I am writing this on my porch in Nigeria. I am surrounded by beauty. It is midday and the sun is shining. Pink bougainvillea is keeping me cool and wherever I look I see different types of leaves that must have inspired every single pattern that exists in this world. I am drinking a ginger and watermelon smoothie. Birds are whistling an African anthem and the soft breeze is tickling my senses. I can never be more at home than this. Everything should be okay but it isn’t.
See, I’m in Lagos, a city that the UN Population Division (UNPD) predicts to be the world’s third largest city in 2015. I’m in a country where 40% of the population is 15 years or younger and 60% live on less than $1/day. I’m in a corner of the world where we need more than miracles to look after all those young people that are still unborn. Yet what we want is a miracle. We have no choice but to try.
If our attempts fail, we will pack all we want into a box of hope that we will wear under our Sunday hats tomorrow and go to church. We will pray that the miracles that happened in the Bible will happen here, and we will forget to look at the trees to ask our ancestors what they did, and what they suggest that we do, when things aren’t okay. We will forget that it was the same forces that brought us the Bible that also brought values that cannot feed our children. Our children cannot eat books that write about our primitive, uncivilized past. When our Armani-suited, Dolce & Gabbana-tied, Gucci-shoe-wearing pastor says that our prayers will be the salvation of future generations we will lift our hats, releasing the only thing we have, those boxes of hope, into the caskets of the money collectors.
Later, we will journey back home as saved people. We will preach negligence to those that did not join us to beg for miracles, but some part of our machinery knows that the white god cannot replace Olodumare, Nri, Bayajidda. . . It is the same part that knows that praying to the white god cannot replace immoral leaders with deserving ones. It should not be like this.
I grew up a Christian, I have written about this before, of how as a child I sought faith in the messages of the Bible. I cherish many of the verses, especially those about Jesus. In many ways, they enriched my life. However, I cannot stand here and watch us all in these silly hats of lost dreams and say nothing. We cannot afford to separate miraculous fiction from reality. Was it not the missionaries that came and said that our faith was evil, that our women were too industrious, that our mothers did not know how to raise children, that we did not know the real meaning of love? Did we forget this before or after the Queen came to wave at us from her jeep? Did she perform a miracle I do not know about?
Until the lions produce their own historians, the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter – African proverb
Personally, I would have told the missionaries who came in those days, that okay there are many things I’m not sure about in our traditions, like polygamy. I would have told them that there are many things that seem sensible about their traditions, like urban planning. I would have said that we are sensible too, by living closely with nature, and that they lack sense when they say that a good woman must not be as educated as a man. I would certainly have said that we are all the same in our pursuit of ways with which to abolish evil, so don’t you come here, telling us that we do not know how to live when we have been doing so before genesis. We can build a church where we incorporate some of what you know and some of what we know, period. And I would probably have been given the choice between ‘my daily bread’ and my daily bread, because it’s easier said than done.
We have to stop staying awake with our worries at night and sleeping during the day, we are not Zombieria. We are Nigeria. Or Kenya. Or Mali. Or Jamaica. Or Harlem. Our history is greater than most of us even bother to know. And our future can only be great if we erase the derogatory narrative of Africa and retell it, not embellishing it nor repelling it, but doing everything we can to find out the truth. If we stop pretending that everything is okay whilst we wait for God’s miracles. God will not save us unless we want to save ourselves.