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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