Days – Sahara Nights
fell in love with a woman, smarter, richer, and a whole lot prettier
yesterdays do not count.
meal finished is a meal forgotten.
all yesterday's meals cannot satisfy
dreams of your conquests only aggravate
wound of loneliness,
all your Glory Days
light one cold night
memories of passion past
Warm your so
single and chilly bed
of sparkling stars mask the red and green wing lights of a 707
as it descends into Lagos Airport, Nigeria.
Carmelite nun sitting across from me crossed herself as the 707
flaps bore down and the Captain’s voice announced,
"Fasten your seat belts, place your seats in an upright
position and be prepared to land at Lagos International Airport,
white-starched nun crossed herself again at the same moment the
engines roared into reverse, and I was jerked forward as the
wheels scorched onto the tarmac.
The plane slowed into its port.
A steward came down the aisle spraying insecticide from a
can. I looked out
the window and saw several men pushing the gangplank towards the
terminal looked like a small Texas strip store, no more than
fifty feet across, and thirty deep.
Very brown, and dingy. There
was a bang on the exit, and the steward opened the hatch.
dozen passengers began to file out.
Although, this was my first airplane trip at the age of
28, I initiated what was to my lifelong tactic when flying.
Last on, last off. So,
I waited until the plane had emptied before I made for the door.
As I came down the steps I saw two men. The first was
wearing British officers khakis replete with a swagger-stick.
The second was a burley, red faced, very sweaty
man wearing a blue suit with a regimental tie. (Being an
American I had no idea of which regiment.)
Both men looked right over my head as if they were
expecting someone else to vacate the plane.
handed a porter my baggage tickets and he retrieved my bags and
escorted me to the customs official, a very tall Nigerian in
immaculate whites. "Have you anything to declare?"
you, welcome to Nigeria." and as he handed me my passport,
there was an announcement on the terminal loudspeaker.
Mr. Benjamin Schwartz. Please report to customs."
guess that's me"
my passport, and the two men who had been at the bottom of the
gangplank, looked at me from across the room.
There was incredulity on their faces. THIS is Benjamin
was the American who the Rockefellers were sending to build a
$13,000,000 textile mill. Has
to be some mistake. Why,
he must have just started shaving.
Major-Adjutant reached me first, saluted with his swagger stick.
here. Mr. Schwartz,
to the white man's grave."
big, red-faced guy, caught up with us.
Schwartz, I'm James Aspinwall, secretary to the First Min'ster,
stupid of us to have missed you."
then I noticed that the custom official was standing at
short, I am often overlooked," I said, "But not to
worry, I'm still growing."
getting the humor the secretary mumbled something about the
Royal line also being short and motioned the porter to take my
put you up at Government Guest House, Charles, will be your
attaché, I have put this car at your disposal, " and he
pointed to a Nigerian green Rolls Royce.
you freshen up we should like to introduce you to the shadow
First Min'ster, Enaharo."
this your first visit to Africa?"
began the greatest adventure of my life.
streets of Lagos were festooned in green banners. To my yiddisha
culp what looked like the Star of David was the national symbol
of Nigeria. Africa was in the midst of change—1960 was to see the
British Union Jack dipped.
Nigeria's flag of white, green, bearing The Star of David
raised, as Independent Nigeria threw off the Colonial cloak. No
more British governors, no more white paternalism, no more
monopoly of the British West Africa Company, no more white pith
helmets and swagger sticks.
No more, soon.
passed through Ikeja and over the bridge to Lagos I saw strong
muscular men paddling dugout canoes and towing Ibeeche logs down
the river, to be loaded into freighters and sent to Germany to
be peeled into veneers for the pale yellow furniture Europeans
prized. The streets
were jammed with people in brightly printed togas their heads
wrapped in intricately folded cloth, the women carrying large
bundles on their heads. The alternating singsong of a police
siren pushed the oncoming traffic to the side and a jeep with a
mounted machine gun preceded a Rolls Royce and another jeep with
machine gun followed.
Madame Nzimaro, wife of JaJa Wachuko, the U.N.
the richest person in Western Nigeria":
mammy-traders do the business in Nigeria; men, the politics.
She represents Standard Oil."
much production does Nigeria do?"
is no oil in Nigeria.
cotton," I added with a wink.
Oil and British Petroleum supply our oil needs."
United Africa Corp. supplies you with cotton cloth."
reason for being in Nigeria was that for centuries Nigeria had
produced vast quantities of the finest long-stapled Egyptian
cotton which was exported to Lancashire, spun into gray goods
shipped to Amsterdam, bleached and printed, and shipped back to
Nigeria to be sold. Not one yard of printed cloth was produced
in Nigeria. This phenomenon of British colonialism Gandhi
pointed out in India and turned it into a political protest.
In Nigeria I was attempting an economic protest, which I
hope would make my fortune. Had I been a little wiser I would
have observed that the same phenomenon affected oil.
same Madame Nzimaro who had sped past me, was to show me fields
of gas burning off in Port Harcourt in the Eastern Region.
Ten years after independence Nigeria was to become the
third largest producer of oil in the Western Bloc. British and
American companies knew there was oil in Nigeria, but preferred
to sell rather than develop. Independence caught them unawares, and too soon.
Wars would be fought over this oil, and nations
massacred, but this story comes a little later.
arrived at an Iron Gate with a sign posted, "Members
drove into a courtyard with a two-story building with verandas.
We entered and I registered surrendering my passport to the
shown into the bar where a good-sized Nigerian turned to greet
Tony Enaharo, first we play, then we talk," he said with a
big smile."What are you drinking?"
ignored the Brits. And they ordered separately on his far side.
He shook my hand but did not let go, and gently pulled me over
to a corner table. As we crossed the room he mumbled, “Ditch
those bastards, take a shower and meet me back here in 15
minutes. Take your drink with you. If you want to succeed in
Nigeria you must know The High Life.
I will teach you, I am the best dancer in Lagos, maybe
all of Nigeria."
American jitterbug, only better."
quite what I was expecting," I said.
in good hands," said Smith, "we'll contact you at 07
shown to my suite by a houseboy. His face lit up when I handed
him a $5 bill (a month's wages).
I had never seen a bed covered by mosquito netting, and
felt like I was in a Humphrey Bogart movie.
There was a sign in the bathroom warning not to brush my
teeth with the water which I guessed meant not to drink it
either. I finished by gin and tonic (no ice ), stripped, and
took a lukewarm shower. I
dressed and returned downstairs to the lobby where Enaharo was
is Mary, and Betty," Tony laughed. "Take your pick,
they are both very gentle, and High Life Queens."
I did not think it possible, my face turned red and I began to
the most Southern of boys, a Washingtonian.
I grew up in D.C. when Senators Bilbo of Mississippi and
Rankin of Alabama were commissioners of Washington, D.C.
I went to segregated public schools, all theaters,
hotels, parks, swimming pools, restaurants, department stores,
and athletic competitions were segregated.
The only black woman I had ever touched was my mammy,
Maud. And she was
seventy years old and smoked a corncob pipe and used snuff. And
now I was being asked to double date with two young maids whose
skin was the color of ripe black olives.
choose?" said Enaharo finding great humor in my
discomfiture, "We'll share, like in a Chinese
had come face-to-face with two tigers and a mountain lion I
could not of been more terrified. Terror not only rendered me
speechless, it rendered me blind.
I was so scared I could not focus.
pleased to meet you," and I stuck out my hand towards
blurred colors, and landed on Betty's bare midriff. I wondered
if there was a country-western song like, "Everybody’s
laughing except me."
Betty is a professor of many things, but most particularly, The
High Life," said Tony with a wink.
took my arm , pressing it against her well-filled blouse. I
pretended not to notice, what the boys at home would call a
"cheap feel" but my arm grew rigid as I pretended
as other parts of my anatomy also grew rigid I quickly opened
the car door as to mask my shame.
took my hand as she entered the back seat of the Jaguar, and
then with a strong tug pulled me across her lap.
Tony slammed the door shut, got behind the wheel, reached
over to open the door for Mary, and away we roared. Betty gave
me a pat on the rump as I rolled back into the soft leather.
kind of name is Schwartz?" said Betty.
you a Jew?"
I'm a Jewish American. Like Jesus but instead of being born in
Bethlehem I was born in Washington, D.C.
never met a Jew."
it cut off?"
was beyond my control, I was only a baby."
love kiss-and-tell," she leaned over and gave me the
softest, sexiest kiss of my life.
blood pressure rose so quickly that for a moment I blacked out.
My lovemaking conversations were rather limited to small
blonds with big boobs and little brains (which included my
wife.) My sexual
activity began before the advent of the "pill" when
getting into a lady's bloomers was as difficult as eating
through a brick wall; not impossible but difficult.
woman was passive and resisted, the man aggressive and
insistent. Therefore, to hear a woman express promise by
discussion of your equipment was a very new (and titillating)
experience, and then sealing that promise with a mega-kiss that
caused that part of my anatomy under discussion to reach a
gem-like hardness was beyond all limits of my composure. I
thought my best defense lay in changing the subject.
are you a teacher?"
you will be my student?"
are you in college?"
you are bored, every subject is tough. Making money is never
college do you go to"
London School of Economics"
was, the last time I looked."
London School of Economics?"
very same. Do you know any of my chums?
Jomo Kenyatta, Hastings Banda, Seke Toure Festus Ecoti
Eboh, and of course, our host, Tony Enaharo.
question was, 'Do you know them?'"
male chauvinist pigs had not yet been invented and the thought
that a black man not to mention a black woman might aspire to
something beyond fixing hominy grits and greens was mind
boggling. So this rather proper, social pigeonholing was out of
sync with the usual nosey pre-talk that goes on between two
Western persons trying to peg each other’s class. Here, I was
racing down a red-clay road from Lagos to Ibadan being turned on
by a woman who fit none of the criteria I had always associated
with my fantasies of arousal. I was confused. A woman was
manipulating me. Me,
the classic manipulator of women.
She was younger, better educated, certainly more
intelligent, and worldlier than I.
are you here?"
the same reason you are," she said.
here for money, and adventure."
am I, my lovely partner. Let's make a whole lot of money
together. Shall we shake on it like two American businessmen?
Or shall we kiss on it like the Italian Mafioso?
I have a partner, The Rockefeller Brothers.
only have money.
what do you have?
you need, and want.
my mother says that if you take a partner he must be richer than
you, and smarter than you I'm richer than you, and, I daresay, a
hell of a lot smarter. I am an economic geographer. With
emphasis on West Africa. I know where is the timber, gold, groundnuts, diamonds,
titanium, bauxite, iron ore, cotton, and oil. And more
importantly I know how to get it out."
mouth was open.
will be your partner in bed as well as the board-room.”
I think about it?
It's a done deal. And she kissed me softly.
instinctively turned and looked out into the African blackness
as to see if anyone was watching this gross social mismatching.
was to seal the deal, and this is just for fun.
kissed me a second time, for a long time. I was engulfed in a
flood of emotions, and all thoughts of forbidden fruits and
proper conduct evaporated .
see how smart I am," she said. "Money is
intellectually important to you, but like most men and
particularly ambitious men, your drive lies between your
that moment Tony turned on the radio full blast and the music
filled the compartment.
made me rigid.
could see the full moon over her shoulder, and her head and
shoulders in silhouette. " You see, what a great partner I
will make? She took both my hands and held them just above my
head and then began to twist our bodies together to the rhythm
of the music.
music goes round-and-round, from Africa to America, and back to
Africa. Do you like to dance?"
English men are sissies, they're rotten dancers."
began dancing with her shoulders.
Her tunic was wrapped under her arms revealing vibrating
shoulders, and the tips of her breasts beat gently against my
prejudices, attitudes, and white-boy barriers melted before the
beauty and power of this African woman who could arouse like
Marilyn Monroe, and talk like Winston Churchill.
was conquered, and I surrendered, lock, stock, and barrel.
music stopped, and Betty sat back in the seat and took my hand.
could see Tony watching us in the rear-view mirror.
you like The High Life, Benny?" and he laughed in a
understood what I suddenly understood.
are Romantics, or why would we come to the Third World when
nothing but opportunities await us in the U.S. With their
handkerchiefs in their cuffs and tightly rolled brollies the
English tossed off Shelly and Byron on us colonials. Washington,
Lafayette, Hamilton, all Romantics. Risking their honor and
their sacred fortunes for ideas like liberty and democracy. But the English, they are hard-bitten realists.
They did nothing
in Africa or England, for that matter but exploit the people.
They were cruel and rapacious beyond belief. Ask the
Irish, or the Indians.
very pleased to meet you, Betty."
see in the morning, partner," said Betty with a twinkle.
you welcome all American business-men like this?
if they're young and handsome."
was becoming clear that Betty did not belong to the Cult of The
companion turned and leaned toward us.
Betty, and her boss will make a great team."
boss?" I asked Betty.
Mary Nzimaro. She
is my mother."
clear starry sky of West Africa stretched from horizon to
horizon. Tony and our "dates" had arrived in Ibadan,
the capital of the Western Region of Nigeria, proud of its
university and its Western culture. The nightclub was a
four-floor walkup. We
were greeted at the open terrace by the proprietor, silky and
am Nicolas, your maitre' de, welcome to The Club, Coq D'Or."
patted Nicolas on the shoulder and said, "Nick is from
Lebanon as are almost all the club owners in Nigeria.
We call the Lebanese, The Jews of Africa.
They own everything."
you flatter me," and Nicolas escorted us to a small table
at the far end of a very busy bar.
was seated facing down the bar. There were perhaps thirty bar
stools, and on each one was a beautiful young woman. They were
of every color and hue. But
they were all beautiful. There
were redheaded Irish types, and green-eyed Eurasians, beefy,
full-bodied English ladies, and thin Spanish types; and charcoal
skinned mannequin types. Each
was accompanied by an elderly man in immaculate tux, and all
were pursuing a quiet but intense conversation.
turned to Tony, "Is it common for older men to marry
younger women in Nigeria?"
eyes shone, and a huge smile crossed his face. "It is very
uncommon. Mums '58, bring four bottles, please."
looked again at the expensive dresses, jewelry, coiffeurs, and
it slowly began to dawn on me that these were, perhaps, not
wives, but something quite different.
saw my face redden. "It's an old English tradition. When
English men want to party, they never bring their wives.
Henry the Eighth started the whole thing. Not to mention
Darwin. Got to spread the wild oats Oats are a kind of seed,
mean these women are prostitutes?"
whether you’re selling or buying. Or, as my father used to
say, it just depends on whose ox is getting gored."
I think that anybody who buys or sells sex is a prostitute. But
that might include all of us in one way or another. Why do men
want money, and success, if not to capture as many women as they
You don't have this kind of thing in New York?"
don't know, I've never seen it."
would be much surprised if you didn't have this kind of thing on
mean all these woman are . . . mistresses??"
begins with naiveté. The word is 'whores', my darling,
guess so, but I never witnessed anything like this."
after all, your America is a Puritan
this little bit of England a Puritan country?"
is a big bit, that bar is a little bit of England. Of course
England is not Puritan, it's a Victorian country, which is to say, it's
completely licentious, discreet, but wildly licentious. Take a
look at Edward, The Prince of Wales, what a whoremaster he was.
. . . Time to dance."
took me by the hand and tugged me onto the dance floor where a
six-piece band was belting out a strange, very rhythmic, jazzy
pulled me close and whispered, " First lesson, you don't
dance on your toes, you dance flat-footed. One-two, one-two,
one-two . . . come, my American baby . . . move it."
I was a teen-ager, men who liked to dance were considered
slightly left of queer. No
he- blooded, white, Protestant liked to dance. Niggers, spics,
wops, and (of course) hebes danced.
Real Americans, never. Well, I liked to dance, so I used
to think I must have sissy-genes
in my DNA. Nonetheless, not only did I like to dance, I liked to
dance with girls. I reasoned that
I couldn’t be totally queer. Pressing a soft
fifteen-year old lassie to my body was an indescribable
years later after reading Homer's tales of "The Heroes"
dancing before battle while reciting Poetry, and knowing The
Vikings loved dancing, singing, and poetry ("The Sagas")
almost as much as they loved fighting; while Elizabethans
celebrated their defeat of The Spanish Armada by singing,
dancing, and composing poetry (The Age of Shakespeare). Brave
Indian warriors danced, Abe Lincoln danced, Andrew Jackson
danced (he organized the first cotillion in Nashville) and
invited the two most notorious Madams in all Tennessee. Cossacks
dance; the Greek army dances. Israeli armored divisions dance;
and so it gradually became clear.
Real men dance, sissies don't.
So that evening in Africa when my blood was many degrees
hotter than it is now, and in a culture of dancers, I abandoned
my puritanical restraints, and danced my ass-off.
had bought my tux at Roger-Peet and being young and gauche I
bought a red cummerbund.
the temperature was close to ninety and the humidity 100%,
nobody took off their jackets.
my face matched my cummerbund, and my tux looked like I had gone
swimming in it. Nonetheless, protocol demanded that the jacket
stay on, but survival persevered over de rigueur
heroically I whipped off my tie.
shakes like jelly on a plate.
The band was playing an Africanized version of “My
Sister Kate” . . . nobody shimmies like my Sister Kate. The
band sang in the same tempo and inflection as an old 78 rpm
record, kind of like a speeded up high-pitched Rudy Vallee
record. And through
my salted eyes all I could see was the most alluring black
raspberry jelly shaking out an unmistakable message to every
molecule of testosterone in my body.
grabbed Betty and danced close so as to hide my rigid
although my protruding embarrassment was now somewhat concealed
from spectators in the room, it now became flamboyantly patent
that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me."
said Betty placing her hand on her hip a la Mae West. And then
she gave me the coup de grace. "Let's change
partners," and she rolled out of my arms, tapped Tony on
the shoulder, took Mary by hand and led her into my arms.
I was exposed to two women, and my cummerbund grew pale in
comparison to my face. I
arched my self over, so as to be less conspicuous but Mary did
this little maneuver of coming up behind me, wrapping her arms
around my chest, and dancing with my back to her front. I could
have swore that there was a spotlight on me, but as a matter of
fact the club was pitch dark, and even if someone was looking,
there was indeed little that they could see of my black tux.
I was in college we used to debate the difference between
"Eternity" and "Infinity." That night in The
Coq D'Or I had the definitive answer to that debate.
Eternity is the time between my embarrassment and the
time the band took a break. "Infinity" is the gulf between my home in
Riverdale, America and Ibadan, Nigeria.
sank into seat, and poured myself a glass of champagne.
Betty sat down next to me, and reached under the table.
I dropped the glass, and sputtered champagne all over my
$100. pleated shirtfront. Oh, God, she had taken my love life in
kissed me on the neck, and said, “Take it easy, darling. Is
there anything more fun?"
had never been groped. I
was the GROPER, not the GROPEE. I was under great stress. I
was repulsed by it.
message went on. I
tried nonchalance. It
didn't work. Finally, I cried something like, "Oh, my
God." Had a three minute orgasm and slid under the table.
* * *
impossible number on my birthday
an impossible number.
to divide by 1/2
much was wasted
had no map
the billions who passed before me
could advise me
to how to spend my time?
chips were antied up
old an impossibility
the future infinite
step of the way
luck save me.
were women enough
could never figure it out
was not easy
was never at peace
was never at calm
was always hungry
was always angry
was always alert
I was lucky
sixty-five caught me by surprise
mention it every day
I say it with bewilderment
posted 13 February 2005
* * *
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * *
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Epic Story of America's Great
By Isabel Wilkerson
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a
sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi
for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin
was falsely accused of stealing a white
man's turkeys and was almost beaten to
death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling,
a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem
after learning of the grove owners'
plans to give him a "necktie party" (a
lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster
made his trek from Louisiana to
California in 1953, embittered by "the
absurdity that he was doing surgery for
the United States Army and couldn't
operate in his own home town." Anchored
to these three stories is Pulitzer
Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's
magnificent, extensively researched
study of the "great migration," the
exodus of six million black Southerners
out of the terror of Jim Crow to an
"uncertain existence" in the North and
Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates
sociological and historical studies into
the novelistic narratives of Gladney,
Starling, and Pershing settling in new
lands, building anew, and often finding
that they have not left racism behind.
The drama, poignancy, and romance of a
classic immigrant saga pervade this
book, hold the reader in its grasp, and
resonate long after the reading is done.
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
updated 22 May