Through the Eyes of a Child


Ferdinand Reus / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Children are the future because they not only propagate generational lines but also improve on our legacy. Their simplistic view of the world combined with their unending well of curiosity, results in an incessant battery of questions.

During my children’s first visit to Nigeria, they oohed, aahed, and ouched because  everything was new. Growing up in Nigeria had given me some immunity to the culture shock they experienced. Yet, they challenged me to pause and look where I had previously thrown a careless glance because my eyes were glazed over with a heavy coating of the familiar.

Innocent and inquisitive, they kept asking questions. Even though I fielded their questions with the expertise of a savvy politician, I pondered these same questions long after I tucked them in bed and kissed them goodnight.

They asked about the madman who ate and slept naked under an abandoned trailer parked on a busy street. They asked, eyes round with amazement, about the paraplegic who was the unofficial traffic warden. He controlled traffic from his foot chair—so called by my children because he “sat” on what looked like a footstool with wheels underneath that gave him bullet-speed mobility. It was very useful as it enabled him to quickly collect the largesse from patrons without being crushed under the giant wheels of jeeps.

It seems as if everything is different and yet everything is the same. Our progress resembles a swinging pendulum—back and forth but still on the clock. So yes, this future generation asks simple questions about our beloved Nigeria.

“Are we in a war?” my eldest one asked.

“No, of course not, does it look like we are?” I queried, wondering if he was confusing Nigeria with another country he’d seen on TV.

“Then why are there policemen armed with assault rifles everywhere? Why do they hold up their guns and stop cars?” He demonstrated with his hands.

“Why indeed?” I replied playing for time, as I crafted my reply.

“Are there many bad people in Nigeria?” my youngest interrupted my train of thought.

“No not really, like anywhere else in the world, we have good people and bad people,” Annoyance swirled in my stomach and I inwardly blamed those foreign TV shows that depict Nigerians as a bunch of rogues.

“Then why are there so many prisons walls?”

“Where are the prison walls?” I asked because her serious tone belied any evidence of a joke.

“See that one over there, and another one over here,” she responded matter-of-factly, as she pointed to nearly every house on the street.

I said nothing but nodded in understanding.

I explained that crime and instability informed the manning of checkpoints, and necessitated the conspicuous display of guns by policemen. It also meant that people had to protect themselves hence the fences. I tried to remember a time when checkpoints were not a feature on our roads and high fences topped with barbed wire were not the norm. It was quite a long stroll down memory lane. I also tried to imagine a time when their presence would be unnecessary, it was rather hard to do.

Looking through their eyes, I perceived their reality. With my added insight, I saw a nation at war with different uniformed guerrillas fighting for supremacy while the rest of us walled ourselves in, in prisons of inertia letting the bad guys roam free.

Day after day, the questions continued but a simple incident caused me to laugh with hope.

“Look mummy!” my youngest one excitedly cried, waking me up from afternoon traffic siesta.

“Look at what?” I asked groggily forcing myself awake, and willing my eyes to focus.

“Look, over there!” She hit the window emphatically and pointed.

I followed her slim fingers and captivated gaze. I saw nothing out of the ordinary, certainly nothing to get excited about on this run of the mill day.

“I don’t see anything,” I yawned.

“There, there, over there … a banana hat!”

“A what?”

“A banana hat. It’s so cute and clever mummy!”

Finally, I saw it, through her eyes. A street hawker was carrying bananas on a tray on his head—a bonafide banana hat in green-yellow glory! He strode towards us at the prospect of a quick sale; a rather common sight I had become accustomed to.

It is my hope that this generation that sees what we do not see, will achieve what we have so far been unable to accomplish. A banana hat indeed, it was a very welcome respite from simple questions.

© Timi Yeseibo 2009

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/people/72092071@N00″>Ferdinand Reus</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-SA</a>

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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In the Beginning, God Created Nigeria

Lagos Nigeria 1

The threat of malaria, the gravity of the AIDS crisis, the restiveness of youths in the Niger Delta, religious and ethnic violence, corruption and the political class, and the collapse of basic infrastructure; these are some of the challenges that hamper Nigeria’s bold strides to rub shoulders with the league of developed nations. Headlines lament this deplorable state and street talk is awash with such stories.

While some of these concerns are interspersed in this blog, their attendant remedies are not always the primary focus. In this blog, I chronicle the struggles, adjustments, acceptance, and denial of a returnee trying to resettle in Nigeria.  In short, my life the way it hit me when I first arrived.

I grew up in Nigeria during the seventies oil boom, the middle child of a middle class family. I had a happy and sheltered childhood. Idyllic days were spent being chauffeured to and from school, and special evenings were reserved for watching Mickey Mouse on the giant screen at the country club. Life was good. The concept of a malnourished child, a picture that is synonymous with suffering in Africa, was foreign to me. I never saw that kind of child.

The early eighties was a period of rising prosperity for my family. We moved to a bigger house that had a large compound for our growing fleet of cars. Even today, these possessions remain indices of wealth in our country. However, by the nineties, galloping inflation caught up with my family. As our purchasing power dwindled, so did our fleet of cars. My siblings and I got jobs and joined the masses hustling for a living in the big cities of a Nigeria different from the one we grew up in.

2000 heralded a new dawn and I moved abroad. I took in another culture the way one chews on a new delicacy—cautiously at first and then voraciously as the sensory nerves on the taste buds heighten pleasure. Sojourning for nearly a decade, I grew to appreciate a system that seemed to work. Despite this, my fit was usually in question as if I was a hastily sewn fringe to a perfect garment.

Returning home, I was caught in a world that I could not fully define. Sometimes I embraced life in Nigeria and other times I rebuffed her advances. Here I was in the country I loved, with the people I missed, I was not a foreigner, but I was no longer as Nigerian as I used to be. This was my country, I understood the culture, I knew how the system worked, or did I?

I am not alone. Returnees deal with paradoxical feelings for their native country and the ugly or beautiful realities of global capitalism in their host country regularly. Children born in the diaspora experience varying degrees of curiosity for the land their parents moan about. Exile literature captures the passion, ambivalence, grandiose notions of the homeland, and disenchantment with their new society that those who left feel.

Consider an excerpt from David Diop’s Africa:

Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river

I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins …

An excerpt from Tanure Ojaide’s Immigrant Voice in When it No Longer Matters Where You Live,1 captures the conflicting cultural identity and world view of people scattered in the diaspora.

America na big photo-trick to me.

If say big thief no boku fo home

And they no give man chance to live softly,

America no be place to live for one whole day.

The streets de explode kpa-a like Biafra,

Dead body no de fear anybody:

You no know whether the person saying “Hi”

Want to shoot, rob or rape you.

Neighbour no de, friend no de except them dog.

You de for your own like craze-man de pursue dollar

Which no de stay for your hand – they say na capitalism

When dollar the circulate, circulate without rest.

…beggar, thief, poor poor, all dem de boku

sometimes I cry my eyes red for night in bed

Wetin my eye don see for here pass pepper

It is true that the Nigerian landscape offers many reasons for sober contemplation, but within the dim picture, I found moments of patriotic pride, quiet amusement, and downright hilarity.  Glimpses of our heydays managed to peek through ominous clouds, an indication that lost causes can be found.

I hope that as I take a poke at some of the unique challenges and joys of living in Lagos, Nigeria, my stories will tinkle your sensibilities and resonate with everyone—those who work tirelessly to keep Nigeria afloat and those who have come back home to make their mark.

It is also my desire that friends of Nigeria all over the globe can commiserate with us as we continue to take wobbly steps towards mature nationhood. Nigeria: the future is still pregnant …

©Timi Yeseibo 2013

1. Ojaide, Tanure, When It No Longer Matters Where You Live (Calabar: University of Calabar Press, 1999). http://www.tanureojaide.com/poetry.htm

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekai/8352124686/”>ekai</a&gt; / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-SA</a>

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.