Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Kai, Kai,Kai

There is a Nigerian phrase, or rather exclamation, that sounds like "kai". It is usually preceeded by biting the side of one's forefinger and then swishing the hand in a downwards motion, causing the fingers to slap together with a loud cracking sound. You use this whole sequence when confronted with something startling, surprising, unexpected. Kai, kai, kai.

On Tuesday evening I had a very nice meal with some interesting folk at the appropriately named Kai of Mayfair, the most expensive Chinese restaurant I have ever been to. The decor was exquisite. We were in a little private alcove downstairs, surrounded by very attentive waiters. The gentle chinese music wafting through the opening created a beautiful mellow ambiance. The food was melt in the mouth to-die for (and that's saying something from me, the ultimate fussy eater). But £11 for sesame toast and £57 for crispy duck? Kai, kai. I made the mistake of glancing at the wine menu, opening the pages at a bottle of Petrus 1990 for £5,880 and closing it again rapidly. Kai, kai, kai !

I was meeting with a few folk to share my African project idea. It's simple really. In any given population of young people, anywhere in the world 5% will fall into the category of being gifted and talented. There are something like 400m young people in Africa today. That means perhaps 20m might count as gifted of which perhaps 8m are smart enough to join Mensa!

Many developed countries have specific programmes or initiatives to identify and engage with its young gifted and talented population. UK has the Young Gifted and Talented scheme. USA has the National Association for Gifted Children. Hong Kong has the International Centre for the Gifted and Talented. So I am going to create a gifted and talented academy for Africa to see whether we can find and unleash some of that amazing intellectual talent that doesn't happen to be born into a family that can support their special educational needs.
Not what people usually think of when you think about helping education in Africa and that basic school building work desparately needs doing, but countries around the globe are focusing effort on their gifted and talented so why not Africa? Besides, I like a challenge :) Find and unleash 20m gifted young people? Kai, kai, kai.

So, I am bouncing the idea off a few folk and getting some excellent feedback on the realities of charitable ventures in Africa, where to locate the initial Academy, who to contact, how to shape it when I get chatting to the chap opposite about origins. He mentions he's from Nigeria. Well Nigeria is a big place with a population of about 140m, so where abouts? He says it's near Benin City. I am surprised as Benin has a population of just over a million and it is the part of Nigeria that my father hails from. I push again, where abouts in Benin? He says well, not actually Benin, it's actually a place called Ora.

Now it's getting wierd as you are down at the level of towns with a few thousand people in them and the area he is referring to is next door to the town/village that my Dad comes from. Which Ora town? I ask. Well, he admits, it's not actually Ora, it's actually more like Afuze but most people know Ora so he usually says Ora.

"What?" I exclaim. "Afuze is the actual town that my Dad grew up in! How are you connected to Afuze?"

"Well I'm not really" he says "but part of my family come from a tiny village near Afuze, just next door to a village called Uokha"

Dear reader, you have never heard of Uokha. There is no reason why you should have done. 99.9 % of the 140m Nigerians will not have heard of it. It's only got a few hundred folk in it, if that. It just happens to be next door to even smaller village, Ugboa, that my Dad was born in.

Neither of us had ever met anyone else inside or outside Nigeria who has any connection with that miniscule dot on the map thousands of miles away (so small that when you search for Ugboa on the mighty google is says "did you mean Ugbox")

And now we have. In the most expensive chinese Mayfair reastaurant I have ever been to, where sesame toast for starters costs £11. Kai, kai, kai !


Jasper Orlando said...

It's good to hear of someone giving something back Tom. As for gifted and talented, all my son can do is talk gibberish and take his trousers off. Many thanks.

Mapman said...

Firstly, Jasper, let me say that the ability to take your trousers off is probably a much underetimated gift.

And, as someone who has actually been to Afuze if not Ugbox, I must say that I am not all that surprised. Afuze is known to be the source of great power! Kai!