AND SHE STARTED TO RUN (EPISODE 2)

They were four alright. But they were not students. Not the beauties I was anticipating. The first thing I noticed was their travel-worn clothes. Dusty from the road. They didn’t look anything like I expected. There was a woman in her late forties, two little girls, her daughters obviously, between ten and eight. Another girl with acne and a floral patterned shirt nodded at me as our eyes met. I looked round for the sick girl, Joy met my gaze apologetically and pointed. I followed her finger.

The first thought that came to my mind when I saw her was ‘dry fish.’ She was pitifully thin, the kind of thin that told you that whatever was wrong with her was out to kill her.

Cancer?
AIDS?

A flurry of thoughts assailed me. I looked at her and nodded a greeting with my eyes. She managed a limp wave.

God, how did I get myself into this?

I looked at Joy, she was apologizing over and over “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry.”

I told her to Shuddup.

I turned to Whatsapp, wondering how Genie, my friend who had earlier agreed to take in the entrants would respond to this new twist. I tried to keep a smile on my face all through. It wasn’t easy but I think I did just fine. I’m the last person in the world who would wanna make people feel unwelcome no matter the circumstances. Joy took me aside and explained she had no idea this was how things would turn out. They made her believe she would be going with four other students then dumped a sick person on her and said ‘ so long, pal’. Some people no get conscience sha.

Genie’s response on Whatsapp when I told her was ‘WHATTTT?’. I couldn’t help laughing. This one no wan kill herself. Who fit blame am? Anyway, I appealed, cajoled and pleaded till Genie relented and said it’s okay. It’s just three days anyway.

So we all got in d cab and headed for the hostel Genie stays in Ekosodin. The driver was moaning about having to wait while we helped the sick woman into the car (did I mention she has healthy and very pretty curly hair? Skin and suppressed good looks Like a bi-racial.) I told the driver to shut up, shebi I dey pay am a very pricey one thousand Naira which he won’t make in four hours idling in the baking heat of the Ekosodin gate. He took one look at my size and I saw his throat move as he swallowed back his retort. Good.

Genie took one look at them, at their bags, clothes and stuff. And I saw light go out of her eyes. I understood. Prior to that day, I have never met Genie. We only talk on Whatsapp. I guess good people still exist, and we need to learn to look beyond the slabs of fat as in the case with big Genie, and try to see them as beings with hearts.
Well, Genie’s space wasn’t enough. We decided they should change at her place and head for the program with their stuff. It’s likely the organisers had plans in place for accommodating people from upstate and stuff.

I sighed with relief, believing the worst was over and things were well off my hands now.

I had no idea the hard part was just around the corner. I had no idea that I would be bound to them inextricably.

Because when the car arrived at the Loveword campgrounds, the venue of the crusade, when the driver veered into the parking lot and we got out, I took one look at the distance from the car park to the meeting point, took another look at the sick woman limping very slowly, painfully and stopping after every four or five steps to rest. And I realised I was in trouble.

I realised I had to carry her and walk about eight hundred paces past the crowd.

Into the sanctuary.

I think I said ‘Joy don kill me today.’

Something like that.

-Hymar David

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AND SHE STARTED TO RUN (EPISODE 1)

Hello there! Trust you’re having a splendid weekend already. Here’s an interesting guest post by a bloody creative friend of mine, Hymar David. Hymar’s a student of English at the University of Benin and his story is actually a life experience first shared on Facebook two weeks ago, which I’m sure will touch a few hearts in the end. Very little editing here since I want it to convey the raw honesty of the experience. Okay, enough talking; read on.

It was a Friday. I was in my room in the notorious-for-loud-mouths hostel, Hall 3, UNIBEN, trying to download ‘And The Mountains Echoed’ By Khaled Hussien. My Whatsapp was pouring in messages like a burst water pipe; too many chats kill your battery.

There was a message from Joy. She said she was on her way to Benin from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ogun State. She was coming with four of her friends for the Higher Life Conference with Pastor Chris holding in Benin.

Joy’s my friend in Lagos. We attend the same church. She has a hair that Zainab, my poet friend calls ‘the most beautiful natural hair’, and a face like an ex-cherub.

I took a shower and hit the streets, panicking when I couldn’t reach Femi, my…err… bestie of some sorts for the key to his apartment in Ekosodin. I had told him earlier that morning to bring the key over since I wasn’t sure if he would be online and available when I needed him to be. Well, he said he would be. He wasn’t.

So I switched plans and contacted some girls I knew, who after some cajoling, agreed to take in the new entrants for the three day duration of the programme. I heaved a sigh of relief. By the time I was done, Joy was calling/’whatsapping’my number like mad. Some girls no go gree patient but if na dem ehn, dem go be like, ”I said I would be done in ten minutes, stop calling me every half hour.” Hian.

I set off to pick them at the park, sniffing my armpits to make sure my cologne was still working and rehearsing some witty line to say to the girls. Wow, see me see overloading o. Who dash me ladies man? The sun was so hot, I made up my mind not to miss heaven. So hell go worse pass this one wey I dey see so?

My phone vibrated. I always tell people my phone never rings, it vibrates. I remember reading a funny book by some doc who can’t hear shit, ”When The Phone Rings My Bed Quakes.” It was Joy, she had news. One of the ‘girls’ was sick, she said. Could I please not be mad at her for not telling her earlier?

I was mad, alright. Angered by what I felt was a deliberate ploy to keep me in the dark, till the last minute when I wouldn’t be likely to change my mind. I hate people who are not straightforward. I hate being played, being led on some dance around a forest. I felt a torrent of words, harsh words, bubbling from inside me. But all I typed was ‘Grrrrrr’

Grrrrrr. Impotent rage.

I asked Joy if the sick girl could walk, she said Yes. I said I hope she wasn’t into puking every ten minutes, I wouldn’t want to dump patient wey dey vomit sote for innocent pesin head. Well, Joy assured me she wasn’t into that, so I guessed it was probably some heart condition or something. Kini big deal.

Mumu me.

I walked to the park, Whatsapped Joy my location, I saw her first anyway, looking around with a ‘where-that-boy-sef’ expression on her face. I smiled to myself. She looked good. As usual.

Her face lit up with a smile when she saw me.

”Hey, Hymar.” she said, coming towards me, her arms outstretched. Hugs are wonderful things, I don’t know why we are so hung up on kisses. Hugs just kind of do it for me. That you-are-loved feel when you hug someone? Priceless.

”Good to see you again,” I told her.

She smiled. Joy’s got good teeth. She’s not the sweet/chocolate kind of girl.

” Where are they?” I wasted no time asking.

She pointed.

I turned and when I saw them, my mouth hung open. I fought the impulse to scream in frustration.

”Fuck” I think I said in my mind.

To be continued…

EXIT WOUNDS

broken-heart-940

They always flood his consciousness at times like this; rare moments when the loneliness really gets to him. He enjoys loneliness – he cherishes it. He’s far too comfortable in his own company. Maybe it’s a problem but he’s eternally grateful to have such a problem. His loneliness is a door he shuts against the world. However, in moments like this, the loneliness becomes an open door – unused. He didn’t fight it this time around; he just let the memories flow. They never come in the same order but they’re all too familiar for him to miss a thing.

Of them all, Nike appeared to be the one that hurt him most. “Don’t call me again,” she said. He did. She never picked. It wasn’t that he expected what they had to last – he knew it was a disaster waiting to happen. It sure did. What hurt the most was not knowing why or what he did to make it all go south. For someone who thrived on figuring everything out, this didn’t make any sense. Was she tired of him? Did he screw up somehow? But she still visited three days ago and they left on good terms, after she succeeded in waking him up by smothering him with kisses. No it was something else. But what? Maybe he’ll never know. He hated not knowing.

Mary’s case was comical. He wasn’t in the mood to laugh now but he did, almost spilling the vodka he’d mixed with soda – to keep the evening chill away. He was in his second year then. She was in her first year in another school. Girls had come and he’d acted like a complete idiot just so they’d leave him the hell alone. He didn’t want anyone coming between him and her. Sure, they fought but they always sorted their issues out. So when he felt at a point in time that something wasn’t right, he called her. She said she didn’t feel a relationship existed anymore – she was done. He asked if she was sure. Yes. It was February 13. The next day, his cousins’ girlfriends arrived and the Valentines Day shenanigans almost made him puke. Bags packed with books and a few movies he hadn’t seen, he went off to Biodun’s house. Exams were a week away and he’d die first before failing his papers because of a girl.

Four years later, he met her again. He’d graduated. She’s single. His Facebook status said “it’s complicated”. She blamed him for not calling back after the break up. She was bluffing when she said they were done. He said he thought her mind was made up. She said his pride stopped him from calling back. To him, it’s simple logic; you don’t say you’re done when you’re not. This was what was amusing; she broke up over nothing.

Dale was a curious case though. Free spirited, he thought she was just perfect. He wanted something real, serious. She felt they should remain friends. He wasn’t content but he’d take the consolation prize – for now. He was good at breaking out of the ‘zone’. Her boyfriend saw him as a threat. He was right. She eventually broke up with the dude because of him. She didn’t know that he knew but he did. Schadenfreude. They remained friends. They had their first kiss in the kitchen and it lingered till the burning rice told them to give it a rest. Still friends. She said they were too close to date but she’d get jealous when other girls were around him. Months later, they kissed again; one that didn’t stop till they were a tangled, perspiring, naked heap minutes later. Friends or lovers? They still had no idea.

So it was only natural that the fire fizzled out. He didn’t want it to, she didn’t either but it just turned out that he took her more seriously than she took him. At least that’s what he thought till she told him years later that she thought all he wanted was to roam free. He’d never roamed free; he actually hated it. As much as he valued his freedom and privacy, all he needed was an anchor to keep him grounded. He thought he’d found it but he was wrong – again. He’ll have to keep searching.

Then he met Dorcas. The first girl he met that could go toe to toe with him, in almost all things. She was just as stubborn as he was, and just as gentle. She could be smiling now and tell him to sod off in a moment. She challenged him and he loved it. Their first year was a battle, of wits and of will – never mind the fact that they wound up in bed within a month of knowing each other. After that, he thought she was his. She made him see different. For the next three months she didn’t speak to him – not a word. Whenever they crossed paths, she didn’t as much as give him an acknowledging nod. He thought he was the king of the silent treatment until that moment. He was going crazy. She was enjoying the thrill of watching him do so.

The next two years were the best he’d ever had in a relationship. She found Jesus within that period and decided from then on to save herself for marriage. She didn’t know but her decision will even help him become better because that’s the one thing that kept him on the wrong side of God. He didn’t care as long as she was with him. He’d even use her pillow whenever she was away just so he’d smell her perfume – It helped him miss her less.

There was however an elephant in the room. She wanted him to commit and make things ‘official’. No it wasn’t marriage. Not yet. She just wanted him to ask her out properly. He never did. A lot of water had passed under the bridge and he thought she knew him well enough to know he was committed to her. “Why ask her out when we’d gone through all we did? Why would she think I was just for sex – we’ve only ever had a tumble in the sack just three times in three years? A man does one of two things after sex, he stays or he goes after the next score. I stayed for three years even though I was rarely getting any. What more does she want?” He thought. In his logic, he underestimated a woman’s attachment to words and their affirming nature. He was never really given to too many words and that proved to be his undoing. He paid the price of his stubbornness by losing her.

He thought he was done but he met Lola. Young, naïve, optimistic and a hopeless romantic, she fit his description of ‘mummy’s girl’ perfectly. He naturally ran away from her type; choosing not to let his cynical nature shatter her rose-tinted glasses. He ran, she chased. He realized too late that she was way into him and he wondered what he did to get her so whipped. In no time, she got to his friends and they started doing the wooing for her. “You don’t know her kind,” he said. “They lose interest just as quick as they fall for you.”

This time around, he was right. Cynicism pays off sometimes. They had a fantastic start, and it was a breeze. Then the lull came and he was now doing the chasing. He chased, she ran. It would be better to even say she didn’t run, but that he was chasing shadows instead. It sucked. He couldn’t get through to her and he felt like a crashing pilot screaming mayday and getting static as feedback. And just when he was giving up, she’d show up. He gave her another chance but she sucker punched him again.

Strike two. He knew very little baseball but he’ll be damned if he let her have three strikes. He’ll keep searching for his home run instead…

PS: Looked through the relationship tales of my friends – real stories – and decided to make a just one story out of it. It’s never pretty when a relationship ends; and it doesn’t matter if it’s a clear cut case of cheating or those that don’t just work out, or even those with so many grey areas where no one’s right and no one’s wrong. But we keep trying to get it right no matter how many times we get shot down. Some even take a sabbatical from love (I’ve done that, it helps). Some just shut the door permanently – till they meet someone who cares enough to pry it open (Done that too with little luck).

Most importantly, this is about those dudes who aren’t really jerks. The guys who make mistakes now and then when all they’re looking for is the peace of home but haven’t yet found the key. You’ll find it. You might need to be a little less stubborn and think about her too. It’s not all about you bro. Keep calm.

And girls, not all guys are douche-bags. I heard someone say that most girls wouldn’t think twice before saying all men are dogs, forgetting that dogs are one of the most loyal animals out there. Take him for walks, feed him now and then, pat his head. He’ll sit.

PS 2: I threw my story in there too. Good luck finding it (I fear those who know me well enough will 🙂 ).

TOBORE OVOURIE: JANET COOKE’S TRIBUTE ACT?

Most journalists or those who ever took a course in investigative journalism are familiar with Janet Cooke’s story, which is as the perfect example of investigative journalism gone wrong. Her story is used to teach aspiring journalists the ethical concerns associated with investigative reporting. For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with her story, here’s a brief summary…

On September 29, 1980, the Washington Post published Cooke’s heartwrenching tale, Jimmy’s World. The story detailed the life of ‘Jimmy’, an 8 year old boy who had become a heroin addict after being introduced to it by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. At that time, the thriving heroin trade was devastating negihbourhoods in WashingtonDC. Cooke described Jimmy as a “third-generation heroin addict, a precocious little boy with sandy hair, velvety brown eyes and needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin brown arms.”

As expected, the story generated a lot of controversy as concerned people and organisations demanded that Cooke reveal where the boy lived so he could be helped. City authorities launched an intensive widespread search for the boy. However, hiding behind the ethic of protecting her sources and her life from drug dealers, Cooke refused to provide the location. The outrage grew and suggestions surfaced that ‘Jimmy’ didn’t exist and Cooke had made the story up. The Washington Post stood by her and denied the rumours at first but when she won a Pulitzer on account of her story in 1981, they confronted her and demanded that she provide proof of Jimmy’s existence.

Under intense pressure, Cooke crumbled and confessed that she had never met Jimmy and much of the story was fictitious. Disgraced, she resigned and returned her Pulitzer prize. She later revealed that she invented Jimmy due to the high-pressure environment of the Washington Post, which was still riding high from the Journalistic achievement of exposing the Watergate Scandal in the ‘70s.

Sound familiar?

On January 23, 2014, Nigeria and the world at large were shocked beyond imagination by a report published by Premium Times about a human trafficking cartel and the many atrocities committed therein. The report titled: INVESTIGATION: Inside Nigeria’s Ruthless Human Trafficking Mafia. Was written by Tobore Ovuorie, who was said to have gone undercover in order to infiltrate the cartel and only escaped in BeninRepublic by the skin of her teeth. All manner of evil were exposed: prostitution, ritual killings for human body parts (two people were beheaded right in front of Ovuorie), organized theft under the watchful eyes of security agencies. As expected, most of the people who read the horrific story were enraged and a rally began for the unearthed issue to be thoroughly investigated by the authorities.

Now, it wasn’t as if we didn’t know human trafficking existed, we just never imagined it at the level described in the report. Horror is an understatement going by the details in the report. The report hinted at some people in power being involved and also implicated the Nigeria Police Force and the military. A group of pickpockets were described as being protected by a police officer and military officer. When crossing the border, the trafficking ring even exchanged pleasantries with custom officers and they were waved through without any checks. After the widespread praise for the reporter and Premium Times for undertaking such a risky venture to expose this magnitude of evil, it was only natural for Nigerians to want the issue followed through to the end by the appropriate authorities.

As expected, the story wasn’t swallowed in its entirety by most intellectuals home and abroad. While some tackled the shoddy style in which the report was written, others went straight for the jugular of the content. One Hassan Gimba was downright skeptical and made his points known on, poet Emman Shehu’s Facebook wall. Respected ‘noisy reader who writes’, Ikhide Ikheloa, after initially hailing the story and expressing genuine concern, took another look and was swift in pointing out the holes in the story which clearly showed some logical disconnect.

So far, the following fundamental questions still remain largely unanswered:

1: For such a sophisticated syndicate, she got in too easy. There would have been background checks. Just entering her name online would have even given her out. Why not?

2: Why is the Nigeria Police silent on the story? Why hasn’t an investigation been ordered already? Ovuorie mentioned one Babatunde Ajala as one of the officers present during the pickpocket exercise. Who is he, does he exist?

3: How can the girls keep their phones in such a situation as Ovuorie mentioned? If she took pictures without being detected, where are they?

4: Since her phone was later seized and she had no access to phone numbers as she rightly admitted, how was she able to get Reece’s number? If she had memorised it already, why did she say she was at a loss as to how to contact Reece when the phone was seized in the first place?

5: If an investigative report is meant to ‘expose’, why don’t we have names already? A governor from the Abacha era was mentioned, who is he? So many ‘notable’ people seem to be involved but who are they?

6: Why is there such relative silence in the mainstream media, considering the magnitude of the report?

I’ll stop at the above six questions. There have been attempts by people from Premium Times to answer most of these but it still doesn’t add up. Even the Editor-in-Chief, Dapo Olorunyomi’s reply to Ikhide didn’t help to dispel the doubts most people now have. A few days ago, texts on the operation surfaced from Premium Times but even those seem lame and their silence for so long has eroded most of the trust anyone has in them.  For an investigative report, why are there very few details that have a certain level of exactitude?

If they’re telling the truth, it’s sketchy. Truth is never sketchy.

In a way, Cooke’s story conveyed a certain (and reasonable) amount of truth on the reality prevalent in America’s inner cities back then. Ovuorie’s story has done the same and while we cannot conclude that it is utter fiction, the onus lies on her and Premium Times to tell us the truth about what really happened. Is it a case of colluding with international bodies abroad just to justify foreign grants at the expense of painting us so black? Is it an elaborate con? Yes, we know we need help – a lot – but if this is the sort of help on offer, then no thanks. We have enough problems as it is and it wouldn’t bode well for an already battered image of Nigerian journalism if these questions go unanswered. Curiously, I haven’t heard anything from the Nigerian Press Council on this matter, despite the level of noise already being made. Is it their way of washing their hands off this story? Either way, it’s not good for them.

We want to believe this story, wee really do. We are enthusiastic about exposing evil in all areas and doing something about it. But if this is the level we have to sink to in order to expose this ‘larger’ evil, is there any hope?

This is not to discredit Ovuorie and Premium Times. They deserve all the applause for this story if it is true but truth is provable and its facts don’t rest on shaky ground. However, what we currently have rests on a seismic carpet as it is. We simply want the truth. It will bode well for them to furnish us with conclusive proof.

Nigeria is waiting. The world is watching…

SMITHS FORGE

Part two of my field note series on Indigenous Communication Systems. We were asked to do some research in town using a method called ethnography, a technique used by anthropologists (and others) and there’s little or no data; it involves a lot of observation instead. The researcher then reports whatever he sees without drawing conclusions. Just thought it would be fun to post some here so you can get a glimpse into what you wouldn’t normally see or go close to. Remember I said I’d be back with mine after posting that of my friend’s visit to the masquerade clothier. Here’s more knowledge on indigenous history and traditional African crafts…

22 May, 2013; 11:23am.

We alight from the bus at the bus stop in Beere, Ibadan and cross to the other side of the road. In order to get the blacksmith we were looking for, we ask for directions from an old man calling for passengers to board his bus heading for Bodija. He wants to be sure we know who we’re looking for; blacksmith or welder? We assure him it’s a blacksmith we’re looking for. The old man directs us down the road from where we were coming from, saying the place is impossible for us to miss. We thank him and head down.

A hundred metres later, we arrive at the forge, almost obscured by a row of white buses also calling for passengers going to Bodija/Ojo, Ibadan. However, the array of cutlasses, axes, hoes and traps assure that we’re at the right place.

There’s a staircase leading down and we took it. In direct line of sight are three people cutting sticks – no, they were carving the sticks into handles. There’s a man relaxing with his back to a mud wall, maybe he’s resting or supervising. My partner, Raymond, greeted in English (he’s Ibo) but I greeted in Yoruba. The man responded in Yoruba, suggesting he’s more at ease with the language. I tell him what we’re there to do and he directs us to another man, pointing left. There’s a shed with a man sitting under it working a bellow.

We enter the shed and ask again, he nods and points to a small bench capable of seating three people. We sit. The shed is warm; I think it’s because of the heat emanating from the fire the man was stoking with the bellow. Piled against the wall in a corner of the shed are pieces of metal with levers and sharp ‘teeth’ – they look like hunting traps.

The fire interests me, there’s hardly any smoke, even when the bellow is being worked. There’s no wood either, only what appear to be small white pebbles. It looks like coal but spent coal burns out into ash; there’s no ash residue from the fire.

Another man comes out; he has tribal marks on his face and was wearing a well-worn baseball hat. He had a stern look on his face. He looks to be in his late 30s. The man looked at us, grunts and asks the man working the bellow who we were. The bellow man tells him and ‘baseball hat man’ simply walks away.

I look left from where I’m sitting, two yards away from me was a large rock; there’s a hammer on it. On the side of the rock is a red oily substance – palm oil. There’s sugarcane on the floor beside the rock, and a sprinkling of salt. I think it’s a shrine/altar of some sort. Farther down the left of the shrine/altar/rock there are a few more buildings, all built with mud but roofed with corrugated iron sheets. The shed is ‘roofed’ with wooden planks – a small gap here, a gaping hole there.

A bald old man of about 67 years with a white goatee comes to us and tells us to shift the bench to the side, closer to the rock/shrine/altar. He sits in the space created with a metal plate and begins to fashion out what looks like the blade of a hoe, placing a sharp chisel-like object on the plate and hitting it with a hammer, cutting the plate in the process. The bellow man sits there and watches, he’s holding a piece of cloth which he presses to a piece of iron before holding it to the sole of his feet- he appears to have a wound. I think he injured his foot by stepping on a sharp object – the floor is littered with small pieces of unused metal.  The iron he was heating up earlier is what he uses to heat the cloth and tend to his wound.

A younger looking man arrives; he’s wearing a white t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. He appears to be in his mid 20s. He greets us in Yoruba, and we tell him what we were at their forge to do. He seems friendly. He tells us they are all masters of the trade but they have a superior who wasn’t around, but will be back soon.

The baseball hat-wearing man replaces bellow man at the bellow and puts a bar of iron into the fire. He works the bellow till the iron bar becomes red-hot and removes it from the fire with pliers – or something that looks like it. He then takes the bar to the altar/shrine, places it on the rock and starts hitting with a hammer. He’s singing in Yoruba but I don’t understand what he’s singing about – just to ease the work he’s doing or in praise of his god? I don’t know.

The younger wearing the white t-shirt man puts a sharp ended iron rod with a wood handle in the fire till it’s hot. He then brings one of the carved handles I earlier mentioned and sticks the hot sharp point into it; there’s a sizzling sound from the wood. The wood appears to be wet, cut from a tree not too long ago. When the iron lost its heat and the smoke clears, he repeats the process till the sharp point of the rod sticks out on the other end of the wooden handle. He appears to be making the hole where the hoe blade will fit. I remember the already done hoes put up for sale before we came in had the same handles.

Young t-shirt guy is done. He comes over, sits opposite us and asks if we have questions; we do. A man I hadn’t seen earlier joins him and sits beside the rock/altar. He’s wearing a pair of trousers but his torso is bare; his slightly rotund belly sticking out. Raymond hasn’t said much because of the language barrier. The blacksmiths appeared ill at ease with the language. I ask the questions in Yoruba, and translate in English.

I: What do you use for the fire, is it coal?

T-shirt man: No, we call it esan, from palm kernel. It’s the hard nut discarded after the palm kernel has been processed.

I: Those people over there doing the carving, is that all they do?

T-shirt man: They’re blacksmiths too, we all are. I can also carve and I do. We all cannot be at the fire so we find something else to keep busy before taking our turn at the forge.

I: I notice the wood is wet, is that on purpose? Where do you get the wood from, do you buy?

T-shirt man: Yes, we cannot use dry wood because it will snap if we work on it. Wet wood freshly cut from the tree is the best because it can endure what we use it for. We used to get wood supplies before for free but we don’t anymore so we go into the bush/forest to cut.

I: Do you have apprentices?

T-shirt man: Not often. This is our superior here (gestures to the bare chest man beside him) but we’re a family. People have little patience to learn and there’s not much money to be made so they leave before they’re ready. We here are all from the same family – all of us – and this is our family trade.

I: How do you get metal?

The superior joins in at this point. “We buy. There’s a market where we get all the iron we need”

I: How many of these things (hoes, axes, cutlasses) can you make per day.

T-shirt man: Close to 100. There are two types of hoes, small and large. The small ones are used the most by school children and are not used by serious farmers because it’s not too strong. The farmers use the big hoes; the difference is in the size of the blade.

I: So how do you sell?

Superior: Some people come to place orders; others just buy what we have already made. Sometimes, we produce more small hoes when school is in session because the students will always come. At other times, people will request for axes and that is what we will make. If we’re working on hoes, we will stop and make the axes or whatever is requested.

I: What’s the general process?

T-shirt man: We get the wood and carve into the required handle. We get the iron and cut into the intended shape: hoe/axe/cutlass/whatever, and forge it in the fire. Then we attach it to the appropriate handle. That’s all.

I: (Pointing to the rock/shrine/altar). Is that a shrine?

Superior: Yes it is. It’s the shrine of Ogun, the god of Iron in Yoruba land. We, smiths are iron workers and Ogun is our god. We worship him for protection and prosperity. Hunters worship Ogun too – even some drivers if they choose. But for blacksmiths, Ogun is the god to worship.

I: Your tools look like foreign-made ones, only a little different. Did you make them yourself?

Superior: Yes we did. We had to look at the foreign-made tools and copy them. This is a hammer we forged ourselves (points to a hammer near the fire). In the past, the hammer we used was called mataka. Then we took a look at the white-man’s pliers and made our own, we call it emu-agbede. Most of our tools are self-made; we only copied the white man’s tools and made ours.

It’s getting dark; a look at the clouds suggests it would rain soon. Not to be trapped in the shed when this happens, we thank t-shirt boy and his superior, and head back to school.

Please share your thoughts below…

A NIGERIAN CATHOLIC AND HIS LATIN

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, 

Creatorem caeli et terrae, et in Iesum Christum,

Filium Eius unicum,

Dominum nostrum, qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine…

Sigh…

I’ve struggled, really. For years, it’s been a battle oscillating between Latin and English during Mass and this time around, I give up – finally. Any last thoughts I had about persevering were crushed when I looked at the old woman beside me and realised she was having a harder time keeping up. I think she’s Ibo, guessing by the double wrapper she’s got tied around her waist and the blouse she’s wearing. She had a copy of the hymn book open with the Latin version of The Apostles Creed right before her eyes but she was having the same struggles as I was. Why can’t she just do it in English, or Ibo? I wondered. I didn’t have a hymn book; afterall, I should be smart enough to memorise and mouth off my profession of faith in Latin. Unfortunately, I’m not smart enough.

You see, the first Sunday of every month is an important one in most Nigerian churches. There are a lot of activities; thanksgiving, testimonies, tithe offering, etc. The Catholic church where I worship is no exception. It’s also a special Sunday when the most important aspects of the service are said in Latin, just like the excerpt from the Apostles Creed above which is be translated to mean:

I believe in God,

the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary…

Just one wee problem: I suck at Latin. It’s a beautiful language and I love the rhythm of Latin songs and prayers the priest says. Still, I sucketh, like a tornado.

I understand the need to profess my faith in God in church, what I don’t understand is why, on any given day, and at any point in time, I have to do it in Latin. I’m Nigerian, I speak Yoruba, Pidgin English and English – the latter borne out of a colonial past and the need to be understood across dialectical boundaries in this country. So if I’m already laden with a language burden, albeit one I’m grateful for, why do I have to bother with another one just for the sake of religion? Is it because our prayers would be more effective? I don’t know. Anyway, on such occasions, I choose to simply say my prayers in English or Yoruba on such occasions; God isn’t deaf. And I do not need to speak some Latin in church to remember that I’m Roman Catholic.

I’m not complaining, I’m just thinking out loud, wondering if anyone else has had this thought cross their minds. And it’s not just for Catholics, I also wonder if it’s a crime for any Muslim to worship in any other tongue, since all prayers are said in Arabic. I’ve never really heard a Muslim say a ‘serious’ prayer except in Arabic. I do not know why, and since I do not boast an extensive knowledge in Islam, I’ll let it rest here in the hope that a Muslim (preferably a scholar) would be so gracious to educate me about this – soon (and just so that I wouldn’t be lynched for blasphemy, in case a member of the mosque a street away from home reads this).

Now to another small matter -yes I can be petty at times, and this is really petty. But if my pettiness will spin a wheel of thought in some heads, I’ll be a happy man-boy. Why do we bear ‘Christian’ names? I know a lot of people who bear Mary, Grace, Peter, John, etc. For Catholics, we get baptismal names from a list of biblical names and those of the saints. For other Christians, they get their Christian names during their christening (I guess).  That’s totally cool.The thing is these names, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t really ‘Christian’ names. Mary was a Jew before the birth of Jesus Christ. Her name didn’t change. Okay, Saul became Paul but Peter = Cephas = Rock. Now what’s possibly Christian about being named rock? A name is a name, primarily as a means of identification and in our culture, I understand a name is also symbolic. So if it is for symbolic reasons, okay. But if not, why?

Still, what is wrong in choosing ‘Oluwasegun’ as a Christian name, especially when it means ‘Our God has won the battle’? I’ll leave you to answer this. I know I’ve touched on a sensitive issue, or one that can be made sensitive. All I aim to do is to create a discussion.

Fire away…