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Ikhide R. Ikheloa
Dec 13, 2009, 05:55 PM
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<p>Chika Unigwe</p>
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<p>Chika Unigwe's book, <em>On Black Sisters' Street</em> chronicles the sad odyssey of an army of young women prostitutes drawn from various parts of Nigeria (and the Sudan!) who invade Europe desperate to do for themselves and their clans what waves of prostitute African governments have neglected to do for them. The ladies, Efe, Ama, Sisi, and Joyce are the main characters in a set of stories that collectively narrate epic struggles in the face of fear and despair. In this well-researched book, Sisi leads this pack of warrior-sisters on the streets of Europe determined to force down the doors of poverty and hopelessness that forced them away from home. They go out daily in search of lonely men - and wealth, the new measure of respect back home in Nigeria. </p>
<p>There is plenty to like in the book. It is rich with environment, populated by colorful, pleasant details that do<strong> </strong>not overwhelm the senses. It is a book that will take you a few days to read – the prose is languid, seemingly in no hurry to get to a climax. I like the way Unigwe introduces side issues into conversations and they stick with you – issues like sexism and the treatment of women as chattel in Africa. It is a neat trick, how she tucks weighty issues into throw-away sentences. </p>
<p>Every character in this book is driven by a deep hunger. Perhaps the monotony of yearning is the story of a Nigeria gradually turning soulless from material lust. In the process, we have learnt to hate ourselves. Energy seems reserved for mimicking the otherness that resides in the West. Unigwe's book showcases Nigeria as a nation of people deeply invested in acquiring the trappings of an otherness that emanates from the West. </p>
<p>God must be exhausted and Nigerians are to blame. The book captures the ceaseless supplications for more and more and the pious request for God to annihilate our enemies that stand in the way of our more and more. God must regret the day the devil tricked her into creating the Nigerian; we are such a needy group. We see the new Christianity as the new plague sweeping across a nation of uncritical thinkers.</p>
<p>The absurdities of life in Nigeria are expertly captured. Lagos is filth and dust at dusk advertising the meanness of neglect: The chapter named <em>Ama</em> was the best. It hearkens to the beauty of Chinua Achebe's<em> Things Fall Apart</em>, of what happens when language is not in the way of the story. Here, Unigwe writes with confidence and her literary muscle barrels her voice into a full-throated roar. The expert way she weaves local Igbo and onomatopoeic idioms into the English is sexy, kpom kwem. </p>
<p>The book offers plenty to frustrate the reader. The prose is uneven overall; as a result the book sometimes has the consistency of pulp fiction. The use of Pidgin English in this book added nothing to the book. Unigwe's knowledge of Pidgin English seemed tentative or perhaps watered down to make it more palatable to a broader market. Pidgin English has an image problem. In the hands of Nigerian writers it undergoes an extreme makeover and acquires an inferiority complex. </p>
<p>The book's chapters are not numbered; they are repeatedly named after each "sister" or the street <em>Zwartezusterstraa</em>t. There are about thirteen chapters named <em>Sisi</em>. Confusing. The chapters see-saw between multiple consciousnesses; the reader is force-fed the future up front and in the next chapter, the past walks up to the day. The reader learns of the future death of one of the characters – on the first few pages of the book. </p>
<p>The book is not quite convincing in its analysis of how the girls chose prostitution. It is not for lack of trying. Indeed, Unigwe is guilty of an over-analysis of the characters' motives. She obviously interviewed a lot of prostitutes. One wonders if they held back from this sister who went to too much school. </p>
<p>The plight of Nigerian girls in Europe is the most visible symbol of the wanton rape of generations of youths by badly behaving Nigerian rulers. Unigwe appears however to have no stomach for conflict. Europe harbors a huge contingent of ladies from Edo State in Nigeria. There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to avoid this reality.  The chapter named <em>Alek</em> <em>(Joyce)</em> is my least favorite. It reads like an exhausted affirmative action afterthought. The character was developed as coming from Sudan, escaping the war, ending up in Nigeria and then Europe after her soldier-lover got bored with her. Darfur does not belong in this book. The chapter sits like a patronizing ode to the notion that prostitution is universal. </p>
<p><em>On Black Sisters' Street</em> is a good story fiercely resisting flight because it is airborne on timid wings. This is a shame because Unigwe has the muscle to communicate proprietary feelings using Standard English. My humble advice is that Unigwe should relax and take maximum advantage of her mastery of loose limber prose and let the words fly recklessly with her imagination. That would be quite a book. </p><br><br><a target="_blank" href=http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=13989><b>..Read the full article</b></a><br>

M. Akosa
Dec 13, 2009, 08:14 PM
I have read the book. An excellent piece!!!

I must say, a recommended read for all human services professionals, especially those dealing with the black African migrant population. To be able to grasp the dimensions of human trafficking and migration.

Heart breaking though, and so tearful to imagine young, beautiful, educated and talented Nigerian girls, wasting in Europe.

I am sure if it were children and women of European origins that endures such abuse and sufferings, that these poor things go through over there, then there would have been a world outrage.

I am just wondering also about the racial elements to this situation. How come Somalians and Ethiopians are easily protected all across Europe, sometimes based on ficticious claims of persecution in their native countries, when it is obvious that most of them have worked as maids and nannies in Dubai, Lebanon, Isreal and Saudi Arabia, before moving on to western Europe?
And yet the Nigerian women find it almost almost impossible to even get a temporary protection or any form of sanctuary. They risk deportation and more harm if they turn against their pimps and madams in Europe.

HolyPagan
Dec 13, 2009, 08:32 PM
I have read the book. An excellent piece!!!

I must say, a recommended read for all human services professionals, especially those dealing with the black African migrant population. To be able to grasp the dimensions of human trafficking and migration.

Heart breaking though, and so tearful to imagine young, beautiful, educated and talented Nigerian girls, wasting in Europe.

I am sure if it were children and women of European origins that endures such abuse and sufferings, that these poor things go through over there, then there would have been a world outrage.

I am just wondering also about the racial elements to this situation. How come Somalians and Ethiopians are easily protected all across Europe, sometimes based on ficticious claims of persecution in their native countries, when it is obvious that most of them have worked as maids and nannies in Dubai, Lebanon, Isreal and Saudi Arabia, before moving on to western Europe?
And yet the Nigerian women find it almost almost impossible to even get a temporary protection or any form of sanctuary. They risk deportation and more harm if they turn against their pimps and madams in Europe.
I know for a fact that the Majority of the Nigerian women in these places are not victims..they are active volunteers.
A lot of these girls are willing participants who even take offence, at those trying to put 'san-san' in their garri by preventing them from travelling outside Nigeria to ply their wares.

M. Akosa
Dec 13, 2009, 09:36 PM
I know for a fact that the Majority of the Nigerian women in these places are not victims..they are active volunteers.
A lot of these girls are willing participants who even take offence, at those trying to put 'san-san' in their garri by preventing them from travelling outside Nigeria to ply their wares.

Darling,

There is no justifiable excuses for not protecting these women.

Remember "boy Adam" ? The floating torso in the Thames? That child seems to have a link to main land Europe. And I am sure, who ever is the biological mum / carer is a weak and vulnerable woman.

bookatree
Jul 1, 2010, 02:54 AM
buy here ;

http://www.bookatree.co.uk/BookItem.aspx?item=9780224085304

rina
Oct 27, 2010, 02:15 PM
Please where can i get this book? i will love to read it.

Bainmoussant
Feb 13, 2011, 06:54 PM
I finished reading "On Black Sisters' Street" and really enjoyed it and I‘d read any book from Chika Unigwe. I've read other books telling the life experience of women who were involved in prostitution as a mean to afford the drug they needed on a daily basis and often also the purchase of their boyfriend's drug.
The stories of the four women involved in prostitution in Chika's novel are poignant. However, I felt that the aim of the book was not to make the reader feel very sorry about people's fate that we'd classify as less fortunate than ourselves. I particularly liked the story of ‘Joyce' who at 15 experienced the worst that can happen to a teenager. She then believed she could reconstruct her life with a man she loved. In fact he took advantage of her vulnerability and started a relationship with her when he should have behaved as a professional; although he looked genuine in his feelings towards her . . . I cannot disclose more here or it'd spoilt the pleasure of future readers.
Being a professional supporting people to leave prostitution and people that are at risk of sexual exploitation in the UK; I found this book interesting and it made me consider other views about women coming from other continents to sell their body in Europe. I always thought that people who were trafficked were completely controlled and coerced but through the stories of three of these four women I realised that they knew what they were signing up for, even that they didn't know how soul destroying it'd be.
I take this opportunity to reassure M Akosa that "children and women of European origins do endure such abuse and sufferings". Unfortunately, depending on an individual immigration status, support offered comes from different agencies and there is temporary protection for people who have been trafficked in the UK from other countries and they're treated as victims. I wouldn't say that enough is being done to protect people involved in prostitution whether they're citizens of the country they're staying or not.
I'd advise anyone to read "On Black Sisters' Street" and I passed the book around my team as I know that my colleagues will find it interesting and it'll incite discussions where we'll share our views and think about " the sad odyssey of an army of young women prostitutes drawn from various parts of Nigeria (and the Sudan!) who invade Europe desperate to do for themselves and their clans what waves of prostitute African governments have neglected to do for them" as Ikhide R. Ikheloa put it.

I Love Nigeria
May 1, 2011, 01:51 AM
April 29, 2011
Tales From the Global Sex Trade
By FERNANDA EBERSTADT
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/books/review/book-review-on-black-sisters-street-by-chika-unigwe.html?_r=3%3Fsrc%3DISMR_HP_LI_LST_FB
ON BLACK SISTERS STREET
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/05/01/books/review/Eberstadt/Eberstadt-articleInline.jpg
By Chika Unigwe

258 pp. Random House. $25.

Opponents of immigration often prefer to ignore the tragic forces that compel people to risk death in order to reach our lands of plenty, not to mention the horrors that often await the "lucky" few, once they do arrive. Imagine an Underground Railroad in which the conductor robs and rapes his passengers, and the station porter, once they've disembarked, ushers them into a new form of slavery. This unholy traffic in impoverished strivers, imported to service needs Westerners don't want to think about, is the subject of Chika Unigwe's novel "On Black Sisters Street."

Unigwe, who was born in Nigeria, now lives in Belgium. In a rich mix of schoolmarm British and pidgin English, spiked with smatterings of Igbo and Yoruba, she tells the stories of four African sex workers sharing an apartment in Antwerp's red-light district. But it is only when Sisi, the rebel among them, is murdered, that her three housemates emerge from their self-protective anonymity to share their family histories.

The person who has brought these women together, it turns out, is Dele, a "big man" back in Lagos whose wealth comes from selling African women to Western European brothels. "Every month I send gals to Europe. Antwerp. Milan. Madrid. My gals dey there. Every month, four gals. Sometimes five or more," he boasts to Sisi when she first visits his office. "You be fine gal now. Abi, see your backside, kai! Who talk say na dat Jennifer Lopez get the finest nyansh? . . . As for those melons wey you carry for chest, omo, how you no go fin' work?"

Dele's offer is brutally upfront: the fee he charges his "gals" for spiriting them into the longed-for West is 30,000 euros, a debt that, combined with the rent they will owe "Madam," will take many years to repay. Yet each of these four women accepts Dele's hard bargain, simply because their alternatives are worse.

Ama, raised in a middle-class milieu in which ladies debate the respective merits of houseboys versus serving maids, has been kicked out of her home for revealing that her saintly seeming stepfather, assistant pastor at the Church of the Twelve Apostles of the Almighty Yahweh, had been raping her since she was 8 years old. It is as much a revolt against human hypocrisy as material need that drives Ama to become one of those lewd women the pastor likes to curse from the pulpit.

Efe, who at 16 was knocked up by the local hair-weave merchant, goes abroad so she can support not only her baby but the three siblings who depend on her. Determined to give her beloved son a better life, Efe aims to amass enough money to open a whorehouse of her own one day.

The woman who calls herself Joyce, in fact born Alek, is a Sudanese refugee who was gang-raped as a child by the janjaweed militia and witnessed the massacre of her family. Alek has been coaxed into prostitution by Polycarp, the Nigerian peacekeeper she had hoped to marry. It's a testament to Unigwe's ability to convey human complexity that Polycarp, to ease his conscience at having jilted her, is paying off her debt to Dele, an anomaly that gives her unique privileges in the brothel hierarchy.

The dead Sisi, however, is the woman whose story is in some ways the most wrenching. Hers is a tale not of incest, rape or genocide but of the accumulated disappointments that can grind even the most determined soul into defeat. In the scattered chapters revealing the events that lead to Sisi's murder, we learn how her father, a bright and ambitious village boy, was obliged by his parents to give up his studies and become a lowly clerk in order to help his nine younger siblings through school. "I had bookhead, isi akwukwo. I could have been a doctor. Or an engineer. I could have been a big man," Sisi's father fumes. Education is everything, her parents teach the girl. "Face your books, and the sky will be your limit." They place all their hopes in their only daughter, whose brilliant academic career will surely win her an important job. Together the family members dream, laugh and squabble about the kind of company car and driver Sisi will have, the sort of big house she will live in, with a high-walled garden.

Once she has graduated, however, Sisi discovers that without the right connections, her business degree won't get her an interview for even the humblest job. It's from a kind of defiant determination "to grab life by the ankles and scoff in its face" that she decides to make her fortune as an Antwerp "window girl," enticing men into her booth for paid sex. It is from defiance, too, that she makes the fatal decision to flee the brothel, stop her monthly payments to Dele and start a new life with her gentle Belgian boyfriend.

Unigwe has a deep understanding of poverty and its hungers. She insists that we regard her four central characters as cool-eyed gamblers, not passive victims, as women willing to play "the trump card that God has wedged in between their legs" in exchange for the material goods they crave, the chance of coming home rich enough to buy their families cars, apartments and businesses. She makes you feel a wrenching sympathy for Efe's willingness to lose her virginity to a fat, smelly old man because she hopes he will give her mauve lipstick and "good-quality hair extensions." When Sisi, newly arrived in Belgium, is greeted with a paper-bag lunch of orange juice, bananas, supermarket rolls and jam, Unigwe shows her calculating just how much this feast would cost in Nigeria, "how it was enough to feed her family. . . . The magenta-colored spread delighted her taste buds. She could get used to this, to living like this. The life of the rich and the arrived."

Unigwe conveys both what is miraculous about the West to foreign eyes and what is awful - how people live and die alone, unmourned, without the sustenance of family and neighbors. And she shows us how the women who survive their pact with Dele choose to deploy their hard-won wealth. While Efe stays put, running her own brothel, Joyce and Ama prefer to build their businesses back home.

Despite the horrors it depicts, "On Black Sisters Street" is also boiling with a sly, generous humor. Unigwe is as adept at conveying the cacophony of a Nigerian bus as she is at suggesting the larger historical events that propel her characters. "On Black Sisters Street" marks the arrival of a latter-day Thackeray, an Afro-Belgian writer who probes with passion, grace and comic verve the underbelly of our globalized new world economy.

Fernanda Eberstadt's latest novel, "Rat," has just been released in paperback.

I Love Nigeria
May 1, 2011, 01:56 AM
Excerpt: ‘On Black Sisters Street' (May 1, 2011)
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/books/review/excerpt-on-black-sisters-street-by-chika-unigwe.html?ref=review

I Love Nigeria
May 1, 2011, 09:12 PM
This book is really riveting, captivating and equally sad story... I am fascinated by the avalanche of information in their details... it is truly engrossing and sad!...

The reviewer Fernanda Eberstadt did an excellent job of conveying Chika Unigwe's novel! Bravo!

I Love Nigeria
May 1, 2011, 09:18 PM
Holy Pagan wrote
I know for a fact that the Majority of the Nigerian women in these places are not victims..they are active volunteers.
A lot of these girls are willing participants who even take offence, at those trying to put 'san-san' in their garri by preventing them from travelling outside Nigeria to ply their wares.

That is tantamount to saying that these women had better options, except that they just lack morality or that they are morally defective or such other equivalents?

Put another way, there are sane human beings, who would rather rummage garbage dump for lunch, instead of eating 6 course meals at a high-table in a five star hotel? (Food is available and accessible, but, somehow, they prefer to search garbage for lunch and dinner)

Does anyone remember the BBC stories of garbage rummaging in Nigeria? (One has to wonder why some Nigerians would rummage garbage for a living)? They apparently have aversions to working in banks and department of petroleum or traveling in private jets :D ?

Dispensing with sarcasms, ... Most Nigerians women that I know, are reasonable, and most reasonable persons on earth, want and desires to the "Hammer, and not the Nail"