Posts Tagged ‘Nigeria’

CYANOSIS


Mrs Aderopo looked around her the room; marble tiled fourteen square feet furnished with a refrigerator, a thirty two inch flat screen television with cable channels, and a mahogany reading table. Only the quaint curtains and the mechanical bed reminded her that it was a hospital. The curtains served their purpose well enough; it is that way with hospitals – decor that always remind patients that they are not at home. She did not feel at home anyway, since she arrived, there has been no kindred spirit. The nurses just come in, do their rounds and draw Omosalewa’s blood endlessly; no one to spare a smile or empathize with her. Nobody to say a word of prayer with her, the things she often neglected when nurses at home did them for her.

Hospital room

She met some other Nigerians in the common room; she usually stops by on her way to and from the neonatal intensive care to see her baby. She conversed with three other women; Mrs Okonkwo who had brought her father for bilateral hip replacement, Mrs Belabo came with her husband who needed oesophageal stents after some road traffic injury and Mrs Agedah who was there for a common thyroidectomy. From their discussions, she realised there were more like them. Also, they were all referred by people who had been here before. They were all people of means, those who could afford health care elsewhere. She did not like their company because she did not belong in their group until recently. But they all had the same complaints – no shoulders to cry on, nostalgia for a country that could not provide what they seek outside and the wish to never return here. Omosalewa would finally have the surgery tomorrow, which was hope enough for now.

She waited in the common room again the next day when Omosalewa went into surgery. She sat there in silent expectation with Mrs Okonkwo, the hip replacement was also underway. Mrs Okonkwo was a different kind of woman; tall, graceful, beautiful and sophisticated. They talked at length, each describing their different lives and the paths that brought them here. Ann Okonkwo had left Nigeria as a teenager with her siblings when her father sent them to his brother abroad in search of greener pastures. They all did well and are presently scattered at various locations across the globe except Nigeria. While the old man who prompted it all never lacked money, he lacked the attention of his children, they seldom returned home to see him. She was forced to go back home when she heard that Baba had not walked for sixteen months because the arthritis had eaten into his bones! Finding solution automatically became her duty being the eldest and the only female. She heard they performed great surgeries here; she will send Baba home after the surgery and return to Dubai to man her business. Sade Aderopo brushed back her short hair, she might not be as beautiful as Ann but she knew her advantages. She turned the better side of her face to Ann and told her about her shop on Opebi road in Lagos where she sold clothes for the bourgeois. She talked about her husband’s flourishing private enterprise and the emerging social influence of her family. They exchanged details and Sade promised to visit Ann next time she was in Dubai to buy goods.  

They moved on to small talk, little chit chat about the weather and the different environment where they came to seek health. About two hours into their wait, a doctor appeared in his scrubs and motioned to Mrs Okonkwo. He explained some things briefly, they were far from Sade – their words inaudible but she saw her newfound friend slump slowly. She ran to her side to hold her, something had obviously gone terribly wrong. The doctor walked away slowly, Sade held Ann in her hands gentling consoling her as the latter sobbed uncontrollably. Thirty minutes later, Omosalewa’s surgery was announced successful, Sade was still holding her friend when the nurses came to ask Ann what to do with the remains of her father. They spelt out the options glumly; put the body in the morgue before going to Nigeria, bury at a land provided at a fee by the Catholic Church or make your own arrangements. For a moment, Sade thought she saw the young, beautiful nurses in their white sparkling uniform show some emotion, but they had turned around before she could confirm her suspicion. She felt cold, confused, she held Ann closer in a tight grip.  Graceful Ann, still genteel in grief shook herself loose and turned to her friend “Sade, I will bury papa here”

“Why?”

“There is nobody to go and meet at home and it would amount to a waste of money!”

“What about your brothers? Will they be happy about it?”

God's Angel

“I will explain to them, they have to understand, the village has not been kind to us and the only person that would have objected is mama and she died a long time ago. We cannot waste money carrying a dead body back to a hostile people.”

“I am so sorry” She consoled her friend endlessly.

Sade led her to her room, tucked her in bed and excused herself because she needed to see Omosalewa.

She cradled the baby in her arms, the surgery was truly successful. The child’s colour has changed, no more blue, pink had returned. She looked at the oxygen tubes going inside her baby; eager for them to be discontinued – they said seven days. She could not wait to go home, to tell her stories, to have shoulders to cry on and to cry and have people ask “why?”     

 ———————————————————————————————————————————————————

Her names were Omosalewa, Omobolade, Omobolanle, Oluwabusayomi, Ayomipo, Mayowa, Tokunbo, and Elizabeth Aderopo. In this part of the world, we give children a lot of names, because the names have meanings. Usually they are prayers for the child and the parents or appreciation to God for the gift of life. When names are prayers, they can’t be too many in this rigorous journey of life; also you cannot thank God enough for the bundles of joy called children. Eventually the child only bears two of the plenty names; a first name and a middle name but the other prayers surely abide with the child through life’s journey. Omosalewa’s naming ceremony was especially grand and well attended. After the pastor performed the rites of naming, collection of offerings and the numerous prayers, the party began. The music was flowing non-stop from a local band that had set up their equipment in a conspicuous corner of the spacious compound of the Aderopos’. Food and drinks were surplus and inevitably well-wishers thronged eternally.

Happy couple with the newborn

She was the third child of the family but the first female, but she came at a time when business was booming. Mr Aderopo had just landed a juicy government contract a few months before the birth of the baby – the good luck she brought also reflected in her choice of names. She was delivered in England; to ensure she was a citizen of a more privileged land. A great gift to our children since the citizenship of our own country is without benefits! The Aderopos’ spared no expense in the birth and associated ceremonies of Omosalewa’s birth; there were pictures and much video coverage to remind them of the memorable moments. She deserved it; one of her names Omobolade means she came with the wealth.

The day after the elaborate celebrations, Omosalewa started turning blue, first at the fingers and toes. Then it became difficult for her to breathe and in two hours the blue hue had started to spread to the face. The Aderopos rushed to the hospital, they had absolute confidence in their hospital; a reputable private hospital in Lagos with a grand structure and multi specialist disciplines. Though expensive, it offered good healthcare. The paediatrician – a young and petit woman who looked more like a baby herself – put Omosalewa on oxygen immediately, the familiar pinkness returned to her skin.  She pored over the baby some more, poking her endlessly with a stethoscope. Mrs Aderopo grew tired of waiting, she asked “What is wrong? Why is my child turning blue?”

“Cyanosis.”The paediatrician turned and told her with a bland face, like she was supposed to know the meaning.

“What does that mean? Doctor Olaolu, please explain.” Mrs Aderopo was on familiar turf; she had delivered and nurtured two children in this hospital.  

“It is the absence of oxygen in the blood.”

The doctor further explained the condition to the bewildered parents; they discussed the causes and suggested that Omosalewa’s case might be related to a congenital heart defect considering her age, rapidity of development of the disease and her examination findings. The baby would need an echocardiogram to confirm the diagnosis. They would need to go to the general hospital for the test; the hospital machine just became faulty yesterday.

The Aderopos hated the general hospital, it was always too crowded with long waiting time and without the personalised service they were used to, but they had to go this time. After waiting for two hours at the hospital, they finally got to see the paediatrician. A petit woman who seemed quite disinterested, she introduced herself “Good afternoon, I am Dr Bodunrin.”

Can you blame them?

 She confirmed Dr Olaolu’s diagnosis but gave them a date for two months to come for the procedure. Mrs  Aderopo got angry “Do you think this child will be alive in two months if we don’t do the test? She is turning blue!”

“Madam, the test will only tell us what is wrong, it is not the solution. I can’t tell if your child will still be alive but I have a long list of people waiting to have the same procedure and they need it just as much as you do.” The paediatrician replied her, dangling a list of names nonchalantly.  

“You don’t even care and you call yourself a doctor, how can you talk like that?” Mrs Aderopo had started boiling over when her husband dragged her by her arm out of the doctor’s office.

“Calm down Sade, we will do it tomorrow”

“Where, how?” she was already crying. “I have been carrying my child around in an ambulance, on oxygen and these useless doctors don’t seem to care, why?!”

“Relax, tomorrow we’ll go to Unique hospital, I talked to Dr Olaolu, she says there will be no problem once she is on oxygen.”

Unavailable

Unique hospital is one of the most expensive hospitals in Lagos, a private enterprise that flourished because that dearth of efficient alternatives. It boasts of great equipment and knowledgeable specialists, located in a high brow part of Ikoyi, the hospital is a reserve for the affluent. The Aderopos did not care about money any longer even though the echocardiogram would cost ten times the price at the general hospital. They waited for only fifteen minutes before they were called in to see the paediatrician, none other than Dr Bodunrin. Albeit, a different one, she quickly apologised for the misunderstanding yesterday, curtseying severally “Sorry about yesterday, I just didn’t want you to waste your time and money. The machine at the hospital is not as good as the one they have here. You have come to the right place especially for this kind of emergency.”

The Aderopos were dumbfounded – an emergency that could wait for two months, apparently Dr Bodunrin’s pay check at the general hospital and at Unique differ in similar terms to the prices of the echocardiogram. She pored over the baby endlessly after the procedure; she even called in another paediatric cardiologist to give a second opinion.

The final verdict in layman’s terms as the Aderopos demanded it; Omosalewa has a hole in her heart that would require surgery.  The surgery cannot be performed here because even Unique does not have the needed equipment. However, they would liaise with their partners in India to have the surgery done. The cost was unthinkable but the Aderopos had to save Omosalewa.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

Mrs Aderopo was at her shop just a week after she returned from India when she noticed that Omosalewa was turning blue again. She picked the baby up, called her husband and headed for the hospital.  She sped past every moving thing on the road, casting side glances at the baby as the hue increased towards the lips. At the last traffic stop before the hospital, she noticed that the baby had stopped breathing; Omosalewa was cold when she picked her up. The baby died before getting to the hospital, she was tired of a healthcare system that did not care for her or perhaps her names were not many enough.

Advertisements

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.

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!!!

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.

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.