May 31, 2008

Esther's Diary: My Baby

Dear Reader, Esther's Diary is a short story series. Please go back to read the first part "Exiled", the second part "Settling Down", and the third part  "Untitled".

ENTRY FOUR:
Diary Mu,
All I think about now in this ninth month is my baby. Will it be a girl or a boy? I’m seriously thinking of what to christen either one. My baby's first name has to be Igbo, followed by an english second name and then Ezeilo (Emeka’s surname). It’s funny how a prerogative like christening my child excites me. My baby kicks hard now. He or She will be a fighter. A strong ‘Ada’ (first female child) or ‘Okpara’ (first male child). I'll raise him here in the village so that he will pick up Igbo first and when he begins school he can learn English. My parents were raised that way and they turned out alright, I’m sure it will be the same for my baby. Uzoh has promised to be around when I put to bed. Since it’s anytime from now, I don’t know if he will make it. I hope he will, it would be lovely to have someone by my side as I push out my baby. He bought me a phone (NOKIA N1112 model) from his pocket money(my phone was seized by Dad after I became pregnant). This phone is made especially for the Nigerian market because it has Igbo among its phone languages. I have changed it's language setting so the phone Menu is in Igbo. "Message" is written as "Ozi", "Contacts" reads "Kontakti".... The most hilarious part is the speaking clock. It tells the time out loud in Igbo language! Mama clapped her hands together and said "Te-ki-no-lo-gy!" when I showed it to her. If the time is twelve minutes past two, it will say "Nke gi iri na abuo gafee elekere abuo".


I no longer care what people do or say, I follow Onyinye to her stall everyday and have a nice time. I no longer think I’m the worst sinner in the world. The Bible says Jesus came for sinners like me. The Bible is a wonderful book, it’s what keeps me occupied now instead of trashy romance novels. One of my favourite passages is Revelation chapter 21 verses 3 & 4. I haven’t lost anyone close to me in death but this scripture resonates in me. It reads “ With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look the tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. 4. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” I love to dwell on this promise and when I do, tears cloud my eyes. I also love Romans chapter eight verse thirty-five. It reads: “Who will separate us from the love of the Christ?...” Certainly not those people who judge me like I’m the greatest sinner on earth; those people who tell me with their eyes that i'm living in sin; those who look at me and shake their heads; those who won’t let me pass by before they begin to gossip maliciously. My parents have abandoned me. In these nine months, the woman who bore me has come to see me only nine times. “Check-up visits” I call them. I have told my parents that I’m due, but neither of them has promised to be there. I have lost their love. But I love Uzoh. He’s the one who supports me. He calls me regularly to check up on me. He worries about me constantly. My eyes are clouding as I think of the many ways this fifteen year old boy has supported me in these months when everything went haywire . My tears are salty, it has made the ink on this page blotched. I love him, Diary. If I come back, I could not ask God for a better brother than Uzochukwu (which means 'God’s way'). He constantly tells me not to worry; it’s not the end of the world or everything will be okay. I sometimes don’t see how everything can ever be okay, but the hope in his eyes make me strong. The way he says it, the way he wipes my tears as the roll down my face- “Be strong, Udoka.” he says. He’s planning to skip school once the new week begins so he can be with me. That will mean missing some of his exams but he says he doesn’t care. I worry for him. The sacrifice is too much to make on my behalf, he might have to repeat a year. I’m truly touched. No one has shown me this much love in so long. If you ever read this Uzoh, I love you very very much.

Uzoh and I went to the market to buy baby care products. We bought a plastic bath tub, a plastic basket for babies, some feeding bottles, diapers and a few clothes. I chose to buy the ones coloured blue because I think my baby is a boy. His kicks are tough. The baby feels like a fighter. He plays in my stomach. He’ll be strong. He’ll stand up to people. He won’t let people make him feel inferior just because of a mistake made in the past. He won’t be like me at all. I think it’s better to buy baby care products in colours meant for a boy and then I give birth to a girl than the other way around. I think he’ll be irritated by soft pink while the girl would tolerate blue (I don’t know where I get these ideas from). I’ll teach him to respect women and live up to his responsibilities no matter how hard it might seem. I’ll keep him away from Emeka, though I doubt he’ll come calling. I’ll teach him to be like his Uncle, Uzoh.

Mama worries if my body can handle childbirth. I push that fear out of my mind often. I think it will be tragic for me to enter the labour room wondering if I’ll make it out alive. She says she’ll keep the baby so I can go to school. I’m grateful, but make no mistake, I won’t abandon my baby. I’ll go to a school closer to home like IMSU (Imo State University). I can’t wait to deliver this baby, lose my post pregnancy weigh and begin to straighten out my life.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Follow Esther's story!  Part Five - The Scribbles of a "Stranger"

May 30, 2008

Esther's Diary: Untitled

Dear Reader, this is the third part of the short story series "Esther's Diary". Please go back to read the previous parts "Exiled" (Part 1), and "Settling Down" (Part 2) so you can follow the story.

ENTRY THREE:
Diary Mu,
I’m six months pregnant now. My baby moves often, my nipples are darker and there are dark splotches on my neck and cheek. I’m more dependent on people now. I can’t do all the household chores I used to do before. I have bought a broom with a long stick attached to it's end, so at least I can sweep where I live. Mama and Onyinye help with the cooking. They cook soup for me, so all I have to do is warm it and make garri. Uzoh my brother comes every Friday after school. He takes off his school uniform, picks up kegs and uses the bicycle to fetch clean drinking water from the busy borehole that serves the entire village, some distance away. He went to the market the other day and bought this large drum where he pours the water he fetches. It lasts till the next time he comes around. I use the water there to cook and I also boil some to drink. When I fall asleep, he studies by candle light because NEPA usually takes the light at night. I can’t thank him enough.

Onyinye is making me “billowy” dresses (maternity gowns) because I can’t enter any of my former clothes. She insists I must look good, but I don’t dress to look good. Maybe it comes from that urge to punish myself for what I have done, I'm not sure. What she does with the local Ankara material is wonderful, she makes good use of the patterns. She bought me some very colourful plastic bangles that I wear always. I went to the market the other day to purchase textile materials for the clothes. The women there clicked their tongues, clapped their hands, rolled their eyes and pointed at me openly. I have become a spectacle. None of them refused to collect my money though. I bought some beautiful Ankara prints from some women who did not seem to be talking about me at the moment. I’m sure they did afterwards. On my way home, not too far from my house, a little boy of about ten years called me “Akuna kuna” (Igbo word for prostitute). If it was three months back when I was still considerably agile, I would have chased him to his door and smacked him silly. This time I watched him run into Mazi (Igbo word for Mister) Ikenna’s house laughing. I think his name is Uche. He must have picked that up while listening to the older people in his house gossip. I walked on hoping (not praying) that God would punish him for my sake at least for being rude to me.

One day, I sat outside because there was no light and inside the house was hot like a furnace. I tied a wrapper above my breasts and my stomach bulged out. One woman came in to ask for Mama. I told her she was not in.
‘When she returns, tell her Adanma and Charity came to see her about the farm.’ She pointed to indicate that Charity was standing outside beyond my view. She ran her eyes over my figure and her lips curled upwards. I nodded and she went. I heard her talking somewhere near the gate, not even bothering to lower her voice.
‘Charity, you will not believe what I saw with this my two eyes now.’
‘What did you see?’
‘Nwa Theresa (that means Theresa’s Child. Theresa is my mother’s name) is pregnant!’
‘Eh?’ Charity sounded both shocked and excited at hearing this.
‘She’s seated there with her big belle. Small children are spoiling oh!’ I heard her clap her hands together in the fashion of gossips. ‘Is that small girl up to fourteen?’ She clapped again and whistled. I pictured her with her hands on her hips.

‘Tufia! (God forbid)…go and see now.’ Adanma urged. I shut my eyes as though I was asleep and sensed Charity staring at me to “see for herself”. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten up and chased them both away. But I was heavy and rightfully ashamed. Who knows, they might have put up resistance. I’m not an aggressive person. Truth be told, I think I might be timid.

Mama says I need to eat good food to help the baby and enrich my breast milk. She keeps reminding me that I’m eating for two anytime I don't seem to be eating enough. Diary, I’m fatter than a pregnant cow. She still tries to persuade me to take akpu. I feel like her daughter now because she has warmed up to me. Sometimes we would sit outside and she would tell me funny stories about herself and village life back "in those days". The stories are entertaining; she’s quite a storyteller you know. She often says she thought my father would have cooled down by now and come to see me. She tells me not to worry, and as if to compensate she tells me how it was raising my Dad and tells me in detail all the trouble he made as a child and teenager. I think she tells me that bit to let me know that nobody on earth's surface is perfect no matter how much they pretend to be. She told me about the point in her life when her husband died and how dark her world became. I like her much better now. Sometimes at night when there’s no light, we would sit outside with Onyinye and listen to traditional Igbo music from the radio. Mama would get up sometimes and dance gracefully like an old woman. Onyi would get up and dance wonderfully, like a true daughter of the soil. I would get up and dance to the Igbo music like a pregnant woman dancing to western tunes. My dance steps always provoke laughter.

Uzoh bought me a CD player that uses large batteries. He also bought me lots of music CD's. I listen to a lot of sad songs that evoke feeling. When I’m not listening to music, I’m reading. In my attempt to be more Nigerian, I asked Uzoh to buy me novels by Nigerian authors or at least African authors. In this short period of time, I have read Things fall Apart and A Man of the People, both by Chinua Achebe, Witnesses to tears by Abubakar Gimba, African Child by Camera Laye, The concubine by Elechi Amadi, The Year of the Locusts by Adebayo Williams, The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka, The Gods are not to blame by Ola Rotimi, Toads for supper by Chukwuemeka Ike, Unbridled and Walking with Shadows, both by Jude Dibia, Purple Hibiscus (this one gave me an excuse to cry and I did.) and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie then lastly 26 a by Diana Evans. I sit on a bench outside and read the books most of the time. Some of them have funny parts and I laugh out loud and long. Some of the village children usually gather and stare curiously. They must be thinking “that girl they say is a prostitute, must be crazy too”. I don’t care. I have also been given a Bible by a preacher (I forgot mine in Aba), and I read it often.

Uzoh got a carpenter to change the mosquito nets on the windows. He’s so worried I'll catch malaria again. He says he hears that when pregnant women take medication, it affects their babies. He’s quite right. I have started attending prenatal classes at the village hospital. I crave so many things. Most weekends he would go out and buy a large quantity of suya and we would gobble up everything while sitting under the stars. Uzoh is the man in my life. Uzoh is my all.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Follow Esther's story! Part Four - My Baby , and Part Five - The Scribbles of a "Stranger"

May 29, 2008

Esther's Diary: Settling Down

Dear Reader, Esther's Diary is a five part short story series. Please go to the previous post for the first part in the series, "Exiled".

ENTRY TWO:
Diary Mu,
(That’s “My Diary” when translated word for word from English to Igbo). Yes, my spoken Igbo is getting much better. I can’t say the same for my Igbo spellings. I think I have anglicized the words. I wish I had taken my Igbo classes more seriously at school.

I’m exactly three months pregnant now. I’m sorry I haven’t written anything since my last entry. Village life is boring. There’s nothing here for me to write about every day. I have settled down to life here. The days feel longer because I don’t have much to do. The first month here was not easy; I really had problems adjusting to life here in the village. I have suffered from malaria four times in the past two months. Now I spray the house with insecticide every blessed night before going to bed and I sleep under a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling.

I bought a stove, cooking pots and a few kitchen utensils at the market the day after I arrived. Getting all those small gas stoves would not have been expensive normally, but my parents keep me on a tight stipend. The money is just enough money for me to get by without suffering. Mum doesn’t work, so she can’t really contribute if she wants to. The good bit is things here in the village are relatively cheap. At first, I was cooking meals like Indomie, Spaghetti (pasta), rice and stew – those meals that do not require any culinary skill. Mama watched me in irritation for some time until she could not contain herself any longer.
‘Bring that pot down from the fire now! Ah ah! Is this what you will eat for you and the baby? I have been watching you cooking rubbish everyday! You need food rich in nutrients, not these snacks!’ She began teaching me how to make soup. Ofe Ogbono (Diary, ‘Ofe’ means soup), Ofe Oha, Ofe Egusi, Ofe Owerri, Ofe this, ofe that. She also tries to make me eat akpu(I don't know what to call that in English, but it's a staple meal made from cassava) but I can’t stand the smell. Garri is much better.

The first month I spent here, I prevented myself from being happy. I thought that being happy in this sinful condition shows God that I’m unrepentant, so I stressed myself constantly, removing Joy from my life, dwelling on my wrongdoing. Uzoh told me to stop thinking like that. He comes every weekend now, defying Dad’s orders. I look forward to his visits. He’s the only person who comes to see me without querying me for information to gossip with others afterwards. He buys me provisions with his pocket money and stays very late sometimes before heading back to Aba. I’m grateful but I worry about him traveling in the night because our roads are not safe.

I follow Onyinye to her shop once in a while. She sews there. Onyinye has sat for the WAEC exam twice and JAMB four times and has decided to stop trying. I sat for WAEC once and cleared all my papers in one sitting. I passed JAMB and got admission to the University of Benin before I discovered I was pregnant. She makes garments in a little stall in the market square. I think she’s really good. When we converse in Igbo, sometimes I don’t understand her but I nod and have to infer to get her meaning.

Mum has come to see me twice. One for each month I have been here. It’s usually to bring me money. She asks how I am and we sit in silence. It’s awkward. Before she leaves, she hugs me but not long enough. The books I've been reading say, my baby’s face should be forming and the arms and legs are developing. It should be able to turn its head now. I’m curious but not excited, does that mean I won’t make a good mother?

TO BE CONTINUED...

Follow Esther's story!  Part Three - Untitled , Part Four - My Baby , and Part Five - The Scribbles of a "Stranger"

May 25, 2008

Esther's Diary: Exiled

Dear Reader, Esther's Diary is a five part short story series. This is the first part. Enjoy!

ENTRY ONE:
As my bus neared the junction where I would alight, my heart hammered in my chest. We sped past bushes and farmlands, passing occasionally, villagers on bicycles loaded with produce or firewood. I held my school bag close to my chest and rested my forehead on the bus window. The bus had a funny smell that made me feel nauseated. I stared out the window and as we rushed past the bushes, the events that occurred two days ago, flashed through my mind. Me telling Emeka under the cover of darkness as we stood in our dark rendezvous under the mango tree- the rejection in his eyes; Me standing by the living room door ready to run while telling my parents- the hurt and anger in my father’s eyes; Me watching my mother apprehensively- the hurt in her clouded eyes; the fear and worry in the eyes of my siblings as I walked away from them earlier today. My eyes clouded. “Be Strong!” my mind yelled. I refused to blink so the tears would not fall from my eyes and roll down my face. My eyes peppered from the wind that rushed into the bus from the open window of the passenger sitting in front of me. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, I blinked. The tears fell and I brushed them away firmly. My nose started running but I tried not to sniff. Catarrh ran down my nose and pooled on my upper lip. I wiped it on my shirt and looked up furtively to see if anyone saw me. Someone was watching. The guy on the seat in front of me. He turned away in disgust. “Stop the tears! You’ll cause a scene.” I told myself.
“Ama junction” I yelled to the conductor, trying to be heard above the whooshing sound of the air rushing into the bus. We slowed down as we entered the village proper to avoid colliding with any person or animal. The bus stopped me a long way from the junction despite the fact that I had told the conductor long before we reached it. “I get load for boot.” I told the conductor as I alighted. He brought out my bag and dumped it unceremoniously on the tarred road, hopped back into the bus and the driver drove away. I picked up my bag, slung it on my shoulder and crossed the road. I had to pass De Ikenna’s store, something I would have been able to avoid if the driver had stopped me at the junction proper. I pretended to be adjusting my bag to avoid calling out to him. After I passed, I sighed. I knew I could not avoid the questions for long, but I was momentarily relieved.

My heart thudded in my chest as I neared our village compound. Usually half naked village children would run towards anyone returning from the city asking for “bled” (bread). No one ran out. Did everyone know already? “Don’t be silly, it’s only eleven in the morning. The children should be in school.” I sighed unnecessarily. I walked towards the house as quickly as I could with my heavy traveling bag. I turned the corner and my distant relation yelled in Igbo:
‘Hey! Esther has come oh!’ She leaned the bicycle she was wheeling against the wall and rushed to hug me. I half expected semi-nude children to run out even though I knew they should be in school.
‘Onyinye, how now?’
‘I dey. Welcome o.’ I nodded and smiled. But my smile was strained. Maybe she noticed and decided not to comment. People don’t always say everything they see with their eyes. I had learnt that very recently.
‘Who is at home?’ I asked in Igbo. I was suddenly embarrassed. My Igbo did not sound right. It was immediately plain that I spoke my mother-tongue like someone who did not use it often. I knew her English would be nothing compared to mine, but my parents always said it was shameful not to be able to express yourself in your mother-tongue.
‘Mama is around.’ She replied in fluent Igbo. ‘She sent me on an errand a long time ago and I’m just leaving. I’m going to the market, when I return you’ll gist me... Esther, you’re not looking bad o!’ I smiled and watched her wheel her bicycle a little further before mounting it and cycling away. Mama was in the yard when I entered the compound. Mum had already sent word for her to expect me. She stopped walking and stared at me as I approached. It felt like a trek to reach where she stood.
“Mama, good morning.”
“Good morning.’ She replied coolly. ‘Go and sit there and wait for me.’ She pointed to a bench in front of her room. I was staring at my dirty toes when she returned. She sat gently on a stool opposite me. I avoided her eyes.
‘Udoka’ That’s my traditional name.
‘Mama’
‘Udoka’
‘Mama’ I replied again in a low tone.
‘How did this happen?’ She pointed to my abdomen. I kept silent.
‘Is it not you I’m asking? How did this happen?’ Mama speaks only Igbo. I began telling her everything in Igbo language. I threw in English words where I did not know the Igbo word for something. She got a sense of what I meant and when I finished, she just stared at me. Tears began to fall from my eyes.
‘If you cry, I will slap you! Don’t shed those tears in front of me.’ I wiped them and stifled my sobs.
‘How old are you?’
‘Sixteen.’ She shook her head sadly. Her eyes raked my petite figure.
‘You’re just a child. How could you do this to yourself? After you give birth to this baby, do you think you will just walk away and continue school? You’ll not be able to go to Univarsity again. You cannot drop this load for me after nine months and run o, I’m too old. It will be hard for you to get married too. Other girls find it hard to get married talk-less of one with a fatherless child. Which man will want to marry you, eh?’ I watched the ants moving in a straight line on the ground in front of me. ‘You children don’t think for yourselves, neither do you listen to those wiser than you. If you had listened to your Father and Mother, you won’t be in this mess. I’m sorry for you.’ She shook her head. ‘Maybe you don’t fully understand what has happened to you and your future. My advice is for you to be strong. I can't watch out for you. You’ll have to fetch your water, cook for yourself, wash your clothes and fend for yourself. Go to your room and rest.’

I got the key from my bag and got up from the bench. I could feel her eyes on my back. I cleaned the house, dusted the furniture, removed cobwebs, and killed some cockroaches and three large rats (the others were too fast for me). I washed all the bed sheets and curtains and hung them outside to dry. I was exhausted when I finished but since Mama still had her eye on me I pretended. I waited for Onyinye to return from the market so we could fetch water. Would I tell her? I was not sure. I locked my door and cried softly till I fell asleep. It was about three in the afternoon when I woke. The kids were back. I gave them the bread and watched them play while my mind went back to my living room in Aba on the day I told my parents. It came in flashes.

Mum pleading with Dad; Dad yelling that he did not want to set his eyes on me ever again. Mum pleading some more; Dad yelling for me to disappear before he descends on me; Me sleeping in the garage; Mum and Uzoh- my fifteen year old brother, bring me my traveling bag and some money. Dad did not want me to even take a shower before traveling. Mum looking like she wanted to hug me at the Park but refraining from doing so; Uzoh hugging me tightly and whispering “Be strong. I’ll come to see you as soon as I can.” I would have cried if I wasn’t worried about causing a scene at the motor park. Uzoh squeezed my hand tightly; Uzoh waving as my bus left; Mum staring at me then at the puddle in front of her.

I’m six weeks pregnant and I’ve been sent away from my house. I don’t know if I’ll ever be let back in. I don’t know if Dad will ever forgive me for shaming him. I don’t know how I’ll field all the questions that are bound to come from the villagers in the next few days and in the next few months when my abdomen begins to protrude visibly. I don’t know how I’ll comport myself as I walk the streets, I don't know how I’ll act when people point and jeer at me. I don’t know if I’ll still go to church– if I’ll be allowed into the church premises. I don’t know if God will listen to any of my prayers. I’m confused and worried right now. All I want to do is curl up and cry then fall asleep and wake up to realize this is a bad dream.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Follow Esther's story! Part Two - Settling Down , Part Three - Untitled , Part Four - My Baby , and  Part Five - The Scribbles of a "Stranger"

Dear Readers

I have written a short story that will be posted as a series. It's entitled "Esther's Diary". I shall complete it in five posts. After each post of "Esther's Diary", I might post unrelated articles and stories, so be on the lookout. As usual, I shall be expecting your comments. I have also updated the "Favourite Articles" feature. Please endeavour to read the articles there.

Thank You,
Osondu Nnamdi Awaraka

May 17, 2008

Last Note

Dear Family,

I'm sitting down at my desk, watching my recorded interview playing on BBC. My attention is actually divided between the interview and the song playing on my ipod. I'm listening to songs by Nickelback for the last time- they are my favourite band. I'm wearing my five thousand dollar Giorgio Armani suit. I remember the audience in the BBC studio cheering as I finished reading from my fifth book Splurge. I'm almost twenty, and I have five bestsellers under my Alligator skin belt and twenty five million dollars in my bank account. I'm almost twenty and I have more money than I ever dreamt we would ever have collectively. Yet, I'm not happy. I am burdened by insecurities and a surprising sense of unfulfillment. I have nine family members, a few good friends and plenty sycophants, yet I feel so alone. I walk alone, I think alone, I feel alone. I'm bombarded mentally with things percieved and things that are real. I have got this void inside me.

I remember eight or ten years ago, when Bon Bon Bum sweets were my opium. At one dollar each, it was an expensive habit I tried to keep. The only thing that prevented it from becoming an addicition was the morbid fear that I would lose my smile, not Papa's incessant ranting. That was then. Now i'm in control of a lot of money. I can afford the real Opium and it takes me really high. I don't know why i'm remembering all this...they say at the end, you remember the beginning. My first note- yes, I have wanted to do this for a while now, wasn't as organized as this. My writing was cramped and frenzied as tears ran down my face, in a way that makes me cringe now that I remember it. Now, I write with somewhat unnerving calm.

I have written my Will, and my lawyer will see to it that my last wishes are followed to the last letter. No Dad, you don't get a large chunk of my money. Well, this is my last note, not my last novel, I have to go. There's a ton of pills on my desk that I have to force down my throat with glasses of Moet & Hennessy. Ka odizie, I will miss you all.

Your son and brother,
Nduka Ukwuani

The Songster

We listened to her as she sang
She sat there in black, singing slowly, soulfully, beautifully
She sang a song vaguely familiar
She sang it like I had never heard it
Without her voice, the song was ugly
Without the soul she poured into it, the song was dead
She gave it new meaning, new energy, new life
And I sat there absorbed, spellbound
Praying for her not to stop
Praying for the song filling my ears and lifting my spirit never ends

Pent Up

I've known you all my short life
And I can finally say our relationship was ruined by strife
If I was asked to describe you in a few words,
I would choose "exasperating", "domineering" and "disgusting"
There's no way I could really love you
You who are responsible for what I've been through
You who cast a shadow on my happiness, constantly critical of my every effort
I think it's amazing the way people don't see the real you
The You I know

Remember the time you hit me when I was sixteen?
Leaving a gash on my arm and a weal on both my neck and back; and I cried?
Do you know why I cried?
Those were tears of pent-up anger;
Banging my fist against the rough wall,
I wanted to hurt you sooo much
I've never felt that way before
But you were a whale and I a mere flounder
I had to harness my anger

Now I feel like a bird out of it's cage and I must say
Freedom tastes sweet, it feels great
After so many years I have decided to pen this down
The first two times I tried, I used too many pages and too many swear words
I have asked the Lord to forgive me for my thoughts
If he doesn't, you're the reason

The Reunion

I was outside staring at the dark night sky
The sky looked beautiful, I thought; Mother Moon and daughter Stars
The Lord is Wonderful
I noticed someone staring at me from a distance
And then I heard a name.
That name few call me
Who could this be?

I watched as you came in little cautious steps
I bet you were wondering if it was really I
I saw your face, and my jaw dropped, my eyes widened, my knees nearly gave way
I tried to speak, but I couldn't utter a word
'Oh God' I finally stuttered, 'Is that you? ' I asked quietly, not trusting my eyes.

I ran towards you and clung to you tighter than a drowning man clings to a floating log.
My eyes were fogged.
Your scent was refreshing
'Oh God' was still all I could stutter.
I beheld your face once more and clung to you even tighter.
Someone pinch me, tell me I'm dreaming, say its true
It was true, you had come back to me.
Onlookers stood in little groups whispering and pointing, watching us as we wept on each other's arms.
I wept. You wept. The Moon wept.

I lifted you up and spun you around
I could have reached the stars at that moment
How did I live without you all these years?
'Wipe your tears, please' I begged while they fell from my eyes in torrents
'I will never leave you again'

May 09, 2008

The Object of My Infatuation

Her black eyes intrigue me
Her smile blanks my mind
Her kiss intoxicates me
Her touch confuses
Her soft laughter seduces me
Her scent awakens me
Strolling in her wake, I'm mesmerized

She's the one I see when I close my eyes
She's the only one I desire
Shes the sole reason I go to class
She's the only one I'm conscious of in a crowded room
She's the reason my mind leaves the present and jets to 'Fantasia'
She's the source of my confusion, the reason behind my seclusion
She's so close and yet so far

She's the one I incessantly seek to please, to impress
I'll fight for her,
I'll hurt myself to please her
She's the reason I love, I hope, I pray, I fear, I dare...
She's the reason I laugh, I weep
She's all I'm thinking of

She's the reason I've hurt myself and others
She's the reason I'm on the run
She's the reason I'm writing this

May 05, 2008

Celebrating 50 Years of Things Fall Apart

Photos, Quotes & Keynote Address from the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Celebration at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (April 25th & 26th, 2008)


Yours truly, Osondu Nnamdi Awaraka
From left to right: Onyeka Nwelue, Professor Kanchana Ugbabe (Department of English, University of Jos, Nigeria) and Osondu Awaraka.
Onyeka Nwelue, Ladi and Oguche (ANA members Abuja)
Henry Akubuiro of the Sun and Onyeka Nwelue
Onyeka Nwelue and Maryam Ali Ali (author, The Faces of Naira)

Professor Ernest Emeyonu (Chair of the African Studies department in the University of Michigan-Flint) giving the keynote address in the Princess Alexandra Hall, UNN
I strike a pose with Odia Ofeimun
Dr. Chattopadhyay, Chief Charity Ada Onwu, Maryam Ali Ali (author of The Faces of Naira) and other writers.
Professor Okey Ndibe and Onyeka Nwelue
Onyeka Nwelue and Dr. Grace Adichie (first female registrar of the University of Nigeria and mother of the award-winning author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

From left to right: Dr. Debasish Chattopadhyay (Head of Department, English Language, Raja Peary Mohan College, Uttarpara, Hooghly, West Bengal, India), Chief Charity Ada Onwu and Osondu Awaraka.
Dr. Chattopadhyay, Chief Onwu and Onyeka Nwelue, author of the forthcoming novel, The Abyssinian Boy.
Odia Ofeimun (Polemicist, Poet and social commentator) and Eromo Egbejule (blogger and writer)
Okey Ndibe (Columnist and novelist) and a representative of the Chinua Achebe Foundation

Professor Okey Ndibe and Eromo Egbejule

Dr. Grace Adichie (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's mother), Mr. Ebika and another guest at the event

All photos (c) Onyeka Nwelue 2008

QUOTES from Guest Speakers
"We cannot tell the world the African story if we cannot tell it in our indigenous languages." - Moses Tsenongu, Translator of Things Fall Apart into Tiv language.

"TFA has been the greatest teacher of the Golden Age of African dances"- Arnold Udoka, Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria.

"Okonkwo's father was an artist and would have loved to live in a society where artistes were appreciated. To him, everyone did not have to be a farmer."- Odia Ofeimun, Nigerian poet and political activist.

On the first day of the event held in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Professor Ernest Emenyonu, Chair of Africana Studies at the University of Michigan-Flint gave the keynote address. In the two days of celebratory events, it was the only address that received a standing ovation. His delivery was powerful and incredibly motivating. Fortunately for you Incessant Scribble obtained the keynote address. Enjoy!


THINGS FALL APART: CHINUA ACHEBE’S ‘MUSTARD SEED’
Another parable He put forth to them, saying “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. “Parable of the Mustard Seed”—Matthew 13:31-32.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!
I would like to begin by expressing my profound gratitude to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) for the singular honor and privilege to present this Keynote Address today. This is the second time in my literary career that I have been asked to introduce Chinua Achebe and his fiction to an intimidating world audience from both sides of the Atlantic. I will talk about the first occasion towards the end of my Address.

When the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Hon. Wale Okediran, invited me in a letter dated January 14, 2008, to present this Address, he said, “The Association of Nigerian Authors will appreciate it if you can kindly deliver the Keynote Address in Nsukka under the theme, “50 years of Things Fall Apart: Telling the African Story.” My chosen title is "Things Fall Apart (1958): Chinua Achebe's Mustard Seed.” But before I get substantively into that, let me reveal a unique situation prior to my coming here today. It opened my eyes very clearly to the dilemma that our Igbo elders had in mind when they expressed the metaphor of a man summoned simultaneously by his father in-law and his Chi, his ‘personal god.’ More than a year ago, I accepted a request in a letter by Ike Okonta, of the Chinua Achebe Foundation in London, England, to co-ordinate in the United States, the events commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the publication of Things Fall Apart. I quickly contacted the organizers of this year’s African Literature Association annual conference at Western Illinois University, Macomb, requesting a prominent space in the program to set up two panels to discuss the ramifications of the literary phenomenon called Things Fall Apart, and a Roundtable panel of distinguished scholars to discuss Chinua Achebe’s Legacies in the Development of 20th Century Modern African Literature. All three panels would be chaired by me. There would also be a huge cake with fifty candles on the stage. The cake would be cut by Chinua Achebe or a member of his family, but where that was not possible, I had at the back of my mind that Professor Emmanual Obiechina would be invited to perform the ritual. Professor Obiechina as you may know, is best described as the Dean of the Critics of African Literature, and the Nze of the scholars of Igbo studies. Then nine months later, in January 2008, after all these have been entrenched in the program of the 2008 African Literature Association Conference, I received the invitation of the Association of Nigerian Authors for this occasion. The unique thing about this is that the conference in the United States and this Nsukka Conference are meeting at the same time. Now you can see and appreciate the dilemma of the man who received the simultaneous summons to appear before his father in-law and his Chi at precisely the same time. The Igbo parable never told us which call the miserable man answered first, so I will not answer the question apparent in your minds namely, which one is my chi and which one is my father in-law, the Association of Nigerian Authors or the African Literature Association? Now, let us turn to my adaptation of the parable of the Mustard Seed.

Fifty years ago, in the year of Our Lord, 1958, an unknown unpractised farmer, Chinua Achebe, took a seed yam and planted it in a patch of untested soil. And then the tendrils blossomed and the tuber grew to immense proportions, producing side tubers which produced other side tubers, until several barns were filled with enormously big Abakiliki-type of yams; and in effect the pillar which was once rejected by European builders became the corner stone of a most gigantic world edifice, which is the reason we are all here today.

That, in a nut-shell, is the story of Things Fall Apart. At conception, it was one long narrative stretching into many, many pages. Before the mother went into labor, the midwives saw the signs and likelihood of multiple births. The young mother concurred and when the time was due, delivered the first baby called Things Fall Apart, also known as Okonkwo, and not long after, the second baby, No Longer at Ease, also known as Obi, was born. But then the young mother wasn’t done yet. Some fertile embryo still remained in the womb. Patiently, the young mother nurtured this young embryo which had got stuck in the womb when the younger sibling was evacuated. At its own time, it was delivered and named Arrow of God, also known as Ezeulu. That was how Obi came to be born first before his truly elder brother, Ezeulu.

The enormous success of Things Fall Apart has stunned the whole world, not the least many European literary scholars at the time of its publication, who had believed that like the biblical Nazareth of old, nothing good, particularly literary, can come out of Ogidi, or Nigeria, or Africa for that matter.

As we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the birth of Things Fall Apart, this year with all the fanfare, let’s not forget the rock-like skepticism of the European and Western readers, scholars, and publishers fifty years ago who did not foresee for the novel a chance of celebrating its second birthday. The Heinemann Publishers, London (the striking heroes today), were convinced that the venture of publishing the novel, was a daring and risky gamble, and so printed only 2000 copies in hardback and stood poised to write off the business loss eventually. Today, there are scores of hard and paperback editions, and sales in millions of copies in diverse world languages. On reading Things Fall Apart when it was first released, a British woman was so infuriated, she fouly castigated Chinua Achebe for daring to suggest that things fell apart at the British advent into Africa early in the 20th century. Why, she wondered, was Achebe still wearing European type of clothes and not the raffia attires of his beloved ancestors? We are lucky that Chinua Achebe was not distracted by such preposterous insults and attacks.

There were other Westerners who kept the heat on Achebe, blasting him and fuming at his audacity, scorning and taunting him as the personification of the misguided irreverent pretentious emergent African elite who had chosen to bite the finger that fed them. And Achebe was among the first generation of graduates of the University College, Ibadan, technically a Campus of London University. What an ingrate!

But there were others from the high echelons of the literati who literally hauled bricks at Achebe for audaciously daring to indict the emperor. How dare he insinuate in his novel that the tactics of the early Europeans in their encounter with Africans were well designed strategies for the fall of Africa? Who did Chinua Achebe think he was to seek through his novel to deconstruct Social Darwinism, the ideological stance for Euro-imperialism, conquest and domination of Africa? How dare he plant ideas in the minds of barbaric rural Africans to perceive the psychology of imperial conquest and its implications from the African perspective? How could an unknown literary quantity who had been brought up in the great traditions of British literature have the effrontery to begin his literary career with a novel that sought to deconstruct the Eurocentric perspective of Africa?

One of these offended Western intellectuals was a Lecturer in the English Department here at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka during my undergraduate days. Dr. Austin J. Shelton had an aura of elevated intellectualism and had built for himself a reputation for intimidating erudition. Some of us majoring in English at the time who had missed out on his courses somehow began to feel academically deficient and incomplete. That was until the wind blew and revealed the entrails of the fowl, as the saying goes.

In the decade following the publication of Things Fall Apart, Shelton had written a series of critical articles on African literature many of which were designed to interprete first, for Africans and then others elsewhere, the true nature of the emerging African writing. And since Things Fall Apart stood out prominently he tried to interprete the nuances of the story to all and sundry and in the process, arrogated to himself the important duty of educating everybody, beginning with Chinua Achebe, on the correct interpretations of the symbolisms, Igbo religious rituals and cosmology embedded in the narrative of Things Fall Apart. He asserted that Chinua Achebe had missed the correct dimensions in his portrayal of some of these in the novel. Spurred on by this sense of mission he published a spate of articles perhaps to set the pace for the criticism of modern African literature in general, and Achebe’s fiction in particular. The articles included: “The Offended Chi in Achebe’s Novels(1964), “Behaviour and Cultural Value in West African Stories(1964), “The Articulation of Traditional and Modern in Igbo Literature(1969), and “Failures and Individualism in Achebe’s Stories(1971). Nowhere was he more absurd and blatant than in the article, “The Offended Chi in Achebe Novels.” He began the article by declaring that he was “aware of Achebe’s sensitivity about non-Igbo speaking literary critics ...” which was a rather cheap and devious attempt to turn literary critics of non-Igbo origin (Westerners and Africans alike) against Chinua Achebe, and portray him as a writer who depended only on his kinsmen and women for validation and authenticity. Then he took on Achebe on specifics, asserting that Achebe’s definition of Chi as ‘personal god’ in Igbo traditional religion was a blasphemy (emphasis mine), and that the correct definition was “God Within.” To him Achebe was not only blasphemous, but he also had “a jaundiced attitude toward his own people’s religion.” But he did not stop there. He went further to say, “One might properly comment that Unoka (Okonkwo’s father in Things Fall Apart) actually did not have a “bad chi” as Achebe says, because a chi is not evil except from a narrow and erroneous human point of view (apparently Achebe’s), even if that point of view is of the Ibo.” Still Shelton wasn’t done with Achebe. Paragraphs later in the article he had this to say: “Ironically, Okonkwo’s very individualism causes him to perform an action which was sacrilegious in relation to Ane (sic) and the very alusi (spirit, not “earth goddess,” as Achebe puts it) whom his father had abominated, by beating one of his wives during the “Week of Peace.” (p.37) (emphasis mine).

Perhaps Austin J. Shelton is not worth this much space at a celebration of the excellence of Chinua Achebe as an artist in his first novel, Things Fall Apart. It is not so much what he says as his manner and attitude of saying it. He portrays Achebe as lacking in the proper knowledge of Igbo religious traditions and culture, and this by a white man who could not even understand Igbo proverbs. But Shelton was not naive or dumb. He had read Things Fall Apart very closely and realised that both the novel and its author were set to threaten existing European distortions of Africa in reality and fiction; that in Things Fall Apart, Achebe had provided Africans with a veritable tool for the deconstruction of Eurocentric perspectives of Africa, and a tool for understanding the Africa of today, issues in cultural confusion and conflicts; a tool for understanding the passing of the old order in Africa and the forceful emergence of the new. If Things Fall Apart survived and won the day, and Achebe continued in his eloquent creative imagination, then the era of the dominance of such novelists about Africa, as Joyce Cary and Josef Conrad was eternally over. So if Chinua Achebe’s integrity as a novelist was destroyed at the very beginning of his career, then Europe or the West had nothing to be afraid of in upcoming African writers. Shelton left no one in doubt about this in the concluding paragraph of his article where he fanatically chides Achebe with:

Achebe makes a vainglorious attempt in Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, and I suspect he will continue so in The (sic) Arrow of God, to ascribe all the evils which occurred in Ibo society to the coming of the whiteman. But he stacks the cards in the novels, hinting here and there at the truth, yet not explaining fully the substratum of divine forces working to influence the characters. His own motives perhaps are linked with his patent desire to indicate that writers outside can never understand the works of Igbo-speaking writers (whose novels are in English); although one must properly leave the subject of authors’ motivations to psychiatrists. Whatever the case may be, however, what caused “things to fall apart” and what made the Ibo man “no longer at ease” in the case of Achebe’s works were the evil actions of Okonkwo, who brought the wrath of Chukwu, the alusi, and the ndichie upon his own lineage. (37)

We hear in Austin J. Shelton’s utterances the voice of an outside mourner weeping louder than the bereaved. Yet he could not even remotely counter Achebe’s summary declaration in Things Fall Apart, on how things fell apart in Africa. In one of the most articulate and beautiful pieces of prose in 20th century literature in English, Achebe pointedly declares:

Does the whiteman understand out custom about land? How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The whiteman is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. (176)

Anyone who teaches Things Fall Apart anywhere on the continent of Africa today, should make the students memorize and internalize this passage. It is an incontrovertible eternal historic, political and cultural truth about the way and manner of the human conquest of Africa by Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Austin Shelton’s mindset was that of a biased and prejudiced scholar from the Western world who behaved true to type fifty years ago. But today, there seem to be some people inside Africa whose understanding and appreciation of Things Fall Apart and Chinua Achebe’s achievements in the field of African Literature in particular, and World Literature in general, remain as shallow as Shelton’s, but perhaps worse, because they ought to, and they are in a position, to know better. I am referring specifically to one David Kaiza of Kenya whose recent article in February 2008, entitled “Achebe: Why he was no Literary Genius,” published in Nation, a Kenyan publication, prompted Odoh Diego Okenyodo a journalist in Abuja to e-mail me in the United States seeking an urgent rebuttal of Kaiza’s apparent ridiculing of these celebrations for Things Fall Apart. In Kaiza’s understanding of success in literature, “a single novel that sells eleven million copies” is no big deal, and a twenty-one gun salute for its author, is a waste of precious gun powder much like the outrage at the woman in the biblical story in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, who was sharply criticized and rebuked for wasting a costly and precious alabaster fragrant oil (perfume) on Jesus’ head and feet!

Although I responded by saying that David Kaiza was a distraction not worthy of attention and that the literary world should leave him to his mighty mass of ignorance and move on, yet it seems necessary to show how irrelevant his points of view are in the present discourse. My friend, Charles Nnolim, about whom I will speak briefly later, once said that a traveler who stops at every barking dog will never get to his or her destination. Yet, once in a while it may become necessary to hush up the bellowing dog for our peace of mind.

Kaiza saw Achebe as merely a chance beneficiary of an accident of history. He claims that after the two World Wars, Western intellectuals had begun to tone down their idiosyncratic attitudes to, and lurid perceptions of Africa. Then he concluded, “... had it appeared before the Second World War, Things Fall Apart might have been ignored.” Well, Mr. Kaiza, Things Fall Apart, did not appear before the Second World War, and there is nothing you can do to change that fact!” Next, Kaiza states that writers like Wole Soyinka and Okot p’Bitek achieved more in terms of creativity” (than Chinua Achebe). In a number of instances in his article, Kaiza tries to compare Achebe with Wole Soyinka concluding that Soyinka is the genius that Achebe couldn’t and wouldn’t become. In one paragraph of the article, he was no longer talking just about Things Fall Apart. He said, “When you read his books outside the colonial context, Achebe comes across as a small-scale entrepreneur of the novel.” Then almost with an oracular authority, he declares: “He (Achebe) was no literary industrialist like Soyinka. He was a retailer of proverbs, bucolic wisdom and anecdotes.” He later adds that “there is a gripping lack of strength in his (Achebe’s) voice.” Again, David Kaiza, the whole world disagrees with you for you don’t seem to have listened carefully to Achebe’s voice in Things Fall Apart. One uniquely fascinating thing about Chinua Achebe’s narrative voice is that every reader can hear him clearly, audibly, and meaningfully in his or her dialect or language whether in Nigeria, Africa, Europe, Asia, Russia or North and South America. It is the vibrant stimulation from that voice that has made Chinua Achebe an honorary literary citizen of the world, and Things Fall Apart every nation’s story in the so-called Third World today.

This celebration is not about comparing Chinua Achebe with Wole Soyinka. It is not a relay race between Chinua Achebe’s novels and the works of other African writers. It is not about showing how Okot p’Bitek, or Ayi Kwei Armah, or Ngugi wa Thiong’o, or any other African writer stands in relation to Chinua Achebe. This celebration is simply about a fifty-year old African novel whose classic eminence has endured the test of time; a fifty-year old African novel which has been translated into more than fifty languages and sold more than twelve million copies; a fifty-year old African novel whose passionate story of colonial arrogance and ethnocentrism has touched the hearts of people world-wide, and resonated with readers of all age groups regardless of race, creed or class. “Mr. Kaiza, give us any other African novel with this type of stature and world-wide appeal fifty years after its publication, and we will celebrate it!”

One final comment and we will move on. Kaiza remarked that “Achebe has been called the father of African literature, while later writers have been described as the ‘sons of Achebe’.” Kaiza seemingly did not want Ngugi wa Thiong’o from his country, numbered among these “sons of Achebe,” so again he put his foot in his mouth and declared, “It would be too much to call a man like wa Thiong’o, a “son of Achebe” because, although his book came out later, books take long to take shape in writers’ minds, and Ngugi appears to have formed his ideas long before he heard of Achebe.” I had said earlier that this celebration is not about comparing African writers, and we should not devalue the integrity of this discourse by succumbing to low-level distractions. But it is important to set some records straight. In January 1967, Chinua Achebe was interviewed in Nairobi, Kenya, by Tony Hall. That interview was published on January 15, 1967 in Sunday Nation (the same magazine which published David Kaiza’s article on February 25, 2008). Tony Hall asked Achebe:

We have had some pretty fierce arguments going on here about the alleged poverty of African writers in East Africa. You are editor of African writings for a London publisher. What are your views about this?

Achebe replied:

Yes, I do see a lot of manuscripts. In fact, I’m not taking credit for James Ngugi, but I did see his work before he was published, and I put him in touch with my publisher. I know he has a new thing coming out. I don’t think really one should worry. I think it’s the difference in the level of mass education between West and East Africa. It’s a matter of time – not decades, it’s going to take just a few years. I mean it’s only 15 years since the first Nigerian novel was published in English. Yet in that time a lot has happened. There are now a number of new and some very exciting writers coming on. (25)

However, this thing about the “sons of Achebe” (and now some people have also found Achebe’s daughter or granddaughter in Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie!), was started by my good friend, Charles Nnolim, and he won’t probably stop until Dr. (Mrs.) Christie Achebe knocks at his door one day to ask whether Chinua had these “sons” before or after he and Christie were married in 1961? Whichever way Nnolim answers it, he will still be in trouble. Elechi Amadi has for years, been saying to Nnolim, “Look at my white hair! I didn’t need to ask my mother for evidence that I am not Chinua Achebe’s son.” He had even mentioned that he was at Government College, Umuahia with Chinua Achebe for secondary education, and later at the University College, Ibadan with Achebe again for university education, and that a father and his son cannot be in secondary school or university at the same time at least not in Nigeria in the 1940’s and ‘50’s! It seems that it was Nnolim’s inclusion of Ngugi wa Thiong’o as one of those “sons” of Achebe that equally offended David Kaiza. He seems to have reasoned that such a classification does harm to Ngugi’s stature as a Kenyan writer for it makes him perceived as an apprentice-artist under Chinua Achebe of Nigeria. Still, that is no reason to assert as Kaiza does, that Chinua Achebe is improperly recognized as the father of the modern African novel.

Let’s now give some final thoughts on David Kaiza. Kaiza is unrelenting in his denigration of both Chinua Achebe as a writer and Things Fall Apart as a classic African novel. Pruning here and piling there, he is at pains to find evidence to prove his verdict that Achebe is “no literary genius” especially on the strength or merits of Things Fall Apart. If Kaiza finds any good qualities at all in Achebe as a writer, they are not such as would lift him beyond the rank of an average writer who beat everybody else in retelling the fables of his “tribe.”

How then should we regard David Kaiza? If you teach postgraduate students anywhere on the continent, I advise you to have your students read Kaiza’s article to help them appreciate how, even though wisdom is like a goat-skin bag and everyone carries his/her own, there are some people whose goat-skin bags came with holes through which all the wisdom seeped away before they arrived for the meeting at the village square. Why did David Kaiza stoop so low in his article? My answer is simple. Like Austin Shelton he is not dumb and he has keen insights enough to realize that this is a monumental world-centered moment for African literary discourse. There are however, some people who have nothing worthwhile to contribute but they wouldn’t want to be found missing in action. So they say something, just about anything, so as to be counted among those who once upon a time said something during a very important discussion. After all, self preservation is the first law of nature.

Since the beginning of the year, the celebration of Things Fall Apart, has taken various forms in countries all over the world – England, Portugal, Australia, and the United States to mention but a few. And two weeks ago, the Library of Congress in the United States announced epoch-making plans to honor both Chinua Achebe and Things Fall Apart on November 14, this year, two days before Chinua Achebe’s birthday. This raises the question: “Where is Nigeria in this scheme of things?” I am aware of the Public Lecture organized by the Department of English at the University of Uyo in February this year and the April 17 special literary events organized by the Department of English at the University of Ibadan, to commemorate and celebrate Achebe’s gift of Things Fall Apart to the world fifty years ago. And of course we are all here today because of the various initiatives of the Association of Nigerian Authors in different forms and locations in Nigeria since the beginning of this month. But you, Nigeria, where are you in this scheme of things? The Igbo name Unakanamba (fame that is recognized and resounds only in a foreign land) is a name that philosophically rebukes any enchantment with the bird of beautiful feathers, as the late incomparable novelist, Cyprian Ekwensi, called one of his novels. This bird has glamorous feathers outside while remaining filthy and stinking inside. Permit me to speak now not only as a Professor of African Literature but a devoted and patriotic Nigerian who has spent the last thirty years teaching, researching and publicizing African Literature both at home and abroad.

Nigeria has been independent for forty-eight years, more than three decades of that period, under military dictatorships. During those years of brutal military rule, the Federal Government contributed virtually nothing to enhance the recognition, growth and development of African Literature in Nigeria, in both the cultural and educational arenas. If anything, it did a lot relentlessly to lower, dishonor, and damage the image of the writer in Nigeria in particular, and the dignity of African Literature in general, in the eyes of the world. We now have a civilian government and it is essential that the Federal Government be not seen as continuing the apathy to African Literature and the arts, which characterized the military regimes. And so far in this year’s world-wide celebration of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the Federal Government seems to be missing in action. We will give even the devil his due and totally agree with David Kaiza when he says in his infamous article:

Going by the preparations taking place, one might think the celebrations have something to do with a beloved monarch: Events have been lined up for the whole of 2008; a commemoration scheduled for April has been sponsored by the New York City Hall; Western universities are vying to host speakers as the media jostle for interviews; and Postsecondary Education Network international is selling lecture tickets online.... It is unfortunate that Achebe is being commemorated in the West, but little is being done in Africa to recognize him. (1, 4).

Let me use an analogy that will strike home in stating what Nigeria has done in comparison with other countries in this celebration. If this were a soccer competition, Nigeria would have been beaten and trounced by teams that fielded only six (instead of eleven) players for their matches.

The late American President, J. F. Kennedy, once admonished his country men and women: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” It is appropriate to reverse that statement in our present context and admonish the Federal Government of Nigeria: “Ask not what your writers and African Literature can do for you; ask what you can do for your writers (in this case, Chinua Achebe) and African Literature (and specifically, Things Fall Apart). And to do this effectively, the Federal Government has to be reminded of a few instances of the enormous savagery of the military rulers towards Nigerian writers, and African Literature.

The whole world stood aghast in November 1995 while the organs of the Federal government executed Ken Saro Wiwa one of the most brilliant and versatile African writers of the second half of the 20th Century. That year, I had been elected on August 18, in far away Sri Lanka as the President of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (ACLALS) which prestigiously, would have brought the Headquarters of the Association to Nigeria. Following the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, the Association repudiated the membership of Nigeria, and its Headquarters never landed on the Nigerian soil. That same period too, witnessed the first black person in history to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka of Nigeria, hounded into exile by State organs of the Federal Government. If anybody had brought his head on a platter, the Federal Government then would have gladly received it in exchange for oil and gold!! During that era too, on November 17, 1993, the organs of the State Government locked out the corpse of Africa’s first black female novelist, Flora Nwapa, from the Multi Purpose Hall Owerri, Imo State, where mourners had gathered in thousands to pay their last respects. And to crown it all, the military even “slaughtered” one of its own, the erudite and versatile poet, Mamman Vatsa. But those might be said to be yester-years. What about today? Though on a lesser scale but no less sadly symbolic, January 4, 2008 saw Africa’s most celebrated urban novelist, the inimitable writer of children’s fiction, the first ever Director of Information for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a member of the historic panel that chose Abuja as the new Federal capital of Nigeria, Chief Cyprian O. D. Ekwensi, buried in his hometown Nkwelle, Anambra State, without a Federal government representative and not even a Condolence Message at the occasion.

Perhaps the Federal Government can seize this opportunity and use the year of the celebration of Things Fall Apart to make amends and atone for the past aversion to Nigerian writers, and the abysmal neglect of African Literature as an autonomous field of study in the Nigerian educational system. Nigerian writers are true cultural and intellectual ambassadors of their country inside and outside the Nigerian borders. Many doors today fly open for Nigeria because of such names as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Gabriel Okara, J. P. Clark, Michael Echeruo, Chukwuemeka Ike, Obi Egbuna, Elechi Amadi, T. M. Aluko, Onuora Nzekwu, Buchi Emecheta, Mabel Segun, Kalu Uka, Ifeoma Okoye, Anezi Okoro, Zynab Alkali, I.N.C.Aniebo, Adaora Ulasi, Ossie Enekwe, Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chimalum Nwankwo, Tunde Fatunde, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Catherine Acholonu, Sam Ukalla, Chris Nwamuo, Karen King-Aribisala, Odia Ofeimun, Isidore Okpewho, Festus Iyayi, Anelechi Chukuezi, Kole Omotoso, Femi Osofisan, Tess Onwueme, Sefi Atta, Irene Salami, Promise Onwudiwe-Okekwe... and the list goes on and on, plus those who have joined the Great Beyond but their impacts are still felt: D. O. Fagunwa, Pita Nwana, D. N. Achara, Leopold Bell-Gam, Tony Ubesie, Amos Tutuola, John Munonye, Zulu Sofola, Flora Nwapa, Christopher Okigbo, Ene Henshaw, Ada Ugah, Ezenwa Ohaeto, Cyprian Ekwensi .... and others. For their sakes, and for their great contributions to the growth and development of African Literature, now acclaimed world-wide, I respectfully call on (no, I humbly plead with) President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, to please ‘bring home’, African Literature! Remove the stigmatization of African Literature and Nigerian Writers as the proverbial Unakanamba, praised and recognized world-wide but neglected at home. African Literature should be an autonomous and independent subject in the Nigerian school curriculum studied at all levels of the educational system. It has become a huge irony and indeed anachronistic for Nigerian scholars to travel abroad to foreign universities to research on African Literature and Nigerian writers, for advanced degrees. There should be established in Nigeria an International Center for African Literature Research and Documentation, one of whose responsibilities should be the location, retrieval and collection of the original manuscripts of published Nigerian creative works and the letters (correspondence) of Nigerian writers. The Center should also have an active unit for the translation of exceptional creative works of African Literature into Nigerian languages. The film industry in Nigeria should be legitimized, empowered and assisted to produce film versions of important Nigerian creative works especially novels, as well as documentaries on Nigerian writers for use in schools and the promotion of tourism. And in this regard, a well produced authentic film version of Things Fall Apart is long overdue.

I would plead specifically with Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, to please stop at nothing to ensure the location and retrieval of the original manuscript of Things Fall Apart hidden somewhere today in a town in the Francophone part of the Cameroons. This is of the greatest importance in Chinua Achebe’s heart today. The recovery of the original manuscript of Things Fall Apart and its repartriation to Nigeria will be the crowning point of this celebration this year. On November 16, 1930, Ogidi and the entire Anambra State, gave to the world Chinua Achebe, once described as “one of the ten greatest novelists in the world today dead or alive.” The history of the literary super-eminence of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart will forever remain incomplete, until its original manuscript adorns a museum or archives somewhere in Anambra State for tourists, researchers, teachers, students and the whole world to come and behold the amazing wonders of the African mind. The Israelites of old wept pathetically in Psalm 137:

We wept when we remembered Zion....
For those who carried us away captive
Asked of us a song
And those who plundered us requested mirth
Saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

I ask the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, I ask Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, I ask the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, how can this treasure Things Fall Apart, described by one of the most eminent critics of African Literature in the world today, Charles Ekwusiaga Nnolim of Umuchu, Anambra State, as “an Igbo national epic,” be allowed to be held in captivity in a foreign land? Bakassi we may give up, but Things Fall Apart we can’t. Chukwu Nna Ekwela ka ihere nka me anyi! (May God forbid this potential eternal shame!) When one of the greatest African American writers of the 20th Century, Langston Hughes, died in 1967, his body was cremated and his ashes stored in an urn in Providence, Rhode Island, an all-white neighborhood. Through the collective will and efforts of dedicated African Americans, the ashes were brought home years later and are now lying peacefully at the Schomburg Center for the Study of African American Culture and Arts in New York City where Langston Hughes lived till his death. Let us borrow a leaf from that magnanimous, heroic and culturally affirmative act, and bring home the original manuscript of Things Fall Apart. Home is Nigeria where it proudly belongs.

History has bestowed on the University of Nigeria, the honor and responsibility of “restoring the dignity of man” as its motto eloquently declares. As an alumnus of this great University and true to its motto, I call on the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, to set up in this University a Center for the Study of African Literature and give breath and life again to such journals as Okike and Uwa Ndi Igbo both founded by Chinua Achebe during his years at the University first as a Research Fellow, and later, a Professor of English.

Finally I call on my colleagues in the Departments of English and Literary Studies in all Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions, to make themselves relevant in the current vibrant world-wide study of Modern African Literature. Our young readers need abridged and simplified editions of great Nigerian works beginning with Things Fall Apart. It falls in the territory of Nigerian scholars to research and tell the world how many languages Things Fall Apart has so far been translated into and published; how many copies of the novel have been sold to date in different nationalities and cumulatively; and the comparative values that readers inside and outside the Nigerian borders respectively find in Things Fall Apart. What is it about Things Fall Apart that captures the interest of readers in South Korea, India, Germany, France, the Caribbean, Russia, Canada, England, Portugal, etc. different from readers in Nigeria or Africa as a whole? How can these relative interests and attitudes shape the pedagogical approaches to Things Fall Apart in the classroom? And let me state in the strongest of terms possible, that after fifty years of its publication; after over fifty translations in other world languages; after its recent publication in Yoruba language; the non existence of an Igbo Language edition of Things Fall Apart casts a shadow of doubt on the integrity of scholars of Igbo Language and Linguistics. I cannot perceive it any other way.

I believe that if the forum for this Keynote Address had allowed questions from the audience, probably the first question would be, given the universal appeal of Things Fall Apart all these years, why has its author Chinua Achebe not been honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature? He has after all, more than any other writer in the second half of the 20th century, influenced for better the course of World Literature in English, and remains an African novelist, who has more than any other writer of this era, “provided a renewed sense of African heritage, history, and tradition.”

So why has he not been honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature? Let me allow you to hear this anecdote directly from Chinua Achebe as he recounted it to J. O. J. Nwachukwu-Agbada in an interview in October 1985 here at the University of Nigeria in Achebe’s Office as Emeritus Professor of African Literature:

Many years ago I was in Stockholm along with some other writers. I think it was to honor a Nobel Prize winner then, Heinrich Boll, a West German writer who died in 1984. During a discussion with an audience, one of the most powerful members of the Swedish Academy which normally picks the Nobel Prize winners said something which annoyed me and I told him off. And people came to me later on and said that the man was very powerful, that he was one of those who decided on who won the prize. And I said, so what? (139-140).

I leave you to draw your own conclusions. But whatever the case, I hope the Swedish Academy is watching and taking note of what the whole world is saying in 2008 about Chinua Achebe and Things Fall Apart.

I mentioned at the beginning of this Address that this occasion is the second of its kind that I have been called upon to introduce Chinua Achebe and his fiction to a seminal world audience. On March 17, 1998, at the 24th Annual Conference of the African Literature Association (U.S.A.), held at the University of Texas, Austin, the organizer, Bernth Lindfors, asked me to introduce Chinua Achebe who was the Keynote Speaker. After highlighting the marvelously unprecedented things that Achebe had done for African Literature in particular, and World Literature in general, I borrowed the words of the late Prof. Ola Rotimi to close my introduction. I will do the same thing today:

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I find nothing more appropriate to present our noble speaker to you than the words of Professor Ola Rotimi, Orator of the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria in February 1991, when the University bestowed on Chinua Achebe an honorary doctorate degree.

Chinua, son of Achebe, let me from this point on, address you in the style of traditional African Oratory... Speaker in proverbs, we salute you. Exponent of the values of African cultural heritage, I say, it is you we greet. You who ventured into the forest of world literature and came back a hero, our knees are on the ground.

If danger aims its arrows at you again,
They will not fly.
If they fly,
They will not hit you.
If they hit you,
They will not wound you.
If they wound you,
You will not weaken.
If you do weaken,
You will not fall down.
If you do fall down,
You will not faint.
If you do faint,
You will not ... die!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Long live the Association of Nigerian Authors,
Long live Chinua Achebe, Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

WORKS CITED
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann Publisher, 1958. (Quotations from Anchor Books Edition, New York, 1994)
Kaiza, David. “Achebe: Why he was no Literary Genius.” Nation, The East African Magazine. Feb. 25, 2008.
Hall, Tony. “Interview with Achebe.” In Conversations with Chinua Achebe. Ed. Bernth Lindfors. Jackson: Jackson University Press of Mississippi, 1997: 18-26.
Nwachukwu, J.O.J. “Interview with Chinua Achebe.” In Conversations with Chinua Achebe. Ed. Bernth Lindfors. Jackson: Jackson University Press of Mississippi, 1997: 130-140.
Shelton, Austin J. “The Offended CHI in Achebe’s Novels.” Transition, III, No. 13, March 1964: 36-37.
- - -. “Behaviour and Cultural Value in West African Stories: Literary Sources for the Study of Culture Contact.” AFRICA, xxxiv, No. 4, Oct. 1964: 353-359.
- - -. “The Articulation of Traditional and Modern in Igbo Literature.” The Conch. Vol. 1, March 1969: 30-44.
- - -. “Failures and Individualism in Achebe’s Stories.” Studies in Black Literature. Vol. 2, 1971: 5-9.


Dear Reader, I hope you enjoyed this keynote address. It's not the same as listening to Professor Emenyonu delivering it, but it's better than nothing. Blogger does not let it users retain the format of their work when they copy from a Microsoft Word document, I had to read through this address and re-italicize and re-bolden the words, to make it the same format my copy is. I therefore claim responsibility for any wrong emphasis of words.

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I visited Chimamanda Adichie & Chinua Achebe's old house on the University of Nigeria, Nsukka campus! Read my post HERE!

May 03, 2008

A Mother

A mother’s smile is always bright
Never tight
Never dim

A mother’s laughter soothes
Always calms
Like the psalms

A mother’s praise, how sweet
Like honey
Never corny

A mother’s care is infinite
Can’t be defined
It is sublime

A mother's embrace
Always comforting
Never suffocating

A mother’s love is warm
Never divided
Never wears out

Lonely

People pass me by
I wonder why
I have no confidant
No one thinks i'm important
Now and then I'm thrown a contemptous glance
I sit often in silence, no company

I crave attention
I'm dead bored, strolling hand in hand with solitude
School is hell on earth
Stares, fears, bullies and dares follow me all day long
Friends and trends don't sway me
'Geek' they yell at me
I'm not lively, I'm not happy

Her

Between us no love lost
Sitting there with her legs crossed
Chewing gum
Like she’s in the slum
Silent war has begun
She saunters home with straight A’s
I stagger back with heavy C’s
She’s nimble on her feet
To put it simply: I’m heavy
She’s good with her hands
I just can’t settle down to anything
They all love her
They can’t stand me
She’s sweet, I’m a twit
She’s as radiant as I am vagrant
She loves flowers, I think its girlish silliness
She’s slender and as light as a feather,
I’m as dumpy and as light as lead
Different we are like light and darkness,
From the same womb, on the same day
We are two totally different girls
I HATE her.

Farewell Buddy

I'm standing barefeet at the foot of your grave
Staring despairingly at the mound of earth that shields you from my gaze
The yard is empty
The clouds are darkening
It's just you, me and the restless wind that is blowing dry leaves about
The mourners are gone, the drums are worn, our voices are hoarse

I'm trying to remember the last time I saw you
Every memory is elusive and yet close in a surreal way
There are many things I should have said
There are many more I should not have done
It's too late now to do or undo anything

I'm trying to be strong
Strong because that's what men are supposed to be
Strong because I know I have to be
I have cried out loud at night
I have thought over many things
How could you leave me here?
How could you...
I'm tracing triangles on the dusty earth with my big toe
I miss you badly

My heart aches
My grief is profound
My happiness has died with you

I found a green rope in Nnenna's room that had two strands
I unwound it and tied one of the cords to your wrist before you were buried and the other strand is tied around my wrist
I managed to convince your brother to let me have some of your clothes
I hope we can stay connected, however strange that sounds


The rain drops are falling from the dark angry clouds overhead
It gets heavier by the minute
It is washing away my triangles
It is muddying my feet
It's washing away my tears,
and filling me slowly with the lightness hope brings