Thursday, 14 August 2008

THANK YOU ALL....Today, I Am 28!

I have not won award, nor written a book, nor launched a new music album, but never the less I felt a strong need to write this acknowledgement…for today is my birthday. I want to say a big thank you to EVERYONE who has contributed to those 28 years of my life here on earth. There were times I felt I was wrong, or have made grave mistakes or have offended thoughtlessly. Times, I thought I can’t go on like this, times of hyper-fear, times of uncertainties all mixed up with beautiful moments, happy and cheerful people who forced my happiness out from where it has sunk into where seemed like a point of no return. But there were also times when I could not believe my eyes nor ears, times when , if I am called, I will imagine it was someone else for it can’t possibly be me, moments of achievements that have taken me completely unawares.

For the first time, I admit that all that I am is because of all of YOU I met in this journey: my joys, my sadness, my happiness, , my success, my failures, my peace…the pace and the impact where all inspired by YOU. And today I write because all of those happenings brought me right to this moment in my life. Today, I have looked back at moments and events, and conclude that having regrets will be asking for something too good to be good for me.

I want to start by thanking my dear father Mr. Okechukwu Okereke for his absolute concern that mirrored itself in his fear that I will turn out something worse than his own personal experiences, and has handled me and my sisters with a severe strictness usually mixed with anger at my slow progress; but that cannot be explained by anything but pure Love. To my step-mother I say thank you for being the only experience I ever had of what a mother could be like. I can’t say it was good or bad, because I never had an alternative.

To my sisters Nkechi and Chinwe who I grew up with: they are responsible for that feminine side of me because they were the only friends (and enemies) I had while growing up, so I learnt to do those things that guys don’t normally do (like talking a lot and over-arguing and fighting with anyone: man or woman). To my last sister Ndidi, who left with my mother while she was only 6 months old. The experience of discovering her after 16 years was one of the best in my life, seeing how beautiful and intelligent she is and knowing that she is of my blood blessed me with an unsurpassed joy.

To Nnanna Uche Mbah who I call my best friend, and to his family for taking me in at one of the most tedious times of my life. Especially to his mother who had about 10 mouths to feed and did not have any problem adding me to that list. They are my second family, and she is an example of a true mother and an epitome of womanhood. To Charles his elder brother who called me the day I was leaving for Lagos and said to me “Emeka, be careful, be humble, because with humility you will open doors to success” something I will never forget.

To Uncle Charles Okereke whose personal endeavours to find the Truth inspired me into picking up the “Grail Message” exactly at that point where there couldn’t have been any other way. Also for being the key player to my discovery of photography, thank you for giving me the first book on photography, and for giving me the address of Uche in Lagos. To Uncle Solomon for inspiring me into reading novels: he gave me the first “James Hadley Chase” and from there onwards, I read about 70 and went on to read others like “Mills and Boon” and “Temptations”.

At this point, I think of Iyke who, when I was 16, was about 25 and my closest friend. His IQ was simply magical, he was the first experience I ever heard in terms of thinking and writing creatively…I learnt a lot of unusual and complicated words from the English dictionary, as well as how to use them. I learnt a lot from him including the dignity in hard work and fending for one’s self. Wherever he is today, I really hope he is being blessed like his life has blessed mine. Before I forget, I will like to Mention Chinedu who was also quite older than me at the time. Hanging out with him, I learnt all those little tricks on what to do to win a girl, he was my lecturer on women affairs, but also, he was the one that learnt me the first camera that I ever touched in my life – that was the actual beginning of it all!

A big thank you to Uncle Victor who accepted me into his home when I arrived in Lagos unannounced, for the first time, from Aba. He gave me a base to set out every morning, and a place to lay my head at night he, also catered for my feeding. He is a good uncle, wonderful, he often tries to look and sound serious because he is a soldier but his soft humanly heart always betrays that tough skin. Without him, adjusting to the life in Lagos would have been hell; it was also while I was living with him at the Air force base that I learnt how to play chess from those barracks guys hanging around in the evenings.

To my late Uncle, Dr. Kennedy Okereke, the Best of the best. I moved in to live with him, his wife and two kids just a year after I arrived in Lagos. There, I juggled my photography with taking care of the kids, I learnt how to put dippers on a child, how to bath and feed them, how to deal with their ranting…etc. My Uncle was the only member of my family (besides Uncle Charles, who is an artist) who supported my photography, and even played major roles in some photographic projects. May his soul continue to journey in the most beautiful places.

To Uche James Iroha, a wonderful photographer and instructor…through him I was opened to the world of photography. I could remember the first day I arrived at his studio, and I was offered a job in 5 minutes! I could not wait to see what the darkroom was like, and today, I am very glad I did. To kelechi Amadi-Obi who was an annex of whatever Uche was to me, in struggling times in Lagos, he was completely supportive. Amaize Ojeikere, who I shared a lot with, and whose personal decency was very inspiring, I take examples everyday! To all my DOF family, Zaynab Odunsi and Ty Bello. At a point, the only hope was deeply rooted in the progress I was making with DOF. They strengthened not only my photographic sight but my foresight. With them I looked further into the future, with them I saw lots of possibilities of which some of it I am living now.

To Uncle Bode Akinbiyi…, my hero and my outmost inspiration…I always say “I will like to be like him when I grow up” and it is no joke! He is always readily supportive; I draw a lot of cues from his personal approach to life in general – his calm and peaceful aura. Thank you! Uncle Jide Adeniyi- Jones! You are wonderful, and inspiring, though lately, we are still waiting for your explanation as to why you didn’t honour our recent call for your support. Pa Ojiekere, Thank you so much for your humility, and your fatherly patronage especially during the last exchange project in Lagos. But also in giving me an idea of what the ideal life could be at the age of 85!

To Dan Okeugo, my best pal. Always looking out for my best interesting, I can never have a friend as precious and valuable as he is. His generosity towards me extends towards all and everyone that has to do with me, my friends are his friends, and so are the friends of my friends. I remember how he stood by me during those times when I am always broke and short of money for food or transport. I will call him and in minutes he will be there for me. These where times when neither of us knew photography was going to be a source of success. Our relationship today was forged by those hard times. He has never changed and has never betrayed me as a friend; I hope I will be capable of being to him, all that he is to me.

To Thema, my hang-out buddy at Dolphin Studio where we dreamed every day, him with music, and me, with photography. Amidst mosquitoes we formed the practice of a 10-minutes reflection before rising from our sleeping place in the top floor of Dolphin Studios. In these reflections, we organize our 24 hours to fit into 10 minutes of hopes and wishes for the day. Thema is really nice, we actually lived off each other during those times… Our favourite food was the “Agege bread, spread with cheap butter and some akara, then wash it down with fanta”. We ate that so often that we began to disregard other kinds of food even when we had money for something better. We had a regular seller where we could buy on “credit” and pay afterwards, and that was the only place we could get such…so the question of not paying our debt is out of it! It wiould be like shooting ourselves in the leg!We shared news of success and disappointment together. It was a moment of growth and preparation for what now seems like success compared to those times.

Thanks to Saidat and Austin the two models who posed for the award winning series “Rituals”. That was the break-through series, and was realized just 4 months after I started photography with Uche. Thank you guys for your patience and understanding even though I didn’t know what I was trying to achieve. Thank you for hanging out with me at the studio all through the night while we play around with shots. Thank you for bringing your attitude and personality into those shots to make them what it is today.

To Tim Hertherington, the British photographer, I say thank you for your priceless contribution during the Lagos British council workshop in 2002 which opened my eyes further to the numerous possibilities in documentary photography. It was a workshop where I learned how “to see” and not how to make photos.

To Patricia Okondo , whom I dated from 2004, but finally broke up with. During those times we were quite close even though the biggest challenge of our relationship was the long distance between Paris and Lagos. Though we had issues but all of it can be traced to the unreality of that long distance dating. She was actually my first real girlfriend from all sense of the word, and we learnt a lot from each other.

To Zahra Chouicha, another friend and girlfriend this time, in Paris. We shared a lot of good moments together, but it was later that I was obliged to accept that we were worlds apart…we tried to make it work and it is in this effort to conquer the inevitable that I learnt the most emotional lesson of my life. So for this, I say thank you for playing that useful role. I really hope that whatever you are doing as of now is going quite well, especially this summer. Thank you also for a birthday gifts: my first basketball kit and a ticket to go see “Ben Harper Live at Bercy”

To Jean Montigny, who walked into my life from nowhere: we met in Paris, during the 2004 Month of Photography – In a photo gallery, and after a 2- minutes conversation we became buddies until today! We went on to work together in projects, and he played an exceptional role in my admission into the Fine Art School of Paris. He is a wonderful man, I cannot say that of all French, but he is one good person. Thank you Jean.

A quick Thank you to Madame Brunau of “Cité Internationale Des Arts” whose housing outfit in Paris haboured me for almost two and half years partly due to her interventions at intervals.

To my closest Pals in Paris: Wilfred Upkong, John Okebe and Qudus Onikekun. Wilfred, you have been inspiring and those numerous discussion about everything and anything is quite enriching especially in that Paris where it is so easy to feel lonely. OJ Okebe…yes oh! I thank you for your support and help when I call on you, several times you have even helped me out with my personal work, I remember the hanging of my works at school during the presentation for my first degree. Not just that, he got me playing basket ball for the first time in life! Thanks man! Qudus! My pal and colleague, we brainstorm together on issues, if I was going to war tomorrow I will ask him to come with me for I know that two heads are better than three. He has been inspiring and helping also. His motivation is like that of 10,000 put together. And he is young, too young for the load he carries in that head, but then who was the guy that said “age ain’t nothing but numbers”? Carry on bros!

To my beloved, and one and only Jelka Germann, thank you, and bless everything about for you have blessed me with your love and kindness, one I never thought existed. I am happy to have you as a friend and as a girlfriend and I love you. Thank you so much!

To my Aunties: Lilian Okereke, Chichi Okereke and Ezinne Okereke. Thank you, you gave when I needed your support. And to my uncle,Euzebio Okereke. I say thank you for your encouraging advice, but also it goes back to those times when I remember you taking me and my sister Nkechi back to School from Aba to Owerri. I was about 8 years old then, but as I write I rememeber vividly as you struggle with our bags at your back and the two of us in both of your arms making sure we get back to school safely. Thank you. I also want to say thank you to my grandmother – the mother of my father: she was responsible for my tribal marks, which today, causes havoc, but of course I have come to cherish as a very essential part of my physical features. But beyond that, I thank her for looking after me as a toddler during those sickler years as I was told. She prepared the herbal medicines which ensured my health and she forced me to take them for my own good.

To Mamadou Ndiaye, my first flatmate ever! I came looking for a home at a very precarious time and he opened his door and heart to me. We have lived together now for over a year and 6 months and I have enjoyed every moment I have lived with him, I have not had any second of regret. He is a Godsend. He makes me wonder what I do to deserve such a nice person as he is. Thank you mon colloc!

To Isioma, who had been there right from when it all started. Back in those days at Dolphin there have been a few times when our conversations and her congatulations were very encouraging. I have always respected her for her virtues, and she has remained unflinching in those values. To Kara Springer, a wonderful friend, it took me quite a stretch of time to fully understand her real worth, thank you for staying my friend despite our occasional misunderstandings.

To Simon Njami, thank you for all those insightful conversations and all those breakfast sessions at your house in Paris where we just talk not just as professionals but as two people…I make mental notes, and it comes in handy every now and then.

To Jihan El-Tahri, my big sister! You are just exceptionally beautiful! Thank you for your inspiration and your ceaseless energy. Moreover, thank you for making that 18 hours drive to and fro Joburg – Maputo to see my show! You are amazing! To Bhavisha Panchia, my budding friend, though you may not know it, I appreciate you more than I actually show. You got your heart and head filled with the struggles of youth, but I still can see the pureness and love all tucked away in there. Thank you for being a perfect host in Johannesburg on my way to Maputo.

To Jean Michel Champault, I thank you so much for the role you have played during the project in Maputo. How you have continued to accommodate the increasing budget of this project in order to make sure it comes to pass. But thank you for the birthday dinner and the only physical gift I got from anyone in Maputo: a photo book by Saidou Dicko. Thank you for making my last night in Maputo which is also my birthnight a marvelous one! I won’t forget, the drink is on me when we see in Paris this September.

To my photographer colleagues here in Maputo: Mauro Pinto, Tomas Cumbana and Sammy Baloji I say thank you for your support one way or the other towards the production of this project, but also to my stay in Maputo. I want to say a big thank you to Mario Macillau, a young photographer and a friend who stood and lived with me throughout my 2-months stay in Maputo. He worked closely with me and catered greatly for my deficiency in Portuguese amongst other things. Thank you!

To Sandra Quiroz, a Spanish friend I met in Maputo. Your constant vibe and cheerful personality kept the smile on my face anytime I see or think of you. Your willingness to reach out to everyone is really amazing, you have enriched my soul with such experiences, and I say please keep up the good spirit. To Janina the sister of Mario who came in for two days to help distribute flyers to the people during the exhibition, I thank you for your contribution! Obrigado! To Litho whose immediate response to an emergency call saved the installation of the photos in Catembe, I say thank you aswell. To Senito who took my challenge of staying all night working in the harsh cold and wind together with his boys to make sure we meet the deadline of the opening of the exhibition, thank you for your hard work!

To all of those people I met in at the Ferry Boat in Maputo, those who where the subjects of my photos and those who contributed to every memorable experience I say Kanimanbo! And Also to Talumba Lucia Katawala, a budding youth who can't wait to hit twenty! At the age of 19, she is basically too smart than she know of, I hope that flame keeps burning in her, because in the future her country will be needing such minds.

Now, I would like to say thank you to all those artists both dead and alive, whose works have been a constant source of inspiration and motivation throughout these years: Bob Marley, Coldplay, Richard Ashcroft, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Newton Aduaka, Quetin Torentino, Charley Chapman, Damien Marley, Eddie Murphy, Osofia, Aki and Paw-Paw, Ibeh Ananaba, Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doineau, James Iroha (New Masquerade), Mos Def( especially for the Def Poetry), Common, Saul Williams, Lauryn Hill, Eryka Badu, Asa, Patrice, Nneka, David Gray, Tom Mckrae, P-Square, Tuface Idibia, 9nice, Micheal Jackson, Mc Hammer, the list can go on forever.

It is now the 5th page and I still feel I have not said enough, there are lots of people who their names do not appear in this list, I did not forget You. This is also for you.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has wished me HAPPY today, some called by phone, while some sent sms messages, a lot of you left me messages on facebook! I say may your blessing be as abundant as the air and the ocean! May your smiles come easy! And may your happiness never be negotiated by any stroke of ill-luck. THANK YOU ALL!

1 comment:

Anonymous said... are truely blessed! Imagine the millions of people who touched your life in just 28 years....I am sure by the time you are 60, you must have met everybody on earth. Enjoy your only live twice...before and after 40!!
Aunty Chichi