Friday, July 5, 2024

A Travelogue of Sad Truths II: Conversations with an outlier

Frederik Trovatten

 This is a follow-up to the previous blog post. Although you can jump right in and start reading, I will recommend you read the previous blog post first. It will make better sense. You can find it here. 


They say return journeys are easier to make. I agree. Prediction makes it easier to plan. You know what to expect. So you must understand why my stomach churned with anticipation. And why when the children ran out to wave their goodbyes to the car rear, I waved back. My heart fluttered. 

We were on our way back home. I want to tell you that we followed the same route because it was the most natural thing to do or because it was the only way back.  Believe me, I do. But, we only followed it because when my uncle declared his desire to save his tyres from the anguish of the rural roads, I knelt down and begged, swearing on my life to do anything. Anything he would require of me. I should have known better. I should have known the cost of those words. I soon paid a high price for them. It came simple: to be mindful. To associate right. To stay at the top. To win the race.  ‘What is in a few promises that a little girl cannot keep?’

I shall later eat my words. But for now, it was soothing to stay still and watch the sun make its journey home. It wasn't the only one. The men set out for home too. The women fluttered about the kitchen in preparation for their return. Occasionally, they would call a child out of the playground to help out. To stoke the fire. To wash a pot. To pound whatever it is they put in the mortar (I hope you do not expect me to know). A reckless job and a few grumbles later, the child would be happy to rejoin his mates. 

Perhaps it was the morbid pleasure of watching people go about their life meaningfully. Or the keen awareness of my joblessness, my eyes followed him. He would take me to the children. They were working hard too, adding to life in the way only them can: by playing. Once again, I marveled at their number. Their interconnection. How 26 of them could belong to one man. Different women, of course. Different filial lines knotted together.  How they unravel it without ado remains a mystery to me. 

Photo Credit: Rene Bernal

My uncle joined me this time. We tried to feel what they feel. Bliss. And stayed the way they stayed, ignorant. I went again. ‘What if they all go out to the city and try their fate?’

‘They cannot all go to the city,’ dear. Some will find their fate here. Become guardians of their tradition. And find peace in it. Even joy. So yes, some will go. Just some. Perhaps many. Or most. But not all. It is nearly impossible. If not, we would all japaed by now. It's the way he said it and laughed, like he made the funniest joke ever. Tsk! 

Since my mother painstakingly drilled a hole in my head and poured all the respect she could find in it - or thought she did, I would hate to ruin her efforts and risk another painful hole-drilling attempt. So I gave him a look. That look. ‘You know what I mean,’ uncle. 

He looked vacant. I tried again. Remember our last conversation? He nodded. I continued, ‘I never stopped thinking about their number.’

‘What do you expect? It's not like family planning methods and their benefits are advertised on the television.’ I snorted, unimpressed, ‘'It's not like they have one to watch. 

My uncle peered at me for a while before he heaved. This tiresome child! ‘I know you feel passionately about their situation but it's not that straightforward. You have your way of defining things. According to your value system. So do they. You can go to the city and bring all the family planning campaign here. Educate them all you want. It would only be a bite of a big bad apple. A tip off an iceberg.’

‘What do I do then? How do I help?’

‘You could try looking at it from another perspective. Wearing their lens. Seeing their needs.’

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt

‘Here, everything is done manually. Labour is important. Strength even more. They do not have the technology we do in the city. Reducing their birthrate will only increase their suffering. So before you help your definition of help, try bringing in the technologies.
Oops! Before you can do that, you have to put in electricity. It would be useless without one. Aah! It's true, you do not even have the means. To put in electricity, you have to…

‘Fine! I get it,’ uncle. The look on my face was priceless. I need only take a look at his to know that he relished it. My mouth dried up. For a second, I didn't have anything to say.  My Uncle laughed. Hard. I take it that you've never seen it that way before. 

He continued, you can look at it in another way too. ‘Perhaps it is a good thing that they are many. When they do come to the city. And join us in your words ‘the competition of life.’ And struggle with our limited resources, life happens. It often does. If you put it another way, Nigeria happens too.’

‘It may be as disheartening as Dr. Vwaere Diaso elevator crash. Or as annoying as the bank technicality to withdraw your own money. Or the irritation when you pay the police officer. And even more when they won't let you go afterwards. You will hear the worst of it from the EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll gate. 

My dear, ‘people leave searching for greener pastures and never come back. They become what you hear now. Stories. Tales to tell your children. Like I tell you.’

I was silent. 

‘Have you ever wondered why fishes lay a lot of eggs? Why animals at the lower food chain reproduce massively. Easily. Do you know why? 

I shook my head. 

‘Because amongst other reasons, they know that many would end up as meals for those at the higher end of the food chain. Everyday, small fishes are swallowed by the sharks.’

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‘I was still just as confused as I was when he started. You have to make sense,’ uncle. 

He started. Slowly. ‘For us humans who were never supposed to be part of a food chain, we become pawns in the middle of political games that have one rule: eat or be eaten. Eating is a skill. The more you perfect it, the bigger you will be. The bigger you are, the less likely you would be eaten. If you ask them, they will tell you it is anticipatory self-defense.’

‘What?! That is just sheer greed,’ uncle. 

He managed a laugh. ‘I agree with you. They only baptized it in their attempt to justify it. Don't think too hard about it, my dear. It will plunge you into the depths of depression. If it makes you feel better, it is usually over in a while - the mourning, I mean. After a burial too feastful to be one, life will go on. There have to be a few other siblings to carry on the legacy. Who knows how many times Nigeria would happen.’

‘It is an unpopular opinion. Many will not agree with me, it seems pessimistic. But I will say, let the rich have one or two. They can afford to keep them away from Nigeria. And its other happenings. For others that cannot, let them have a spare.’

I wasn't listening. ‘I see how I can help, uncle.’ I jumped with glee.  ‘To get to the root of the problem. We must level out the ocean. Pillage it of all its sharks. Then the small fishes will have a chance to grow big. Everyone will have a chance at living. They won't be need for many eggs. 

My uncle only sighed. I wish it was that easy. I would have done it myself. But killing the sharks does not solve the problem. Part of it, perhaps. But give it time, you will find out it only bred new ones. The killer for one. The sharks are only the outcome of a failed system. To clean a leak, you have to repair the broken valve. How do you fix what was built to be leaking?’

We can't just let it leak, uncle. We will flood. He smiled. It was a sad smile. This is why you must learn how to swim. 

I stilled. ‘What about us, those fishes neither small nor big.’

‘You must make wise choices,’ my dear. ‘You are not farther from both worlds. Be a fast swimmer. Be mindful of where you swim.  Don't ever forget, you belong where you are found. Associate right.’ It brought back the echoes of my promises. I knew what he wasn't saying. I should have I would pay dearly for those promises. 

‘Come, my dear niece, we need to leave now. Let's go home.’ I didn't beg this time. (Who knows how much it will cost me.)

That night, unable to sleep. I laid alert and still. When the day began to break, I held myself and wept. 

1 Comentários:

  1. "How do you fix what was built to be leaking"
    Annette you are such an amazing writer. This is truly beautiful