Creative Writing, Travel

My Holocaust jaunt. Imperious Munich.

Guard post at Dachau Concentration Camp.

So Munich was the third city I was visiting on my 9-day, 5-city Holocaust jaunt. You can read about my visit to Berlin here and the visit to Amsterdam here.

My chariot from Berlin to Munich was once again the ultra-fast ICE Sprinter service. Just like the train service from Amsterdam to Berlin, you simply get on the train without a check-in. You get to the train station, locate your train and get on the couch. No one checks your ticket or absence of it. Now, I believe you are not that guy nursing the idea of free travel at the Deutsche Bahn’s expense. I advise you to perish the thought now. At some point during the journey, the conductor will come round to check for tickets. If you are caught without a ticket, the train will be stopped, you’ll be tied on the tracks and then run over.

OK, just kidding. Don’t be a jerk. Pay for your travel.

But fly that train flew! I clocked it doing over 210km/hr at periods. It flew. Through meadows, valleys, farms and wind turbine installations. We got to Munich Hauptbanhof in just under four hours.

Munich. Beautiful architecture. Beer Halls. Lederhosen. BMW. Bayern Munich. Oktoberfest. The heart of Bavaria.

What were my first impressions?

Well, in Munich beer is food. You could have had five bottles of beer and not had a drink yet!

 Hahaha. The Dachau tour guide told us that.

There is some aloofness about Munich. An imperiousness. This is not an effusive and necessarily welcoming city like Berlin. You are well-advised not to expect warmth.

A curious incidence.

While waiting to catch the train to Dachau at Munich Hauptbanhof on my second day, I went to a Chinese food stall for some chow. I stood in front of the menu board unsure of what to order. Then along waltzes a smiling oriental attendant. He enthusiastically pointed me in the direction of fried chicken and boiled potatoes.

No, he didn’t just do that!

I was livid and barked my disgust at him. That caught him unawares.

I was surprised that he was surprised. So, I thought to myself; “Calm down, Jide. Maybe this dude doesn’t even understand the symbolism of black people and fried chicken. I mean, the dude could barely speak English. And you are not African American anyways. So, why the offense? Maybe fried chicken and boiled potatoes was all he’d seen most black people order.”

No matter. I still thought it was profiling and stereotyping.

I stilled my anger with a bowl of noodles and pork chops.

Why am I in Munich anyway?

Munich was “Hauptstadt der Bewegung” – “the Capital of the Movement.” The birthplace and spiritual home of the Nazi Party. This was where Hitler began making all his speeches and building the followership that resulted in the Third Reich.

Munich was also where the Nazis built the first concentration camp, at Dachau, just outside the city.

I had booked the Hitler and Third Reich Walking Tour. There were twelve of us on the tour. Our tour guide was a guy named Achim. Sarcastic and funny guy. He took us on a walking tour of historical Nazi sites in Munich. We learned about Hitler and the Nazi party. We walked over 6km in about 2hr 30m.

Achim

By the way, did you know that Hitler was a sir-fart-a-lot? Yep, he was a fat-bag. His farts were so horrendous they could put out an elephant.

He also thought he would die young, like his parents.

He died at 56.

40 would have been better.

Maybe 30.

Heck, maybe he should never have been born.

Day two of my stay in Munich was when I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp and the BMW Museum.

Arbeit macht frei.

That’s the dubious charge that greets you at the gate of the Dachau concentration camp and all concentration and extermination camps the Nazis built. It means “work sets you free.”

I could see the twisted humour in it. Inmates died from overwork and exhaustion. Their spirits left their bodies. You could therefore say work set their souls free.

My Dachau (pronounced ‘Dakau‘) was an older German chap who looked so much like Christoph Waltz. I liked him the moment he was introduced to us.

Dachau was opened in 1933 shortly after Hitler became Reich Chancellor. It was the prototype for all other Nazi concentration camps. It was initially designed to be a “school of correction” where political prisoners and criminals were sent for punishment and harsh re-education. It eventually evolved into a death camp where thousands of Jews and other “undesirables” died through malnutrition, overwork, disease or outright execution.

The “undesirables” were people Hitler considered unfit for the new Germany he conceived or people who opposed his racist Nazi ideology. These comprised artists, intellectuals, the physically and mentally handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of course, Jews. Some prisoners of war were also kept in Dachau; Poles, Soviets, French, Yugoslavs, Czechs.

Dig this. When the US Army’s 45th Infantry Division liberated Dachau in April 1945, they released all the prisoners of war. The Soviet POWs refused to go home. They argued that if they went back to Russia, Stalin would probably treat them far worse for having been caught by the Germans. At least 3 of them shot themselves dead rather than go back to Russia.

Beware any regime that extols atheism.

Anyway, back to Dachau.

At Dachau, detainees were also subject to brutal medical experiments. In the cause of the camp’s existence, over 34,000 people perished there.

You ask yourself how educated and enlightened people such as the Germans were could be complicit in the mass murder of millions of innocent people.

As you would expect after such a distressing tour, my spirit was a wee bitter. So I found myself a nice little confectioner and ordered nice Bavarian strudels. Two plates. Just to be certain the bitterness was fully dispelled.

And well, what do you know! The Doner Kebab chased me to Munich!

It is something of a consensus that Mustafa Gemuse Kebabs are about the best kebabs to be had in Germany. I’d had my fill of kebabs in Berlin and was not going to have any more in Munich. But what’s a man to do when Mustafa willfully erects a kebab shop in your path? I’m not one to spurn a man’s hustle.

Ah yes, the BMW Museum.

Sim Simma, who got the keys to my beemer?

Nothing better to take your mind off death and suffering than a beemer.

By the way, do you know the Quandt family owns about 49% stake in BMW? They are the richest family in Germany.

Not particularly interesting news. Until you realise that Gunther Quandt, their progenitor, built his vast empire aiding the Nazi war effort and using forced labour. At some point, the Quandt businesses used over 50,000 forced labourers from concentration camps.

If you don’t have to pay salaries and benefits to 50,000 employees, that saves a tidy penny, doesn’t it? Pennies that grow over time and that could, for instance, be useful in acquiring a certain troubled automobile company – BMW. Courtesy of the Nazi dispossessing Jews of their businesses, Gunther was also able to acquire many Jewish businesses for next to nothing.

But hey, it’s all water under the bridge now. Many of the companies we have grown to love today also profited from the Third Reich; Hugo Boss (he made those smart black uniforms the dreaded SS wore), Siemens, IBM (developed the numbering mechanics by which all Jews were identified and recorded in the camps), Coca-Cola (“Fanta” was specifically developed in Germany for Germans to bypass the trade embargo the Third Reich placed on Coke and American imports), Bayer (made the Zyklon B gas used to gas Jews) and many more. Many of those companies have officially acknowledged and apologized for their part in the Holocaust. They have contributed millions of dollars to funds set up for reparation and compensation.

Right across the road from the BMW Museum is BMW Welt. You can test drive a BMW and order one there. It will be delivered to you anywhere in Europe.

What was that sales pitch from BMW again, “it’s not about what you make. It’s about what you make people feel.”

Look, all I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.

Right.

Next stop, Budapest!

Please click here for my Budapest account

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Creative Writing, Travel

My Holocaust jaunt. Hello Buda and Pest!

So, on to Central Europe. To Budapest.

Just so you know, Hungarians hate it when you refer to Hungary as being in Eastern Europe. They are in C-E-N-T-R-A-L-E-U-R-O-P-E!

My train from Munich to Budapest was the Euronight sleeper train Kalman Imre. It leaves Munich Hbf at 23:00pm to arrive at Budapest Keleti station at about 8:00 am. I’d booked a berth in a 4-bed couchette for a comfy night’s sleep. A pleasant Swiss guy and I turned out to be the only occupants of the cabin. I was hoping on that. I’m in luck!

The train pulled out of Munich Hauptbahnhof. While the Kalman Imre was a clean train, it was not as modern as the Deutsche Bahn Sprinter trains I’ve come to love. The bunks in the cabins reminded me of my boarding school. Double bunks. Thin mattresses. Flat pillows. It was a cherished memory. The ride was smooth.

A few minutes into the journey, the portly conductor rolled to our cabin. He advised that we bolt our door throughout the journey. I found the advice unnerving. What did he mean bolt our door? I asked him if there was a possibility of theft or robbery. He shrugged and smiled.

Not good. Not good at all. My mind went to Murder on the Orient Express.

I bolted the door after him.

It was an uneventful journey. It was dark. We went through sleeping villages and towns. Nothing of interest. There was a full moon out and my mind entertained otherworldly thoughts. What if a lycan jumped on the train with Van Helsin in hot pursuit? After all, Transylvania was not far off. I thought I also saw Dracula perched on a church spire regarding our train with interest.

At some point during the journey, I woke up to the sound of loud conversations outside our door. It must have been around 2 am. Soon there was a loud knock on our door.

We didn’t open it.

I wasn’t going to open my door in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere when I’d been advised to bolt it.

After a few seconds, the knock was repeated. This time heavier.  It was accompanied by a deep-throated announcement of “border officer” or something to that effect. Only then did we open the door.

At the door were three well-built men in plain clothes. They were accompanied by the conductor. They were dressed in mufti but had police-type vests over their clothes. They had sidearms. One of them had some sort of scanning device in his hand.

They introduced themselves. There were Austrian border control officers. We had crossed into Austria. Big deal. It’s only Austria, not Asgard. They asked to see our passports. The guy with the scanner scanned my Schengen visa with the device. He got on a mobile phone and read something out on my visa. He wasn’t speaking English so I couldn’t tell what he was saying. Soon after he gave me back my passport and bade me goodnight. They were professional and courteous if stern-looking.

Alas, my Swiss mate took leave of me at Vienna. I now had the cabin to myself. There was still about three hours left till we arrive at Budapest.

After what seemed like a millenia, finally, Budapest.

The Budapest Keleti Station.

Courtesy seat61.com

Large, classic and dated. I’m certain it looked grand in 1884 when it was opened. To me, however, it looked like a train station in a Cold-War Eastern Europe. Russian and American spooks arriving in trench coats and umbrellas.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

I attracted some curious glances as I got down from the coach and headed out of the station. I took it Budapest didn’t see too many handsome black dudes. Well, here I am fellas! Free hugs for the first ten smiles!

Budapest. The Hungarian capital.

Cleft in two by the mighty Danube River. Hilly and imperial Buda to the west, and flat, buzzing and bourgeois Pest to the east. The two cities came together in 1873 to form Budapest.

Check this. One of the names for consideration for the city was Pestbuda? Luckily, the politicians didn’t have the final say.

So, why am I in Budapest?

You mean apart from the fact that the name sounds romantic?

Well, if there was a single country that experienced the double whammy of both Nazism and Communism within a short period, it was Hungary.

During WWII, the Nazi proxy party in Hungary – the Arrow Cross party – a fascist organisation, unleashed total terror on the people of Budapest. Thousands of Hungarian Jews were rounded up and deported to extermination camps all over Europe. Some were executed in the city and dumped into the Danube.

Then came the Soviets after Hitler lost the war. They imposed their own brand of terror on Hungary and Budapest. Citizens were reduced to subjects and killed for the flimsiest reason.

Consequently, I was in Budapest to learn more about Jewish subjugation and communist oppression. To that end, I was very keen to visit the Dohany Street Synagogue – the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe and the memorial it housed. I was also visiting Memento Park, with its giant sculptures venerating communism. On my hit list were also the Arrow Cross Party torture chamber – House of Terror and Shoes on the Danube Promenade memorial.

But first, what were my first impressions of Budapest?

At times, I thought it was a city suspicious of black people. I did not experience any overt racist incidence. But it’s all in the simple things. The stares. The looking-over-shoulders at me as I walked past. The deliberate attempt to avoid hand contact.

In Budapest, I was conscious that I was black. But I sensed no aggression or resentment. More like caution and indifference. I can live with that. I’m gonna be out of your lives in two days.

There is no Uber in Budapest, only Taxify (Bolt). I can’t explain it but I found all the Taxify drivers in Budapest the most amiable of purveyors. Almost all of them thought I was American. I wasn’t feigning a foreign accent. One of the drivers put on a hip-hop track as I got into the car. He was bobbing his head enthusiastically and smiling at me. I rated him 5 stars for effort.

Hungarian House of Parliament.

St Matthias Cathedral

Love on the Danube. St Matthias Cathedral across the river.

But it irks me at the supposition that any touristy black man in Europe is likely not African. Its part of the racist profiling of Africans. My wife and I had encountered this perception on earlier visits to Paris and Rome. Some white hucksters in those cities had tried to sell us on some over-priced memento taking us for gullible Americans. The one in Rome kept saying “American, buy. Only $40.” In Paris, the huckster was around the Louvre.  He accused me of denying being American because I did not want to buy from him. Only when I began to berate him in Yoruba did he leave me alone.

I had such a cramped itinerary so I wasted no time in getting started. I checked into my hostel, showered and hit the town. First stop, the Dohány Street Synagogue. I have never been inside a Jewish synagogue and I couldn’t be presented with a more fitting synagogue. The Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe.

You have to go through serious security checks before you get in. Pat downs, body scanners and luggage scanners by eagle-eyed and steely-faced security personnel. One time, I put my camera backpack on the ground and took a few steps away from it to take pictures. Two security men were instantly on to me telling me to pick the bag up.

I am not going to fart in this place without clearance.

But once inside, the splendour and glitz are impressive. Seated in the pew, a rabbi talked us through Judaism, its different sects and the history of the synagogue.

With the Nazis penchant for confining Jews to a single location before transportation to concentration camps, the synagogue found itself within the borders of the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest created by the Nazis. The Nazis had similarly created such ghetto in Warsaw – the Warsaw Ghetto. The synagogue consequently housed several hundred Jews. Over two thousand Jews died within the ghetto from starvation and the cold. They were uncustomarily buried within the premises of the synagogue. The tombs remain to date. At the back of the synagogue is the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs, a metallic willow tree whose leaves bear names and tattoo numbers of the dead and those who had disappeared. I was moved to tears.

Done with the Dohaney Street Synagogue, I hailed a Taxify to St Matthias Cathedral and the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side. The latter is perhaps the most visited tourist attraction in Budapest on account of its panoramic view of the city.

In the evening, it was time for some chow. And what better place to eat than the Szazeves Restaurant, the oldest restaurant in Budapest. A Taxify driver had recommended the restaurant for an authentic Hungarian experience. I checked the review online and knew I had to pay them a visit

Meet my dinner.

Magyaros gulyasleves or Goulash soup Hungarian style. And Belszingulyas galuskaval aka Sirloin goulash with dumplings. I tell you, people, a person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.

I didn’t dream that up. Check Eccl 2:24.

The next day, it was time to hit the House of Terror and the Shoes on the Danube Promenade.

The House of Terror is a museum on the popular Andrassy Avenue in Budapest. The museum contained artifacts and exhibits related to the fascist and communist era in Hungary. Citizens were interrogated, tortured or killed in the building by both the Arrow Cross Party – and the AVH, the puppet but no less mean state security apparatus of the occupying Soviets.

An ominous soundtrack accompanies you as you walked throughout the house. It was dimly lit, adding to the sense of dread. The dungeons below were particularly unnerving. You feel someone might come out from nowhere and do you in. Painfully, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the building.

Shoes on the Danube Promenade is the most touching and poignant reminder of the atrocities of the Nazis against Hungarian Jews in Budapest.

Installed along the bank of the Danube were 60 pairs of shoes, sculpted out of iron and true to life in size and detail. The shoes were in the fashion of the 40s. They are a memorial to the over 20,000 Jews shot on the bank of the Danube by the Arrow Cross Party.

Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, friends and children were rounded up and lined up on the bank of the Danube. They were asked to remove their shoes and face their executioners (shoes were valuable during the war). They were then shot in cold blood, their bodies falling into the freezing Danube.

It was a haunting memory. I imagined children holding tight onto the hands of their parents cold and crying and being told by their parents that everything was going to be all right, when in fact they knew it wasn’t. 

The Shoes on the Danube Promenade was the highlight of my trip to Budapest. I tossed and turned in my bed that night. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions of the memorial.

Well, if I was this torn by the shoes, what emotions will I experience when I get to Auschwitz-Birkenau?

One day at a time, Jide. One day at a time.

Right. To my last European city – Krakow.

Please click here for my Krakow account.

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Creative Writing, Travel

My Holocaust jaunt. Krakow. Auschwitz-Birkenau.

On to the last leg of my Holocaust jaunt. To Krakow, Poland.

If this is the first post you are reading about my European jaunt, it might be worthwhile to read why I embarked on this 9-day, 5-city tour. You’ll find that here. You may then follow up with accounts of my trips to AmsterdamBerlinMunich and Budapest.

Done with Budapest, I chose to take a bus to Vienna. I would then take a sleeper train from the Wien Hauptbanhof to Krakow.

So, why did I choose to detour via Vienna?

Because I can! Stop asking silly questions!

But really, Budapest to Vienna is just three hours by bus. I thought I might hop over to have a look at the city. After all, this was the city of Mozart, Beethoven and Freud.

And the Käsekrainer.

 

That is a Käsekrainer.

It’s a large sausage filled with cheese. When grilled, the cheese melts deliciously and with it any resolve to shun cholesterol. It is It is usually served with bread, mustard and/or ketchup. It’s a favourite street food of Viennese.

Oh Käsekrainer! If I spend an extra day with you, I might not ever leave Vienna again.

Vienna or ‘Wien’ to Germans is so German. It is the second-largest German-speaking city after Berlin. The city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and in 2017 moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list which included Timbuktu in Mali.

Vienna, you and I need to know each other better. How about a date? Dinner in 2020?

 

Shonbrunn Palace, Vienna.

Right. On to Krakow.

I Ubered from the city centre to the Wien Hauptbahnhof (see how German Vienna is!). It’s a very modern and cool station. Rail travel in Europe is just so interesting if you are coming from Nigeria or Africa. The stations, trains and coaches have different personalities. There was something aloof about Vienna and the Wien Hauptbahnhof. Self assured and cultivated.

My conveyance from Wien Hbf to the Krakow Glowny station was the Euronight sleeper train the Chopin.

Awesome. This is the closest I have ever been to a virtuoso pianist.

The train left Vienna at about 22:10pm. I’d book a two-bed deluxe cabin but this time I was lucky to have the whole cabin to myself. The cabin had its own wash basin, wardrobe, TV and complementary snacks and juices. My two-bunk Hilton.

There were no border patrol offers knocking on my door during the journey. However, the train conductor had also advised to bolt the door while I was in.

Sigh.

Just as with the journey from Munich to Budapest, it was dark and there was nothing of interest to see. In between reading A Forest of A Thousand Daemons and short snoozes, the time flew by quickly.

Soon it was dawn. The morning was covered with mist. The train rolled slowly through villages and farmsteads. Along the rail tracks were lone houses with dim lightbulbs. The mist gave the villages an ominous feel.

Sometime around 6:00am, we passed very close to a house. Upstairs, there was a woman by an open window. She was taking in the fresh morning air. I was peering out my cabin window too taking in the rustic scenery. When the woman saw me, she reeled back sharply from the window and closed it.

That can’t be good, can it?

We arrived Krakow Glowny station at about 6:30am. Warsaw was 3 hours away.

Why am I in Krakow anyway?

 Auschwitz-Birkenau.

 

Gate into camp. The Nazi motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” means “work sets you free.”

The largest extermination camp the Nazis built.

Close to 1 million Jews were gassed to death there in 3 years.

Mothers.

Children.

The elderly.

The weak.

Check out the BBC drone shot of Auschwitz-Birkenau to grasp the monstrosity of the this death camp:

Auschwitz was also where Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” conducted genetic experiments on inmates. Without regard for their safety, health, physical or emotional suffering.

Mengele was particularly fond of identical twins. Between 1943 and 1944, he performed experiments on nearly 1,500 sets of imprisoned twins at Auschwitz. Only 200 of those twins survived the experiments. Sometimes he would sew two twins together to see if he could create conjoined twins. Or he would inject different dyes into their eyes to see if the eyes would change colour.

That Josef Mengele was never caught and never faced trial is a travesty of justice. Bugger died in 1979 from a stroke while swimming in Brazil.

Swimming in Brazil?

He should have been swimming with the fishes!

Shame on you, Mossad!

If there was one Nazi you needed to catch, it was this guy!

What was that? You tried? You almost had him?

Yea, I almost married Halle Berry too.

Breathe, Jide. Breathe.

Anyway, what were my impressions of Krakow?

Simple, I didn’t get the feeling I was welcomed here. I’ll share three encounters.

When I disembarked from the train at Krakow Glowny, I hailed a Taxify to take me to my hostel. The driver would meet me at Car Park 5, on the fifth storey. At the elevator, there was a white older man also waiting for the lift. I reckon he would be in his early to mid 60s.

I greeted “good morning” with a big smile. The man looked me over and ignored me. Trust me, I didn’t look like a bum. I had a very chic camera backpack and a cool National Geographic carry-on. Every inch the tourist.

I greeted the man again with an even bigger smile. Maybe he didn’t hear me the first time. The man looked at me again and ignored me still.

I concede that perhaps the old chap doesn’t speak English.

But the look. Loathsome. Looks don’t lie. You know when someone abhors your presence.

In the second incidence, a few hours later at the same train station, I had approached a policeman for directions. The buses to Auschwitz were somewhere around the station and I needed directions. So I approached the cop.

The guy shooed me away without listening to what I had to say. He returned to fiddling with his phone. I told him I needed help with directions. He gestured to me to get lost.

This was a cop.

After the experience with the policeman, I told myself there was no way I was exploring this town after 7pm.

Which was a shame because Krakow is the intellectual and cultural heartbeat of Poland.

But I was spooked. Better be safe than sorry.

The third incidence was on the second day, my eagerly anticipated day of departure from Krakow. My flight from the Krakow-Balice International Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol was 7:30am. By 5:30 I was outside my hostel having hailed a Taxify.

Then along came this white dude. He was drunk somewhat. He walked past me and then walked back. He raised his hand and asked me to hi-five him. He was speaking Polish, or what I assume to be Polish. Could have been drunkenese.

I shook my head in the negative. I’m not hi-fiving you, mate. I mean, I don’t know the dude.

But he insisted and wouldn’t leave.

Where was this bloody Taxify!

As he stood there harassing me, a police patrol drove by. They parked on the other side of the road observing our exchange. Perplexed, I gestured to them that the dude was bothering me. Then two officers got down from the car and came to us.

They asked what the matter was. I explained to them what happened. They spoke to him in Polish and an argument ensued. They asked him to apologise to me but the fella refused (I suppose for my benefit, they spoke to him in faltering English). They then told him to be on his way but he was yet unyielding. They tried to shove him off but he was adamant. He kept talking to me.

One of the officers brought out a hand-cuff and was going to cuff him. Only then did the chap become sober and walked off. The police then got into their van and drove off.

Phew.

But I was still alone on the streets. Where is the bloody Taxify!

Now, was the guy simply drunk and under the influence?

Maybe.

Should I have hi-fived him?

Definitely not.

From what I saw in my less than 48-hour stay in Krakow, black people are as plenteous in the city as virgins are in a brothel. I was obviously an interesting sight to the guy. Not because he was drunk but because I was black.

But I forgive those lot.

Because of the Zupa Dnia and Pierogi.

“Zupa Dnia – Soup of the Day.” Warmed my spirit greatly. 

Pierogi z miesem – a sort of meat dumpling. Heavenly!

The food accepted me for what I was – a hopeless and hungry food lover. No discrimination.

While I’m reluctant to generalise that Poles are racist, it was precisely because of discrimination that places like Auschwitz happened. Hatred, spreading one person at a time.

I did go to Auschwitz -Birkenau. Boy, it rends your heart.

How did man descend to such ignominy? How did our soul become this seared?

All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes – all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, then we became the gravediggers.”

– Rod Serling. 

I’ll tell you how man descended into such evil.

It happens the moment we remove God from the affairs of man. The moment we think we are a product of time and chance. Masters of our fate and the fate of others. It happens the moment we subscribe to moral relativism.

Jews, Slavs, Romas and Russian prisoners of war were brought in from all over Europe in coaches like this. Like farm animals. The track leads straight to the gas chamber.

Auschwitz I – the barracks where inmates were housed.

The Nazis stripped inmates of their valuables on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Boxes, prosthetics, brushes etc. Shoes were especially valuable during WWII

Seized cases with names of victims on them.

Prosthetics confiscated from inmates

Shaved hairs from inmates. 5400kg-worth. Hairs were shaved to prevent the Nazi guards from getting lice and typhus. Industrial use was also found for them: They were used to line the boots of German soldiers or spun into yarn to make socks for crews of U-boats (submarines).

 

Bunks where the prisoners slept. As many as 7 people could be on one bunk.

Empty canisters of Zyklon B gas – a pesticide – used to gas the inmates.

In late 1944 when the Nazis realised they would lose the the war, they began to erase traces of their atrocity at Auschwitz-Birkenau . They burnt records and blew up the gas chambers at Birkenau.

You never leave Auschwitz-Birkenau the same. The death camp vividly re-enacted all the Holocaust movies I had seen but not fully appreciated. The Pianist, The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas. Schindler’s List, Inglorious Basterds, Defiance and many more. You understand why the state of Israel is paranoid about the security of the Jewish state.

Never again.

Never again, you say? Maybe you want to explain what happened in the Rwandan genocide. 800,000 Tutsis killed in 100 days by the Hutus.”

Yet some people had the nerve to doubt if the Holocaust really happened. They ask how the world could have stood by and watched the annihilation of 6 million Jews. Scarily, the history is being forgotten.

Right.

This ends the account of my Holocaust jaunt. Thanks for journeying with me!

Off to the other side of the Atlantic. To Shake Shack burgers in NY and gumbo in The Big Easy!

New York, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans here I come! 

 

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Creativity, Innovation

Talent: if you haven’t got it, you haven’t got it.

Maths is a fraud. Centuries of exaltation and glorification are misplaced. Or why has a discipline that underpins all calculations been unable to come up with the formula for success? The equation to be oprah-rich? What’s the use of Chaos Theory, Euler’s Polyhedra Formula or the Fibonacci Sequence if it can’t tell you how to get some moolah into your pocket? We’ve been had by the likes of Archimedes, John Nash and señor Pythagoras. 

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Creativity, Photography

The amazing places passion takes you.

 

Bros for life. Farouk and Ibro.

Howdy good folks! Trust January hasn’t met you in penury.

Oh, I like the sound of that! ‘January and penury.’ “ Save ye for the days to come lest reproach come upon thee like penury in January.” It’s a corny rhyme but I don’t care. It came in the moment, a gift from the Muse. I expect the expression to start making the rounds around pulpits and podiums soon. Remember you heard it first from moi!

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Sweethearts, if you keep your pants on, no one is going to be nicking them.

On my way home yesterday, I was listening to Classic FM. I heard, a rather preposterous report: an epidemic of female underpants theft in Nigeria. Grand theft of what we call pata or p-a-i-n-t in Yoruba.
 
Yup. Female pants are being purloined, shanghaied, abducted and misappropriated all over the land. This making away with underpants are sometimes surreptitious. At other times it is brazen and at gunpoint: “your pant or your life!”

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Signs you may be difficult to work with.

Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the title character in Disney’s “Moana.” Credit: Disney

A while back, a friend who lived outside the country told me he had met someone who knew me and worked with me in some capacity. He told me this chap had remarked about me: “Jide was a brilliant guy. A good person. But he was sometimes difficult to work with.” 

Remember the movie Ghosts of Girlfriends Past? Where the sins of your past douchebaggery come to haunt you? Well, I was nothing like the philandering and Class-A insensate that Mathew McConaughey was in the movie, but still, I knew there were times when my colleagues must have felt like feeding me to a T-Rex.

Maybe to three T-Rexes.

The irony of it was that I wasn’t aware that I was being difficult. I thought I was doing my job. Doing what the job required.

Which is why I’m doing this post. To help someone out there check if they are on their way to the Jerk Hall of Fame or already awarded. Hopefully, it will help you avoid being that guy or babe.

So here are a few pointers. You may be difficult to work with if:

1. You are combustible too often. Anger is an undeniable human emotion. It may even be helpful. But if you explode at your colleagues or anyone too often, whatever the reason, you may be a difficult person to work with.

The dangerous thing about being quick to anger is that it loosens the tongue (or the pen) to say things you shouldn’t have said or act in ways you might regret later. Anger is good. But wrath isn’t.

2. Impatient with colleagues. People assimilate information or ‘get it’ at different rates. It doesn’t mean they are a doofus. If you think you’re smart or brilliant, I assure you that there is someone smarter and more brilliant than you are in your field or company. I have a hard time understanding Quantum Physics and Astronomy, which I’m interested in. Some guy at NASA may think I’m a dolt but I’d like to sit and hear a presentation from them about making people buy what they really don’t need.

Be patient with people.

3. You think you are indispensable. The feeling of being ‘untouchable’ could lead you into giving subordinates and colleagues a hard time. Please get this into your head: NO ONE is indispensable. Steve Jobs died and Apple became a trillion-dollar company.

Try not to believe you are indispensable. It’ll make you more human and humane to colleagues.

4. People don’t want to come to you. If colleagues don’t want to come to you for help because you are often technically and practically unable to help, that’s understandable. But be wary if they don’t come to you because they think you are a jerk. It is the same if a guy was assigned to you and he weeps and calls his wife to tell her he loves her.

No matter what you may have heard, you need more friends than enemies in your life. Folks whom people tend to gravitate towards tend to be better managers and hence, assume leadership positions quicker and stay there longer.

I’m not saying you should try to please everyone. You can’t. But if you could be a little more pleasant, a little more helpful, a little less arrogant or a little more accessible, please do it.

5. You believe work should be impersonal. One of the Kool-Aid we have drunk and are still drinking is the belief that the workplace should be formal and impersonal.

Bunkum.

Until such a time when Betty the AI or George the Algo are your only workmates, you will have to deal with Chi-Chi the mother of three and Bassey the Pious.

When we believe work should be impersonal, we lose empathy and sensitivity. When people come to work, we don’t know what they may be facing in their personal lives.

There was once a colleague, mother of four, who often came late to work. She was often distracted. It affected her work. The people she worked with were unhappy with her performance. She was put on Performance Improvement Programme, a prelude to being fired if there was no noticeable change in a short period of time.

HR called her in for a chat. She burst into tears and spilt all that was happening in her life. Her husband beats her often. The fella was out of job but needed to show who was still the head of the house. There was little sunshine in her life. When we heard her story, many were remorseful, mea culpa, for the hard time we gave her.

People go through stuff in their lives. Sometimes, really hard stuff. Don’t add to it in the workplace. Before you are tempted to scream at them, be dismissive of them, write them a query or fire them, take a step back to consider maybe there’s something else going on behind the crisp shirt or slim skirt. Be a human. Screw the rule book.

As for me, I have long reformed. I realised that if I wanted to get to the very top, I could not be someone people found difficult to work with.

That and the fear of T-Rex.

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Pepsi’s ‘Naija All The Way’ spot. How I love a good marketing ambush!

The Pepsi Naija All The Way spot is the shiznit! Check it out below:

Neat, isn’t it? It’s trendy, bouncy and pumps you up. Makes you want to believe in Nigeria again. The spot reminded us of one of the reasons we are Nigerians: bagful of self-belief and swag.

Well, yea, the Naija spirit also sometimes turn into snakes and make away with money, and may even ask bribe from an archangel. But this spot is not about all that. The spot rather reps us in a positive way.  

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Advertising, Creativity

Nigerian advertising at the global stage – not all awards are born equal.

Recently, a few Nigerian advertising agencies won ‘big’ at the African Cristal Festival in Marrakech, Morocco. Nigeria’s Noah’s Ark won ‘Agency of The Year’. X3M Ideas, DDB Lagos and Insight Publicis all had a decent showing too. There have been a lot of congratulations and reportage across the media.

There have also been questions about the prestige and worth of the African Cristal Festival. Some folks have therefore asked me to shed light on this matter, and on the subject of Nigerian advertising at the global stage.

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Sports

In your face, City! In your face!

Ah! What indescribable joy to rain on Manchester City’s party yesterday. The cheek! Fixing to be crowned champions via a derby win. Not on your life, Pep! Even Liverpool dare not be that impudent!

Torturously, City will still win the league. Their third in seven seasons. A galling state of affair. I blame filthy lucre. It’s what happens when you give a Black Hawk to people used to warring with bows and arrows. No more justice in the world.

But there’s only one guv’nor in Manchester and he determines when a party holds. And it wasn’t going to be yesterday. Maybe they can have it against Spurs on 14 April. But there was not going to be any din in Manchester yesterday, except for anguish of broken City hearts.

Yea, that’s how far United has fallen from glory. Rejoicing at beating Man City. How the times have changed. But it is fitting that the only team to beat City this season at the Etihad is, you guessed it, Manchester United. The Manchester United.  

And Paul Labile Pogba! My! I always knew we got that lad cheap. Perfect riposte to all the haters. Gary, you there? You are slowly but surely delegendarizing yourself at United. What was that about Pogba’s hair? Watch it, Gary. Thin line between hate and hate. 

‘Blue half of Manchester’ my foot. There’s only one side in Manchester. And there’s the devil to pay for slights.

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If there are no free lunches, how come we expect data privacy?

In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, I have thought about how much of my personal data is out there. Data waiting to be harvested by some sick psychologist or ethnographer and deployed to warping my mind. I like to think that I have an iron-clad mind. But at the rate I give in to pepperoni pizza, maybe having an ‘open mind’ is not such a bad thing after all.  

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Awards, Media Relations

The Oscars. What exactly makes a great movie?

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Jimmy Kimmel in his opening monologue at the 90th Academy Awards remarked:

“…and thanks to Guillermo, we will always remember this year as the year men screwed up so badly women started dating fish.” 

He was, of course, referring to Guillermo del Toro and The Shape of Water. Guillermo later won the prestigious achievement in Directing for same movie which also went home with the coveted Best Picture.

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Artificial Intelligence, Technology, The Future

The doggone geekstitute called Boston Dynamics.

There’s only one reason man eats fish. We eat fish because we can. Fishes are dumb and we are smart. We are at the top of the food chain and we take whatever we want.

I therefore don’t take kindly to anyone who tries to rearrange this balance. Boston Dynamics may think it’s a cool company. But I’ll tell you what a cool company does; it doesn’t make robots that can open doors!

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Consumer Insight, Marketing

When Budweiser shows up on this patch…

 

Come June (or thereabouts), beer drinkers in Nigeria will have a new brewski to add to their repertoire:

“This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood Aging produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.”

Yes, “The King of Beers” will be competing with other suds in the land to help tipplers wet their whistles.

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These ‘shithole’ outrage. Please, give me a break!

Aside from his use of an obscene term, I really do not understand the rage on the continent when President Trump referred to our beloved patch as ‘shithole countries.’

Emmanuel Macron yesterday said he shares the outrage of Africans on the disparagement by President Trump.

Oh please!

If by ‘shithole countries’ the man meant countries groaning under the weight of corruption, nepotism, abuse of power and disregard for rule of law, the social contract and the human condition, then he clearly wasn’t talking about the African continent. 

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Content Marketing, Creativity, Social Media Marketing

A letter to Dear Satan. Wait, a letter to who?!

You meant to send a “thank you” letter to Santa for the cheer he brings to kids but due to a typo send it to Satan. That’s right, to Lucifer. The Adversary.

No one could have predicted what happened next. Satan begins to develop warm feelings.

I say not a chance in hell!

Anomaly London created that dark humour in their latest Christmas video below.

Merry Christmas, people!

And do I need to remind you never to accept a gift from Satan?

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Branding, Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Sponsorship

How to choose the right sponsorship and own it.

The Super Eagles have qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia (Whoop, Whoop!) Already, the Nigeria Football Federation has four major partners: Aiteo, TGI Group, PayPorte.com and Zenith Bank.

TGI Group (owners of Chi Limited/Hollandia) will be the ‘Official Food Partner’ of the NFF, PayPorte is ‘Official Online Store Partner’ (exclusive e-commerce retailer of Super Eagles jerseys) and Zenith Bank is ‘Building and Youth Development Partner.’ Aiteo pays the salaries of the national team coaches and is main sponsor of the Aiteo Cup and CAF Awards.

But how does sponsorship help a brand’s agenda? How does a brand team select who to partner with and derive value from the sponsorship?

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Branding, Craft

To everyone honing ingot into Excalibur.

Not every brand has a story to tell. A story that is meaningful. That is powerful. That stirs something in us.

A story is hardly another word for advertising, op-ed, a post or ‘content.’ A story is more timeless. More enduring. It transcends the medium.

When our grandma tells us stories, the stories capture our imagination. Inspire us. Or expound a value. Sometimes they just entertain us. But what the stories never do is leave us disinterested.

That is why storytelling involves craft. Craft just as important as the story to be told.

That is why understanding the audience is important. Why she gauges our mood first. Why she always seems to know the stories to tell.

It’s also why she never uses big words.

That’s why not everyone can be a great storyteller.

Motivational speakers tell us we can be anything we want. I disagree. I’ve tried to be Bruce Wayne. But The Joker couldn’t stop laughing. I can’t ride a bicycle to get away from a snail. Some things are just gifts.

Sure, rough gift or talent can be honed. But there must first be the gift.

Maybe if every brand looked deeply, they could find a story to tell. But then, they’ll need a storyteller to spot it and tell it.

Here’s to all masters of their craft. To everyone up all night honing ingot into Excalibur.

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Advertising, Consumer Insight, Reputation

Lay off Dove! Some women want lighter skin.

Courtesy: photobucket

In case you just crawled out from under a rock, Dove’s done another clanger. It ran an ad on Facebook where a black woman removes her brown tees ( an allusion to skin colour?) to transform into a white woman. The interpretation by many is that the ad depicts white skin as being superior to dark skin. Dove has been accused of being tone deaf and the ad racist.

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Uncategorized

Robert Mugabe and Donald Trump. My two favourite personal brands.

Not so many folks like President Mugabe and President Trump. Not me. I’m their biggest fan. I’d give anything to be in the presence of their awesomeness. 

I like the two for different reasons though. For President Trump, I like that the office of POTUS hasn’t sobered him up.  After all, he was Donald John Trump first before he became President Trump. Man is determined to be Donald John Trump with or without Air Force One.

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Consumer Insight, Innovation, Marketing

iPhone 8 and iPhone X. This is exactly why 1984 is still like 1984.

I used to be an iSheep. When Farmer Jobs and Farmer Cook called, I’d bleat eagerly to the stable. I’d give my precious wool for a new patch of grass. But I’m done eating those grass. Done frolicking up and down at the news of shiny new toys from 1 Infinite Loop. 

Don’t get me wrong. I still love Apple. I’ve owned three MacBooks, one iPad and five iPhones. It’d take some meanness to forsake old friends. I’m not the type to walk away without looking back. It’s just that there are more important stuff in my life right now. Like Manchester United and pepperoni pizza. 

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Shooting Nigerian commercials out of Nigeria. What is true? What is bunkum?

A few months ago, the Minister for Information & Culture announced the government was going to ban the production of Nigerian movies, music videos and reality TV programmes outside the country. Such ban was to help grow the creative industry in Nigeria and to create jobs.

Said the minister:

‘It is Nigerians that pay for the consumption of these products and therefore they must be allowed and encouraged to participate in their production.’

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Advertising, Creativity, Marketing

What I learnt from being both a client and an agency guy.

Credit: Campaign Asia

Is there something in the water on the ‘client side’? Something that turns good people into ogres? An agency guy crosses over to the client side and then haunts dreams and kills libido. What gives?

I have drunk from the water on both sides and I share my thoughts on why the relationship is often fraught. It might seem I’m taking a piss and desecrating otherwise torturous experiences. That’s the problem these days: everyone is too sensitive. Too little perspective.

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“The best time to go for broke is when you’re already there.”

Bob Nye/NASA/Donaldson Collection/Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

“Look

If you had one shot

Or one opportunity

To seize everything you ever wanted

In one moment

Would you capture it

Or just let it slip?

Eminem – “Lose Yourself .“ (Soundtrack for “8 Mile.” )

If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, you should. It is a biopic about African-American female mathematicians working at NASA during the Cold War and its very public expression in the Space Race.

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Managing the Etisalat rebrand thoughtfully.

That Etisalat Nigeria must rebrand is obvious. The UAE’s Etisalat Group has pulled out of the company and written down its value in it to nil. It says Etisalat Nigeria only has a few weeks to use its brand name. Presumably, if Etisalat Nigeria wants to keep using the brand name, it must pay franchising fees. That must be at least a couple of million dollars yearly. We are not aware that this option is on the table though. And if it is, taking it up will be unwise for a business that owes creditors over $680m, the source of its current troubles.

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Artificial Intelligence, The Future

The existential threat of AI. You all quit messing around now!

So, I’ve seen Alien: Covenant. I don’t like horror movies much. What is the logic in paying to scare yourself? I love to laugh more than I love to cry. Besides, living throws enough horrors at you don’t have to pay for it. But some people don’t just get it.

People like scientists. They just love to screw everything up. I was doing just fine in 1352, eating my mango and without a care in the world. Then they showed up with all this knowledge and inventions. Now, I am truly naked without my phone. So what if science took us to the moon? Sex takes you to the stars. And it doesn’t cost $200 billion!

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Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Media

So what the heck is ‘content marketing’/ ‘content writing’ anyways?

When I was at the agency and promoted Creative Director, it meant a lot to me. Why, that was the next best job to putting a man on the moon. Right up there with folks who separate conjoined twins or open skulls. ‘Creative Director’ sounded knowledgeable and sophisticated. Sounded like I knew the secret formula to creating happiness. Of course, these days, just about everyone is now a ‘Creative Director.’ Tailors, carpenters, hair stylists. They should all be thrown in jail for desecrating a hallowed title. What do they know about pain, anguish and fortitude? The ‘Creative Director’ who sew my last attire should have stuck to the brief.

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The thing about loyalty.

“Look out for the people who look out for you. Loyalty is everything.” – Found Online

I came across a YouTube video in which documentary maker Louis Theroux set out hoping to meet ‘MC Olu Omo.’ MC Olu Omo is the Treasurer of NURTW in Lagos and also the Chairman of the Oshodi chapter. According to popular opinion, he is also the Capofamiglia of ‘Oshland’ (Oshodi). The He-Whom-All-Fears. Goon Potentate-Over-Oshodi.

Brave soul, that Louis. There are some deaths that can’t kill a black man. Like those arising from bravery. Per the late Chinua Achebe: “It is from the compound of a coward that we point to where a brave man used to live.”

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Advertising, Brand Identity

Distinctive brand voice: ‘Honey, I’m home!’ Er, sorry, who are you?

I started out my career as copywriter writing obituaries. And if that wasn’t distressing enough, my parents constantly asked me what it was I did for a living again. Somehow, when they were paying for my education, they had imagined me in a suit and tie, poring over important documents and solving real world problems. They also didn’t imagine me borrowing money from them before the month was over. I tried to make them understand that had nothing to do with the job per se but a result of my lifestyle. But they didn’t know many bankers or accountants who were broke by the tenth day of the month. They loved me of course and would support me in whatever career I chose. But this sign writer or typewriter thing (copywriter, damn it!), well if it made me happy…

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GTBank Food & Drink. You can’t go wrong with food, can you?

So, on May 1, my household downed tools. The missus would have me know that being a wife and a mother was work. Hard work, as a matter of fact. So in observance of Workers’ Day, she was taking the day off from most wifely duties. She pointed me in the direction of GTBank Food & Drink for the day’s feeding.

Outwardly, I made a fuss about the denial of my spousal culinary benefit. But the truth is, I am an epicure. A foodie. I’m the sort of guy you’ll find following MasterChef Australia and Anthony Bourdain: Paths Unknown. I consider cooking an art, a creative expression. Much like painting. But the good thing about cooking, quite unlike a Rembrandt, is that you can actually eat it.

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Why approval by consensus never leads to great ideas

I have been involved in a few projects where approvals depended on a motley bunch of people, most of whom had little knowledge of the project, what it entails or what success would look like. It was decision-making by committee. A consensus-oriented process that seldom leads to great work, at least as far as great advertising or marketing goes. One of such projects stood out.

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Brand Names

“Let-My-Enemies-Live-Long Ltd.” How NOT to pick a name for your business.

 

Anybody who has named a child knows that choosing names for your offspring is very serious matter.

When my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, we were struggling coming up with an appropriate name for her. We wanted a name that was uncommon, was Yoruba, acknowledged God, and that would be easy for most of the planet to pronounce. Naturally, as the father and self-professed creative in the union, I had a significant role in coming up with the magical name.

So, I journeyed into the creative ether. After many visits and profound rumination, I had the perfect name:

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Advertising, Consumer Insight

Why a lot of Nigerian advertising sucks

“The most important element in advertising is the truth” – Bill Bernbach. 

For a people with such an interesting culture, beliefs and attitude, it’s disheartening that a lot of our advertising do not mirror our lives and peculiarities. Let me regale you with an experience I had about thirteen years ago.

A chum was getting married in Jos so I flew into ‘J-Town’ with another friend. It was a Yoruba wedding. The ‘Engagement’ was on Friday and the ‘Church Wedding’ the next day. We’d flown in Friday morning. We were part of the groom’s friends to ‘prostrate’ to the family of the bride.

The Engagement was to start at 1 pm. We therefore had a little time to kill. My homeboy and I thought we might have a beer and then get a little sleep. It was going to be a long day. There was still a Bachelor Party to attend in the night.

Foul spirits must have been afoot that day because one bottle inexorably turned into five (Don’t blame us. It was December and chilly and our souls needed comforting).

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