The sooner, the better

the sooner the better

As a kid, I transitioned through a zillion crushes, and the objects of my infatuation were often older and bigger females – don’t ask, I dunno why. In primary four, I did something she didn’t like to my ‘girlfriend’ at the time – don’t ask, I dunno what – so she chased after me, and I ran. As I reached the class door, I tried to execute a ‘drift’ but my momentum was too high and the sole of my sandals too weak to handle the traction. So I slid until I slammed into the wooden doorpost knee-first. Even before I got off the floor, the knee was already as large as a water melon.

After she heard what happened, my mother drove me straight to a traditional bone-setter in a part of town I had never been before. And thus commenced the torture. With every touch, the elderly lady tortured every nerve-ending in my body with heart-wrenching pain. I tried to run away, I plotted many escape plans but Madam WWD – wicked witch doctor – and my mother were always a step ahead. So I modified my plans.

I discovered that the worst pain I felt was to the right of the injured knee, just about the ‘dimple’ area. So every time Madam WWD massaged my knee, I would deftly maneuver my leg so that she was faced with the part that hurt less. Every time her hand strayed to the worst pain area, I clenched my teeth and – painstakingly – kept a straight face, but whenever she stroked an area that didn’t hurt at all, I yelled and screamed curses on her. Gradually, she started to concentrate on the other parts of my knee – all the parts except the part that hurt most. My plan worked!

With time, I learnt to endure the pain while walking, and even the worst pain area started to feel better. I was discharged less than a week afterwards, and the pain eventually disappeared.

Fast forward fourteen years and I had just discovered my passion for running. I was not fast, but I had a lot of stamina and it helped me think, so I jogged three times a week. After doing this consistently for a month, I started to feel pain in my left knee. I thought it was ‘good pain’ which would pass with more vigorous exercise so I continued through the pain.

Soon however it became obvious that there was nothing good about pain, and not long afterwards I found myself lying on my back in the doctor’s consultation room.

“Here?” he poked at my knee.

I shook my head. No.

“Here?”

Still no.

He clamped his right hand over the left and palm open pressed down on my right leg, just above the knee. “Try to raise your leg,” he said.

I tried.

“Any pain?” I shook my head. None.

He applied same pressure on my left leg, and asked me to try lifting it. Immediately, I saw a flash of hot white fire blast across the inside of my eye lids. The pain completely muted me, I could not even yell. My body recoiled and my hands ferociously latched onto his, wildly clawing them off me. After he stepped away, I dropped back, feeling beads of sweat form on my forehead as I struggled for breath.

His verdict was bad news for me. I had to stop jogging, not for a while until it got better, but for life. I told him it wasn’t possible, that there had to be something else that could be done. The physiotherapist said there was, and went ahead to explain to me the merits of other sports namely cycling, swimming and rapid-walking.

I didn’t want to cycle, or swim, and like hell, I was too young for rapid-walking; I wanted to jog, and I tried to explain it to him. But the doctor was adamant. He said they were all the same, all sports.

But it wasn’t just sports for me. For the first time in my active youthful life, I had come to love a sport, really love it. And now, I couldn’t do it again. I left his office pained.

I was speaking with my mother shortly afterwards and I mentioned the doctor’s visit.

“Left leg kwa?” she went, “the same one you broke in primary school?”

Gbagaam!!! Like a bad Nollywood movie, the memories came back to me: of injuring my knee – my LEFT knee – on the class doorpost, of the many sessions with the traditional bone-setter, and of my ‘genius’ plan which I had effectively employed to avoid the worst of the pain. I had gotten away with less pain, but even though I didn’t think of it at the time, I had also gone away with an unhealed knee. And all these years, the injury had stayed hidden, festering, and showing up just in time to truncate my joy.

 

Point:

Thanks to literature, movies and my imagination, I have ‘experienced’ the pains suffered by Igbo people during the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967. I have also read several venomous posts and tweets aimed at Igbos on social media. But none of it had ever felt as personal, as demeaning, and as hurtful as reading @kunleafolayan’s Igbo-targeted hate tweets.

I might have taken it a tad personal because of my admiration for the man’s art, but beyond hurt, I am worried. It isn’t just the sheer hatred in the words that worries me, no, what worries me most is the realization that this hatred is not new-found. And this applies to the Oba’s tweets as well. While some see men yielding to the influences of chilled Orijin and piracy-induced frustration, I see prejudice that has lain for so long beneath an exterior of societal decorum. And as I read the ensuing e-warfare between supporters and protesters, I got even more worried.

We all pretend that the hurt of the Civil war passed away with the war itself but surely, recent events have proven otherwise. From the comments, one could infer the following as the summary of the present Nigerian state: while the Igbo man continues to exist in a bitter semi-auto defensive mode – seated with one buttock, as my grandmother might say, the Yoruba man merely tolerates him, the Hausa man wonders why this man has to always make everything about himself, and the Urhobo man waits to see what happens. And this is just when the Igbo man is the centre of discourse; insert the other 249 ethnic groups into that slot one after the other and the permutations will unfold like the Judgment scroll.

Like it or not, ethnic sentiments lie deeply ingrained in every Nigerian, be he/she Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik or Urhobo. While there are a number of reasons for these sentiments, an overwhelming majority stems from the pain of a war which was badly fought and too quickly discarded into the dusty cabinets of history.

The injury of the Civil war lies hidden and festering beneath this façade of ‘Allizzwell’ and like that lingering knee injury, it’ll never go away. We need to first uncover the festering wound so that it can be treated with some stinging disinfectant, and then we can allow time to lay its healing hands and complete the process. But first we must act. And the sooner, the better.

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter

…if we have a country

thinking man

Dear Suzzy,

Contrition overwhelms me as I pen these words. I am ashamed of myself because I lied to you and made a promise I knew would be hard to keep. On a second thought, I forgive myself because you pushed me. You pushed me when you kissed me the other night and made me promise to take you to Nigeria on Valentine’s Day.

I must have been hypnotized by that kiss or the food we ate afterwards.  I am certain that I wouldn’t have made such a weighty promise if I was in control of my senses.

I hate to disappoint you my dear but we have to cancel the arrangement. We cannot spend Valentine day in Nigeria because my country will be at war on that day.

I know how eager you are to visit Africa and Nigeria. I know how much you look forward to meeting the nice people and seeing the beautiful places you have read and heard about. But your curiosity can wait another year my dear.

If you don’t want to have Valentine memories tainted in tears and blood then we should remain here and cuddle on that day. With the super-fast internet at our disposal, we can watch the madness in my country from a distance. Our love is young and sweet but I fear it will never be the same if I take you home this Valentine.

Suzzy my dear, you are probably wondering why I am so scared when all that is happening is just an election to decide who will be president of my country. But you won’t understand. You have lived in these peaceful climes for too long and you think elections in other parts of the world are the same with what you have here.

But you are wrong my dear. In my own part of the world, elections are like war. We go to the polls afraid of what will happen when the results are announced. However it turns out, tears, blood and wanton destruction of property are normal features of elections in Nigeria.

You ask why it is like that?  It is because politics in my country smacks of desperation. Those who hold power sit tight even when they have performed below expectations and those who want it will throw everything including the kitchen sink to actualize their ambitions.

My dear Suzzy, we can’t make this visit to Nigeria because the forthcoming elections may be bloody. Everyone is afraid the country may go up in flames regardless of the outcome.

Have you forgotten what my friends in Berlin said when we visited for Christmas? I mean, you saw the trepidation in Timi’s eyes when he told us his parents were planning to relocate temporarily from their home in the Kaduna because they fear a riot might start when the results are announced.

Joe my friend in Lagos, said some people were already planning to go to Ghana, Republic of Benin and other neighboring countries during the election. That’s what happens every time we go to the polls in my country. Those who have the means run away until the madness abates. The poor and innocent ones are always at the short end of the stick. Some die. Others lose their homes and means of livelihood while another group of survivors will spend the rest of their lives nursing physical and emotional wounds that will never heal.

Suzzy, do you know what is really annoying this time?  We are to choose between two men who probably don’t deserve to be president of any country in the world.

Unlike your own country where you have to choose from a pool of brilliant minds, with enviable track records, election in my country is based strictly on ethnic and religious sentiments.

My dear, do you know how difficult it is to choose between an incumbent president who has failed in many areas and a 72-year old retired General with a questionable past?  Joe says it is like standing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

You know another annoying thing as we prepare for this election? It is the fact that no one is asking the fundamental questions. On Facebook, Twitter and other social media platform, the re-packaged General is portrayed as our knight in shining amour.  To his teeming supporters, it is a sacrilege to express contrary opinions about him.

They sound as if this man who overthrew a democratic president some 32 years ago has the magic pills to cure all that ails Nigeria the moment he becomes president. As though voting for him will instantly mark the end of the epileptic power supply, equip hospitals without drugs, revamp universities of shallow knowledge, fix blood sucking expressways and better the lives of millions of impoverished citizens in one day.

As for the incumbent President, the cookies are crumbling around him with every passing day. They say he is weak and inept to rule a complex country like Nigeria and he is not doing much to change that opinion.

You know what is most funny about his re-election campaign? His followers compare him to Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew and other famous leaders and then urge us to give him more time to transform our country.

So Suzzy, do you see why we can’t go to Nigeria for Valentine this year? Let’s just watch from here and pray God and the angels protect our loved ones who can’t get out of the country.

I know how disappointed you feel right now but I promise you in the name of our love that we will spend the next Valentine in Nigeria…if we have a country after 2015.

With love, now and forever

Veen

Vincent Nzemeke is a Nigerian currently studying in Germany