ajagunna

I discuss Nigeria and the world at large because I strongly believe MyOpinionCounts!

Tag: race

The Black Burden by Ola Dunni

One day,

My nephew arrived from school

Tapped his mum and asked in a very innocent voice

dunni

Ms. Oladunni Talabi is a beautiful and wonderful addition to the AhjotNaija!BlogFamily. She is a Doctoral student resident in Germany, young and very-full-of-life. She experiments with different forms of writing; this is one of them: Entertaining while strongly pushing for deep self-discovery/identification and cross-cultural dialogues among other interesting themes

Are Africans stupid?

Are we stupid mum?

Were we shocked at this question?

No

Wary?

Yes

We needed some more time before we had to do the whole black stereotype discussion

We wanted him to be innocent for a few more years

To grow up like every other kid

And not be weighed down by the black burden we all have had to carry for centuries

He was just 7 years old

7 freaking years old

Why do you ask this?

His mum inquired

My classmate Bobby said all black people are stupid

With further digging and prodding,

We realised Bobby’s mother was the origin of this statement

Bobby’s mother told Bobby who called my nephew stupid

 

My nephew is the only black kid in the school

A very smart kid who has been promoted twice

But he questions his intelligence because a white kid said so

Unfortunately, that is just the tip of the iceberg for him

I am not pessimistic, simply realistic

He is gonna encounter far worse as he ages and leaves his cocoon

All we can do is arm him with tools to navigate a world which has been tilted against his kind

Educate him on history which was scripted to subjugate his kind

While stealing from him

Got us convinced we are not good enough

Got us convinced our religion is paganistic

Our way of life is far from the ideal

While stealing and raping our culture

Got us convinced our culture should take a back seat

While we embrace another whole heartedly

For yours is the standard of civilization

The bible was given to us in exchange for our freedom

And now you want me to continue to pray to a god which looks nothing like me

Believe in a fairy tale which paints an image of my kind as never do well slaves

You wear my hair as wigs during your carnival

While I am still struggling to wear mine as they grow from my head

Without being subjected to regulations on the definition of beautiful hair

 

My flatmate once called Kenyan food smelly and disgusting

With her nose scrunched up at me

Probably wanting me to apologise on behalf of Kenyans

Me shrugging my shoulders and retorting

Yours too stink and taste like rubber

The smell of cheese makes me want to puke

But the difference between me and you is understanding that identity is a construct

And no one chooses to which race, country, family he is born into

And that whatever you are,

Your taste, favorite food, fashion, culture is largely dependent on these 3 factors

What one chooses however is how you treat another human

How you don’t assume your own normativity should trump another’s

I am no longer going to be defensive

Apologizing for my culture, food, hair, body and colour

I have a right to own my narrative same as you do

I do not owe nobody an explanation either

For I am tired of smiling to the camera

Like some props to be displayed at the market square

 

Ask every black person

And you would hear the same story

How we subtly double check ourselves at every store

Before walking out the door

Making sure no article is tagged to our body mistakenly

We all sadly make fun of this

But it is a worry that plagues us all

That even if we got nothing on us

The alarm would still ring and we would be doubly embarrassed

So we pat ourselves stylishly

Because we are always automatically guilty until proven innocent

Who decides the innocence?

You

How do you then decide my innocence

If you are already plagued with your stereotypes of me

That I am a good for nothing criminal

 

The young guy who screamed monkey from his car

While high-fiving his friends

All laughing drunkenly

The doctor who requested for my asylum card

Automatically assuming my identity

The checker who came directly to my friend

And asked for her ticket

While the white dude who minutes before told his friend on the phone that he had no ticket was ignored

But of course he’s white so no one assumes he would drive black

Only black people drive black

The bouncers who refuse us entry into the clubs multiple times

The people who try to justify this act

The girl who dug her hand into my hair without my permission

Giving me her unsolicited opinion on the texture of my hair

Like my existence desperately needed her validation

The guys who ask to date me to satisfy their fetish

According to them,

Black girls are this and this and that

I was just some black face to them

And still told me I was the racist one for not throwing myself at their kind

The old woman who dragged me to her living room

To show me pictures of black kids she helps back in Africa

Oblivious to my discomfort and mechanical smile

All I wanted was a room to rent

The people who say we are all one when it suits their narrative

And scream go back to your country

At other times

The problem is not our difference

The problem is the interpretation of our differences

How we are narrated as not good enough

By the one who has the structural power

A proverb says,

Until the lion is able to write

The story will always glorify the hunter

 

So I told my nephew

Do not let society own you, shine so bright it dims the one who tries to stifle you

You are not intelligent, beautiful in spite of being black

You are all these because you are black

Embrace an undiluted image of you

Love yourself unaplogetically

But remember,

You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have

Standing tall in a world that has been programmed to proclaim your negatives

And impose their narratives on you

 

So when you say All lives matter

I ask you

Will your kids die with the world on their back

For mine will.

Lost in Transit? A Long Poetic Conversation on Language, Culture and Identity by Ola Dunni (!SiDOS)

dunni

Ms. Oladunni Talabi is a beautiful and wonderful addition to the AhjotNaija!BlogFamily. She is a Doctoral student resident in Germany, young and very-full-of-life. She experiments with different forms of writing; this is one of them: Entertaining while strongly pushing for deep self-discovery/identification and cross-cultural dialogues among other interesting themes

Hasten up,

I’d like to take my shower before we leave

No, it is take your bath, not shower, my friend corrects me

No, it is shower, I insist

No, you shower when you want to cool off your body

And take your bath when it involves scrubbing your body

Whatever, I’m off to the bathroom

Lets continue this English lesson in the bus

Ola I’d like some tea

No I don’t have tea

But I got chocolate if you want that

Well that’s tea, my friend shakes his head at me

No it’s chocolate, I insist

Tea comes in a bag

We argue over this for some minutes

Until I shrug my shoulder, “Whatever leave me be”

 

Hey Ola

Can you direct me to the closest cafe around here?

Sure, it’s right around the corner after the traffic light

You want to get some bread and coffee?, I inquire

What?, my friend stares at me incredulously

I want to print some documents

Oh! Its a print shop you need and not a cafe

No, its a cafe I need to go

 

These are the excerpts of conversations

between my newly arrived Nigerian friends and me

For two weeks, I’ve been made to pay attention to my grammar

With the realisation that I’ve picked up the German English

And lost my Nigerian English

Replacing peculiar Nigerian words for German phrases

It doesn’t end there

 

Wake up, your phone is ringing

The guy slaps the girl lightly on the shoulder

Wake up, it’s your alarm

Wake up, you have a message

I stare at them both incredulously

Why you do you have to wake her up to pick her call?

You should just mute the call and when she wakes, she calls back

Why would I do that?, he replies

Your suggestion is weird

Well, you waking her up to pick a call is weird too

I sigh

 

The guy is gone to class

Just me and my girlfriend at home

Her phone rings

I am awake so I mute it

She wakes up later

Hey Ola, did my phone ring?

Yeah, you were asleep so I put it on mute

Why didn’t you wake me?, she grumbles

You didn’t inform me that you’d like to be woken up to pick a call,

I replied

 

Hey Ola, can I use your perfume

My friend shakes my shoulder to wake me up

Is the home on fire?, I ask sarcastically

My sleep ridden face all squeezed

No, but I’d like to use your perfume

You actually wake me to ask this question?

I wasn’t even pissed

I was flabbergasted

You know you should simply use it or leave without using it

Either way, it’s rude to wake me up

I note the differences in our interaction

It will be difficult not to

 

These differences are very obvious

How I walk, how I interpret and respond to messages

My gestures, short mechanical smile I give to strangers

Do you know that person you just smiled at?

They ask

No, we don’t know each other. It’s just simple mechanical smile

Why you smile then? They ask

The hugs of goodbye and welcome I share with my friends

These ones opening the door without hugging me

Me still talking about the weather while they already gone back to the room

Weird people, I shake my head at them both

You are the weird one, they laugh at me

Why you hugging everyone

You not even in a relationship

 

My two newly arrived Nigerian friends

Remind me of the fact that I’ve lost the authentic Nigerian identity

Yes, I have a green passport

And I say I am Nigerian to everyone I meet

Holding on to that identity

But I realise I am swimming against the tide

And I am at the point of drowning

My friends tell me every minute

You are not Nigerian

You are so German

You wont fit into the Nigerian society

 

I have not visited home in 4years

Without my friends showing me what it means to be Nigerian,

I would continue to insist on my authenticity

Telling archaic stories and slangs

No one uses that word any more

They’d laugh at me. This is how we say it

Even your English is all mixed up

It has lost that peculiar Nigerian accent

Your words are pronounced on a very high pitch

Our pronunciations are very flat and low pitched

You are hybrid, just accept it

 

Then I remember the woman at the train station

On a Sunday morning

Shouting in anger at a young boy

It was a small argument that quickly escalated into a fight

I was tired

It was 5am and I had partied the entire night

All I wanted was to take the bus home in peace

But these two were at it

Exchanging words

And then the outburst

Go back to your country!!!

The woman shouted at the dude

It was obvious his facial structures was Arabian

We all turned in alarm

Shock written over our face

Condemning her in our silence

But of course we said nothing

That’s how it always goes

No one was willing to tell her how terrible that was

Then the dude responded, back to where? Bitch!

I was born here, same as you! I belong here!

I am from Germany!

 

He was from here

This is what he’s known all his life

But his identity was snatched from him in seconds

And he had to fight to reclaim it

Who knows how many times he’s had to do this?

Fight this identity battle

Telling everyone willing to listen, I belong here same as you

I pondered to myself

He didn’t look fazed

His statement was very flat

 

So when you say, tell me about Nigeria

I can only tell you about memories

Locked up

Brought out once in a while

Cleaned till it glitters

And locked up again

To be pushed out when the occasion arises

 

But my Nigerian identity has been contested

By my newly arrived friends

I cannot even eat their food

Neither can they mine

I talk about how we eat pepper a lot

Not realising that I do not eat the Nigerian quantity of pepper anymore

They say my food is bland

I say theirs is too hot

Almost ripping my tongue out

How can you feel the taste of the food if you douse it with this quantity of pepper

They say the pepper is actually the taste

So we decided to cook separately

 

I do not know what I am

Of course I’m not German

But they say I’m not Nigerian either

And I’d have to learn how to be Nigerian

So I cannot in good faith regale you with stories of Nigeria

Or how it feels to be one

That will be claiming an identity I do not 100% fit into

Neither do I 100% fit into the German society

 

So I have decided to juggle both

Be the German in the very Nigerian camp

You should lower your voice when you talk

Use your earpiece when you listen to music

Wait for the traffic light, be very time conscious

And be Nigerian in the very German camp

Laugh at the top of my voice, be the pepper eater, invite strangers into my home

This way I have my peace

And I do not have to try too hard to be anything.

Home! away-from Home! H!aH!

The question to ask is this: Why must people give me reason(s) to connect good things with bad. And it seems they often do. At least, each time I enter Afro-shops in Dortmund. Home away from home. I am not missing home. Good?! That exactly is the problem! There are things I definitely want to miss about home, some of them prompted my departing after all. Top of the list is dirt!

The other time I went to buy okro. My sister followed me. I was thankful at first the usual close-to-badfish odour did not welcome us. The thankfulness was short-lived. The pay-counter was beyond dirty. The young oldwoman attending us was unkempt. Yes, she is young, but must have chosen to age herself faster. She hit the rickety scale. Then tried to type in something. The machine did not respond. She hit again. When it finally answered, I paid for my two plantains. My sister handed over her fish. The woman put her fingers into a small transparent cup beside the scale, punched in something to tell the price of my fish. I already mentioned the pay-counter was beyond dirty, allow me spare you the details. In short, the whole place is a successful mess.

Skin-bleachers are everywhere, in Germany too! I was lucky my own laughter did not choke me when I read someone said she was not bleaching, that she was only toning. Was it Yvonne Nelson or another actor like that. Yes, this is how good our sense of comparison and humour is. It sounds perfectly cool, init?! Crazeman-logic.

In there I had attempted to strike a conversation with my sister.

Me: Iya Bukunmi, have you heard?

Iya Bukunmi: What?

Me: I heard our people now use shampoo toner cream to “tone” skin colour to yellow! I read it on a blackberry thread.

We continued our conversation outside the Afroshop. I began the shampoo toner talk because I saw a woman who must have been a user of this terrible method of skin degradation. She left too soon for my sister to notice what I saw. Her whiteness yellow pass palmoil. But why are our people like this?, I asked my sister.

Apparently, self-hate would stop at nothing to kill her victim. That was how the other day I saw this teenager who overnight turned mulatto; she is now a mix of bad yellow and spot-stained black around neck, fingers and wrists! I almost screamed at her! ALMOST! She used to be black. She was beautiful. We used to enter (enter!) the same metro and tram, so I knew her well. What desperation could have driven her to damage her skin this bad?! I will not pretend to know.

Bad role models? Maybe. Talking of bad role models reminds of a black couple I saw last year in Bochum. I was sure I set my eyes on them, saying nothing until they disappeared into their parked jalopy. I was beyond thankful Ibukun did not follow me out that day. She would have asked why I looked on with so much pity and disgust. The mulatoness of this couple showed they are unrepentant bleach cream users. The husband has a burnt back neck. The redness lay between deep-pink and light-lila. The wife looked more terrible. When the young lady I was with told me they had actually come to buy more bleaching cream from the Indian shop-owner, I could not be more surprised. I remembered the Yoruba logic of that proverbial cough-victim who but would not stop biting at coconuts and chewing dry-corn. This stubbornman-story was the only explanation I could find for the couple’s addiction to bleaching.

Now think of children birthed by these parents and the picture of a shampoo toner offspring is perfect. I told a friend she could consider our friendship over that day if she ever shampoo-tone herself. Abi? Even if I hate myself, I will not be foolish  enough to teach my children to self-hate. Lailai!

I think of using the toilet in a “normal” African church somewhere in Europe to see what is wrong with anything communal in Africa. If the toilet is not being cleaned non-stop (yet stinks of piss plus uncomfortable to use), then the water-pipe is leaking. I might even have to pour water using a bucket to flush my business. Scratch that, I exaggerate a little. The last time I was in such a toilet in London, memories of Iza-antiseptic tormented me. I missed and I did not miss home in that short moment. I was sure to keep my bladder under control till I got home. Each time I entered a good toilet, say Mc Donald, I was sure to tip the toilet-boy/-girl well after I finish. And I think of say many of these boys/girls (read MEN/WOMEN) are good churchgoers.

Yeah, it is that bad, so I avoid at all cost being haunted if I could. Hear a nightmare: I once heard a slab covering a pit-latrine gave way under the feet of a toilet-user. That was long ago. Each time I squatted, remembering the fate of the unknown fellow scared the hell out of me. If you don’t understand why I was that scared, stop trying, you never would!

Hell is real! At least for those who chose to live in the hell they left behind. The last time I showed up in that congregation was on my second visit. I went with Tumi. I throw-way face when he first complained the mounted loudspeakers were deafening. Our own noise as fellow-singers only increased the whole thing. He began to cry. Ibukun pinched me. I took a walk, away from the noise. We met a bird on the green grass and I was sad we had no food to feed the beautiful companion.

Some worshipers walked past us into the congregation of hell-believers. A woman was shout-talking. When we returned, the pastor was cursing himself to prove he told nobody secrets left in his custody by counsel-seekers who had visited during office hours! During prayers he saw some of us had trouble sleeping because a python pursued us in our dreams; the python spirit was in our midst, he concluded. When service ended, he prayed favours for those who shall visit government offices the next day. His declaration confirmed my fear all along. I was (back) home!

SundayStarter: Olabisi Ajala: Myths, Memory(-ies) and An African Abroad

Human memory is a limited medium of record preservation; put differently, the human memory pushes to the subconscious events/matters that are not immediately usable for many reasons, one of them being to “create space” to record newer materials. She does this to avoid overstretching, thus limiting the effect of wear and tear, which set in as we age. Imagine if an individual would have to daily “remember” all events (s)he has ever witnessed starting from birth! Aware of this limitation, we constantly backup our memory(-ies) in many ways imaginable. Discoveries of human records in anthropology confirm human ingenuity in record keeping.

Like music, the written word is one of such invented memory backup/refresher. The word-of-mouth is another relevant medium of backing-up human memory in this regard. Parents tell their children and the children tell their children to tell their children’s children so that they may not forget (completely). Talking about Mr. Ajala, I believe we memory-ed him mainly via these media, namely, song (music), oral history/narrative (word-of-mouth) and the written word (book).

The accuracy or truthfulness of recorded events can be tasking to establish, particularly with the oral medium. This does not mean songs and books are more reliable. I emphasized the oral medium because of its permanently liquid/floating state, i.e. hanging in the air to be narrative-ly plucked when needed. The error margin can be high. The reason for the difficulty is, word(s) of mouth, passed from A to B, then B to C, except recorded in a different medium other than the mouth, can hardly be accurately relayed. A Yoruba proverb confirms this:

“Oro atenudenu, ti o ba din, a le” “An oral situation-report from A to B to be relayed to C is overtime always incompete, it is either reduced in content or exaggerated.”

The awareness of the possibility of inaccuracy is good. We know we have to doubly fact-check (recorded) materials for accuracy, correctness and truth. There are many oral versions of happenings while Mr. Ajala’s traveled the world. I need not remind that many of them were peppered and spiced according to the teller’s taste. Take for instance the version I heard when I was a child:

Mr. Ajala was a Yoruba man, very rich businessman. He was world-famous and traveled the length and breadth of the earth. Every country he visited he married a wife who gave him a child. All these women never knew of their husband’s past so they willfully loved, married and catered for him. They bore him children because they loved him. Mr. Ajala met his Waterloo in India. His trip to India was to be executed accordingly, but the woman he married in India had a power far too powerful than Mr. Ajala. With her witchcraft she found out her husband was a real cheat. She killed him.

Beyond the fact that Mr. Ajala traveled to India, nothing in the account could be farther from the truth. I suspect this version must have originated from a source who read Mr. Ajala’s book or only the first few pages. Aware that the book started with a chapter on his visit to India, the rest was easily garnered from fantasy. We need to commend this version. At least it did not dismiss Mr. Ajala’s adventure as a mere fairy-tale.

Chief Ebenezer Obey attempted to backup human memory as regards Mr. Ajala. Below are those popular song-lines that preserve the adventure of this unique Nigerian:

You have traveled allover the world

Ajala traveled allover the world

Ajala traveled, Ajala traveled

Ajala traveled allover the world

When Chief Ebenezer Obey waxed this song, it was an attempt at sing-praising a worthy socialite into national conscience. The song-lines did not go beyond telling us the character traveled around the world, since it was not waxed mainly to sing-praise this character alone, probably more would have been said of his adventures. However, the little was absolutely enough to impress him in our memory.

Mr. Ajala is dead. Many who knew or heard of him might have long forgotten this uncommon Nigerian, but whenever those song-lines are heard, hummed or played, the exploits of a great man are brought to consciousness and consequently celebrated. For the human memory, that Ah! and Oh! moment would come back. In that instant, the individual is pressed to tell again what he knew of Mr. Ajala and his adventures around the world.

No exaggeration, going by events related in Mr. Ajala’s book, he would fit the Yoruba character of valor whose achievements are great and excellently so, to think of such as one (wo)man would be out-of-place. So (s)he is respectfully addressed as seven-(wo)man. Remember, seven represents perfection. No doubt, Mr.Ajala’s achievement made him a world-citizen extraordinaire.

Already in Mr. Ajala’s time, he was becoming a phenomenon; he was a star. His contemporaries saw it, and his legendary status was already being celebrated while he was with them. Here an excerpt from Mr. Ajala’s book:

Well, then, sir, you must be Mr. Ajala from Nigeria. My name is Mustapha Saliu Lawal. I came from Lagos, Nigeria. My friends who met you yesterday told me about you. I have read alot about you in the Nigerian papers before I came to Russia, and one of your brothers, now in London, is a very good friend of now. I am now downstairs with two other Nigerian friends of mine. (Page 81, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

Israel’s Foreign Secretary, Mrs. Meir was quick to recognize him and his work. She granted him an interview. Hear the introductory part of Mr. Ajala’s account:

Shalom, Mr. Ajala (…) I was quick to repeat her word of greeting. Shalom, your Excellency. You will hardly appreciate how deeply grateful I am to you for allowing me into Israel after causing you and your officials so much headache. (…) It’s not often we have this kind of trouble, your bravery impressed us. We thought we should crown it. (…) Israel is as much your home as Nigeria. (Page 152, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

To many, who were already of age in the 1960s when Mr. Ajala traveled the world, he was the best synonym for globetrotting. Unfortunately, over the years, his adventure became something of a faraway “non-existent” myth. Many children born around late 1950s and early 1960s when he globe-trotted did even know Mr. Ajala wrote a book. Now, if that be so, then we can safely conclude that in the memory of millions of Nigerians born in the 1980’s and below Mr. Ajala was simply another “confirmed” Ijapa-story, i.e. a fairy-tale. I need not remind us that fairy-tales are beautifully created fictions weaved around wonderful human fantasies.

Yoruba language is a tonal language. A word may bear in it many meaning depending on pronunciation. This sense is figuratively transported/reflected for example in the categorization of apology. We say “Pele lako, o labo”. An apology can be “male”- insincerely offered or “female”- heartfelt/sincere. Same is applicable to pejoratives passed off as commendation or simply expressed to scorn. Sometimes, it can be outright ridicule. Lets take a look at some of these (pejorative) expressions coined in relation to Mr. Ajala’s adventure:

(1) “Lai kii se Ajala!” “But you are not Mr. Ajala!” (2) “Ajala ni!” “(S)he is Mr. Ajala!” (3) “O fe di Ajala ni.” “(S)he wants to become Mr. Ajala.” (4) “O n bimo kiri bi Ajala.” “(S)he makes babies everywhere like Mr. Ajala”

I understand the danger of hasty generalization in this regard and I am aware context matters, but the truth is, many times these expressions are used, they are contextually used to joke or chide the individual concerned. There are questions to ask: (1) Why is Mr. Ajala’s name often used in connection to negative comparison? (2) Why do these expressions carry in them implicit admonitions to shun the Mr. Ajala’s type of adventure? (3) How and why did we let this happen?

The answer(s) is/are definitely multifarious, but not untraceable to our perception of indigenous memory, be it communicative, collective or cultural. Simply put, we tend to look our own achievements with scorn, so much so that we are quick to single out or project only the dirty or bad sides/images/figures of these achievements. We sometimes go as far as “creating” a badness for the achievement if we could not originally find one. Mr. Ajala’s character/image, I suppose, was a victim of negative narratives, which overtime the seem to be the overarching/prevalent narratives as reflected in the pejoratives.

I started reading Mr. Ajala’s own account of his travelogue with mixed feeling. One was that of excitement. Finally, I could read a personal narrative of this legendary figure. Another is, as I turned the pages, I realized my memory of this figure was coming back to me, one after the other; I read with prejudice. I had to consciously shut them out to read him objectively.

This is at the beginning of Mr Ajala’s book:

It is quite safe to say the worst and the best about India and Indians. Without being biased or unduly critical, one can identify Indians as appallingly ignorant savages, yet they belong to the most highly cultured and literary societies in the world. One can further describe India as the most hideous and, at the same time, the most colourfully fascinating of countries- in brief, every possible antonym may be used to classify and dissect this part of the world, and none will be far from the truth. (Page 19, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

Throughout the book, I came across contradictory, yet seemingly true comparisons like these in many of Mr. Ajala’s accounts and observations of the peoples, places and countries he visited. He was modest and careful not to stamp his observation as the singularly valid opinion about these peoples, places and countries. He made clear these are his personal observations and perception of the matter. One could not but have the feeling he was telling the truth. Besides, why doubt him since many of these accounts can be fact-checked.

Like his account on India, Mr. Ajala was sincerely detailed, almost to a fault, in his encounters with everyday life in the places and of the peoples he visited. Lets return to his account on India again to establish this:

With the exception of the Prime Minister, Jawaharl Nehru(..), most of the Indian people I met(…) were snobbish and intolerant, with detestable and annoying habits. For example, you are startled out of a pleasant sleep at 5 a.m. by the sound of someone who appears to be vomiting and in obvious agony at the wash-basin. You get up, full of sympathy and ready to help, only to find someone cleaning his teeth and cheerfully clearing his throat with the most disgusting sounds. (Page 20, Olabisi Ajayi, An African Abroad).

Detailed account like this cut across the book. These down-to-earth descriptions of experiences and encounters about/with the inhabitants of these spaces are characteristics only of good and objective travelogues. One can experience life of the locals about places one is yet to visit and get a feeling of being in their midst even if the reader is in faraway Germany.

Mr. Ajala was not only interested in the living conditions and ways of life of the locals, he was keen on getting to know same about African students in the countries. Aware that racial discrimination of all color and shade were at its peak around the time he made his trips, he did not take words of assurance from government or diplomatic sources for bare coins, particularly on the living conditions of African students. In India he spoke with African students who relayed the hostility of Indian students to Blacks. In his rapport with African students in The Soviet Union, this was how he introduced his discussion with them:

Just before I came to Moscow I was reading in one of the African papers (…) a serialized article by one of three students, all of whom had to leave Russia because they were being discriminated against, taught the workings of communism and insulted when in the company of their girlfriends. The same African who wrote these articles stated that he was often publicly attacked and beaten up by young Russian hoodlums. (Pages 82 and 83, Olabisi Ajala, An African Abroad)

This introduction was provocative, no doubt. Apparently, Mr. Ajala chose to introduce his chat this way to get as much details as possible from students who were confronted with daily-living in a country that is anything but black or colored. The responses of and account of daily-life recounted by the three students resulted in a lightly heated debate, which Mr. Ajala was sure to control so it did not degenerate into an all-shout-out-affair as it wont for Nigerians (Africans); a situation where all talked at the same time without hearing the other out. Reading in-between the lines, one sees that the students agreed African student life and the level of acceptance/warmness enjoyed could be better.

His interest in matters of race and discrimination was not limited to African students alone. His demand to be allowed to visit the Arab settlements in Israel was a pointer to Mr. Ajala’s keen interest in seeing an improvement in the extremely poor living conditions of these people. The Australians he met and spoke with were not spared questions about the unimaginable persecutions being suffered by the Aborigines of the land. Mr. Ajala wanted not only answers, he seemed to be appealing to the moral sense and humanity of the persecutor and the powerful to let be of evil. We are all god’s children.

Another interesting parts in the book were Mr. Ajala’s accounts of his meetings with the Heads of States (King, President, Prime Minister) in some countries. One could not but feel that Mr. Ajala was a daredevil. He cared not even for his life to realize his goal of meeting them. I held my breath when he told of his near-death encounter to cross the No-Mans-Land into Israel from Jordan. Really, he was only lucky to escape with his skin unhurt.

Especially insightful was the account of “Drama in Meeting Khrushchev”. He could have been dead because he was shot at, but for sheer luck; fate indeed meant it well with Mr. Ajala. Mr. Khrushchev, undoubtedly the strongest man of Soviet politics, for once feared for his life. And he showed it. He was afraid and he was unable to hide his helplessness. So, a man so powerful as Mr. Khrushchev, who controlled with iron-fist the fate and lives of hundreds of millions was not immune to fear. If Mr. Ajala’s successful meeting with the Kremlin Chief achieved nothing, it at least confirmed that those who wield (political) power are just as human as anyone of us.

I will not forget to remember this: at first, I found it lightly difficult to read sentences without a pause. The reason, I found out very quickly, was the way the English sentences were constructed. They were correct Standard English, no doubt, but I realized I was not only reading a book about the past, I was practically being transfigured into the past via the English diction and sentence construction style employed in the book. All in all, Mr. Ajala’s political travelogue and partly autobiography is a good read. I strongly recommend it.

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