Monday, April 10, 2017

How Globalization Became Gombii in an African Village by Abimbola Lagunju

Yosi returned to his house troubled.

He had spent the morning with the other members of the Village Health Committee in a meeting with the Director of the local Hospital. The Director had announced, through a mixture of French, Egun and Fon, an increase in the Yapowo Hospital charges. Words like “imputation et repartition budgetaire[1],“motivation du personnel,[2] “deconcentration,” “decentralisation,” ”deficit de medicaments generiques[3],” with no equivalent in any of the local languages interlaced the discourse. He used these words both as a screen and as a weapon. He was wickedly pleased to observe the discomfiture of the villagers each time he released what he himself considered “word-bombs”. Although he did not fully understand the meaning of some of the words, nevertheless, he felt good uttering the words. His strategy was to pummel and confuse the Village Health Committee in foreign language, before announcing the new health service tariffs in the local dialect.  The representatives of the Village Health Committee shifted uneasily in the padded seats of the air-conditioned “Salle de Conference.” Some of them were sweating; others were shivering under the cold blast of the air-conditioner. The Director smiled wickedly.
“How will our people be able to pay these high fees?” Yosi whispered to the man beside him.
“This is an indirect way of telling us not to come to the hospital again,” the man whispered back.
“We have to resist this increase. No one in any of our villages can pay these fees. From where do they expect us to get the money?”
While they were whispering to one another, another bombshell dropped from the Director: “Globalisation!” Neither Yosi, nor the man sitting next to him heard the word in its entirety. They quickly shifted their attention back to the speaker. The Director did not use the word again. However, from the Director’s body language, the people seated at the meeting table could easily infer that this word was a thing, an evil apparition, a monster that was coming to invade the villages.
Yosi again turned to his neighbour and asked, “What is this Gombo-lation?”
“I don’t know. Never heard of anything or anyone calling himself Gombo[4] lation.  But, whatever it is has a very strong influence over the Director. Did you notice that his voice became tremulous from the moment he mentioned the name? He dreads Mr. Gomblition.”
The director rapped on the conference table to call their attention. Yosi and his neighbour looked up. The Director finished his speech by announcing, “We are all victims of g-,” he hiccupped, stretched his neck and ended the word “obalisation.” It is responsible for the increase in tariffs.”

Several hands shot up. The Director pointed to one member of his audience. The man got up, cleared his throat, and said, “Thank you, Mr. Director, for your fine and important speech. We thank you for sharing this important information with us, as it touches, not only on our health and the health of our families, but also on the general well-being of our communities. As you know, we are the representatives of the people, the bridge between the official health authorities and the population. We know the conditions of our population; we are part of them. We also know the health authorities; we wish we could be part of them too. You have called a meeting to inform us of a decision. We do not know how the decision was reached.  Yet here we are, being called upon to endorse it. Of course, we are not na├»ve. We do know that our endorsement does not matter much. The decision is already made. Whether we endorse it or not, it will be implemented. I have a simple question. From where are we going to raise money to pay this increased tariff? You do know that our farm produce fetches next to nothing in the market. Rice and onions from different countries far from our shores cost much less than ours in the local market.” He stopped to clear his throat. The audience turned their gaze on the Director. The Director was fidgety. He murmured, “Sont des directives de Conseil de Ministres[5]. I understand all the problems, but those are the instructions. I think Glombalisation is responsible and our government is powerless. Even our Minister said the country has been lost to the thing. As I said, we are all victims.”

Yosi’s hand went up. The director called him to speak. “Mr. Director, who is Gombiltion? Where is he coming from? Is he a citizen of this country?” Yosi asked. The others on the table who had been troubled by the name nodded their assent to Yosi’s question.

The director cleared his throat and said, “I am not very sure, but I think that, emmm … Gobalisation is not just one man, but a group of people. A legion. We do not know what they exactly do, but we believe that the legion makes life difficult for everyone. They increase the prices of some items and reduce the prices of others. I asked the Minister of Health the same question when I was in the capital city two weeks ago. He could not explain, but he said that we should all prepare ourselves for the imminent arrival of Gobalisation. It dictates who gets what and how. It also dictates the price too. The Minister said that sometimes it comes in form of aid, religion, food, music, water, and even air. No one has seen Gombalisation face to face in the country yet. The Minister said our President asked for a meeting with it, but Gombalisation refused. No doubt all the new fees I just announced to you are linked to the thing.”
“And do you think the cheap rice and other food items from these unknown countries come from the gomblition?” a villager asked.
“Exactly,” the Director replied. “I think that it may be glo….gol….go…balisation at work!”
“Does that mean that the Gombii group has arrived here?” Yosi abbreviated the complicated name into a more pronounceable form. There is no word that ends in “isation” or “ition” in the local language.
“Difficult to say. I really do not know. I only know that we all have to prepare ourselves to combat it. The Minister said to warn everyone to prepare for it. He talked of ‘mesures de protection communautaire[6]’,” the Director answered.
“But how can we do that if we do not even know what Gombii looks likes? We may need to consult our babalawo[7] about this.” Yosi turned to the others in the meeting. The villagers nodded their assent and after a small deliberation, they all agreed to meet early the next day in the house of the most powerful babalawo in one of the villages.

The Director was relieved that the increase in the hospital tariffs had not degenerated into a heated argument between him and the village elders. Gobalisation had taken on the blame. He too was worried. He was particularly concerned about what Gombii (he preferred this abbreviation too) would do to his scheme of skimming off twenty percent of the hospital budget. He also decided to consult his own babalawo to learn a bit more about Gombii.

Yosi was very troubled. On his return journey from the meeting, he conjured a mental image of a plague invading his village. In his mind, Gombolisation or Gombii was an evil thing - a curse. Yosi remembered the seven plagues of Egypt. Moses warned Pharaoh and all the Egyptians, but they did not believe until they started dying like flies. The Health Director was the new Moses. Yosi was determined to heed the Director’s warning about the Gombii plague. When he got home, he told his two wives of an impending doom - the arrival of Gombii in the village. Gombii would, first of all, wipe out the children and the women with hunger and disease. Thereafter, it will kill off the men. Yosi announced that the evil had already arrived in the district headquarters. He told them of the decision of the elders to meet with the babalawo the next day. He stressed that the family had to reach a quick decision to protect themselves. His wives were very scared. They had never seen Yosi so worried. They understood that they were in a very bad and dangerous situation and the family needed to take immediate and urgent precautions - “ogun awitele kii pa aro to gbon[8]. Yosi and his wives agreed to withdraw their children from school immediately and send them all far away, beyond the reach of Gombii.

Yosi had a brother in Ileokuta, a city in the neighbouring country. His brother worked with some other people in the stone quarries of Ileokuta. From the reports he had got, his brother was doing very well; he had even built some houses in the town. It was also rumoured in Yosi’s village that he also had a car. Yosi convinced his wives that his brother, whom he had not seen for over ten years, would be ready, willing and able to take good care of their four sons.
“What about the girls?” the senior wife asked. “We cannot let Gombii hurt them,” she pleaded.
“We will also withdraw them from school after the boys have left. We can send them to your aunt in the other neighbouring country. I am sure they will be safe there.”

That night Yosi called his sons and told them of Gombii and the imminent destruction of the village. He told them of his decision to send them to Ileokuta. The boys were scared of Gombii. The were also scared to leave the village. Yosi assured them that his brother would take very good care of them. That night, the whole family slept in the same room. Gombii might be lurking somewhere in the village. Yosi did not sleep well.
Yosi set out early to meet with the others in the babalawo’s house in the neighbouring village. On his arrival in the village, he saw men gathered in small groups and speaking in low tones. Then he heard some women wailing. Yosi approached one of the groups and asked what the problem was.
“The babalawo died during the night. He was quite healthy yesterday evening. I saw him. This is a very mysterious death. He just went off to join the ancestors during the night. Very strange,” one man said.
 Yosi was scared. “Gombii is real. It is already around,” he thought. Then he sought out some of the elders with whom he was in the meeting in the hospital director’s office the previous day. They moved apart to discuss. They were all scared.
“Gombii is here …,” one elderly man said.
“Shhhh ….  Don’t mention the name again. It is evil. I think it is everywhere. It must have overheard our discussions and our decision to consult the babalawo. It took the babalawo out before we could get here. We need to do something very urgently.”
“Yes, but what can we do?” Yosi asked.
“Let us all meet this evening in Yosi’s house to discuss it,” one of the elders suggested.
“In my house? Are you out of your mind? No we cannot meet in my house. What kind of arrangement is that? Why can’t we meet in yours?” Yosi was angry.
“Yosi! No need to be angry. Let us all meet under the Iroko tree at the edge of the sacred forest later this evening,” one elder suggested. They all agreed and went to join the others to participate in the late babalawo’s funeral rites..........

Excerpts from "Gombii and Other Short Stories" By Abimbola Lagunju

[1] Budgetary allocation
[2] Staff motivation
[3] Stock-outs of generic drugs
[4] Gombos: Okra
[5] These are  the orders from the Council of Ministers
[6] Community protection measures
[7] Ifa oracle priest, diviner and traditional healer.
[8] A wise cripple does not become a casualty of an impending war announced well in advance.   (i.e. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.)

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