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Category Archives: Nigeria

Understanding the underwear bomber

As a human, I wish fervently for a world filled with empathy and mutual respect amongst the many nations, religions, races and preferences that fill this globe. As a writer, I understand that a story filled with nothing but such enlightened people probably isn’t going to be much of story. Instead, I must create, understand, and bring to life those who would do others harm.

hippiepeace5The worst villain I have created may be the crime lord in my new novel c3, a ruthless man who harbors a taste for unwilling virgins. Or it may be my Nigerian fanatic in x0, who works to blow up an airplane leaving Lagos right before Christmas 2009. Of all the characters I have ever written, I struggled the hardest to understand both of these men, and to describe how they justified their actions to themselves.

How realistic is such horrible behavior? Clearly most of the folks in line with you at the grocery store are not capable of these kinds of atrocities, and we are all thankful for that. But even my worst characters are based on information I have come across in real life. Some of x0 was born out of my interest in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the “Underwear Bomber”. A 23 year old Nigerian, he hid plastic explosives in his undies and attempted to detonate them while on board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009.

I think his story tugged at me because a week later I began work as a consultant with an oil company exploring in offshore Nigeria. I immediately got to know several young Nigerian men who were about his age. As I became friends with my new co-workers, I puzzled over the story of of this youngest child of sixteen, son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and his second wife. I learned that such huge families, encompassing multiple wives, were not uncommon in Nigeria and I could now personally attest to the fact that they produced people as loving and talented as families structured the way I was used to.

So what makes anyone decide to kill a bunch of complete strangers who have done him no harm? As I began to write x0, I knew that the villain in my book would be older, far more manipulative, and not tied to Muslim terrorist organizations or their goals. Nonetheless, I felt that I had to better understand this underwear bomber in order to create the character that would drive the plot of x0.

I read. A fellow student said that Abdulmutallab started every day by going to the mosque for dawn prayers, and then spent hours in his room reading the Quran. Unusual, especially for a young person, but hardly evil and even what some would call praiseworthy. “He told me his greatest wish was for sharia and Islam to be the rule of law across the world,” said one of his classmates.Okay, now I was getting somewhere. It’s one thing to immerse oneself in a religion, quite another to decide that every other human on earth should believe and do the same. Clearly those of many different faiths share this zeal to convert or even coerce, but in my heart, once you think that you know what everyone else should believe, you’ve entered rocky moral ground.

taboojive1Luckily the bomb went off with no injuries except to Abdulmutallab who was apprehended as he left the plane. When he was sentenced to life without parole in 2012, he declared that Muslims were “proud to kill in the name of God, and that is what God told us to do in the Quran.” I don’t know a single Muslim who agrees with that, although my knowledge base is limited to co-workers who share my hope for a peaceful world.

The underwear bomber did not hope for peace. He preferred destruction to a world that wasn’t the way he thought it should be. Once I understood that fact, I understood him. Understanding is not agreeing. I abhor what he did, I abhor death caused by anyone of any faith who thinks that the people of the world are better off bleeding than being free to make their own choices. Those who would kill to convert are about control. They are not about God, or love or peace.

(Please like the HippiePeaceFreaks and TabooJive pages on Facebook for these two clever images. Please see my y1 blog for a post about why I made pharmaceutical companies my villain, and see my z2 blog for an upcoming post about my tale of researching racist groups in America.)

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2014 in Nigeria, writing

 

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Happy 53rd Birthday Nigeria!

My novel x0 was supposed to take place in Saudi Arabia because I wanted my oil industry protagonist to develop a telepathic link with a Saudi woman. It was going to be a story of two outwardly different people who bonded over similar concerns for their younger sisters. Except that every time I started to write, it just didn’t feel right.

http://www.unfpa.org/public/global/pid/1050Meanwhile, I began a new job as a consultant for a company exploring for oil in the Niger Delta. There are many cool things about my current employer, but one of the best is that they are a very African centric company. I found myself sharing an office with three Nigerians, and learning about a country and a blend of cultures that was far more intriguing than I had ever imagined. I am endlessly curious about places far away from Texas anyway, and my patient office mates never stopped answering my questions.

http://nollywoodonline.info/?p=5 This went on for months. Working late one evening, I had to shut out a conversation between a Nigerian geologist at a desk three feet away from me and his younger brother back home.  Apparently little brother had a big test in chemistry the next day and my co-worker was trying to both tutor and encourage him. I used to do that for my sister. “We are so much alike the world over,” I thought. And it clicked into place.

About eight months later I finished my first novel. It tells the story of an American woman who befriends a Nigerian telepath who is trying to help her younger sister. While writing the book I got to learn even more about Nigeria and how it was created by the British and “given independence”  October 1, 1960. These outsiders lumped together millions of people with strong tribal affinities of their own, but with no common language and a great deal of mistrust  of the customs and cultures of the other tribes with which they were forced to share a country. Not surprisingly, Nigeria has had its share of troubles and bloodshed as the individuals within its borders struggled with the structure that had been imposed on them.

http://www.everyculture.com/Ma-Ni/Nigeria.htmlThe Nigerians I know are without exception resourceful and hopeful, and I see this in the country’s history as well. They are now fifty-three years into trying to make Nigeria as well-functioning and peaceful as most Nigerians would like it to be. I applaud them for how far they have come under difficult circumstances and I wish the country and its people the very best. Happy Birthday Nigeria.  As your national motto says, may “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress” fill your future.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Nigeria

 

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Music to read by

“Dooooon’t do it ……”

That was the advice from several published writers at a website called the Absolute Write Water Cooler. It is a forum for people who write, hope to write, or like to talk to people who write and you can find it here. You will meet some of the most encouraging folks there that you will ever find anywhere (and a few of the snottiest) and will get help from both.

musicI was working on my first draft of x0, and wanted to include some snippets of well known classic rock lyrics to give my reader something to hum in their head while they took in certain parts of the story. It turns out that a LOT of authors have this great idea. I was concerned about copyright issues, but every one that I mentioned this to assured me that I would be fine thanks so some vague notions of public domain and fair use. Only the nice people at AW said differently. Song lyrics are like poetry. You cannot safely use even a tiny bit of them. Doooooon’t do it.”

I was forewarned but still determined, so I tried another approach. I took my nine songs and found out who owned all or part of them in the US and world wide and I started writing people.  Can I please use this line from your song? How much will it cost? The assorted parties for seven songs just ignored me, and they kept ignoring me no matter how many times I wrote them back.

Sony/ATV Music Publishing however, has people on staff to handle just this sort of thing, and I found myself in negotiation for weeks with a Licensing Analyst named Lacey. She wanted to see context, I sent her pages from my book. We argued about how many copies I could sell for the price she decided on. I’ll never know why I persisted with this, but I think it was just that the whole process fascinated me. There are people stealing these songs left and right all over the internet, not to mention quoting the entire lyrics, and yet this very nice woman was spending time dickering with me over few words in a self-published first novel that might not sell ten copies. I think we both thought that the other person was nuts.

I will also never know why in the end I paid about $300 of my own hard earned money to secure the rights to use selected words from two of my favorite songs, in the first 5000 electronic copies of my book. But I did. No, I have not sold 5000 copies yet, and yes I am keeping track. I’m like that. And so is Sony/ATV.

I’ve included links to the two songs below, along with the placement in x0 that I paid for so dearly. What can I say ….. these two songs will now always have a special place in my heart 🙂 . And maybe Lacey bought my book.

This part of her job sat somewhere between treasure hunting and puzzle solving, and Lola had to admit that her day-to-day work would not have made a bad 3D video game if someone added a little bit of music and some glossy effects. And, okay, maybe a car chase or two. Lola enjoyed herself as she twisted and turned her 3D visualization of the rocks on her computer screen, humming as she looked for shifts in the rock layers known as faults.

“If you’re lost you can look / And you will find me / Time after time.”

Cyndi Lauper’s 1984 hit Time After Time (BUY) had once been a favorite of hers, and now that Lola thought about it, it made good music to prospect by. She was surprised she hadn’t remembered the song for years. She sang a little louder.

“If you fall I will catch you / I’ll be waiting—”

“Time after time.” Bob, the older engineer in the group, joined in her song as he walked by her door. “Geez Lola,” he said, “I’ve had that song in my head all damn morning. What are you doing singing it?”

“No idea. Maybe we listened to the same radio station on the way to work?” she guessed.

“I only listen to my iPod,” he replied.

4 Non-Blondes: click for official video

4 Non-Blondes: click for official video

Amnesty? That sounded hopeful. As she started to read, Bob walked by, singing in his head one of the many great oldies he had managed to amass on his iPod. Where did the man find so many good old songs?

What’s Up?” had been the 4 Non Blondes’ 1993 hit, coming out the year that Ariel was four. Lola loved it, and the two of them had sung, actually, screamed it together whenever it came on the radio when Lola was driving little Ariel to preschool.

In her BBC article, Ms. Duffield described talking to taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and hotel clerks in the Niger Delta region who were all hoping for peace as they watched militants hold disarmament ceremonies which involved relinquishing guns, rocket-propelled grenades, explosives, ammunition, and gunboats. Gunboats??

And so I wake in the morning and I step outside And I take a deep breath and I get real high / And I scream at the top of my lungs / What’s going on?

The BBC article added that while no one appeared to have given up their entire arsenal, the quantity of weapons released, presumably for cash, was significant. Concerns had been raised that no independent monitors were tracking what was being done with the weapons, and this caused particular concern because in the past, corrupt officials had sold confiscated guns, which had then made their way back into the hands of a wide variety of criminals.

And I try / oh my god do I try / I try all the time, in this institution.

The article noted that another major obstacle to peace was that there were now thousands of young men in the region effectively unemployed, given that their previous full-time profession had been guerilla fighter, with resumes that included kidnapping, blowing up oil pipelines, and stealing massive amounts of crude oil.

And I pray / Oh my god do I pray / I pray every single day for a revolution.

The government plan, according to the article, was to retrain these young men in new skills. It noted that they were already being processed at centers where they were being asked about their other career interests. Other career interests??

The BBC said that retraining would be a daunting prospect, and that in the case of failure, the young men would likely return to their previous activities.

And I realized quickly when I knew I should / That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man / For whatever that means …

She looked at the photo of the giant pile of automatic weapons. Seriously, right now in Nigeria there were actually thousands of angry young men filling out employment questionnaires??

Twenty-five years and my life is still / Trying to get up that great big hill / Of hope … for a destination.

For more on my adventures with including music in novels, check out my z2 blog here for a little fun with bubblegum music and my y1 blog here for songs I wished I had used.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2013 in music for peace, Nigeria

 

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Mission control

Most of us have been involved at least once in writing a “mission statement”.  This concise summary of what one is trying to do is usually an exercise in restating what ones boss wants to hear and is thus regarded by cynical employees as the time wasting nonsense that it is. Yet, the real question regarding why you are doing what you are doing remains a valid one. What is the point? What do you want to accomplish? Why not just take a nap?

To that end, today the blog “Face Painting for World Peace” is going to articulate its reason for being. I’ll start with the obvious.  I wish to sell my book x0.  I wish to entertain myself by writing, which I love to do, and in the best case I wish to entertain others with that writing.  I love to do that as well. I’d like to solicit more interaction here and am trying to figure out how because I wish to grow by hearing from others with ideas outside of my usual circle.

All good mission statements cover not only what is to be done, but also how.  At least at a very high level. So, I hope to do the above by writing about the aspects of x0 that most fascinate me. These include the relationship between telepathy and empathy and the way both relate to humans treating each other with compassion and respect. I subtitled my book (and named this blog) “Face Painting for World Peace” because my main character Lola realizes that she lost many of her racial and ethnic prejudices while painting children’s faces every year at the school carnival. She wonders if similar close interaction with the children of ones enemies would foster world peace. So, this blog will look at paintings about peace, art about peace, and music about peace.

I also hope to occasionally post about Nigeria, the fascinating country where half of the book occurs. There will sometimes be posts about the oil business, with an insiders perspective on the hunt for the hydrocarbons we rely on so heavily and yet know we need to rely on less And finally, I hope to feature other books of any genre that touch on any of these topics or on the theme of world peace. I will be more aggressively seeking out other authors and welcome all requests to do a guest post.

Mission accomplished? Hardly. But after about eight months of feeling my way along on this blog, and as I am about to cross the 2000 hit mark very soon, it feels good to say “mission begun”.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in art for peace, Nigeria, oil industry

 

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Why in the world would you write a book about Nigeria?

Recently I’ve gotten some feedback on my book from folks who did not particularly enjoy it.  That’s part of the process of writing, of course, and I accept these comments with all the good cheer I can manage.  After all, we all enjoy different things and I appreciate an honest review. But I’ve heard a few times now that writing about Nigeria was part of the problem. It has been suggested to me that it just isn’t a place that particularly interests many readers from the United States. So I’ve had to consider, after the fact, why in the world I picked such a “difficult” location for my first book. I mean, wouldn’t Paris or London have been better?

Much of x0 probably takes place in Nigeria simply because I began to write a tale of two very different women helping each other about the same time that I started a new job exploring for oil in the Niger Delta. Mind you, I do my exploring at a computer in Houston, twisting and turning 3-D images on a screen just like Lola does in the story. The fair-sized oil company that I work for bears little resemblance to Lola’s tiny focused employer, and as I began writing I promised myself that I would steadfastly resist the temptation to let any thing about my actual place of employment creep into the fictional world I was creating. Certainly I owed my employer that discretion.

In the end though, I made one exception. One day I asked my office mate, a Nigerian geologist, to describe to me how his tribe, the Igbo, were unique. He responded by telling me a legend about Igbo slaves coming to America. It startled me at first that he would even speak of such a thing, but in the end I was touched by both the moving story he told, and by the powerful way in that he told it.  I tried to capture each of those when I retold this scene in my book.

Nana Asma’u
Click here to visit the website for Wise Muslim Women.org to learn more

Nigeria, it turns out, has a plethora of rich stories to tell, and as an outsider I am poorly equipped to speak of even the few that I know. Yet as I kept writing I filled myself with all the history, culture and geography I could find on the internet. Somewhere along the way I became a fan of Nana Asma’u, a proponent of education for her fellow Muslim women and a poet and scholar herself.  She lived in northern Nigeria in the early 1800’s.

Why Nigeria?  Why anywhere. Every spot on this earth is teeming with tales of heroes and feats that will never make it to our ears. Why listen to these tales? Why tell them again? When young Pakistani Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban a few weeks ago for advocating education for girls, I thought of Malala’s noble predecessor of 200 years ago, and I had a perspective that I would once have totally lacked.

Why Nigeria?  Because when I started writing this book, there probably wasn’t a place on earth that I knew less about. That’s not true anymore. I get that the fascinating details of a far off land don’t appeal to everyone, but they do to me. I had to look hard to find a location for my second book that was even less known to me. I found it. And I hope that some of you will also enjoy reading about the remote Pacific Island nation of Kiribati.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Nigeria, oil industry

 

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Happy Independence Day Nigeria!

Nigerian Flag

This post is a week late but heartfelt none-the-less as I wish my Nigerian co-workers and friends a happy 52 years of independence.  Those of you familiar with Nigeria know that this nation has not had an easy road to walk and it still faces significant challenges.  Yet, if you know anyone from this country you also realize that the Nigerian people’s hope for the future abounds.

The U.S. has about 200,000 citizens who list their national origin as Nigerian (2000 census) but many more are here as temporary workers and students.  Houston, my home town and the home town of x0 hero Lola, has a large concentration of Nigerians thanks to our common tie with the oil business. New York and Chicago boast large populations of Nigerians as well and this past week-end both of these cities hosted Nigerian Independence Day Parades

Take a look at Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2012 Independence Day Broadcast here. It’s short, and it is a good reminder that every nation shares problems in common as well as such very similar hopes for the future.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Nigeria, peace

 

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