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 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> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>CC BY-SA</a>
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23 thoughts on “Through the Eyes of a Child”
😀 I love Nigeria joor. Love kids and their simplicity. You stop learning and growing once you lose those eyes.
As for Naija, we have some way to go but we’re doing really well so far. Era for era, if I can say that, we are developing really fast compared to the West.
I like your optimism. Nigeria has come a long way and still has a looong way to go, in my view. If we can have basic infrastructure in place and security stabilized, the private sector will score many, many goals.
When you stop seeing through the eyes of a child, you stop learning and growing, I agree. With their eyes, we see wonder and possibility.
Optimism. Lol. Actually, I’m not often called an optimist. I have a habit for looking at something and seeing everything that’s wrong with it. 🙂 I think that Nigeria is coming along fine, what with the depth of rot in the system, the vested interests that would tear the nation apart sooner than lose their ‘stakes’ and the degree of despondency among the populace. It’s amazing that we’re even beginning to engage as a people (not like before when a few people would make some noise and the powers that be would have an easy job of shutting them up).
I think we’re headed somewhere good.
Children are so inquisitive and I admire how you try to answer them. You are a lovely person and very good mother. You had a fine example of a “Mum” and you are making her proud!
Yes they are. And I think their questions should make us question what we have stopped questioning 🙂 Thank you Robin for your kind words.
On the impressionable,inquisitive,refreshing nature of a child…
Keeping one on his/her toes.
God help us all.
I agree with you. They see what we don’t see- a banana hat where I saw a street vendor!
A banana hat?….Only the truly innocent would put it quite like that.
Eberechi, I know! Their innocence makes them see with fresh eyes. They see possibility where we may not see it… She thought it was “cute and clever” 🙂
It is called brainwashing…when you tell a lie a thousand times…i bet those children will not ask those questions for too long yet? How long does it take them to become part of the experience… Yet every so often the child in us cries to be noticed. You are strong who listens to it.
Mike, thank you for dropping by. How long does it take them to become part of the experience? I don’t know. I hope all of us do not embrace the status quo as the norm. I hope fresh young voices continue to remind us that we can do better; we must do better….
I love this piece, sad as it is. Our kids ask, “Can we go somewhere else now?”
Anita lol! Reminds me of when we got back to the Hague after the kids first visit to Nigeria, and my son fell into the sofa, sighed, and said, “Home, sweet home!” 🙂 But the situation in Nigeria hangs heavy on his young heart… he started to write a letter to the president, his first concern was electricity…
Nice one Timi! “Then why are there so many prisons walls?” My son asked me same question, but in a different way. I was telling my kids that we have beautiful houses in Nigeria, so to prove to them that I was not joking, I went on youtube to show them a Nigerian movie, what I expected wasn’t what I got. ” Mommy, they really have nice prisons in Nigeria.and the bad people wear nice clothes..” what?!! I was shocked, that is somebody’s house I replied, really? “Why do they have such huge fence and that squiggly wire on it”? When I was thinking of how to answer without creating a scary picture about Nigeria my youngest one came to ask for some chocolate milk. I had to go off youtube so they can go back to their show. The issue of insecurity is so alarming, so how do I explain to a child that the huge fence is to keep him safe.
It’s tough for children born and bred outside Nigeria to comprehend Nigerian realities… they ask simple questions that stump you! But on the other hand, they can also see hope where we do not. I’m so used to military/police checkpoints, I think nothing of them. But my kids were so scared… they helped me redefine ‘normal’
A big amen to the possibility
@ Morayo, my son frequently talked about studying abroad & returning to Nigeria to make things better…
Excellent piece. Truly a child’s perspective, otherwise, the clever banana hat would be interpreted as child abuse. But I especially love the conclusion “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.” Amen to that.
@Tonye, thank you. Yes, the ability of children to see possibilities is inspiring.
So true. Its so unfortunate that what is suppposed to be abnormal has become d norm and what is suppposed to be d norm has become exceptional.
@Tonbara, yes… but we must keep hope alive 🙂
Thank you, t!