Aug 17, 2012

Birthday Words To Live By

At 10:10 am, 40 years ago on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, I made my debut into this world.

Growing up, I don't remember ever dreaming about where I'd be or what I would've seen by this age. Whatever I dreamed, I'm sure it didn't involve sitting on the couch in a modest townhome on the outskirts of Washington, DC watching "The Curious Life of Benjamin Button." But as luck would have it, that's exactly what I was doing on my 40th birthday.

Anyone who knows me knows I love a great quote and I'm always on the look out for "words to live by". My journal is filled with sayings by Rumi, Christ, Plato, Thich Nhat Hanh, philosophers, thinkers, sages & satirists.

I was semi daydreaming, when Mr. Daws (a character in the movie who'd been struck by lightning 7 times) said this:  "Blinded in one eye; can't hardly hear. I get twitches and shakes out of nowhere; always losing my line of thought. But you know what? God keeps reminding me I'm lucky to be alive."

At that moment, the curtain sheers billowed in, lifted like angels wings, suspended long enough for me to look back and forth twice & smile at the coincidence as I repeated the words softly to myself:

God keeps reminding me I'm lucky to be alive.

I felt the words sink in. A smile curled my mouth.

Amen. If I forget all else, may I never forget this: how lucky I am just to be alive.

Jul 19, 2012

The Naked Face of Evil

If I ever cross paths with Keith Richburg, I'd ask him if he still believes Africa is a lost cause. By the end of his book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa (1996), he was through - and I do mean through - with Africa. It had frustrated him, horrified him & nearly killed him several times. But that was the 1990s. After 15 years, I wonder if he still feels the same.

* * *

In 1991, Richburg had the heart (if not the bright eyes) of an optimist. At the time he touched down in Kenya, I was in college & my pro-black Pan-African racial identity phase was just dawning. Even with above average academic & personal interest in Africa while attending a historically black university, I can’t remember ever discussing what Richburg documented as the Nairobi Bureau Chief for the Washington Post.

From the moment Richburg arrived, Africa began to dismantle his personal hope to reconcile with his ancestral homeland. He wasn’t prepared for the real Africa - its deceit (I got my first lesson in Africa... I learned how to lie),  its frenzied episodes of senseless violence (watching the endless cascade of human carcasses toppling over a waterfall downriver), its brutal & corrupt leaders (they are good at saying what others want to hear then do whatever the hell they please), and the ironic fact that his blackness made him more likely to be killed (I’ve got a guy leveling a machine gun at me because I’m black and he thinks I’m an African).

But God bless Richburg, he remained reluctant to admit that he would never be able to bridge the cultural gulf between him and native-born Africans. He got there eventually, but it took a while.

As Black man wanting to patch the hole in his identity and document the rise of Africa, timing just wasn't on his side. As a journalist, his timing couldn't be better. The 100 days of bloodlust in Rwanda ranks as the most grotesque convulsion of savagery on the continent in the 20th century. And Richburg was there to cover it, as well as conflict in Somalia, Liberia & Sierra Leone.

Although his chronicle is fueled by anger, I connected with it on a personal level. I too have longed to reclaim an ancestral homeland. I too have wanted to attain some missing piece of my identity so that my search would be over, my journey complete, and I would be whole.

Like Richburg, I too have been frustrated & wondered why the same story keeps getting told over & over again across the African continent. Poverty. Violence. Tribal conflict. Over and over again, power-hungry strongmen keep playing the tribal card to hang onto power. And the people keep falling for it. Why do they keep falling for it?

I too can admit that I have experienced a guilty sense of gratitude that my ancestors were captured into slavery so that I was born in 20th century America not Africa. I have been to a "museum" owned by a man who claimed to be descended from a chief who sold other Africans as slaves. In that little
hut located close to a beach in West Africa, the man put shackles & chains on his wrists & neck & we took a picture together. Next to his scruffy leanness & ill fitting clothes, I imagine few would guess I was the descendant of slaves, not he. I wondered where I would be today if my ancestors hadn't been kidnapped & sold to slavers.

And so I understand why Richburg’s journey lead him to turn his back on the continent where his friends & colleagues were violently murdered by a mob in Somalia, where he was repeatedly at risk of being killed because Africans thought he was a Tutsi or a Hutu or a rival Somali clan member.

If he was conflicted at all before going to Africa, by the end of his stint, he wasn't conflicted one bit. He was American & damn grateful for it. And that was that.

* * *

Earlier this year, I sent a letter to a missions pastor working for an American charity I support. The pastor was en route to Uganda. I wanted assurance the charity didn’t support native pastors who incite violent homophobia. I wrote, “evil doesn’t always hide its face in Africa.”   

Unfortunately, the naked face of evil was something Richburg witnessed first hand. And most unfortunately, that evil has not ended. Since his memoir was published, Darfur, Joseph Kony, rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and piracy off the coast of Somalia are familiar topics to viewers of American news cycle.

Although Richburg lived to tell the horrific tale, he suffered a fatality. His optimism is in a grave in Africa.

I wonder will he ever reclaim it?

Jun 26, 2012

I (The Writer)

The landscape of the most valued literature in academia is often broad, dense and dry. 



I define myself first and foremost as a writer.

I (the writer) value the intangibles that make a written piece resonate.
I (the writer) desire to make writing beautiful.
I (the writer) craft every sentence so it is distinguished... so its rhythm, its allusions, the subtle structural & figurative elements are in place to transform a flat & informative essay into a lovely dance across a literary plane.

The author does not speak in academic essays. Nor should they. Indeed, the author is invisible. The essays of academics do not invoke feeling. Nor should they.

The absence of (I) the writer is acceptable and preferred.

I (the writer) am not only unheard or insignificant... I am dead.

Can I (the writer) live with that?

Mar 7, 2012

No One Outside Africa Believes Africa Can Fix Itself

Hoping is hard. I learned that in 2008 when a Black man whose middle name is Hussein & whose last name rhymes with Osama ran for US President. And won. I'll never forget it. Hoping is hard - sometimes there is nothing harder. But you can't give in.

Paul Theroux said all news out of Africa is bad. Indeed, the well-known narrative of Africa tells of a place that is regressing & riddled with corruption, disease & blight. But Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has identified reasons to hope.

Ngozi Iweala 

Iweala, the Minister of Finance in Nigeria, speaks with authority & certainty. With no visual aids, nothing distracted from her powerful story of an Africa many believe cannot exist. An Africa where the tolerance for corruption & government mismanagement is coming to an end. An Africa that is a viable market for international investors & private enterprise. (view speech here) She was unflappable. Her strength concealed how fragile the vision is... whisper a breath on it & it dissolves.

It was compelling and radical. It runs counter to everything that's being said about the continent. It's the kind of vision I love. Optimistic. Looking at an utterly hopeless situation... yet finding a kernel of hope.

Dambisa Moyo
Dambisa Moyo from Zambia has said much the same. A best selling author and one of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World", Moyo says it's time to stop focusing on the old story because Africans are ready for change. Don't focus so much on the negative. There is a vibrant young population coming up who are eager to participate in the global economy & will do what it takes so their countries can sustain itself.

I was eager to share what I learned from Iweala's speech with the African I know best. Unfortunately, my husband (a Nigerian like Iweala) could not resist the impulse to crush the evidence that change is possible & already underway. He said "She is a politician. She's lying."

He has good reason to distrust Nigerian politicians. Nigeria sets the bar when it comes to corruption. He, like many, has become so cynical he can barely tolerate the words "hope", "justice" and "Nigeria" in the same sentence.

But his cynicism frustrates me (& pisses me off). I demanded: if you believe in your heart of hearts Nigeria is beyond redemption why do you want to live there? why do you pour money into constructing oversized homes there? why do you waste your time & money? (Actually, I wasn't that nice... I said he might as well take his money, wipe his rear end with it, & flush it down the toilet... that'd make as much sense as building homes in a country he hopes to see crumble).

After I fussed at him & he had a good laugh at my expense (after 18 years we know how to push each others buttons), he backtracked then & tried to offer his own examples that Nigeria still has potential.

Too late. Out of the heart, the mouth speaketh. Your thoughts become words, your words become actions.

No wonder people have such a hard time seeing Africa as anything other than a lost cause. Africans themselves are often so polluted by the endless examples of disorder & dishonesty, the default response to encouraging news is denial. The very idea that change is achievable is rarely uttered & so it gets aborted before the promise can form in people's hearts & minds.

Bill Clinton said “Pessimism is an excuse for not trying and a guarantee to a personal failure.”

Maybe if I'd used the words of this White man my husband admires rather than those of 2 African women, he would have had a more open mind. An irony which is not lost on me one bit...

Mar 2, 2012

Immigration and the Bastard in Me

If you were slapped, whipped, lied on, degraded, threatened, humilated, called a whore from the ages of 12 to 21, then you escaped & went on to live your American dream... you'd have a helluva story to tell. Your name would be Ola*. You started out inAmerica as a child slave trafficked from West Africa to cook, clean & nanny for your cousin's family of 5. You'd be my age now. You'd be my friend & neighbor. Our daughters would be BFFs.

After you became a US citizen, you'd want to file for your mom to come live in America. You're no different than any other immigrant from the "third world". Your mom would be in her 70s & her health is failing. If your mom is given a green card, she'd be able to work & eventually be eligible for medicare.

But "work" isn't what you have in mind...


When Ola told me she wanted to file for her mom to get a green card so she could get proper medical treatment, I was immediately torn.

On one hand, I support her. She's my friend, I want her to be successful & if I were in her shoes, I'd file for my mom in a heart beat. Anyone would. Ola is upbeat & giving & full of energy. A marathon runner whose life story embodies the power message: ENDURANCE, she's a hard worker & has the best heart. She deserves to have her mom with her especially after what she went through.

But if I'm brutally honest, in my gut, I thought... this isn't right. This isn't fair. In fact, it's f*cked up.


Because if you were my mother, you'd be 64 & you worked since you were 15. You always did the jobs a person with no high school diploma does. Nurse's aid. House cleaner. Janitor. And when your body started to break down in your late 50s, you wouldn't qualify for disability & your worker's comp claims were denied. So you'd have to retire early from your job with the county & start collecting a small pension you contributed to for 13 years. You can't live on $600 a month so now you live with me & my family. And you don't have health insurance. And since you're diabetic, your BMI exceeds healthy limits & you've been hospitalized twice for chest pains, you can't get health insurance either. What's more, you can't afford the high-risk pool premiums the state offers.

So if you're my mom, you're screwed until you qualify for Medicare. You pay out of pocket for all your prescription meds. You try to see your doctor as infrequently as possible to avoid that $240 fee (not including lab work).

If I'm brutally honest, I can't stand the thought that the same "system" that locked my mother out would open its purse strings & provide health insurance & maybe other benefits to Ola's mom, a person who has never paid U.S. income tax & most likely does not have enough productive years left to do so.

The stuff I was thinking & feeling caught me off guard. It was enough to make me wanna go OCCUPY something. I saw how easily I could crawl into the same swamp as all those Arizona or Georgia or Alabama conservatives who vote to pass immigration laws that make undocumented immigrants pack up & flee in the middle of the night.

The "stuff" is all fear-based. It came from a place I was arrogant enough to believe didn't exist in me because it's the kind of thinking I despise. It's all about lack & division & the "Uses" vs. the "Thems". It says there isn't enough to go around. It says if we keep giving to you & yours, that means there's less for me & mine. It says the same system that f*cked my mother over for the last 8 years better f*ck you over too. In fact, worse.

It says what right do your foreign relatives have to our stuff?

It's beyond ugly. And the conclusions were all pure conjecture. Fact is, when a US Citizen files for a non-citizen family member to become a permanent resident, she must prove she can can afford to financially support her relative so they won't become a burden to the government. And many social service benefits aren't available to new green card holders. They have to live here a minimum of 5 years.
But even if an immigrant does bring a relative to America who immediately begins to draw social service benefits, the problem is not the person who does what is legally allowed. The problem is the system that drop kicks its own citizens while allowing others to benefit in ways they may not "deserve" or have earned (Wall Street vs. Main Street bail out debates sound familiar?)
In any case, after I almost turned myself inside out over this situation, it was all ego-based speculation. And it's humbling for me to see the ego is far from slain. It's still in me (the bastard)... even after years of prayer & soul searching & wanting to be a bridge builder & show people how beautiful other cultures are & how immigration makes our communities & our society richer.
For now, I don't have any tidy conclusions except to say I'm still trying to reconcile "the me I be" with the best & highest "me I hope to be". And I'm lifting this situation up in prayer (sorry if I offend, but I'm one of those nonconformists who can talk about prayer & use the "F" word in the same post). 
I am, as always, a work in progress.
Thanks for stopping by.
* not her real name

Feb 29, 2012

Black on Black Bigotry

She said the punk leaned over and said to another student - loud enough for her to hear - "Did you understand what she just said?" His tone was irritated. "Because I didn't understand one word."

She never called him "punk" when she told me the story. I chose the label because it's the strongest non-expletive I could come up with that conveys both his petty ignorance and my aversion to comments like this. It infuriates me that such a thing could happen at my alma mater, the so-called "Mecca" for Black college students, Howard University.

The "she" who shared this story with me is C., a mom of 3 from Cameroon (west Central Africa) who works & attends Howard U. full time. C. had just finished giving a class presentation. The "punk" is one of many American Black students who openly and unapologetically "diss" Africans because of the way they dress, the way they speak, the way their food smells, the sounds they make when they speak their native language, or any other aspect of their culture or being that can be singled out for insult.

I don't have numbers on how common this kind of "Black on Black bigotry" is but I live in a suburb of  Washington, DC, the metropolitan area with the highest concentration of African immigrants in the U.S. and I know a lot of African immigrants. Being ridiculed & humiliated by American Blacks because of your accent is a common experience shared by most if not all African immigrants.

I've often said "it's easier to love Black people when you don't have to be around them all the time." Nine times out of 10, this is the reason I've said it. When Black Americans flip the script and become the humiliator, the rejector, the oppressor to another person who looks like you and could be related to you for all you know, it makes me grind my teeth.

You see I'm married to an African. He has a Masters degree & another post-grad degree. Next year he'll add a Doctorate to his list of credentials. But American Blacks still sometimes ignore him & give me the "what's he talking about?" look when he tries to place an order for fast food, for example. They look at me to translate, like he's not speaking English... or like he's a moron.

It touches a nerve in me every time.

To be fair, I know many of the reasons Black Americans are hostile to African immigrants. They say Africans don't like Black Americans, that they look down on us, and they're arrogant. They say Africans come here and take our jobs. On the other hand, Africans say Blacks Americans are lazy and don't want to work and use racism as an excuse to justify their lack of motivation and substandard achievement.

The disrespect definitely goes both ways.

But here's why I think it's stupid for Black Americans to ridicule African immigrants, especially at an institution of higher learning. Don't they know that the African men and women whom they mock are the ones who will be held up as future exemplars of Black achievement? African immigrants are among the most educated groups in the U.S. The rate of college graduation among African immigrants is four times the rate of native-born Black Americans. Given that rates of college graduation among Blacks are remarkably low, if you remove African immigrants and their children from that "bucket", what's left is pretty pathetic. These same African immigrants are the Blacks that scholars and historians will use as evidence to show that we are capable of ascending corporate, academic and professional ladders of success. African immigrants and their children are among the people whose achievements will be trumpeted so native-born Black Americans can feel good about what Blacks can do.

I've spent a fair amount of time "schooling" Africans who make blanket generalizations about Black Americans. When the opportunity presents itself, I also try explaining to Black Americans the reasons African immigrants don't "get" structural barriers and institutionalized racism and how it still affects or limits  Black Americans.

Call it my little attempt to shift things (minds, paradigms, prejudices, antiquated beliefs) so stories, understanding, compassion and cooperation start going both ways as well.

Black, but not like me: African-Americans and African immigrants often have uneasy bond 
Wikipedia: African immigration to the United States  
YouTube: Black people in America hate immigrants? 

Feb 23, 2012

Redeemed By The Social Animal

David Brooks spoke at a TED conference last year. I listened online & was impressed so I picked up his book "The Social Animal" & flipped to page 111.* And wouldn't ya know it? Eric Turkeimer's name LEAPS off the page. Turkeimer is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia.

Eric Turkeimer is the reason I don't have a PhD.**

I'd taken his statistics class & I flunked when I earned a C (& I'm sure that was generous on his part because I really was "C"lueless). I'd have to retake his class. No big deal. Just a simple fact.

The result? DEVASTATION.

That situation spelled "FAILURE" to me on every level. And that tells you how much of my identity & shallow self-worth was tied to effortless academic excellence. After Turkeimer, all I could think to do was leave. Which I did.

And now... I'm a stay at home mom. PTA President. Blogger. Writer. yadda yadda. My husband the shrink lists me as a "therapist" with his business (yeah, you can laugh... I know I did). But the cold truth is - I'm a grad school drop out. The reason I dropped out is I didn't pass Turkeimer's required stats class. You want to take the PhD in Psychology, ya gotta know stats.

Thing is, I can vividly remember a lingering sense back then that what I was doing & what psychology as a discipline was working toward... was all bullshit. There are some things you'll flat out NEVER be able to capture using a pencil & paper instrument. On some level, I couldn't imagine anything more mind numbing or more futile than trying to measure, carve up & quantify every known phenomena under the sun in a vain attempt to control & predict human behavior. 

My favorite quote for years after grad school came from Clint Eastwood's movie In the Line of Fire. John Malkovich's character taunts Eastwood on the phone: "A man's actions don't equal the sum of his psychological parts... It doesn't work that way." 

Hot damn, you can say that again.

A successful psychologist's career culminates in grant-funded research & tenure & articles published in peer- reviewed journals that no one but you & your colleagues read. I wondered: didn't you go into this field because you wanted to help improve people's lives? Are you sure those articles you wrote that no one reads is really going to improve the lives of those single moms you collected data on?

I wasn't convinced then & I'm even less convinced now.

What flipped the switch for me about Brooks' reference was how Turkeimer's study was used to illustrate the FAILURE of statistics to determine the causes of Black poverty. Victory bells went off in my head. I could've told him that 17 years ago... and I didn't need a fricking PhD to do it either! 

According to Brooks: "Turkeimer had spent years tring to find which parts of grown up with a poor background produced the most negative results... but when he tried to measure the impact of specific variables, he found there was nothing there." Wow, what's that like to dedicate decades of your life on this approach to problem solving, to have a career based on dissecting & measuring psychological motivation to predict human behavior & have one of your greatest efforts turn up... nothing.  

Brooks explained: "It means you don't try to break down those effects into constituent parts."  No kidding.

According to Brooks, I entered the grad program contaminated with what Turkeimer calls "The Gloomy Prospect", because I was already convinced there's no way to pin down & clarify the causes of human behavior or trace the sources of behavior. Damn straight.

In Brooks' unique narrative, "the lesson was: Fixate on the whole... no specific pieces..."

I couldn't have said it better myself unless I was a villain starring in a Clint Eastwood movie.

* 111 is "good" number for me by the way... whenever I see it, it's like the universe is giving me a nudge

** I'm overstating his role, I admit. Truth is, I quit. But the main reason I quit is I didn't pass his class. I guess that makes him the catalyst if not the cause

Feb 18, 2012

Letter to Christians on Abortion: Put Up or Shut Up

I wonder what most churches would do if Roe v. Wade was really overturned. What would most churches do about all those unwanted babies? Would we see an up tic in sermons encouraging Christians to adopt? Would churches sponsor mass adoptions? Or pour money into a Christian-sponsored fostering systems & orphanages or set up programs to support & mentor young mothers who got knocked up by a guy who's already out of the picture? Many of these women won't want to carry the baby to term but will be forced to because abortions are now illegal.

What supports are Christians prepared to provide when Roe v. Wade has been struck down? 

I may be overstating it, but I'm willing to bet many if not most Christian anti-abortion conservatives are also "small government" advocates. Less government means it's not the government's responsibility to care for all the babies that are born because Roe v. Wade gets struck down. Some conservatives wax poetic about a utopian past (did it ever really exist?) when we looked out for each other, where we cared for others in our community. Here is the church's perfect opportunity to step in and care for the 1 million babies born every year to women who would have preferred to terminate the pregnancy.

I want to know right here and now what churches are doing to persuade women not to have abortions other than publicly shaming them or terrorizing them outside family planning clinics by keeping vigil & carrying pickets covered with photos of aborted fetuses.

Let's say hypothetically 40 percent of women who abort would keep the baby if the could afford to keep it. What would really make a difference to that woman is money & social support to help her care for her child. That is something concrete churches can do something about TODAY... churches could create cross-denominational partnerships & publicize it far & wide TODAY... financial help is something that many women who are torn up about an abortion would gladly accept. And it could make the difference in their decision.

Churches can provide monetary & social support not for the woman (many of whom would be judged harshly for not keeping her legs closed) but for the baby's well-being. Imagine churches doing something collectively to prevent abortion from a spirit of compassion & love? Jesus said the world would know you are his disciple because you love.

For Christ's sake, DO something so the millions of young women who seek abortion will have an "out." Give them the chance to go away to have the baby, know the baby would be cared for and loved if she decides she cannot keep it, and allow her to return to her place in society with the privacy of her decision protected. Or be the buffer she will need to tackle single parenthood.

Isn't there a scripture that says true religion is is to look after the widow & the orphan?

It's 2012 & I'm tired of the rhetoric. Christian anti-abortionists please put up or shut up already.

# 1) What are you prepared to do to help women decide to carry the unplanned/unwanted pregnancy to term?
# 2) How will you care for the orphans that are born?
# 3) Why aren't you doing it?

* Full Disclosure: I'm not Catholic. I didn't research what the Catholic church offers in this area, but I'd wager they have more than other Christian denominations in this area. 

Feb 14, 2012

Imagine Falling In Love With a Sammich

Imagine falling in love with a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. That's the metaphor I used to explain Bella Swann and Edward Cullen to my children. At 11, M. loves to read. Since there is no sex until after marriage in the Twilight series & we love watching the series together, I encouraged her to read it. I tried to explain to them the pain Edward was in whenever he kissed Bella, the way he was fighting the urge every time he kissed her from tearing her throat out.

Imagine you're starving & your favorite food is PB&J. Imagine someone smears a peanut butter & jelly sandwich on your face and you have to keep your mouth closed because if you have a taste you might devour it. And that would be the biggest mistake you'd ever make. You'd never forgive yourself if you did that. That's how Edward felt when he kissed Bella. She smells that good, that appealing, that appetizing to him.

But its more than that. He doesn't just want to consume his Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich. He wants to marry it. He wants to spend the rest of his life with it. He thinks about it constantly. He kills to protect it. He'll even let someone else he doesn't trust and who he KNOWS doesn't like him & who he KNOWS wants to eat his PB&J sandwich too spend time with his PB&J because he wants his PB&J to be happy.

That's how Edward loves Bella... (I haven't gotten into the mishmash of bloodlust & sexual lust that's also fueling Edward's love for Bella... I mean she's only 11)

Stephanie Meyer gets ripped by many readers for being an awful writer but she tapped into something primal when she put pen to paper to tell Bella & Edward's story. No matter how ridiculous it seems to Twilight haters (and there are legions of them out there), that quality of male possessiveness, that near violent need to guard Bella from harm (even from himself) is something lots of females fantasize about. Teens, tween & beyond. Because you can't sell millions upon millions of young adult novels if grown ups aren't buying & reading them too.

Happy Valentine's Day... Hope your sandwich is as good as Edward Cullen's.

Jan 29, 2012

Nigeria Has No Business Being Soft

There was no electricity & no one wastes petrol running the gen at night. Banana palm leaves as large as elephant's ears wave noiselessly from the neighbor's yard. The wind puffs the edges of thin curtains. Devoid of the incessant background electrical hum & empty of any light but the dim glow of a cloud-scattered moon, softness was all that was left.

It should not have been soft there. Nigeria has no business being soft. The stillness there had the texture of a tropical retreat. Nigeria has no business being still either.

It must have been the witching hour when I woke... 3am... Its also possible I dreamed it.

Africa has never been a mother to me. But this was the 1st time I had an inkling of what people meant when they called Africa the "Motherland." The silence was rich, even womb-like. I notice that in Africa, my husband sleeps the slumber of deep satisfaction. In America, he sleeps the slumber of pure exhaustion. In America, he snores. In Africa, he does not.

We slept, surrounded by the verdant hills of Ilesha, sheltered by mountains locals claim are filled with gold. Ilesha is a Yoruba town. Everyone is Yoruba. Everyone speaks Yoruba. Everyone expects you to greet them in the Yoruba way (a curtsy or semi-prostration out of respect if they are older).

Traditional religious practices are rooted in voodoo & run deep in this town. But in the early morning dark I only knew a lingering sense of peace. Peace in Nigeria? That in itself was magical. Like a secret. Shhh. Don't wake us from our dreams.

I was told Ilesha was written about during pre-colonial times by Europeans, one of whom remarked on its orderliness. One of indigenous West Africa's earliest & best examples of a planned city. After the frenzy of Lagos, Ilesha's pace is easier. It quite relaxed me so I was not prepared for the unexpected. My children saw a discarded engine on the ground next to several concrete blocks in the town center. On top of the engine was a severed dog's head. Ogun, the Yoruba god of metal, has a fondness for dogs.

That same day we saw the dog head, we noticed several young men standing around the town circle, some carrying or brandishing machetes. For some reason I thought they were getting ready to perform or were on their way home from work. Turns out they were opposing political party supporters who were getting ready to rumble. There were no police to call. There would be blood. Someone might be killed. You locked your gates, locked your house and waited for the fighting to blow over. Whenever voodoo or spasms of violence possessed  the town, we were well-protected behind the buffer of my father-in-law's nightly family prayers not to mention the concrete & steel compound walls.

The next day someone mentioned that a man had been stabbed the night before and might have died. No big deal. It was all over now. Back to business as usual. Just another day in Nigeria.

Jan 24, 2012

Occupy This!

I love this brief entry about Occupy Nigeria... but I especially love the debates that sometimes arise in the comments section of the Sugabelly blog. Enjoy!

Sugabelly 2.0: New Occupations: Right after the new year I suffered from major blogging fatigue. (Or more likely In spite of everything that went on in the past two weeks, ...

Jan 10, 2012

The Legacy of Ishmael

Am I the only person who thinks that Abraham's son Ishmael got a really raw deal?

Before Ishmael is born, an angel prophesied Ishmael's future to Hagar. He told her:
[Ishmael] will be a wild donkey of a man; 
his hand will be against everyone 
and everyone’s hand against him, 
and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.

It's like we're being set up to believe Ishmael got what was coming to him. But think about this: the angel must have known everything that Ishamel would go through. He must have known the circumstances that would contribute to making Ishmael into a person whose "hand will be against everyone."

For some reason, the angel  who spoke to Hagar after she ran away from Sarai's maltreatment doesn't tell Hagar the events leading up to the outcome. The angel only tells Hagar the outcome. Imagine Hagar's reaction to being told by a heavenly being that her unborn son would be a hot head and troublemaker. And put yourself in Ishmael's shoes.

If you went through what Ishamel went through, would you have a chip on your shoulder too?

I began to think: What if I was the only son of a wealthy man? What if I had no doubt how much my father loved me? Even though my mother is a servant (concubine? slave?), I know I may very well inherit all my father possesses because there is no other heir.

And after my brother Isaac is born, well, he may be the first son of the my father's wife, but I am still the oldest. And tradition is tradition. The first born son inherits the bulk of the wealth. So if I was a teenager taunting my kid brother when (I think) no one is looking (just being an obnoxious middle schooler) and my mother and my father's wife start bickering, I'd probably think nothing of it. My position as Abraham's first born son is undisputed.

Imagine my utter disbelief when I am thrown out into the desert by my father. I have no doubt my father loves me. In fact, its obvious he is torn up about it, but he won't listen. Imagine my heartbreak and my fury, magnified by the hormones of puberty and my mother's indignation and rage. My father has surrendered his authority on this (or so it appears to me) to that woman. And he orders my mother and me into the desert, with no supplies and nothing to protect us or sustain us. My father who loves me sends me and my mother into the desert to die. Why doesn't he just kill us himself?

If I had grown up under these circumstances, I might be a little bit T'd off at life. If I don't deal with the betrayal and the anger the traumatic event creates, I might turn into a grown man with some anger issues. I might be at odds with every neighbor. I might become a man determined to never let anyone take what is mine. In a harsh region (because God has agreed to bless me because of my father), I use my talents & I thrive and become a wealthy man.

When my father dies, I return to bury him with my younger brother Isaac. I enter the cave to bury my father (whom I haven't seen since he cast me and my mother out) alongside the woman whom I secretly hate because it was she who couldn't get along with my mother. I may even be bitter toward my own mother who became very full of herself (as any woman would under such circumstances) because she had born a male heir to a very wealthy old man (something his wife would never be able to do at her age). Although I am angry toward the women who "caused" the trauma, I don't blame my brother Isaac. I even allow one of my daughters to marry one of his sons (Esau).

If you had survived that trauma, you might carry that anger with you your entire life. You might have a lifetime of unresolved issues that continues to crop up in your dealings with neighbors. Without the protection of a wealthy father, you might see yourself having to fight to keep everything you gained. You might be labeled as a man who is against every one. You might be labeled as a "donkey" of a man.

And your descendants may never fully recover from the injustice of how you were treated, what you were denied. And they may pass that anger down for generations.
- He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.
- [God said] And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.
- Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen;  Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day.
- The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.


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