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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