Every journey back to Australia serves as a constant reminder of how much on the periphery this country is. The flight paths that link the country like tenterhooks all come from the old global peripheral locations in Asia and the West Coast of the USA. Each time, the distance home causes a new perspective to form on Australia. Africa is arguably the geocentric continent of our planet, and Nigeria acts as its vibrant core. This has been a crucial factor in producing my present state of reverse culture shock. I have a deep affection with the developing world. This is because I see myself as someone still ‘developing’ in character, knowledge, experience and ideas. It therefore comes as a surprise that the developed-developing dichotomy would move me in such a way. But Africa is something else, its hard soil, harsh elements and spiritually fearful people transcend both blood and bone. Spirit conquers reason. My experience paints my view of Africa beyond the development paradigm; one I have already have a clear disdain for as evident in my previous post.
Yesterday I went into Melbourne-town, it was a day like any other, a train ride into Flinders St and a tram up to Brunswick. Yet my mind was far away, experiencing those mirage-like flashes of street passers-by staring at me even though they were not. While I peered out the tram I looked at the way people were dressed up, the way they pretentiously walked down the street as if every day were a carefree dress-up party to wander the streets of Disneyland. I stared alienated from everything as the tram slowly trundled through the city intersection. I couldn’t stare any more so I opened my book, ‘There was a country’, by Chinua Achebe, found the positioning of my thin bookmark as so to resume the last few pages of what I had not been able to finish on the plane. The book recounts his experiences growing up in Igboland, at university, his early journalism career in Lagos, and his many roles and experiences in the Biafran government and War. The conflict is the undoubtedly the world’s most horrific since WWII, erased from memory not just by the world, or by Africans but the Nigerians themselves. A war where starvation was utilised as a weapon by the Nigerian government and armed forces, resulting in the deaths of close to 1-2 million Igbo’s alone. As no reconciliation or punitive action has ever occurred at international or national levels, the lessons are buried for history to repeat itself.
As I read the closing chapter of that book, I fought back tears – the way men are supposed to in public. It was if Achebe’s experiences had melded with my personal ones. They were all too real, and they were only just beginning to sink in. The images flooded my brain: The motorcycle accident I witnessed metres from my gaze, watching in disbelief as the two men hurtled into the roadside crowd as the perpetrator made a speedy get away. Or reading about the events of Alu 4. Or reliving those images of gripping poverty of the Makoko slum where dozens of naked children with bellies so malnourished swim about in trash. Or the corruption made flesh and obvious as I sit by the pool of the hotel watching playboy Nigerians sit around with prostitutes, expensive clothes just a stone’s throw from their onlooking armed body guards and drivers. The feelings of disconnection are unsettling and disheartening. These examples are just a few, but they provide the voyeur with clear illustrations of the political disease plaguing the country. Terrorism of all kinds, whether it be political, economic or religious fills the vacuum; a direct result of this vicious disease in government and society. The recent beheading of seven captive westerners from a building site by the new Islamic terrorist organisation Ansaru in Bauchi provides a grizzly example of what can be bred and encouraged in a failed state. In the face of all this, Achebe’s final chapter provides a bold plan for what Nigerians need to do in order to build her future. The how and what she must embrace if she can ever move forward.
I shut the book and stare far beyond the furthest physical point in my view looking out the window of the tram. I don’t feel anywhere; I don’t have any answers either. My mind, body and soul completely vacillated. Too much thinking and too many images equals emotions beyond control. The deafening silence and aggravating order of Melbourne’s streets only exacerbate my present state of mind. I sit there and contemplate the new broader worldview my mind now envisages, as it is one I can never undo or forget.
Today Chinua Achebe died at 82 years of age. That harrowing coincidence unsettles me further as the Fela song ‘Not by mistake’ plays on the record player behind me. I feel thankful for his experience, and I feel thankful to have experienced these things through my own journey. His legacy will act as a beacon of wisdom for the people of that struggling nation even after his passing. It will influence the many that desire change so badly, with his very spirit and essence becoming internalised. Nigerians deserve better. Hakka.