Sorry, But My Country Is Ugly – By Okey Ndibe

What lofty and enduring dream could sprout in us when we have become accustomed to squalor, habituated to decrepitude, made our peace with detritus? What hope is there for us when we fetishise Dubai and flaunt our expensive Louis Vuitton handbags, and yet fail to realise that our country has become—is—an endless open toilet, overflowing with septic sludge?

I’ve known for a while that Nigeria was in a sorry shape, but not even that knowledge prepared me for a side of the country I saw when I arrived on January 3 for a ten-day visit. The last time I traveled by road from Lagos to my home state of Anambra was in 2002, when my wife and I were Fulbright fellows teaching in Nigeria for a year. On this recent visit, I had little choice but to go by road. Friends and relatives had warned me that flights from Lagos to Enugu were prone, at best, to interminable delays, and at worst to incessant cancellations owing to the harmattan. The best bet, I was told, was to make the trip by road. So my younger brother and I hired a Toyota Siena, one of the most popular vehicles in Nigeria for long commutes.

I’m willing to apologise for the bluntness of this assessment, but there’s no deodorising the reality: the ride was a nightmare. Before we set out, I had instructed the driver to take it easy. I made it clear that my brother and I were in no particular hurry, that what we sought, above all, was safe, cautious driving. The instructions fell on deaf ears.

In typical bravado, the driver told me he was not really a “driver.” He was married to a Togolese woman who lives in Belgium with their two boys. The Belgian authorities had deported him to Nigeria on account of some infraction he seemed in no haste to divulge. His wife was processing papers to enable him to rejoin his family, so he was, in the interim, just “managing” with the driving job.

Well, the short of it was he drove as if he were in an Indy 500 contest. It was all speed and all recklessness. He seemed to think any other driver who passed him—overtook him, as we say in Nigeria—were questioning his very manhood. And to reassert his manhood, he would give chase, create a veritable speeding derby, determined to reclaim the speeding title. I was awfully sleepy, but I knew that to fall asleep was to abandon my fate to this maniacal speedster. Countless times, I had to warn him—often by shouting at him—to slow down, and to refrain from cutting in front of his speeding adversary.

Yet, if our driver behaved like a crazed speeder, compared to many other drivers, his craziness seemed of a much milder variety.

Driving in Nigeria is an exercise in daredevilry. I hardly exaggerate here: the experience was akin to watching hundreds of clinically insane men and women who had been handed licenses and cars—and then unleashed on the road, empowered to suit themselves. To observe traffic in the country is to behold anarchy and chaos unfold before one’s eyes. Every sensible driving code is disdained, tossed aside. To describe the speeding as excessive is to equivocate; too many drivers seem on a mission to commit vehicular suicide and homicide. Many people assured me that the highways from Lagos to Anambra were now in excellent condition. I found patches of the road to be good, but the word that sums up the overall condition is: awful.

But drivers were the most potent, terrifying factor. Too many drove too close to the cars ahead of them, even though they couldn’t see what was in front—and vicious, tyre-wrecking potholes frequently ambushed cars.

I confirmed a sneaking suspicion: that Nigerian driving mirrors the country’s malaise, its pathology. At the slightest appearance of stalled traffic (say at the Lagos-Ibadan expressway), many Nigerian drivers responded in a counter-intuitive manner. If drivers acted with restraint by staying in line, everybody’s vehicle should be able to move on in ten or so minutes. Instead of which too many drivers attempted to out-maneuver others, to get ahead of everybody else. On a two-lane road, suddenly, to one’s amazement, four or five lanes would be formed. Often the ensuing gridlock would grind all movement to a halt, leaving everybody stuck for hours.

It reminded me of the disastrous price the country has paid for our politicians’ and bureaucratic elite’s depraved, boundless greed. That greed has sapped the country’s vitality, depleted its resources, left it a shell, and cast most of its people into abject impoverishment and forlorn resignation.

For me, traveling by road was a chastening, despair-inducing experience. One beheld Nigeria in its fulsome ugliness. The roadscape and landscape were marred, cheerless. From Lagos to Anambra, the roadside was a litter of plastic bottles, plastic wraps, discarded black plastic bags, orange rinds, banana peels, etc. No inch of space, from the journey’s beginning to its termination, was spared the plastic infestation. I had never encountered blight on this scale and in such unrelenting manner anywhere else in the world. But the assault wasn’t limited to the ubiquitous invasion of plastic. The carcasses of cars, trucks and tankers, many of them burnt, left the impression of battle zones—and compounded the eyesore. Numerous times I saw fast-moving fires burning up the roadside grass, shooting tiny sparks and plumes of vapour. The fires left their grotesque marks on the roadside, deepening the sense of gloom and ugliness.

Our driver said local hunters set most of the fires. The aim? To dislodge small game from holes and other hiding spots! What kind of country allows such backward practice, such mindless endangerment of the lives of commuters on highways plied by fuel-carrying tankers?

A common sight: people peeing or defecating beside the road or just a few feet off, openly. The picture struck me: we have been reduced, and have accepted our reduction, to animal-like status. We have allowed our political and bureaucratic thieftains to steal our humanity away, to strip us of what it means, at bottom, to possess human dignity, and to animalise us.

And how do we respond to this affront? We garland our dispossessors with flamboyant chieftaincy titles and festoon them with national honours. We reserve front seats for them in church and unctuously pledge to them—contemptible gluttons that they are—that we are fully loyal!

Each major town or city we passed exhibited a mini-mount of trash by the roadside. In no other place in the world had I seen trash so openly exhibited, as if it enhanced local character and burnished the country’s image. Indeed, it seemed as if different locations were proclaiming, with profane pride, “We’re a major (or up and coming) town, and we have the trash to prove it!”

Each mound of trash emitted a vile, dizzying stench. Yet, I saw bereft Nigerians who had scaled the bursting, steamy hills of waste, scavenging for some morsel of food to sup on, hunting for some tossed, varnished treasure.

I came out of Nigeria with a heavy heart, a certain sense of the gravity of our crises. Why is there no outcry about the blight, much less action? Where was the demand for an end to the conquest of the Nigerian space by “pure water” plastic?

What lofty and enduring dream could sprout in us when we have become accustomed to squalor, habituated to decrepitude, made our peace with detritus? What hope is there for us when we fetishise Dubai and flaunt our expensive Louis Vuitton handbags, and yet fail to realise that our country has become—is—an endless open toilet, overflowing with septic sludge?

Traveling by road, I saw Nigeria in a new way. The portrait, unflattering, left me deeply dispirited.

Please follow me on twitter @okeyndibe

Ugly ‘Frozen’ Cake Gets A Heartwarming Win

The internet exploded with mockery against what looked like a bakery cake gone completely wrong. But the real story behind this much-abused creation is a sweeter tale.

In case you missed it (and where were you?!) the cake hate started when a Reddit user uploaded two side-by-side cakes of Queen Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” on Monday. One, a spot-on sugary rendition of the blond, porcelain-skin ice Queen, the other, well, a spray-tanned, blobby-haired monster. The photo was simply labeled “the cake that was ordered and the cake that arrived.”

Derisive comments quickly rolled in. “Does the purchase price include 3 free counseling visits for the kids at the party?” one commenter posted. Another chimed in, “The sad thing is, as horrific as it looks, someone put serious time into making that cake…There are hours and hours of terrible craftsmanship here.”

The Real Story Behind That ‘Terrible’ Elsa Cake

But, in a classic case of the internet jumping ahead of itself, it turns out the cake was actually a good deed. That “terrible” and “horrific” treat was made by a volunteer for Icing Smiles, a Maryland nonprofit charity that creates custom cakes for families impacted by the critical illness of a child, free of charge.

Um, oops.

Bakery founder, Tracy Quisenberry, posted a somber response on Icing Smiles’ Facebook page which quickly put things into perspective.

“My heart broke for the baker because I know how much of herself she puts into her donations. My heart broke for the family should they come across the posts because it may take from their joy of receiving the gift. It broke for our team whose extraordinary efforts were used in this way. Our Sugar Angel…was asked for a Frozen cake for a sick child and she did just that.”

The volunteer baker herself, Lisa Randolph-Gant, told her story too – and pretty much made the entire world love her:

“The cake was made for Icing smiles,for a really sick little girl. Yes I know the cake looks a HOT MESS …… BUT here is the back story …I had just lost my grandmother I had been with my Mom all day comforting her ,I came back to work on the cake I HAD 2 hours to get it done and delivered… At the end of the day ,I DIDN’T let that sick baby down l gave it all I had to give.”

The best part? The cute patient who received the Elsa cake reportedly “loved it.”

Now, wipe away that stray tear and resolve to be a better person.

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2015 BET Awards: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Sean "Diddy" Combs, Lil' Kim, 2015 BET Awards

The 2015 BET Awards celebrated its 15th anniversary on Sunday night, which was fitting because the biggest and best moments of the night were all about throwback performances, appearances from old school artists and mashups of greatest hits.

From the Janet Jackson tribute to Rihanna‘s duct tape mystery, here are the best and worst moments from the 2015 BET Awards:

Throwback Mashup: Old-school Diddy? Mase? 112? Lil’ Kim? The greatest hits performance honoring 20 years of BET Awards was ever-y-thing. They brought the house down. And speaking of down…

Diddy Goes Down: During that now iconic BET moment, Diddy took a tumble. It almost looked like it was part of the performance. Almost.

 

Diddy BET Fall GIF

 

Nicki Minaj, 2015 BET Awards

Twinsies: Gabrielle Union and Laverne Cox wore the same white dress and they both looked flawless. But someone had to change. After some hip-hop trivia, Gabrielle admitted defeat and said she would switch outfits for the after parties.

Destiny’s Who? Kelly Rowland stumbled over the name of Destiny’s Child…you know, that super successful iconic girl group she was a part of back in the day. She recovered well, though, and you could tell even she was surprised by her slip-up.

Patti LaBelle Shuts It Down: One of the final performances of the evening included a cameo by the one and only Patti LaBelle. She sang the s–t out of that song and even gave a cute little speech about the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, saying “all people can love whoever you want and you can even get married.”

 

Anthony Anderson, 2015 BET Awards

Sam Smith Misses Out: The crooner won Best New Artist, but he wasn’t there to accept the award, so Anthony Anderson, in a Sam Smith-esque wig, picked it up for him. “Sam Smith isn’t here tonight because he’s white,” Anderson quipped. “And he didn’t think he would win at the BET Awards and we showed him that we love him, too!”

Anderson ended his acceptance speech with a little song in the tune of Smith’s smash hit “Stay With Me”: “This award is going to stay with me, for you not showing up to BET.”

B2K TBT: Chris Brown‘s performance was just fine until Omarion got onstage. It’s not like we didn’t enjoy an appearance by the former B2K boyband member, but instead of Twitter applauding his performance, they were too busy wondering where the hell he has been or what he was doing there.

 

Alicia Keys, The Weeknd, 2015 BET Awards

Working for The Weeknd: It one of the most anticipated moments of the night, and it did not disappoint. The Weeknd performed his hit song “The Hills” and killed it, but when Alicia Keys showed up to help him sing the Fifty Shades tune “Earned It,” it brought the crowd to its proverbial knees.

Empire State of Mind: This year’s hottest new show hit the BET Awards when the cast sang hits from the Fox drama: “Drip Drop,” “No Apologies,” and the catchy “You’re So Beautiful.” If you weren’t bouncing in your seat, you were probably asleep. Or dead.

Motherly Love: Nicki Minaj brought her mom onstage with her to accept the award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist, which she has won six years(!) in a row. Also, how sweet was Meek‘s giant smile while he watched his girl up onstage?

MIA Hosts: Black-ish stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross were supposed to be hosting the BET Awards, but we rarely saw them! It was such a wasted opportunity of two talented comedic actors.

A Smokin’ Tribute: When you have so many iconic songs, it’s pretty daunting to pay tribute to someone like Smokey Robinson. But Tori Kelly, Ne Yo and Robin Thicke were up for the challenge and it made for a performance you couldn’t help but dance along to.

 

Rihanna, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., 2015 BET Awards

Rihanna’s Duct Tape: This is in the worst moment category because we did not get an immediate answer as to why the hell Ri Ri was working a roll of duct tape while sitting in the audience. She apparently ended up duct-taping the hands ofFloyd Mayweather, but Twitter had its own theories.

Try and Walk This Way: Not even the most gorgeous, graceful celeb could maneuver that conveyor belt without looking completely awkward. Who decided to use that thing?! Every time presenters came out we were cringing and wincing, hoping they wouldn’t fall.

Smokey Telling It Like It Is: During his acceptance speech for the BET Lifetime Achievement Award, Smokey Robinson dropped this truthbomb about today’s artists:  “You didn’t start this. You were not the first in line. The line started way, way, way, way, way before your great, great, great grandparents were born. Also, you are not the end of the line. So don’t be so full of yourselves.” And when he sang “Tracks of My Tears” and everyone sang along with him? Goosebumps.

On Your Feet: With an American Flag waving in the background, Kendrick Lamar stood on a spray-painted cop car and got the crowd pumped up with his performance of “Alright.” It was the perfect way to open the show.

 

Janet Jackson, 2015 BET Awards

J-A-N-E-T: Janet Jackson looked so ridiculously gorgeous while accepting the Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual Award, it’s hard to believe she’s pushing 50. And while no one will ever be able to move like Janet, Ciara did a pretty badass job filling in during the tribute performance.

Rihanna’s Underwhelming Preview: Fans were foaming at the mouth when Rihanna said she was previewing her music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Unfortunately, we didn’t see much at all, and barely any of Ri Ri herself. So we were disappointed, but at least we’ll get the full video this week so we don’t have to wait much longer.

What Was This Award For? Oh, Nicki. She wins so many awards that she can’t even keep them all straight! When Nicki Minaj accepted the Viewers Choice Award and started giving a speech, she momentarily had a brain fart and had to ask someone what award she just won.

“Uh, what was this award for? I’m sorry. Oh! Viewers Choice! Oh my god, y’all, thank you,” she said, laughing. “I was in the back! Oh, y’all. My fans. You all know how much I need and want you.”

What was your favorite from this year’s BET Awards?

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Play Boy’s Holly Madison on Hugh Hefner: “I Was Constantly Made to Feel Ugly”

Holly Madison’s new book Down the Rabbit Hole shows off the unglamorous side of the Playboy world.

When it comes to empowerment stories, you might not expect one to start in the Playboy Mansion, but Holly Madison’s does. Before Madison became the “Number 1 Girlfriend” of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, she grew up in a small town of 10,000 with big dreams of becoming an actress like her idol, Marilyn Monroe. But soon after she arrived in Hollywood, at age 22, her life took a detour when she met Hefner, the “notoriously lecherous 70-something old man who offered me Quaaludes that he referred to as ‘thigh openers.’”  It’s a moment, Madison, now 35 wishes she could do over. “Are you kidding me?” she writes in her revealing new memoir Down the Rabbit Hole. “ Why didn’t I run for the nearest exit?”

Instead, Madison got caught up in the myth of the Playboy mansion and becoming a Bunny. About to be kicked out of her apartment, the mansion offered a solution on where to live rent-free, and she hoped that Playboy could launch her career. It did, but there was a big price to pay. Madison went from being a confident, happy girl to insecure and deeply depressed. She even developed a nervous stammer. At one point she told Hefner she wanted to see a psychiatrist and he told her to talk to his secretary instead. He knew a therapist would tell her to pack her bags.

A constant rotating cast of women, all vying for Hefner’s attention and weekly $1000 clothing allowance, created a nightmare mean-girl scenario. Plastic surgery was paid for, along with salon appointments. It was all designed to have the women looking like clones—platinum blonde, booby, with perky “baby” features. When Madison tried to assert some individuality and cut her hair into a bob and wear red lipstick, Hefner told her she “looked old, hard, and cheap.” The experience made her feel “beyond ugly…maybe I was just the homely girl who was ‘lucky’ enough for Hef to allow into the mansion.”