Posts Tagged ‘aid relief’

THE DIPLOMAT


Susan is always good company, we would talk and talk about everything in the world and always find common ground. It was not polite conversation; we had our differences a lot of times but they were fewer than our agreements. It was all the more interesting considering the fact that she was North American, had only been in Nigeria for two weeks and we met her ten days ago. We talked about everything. She was also beautiful with a great sense of humour; I guess that made it very easy to talk to her. A good ability to flirt also spiced our conversations appropriately. When I told her I liked her hair whenever it was wet and often requested that she wash it for me, she called me a kinky guy “Guess you just wanna see me in the shower”

“That’s a little more than I asked for but I wouldn’t mind, might as well wash it myself”

“Pick a date”

“Tomorrow”

“Naaaa, you got it wrong, if you want it, you have to want it today”

“But there’s no shower here” we were on our way to a distant village hospital and won’t be back at the hotel we were staying with the other members of the intervention group till much later in the evening. We are both doctors working for an international Non Governmental Organisation on an emergency mission for the measles epidemic in Northern Nigeria.

“Guess you just can’t have it then”

our lonely roads

“Cheat”. We would laugh and switch to some other topic; sports, business or world politics- we had endless fora.

But we never really talked about Nigeria. I would have asked but I guess I was just waiting for her to gather material; two weeks can be a short time. And because we both laughed a lot when we talked, I assumed she was enjoying Nigeria. However, I decided to discuss the country today.

We were sitting at the back of a SUV with the windows down and a lot of breeze was blowing around as the driver maintained a hundred kilometres per hour speed. We were at the height of the dry season and the Northern Nigeria sun was about 40 degrees overhead, the breeze was hot and dry but thankfully not dusty because of the well paved road. If the driver had to decelerate to about fifty kilometres per hour for any reason, we would start to sweat not minding our loose fitting clothes. She was wearing an all cotton grey pair of trousers, a similar tee shirt and sandals. I was dressed in cream cotton trousers, a striped short sleeved shirt with sandals too. Our raffia hats sat beside us; our ready shelter outside the vehicle.  It was then I decided to create a distraction from our sizzling flesh.

“What do you think about Nigeria”? I asked.

She paused and looked at me; her face read “I’ve been waiting for that”

Then she launched into a tirade “Your weather is hell, your food is nice, much less populated than the figures say……….”

“Wait, slowly. Let’s take it one by one. ” I stopped her before she could raise her voice. Instead of starting a long lecture about the densely populated South as against the North where we were presently or the comfortable Jos climate, I decided to allow her to talk.

“First, talk about the people” I told her.

“They are ok, but they seem very disrespectful especially towards themselves”. She raised a hand before I could interject “Like when we are at the restaurant and they keep shouting at the waiters and waitresses- bring me food, bring me food!” she demonstrates, raising her hand motioning for someone to come over in a condescending manner.

I was confused and lost for words, how could I possibly explain to this young woman that though she has visited about six states in Nigeria; she did not know Nigeria. Also, the restaurants are the not the place to judge a people as loquacious or rude.

“That is not right, that applies to only a few people. Just a handful in a bag of grain!”

friends of the hot sun

“No, I have other examples; I see some of the Nigerian staff talk to the drivers. They do the same when they want to buy things along the road – just order the hawkers around and shout at them without restraint.”

“Ok, now you are talking about haves and have nots.” I had to change the direction of my defence “That is a common phenomenon in the society of haves and have nots.” I decided to take my argument a step further- ingratiate a little. “That might not happen where you come from because over there unlike here, basic things like education, houses and food are not privileges.”

She seemed to pause and listen, then I continued “here, because only the privileged gets things done, he tends to lord himself over the others.”

“No” she disagreed instantly “I have been to nine African countries, eight of them much worse economically than Nigeria and not in any one of them did I see such a display of arrogance.”

I was at a loss for a reply, my exposition on the development of an egalitarian society had plunged me into deep waters. I had never been out of Nigeria, a fact that I had revealed to her in one of our friendlier discussions. How would I tell if people in the Kalahari stand on anthills and blow horns at waiters before getting served.

“I still don’t think it’s a Nigerian thing” I had to stand my ground.

Before she could reply, the driver saved me. He announced from his seat that he wanted to buy fuel. She didn’t hear him so she asks me “what did he say?”

“We need to buy fuel”

“Why do you guys call it phooel?” “It is pronounced phiil” she retorted with a funny look.

I laughed and replied “Why do you guys call it gas? After all it’s liquid.” She laughed and I was happy I had doused the tension. It will not augur well for work if we had differences and lingering arguments. However, I would have loved to tell that if a people were more than a tenth of a billion, then, they deserved to have their own diction; suitable and well adapted to their natural tongues.

We bought the “phooel” and continued our journey, the ten minute stop had taken its toll on us despite our loose clothing. We both fanned ourselves with loose sheets of paper and I complained about the heat. She looked at me and asked “Why are you complaining? Is your skin not made for this weather?!”

I turned, a wry smile “Do you go about with these kinds of clothes in winter?”

She laughed; a short one, from realisation rather than amusement. Guess it struck her that the eagle and the ostrich are both birds regardless of differing habitats. Somehow, they must share similar problems.

A strange quiet settled on the vehicle, our discussion had become a competition. Although, nobody was keeping scores but obviously the last exchange favoured me. I had to break the silence, we still had about two months to spend together on this project, and artificial reticence will definitely be a handicap. I waved the driver down, I had to buy something.

“I need to recharge my phone”

“No problem, I hope I can get some mangoes meanwhile” She had developed a strong liking for the fleshy fruit; she said it was really expensive back home. It is like apples for us.

“Sure”

We got her mangoes first, well picked greenish yellow beauties. She was all smiles, till I bought my recharge card. I paid and collected the card but on second thoughts I returned the card to the vendor “scratch it for me” I said.

She looked at me and said “I have heard all about these things, is that what you do when you don’t want to buy duds?”

“No, I have never bought a fake card before, just don’t want to get my nails dirty” I am sure my expression said “Where did that come from?”

She smiled, somewhat apologetically, I felt like knocking myself. I didn’t want her to apologise, I did not want to build a wall of formalities between us. I finished my transaction hoping we would not drift further apart. We proceeded to the vehicle; she clutched her mangoes while I fiddled with my phone. Not exchanging a word, we continued our journey in the quiet we thought we left behind.

Thankfully, we reached our destination in about five minutes, work began. We spent the next five hours diagnosing infirmities, providing solutions, administering vaccines and recording figures. It was a very busy albeit fulfilling day. Our health station was packed with people and we were happy our reports would show better response to the aid our organisation provided.

work station

The wonderful work day provided great conversation during the journey back. We found solace in science, discussing the different patients we managed and their various presentations. All our previous squabbles were buried and forgotten, or so I thought.

We were about fifteen minutes drive from our hotel when she turned, looked at me and called my name “Tope”, sounds like “Toppy”  she was poised to give a speech “I was in Congo sixteen months ago for a similar project, it was a very wonderful place, the forest of green trees was dense and the earth was red.”

I kept wondering about the geography lesson but I decided not to interrupt, she continued “there were no paved roads and flashy vehicles, there was only one doctor in the whole province, and it was one of my best experiences in Africa. Here, it is much different, this is not the Africa I envisaged” she was shaking her head and providing some emphasis “no, not at all”, a befitting end to a great speech.

She looked at me expecting a reply – a rebuttal or an agreement; I didn’t know which of them she expected most.

I threw my head back and laughed a deep throaty laugh, I allowed the ripples to rock my body and the sound to rock the vehicle. She joined me for a little time, nodding as she giggled “it’s true, it’s true.” I stopped before she felt derided. Then she asked me why I was laughing, “nothing” I said “I just think it is very amusing”.

I realised it was better to just laugh. I would not ask her which part of Congo she went to or why her African experience would only be fulfilled if there were primitive living conditions. Moreover, I could not tell the answer to her question; it was the first time I was happy, indeed overjoyed that Nigeria disappointed somebody. I laughed again, shorter this time, then, thought of our SUV as the restaurant and the young woman opposite me – the customer, screaming at me; the waiter. She did not realise she was screaming at me, above the din of the powerful engine of our transport and the hot air blowing past, I could hear her screaming at me exactly the way Nigerians scream at waiters!

I could not correct her; I did not want to destroy the bilateral agreements. Is that not why we all keep quiet and employ diplomacy? I would not like to jeopardise the possibility of receiving this kind of aid in the future by being tactless. It was a well paying job and the interview was gruelling. I switched the discussion back to the more agreeable vaccines.

Susan and I enjoyed a great work relationship for the next two months. Evidently, I never asked her to describe a people again, science and her hair made interesting enough topics for conversation. I never got to see her hair in the shower too, guess I was too diplomatic.

It has been years since that day but anytime I enter a restaurant, I remember to shout at the waiters “BRING ME FOOD!”

Proudly Nigerian!!!

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!