America on his mind. (And the challenge of our times.)

image

It was just two days before the last Christmas. It was getting late. Willy was engrossed mending an old big map. It was one of those huge maps that National Geographic Society is well known for – a fold-in map from an old edition of the National Geographic magazine. Several old copies of the magazine are scattered all over the house. Two sheets of this map, made in the form of a cloth are almost large enough for an average adult to make a decent shirt  out of. The map was still in good shape except for some few slashes here and there due to frquent folding and unfolding. Willy had to spend ample time mending  the torn big map. To this end, he has previously bought a big cellotape from a nearby store. The borrowed pair of scissors from his mum also came in handy. This is usually his style any time he finds a pet project to occupy his time. His mum said that the boy is like me in this area. All focus and concentration. The boy reminds me of those days back at Ososo Grammar School and later at Oyo State College of Arts and Science Ile Ife. Then, I used to explore the world – just reading and poring over maps in my college atlas. That was before the days of the world wide web. That was long before computers and laptops as we know them now were concieved and embraced en-masse. Both Yahoo and Google were still many years ahead – behemoths of the future,  yet to be born. The first job I got after my WASC/GCE OL was selling audio cassettes at one of those noisy open shops at Gbagi, Ibadan. One of the first things I bought from my first salary was a college atlas. That was long before what Professor Os Guinness in his book “Fools Talk”, described as the modern Weapons of Mass Distraction  (WMD).These weapons of mass distraction if you don’t know them are in their legions – Google Whatsapp, Skype, BBM, Yahoo IM, Telegram etc, etc

image

Daddy: “Willy, you’ve spent so much time repairing a “broken map” of USA and cramming the names of all the 50 states in US, can you even tell me the names of all the 36 states in Nigeria by heart?”
Willy: “Yes. That is easy now. I can name all of them along with their capital cities.”
Daddy: “I’m sure I can do the same too if I really have to. When I was your age, Nigeria had only 12 states… ”

Late in the evening of the following day, resuming from where he stopped yesterday, Willy has itemized the list of almost all the states that make up US in his notebook. Hawaaii and Alaska were also included in the large spread out map.  He has written down all the names of the states of US correctly (along with their capital cities). All except for the state of Rhode Island. At long last , tracing his finger towards the North East section of the large map, he exclaimed with excitement.
“Daddy, is Rhode Island also a state?”
“Yes, it is. On the map, the state is very small, that is why you were not able to locate it quickly.”
Willy: “The area is very small. It’s about the size of Rivers State.”
Daddy: “I think Rhode Island is even smaller than Rivers State.”
Willy: “Daddy,  I can mention almost all the states by heart.”
Daddy: “Are you sure you can do that?”
Willy: “Yes.”
Daddy: “Sure? OK. Will President Obama, Bill Gates or any American citizen give you an award for naming all the states of their country correctly without looking at your map?  You had better go and find some better thing to do with your time instead of cramming the name of the states in US.
And don’t forget to cellotape together the large slashed out hole in the centre of the map. Doing so will help the map to last longer.
On my own part, I’ve been through only 3 of US states. I’ve been through the states of Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois. Do you know that Texas is larger than Nigeria in terms of land area? Texas and California are the two largest states. You can even see that from the map.”
Willy: “Daddy…”
Dad: “Yes son?”
Willy: “How do you pronounce this state M-a-s-s-a-c-h….
Dad: “That is Massachussetts.”
Willy: “Okaaay.”
Dad: “One of the most famous universities in the world – Massachussetts Institute of Technology is located there.”
Mercy: “That is “MIT””
Daddy: “It is not pronounced MIT (as in meat), the alphabets are pronounced individually M-I-T.”
Mercy: “I know.”
Now addressing myself to Willy, “you had better start putting in more efforts towards your Maths. You never can tell. May be one of these days, you will find yourself at the MIT.”
Willy: “OK.”
He was grinning from ear to ear and finally walking away from the map still left open on the plastic table.

So here is my son working hard to fix a “broken map” of America. And I said to myself, it seems that this America don’t even know who their true friends are. And what do you expect when you don’t even know who your friends are? Why won’t you be running from pillar to post when you cannot differentiate between your true friends and your sworn enemies?
And I said to myself further on, if only there were more of our youth who will commit themselves to mending this broken and battered nation of ours – Nigeria. Let’s commit ourselves to this goal in this year 2016 and going forward. That’s is the challenge of our times. Willy’s Challenge.

image

Gravity: The picture that almost cost me my camera.

image

               
Francis and I were returning from Ibadan (on 4 – September – 2013) where we went to drop-off Oonere. She just commenced studying for her Advanced Levels papers at Ibadan. With Francis behind the wheel, departing from Ibadan, we soon left Ife, Ondo and Ore far behind. The section of the expressway we were then plying was fairly good.

image

image

image

image

Maintaing a normal speed we were heading towards Okada town and then on to Benin City. On the Rivers, Bayelsa (and parts of Delta) states sections of the East West road, you are guaranteed more of bomb-craters sized pot-holes than a smooth ride. The 4WDs in spite of their stamina are not spared the wearing and wasting  rigours of the half-heartedly constructed and mostly dilapidated or almost non-existent roads.  We are told that hope is on the way, courtesy of the behemothal road construction machines that stringed more than half the length of the road from Port Harcort in Rivers state to Warri in Delta state. 

image

image

image

image

image

I never cease to be amazed by the unending streams of wisdom scribbled on the various shades of vehicle plying our Nigerian roads. A lot of the time, I never had the chance to grab hard-copies of these mobile wise-graffitis while driving, except when I am held up in traffic jams known as “go-slows” here. Francis returned from Abuja some couple of days back. This afforded me the luxury of being driven most of the round trip from Port Harcourt to Ibadan and back. With my Panasonic DMC-ZS10 by my side, I was able to grab some of these uncanny pieces of wisdom and often times hilarious wisecracks that help to keep Nigerians the happiest people on earth. Supposedly. At other times, my Samsung Galaxy S3 comes in handy especially when I am held-up in a “go-slow”.
From Ore, we were trailing on to Benin City when I caught sight of this lorry with the inscription behind it;
“WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN” – as if to scream at Sir Isaac Newton that he was not the first observer or discoverer of the law of gravity. He only happened to package it better. Afterall, packaging, they say, is everything. Packaging is what makes iPhone stand apart from my old rusty Galaxy S3 (on which I am writing this blog). Don’t worry. I am contented and happy.

image

Before he had the time to zoom pass this lorry, I told my son to slow down so that I can capture a short or two of this “short-wisdom-message.”
Francis eased his foot from the accelerator so that I can fill my camera view-screen with this shot. Hardly have I finished grabbing these series of shots when a police man appeared from no-where and waved for us to stop. With the self-assurance that we were not over-speeding, I told Francis to slow down and stop. Ordinarily, the policeman ought not to have stopped our vehicle, because of the speed we were then maintaining. This was all the more so because the lorry immediately ahead of us was not stopped.

Policeman: “I noticed that you were taking our pictures from your car. Why did you take our picture?”
Me: “Officer, we were not taking pictures of you or your people. We are not even aware that there is a police-checkpoint here. In fact we were taken aback by your unexpected dashing out towards the road to stop us. You can even look at the picture I just took. In fact, I’ve been taking this and other similar shots all along the way.”
I now proceeded to show him all the set of pictures recently taken. Apparently convinced by my explanations, the policeman now proceeded to ask for my name, my state of origin, where we were coming from and where we were heading to.
Me: “Officer, we are returning home from where we went to drop-off my daughter at her school.”
Policeman: “Where do you work? Can I see your company‘s ID card?”
Me: “… I don’t travel with my company’s ID card on personal businesses.”
The policeman now proceeded to check our vehicle documents and driving license.  “All correct” and almost set to let us go, he was enthralled by my petite but very capable Panasonic DMC ZS10 camera.
Policeman: “This your camera fine o. How much did you buy it.?”
Me: “Yes it is. I spent almost as much money to fix it (when it got damaged) as the initial purchase price. So, this camera cost me roughly $700.”
Policeman: “That is a nice camera you’ve got. Can you help me to get one like it?”
Me: “Actually, this camera is already old now. You might be able to get this type or a similar one for about $250 equivalent in Lagos or Port Harcourt. Better still, you can send somebody to buy it for you from the US.”
Continuing for some minutes more, the policeman eventually let us off. As we were about to start driving away I gve the him N1000 without any solicitation from him.
Policeman: “I hope that you are not bribing us o ?”
Me: “Do you call that a bribe? I freely gave you the money without your asking for it. Is that what you call a bribe?”

Much later in the day after arriving at PHC, I had time to pour over the pictures. Unknown to me,the policeman was partially captured in one of the shots.

image

image

image

image

Me: “Francis, come and see. That policeman was actually captured in one of the shots I took on the road today. I just thank God that he did not confiscate my newly “redeemed” Panasonic camera. It’s like he really wanted to seize it from us. If he had seen his image in the camera when I was showing him all those pictures on the preview screen, he would have had a “perfect” excuse to use to snatch the camera from us. Then, I could as well have “kissed” my precious camera good-bye forever.”
Francis: “Yes, it’s like he really wanted to dispossess us of that camera at all costs. But then, what would have been his justification for doing that? I don’t think I would have let him go away with the camera just like that. At best, I would have just tell him to watch me delete the “offending shots” – those that had his image captured.”
Me: “Francis! Have you forgotten that you don’t argue with the man who wields a gun? Well, let us just thank God that things did not get worse than the slight delay they forced on us. It seems that those police officers were up to no-good, that is why they were so antsy over our taking their pictures, as they supposed we were doing.”

This reminded me of the experience of some National Geographic writers/photographers who were accosted and detained by soldiers in the early days of OBJ’s administration. Was it Ed Kashi of National Geographic that said, “Nigeria is a country of many shadows. The more shadows you uncover, the more there are to uncover.”? I am not sure of who it was that made that statement. Nigeria will get better when all of us, individually, begin to uncover the dark shadows in the crevices and all the unseen inner recesses of our hearts and our souls.

image