My Favorite African SFF from 2018

Wole Talabi

76f6b36cf84a8cd2ca350366bc0513a8Hello Hello… 

It’s almost deadline time for the Nommo Award nominations and I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading for stuff that came out last year and although I tried to read as much as I could, I couldn’t read everything. I still have a fairly long 2018 TBR list. Still, overall, from what I’ve seen, I think 2018 was a pretty good year for African Spec Fic. You can read Geoff Ryman’s broad summary of the year over at Locus magazine at THIS link. And if you want a working list of everything that came out last year, check out THIS link.

As has become usual, I like to highlight short stories which I did manage to read and which I enjoyed most from the year, mostly to thank the authors for producing work that I appreciated and also to help spread the word.

Note: I am working with the…

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What you have over them

Nigeria is a nation of unequally distributed resources. This is one of the most bandied about truths of the day. In fact it cannot be overstated. Our middle class is becoming almost eroded. Now we mostly have two groups. The rich and the poor. With the middle either rising to join the rich or collapsing to join the poor.

The question we don’t ask is where am I? Because we all know where we belong. Most of us are either in the lower rungs of middle class, hanging on by a hair’s breadth or outrightly poor. The question which we ask is what do we have? Is it enough to get us out of these depths we inhabit? Do we in fact have anything? The gaping gulf between the rich and the poor and near lack of a middle class can in fact lead us to believe that our situation is so much worse and we do indeed have nothing. How do I mean?

To illustrate. A half decade or so back, I was attending my first student law dinner. It was being held in Eko hotel. You all know the biggest, priciest hotel in the city of Lagos. And we students were coming all the way from the less glamorised mainland. There were white coaster buses to convey students enmasse to the venue. At the time I was unperturbed by the distinctions of class. So I took one of those buses even though it’s not what one of the ‘bigger boys’ would do. The bigger boys would go in a private cab or even their own car. I was not perturbed by this. Though I was aware of it.

Perhaps it is inaccurate to say I was not perturbed, being aware. For only in total ignorance can true dispassion exist. So it’s more accurate to say I was not overly perturbed. Perturbation grew however as our bus moved into the choicier parts of the state and choicest parts of this unbalanced nation. Luxury cars the likes of which I only saw in movies drove past me while I was in the bus. I began to feel less comfortable about taking the bus, about how low the coaster bus was and how wonderful it must feel being in one of those cars.

At some point I had begun to feel ‘oppressed’ and totally miserable about my ‘condition’ and think about how unfair life was. Then it began to rain. While it was raining, there was a mild holdup on my side of the road. And a truck-pusher, one of those miserable souls who engaged in the most strenuous jobs in less than wonderful conditions for the most menial pay did just what they were known for. He pushed his truck passed my bus. I, sitting by the window caught a good glimpse. Bare chested, his muscles strained with the load he was pushing. It rained on him. Grimy water on his skin from what must be a combination of dirt, sweat and the sky’s liquid endorsement.

Here I was feeling bad about being in a bus. Then the guy pushing his truck in the rain passes. Oh I almost forgot, there was a younger person, little more than a child atop the heap he was pushing in the rain. Perhaps he was a partner, to switch and take turns with the current pusher when he tired. The upper part of his body was unclothed too and I could see where his nutrition might need to be augmented. So here I am feeling low because of the sight of people driving in luxury cars. Then the truck pusher passes. And I wonder how they must feel seeing those luxury cars. If there’s a wide gap between me and the luxury car drivers, what’s the gap between the truck pushers and them? You can fit a good sized planet, maybe Saturn into the gap.

This is to illustrate that I understand the gap, between the rich and the poor. I know this not from this incident alone of course but from numerous other instances, both experienced and observed. But despite all of this, i realised something; everyone had something. Nobody has nothing. On the road that day, someone had a Benz quite alright. And two other people had something even though nothing on that level. One had a truck to push, and the other had a bus to ride in. Your eyes must be widening in incredulity at his. But yes. You must have heard the saying that life is unfair, but it’s fair because it’s unfair for everybody. It is well, sort of true.

But be calm. The aim of this article is not to dismiss your inadequacies as irrelevant or belittle your pain and lack but to teach you to focus on what you have instead of what you don’t have. And when you focus on what you don’t have, you do so only to perceive that not having something as something that you have. You see, I believe that everyone has something. No matter how minute seeming, how inconsequential it may be, we all have something that gives us an advantage over the next person. Even having nothing is an advantage. And that’s what we all have. An advantage. Of course some advantages are bigger than some, more glaring, easier to exploit. But I never said we all have equal advantages. Only that we have some.

If two men stood to do battle, one was bigger and the other smaller, the bigger would have more mass, stronger blows, usually. Be able to use his bulk as a weapon more. But the smaller would be less a target, probably be quicker as he was moving less balk. You see where I’m going? Let’s take some of our favourite celebrities as cases in point. WizKid and Davido. One born poor, the other rich. The rags to riches story Vs the riches to fame story. People often argue who is doing better. Lots of people say Davido is. I think WizKid is. But that’s not the point. The point is that even those who say that Davido is doing better, agree that Wizkid’s rags to riches story is more impressive. That simple. His past poverty in this case is Wizkid’s advantage. No matter how much better Davido eventually does, we will always point to that part of Wizkid’s life and say he made it from nothing. So he can never really lose if there were some sort of contest between the two which there probably is. His poverty, his suffering, is an advantage now. If someone had told him back then that he had something over Davido, or any stunningly rich scion of a politician, would he have believed? If we had told him his poverty, his suffering, his uncertain chances of success was an advantage he would have cursed us. But I am telling you now. And try not to curse me.

So there we go. Poverty can be an advantage too. And riches, Davido’s financially advantageous life and story is a disadvantage in this case. You may not think so with all the screaming OBO all over the place. But I tell you it is. And even he must admit to himself even if when alone, in his bed at night, away from all his fans and friends that support him, that he does indeed admire his rival Wizkid’s grass to grace life. Because it is truly impressive. You see what I mean? Your disadvantages are advantages. And your advantages are a disadvantage too. So life is somewhat fair. We all have both. God in his or, nature in her own unique way has gifted us weapons to fight life’s battles. Another case in point is our popular football stars, C.Ronaldo and Messi.

I am not a huge football fan. But I hear the first is hardworking and the other is more talented. I hear the first is doing better. Let’s go with that for the sake of this discussion. He, CR is less talented. Yet he’s doing better. Because he works harder. Why does he work harder? Because I assume, he’s less talented. In this case, his less talent is an advantage. And it’s getting him further. But I am sure if he were given a choice at birth, he would choose the most talent, never understanding that less is an advantage that could propel him further. We all fail to see that not only obvious advantages are advantages. If we only saw what we had as an advantage perhaps we would seek and succeed in exploiting it to such. Some play better when they are losing, fight better when the odds are against them. Because being down is an advantage for them. In those cases it would not help them to start off well. And they have learnt to exploit that advantage

I will use a less popular or glamorous case in point. Myself. I was born with chronic sinusitis. As a result I was called names as a child and shunned almost into adulthood. This contributed or even resulted in me being a loner and introvert. I was my own friend. Me and just my books. I told myself jokes. Jokes I heard from a myriad characters. I conversed with them. Wittier and more knowledgeable conversations than most people around had anyway. I loved them, these characters. They were friends, and brothers and lovers. And here I am. The depth of thought, that comes from introspection which I have, do many who did not go through what I did have it? No. Because they lacked my advantage. They didn’t have what I had. Sinusitis, is what I had over them. It wasn’t obvious to me then and I am sure I wouldn’t have appreciated it if I was told then. But it is now and I do appreciate it. I do often say that pain is my oldest friend. It is not an empty metaphor. And I do believe that if I were divested of that pain I have I would indeed miss it. I would have lost something I had, my advantage.

Take a light skinned and dark skinned girl who both want to be models. Someone wants both a light skinned model and a dark one. You just need to find the place where what you have is an advantage. Or create such a place if you don’t have it. Look at he guy pushing a truck on the road at the beginning of my article. He doesn’t have a Benz or even a bus. But he has his muscles. Supposing he became a bouncer, or an MMA fighter or entered the World’s Strongest Man competition. He would have a chance to win fame and money which neither I nor the guy driving the Benz would have. I do admit it would likely be a longer and more difficult journey for him. But it would be more the glory and respect for it. That’s two things he has over us already. Muscles and respect for making it despite his situation.

Recently a cripple graduated from the faculty of law, University of Lagos. He also went through a lot of financial difficulties asides being a cripple. On graduation, he was widely applauded. News websites carried it, and he was summoned to the National Assembly and honoured by the senators. Nevermind that they are corrupt individuals and reprobates. It is an honour nonetheless for the position they occupy and not their persons. Thousands of people graduate yearly. Why was he singled out? You see, his condition was an advantage.

So everybody has something. Even if it’s pain, poverty, sickness. Riches, good health, strength. It’s all an advantage and a disadvantage too. I am sure the crippled guy wouldn’t choose the advantage he had if he could. Most of us would not choose the advantages we have. Wizkid would likely choose riches early on, C.Ronaldo more talent, me, good lungs. I am not saying ours are the most fantastic. Sickness, poverty and the like. That is not what I am saying. But since we can’t choose, why not have the mindset that what we have is all well and good and be happy for what it’s possible to get out of it.

You may not be convinced yet. So I will tell you something about humour. I can identify two kinds of humour The first is educative and witty. Clever, based off knowledge that is not very common. A reference to some book, or piece of history or play on words. I call this clever comedy. The second is insultive and crass. It has to little to do with impartation of knowledge and hardly makes use of anything educative. Not to be hateful of one’s own but I find most of our comedians are the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning them. Their audience is largely uneducated so they are merely doing what will work for them. What I am trying to point at is the difference between the two. Each has an advantage over the other, no matter which you prefer. There are the ones who make jokes on CNN, talking about economic and political issues relevant to advanced nations. They can be considered well educated, some of them are authors and academics. Then there is the other groups that make what I would like to call dumb jokes.

The dumb jokers make insultive jokes, and are usually offensive and sexist. So the clever jokers have something over the dumb ones. Their cleverness. Do the ones who can’t do that type of comedy focus on their inadequacies and go home? No. They take their ignorance, their lack of education and all the things that makes one capable of making those kind of jokes and do something with it. They can’t write books, talk about world economy and politics. They are crass and vulgar. But that’s an advantage. They found a way to harness what they had. I may not admire that kind of comedy but I admire the comedians. If that makes sense.

In Nigeria now, comedy is an industry and lots of these people are well to do, having gotten fame and money. Nevermind that their jokes might be harmful to young minds. The point is, everybody has something. Even the uneducated has something over the educated. The dumb has something over the clever. The one considered ugly has something over the one considered good looking and vice versa. There’s this Emmanuella comedian. I hear she’s been signed by Disney. I don’t particularly find her funny but that’s an admirable thing there. And while she’s no Miley Cyrus I do find her accomplishments rather impressive. There’s also the Broda Shagi fellow whom I rather like. He’s no Stephen Colbert but I find his act rather creative and his jokes which occasionally touch on our own economic and political situation insightful. So there you go.

Recently I read about a writer. She has an illness. A sleep disorders that makes her half asleep, half awake and drowsy most of the time. She’s susceptible to nightmares and hallucinations. The lines between reality and dreams can be blurred for her. It’s a terrible thing for sure, When you think of it. She doesn’t have control of her life, body, mind. But that was later. The first thing I thought was advantage. Where they said hallucinations I thought visions. Nightmares could be source material. Inspiration. But no need for me to be presumptuous and tell her how to harness what she has. For she already has. She is a brilliant, accomplished writer that I aspire to be like. You see she has something over me. I don’t aspire to what she has but I aspire to do what she has done with what she has with what I have. So whenever you see someone who has what you don’t no need to envy them. Merely strive more to utilize what you do have to the best, to be the Wizkid’s to their Davido, the Ronald to their Messi and vice versa.

I am sorry if I appear to be focusing on a particular group of people. Those with less talents, money and obvious things. This article is indeed more for them. They are the ones in doubt of what they have or that they have anything. For the rest, it’s a bit more obvious what they have over the others. It is indeed true what they say that life is unfair, but it’s fair because it’s unfair for everybody. Not entirely true but true nonetheless, on some level. You have an advantage over the next person by virtue of existing differently from them. They may be cleverer. If so then they are not dumber. You are and being dumb is something they lack and which you have over them. There’s a place dumb people are celebrated and they can’t excel there as much as you can. They may be richer, but they can’t be poorer too. They may be healthier but not sicker at the same time. That’s what you have over them. Even poverty, sickness and lack of knowledge or education can be an advantage as much as a disadvantage if we but view it so and treat it so.

So that’s it. All who are groaning and in pain, go ye and bask in the glory of what you have. Whenever you think of how unequally distributed resources are in the nation, remember this. When you are pushing your truck through the muck of life and the rain is beating down on your soul and you see that bright blue Benz shining it’s light on your pain, don’t feel bad. Just remember what you have over them. The guy on the road pushing his truck that night, I never quite forgot him. I think about him from time to time. I hope he gets to read this someday.

P.s: This article in saying that we all have something is not ignorant of the extreme cases of poverty in the nation, of people that lack basic amenities or a way to live and cannot even utilise in any way what they have. It is in fact speaking to the more general cases who though disadvantaged have a way to use or harness their disadvantages. As for the first set I mentioned, may God and men who have the means come to their aid. As they say, ‘Cow wey no get tail, na God dey help am.’