Thursday, April 25, 2013

Extracts from “On the African Bus” by Abimbola Lagunju – An Activist takes the floor on the Bus

An Activist takes the floor on the Bus

Be patient! Don’t shove, don’t shout, and don’t squirm. Be quiet! Let me say my bit. Let me tell you what I see, what I think. Everyone will have his chance to say whatever he wants.

I have the same questions: questions of identity; questions of values; questions of history and questions of deprivation.

I nurse the same pains: pains of identity crisis; pains of loss of values; pains of historical calamities; pains of misery and of apparent helplessness.

I nurse the pains of loss of courage, pains of transformation of the hunter into the hunted; of metamorphosis of an aristocrat into an unwanted classless being. I am a pained witness to the deconstruction of a creator of ideas to a crass consumer; to the change of roles of benefactors to beneficiaries. We, the drivers of history have become passengers of life, living on the fringes of our appropriated past. Disrobed, divested of our princely garments in the predatory arena of conquerors, we, the descendants of Kmt[i] say “…yes to the whip under the midday sun.”[ii] How have the mighty fallen!! And while the tired builders of ancient Egypt take their rest under the neem tree in the Sahel and on the coast, others claim their feats as theirs and then confine the exhausted warriors to books of historical failures. Like all conquerors, they rewrite history. They forget at will things that happened when they were historical infants; and frequently remember things that never happened.

Now, at the mercy of the elements, sans direction, sans plan, we dance to all winds. We are drenched when it rains. Our brain sizzles in the cooking sun. Fried. Barbecued. Roasted. Boiled. Cerveau Sauté à la carte.  And even now in our prostrate state, everyone picks the brain. Each according to his appetite. They eat as much as they want and even do take-away.  No credit to the brain restaurant. No mention of the incorrigible Good Samaritan except in bad books. He is not even mentioned as the Foolish Samaritan. Just plain bad. Useless. Bad genes.  Black sheep. God’s mistake! 

No history – we had no history until the arrival of foreigners. No culture – “their condition is incapable of any development of culture…”[iii] No past except a savage one.  No present, except aid - left, right and centre. No future.

Their Seine swallowed our Sine[iv] as recently as six hundred years ago. Dyed its mind blonde and blue. Hapless Sine digested, it gives up its calories and proteins. Now, stripped of everything except misery, disease and hunger, and mangled in assimilation, acculturation and globalization, Sine is spewed in putrid vomitus. And in big banners, Sine is declared detested, unwanted. Mission accomplished: pushed, used, dispossessed, now thrown to the bottom of the ladder.  

This Bus is a wreck. A nightmare. Ah! You! My brother over there in green rags. Look! I know it is not my business, but I can hear your joints quaking, ten points on Richter scale, chorusing quik-quak to the bus-squeak; cries of pains to pothole-inflicted torture. Bone music. Were you a drummer before you boarded the bus? A Djembé[v] drummer, perhaps? I am sorry; I do not mean to be rude; I am just curious. I wonder if one can guess someone’s vocation by observing bus-induced anatomical changes. Hear the tenor of my empty stomach, a storm without a cloud, a void. Not my fault.  I used to play saxophone in my previous life. Come to think of it, we can start a bus band. You have the bones, I have the stomach. Kak-kak-prompon-proporonpon-kak.-kak.

I am light headed. I have not had a meal or even smelt one in three days. I am observing sappath.  Do you remember the daily menu formula, made famous in the eighties by the sapostles. Yes! The same High Priests and preachers of SAP. The Structural Adjustment program that ran donm our households! You remember our daily menu? Yes, the zero-one-zero. Nothing to eat in the morning, miserable garri soaked in turbid water for lunch, nothing for dinner. I didn’t know that there could be many variations of a simple formula with only three variables. Many passengers here worked out different formulas. The common denominator was two zeros. Even small children knew the formula. Each child knew his household’s formula by heart. Remember how many children we had to stop to bury? They all died from insufficient food. Malnutrition, Dysnutrition, Denutrition, Exnutrition, Call it what you like. The bottom line is that food ran out, and has been on the run since. Even babies died because their mothers ran out of milk. The mothers dried up like the Red Sea, when the sapostles waved their wands.

The sapostles came among us, waved Canaan of structural adjustment and development programs in our faces, and we packed our bags out of Egypt. Out of Kemet. Yes, they promised us snow and we believed that snow was good for us. They said the Red Sea was nothing but a dying stream. That our pyramids were nothing but chunks of stones; that we needed to forget our past in order to be free. Forget the past to be free was what they told us. The past is a chain, it is bondage. Leave it. Let it die a quick death. One of their wise men called it “Aid-Induced Accelerated Collective Amnesia” in a conference.

They said the road out of Egypt was not difficult. They claimed it was laid with cheese, burgers, salad, caviar, foie gras, French fries, curry and every other thing alien to our palate. And our mouths watered!  We believed that alien foods were good for us. We did not think about indigestion, diarrhea, flatulence and indeed cancers. We left everything behind, sold every possession, and moved out into the wilderness, straight for the Red Sea. How on earth could we have believed that the sea was not wider than a stream? Did they hypnotise us? Or are we just plain naïve?

And at the banks of the sea, when we began to understand their intentions, they did not give us any chance to go back or to escape. They blinded us with SAP flipcharts and beamer lights, conferences, workshops and seminars. Some of us even got some perdiem and some, time at the podium. Tons of industrial words, phrases, plans, objectives and indicators. And we forgot everything. Yes we forgot everything as soon as each meeting was over. But that was a major mistake. They thought we were ignorant, that we couldn’t hold anything except combs in the tiny curls and they organised more meetings and workshops. And we chose to forget again.

We told them what we wanted, what we needed. We needed glucose, not grammar. We needed proteins, not programs. We needed vegetables, not variables; we demanded our stolen dignity, not pity. We demanded respect, not project. They wouldn’t listen. They said donors would not want to hear us. We were beneficiaries, and donors were donors. Beneficiaries do not know what is good for their benefit. Donors know better what the beneficiaries need. Beneficiary compliance is very important or the donor could go into fatigue mode.

We began to complain. And when the sapostles heard rumbles of rebellion, they threatened us with selective and collective sanctions, visa restrictions, aid withdrawal, credit denial. We acquiesced, then they herded us into the sea. They pushed our bus in. Some of us broke their legs and others, their heads in the fall. Many pensioners lost their lives. The hardy ones lost all their teeth.  Our bus lost all its shock-absorbers. The silencer broke. The radiator sucked in mud. Even, Jonscariot silently complained.

And now, look at the sapostles in their tight jeans at the banks of the sea, guzzling beer, eating prawns, munching lobsters, watching sunset on our beaches, laughing at us, making studies and writing endless reports. They now call themselves the local Universal Community.

The sapostles took the man and left the hood. They restructured the man. Changed his genes, adjusted and reprogrammed him. They restructured his DNA. Unzipped it. Broke off some proteins, and then zipped it back. They DNA-yed him.  Now, everyone complains about the hood. He is toxic, some say; he is a nuclear waste, claim others; and yet, others say he is a biological pollutant, undesirable in sterile atmospheres. See what I mean? Just look at the way they treat our people like the plague at those embassies. And see the way they handle those piroguistes like deadly microbes in a surgical theatre when they manage to land on distant shores. They use two layers of latex gloves, multiple layers of facial masks to offload them. We have become human microbes. Yes! Human viruses.

Personally, I am in a very perilous situation. I have sold everything to survive this journey. The only thing I have left is this tattered recycled shirt, these silly trousers that have long forgotten their cotton origin. And hope. Yes! Hope. I have been holding dearly on to it. It is the only valuable thing in my possession now. I have no job, no rich relative, and our local representative on the bus parliament simply ignores me. I put my shirt up for sale last year, no one would buy it. They have no money. No dollars! No local currency. I read that a wise man said that we live on less than a dollar a day. A very wise man. He got an award for the discovery.

I am thinking of selling my hope. It is the only thing of value that I have in my possession. I heard that the man over there, No! Not the man with the skull grin, the one with the bamboo neck, is a business man. Yes, that’s him. Don’t point fingers. He buys hopes. Anybody’s hope. Children’s, adults’, it does not matter. Says we don’t need them any longer. He says we’ve crossed all the borders where hope is of any use. Now, it is a useless asset. No market value.  He pays peanuts for hopes and sells them to Jonscariot, our driver. Jonscariot sells them to strangers at each bus stop, and keeps the money in their charge, in their pockets, in their banks. He does not want to keep the money in the bus. Says we are thieves. Someone told him that we are thieves.

I have asked myself several times if we do really need hope? What are we going to do with hope? Mine grew, then shrank, and continues to shrink. I should sell it before it disappears.  We have been feeding hope for the last one thousand years. And what has hope given us in return? Tell me, what hope has given us in return? It fed fat on our misery, married and gave birth to many other hopes. The children of hope also delivered their own babies. Multiple pregnancies. Not in vitro fertilization, my friends. Natural process. Four babies at a time, ten babies sometime. And they are all feeding fat on us. I starved my hope, and that is why it is malnourished now, ready for sale. And see where hope and its descendants have brought us. Right into the middle of this very Dead Sea.

Our people are dying of terror. Terror of everything. Terror of water; of the present; of the future; of the sapostles and their aid godfathers. Terror of their evil epistles. And there is no one to turn to. No honest person around. Just muggers, buggers and rustlers. Vultures. Just vultures crying, “Vultures of all cultures, Unite!”

[i] Kemet – Ancient Egypt
[ii] David Diop – Africa. A Poem
[iii] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel - Philosophy of History
[iv] A river in Senegal.
[v] A kind of drum popular in Senegal.

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