Monthly Archives: October 2012

Don’t read for me

Who says the reading culture in Nigeria is dying? I’m wondering the empirical basis for that assertion. Well, I don’t think it is anyway, at least based on my empirical observation. But before you start asking me about sampling procedure for statistical analysis, I don’t have any. I simply deployed the tool of observation – in fact, participant observation. The observatory was the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos. It was the first day of a two-day conference and the time was 4.22pm, few minutes after a late lunch was served. The eloquent Mistress of Ceremony took the floor and introduced the next resource person who was to speak. He was a PhD, schooled here and there (within and outside the country) and certified in this and that – an impressive testimonial. I adjusted myself in my seat and waited for her to finish. While that was going on, the paper for presentation was distributed.
…Then our scholarly resource person mounted the rostrum. He had that very humbling look, quiet and unassuming. Then he began. Yes, he began.
He started out with the title of the paper, then his name, as written on the paper. Thereafter, he intoned “Introduction.” I waited, as he continued the first sentence, then the second. It was that moment you listen to a presentation, thinking that what is being read is a quote, hoping that thereafter the presentation would start. Without skipping a word, nor adding any other, he went ahead to the next section and continued. He was reading, actually reading each word he had typed. Word-perfect. My eyes ran through the eight pages of the material I had in my hand and I wondered what torture I was being subjected to. The torture was both psychological and intellectual. It felt as though my literacy level had dropped, that I could not read. I was wondering why we were not given the paper to take home and read while sitting in the restroom. Perhaps, email our questions thereafter from our smart devices and await a feedback.
As I scanned the hall, I could see some people dozing off, others bearing the torture in silence. I never saw a lecture that left people more excited on the finishing line. It was a relief. As I sat there, glued to my chair out of respect for the effort put into intellectual production, I wondered who said the reading culture in Nigeria was dying. I am yet to be convinced. I must admit it was a well-researched and written poster presentation, but I had no way of determining if it was his original thought. If only he had not subjected me to the intellectual abuse.
I walked away that day, wondering why the presentation was not produced into an audio book so that I could listen to it while driving. In my head, I spoke to the presenter, as I would any friend who is to make a presentation, a few words of wisdom: “please, don’t ever read for me. If you must read to me, then let it be a quote or poetry.”

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The Cleansing

While I was away,
Warring in the Congo, salvaging Liberia,
Ruptured in Darfur, I was contused at home. 

While I was away from home,
My children decimated my lands;
One claimed the river for his own,
Another held unto the canoe at the riverside;
Yet another contended for the fish in the river;
Even the shrine’s stand and fall they fought over. 

While I was away from home,
The lights went out, day like night,
Throwing up thieves in the market square. 

Now, I must return,
Wearing sackcloth and ashes ransack and sack
All greedy desecrators of my land. 

I, the Iroko of Africa,
Whose sons and daughters are great healers everywhere;
I, who teach the Whiteman his language,
And help knit the web to build their world wider,
Now I’m a laughing stock,
Called impotent for leaving my house unattended.

Now, I must return,
To ransack and sack all desecrators
Who pursue their interests in my name.

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When Memory Took a Walk

It wasn’t that I burnt the bridges
Nor set ablaze the ship at shore
To fight the battle of life and death;
Neither was I invited
By the drumming of a distant land.

I was choked by the flames of hate
And wantonness ravaging my land
As I ran beneath the thatched foliage
Just before the droning voices
Of Papa, Mama, Martha and Baby Amah
Receded in their screams for salvation;
The silence was deadly, choking me more
Than the blow of eternal extinguishing
Or heat of hatred could ever hit.

Drowned in the pool of extinction,
I bellied on wet grass, groping in fear,
Cloaked like a serpent: if only I could sting;
And when darkness threw its thick embrace
To hug my eerie eyes and stymied soul,
I knew I could crawl, lifted off the earth
To trudge along the penitent’s way,
My back turned to my woes.

Then in that dead of night I walked,
Sometimes afloat, formless and freed,
Receding in time and spaces unreached,
Lost to the consciousness of my being
Until I became a spark of nothingness
Inhabiting a stream of memories
Long interred in the voices I last heard.

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Mother-at-Work

The Widow:
Six times have I married and same been widowed.
I was sixteen when whisked away to the Savanna,
I was promised Eden, feasting on the Tuba.
On the threshing floor, my first I bore
After lousy cuddles and countless losses
Before the father was lost to the remnants of war.

So I moved from western Savanna to the Sahel
And whored myself for shelter to become a third.
His barns grew and in that plenty my second was born
And not long after, he died on top of his fourth.

Coming across the Montana belt to the confluence
I betrothed myself to another, not knowing my blood;
But the day the midwife helped me deliver,
The gods drowned him in the Niger.

Moving with the gait of variegated fecundity
I settled in the hilly east, accepting to be wooed;
It was a cold night when I conceived, but a hot one
When he was butchered for slaying another once.

Drinking fresh water of the western fringe, I spent the nights
Serving my fifth, who would beat and beg
Until one day after I’ve proved his manhood to his folks,
I let him drink his life away from a tainted gourd.

Fleeing to the creeks of the mangrove swamp,
I entered into my sixth, and beneath the moonlit sky
Midwifed my sixth, while the father fell victim
To the raging rout of the blaring blaze.

My identity I’ve lost, to times and reliefs;
My faith shaped by echoes from Holy Lands:
Palestine, Mecca, India, Elis, even Anansa*.
I beseech you, Old Sage, guide my offspring,
For I must depart, even though at fifty
My being still throbs with consuming desire.

The Sage:
Let not the noises you hear upset your hopes;
From the strength of your loins have emerged
A bonded mosaic of six great offspring,
Each from a region with graces bestowed.
In guided, conscious steps, would they build
A new world together, not minding their roots.

You must live for them as they for you
Or have you not heard the saying, my child:
“If upon a clime you set a foot,
Not finding a Nigerian there, flee
For such supports no human life”?
You’re truly a Mother-at-Work.

*Anansa is the water goddess of the Efik of southern Cross River State, Nigeria, who lives in the River Cross.

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Floating in Space

There is something intriguing about death, something exciting, spontaneous and deep. I love the concept of death, its reality and persistent changelessness. Its ubiquitous presence, far beyond the preponderance of the Internet, makes it an exploratory delight. As a child, death began to lose its mystery grip on me as something far-offish. It had to be, after serving at many funeral services, for both the other-worldly and this-worldly rich. I think death should be intriguing for anyone who loses a father at ten, mother at twenty seven and several siblings in-between. Well, it may not be, if your reality isn’t real to you!

Death has a tangible presence on human consciousness and the more I embrace its truth, the more I come to value the dynamics of its Siamese twin, life. I’d be dead by now if death were not a living part of my life. There is nothing surreal about death. With every death, a part of me dies just as a part of me reaches out for life. On this threshold of life and death, I seem to always live on a wavy levitational sphere.  

It might interest you to know I’m writing this piece at about twenty thousand feet above sea level, onboard an aircraft from Calabar to Abuja. I write with memories of recent past, conscious that anything that gravitates can lose its gravitational bearing and crashes. In fact, I’m scribbling this piece on the reverse side of my e-Ticket Receipt and Itinerary. As I write this, the aircraft is struggling to steady itself on the uneven and stormy cloud. It feels so real, whatever it is I’m feeling. But I can’t help smiling at my thoughts.

Let me tell you the truth. As I write this, a fleeting thought crosses my mind. Two thoughts, actually.  There is that faint thought of not ever getting down to posting this on my blog. I even think about the countless people who never got a chance to talk about their last minutes and seconds. And just as the thoughts come, so they recede as I revert my mind to scribbling on, looking out and enjoying the thought of floating in space. Isn’t that what death does? Bestowing on us the capacity to float in some form? Even in life, some of us float through it, without ever steadying ourselves to actually live.

Do not assume I’m writing about death here. I’m writing about life too. As I write, I’m thinking deeply about the latest air crash in Nigeria, involving the Governor of Taraba State. I’m really not thinking about him as such. I’m thinking about something else, something far beyond plane crash, which I hope to return to very soon. Well, if you are reading this, it means I did get around to post it. It wasn’t altogether a safe flight, but we landed without an incident, and I am set to fly again within the next forty eight hours.

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Welcome!

On Wednesday, August 24, 2005, after reading Laurie Beth’s The Path, I decided to write down personal vision and mission statements for my life. Though her book made me write them down, I had always known the statements and tucked them somewhere in my subconscious. My life has generally taken a somewhat charted course, though with detours and drawbacks at some points. However, writing down the statements brought them to life. Prior to and ever since then, I had written a million words – in my mind.

So, in this blog, kokowrites, I’m going back to the foundational things of my life, such as writing. It’s a self-imposed journey, a-sometimes-painful exploration of my subconscious. I call it fragments, because each thought captured here, expresses only a picture, a glimpse. Isn’t life lived in variegated moments that add up to make wholesome meaning? I know, in time to come, some of my readers may ponder more deeply about some of the thoughts expressed here, some may be inspired and some may fight me – in their mind, if not literarily, for dragging them into my stream of reflexivity.

Among many things, I’m living out part of my mission in this blog, and I really don’t know how it’s going to turn out, though I’m hoping it doesn’t run out of my control. If you have the time, come with me on the journey and I’ll strive to make it a pleasant experience. Afterall, I envision “a world of radiant people living their best.” As you join me to explore the fragments of lived realities and reflexive existence, I’ll love to hear your thoughts, more than mine, and should we get to the crossroads, I’ll cheer you on to take your path, trusting that our paths will meet again, and again. Welcome to my fragmented thoughts!

Peace!

Path Follower…

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