goodness, an actual physical exhaustion. The wildest part was how I came here chatting about how finishing my Ph.D.  means I can now dedicate time to my hobbies. *Laughs in trying to publish* Oh, academia! It will take you, chew you, wring you, and then spit you out.






That said, I think I might be back. There has never been a more important time to have a voice and to use that voice. If you don't want to use your voice, then amplify the voice of others. In whatever space you occupy in this world, use it to fight for what you believe in. And you have to believe in something. There has to be something that you care about in this world, because God did not just give us this world, he wants us to fully inhabit it. This means caring more than just yourself or heck even your family. There is too much injustice and oppression in this world for you to settle in your cocoon of privilege and not do a darn thing about it. And I don't understand a person who does not want justice in our world.


That said, as you are advocating, and fighting, speaking out, remember to do so with grace. Remember to not respond to silence others but to have healthy conversations. I want to say even when it's a mad person chatting crap you should still respond with as much grace as possible, but I know this is hard. So at the very least, when you know someone comes to a dialogue with good intentions and a genuine desire to understand, then please be respectful. Don't silence because they don't throw around a soup of woke jargon (not that there is anything wrong with these jargon) just that sometimes, it confuses people.


So I implore you to keep these conversations going. Heck, sit down now, and ask yourself, what issues do I care about the most? Whether in your country or across the world. But make a note of it and start the work to change that issue. We often think we have to be incredibly powerful or that we have to run for office or we have to be famous to do something, nope we don't. I'm not even sure how the conversation got to this. But yes, the point is I am definitely still blogging (for now!) about every and anything. 


I'm working a lot on making research accessible since I am in a capacity to do so. So anything you want me to talk about, I'm down (for almost anything). I truly think I'm back. I have a book of the month post coming up about a really exciting book and yes, continuing our theme of black female authors (yass). I even might have a Friday reflection next Friday (yaaass), and more. So yay!


I hope you stick with me and/or share my work. Thank you for always understanding, especially when I decide social media is too much and send myself on a self-exile because why not?


Ha!


Love,


I