Adokiye in a promo shoot. Photo: daXclusive/adokiye.com
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Nigerian popstar Adokiye offers Boko Haram her virginity for kidnapped schoolgirls' release

A rising star in Nigeria, frustrated at the fading news coverage of Boko Haram's abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, has offered up her virginity.

Nigerian popstar and architect Adokiye startled fans this week when, according to Vanguard, she claimed to be willing to exchange her own virginity for the release of over 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram. The same group is also suspected of carrying out a further spate of abductions of at least 60 more women this week, two months after the first kidnapping brought international condemnation for the extremist group.

"I am older and more experienced," she told the paper. "Even if ten to 12 men have to take me every night, I don’t care. Just release these girls and let them go back to their parents.”

While many have taken to Twitter to praise her bravery, or implore her to withdraw the self-sacrificial offer, others have criticised it as an attention-seeking media stunt - and, inevitably, some have used the opportunity to question the truth of whether she was really still a virgin:

Adokiye may well be a rising celebrity in Nigeria, but she is also a UN ambassador for peace with her own charity - called #ADOCHANGE - which works with international NGOs on health and education projects. Speaking to the NS via email, Adokiye said: “[It is] for the less privileged children, the motherless babies. Kids who can't speak for themselves. Its mission is to stand for them and to make them live right.”

However, her claim that she would swap her virginity for the safety of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram appeared both drastic and insincere for a good reason - in March, she made the same offer to anyone who would buy her mother a private jet. When asked about this, she claims it was a "joke", that she "only used it as a figure of speech to show how much I loved my mum and would give up anything for her".

"My offer to Boko Haram isn’t a joke,” she writes, and she confirmed that she stands by her words:

With the help of my government, I will go to the forest and plead for the release of those girls. If Boko Haram were to contact me that would be scary and great but they should only do so if they are ready to release the kidnapped girls and take up my offer.”

Whether act of extreme empathy or publicity stunt, it highlights the sensitive issues that cloud the social status of female virginity. When asked if she thought her offer confirmed virginity as an exchangeable commodity, Adokiye responded:

As long as I am not offering it up for financial gains then it’s no problem. The virginity would have to go sometime, so if I can use it to save those kidnapped girls that would be great.”

Despite the flurry of news interest in the initial kidnappings in March - including a social media hashtag campaign that even Michelle Obama got involved with - Adokiye has been left frustrated and appalled by the way the news cycle has moved on. “The sudden silence of the media hype to get those girls freed is really scary and frustrating," she writes. "If the exchange of my virginity for the freedom of the girls turns out a success, then I do not see any problems at all." Since making her offer she has been tweeting at her critics, demanding they suggest something better if they're so appalled by her proposal.

Regardless, Boko Haram continue to terrorise the Nigerian state of Borno, whose inhabitants live in fear of further abductions. According to the UN, Boko Haram has forced approximately 650,000 people to flee from their homes.

Photo: Prime Images
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The Sad Part Was: this story collection puts the real Bangkok on display

Thai author Prabda Yoon descends into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters.

In Bangkok’s budding literary scene, Prabda Yoon sits at the centre. Born in 1973, he’s the scion of a well-known family (his father Suthichai Sae-Yoon is the co-founder of the Nation newspaper) and is known in Thailand as not only an enfant terrible of letters but as an illustrator, screen-writer and director (his first film, Motel Mist, was shown at European festivals in 2016).

His reputation rests mainly on a collection of short stories published in 2000 entitled in Thai Kwam Na Ja Pen, roughly translated as Probability, and it is from this early collection that most of the stories now collected in The Sad Part Was are derived. Translated with cool elegance by Mui Poopoksakul, they are among the first modern Thai stories to be published in the UK.

As Poopoksakul points out in her afterword, she and Yoon are the products of similar backgrounds and epochs: upper-middle class children of Bangkok who came to consciousness in the late Eighties and Nineties. Often foreign-educated, fluent in English and conversant in global pop culture and media – Yoon did a stint at Parsons in New York after prep school at the Cambridge School of Weston – this new generation of Thai writers and artists were born into a society changing so fast that they had to virtually invent a new language to transcribe it.

In The Sad Part Was, the result is stories that one could glibly label as “post-modern” but which, in reality, perfectly match the qualities of the megacity where they are set. Bangkok is infamously mired in lurid contradiction, but it’s also a city of subtle and distorted moods that journalism and film have hitherto mostly failed to capture. The whimsical and playful surfaces of these stories have to be read against the high-octane anxieties and surreal dislocations of what was, until recently, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Yoon uses the short form of the ten-page story to descend into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters: a schoolgirl and a beautiful female teacher who form a platonic lesbian infatuation while riding a daily bus in “Miss Space”; a couple making love during a thunderstorm whose activities are interrupted by the dismantling of two giant letters, which fall onto their roof in “Something in the Air”; a young man who meets a mysterious older man in Lumpini Park called Ei Ploang, who forces him to consider the intertwined nature of good and evil. In “Snow for Mother”, a mother waits for her little boy to grow up so that she can take him to Alaska to experience the real snow, which he never knew as a little boy in the tropics.

In “The Sharp Sleeper”, a man named Natee obsesses over losing his shirt buttons and is led into a strange reverie on the nature of dreams and the competing qualities of red and yellow pyjama shirts (Thailand’s political culture is riven by two parties popularly known as Red and Yellow Shirts). The commentary slips into effortless sarcasm:

Natee has proudly worn the red pyjama shirt several times since then, and his dream personality hasn’t altered at all. On the contrary, the shirt has encouraged him to become a man of conviction in his waking life. As to what those convictions were supposed to be, Natee wasn’t quite sure. But it was safe to say that a night shirt so principled wouldn’t drop a button so easily.

Since these stories were written, Bangkok’s political schizophrenia has lost its former air of apathy and innocence, but Yoon’s tone is quietly prescient about the eruption of violent irrationality a few years later. It’s a reminder how precious the subtlety of fiction is when set against the shrill certitudes of activism and reportage.

My favorite story here is “Something in the Air”. Its dialogues are written with hilariously archaic, bureaucratic formality, while delving into the disorientation of sexual and romantic hopes in the present century. After the couple’s love-making is interrupted, the young man suggests insolently to the woman that they resume in the open air, exposed to the furious elements. She agrees. They then notice that a dead body is lying on the roof nearby, crushed by the giant letters.

While waiting for the police to arrive, the woman sits quietly and describes her future, a happily married future in which her current lover will play no part whatsoever. He listens in melancholy astonishment until the couple are called to give their testimonies about the dead man. The officers then suspect that the couple themselves have done something scandalous – and so, stung by shame, the woman considers breaking off the relationship and setting in motion her own prophesy.

The Sad Part Was is unique in the contemporary literature of Bangkok – it doesn’t feature bar girls, white men, gangsters or scenes redolent of The Hangover Part II. Instead it reveals, sotto voce, the Thai voices that are swept up in their own city’s wild confusion and energy, and it does so obliquely, by a technique of partial revelation always susceptible to tenderness.

Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist living in Bangkok. His next book, “Beautiful Animals”, will be published by Hogarth in August

The Sad Part Was
Prabda Yoon
Tilted Axis Press, 192pp, £8.99

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder