Posts Tagged ‘family’

IN BETWEEN


In Between

The intrigues of being in the middle have always been with me, although I thought they had ended during my childhood and early teenage years. They came back to haunt me recently in a strange manner. I was born into a family of three children as the second child; I have an elder brother and a younger sister.  When we were children I felt the pain and frustration of being in the middle. My brother would return from school with tales of his new class and we would all listen with rapt attention. When it is my turn to recount my ordeal, I usually notice the attention waning gradually. Then the story usually ends-thankfully I guess for my parents- with “Oh, just do what Dele did when he was in that class”. I don’t blame my parents; I guess new stories just attract most humans more than repeated tales with a change in a few of the characters. They could recite the nuances of all the teachers now, their best clothes and even their favourite hairstyles. My mother especially tried to allow me air my stories happily by feigning audience but I always see the glint in her eyes when my brother starts to talk about the class that none of her children have attended before. While I feel neglected and ignored, my sister is right there with a mess for a lunch box, she only has stories of silly things she did with her friends during the break period. I guess they make for good entertainment too because my parents want to listen and the glint is back in my mum’s eye.

Classroom

I only sit and wonder at why she cannot grow up and stop talking about silly things. Then, I conjure ways to match my brother either in the act of storytelling or in doing something new for the first time. That is the life of the man in the middle; the one or those ahead seem too far away while the ones behind really need help. I want to bring my sister up to where I am whilst aiming for where my brother stands. It is like running forward with your face turned backward. However, I realised it is not always blissful for the guy ahead, he bears responsibilities. My brother was the only one who had the privilege of knowing why daddy would not come home the night he had an auto accident. I was too young to be told. My sister meanwhile was fast asleep. I was too old to sleep because I knew something was wrong but too young to be told what was wrong! Who said I did not want those responsibilities, but will I be able to handle them if given? I don’t know. It has always been that way. It is like a spectrum of drunken men, the guy ahead is clear-eyed, everybody depends on him and he is sure of himself. The man in the middle is tipsy while the last man is drunk. The tipsy man wants to behave like the clear-eyed fellow and he also seeks to help the drunken man. The first man will seek to help the last man because obviously he needs the help the most; he believes the second man can take care of himself. He should be able to anyway, if he concentrates on only one path but he is torn between two ways. When it is time to apportion blame the tipsy gets all the blame since he is liable to making mistakes and he is considered by all to be in his right mind. The drunken man is blameless; he is too influenced to be held accountable for his actions! The man in between always has the greatest dilemma.

Recently, on a mission for an international organisation to help curb the meningitis epidemic in northern Nigeria, I was paired with another doctor as part of a team. Richard is a European, we became friends quickly. We share certain interests and it also helped to work as friends. Habitually, our conversations revolved mostly around medicine, we compared the practice of the profession in our different countries of origin. He respects the knowledge of Nigerian doctors, their ability to manage patients without some investigations which he considered essential. However, he mentioned the disadvantages of this kind of practice which includes wrong diagnosis and increased resistance to drugs that are prescribed carelessly. He was quick to add anyway that Nigeria is better than many other countries. He mentioned some that don’t even have a healthcare system. “Nigeria does not need aid” he said, “She has enough doctors and abundant resources to provide proper healthcare for her citizens”. “Nigerian doctors do well in foreign countries thus they have no excuse for below par performance at home”. Richard obviously did not have enough facts to comment appropriately on Nigerian doctors but he was not condescending; it was professional conversation with candour. I imagined working in an environment with adequate facilities. I also wondered how people in the countries without healthcare have managed to stay alive. It was not difficult to identify the problem; Nigeria in the middle.

Farm

Today, we visited some settlements; they had earlier refused to be vaccinated. We were to find the reasons for their refusal and convince them about the importance of the vaccines. Our first stop was a little village of about two hundred inhabitants; they had a spokesman who could speak some English. They welcomed us without reservations. The spokesman explained immediately we asked that they were very grateful for the offer but they would not partake because they do not believe it will make any difference. His speech was garbled but we understood him perfectly. We tried to make a case for immunization but there was no common ground, they were adamant. The spokesman told us his story, he is a farmer, and not lazy he claims. He tills his land once the rains start; he plants enough crops for his family to eat. He has three wives and fifteen children, they help with the farm. The male children herd his cattle and sheep.  He has friends at the village square where they gather to play games and drink cuddled milk. The village is made up of families like his; they have a satisfied life, they do not want external influences like our vaccines to corrupt their children. The disease will only kill their children if God allows it.

I looked around him, children in tattered clothes struggling over our empty can of coke, lean women carrying gourds filled with water, definitely from far distances. Signs of poverty surrounded him but he did not know it! I told him the correct order would have been for him to get an education, start mechanised agriculture, build silos and barns then he would have food in and out of season. He could feed his family, sell more for good money and drink cuddled milk all day. He looked at me and laughed, his teeth were stained yellowish brown with kola nut. He asked my age, I observed him before answering; he should be about five years older than me. I told him my age, “Are you married?” he asked immediately, “No” I replied. He laughed again, longer this time. I cringed, who should be laughing at whom? He recovered “you can chase after the books forever” he said “but you will eventually have to do the necessary things”; he closed with a little more laughter. I felt stupid, why not? I was laughed at, but this man does not reason like me, we are different. The things I consider important are trivial to him and vice versa. I wanted to continue the dialogue when Richard nudged me “we should go” he said. We bid our hosts farewell, we shook hands and waved long enough to reduce the friction.

On our way, we conversed about the encounter. I admitted I made a mistake trying to solve a century’s problem in a minute. Richard told me to calm down; “the man does not feel any pain about his situation”, he explained “because he does not know any better, he is so innocent”. How could he not know it? I think some things just feel better. Then I realised that he was better than me. I know my situation, I know it can be better but I cannot make it better! He does not know so he does not need to make it better. Moreover, unlike me he feels no pain. I feel the pain for my own circumstances and also for his too. I want to work in a perfect hospital and I also want to turn a subsistent farmer to a plantation owner, even against his wish. The farmer thinks I’m too ambitious. Richard thinks his innocence is beautiful. If I decide to revert and become like the farmer I will be seen as complacent. Can I even replenish my ignorance? I have to stand where I belong. It is my life, my burden and my identity; to be the man in between – for now.

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!!