[On this environmental day in several Nigerian states, I’ve dug up something for you not just to enjoy but to also chew on. Have a safe and restful weekend.]
I had been up early as usual and after exercises and other morning routines, I decided to forego the morning news and went back to bed. It was a Saturday morning and my daily routines, even on Sundays, do not include lulling in bed. Only people whose body chemistry thrives on very little sleep can appreciate what was seventh heaven to me that Saturday morning: getting additional sleep even as the sun climbed up en route its day’s journey. I opened all the bedroom windows as I normally do everyday and tied the drapes back. As I lay down just reveling in the freshness from outside, the usual cacophony from traffic from the nearest road after five in the morning cut through the Call to Prayer from a mosque several hundred yards away. A couple of hours earlier when I had gone to the bathroom, I did not need to cock my ears to take in the prayers from a church very close by.
Then it all stopped: the blaring of horns; the aladura woman who, in this day and age, still rings her bell up and down Queen Elizabeth Road in Ibadan, warning all and sundry to “repent because the Kingdom of God is at hand”, including my friends over at the Pentecostal church. It seemed everybody had gotten tired and a quiet, almost unsettling in its unusual-ness, descended on my immediate environ. I savored this unwelcome peace that enveloped not just my neighborhood but as far away as the ears could pick up. I fell asleep in the euphoria of that quiet moment and when I opened my eyes, it was almost eight. We left the house in a rush because we had an early errand to run. Even when we saw the Oyo State helmsman and two aides at the Close where we live, I did not think anything was strange.
It was at Awolowo Avenue Junction that we realized it was ‘environmental’ Saturday. We made a quick turn and drove the five minutes or so back home. We had been away for a couple of months and before we left, the practice of gating full-grown adults for a couple of morning hours every month was no longer on.
I was one of those who did not like the practice for some reasons. I believed (and still do) that it is an assault on individual rights. I feel government should be able to device ways of getting our environment clean without this headmaster-pupil approach. It does not work in this dirtiest of all countries inside or outside Africa that I know.
It would probably be less galling to many like me if we are gated once a month as a form of re-orientation. We can just rename it Time-In or Thinking Saturdays or something like that. On such Saturdays, no weddings, birthdays, funerals or chieftaincy can start before noon. Meanwhile, the previous Fridays, all House or Church vigils and the like must end at midnight and attendees at such prayer-fests must either go home immediately or sleep over at the houses and churches where they must remain till noon. There will be no Call to Prayers from mosques on such Saturday mornings. If NASFAT on the Lagos Express has its Vigil the Friday before that Saturday, the faithful must also sleep on the holy ground where they worship till Saturday noon. The Redeemed “Holy Ghost Night”, Mountain of Fire and other Expressway vigils and their accompanying hell-on-earth chaos of the mornings after, that even Dante could not have dreamt, would disappear.
I can hear those who know me say “Tola, you’ve really outdone yourself” while zillions of women who do not, would suggest that I be banished to my village: bawo l’o se fe k’a gba aso t’a ma wo lo si sise l’aro Satide? “Now, Madam, how in the world are we supposed to collect the aso ebi which our tailors never complete the sewing till Saturday morning”? Most men would vote for this idea because the majority of them always wear an “I’d rather be elsewhere than here” look at those parties that have gotten more and more elaborate and often bizarre as the years go by. Why? Because, in the words of an older Nigerian, about two decades ago, “all weddings have become society weddings and all funerals, state funerals.”
May be legislating order and peace is nothing far-fetched. I watched a program recently about excessive spending at weddings in Kashmir even by poor people, and the Indian government has legislated the number of courses of meals to serve, etcetera, in an effort to save these people from themselves, so to say. Singapore is spick and span because by law, you cannot just throw trash around or do things that would soil her hard-won tranquility.
It is not surprising that this country is finding it very difficult to make progress in spite of her incredible human and natural resources and it will continue to be so as long as we spend most of our time on parties: planning them, talking about them … Many of our younger ones have taken being unserious to high art form, thanks to we older ones who have not shown the good example. I have written in this column about students of tertiary institutions who own shops, including the kids of a former governor, while being full time “students.” I worked as a student overseas but these were jobs at which I showed up, did assigned duties and forgot everything about the jobs the moments I stepped out of the offices. A girl who travelled to Dubai during term time as reported in that essay and spent a lot of time in her shop was a trader; she could not have been a student.
A young female student of the University of Ibadan who is close to me told me a heartening thing recently: “… girls used to have time to visit each other in the dorms endlessly. Not any more because U.I. ti le gan nisi’yi, auntie.” U.I. is very tough now because of lots of assignments.
It is true that the whole world is very fast-paced these days but the whole world is not one noisy chaotic environment as Nigeria. There are homes in which music and/or television run(s) all day. A child from that kind of environment will grow to be the kind of adults that we are … Of course there are kids who perform very well in academics in spite of all these but think how much better those kids would be if they get the chance to grow and develop in an environment where there are times for play and times for hard work for which quiet environment is a prerequisite.
To be productive and excel, we need a quiet environment. It is true that by nature, Africans are very warm but we must learn to look for quiet places or, at least, provide them for our children. We must raise kids to find usefulness, even if not joy, in alone-ness because it is moments of solitude that have produced man’s greatest scientific discoveries. Nobody can make scientific breakthroughs if that person is at an Atibaba/O wa nbe party every weekend. She spends Sundays recovering and Mondays talking about the parties and by Thursdays, she starts running around for next weekend’s parties, all in a never-ending cycle.
Eureka moments or even inspiration cannot come in the midst of pounding drums. You may find a solitary figure who will wave a quick goodbye to you from a distance in Death Valley, one of the loneliest places on earth, possibly writing, reading or thinking. Last year May, there was the well-publicized story on television and news publications of an American young man who went to hike in the Grand Canyon, one of the most breath-taking natural sights on earth that I’ve only seen from air even though I lived for years a mere couple of hours drive from it. Aron Ralston had parked his truck and ridden his bicycle to practice for Everest climbing. Five days later when he emerged, he announced to a couple of flabbergasted tourists who saw him walking towards them, covered in blood: “I’m Aron, I had to cut off my hand four hours ago…” One of Aron’s hands and forearm had been crushed under a huge boulder for five days but he did not crumble, give up hope and blame his misfortune on his mother’s adversaries or “spiritual attacks”, roll over and wait for death …
Hale puts it well when she described silence (absent at parties, naturally) as “the temple of our purest thoughts” and Emerson’s “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods” should be taken metaphorically.
The Comet on Sunday, August 2004