Archive for May, 2010

RAYS OF HOPE


Up Nepa

Dare is my friend and we share an apartment. The power supply in our neighbourhood is erratic-averaging about twelve hours per week – and we have adapted accordingly. We use two power generators; one replaces the other when we notice a strain on any. We generate our own electricity for about twelve hours every day; from 7pm in the evenings till 7am in the mornings. The period varies depending on how early we get back from work. On weekends the generators work for almost 24 hours. The perpetual hums of the generators have become a part of our life, a rhythm – like the songs of birds, feet crushing fallen leaves in dry season or the movement of the winds! As such, a regular and expected event; when absent, it feels like the world is coming to an end.

A Nigerian's best friend

Last Friday, we got back from work and met the lights on; it was a very strange sight. More so, because we never have power at night, the few hours we have all week is always during the day. We only get to know through the neighbours or sometimes when we meet almost cold water in the refrigerator. Dare, always the cautious party was particularly scared of this august visit of electricity.

“Put off the television, make sure the stabilizers are on delay, better still let’s use the generators as usual” he shouted out instructions without making any effort to carry them out. It was a frantic effort, a show of concern and frustration. It is common knowledge that when you have power excessively and at strange times, the consequences are grave. We had a bad experience two months ago – five light bulbs and four electrical appliances were blown up SWAT style.

“Relax, who knows? Maybe things are just getting better” I tried to calm him down, we could sure use the extra money we will save from burning fuel on the generators and probably help the world by releasing less carbon into the atmosphere. A Nobel Prize might be in the offing; Al Gore did it!

“Don’t start, you know I don’t believe in the things are getting better stories” Dare replied. I call him the Nigerian pessimist.

“Ok, but let’s enjoy it while it lasts this evening” I was in no mood to argue.

Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

“It’s just painful, you guys see a flash of light in months and you go on about things getting better or electricity breathing a new life ” the Nigerian pessimist pressing on “wait till you see what your fellow ray of hopers will say at the meeting point tomorrow.”

Ray of hopers; that is what he calls those of us who say things are or will get better. And the meeting point is the place where we all meet. An apt name for our local tavern, however it has become more than a tavern to some of us – a group of young working bachelors who live in the neighbourhood, we pride ourselves in being intellectuals. We gather at the meeting point every weekend to discuss issues; topics range from football to politics but Nigerian situations always have the greatest audience. We argue all day over drinks, shouting and criticising the government endlessly. An external observer will most likely see us as a bunch of self righteous, educated, proud and boisterous crowd, those especially likely to stay at home when others carry placards to protest about the very issues they argue over every day.

“Let’s wait till tomorrow” I wanted to reserve my rebuttal till we get to the meeting point where my dependable ray of hopers will be there to support.

Dare would have continued despite my attempts at dropping the gauntlet but I was saved by the commencement of one of our favourite sports shows. Arguments forgotten or rather postponed, we settled down to watch the show.

Midway through the show, electricity went off unceremoniously. Rather than the event generating “I told you sos”, we both heaved a sigh of relief, grateful it was not ceremonious. We hurriedly put on our generator, continued with our sports show and life returned to normal – the birds were humming again. Our lives had been unexpectedly interrupted by electricity for four hours.

Saturday arrived in a few hours and we all gathered at the meeting point. As usual, we started with a lighter issue; how cleavage was turning to boobage. The contributions were loud and varied, opinions widely differing. Our usual divides were obliterated on this issue. While some felt it was a form of harassment for women to put the precious orbs in unhindered public view, others felt everybody had the right to wear whatever they wished.

The tavern

“Keep your eyes away!” Emeka the major proponent of the rights movement shouted.

“Why? If you leave it open, then you want it to be seen and eventually touched” Chris replied.

The argument continued with similar exchange flying in different directions. After minutes of unresolved altercation, we sheathed our swords in ribaldry.

Inevitably, we moved on to the issues of national concern. We had hardly started deliberating when a member of the quorum, an accountant, a valid intellectual and respected discussant started “Did anybody notice for how long we had electricity yesterday?”

beer

Nobody answered –it was rhetoric – but he had our ears, he was that respected. He continued “it just stayed on like it was never going to go off; surely things are getting better, that was massive improvement!”Instantly, others started commenting in similar terms, they were happy and thankful for the four hours of electricity we had yesterday.

I looked at Dare across the table; he caught my eyes and his expression undoubtedly “I told you so”. But he was wrong because the opinions flying around were not only from ray of hopers. Even sceptics like him commented alike.

I smiled and withdrew from the crowd, mentally not physically, I became an external observer. In my observations, the appreciative crowd looked very stupid having forgotten what happened two months ago, and has been perpetual. Moreover, it is foolish to describe four hours as long with emphasis! Then, I thought again, were Dare and I being unappreciative?

Is there any?

The power company would surely crawl before it flies. Perhaps, tomorrow we would have power for twelve hours and in a fortnight for twenty four hours. The butterfly was once a caterpillar and airplanes used to be kites. However, all issues of concern in Nigeria; corruption, electoral reform, effective education and their numerous peers are usually discussed across generations – often with nostalgia for the better yesterdays. They affect our mores and values as they are passed from fathers to sons in literature and verbally. Comparably, our dear power authority has been alternating between crawling and bedridden for decades. Despite the incessant mention these matters generate, we never achieve improvement, at least enough to change our stories!

I thought about my country; a place where the inadequate is enough, enough is luxury and luxury lives in the imagination. I ordered beer, then more beer and for the first time, I got drunk at the meeting point.

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MENINGITIS


We expected the rain for different reasons this year; usually it’s because of lack of water. The world is like a gourd; half filled with water, it is tipped on its side. We reside on the side where the water is leaning away from thus when we dig a well; we have to reach almost to the end of the world to get water. It gets worse when the rains refuse to come. When there is no water, the cows become lean and the crops refuse to grow.

This year, the baobab and guinea corn in the store could still sustain us for a year and the cows could still survive on streams turned puddles. However, the disease has come with terrible strength. It has killed a lot of children and some adults; we know it is only the rain that usually stops its rage. It killed Aminu my immediate junior one, only thirteen! The adults say the last time it got this angry was ten years ago, then I was still a little girl. They say I was lucky to escape the decimation. Nobody knows the cause, but my mother once said something while scolding me for not fetching water; “you little rat, only fifteen, you have refused to obey your mother. God punishes disobedience with meningitis!”It is a terrible punishment indeed; I think somebody needs to speak to God. The disease makes them so hot and makes their necks stiff, they cannot say yes or no, it takes away their choices. Our village doctor at our little hospital tried but people still died; maybe God does not really hear his voice!

Haruna lost two children to the disease. He is the one who has asked for my hand in marriage. I overheard him telling my father that he will come for me after the rains; he surely needs the money from the harvest for the marriage. That is my own little reason for waiting for the rains. I have become the envy of every little girl in the village. They all know about the impending marriage now even though I told only one of them, my best friend.

The coming of the baturi(white people) made a difference though. They came with some black friends, they all seemed very happy together; like they had known one another for ages. They brought drugs to treat the ill victims together with injections which they gave everybody to stop the spread of the scourge. Their coming also created excitement in the village. All the little children gathered around them, not me, I’m old now. Sometimes however, I move closer to observe them. They seem to speak through their noses, I noticed that some of them were speaking to each other and could not understand themselves.  Are they not from the same place? They are a strange lot, these white ones with skin like pap and hair like horsetail! I did not take the injection though, if it passes from person to person, I nursed Aminu throughout his illness, what about ten years ago? I guess God is afraid of punishing me in spite of my many sins. Anyway, the white man can surely talk to God, perhaps their black friends too. The disease lost its power when they came with their injections.

The rain is falling now, heavily, seems like cats and dogs. If we cannot speak with Him, I think God really wants to talk to us now!

MUTUAL LIBERALISM


Indecision


We are from different ethnic groups, each from two different majorities in a country with three majority ethnic groups. We both presently reside in the third majority ethnic area. We live in caution, tending towards fear. There have been incessant cases of religious crisis around us, with increasing possibility that it might arrive at our doorstep soonest. Obinna and I constantly remind ourselves of our peculiar situation; Christians living amongst a predominantly Muslim population. We cannot leave because we are currently fulfilling our mandatory one year post university graduation service to our motherland. Thus we seek solutions daily.

It is apparent that religion is a front continually used to foment political and ethnic chaos. We decided the solution was to detribalise Nigeria, create unity. The most malleable instrument-we observed- is language; food is common, and religion; too sensitive. Obinna believed that if the local languages were discouraged, abolished from the school curricula and all Nigerians adopt English like the eclectic American society, peace will reign. Eventually, he enthused, all of Nigeria will be one and we will speak in one tongue. I admitted that it is important to transact all official business in a common lingua franca irrespective of tribes. A situation where language differences in the workplace encourages tribalism and nepotism is surely unacceptable however it is important that we do not forget our origins. African history has been passed across generations by the local languages. If I stop speaking Yoruba, I stop knowing who I am and where I come from. It is like forgetting the reason why I grow a potbelly when I am hungry. The Fulani man will also be confused about his lanky frame even after overfeeding! We argued awhile, and then agreed to disagree. He named his theory “mutual liberalism” and mine “mutual conservatism”. We did not ponder over the political accuracy of his terminologies; we decided to take a lunch break. Our fears had been dispelled temporarily with youthful banter.

Our argument made us forget food, we searched for lunch at 5pm when most restaurants around were closing for the day. At various stops, we repeatedly heard “sorry, food has finished”! Hunger made us intransigent, we continued our forlorn quest. Fortunately, after a few minutes, we happened upon a restaurant that still had food; however we were presented with a dilemma. They had only a plate of our favourite meal-corn food and ogbono soup-left, all they could offer the next person was rice and stew without meat! We sat for a moment, dejected, considering our lack of choices. Our gastric juices jolted us back to reality. We started conversing in low tones; each looking to the other to make the inevitable sacrifice.

Suddenly, Obinna looked at the woman that addressed us; she was a fair complexioned one, portly and quite hairy. Her wrapper was brightly coloured, definitely eastern. He mumbled some incomprehensible words to her in Igbo; she nodded in understanding and sauntered away. I turned and asked my friend “what is happening”? He answered that he only told her to bring the food. The portly woman returned with a tray laden with plates, she placed the corn food and ogbono in front of Obinna, then the rice and stew in front of me. I looked at my friend across the table from me; he had a mischievous smile on his face. Why didn’t he say those words in English? What did he even say? I could not take offence, someone had to budge. What If I was in his shoes? I started eating my rice. Mutual liberalism indeed!

AN ACCIDENT ON SATURDAY


Our hospital is a big tertiary centre located next to a busy major road. The road links two

major commercial towns and serves as an indispensible trade route; all forms of vehicles ply the road twenty fours every day. Commercial and private vehicles of all shapes and sizes race continually at speed the envy of formula one drivers. Expectedly, many end up at our hospital with different forms of road traffic injuries and we had a special trauma dedicated to catering for victims of these road mishaps. However, these accidents have seasons; usually weekdays and during the nights. Not weekends, almost never weekends.

Last Saturday, I was on call in the afternoon when I heard footsteps and the familiar sounds of confusion, the sounds of human anxiety rushing into the emergency room. I knew the porters would have rushed to meet the incoming party with trolleys and the nurses would soon start calling for the doctor. I thought in my head, maybe a drunken brawl, maybe a dying diabetic or an incompliant hypertensive but not an accident – not weekends. I looked up and saw policemen, about eight of them in full fatigues, gun totting, obviously enraged and  the smell of nicotine and ganja pervaded the room immediately; implausible diffusion. Right behind them was a ninth one, on the trolley, bruised and in pain. Finally, the unbelievable, an accident on Saturday, a different kind from the look of things. We got to work; the policeman had sustained a fracture to the right leg and minor injuries to other parts of the body. He had been knocked down by a private vehicle, a lone driver who did not want to stop at the checkpoint. While we were attending to their colleague, the other policemen were busy shouting orders into their radios and cell phones, dictating the plate number and describing the vehicle of the runaway driver. They turned on the frenzy in the room, cursing and stamping their feet, swearing in turns – they will surely kill the runaway driver once they find him.

Thirty minutes later, I heard sounds again, this time the sounds of human anguish. The incoming party was led by policemen again equal in description to the ones that came in earlier. On the trolley behind them was the man in anguish, middle aged, bruised and bloodied – the runaway driver. He had been beaten and battered, he was still being beaten on the trolley. As he was being wheeled in, the first set of policemen were having a go at him with limbs and guns. The new set of policemen also became angrier at the site of their colleague with his broken leg.

“Please, please can everybody wait outside?” I had to step in and exercise my authority.

“Doctor, Doctor please wait, let me break his head, let me break his own leg too” they kept trying to increase my workload! While some were moving out, others were still inflicting pain on the runaway driver.

Eventually, they moved out but continued the frenzied phone calls which brought new sets of policemen to the emergency room at five minute intervals. With every new set comes new pain and more injury for the runaway driver. It was becoming uncontrollable; the nurses started asking me for a solution. I was confused, I should call the police, but they were already all over the place trying to kill my patient.

Then, the runaway driver started to convulse; great jerky motions shaking his entire body fiercely. Suddenly, there was increased activity in the room, we, the hospital staff rushed to his side trying to control the convulsions, the policemen in the room ran out instantly probably out of fear. Outside, they resumed more charged phone calls. They started holding a meeting, discussing and arguing at the same time, they seemed to be in disagreement over something and later, an agreement. After some minutes, four of them came into the room; obviously representatives from the consensus of the meeting.

“Doctor, we want to take our friend” the spokesman, a burly and intimidating figure told me.

“Which one?”

“That bastard no be our friend, na you no allow us kill am. Na the policeman we dey talk.” I think pidgin is his language for expressing anger.

“Where are you taking him to with a fracture, his X-rays just got in. He will need a cast and maybe surgery.” I was trying to explain the situation to them.

“Doctor, no worry. We go take am.” He insisted. “Abeg, come write everything wey you wan write. We dey go.”

While I was trying to stand my ground, I was aware of the amount of guns on the premises, the urgency of the assembled men in uniforms and the lingering smell of stimulants.

I went to the injured policeman and asked him “your friends want to take you away, do you agree?”

“Yes doctor, please release me quickly.”

“You will sign that you discharged yourself against medical advice”

“Doctor, bring the book quickly, abeg. Please.”

While we were still discussing, the runaway driver convulsed again. This time, noisier and more violent; spilling frothy saliva from his mouth. We rushed to him again, I was about to sedate him when I saw him wink.

“Did I see him wink?” I asked myself. When people convulse, they don’t wink!

I withheld my needle, he stopped spontaneously. Meanwhile, the agitation on the part of the policemen had doubled; they had already started wheeling their injured colleague outside. I had to run after them to sign the discharge against medical advice form. They disappeared in a jiffy making screeching sounds with their departing vehicles. Peace returned to the hospital, we all got a moment of respite.

Five minutes after they left, the runaway driver sat up on his bed and coughed, the type of cough that says “I’m here.” He caught our attention and we all went to his bedside.

“Where did you learn to convulse like that?” I asked him.

“Doctor, I had to do something o. If not those people for kill me.” We all busted into laughter, he had truly saved himself from the helpless situation.

Everybody congratulated him for a job well done; it seemed more like we were congratulating him for hitting the policeman than for the convulsions. We gathered round and listened to his story, nobody condemned him for the terrible thing he had done. He did what we all wanted to do but have all been too civilised and well behaved to do. At that moment, by my patient’s bedside with the nurses and porters, everybody shared their different experiences of police brutality. We were bonded in the common hatred of the lawless who have become the law.

Finally, an accident on Saturday; a different kind though.

ALONE


He is going to the city. A place he loathes but loves to hear about. He treats it like a mad man on the street; it thrills to watch him but you don’t want to take him home. His friend Adamu who owns the provision store at the village market usually visits the city for his supplies. Adamu is full of stories about the city-roads that pass above large bodies of water, roads that pass above other roads, and buildings that aspire to reach God, cars that dash around in endless streams. The tales are endless; women who roam the streets almost naked and city dwellers who seem to ignore such abomination. He will only visit the city to see his son. He does not yearn for the seemingly good things of the civilised world. He is all that city is not; a yokel.

On reaching the city, he looked around with bated breath. Adamu had not described half of it. There were roads for cars and roads for his feet, little trees joined the streetlights to guide the roads in unending columns. The most amazing were the people, they brushed past him, and they rushed on in all directions, none observing the other. Everybody seemed to be going about some very important business, he wondered at what could be so important! Then, still engrossed in his scrutiny, he heard rumblings, he looked around searching for the source but it appeared to be coming from inside him. The sounds were accompanied by slight abdominal pains. He knew what that meant-time to void. He looked at the piece of paper he held in his hand, it displayed the address to his son’s residence. He was supposed to ask for directions but who could he ask; these people? This bizarre crowd! He became extremely confused, he summoned courage and motioned to a young man walking by his side “please”, he started shyly but before he could continue, the lad increased his pace and walked briskly on without answering.

His babariga was becoming soaked with perspiration; his brow was wet even though the weather was chilly. The contents of his bowel were seeking an exit, he reduced his pace. Sometimes he stopped altogether especially when the stream of faeces knocks at the door of his anus. Relief came in pulses but such period only preceded greater discomfort.  He examined his surrounding, people everywhere, no secluded spots, no open unoccupied spaces and no grounds where he could squat and answer God’s call. He stood still, forlorn, alone in the crowd! In a moment, he thought about his village where God’s land extended in endless stretches, always ready to receive the natural manure whenever the urge beckoned. Moreover, the people, his people, they would have come to his aid if they ever noticed that he was in distress. They would have noticed. Where he came from, people were never alone, they cared for one another. Each man had a brother in the next and each woman could count a fellow female as her sister. One big family.

The reverie had to end, his bowel was in turmoil. He looked for the hero inside him since he was devoid of choices. He bent down slowly and eased out the laces from his rubber shoes, he used them to tie both legs of his trousers just above the ankles. He used tight knots. Then, he stood and let go. It was accompanied by sweet relief and thunderous clatter. He was done in a moment. He turned and looked all around him. Nobody noticed!!

Hello world!


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