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The Dance of the Lizard and Other High Childhood Risks

Jul. 20th, 2017 | 02:09 pm
location: Igboland
mood: amusedamused

by

Obododimma Oha

Growing up in the rural African environment could be a great fun, but it is also surrounded by a number of risks. In fact, rural African childhood is a risky business. And for many of us who had such childhood, the pleasures of growing up as a child were present in the various risks one had the opportunity of taking once in a while. Sociologists identify forms of engagements that involve high risks, especially professional activities, as edgework. Hardly do adults think of childhood activities as involving practices of edgework. But, indeed, children love taking such risks when the adults are not paying attention. They like trying things out, risky things, very risky things that may take one’s life. Many children get involved just because their mates are doing it; they compete with their peers and would not want to fall below the range of respect in the eyes of the other.

As a child growing up in the rural Igbo village of Umubazu, in Uli Clan, I participated in such risks, risks that could have given my parents heart attack if they knew. Indeed, when I think of my involvement in such risks – and the fact that many rural children lived their childhood days doing those kinds of risky things – I am led to conclude that many children only survive by chance or sheer divine providence. If they die in those highly risky ventures, their parents hardly know what has led to their death. Perhaps they would have thought their enemies have used the power of witchcraft to kill off their young ones! Or, it could have been attributed to ogbanje, that evil force that makes a young one die suddenly, in compliance to some pre-birth spiritual covenant, to cause great pain to the parents.

As children, my mates and I devised one very risky competition involving the eating of raw pepper harvested right from the plant, the eater suppressing the burning pain, even if tears welled up in his or her eyes and not drinking water at all for a while. The terrible idea was to test the courage of the contestant and find out who would break, and therefore laugh at that weakling! Such eating of raw pepper was attributed to ngwere the lizard. So, we called it igba egwu nwa ngwere (dancing the dance of the lizard). Yes, we saw lizards once in a while eat raw pepper in the obubo, the household garden every mother had, and we wondered how such a small animal could endure the burning pain of raw pepper. We never saw it cry out in pain or drink water afterwards. If the lizard could do it, why couldn’t we? We, therefore, saw it as a challenge from the animal itself.

Those of us who were boys in the homestead saw igba egwu nwa ngwere as a test of courage for superior boyhood. Any boy who ate raw pepper and cried out was a mere girl and was not worthy to have a penis! So, we understood it as a “Boys’ Game;” girls who wanted to join (and they rarely did) could join us.
It is surprising that it never took a fatal turn. But it could have. Once in a while, a child had the kind of stomach pain called oji ogu aru afo (that which tills the stomach like a farmland) and that child had the terrible luck of being asked to drink a capsule that was pulled open, the powdery contents mixed with water. It was such a very bitter thing! And when one took it, one could not tell whether it was fighting the oji ogu aru afo or the latter was fighting it or that both were fighting the drinker. One just held one’s churning stomach and kept squeezing it until, thank goodness, one contestant in the stomach overpowered the other and one fell asleep. No one knew for sure whether igba egwu nwa ngwere led to oji ogu aru afo or something else did.

And what about going to hunt for rodents, digging up the holes and once in a while inserting one’s hands into the hole to catch the frightened animal, to prevent it from escaping? One day, a prankster age-mate and I went digging and when something started moving in the hole, we thought it was the rodent. Then, I put my hand in the hole to catch it, but what did I drag out? A big, big, big snake! I didn’t wait to find out what kind of serpent it was, or whether it had a forked tongue! I did not know when I dropped the hoe and the snake. My friend and I flew like the wind through the bush. Of course, by playing frequently in the bush, we had mastered the wonderful art of running the thicket as if it were an open sports pitch, evading thorns and thistles. And as we ran, other creatures in the bush ran with us and away from us – squirrels, bush fowls, grass cutters, etc. They must have either felt that we were pursuing them or that something greater was pursuing us. Didn’t we get to safety, anyway? It was exciting to disturb the bush once in a while. And we laughed and laughed and laughed at what had just happened.

Little terrible hunters! But we were always learning some skills in this kind of world. There were kids among us who were known for good marksmanship. They would aim their catapults at a wild dove cooing high up there in the iroko tree -- and twang – they would bring the bird down with that single shot. That day, the lucky shooter would be the celebrity in the home and would be envied as he attacked the special part of the meat with which he has been rewarded. But that kind of reward even tempted some of us to try very risky night hunting. The pattern was simply this: identify a freshly made nest in the bush that could house a big bird and which was low in the tree. Then, go stealthily in the dark and grab the whole nest, making sure its contents are held tight. You don’t want to know the outcome of this, do you? Your guess is not far from it: on many occasions, one grabbed reptiles, terrible coils of slithering demons! As usual one ran, if one was lucky not to get a bite. Sometimes, it turned out to be an unlucky bird and one went back home announcing and advertising one’s bravery. But, of course, if it turned out to be a snake, one went home humbly and behaved as if nothing had happened. Sometimes, ignorance of certain things done by these kid forest rangers could save parents from having a heart attack!

There was the building of huts with leaves in the bush and going there to sleep for about an hour or so. Hmmm. The high side of acting the role of adults or dramatizing our ability to make nests like the birds and live together with them in the wild – a return of the human to the wild where they belong or have come from, this secondary habitation in the bush was considered a special form personal test by the child architects. Of course, we started off in our early years building “mansions” in the wet sand, especially after the rain when the sods could hold together firmly. But those “mansions” did not last, and so, the making of huts in the bush became a better alternative. Moreover, it came with an intense allure for adventure: what if one spent a night in the bush? Could one suddenly wake up and see spirits walking around or holding meetings? Yes, it was worth trying out, the adventurous voice inside one’s head said. And we did. It always provided the grounds for boasting if one could beat one’s chest at the playground and say: “I slept for sometime last night in my house in the bush. Guess what? I saw seven-headed spirits holding meetings! They spoke through their nostrils.” Then, the arguments rage. It’s a lie, a great lie, someone would say vehemently. At the end, the challenge was thrown: try it yourself, if you say it is a lie!

One really had a childhood. It was an African childhood, and it was made of high risks.

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Making Sure You Post & Consume Appropriately on Social Media Forums: A Useful Guide

Apr. 11th, 2017 | 05:03 pm
location: Nigeria,
mood: awake
music: Everytime Two Fools Collide by Kenny Rogers

by

Obododimma Oha

MIND your context.

√ The very nature of your context matters. You are online and exposed to the whole world!
√ Your forum may have peculiar interests & goals. Try to MIND those.

You are in a conversation.

√ You are to make a contribution, but you don't have to post anything sometimes. It is safer to
remain silent.
√ Other people have the right to contribute. Your views are not the only one & certainly not the
best!
√ Note the rules of the platform, whether they are written or unwritten, and observe them
religiously. Otherwise, quit.

Aim more at learning from others than feeding them.

√ Be critical in receiving, though.

Your language presents you, represents you. Mind your language!

√ Language, here, includes the verbal, the visual, the musical, etc through which you try to say things.

In consuming information, be attentive & selective.

√ Every information may not be helpful to you.
√ Every information you consume consumes your time & energy. You have other things to do in life!

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A Fetus in Every Dish

Jan. 1st, 2012 | 07:11 pm
mood: contemplativecontemplative

By

Obododimma Oha

Elewure the goat meat dealer apparently wanted to give me the impression that he was doing me a special favor as his special customer. He reached out beneath the table where he stacked carcasses of goats that met their death at his hands that morning and brought out a pinkish lump of flesh. Not knowing what it was, I asked, "For me?" "Yes," he answered, "Na special meat. A keep am for you," the friendly smile on his face complementing the warmth of his local Nigerian pidgin. Other customers looked my way, and I could see envy in their eyes. I was half-way in stretching out my hand to take the "meat" when, out of sheer sense of bothering to know the quality of the meat I buy, I stopped and asked why it looked strange. "Ah, na special meat! Na di pikin wey di goat carry for bele!" he answered, beaming with smiles, probably expecting me to show my gratitude! 

My God! A fetus!? I almost fainted....

How could this man have expected me to buy and eat a fetus? Even as a gift! My God! I felt very sick and decided right away to cancel buying goat meat for that day. I had, as had been my custom for months, wanted to buy a large quantity of goat meat to give my family a real treat that weekend. Now my Elewure had spoiled my appetite and made it impossible for the treat to materialize. I quietly applied my reverse gear, as they say in popular Nigerian English, the Elewure and his other customers amazed at my strange behavior. 

You can imagine the repercussions: back home, I was sick, psychologically sick for days. Everywhere I looked, I saw the fetus. I saw the fetus in every piece of meat anyone was eating. I saw it in a loaf of bread on the breakfast table. I saw it in the birthday cake waiting to be cut. I saw the fetus even in the Holy Communion. I saw a fetus in every dish. Every consumable I looked at became the fetus refusing to die in the slaughter of its mother. 

 My wife and my children wondered what was happening to me. Someone in the family asked whether I had joined any of those strange religious groups in town that, as it was rumored, would not eat meat because their members feasted on human parts in their secret meetings at night. I couldn't have become a vegetarian too -- even though there was nothing wrong with being one -- given that I could not keep up with the strict rules of abstinence. Moreover, I would not be able to afford the high cost of fresh vegetable and fruits in this part of the non-farming world. So, it was necessary for me to recover quickly from my psychological problem and become a carnivore once more!

As someone who had been reading the lovely pieces written by Yemisi Ogbe, who used to write a literary journalistic column devoted to gourmet, for NEXT, a Lagos-based newspaper, I wondered whether this offer to have a goat fetus for the weekend was some kind of ironical twist to my desire to use an animal in creating a sense of satisfaction for week-ending. Or, was it part of that unfortunate design one finds in Nigeria that whenever one has to smile, a cry stands close by, watching to take over?

The things we see here and there could change our mental lives completely.

As I recover from my shock gradually (having undergone some therapies), it dawns on me what it means to eat a fetus, and to eat another creature's fetus.  On the one hand, I realize that eaters of fetuses demonstrate a kind of "rare" courage which, to me, amount to dispensing with feelings. Perhaps I have not emotionally grown up enough to just "kill and eat." The business of survival, indeed of satisfying physiological needs, ironically involves distancing oneself from what one calls "food." Your food is not you, should not "touch" you, should not move you. Don't let your food eat your mind! 

I also realize that the excitement over eating the fetus as "special meat" converges with consuming the very best of the other, as a way of exercising dominance over the other. Do larger and more powerful groups in human societies not present that same excitement in their ability to eat the "fetus" of the smaller groups they have slaughtered or are slaughtering? In eating the other's fetus, are the eaters not reassured that their victory is total and complete?

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100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE: An Anthology

Mar. 29th, 2011 | 12:38 am

(Ed. Anny Ballardini & Obododimma Oha, in collaboration with MICHAEL ROTHENBERG)
"We will turn to the idea of the messianic in Chapter Ten of this book, but for the moment it suffices to stress that both Benjamin and Agamben employ the term in singular fashion. For them, a messianic idea of history is not one in which we wait for the Messiah to come, end history, and redeem humanity, but instead is a paradigm for historical time in which we act as though the Messiah is already here, or even has already come and gone. What is so difficult about Agamben's use of the term messianic is how radically it is to be distinguished from the apocalyptic. Agamben says that to understand "messianic time" as it is presented in Paul's letters "one must first distinguish messianic time from apocalyptic time, the time of the now from a time directed towards the future" (LAM, 51). To this he adds, "If l had to try to reduce the distinction to a formula, I would say that the messianic is not, as it is always understood, the end of time, but the time of the end" (LAM, 51). The model of time corresponding to this idea is one that no longer looks for its decisive moment in a more or less remote future, but instead finds it in every minute of every day, in this world and in this life; and it is through such expressions as "dialectics at a standstill" and "means without end" that the two thinkers aim to return our gaze from the distant future to the pressing present."
(from GIORGIO AGAMBEN: A Critical Introduction, Leland de la Durantaye, 2009, p. 120)

Set in the context of this split between "the end of time" and "the time of the end" is Michael Rothenberg's recent invitation for the global writing public to participate in "a demonstration/celebration of poetry to promote serious social and political change" titled 100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE on 24 September, 2011. As protests for political reforms sweep across North Africa, the Middle East, in some parts of Europe, in the United States, with the recent disasters in The Gulf of Mexico and in Japan, one cannot help thinking about the "Rothenberg Project” as a highly significant creative response to change as something more than an adjustment to the way social relations are constructed.

Obododimma Oha and Anny Ballardini, in collaboration with Michael Rothenberg’s event, will edit and feature outstanding poetic compositions for the 100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE on Fieralingue's Poets’ Corner. Visual artwork, poems, poetic fiction, poetic nonfiction, and photographs to be submitted for consideration should go beyond the simple and gratuitous statement that ‘a change is needed.’ Our present, our Messianic time requires a STILLSTELLUNG (Benjamin’s word) translated by Dennis Redmond in On the Concept of History (1940) with “an objective interruption of a mechanical process” into which we have been engulfed. Dennis Redmond continues in his explanation of STILLSTELLUNG: “rather like the dramatic pause at the end of an action-adventure movie, when the audience is waiting to find out if the time-bomb/missile/terrorist device was defused or not.” We feel that we are living in a similar situation, and we are in need of a Stillstellung followed by ideas to offer our politicians, to make students/friends/our communities more aware of how we can change, revise history, start over again.

Visual works and photographs for submission are to be saved in JPEG format, while texts, which should not have rigid formatting, are to be in Word. All submissions should be emailed to the editors anny.ballardini@gmail.com and obodooha@gmail.com by September 1, 2011 with "100 THOUSAND POETS FOR CHANGE" in the Subject line.

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Friends, Citizens, Captives

Jan. 24th, 2010 | 10:50 am

by

Obododimma Oha


I

“To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done”
-- Nigeria’s civil war slogan



Jack of the Union britished
Captives of the Niger, ancient peoples proud
To be different but free

The citizen the captive now
The captive the Nigerian forever
Living together against their will
Perishing together against their will

Jack was the union, tin-faced
To keep Nigeria one without knowing why
The boiling hotpots of Jos tell angrily
A middle belt not tight, never will


Jack wins away
When he loses at home



II

Jos of the just
Always cold, too cold
So bloodshed makes her hot

Can’t read the expressions
On the brows of the tired hills
For the fog weighs heavily
On the harms of the harmattan

A citizen wakes
In the captivity of his own stories
A neighbour’s presence that sours
In mutual hate & easy death

Jos, just the climax
Takes us to the beginning
When Jack britished someone’s right
Not to nation with the other.

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Vol. 12, No. 2, of CONTEXT now available

Jan. 2nd, 2010 | 02:47 am



The current issue of CONTEXT: Journal of Social & Cultural Studies (ISSN 1119 -- 9229) (Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2009) is now available. 

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Virtual Venice

Oct. 9th, 2009 | 11:45 am

Multi-authorship of a poem is such a great thrill, especially when carried out by poets from diverse cultural backgrounds and languages, and particularly when it happens at the spur of the moment. The poem becomes many-in-one, represents challenging conversations, and stimulates a form of thinking that is immediately spirited for a global presence of the many localizations. The Italian artist & curator, Caterina Davinio, made it possible by convening an e-poetry festival mediated by Skype, where the following poets performed their poems on webcam: 

Stefano Donno (Lecce, Italia), Vincenzo Bagnoli (Bologna, Italia), Ruth Lepson (USA), Phoebe Giannisi (Grecia), Obododimma Oha (Nigeria), Nicole Mauro (USA), Mirona Magearu (USA), Matteo Fantuzzi (Bologna, Italia), Massimo Mori (Firenze, Italia), Lamberto Pignotti (Roma, Italia), Italo Testa (Parigi, Francia), Gabriele Montagano (Napoli, Italia), Francesco Muzzioli (Roma,Italia), David Seaman (USA), Craig Saper (USA), Avi Rosen (Israel), Annamaria Ferramosca (Roma,Italia), Alfonso Siracusa (Siracusa, Italia), Cristina Vignocchi (Sant'Andrea Pelago / Modena, Italia), Joseph Young (UK), Liliana Ugolini (Firenze, Italia), Denis Belley (Canada), Philip Meersman (Olanda), Mariapia Quintavalla (Milano), Elif Sezen (Australia), Mario Lunetta (Roma, Italia). 

While waiting for the virtual performances to be wrapped up, the poets assembled started chatting. I suggested that we try writing a poem collectively and this was immediately accepted. Ruth Lepson provided the opening line and the rest of us joined. A poem thus emerged, collectively written. For want of a title, I suggested "Virtual Venice, a multiverse." Here below is the poem made of many voices:

Virtual Venice

(a multiverse)

 

[6:50:32 AM] Ruth Lepson: obododimma waits by the backdrop

[6:50:53 AM] Obododimma: and thinking this here was there

[6:51:13 AM] David Seaman: David had his backdrop all planned then lost a signal and had to move to the bedroom!

[6:51:14 AM] Obododimma: venice an eye away from a glance

[6:51:24 AM] Ruth Lepson: yet this here was never there

[6:51:35 AM] Obododimma: where Gianni* sits watching

[6:51:43 AM] David Seaman: Let's all go to Venezia

[6:51:49 AM] Ruth Lepson: toodling and oogling

[6:52:06 AM] Philip Meersman: nor is it here, aca, aqui, what does it matter it holds the water just below base

[6:52:22 AM] Craig Saper: his plans for a poetry reading machine

[6:52:28 AM] Obododimma: thought venice was venus so nice to oblongs

[6:52:29 AM] Craig Saper: lost in the mail

[6:52:33 AM] Ruth Lepson: je veux ecrire tous les gens

[6:52:53 AM] Ruth Lepson: lost in time

[6:53:06 AM] Philip Meersman: tous les gens perdu

[6:53:15 AM] Philip Meersman: venu de nous ecouter

[6:53:16 AM] Ruth Lepson: certainement

[6:53:31 AM] Obododimma: venice is and was ocean seed,

[6:53:43 AM] Philip Meersman: mais l'eau est trop vague

[6:53:44 AM] Ruth Lepson: eek it

[6:53:56 AM] Ruth Lepson: sinks

[6:54:10 AM] Obododimma: virtual venice walks your vision

[6:54:14 AM] Philip Meersman: Atlantis will have a neighbour

[6:54:24 AM] Craig Saper: gianni gives a knowing Cheschire cat's smile

[6:54:38 AM] Obododimma: ruth, obododimma, craig, eva, caterina** catering techs

[6:55:01 AM] Craig Saper: Eye's on the Half Shell

[6:55:26 AM] Obododimma: so many mutual hands will write readies of craigs

[6:55:29 AM] Ruth Lepson: I can't eat squid any more now I know they're so intelligent

[6:55:43 AM] Obododimma: into second lives, numerate,

[6:55:48 AM] Ruth Lepson: evdience of intelligence everywhere

[6:56:32 AM] Ruth Lepson: TV show about atlatnis turns up more evidence

[6:56:33 AM] Philip Meersman: give me a second life so I can eat the squid again to use the ink writing words with my fingertips

[6:56:35 AM] David Seaman: I have the same squid issue, and octopus, so delicious our brain-mates

[6:56:59 AM] Ruth Lepson: right on, seaman & saper

[6:57:04 AM] Obododimma: now, words become the last thrills of waiting arts

[6:57:21 AM] Obododimma: chat-upon-chat,

[6:57:30 AM] David Seaman: Last time I was in Venice I had pasta with squid in its ink. The spaghetti wrote a poem with it

[6:57:47 AM] Ruth Lepson: when I was in venice I was mesmerized

[6:57:51 AM] Obododimma: let poems begin to write poets

[6:57:51 AM] Eva Dabara: tingling at my fingertips yet so vague

[6:58:14 AM] Ruth Lepson: eva is so female

[6:58:23 AM] Obododimma: begin to try other lives

[6:58:33 AM] Ruth Lepson: try on try on

[6:58:38 AM] Eva Dabara: thanks Ruth, I try not to be SO female

[6:58:49 AM] Ruth Lepson: i mean in a good way

[6:58:53 AM] Obododimma: from the tail of tel-aviv to drumming ibadans

[6:59:15 AM] Obododimma: or new mexicoes mixed in the mist

[6:59:16 AM] Ruth Lepson: tales of tel-aviv telescoped

[6:59:42 AM] Philip Meersman: poems write poets creating names and games to untangle the pasta letters in the mama-mia soup

[6:59:53 AM] Ruth Lepson: octavio paz said once poets were bards then they were ambassadors now they are professors

[7:00:01 AM] Obododimma: when screaming texts test their missiles

[7:00:01 AM] Craig Saper: almost completely forgotten now

[7:00:12 AM] Obododimma: where, when, how

[7:00:19 AM] Ruth Lepson: almost completely

[7:00:29 AM] Obododimma: could the earth unveil it virginity?

[7:00:47 AM] Ruth Lepson: it could but it won't we are so bad

[7:01:04 AM] Eva Dabara: whose talking about missiles? We have them in abundance here in Israel. It's a real THREAT buddy...

[7:01:11 AM] Obododimma: poetry will

[7:01:20 AM] Obododimma: because it could

[7:01:39 AM] Obododimma: from this tech to that tech

[7:02:00 AM] Obododimma: visions of voiced distances

[7:02:07 AM] Craig Saper: eerily prophetic

[7:02:09 AM] Philip Meersman: words wave over the www whilst veiled ideas wander around to find evidence of virginity on the earth so to

[7:02:25 AM] Eva Dabara: words are like chewing gum - you can never really digest them

[7:02:49 AM] Ruth Lepson: she said, It's not a treat. It's just gum.

[7:03:00 AM] Obododimma: can this song ever, stop, eva?

[7:03:18 AM] Ruth Lepson: evaevaevaevaevaevaeva

[7:03:36 AM] Obododimma: can this stop leave its tops for another under?

[7:04:06 AM] Ruth Lepson: ani shohachti col haavrit sha ani yodait (I have have forgotten all the hebrew I once knew)

[7:04:19 AM] Obododimma: the roots of ruths in my truth

[7:04:31 AM] Obododimma: will being a flowering

[7:04:35 AM] Ruth Lepson: ruth rode in my new car

[7:04:39 AM] Ruth Lepson: in the seat beside me

[7:04:45 AM] Ruth Lepson: we hit a bump at 65

[7:04:49 AM] Ruth Lepson: and rode on ruthlessly

[7:04:55 AM] Obododimma: next --text-ex

[7:05:10 AM] Ruth Lepson: next, please.

[7:05:17 AM] Ruth Lepson: text, please.

[7:05:21 AM] Ruth Lepson: ex, please.

[7:05:29 AM] Obododimma: ease, please

[7:05:39 AM] Eva Dabara: ex please

[7:05:41 AM] Obododimma: tease the words of the worlds

[7:05:54 AM] Obododimma: x-tents

[7:06:02 AM] Ruth Lepson: where is craig?

[7:06:04 AM] Obododimma: of nomadic words

[7:06:27 AM] Obododimma: hiding in second life

[7:06:29 AM] Craig Saper: beep beep

[7:06:36 AM] Ruth Lepson: haha

[7:07:00 AM] Obododimma: :D www (yawn) www

[7:07:01 AM] Philip Meersman: just read without hearing sound myself

[7:07:27 AM] Ruth Lepson: pumpkin faces abound on the ground

[7:07:32 AM] Philip Meersman: like a fish in a bowl swimming being watched seeing lips move but no sound

M] Eva Dabara: da

 

--

*Ruth Lepson’s cat, drinking milk and watching TV, as reported by Lepson in an earlier chat.

**Some participants in the e-poetry festival

 

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HEALTH & ILLNESS

Sep. 29th, 2009 | 05:06 am

 "Until now I always felt a stranger in this town, and that I'd no concern with you people. But now that I've seen what I have seen, I know that I belong here whether I want it or not. This business is everybody's business."

from The Plague by Albert Camus


(Poetic Works on Health & Illness in Human Experience)

The body as a text or network of texts - as a sign, a signified or a signifier, as a myth - articulated and performed by the self , the I, or by instinct, and read variously by the other, the I, the we, the subject, or the object, achieves complexity especially when set in illness and health narratives. The languages of the body in such contexts, as configured in cultural works, especially through a poetic insight, would be undoubtedly useful in trying to understand how health related to the vegetal, animal or human world is art and/or science, or how possible contaminations between science and art can transfer to scientific art, or artistic science by considering psychology and sociology as sciences of the behavior respectively of the single and of the many, religion and philosophy as sciences of the mind or of the metaphysical, medicine and biology as manifest sciences of the body.

Poetic works that feature, interrogate, or probe health/illness representations in culture and society are hereby invited for publication on the Poets’ Corner. The editors, Obododimma Oha and Anny Ballardini, are particularly interested in artwork that presents illness and health in unusual but inspiring modes with the aim of shedding light on the nature of both. Unusual and intuitive readings should become tools to dismantle the spiraling maelstrom of malady or to forge a consciousness to enlighten the human being in the acceptance of what is if and whenever change or improvement is impossible. Poetry should rise to the height of medical science as an assistant, an advisor, or as the healer, be it at a physical or metaphysical level.

Welcome are works that seek to present poetic languages of the mentally challenged, the aphasic, the traumatized, the schizophrenic, as well as any kind of disease, be it infectious like AIDS, or “generational” like cancer, be it connected with what is usually seen as a seasonal minor collapse like viral influenza, or with accidents that change the lives of the victims.

The present contextualization could broaden to include the idea of a nation as a single community, a constitutional body characterized by illnesses or healthy states. It could also visualize, and still not be limited to, various economic systems with their dangerous trends/breaths sweeping away hopes or bringing in new ambitious projects, be them healthy or ill. The same history of art or literary criticism could be reviewed under the lens of variables that determine the health or the illness of the category. 

Visual artwork, poems, poetic fiction, poetic nonfiction, and photographs to be submitted for consideration should go beyond the traditional mimetic to narrate distortions, out-of-the-body experiences, virtual thrills and/or gratuitous hallucinations.  

Visual works and photographs are to be saved in JPEG format; texts, which should not have rigid formatting, in Word. All submissions should be emailed to the editors anny.ballardini@gmail.com and obodooha@gmail.com by December 1, 2009 with "Health & Illness" in the Subject line.

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Just a Kid

Jun. 25th, 2009 | 07:12 am
location: Ibadan
mood: annoyedannoyed

by
Obododimma Oha 

Government is just a kid
, his father says.

I cast a casual glance at the boy sitting on the engine of the groaning bus that is making its tortured way through a winding road with several potholes that bared their teeth to the approaching thread-worn tires. Just a kid. The hot engine is roasting his arse, as if to punish him for not being old enough to earn the right to occupy a full seat on the bus. Does he like it? I don’t think so. I could see him twisting and shifting, but he cannot complain. Yes, he has to earn the right to complain too. Kids don’t complain, although they can bleat.

Here in this ancient town with rusted memory children are not qualified to occupy full seats at public gatherings, in churches, on buses. It is the custom that younger people surrender their seats to elderly ones, as a mark of respect. It is normally seen as unusual for adults to stand when children occupy seats at public places. Occupying a seat when others stand is thus a mark of some superiority, of power over the other. The one who seats is sitting on the other; the one who stands understands his or her subordination to the other and accepts it. Even in churches; yes, even in churches. The church warden would walk up to the child that is occupying a seat and with boiling rage pull him or her up. Hey you, comot!. Abi you no see dat baba or mama decked in asoke and beads and bathed in expensive perfume? You no get respect? You fit give one hundred Naira? When e reach offertory time now, you go collect dirty five Naira note from ya  mama and go dropam for di  offertory box. How much blessing you think say dat fit get for you? Sometime sef I dey think you yeye children dey pocket di money and just dip ya yeye empty hand into di offertory box. Oya, disappear! And so the child is chased away from the presence of the Lord to allow the adults the opportunity to talk more seriously with God about things they have done and things they have failed to do. And God is watching. God the elderly, with a long white beard. God the elder for elders.

Where then is the God of children? In those days, our village used to celebrate a feast called obi umuaka (literally, the heart of a child), which involved rituals of return to, and honouring of, the innocence of childhood. We made images of children in clay, decorated them, and heaped gifts on them. We wished for a return to childhood, to have its purity once again. More than being just a celebration of innocence, we made vows to love and care for children with all our hearts. We asked Chukwu-abia-amuma to not only give us children but also to give us the hearts to love them.

But those where the days, as we are told now, when we where in the state of childhood, cultural childhood. Those where the days when we thought and reasoned like children, we are now told. We have left those cultural practices behind in order to become the people of the culture of adulthood, and seem to want to forget childhood and innocence forever.

 That’s one reason the child has no seat in the adulterated spaces in our hearts.

On the public buses in this town with rusted memory, children may occupy seats meant for adults, but their parents don’t always like this. Imagine paying the same fare for the child as for the adult, they grumble.   Doesn’t that mean that children are now equal to adults? Well, one solution devised to prevent such an upgrading of the child from hurting the adult ego in this ancient town with rusty roofs and rusting lives is to make children sit on top of one another on the same seat on the same bus. Even if there are five children of the same parent traveling, they have to sit on one another. Five children times one (seat) are equal to one! Why is that conductor complaining?  No mind am jare! Olosi. Alakori! Na im get this bus? Abi di bus dey complain? And so the politics of space learns to recognize age as one of its important variables in this ancient town with rusted memory…

 To have Government occupy a full seat meant for adults is to spoil him, reasons his father. Kids should not be spoilt with such luxury.  Oh, the world has changed. When Government’s father was a kid, was he not always going to school on foot? A distance of 10 kilometers! And he always had to fetch water from the stream, fetch fodder for goats, sweep the compound… and still get to school before the morning assembly. Let Government have the opportunity to learn.

And what’s this talk about going to school with shoes on? Is he going for a party?

At the next bus stop, the bus makes a temporary stop for some passengers to disembark. Several hawkers rush in, struggling to get the passengers to buy their wares. Buns. Biscuits. Bread. Confectionery. Government looks hungrily at a woman hawking buns, what the children prefer to call make-me-well. Hot buns! Hot buns! Buy hot buns! She screams, trying to push her tray through the window to let the passengers see how tantalizing the bakes are. One passenger cannot resist it and buys a twenty-Naira worth. He is munching away fast. Government is looking at him, involuntarily licking his lips and swallowing his own invisible chew. His eyes make repeated journeys from the man’s fingers to the man’s mouth. Government looks at his father. His father returns the look, but what Government finds there is a harsh statement of rebuke. Greedy goat, his father’s eyes say. And so Government folds back in fear and suppressed anger. In his pocket, he still has the five Naira note given to him by his mother. That is for his lunch. Five Naira rice, no meat, to be bought from Mama Rice at Ukwu-mango at lunchtime. Five Naira rice wrapped in ute leaves.  He dares not use it now to buy make-me-well, not when his father is here! Government swallows hard. Inside, he is crying. I can swear for that. He is, and I can hear a thousand griefs explode in his young soul. He is crying, but must not let his face betray him, never.  He has learnt from experience that crying is not a language adults like his father understand. Crying doesn’t quite make it; it rather breaks it.

Government’s father and mother always say kids must not carry bellies without carrying commonsense. When the family is at table, the adults eat bigger chunks of meat and the kids watch the struggles in their adult mouths and throats and pray for the time when they would be old enough to eat so much meat. So much meat, yes, so much meat. The inside of an adult must really smell strongly of meat from sacrifices, Christmas goats and chicken…. So much meat for one to begin to smell of meat! Government hopes that when he’s grown up, he would eat a whole cow leg alone, to compensate for all the meat he has been denied in childhood. Government father always reminds him of the saying of their elders that children don’t smell of meat, rather they smell like plates of fufu. So, Government and his siblings always have to be content with filling their tummies with balls and balls of fufu. At the end, their mother bites out small pieces of meat and gives them to eat. And the children look forward to the time they would be able to divide the meat with their teeth. The one who divides meat with his or her teeth at least is rewards with the sweet taste and pieces of the meet left in the mouth.

Government’s father and mother always say kids don’t smell of meat, and Government does not like this. Why do kids not smell of meat, why? Is meat an adult thing? Is meat an adult? Government cannot find the answers and hopes to find the courage to ask his father one day.

Anyway, Government and other kids whose parents tell that kids don’t smell of meat have devised other means of making up the diet: they hunt for lizards, rats, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and other unfortunate creatures that cannot escape from their raids. They catch these creatures and roast them in fires made outside their mother’s kitchens. Sometimes their mothers allow them to roast their catch in the main fireplace where food is prepared for the family. Government’s father does not bother about this; in fact, implicitly he approves of the kids hunting and eating those creatures for he believes it gives them an idea and some education about what it means to fend for oneself.

At the next bus stop, Government and his father alight, the bottom of the boy’s pants stained with grease. Government is relieved. I could read it from the look on his face. The veins that emerged on his face when he was wriggling and twisting because of the hot engine have now relaxed beneath the skin on his face, and he can even afford to whistle to the song of Musical Youth issuing from the radio on the bus…

The youths of today

The youths of today

We’re under heavy heavy malady

We’re under heavy heavy malady

 His father, to my surprise, hands me over his schoolbag and asks him to run across to the other side of the road, where his school is located. The boy collects his schoolbag and heads across the road, barely managing to hang the bag on his back. A speeding car misses him by inches. People scream and curse the driver of the car. Government’s father rains invectives on the driver too. I look him up and down, and merely shake my head. I have learnt from experience not to buy over someone else’s trouble. Last time I wanted to act as the only good fellow around, I ended up with a police case on my hands and was thoroughly messed up.

The best thing is for me to learn not to deny my children the joy of childhood.

Well, if Government is just a kid, his father must be a goat, my worried mind tells me as I walk down the pathway behind the pupils. 

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Helmets & Hellmates

Jun. 22nd, 2009 | 02:41 am
location: Ibadan
mood: amusedamused


by Obododimma Oha

 

The highway to Hell seems to be a helmet story.

Whenever I look at a helmet, I see an invitation to the narrative of mortality. The helmet is designed to protect the head, indeed the human skull, from being broken. When the skull breaks, its contents are spilled; life is spilled. Human beings fear this possibility and so have designed the helmet to prevent, or at least reduce the damage attendant to, the spilling of the contents of the skull. Soldiers, miners, engineers, bikers … all who are engaged in edgework know how important it is for them to preserve the contents of their skulls beyond duty and beyond fun.

Helmets thus tell us about risk-taking. They call our attention to danger and the need to be safe from it. They say to us, “Look, don’t spill the contents of your skull.”

But Hell has no fury like an appointment not kept. Hellmates would not let helmets and laws about wearing helmets keep them from their appointment with Hell. Hellmates and helmets don’t worship together.

Hellmates don’t care about helmets and the possibility of the contents of their skulls being spilled. Ordinarily, one carrying out a task that endangers the skull does not need to wait to be reminded about the necessity of a helmet for the head. It is indeed amazing that a law has to be enacted to compel riders of motorcycles to use helmets, or for such riders of motorcycles to wait to be arrested, cautioned, or fined for not wearing crash helmets. It speaks loudly about the level of recklessness that has crept into the given society.

Hellmates don’t like wearing helmets when they ride motorcycles because hell is beckoning them and they must keep the appointment. Hellmates on motorcycles try to devise tricks to deceive law-enforcement officers, or dodge where a road check is being carried out on bike riders. Why? Simply this: they don’t want anyone or anything to prevent them from going to see their mates already in Hell.

Is it about money? One hellmate would quickly tell you he or she hasn’t got the money to buy a crash helmet. The economy is in a bad shape and so he or she has to think about his or her stomach first before thinking of the skull and its contents. Another hellmate would devise this techno-trick: get a calabash, cut it into two, paint one half (red or black), pass a strap through opposite sides of the circumference, and hang it on your head. That’s speed technology or techno-hell! After all, the country has been thinking and talking about out-taiwaning Taiwan and out-shining China. Why shouldn’t that also be actualized in hellmate technology?

Another hellmate would say, “Ah, it’s just a ceremony,” and merely hangs a helmet on his or her bike, only to place it on the head when approaching a police or Road Safety check-point. After passing the law, he or she returns the helmet to the groaning bike and forgets why and when and who.

Yet, a wiser hellmate would carry his entire family on the motorcycle and only manage to get one tokunbo helmet for self. He is armed already with a powerful logic: each member of the family on the bike depends on his head, and as the head of his family, he has to wear the helmet. After all, unease lies the head that wears the helmet. The head has to ride back and forth, come rain or shine, to get some Naira, which is shared between the unsympathetic market and hellmate police officers at the checkpoint.

Is helmet the check or the check for a hellmate? Both, maybe.

Helmets have become re-imagined as transport to elsewhere. Someone somewhere, a dedicated hellmate, invents a story about how such-and-such commercial motorcycle operator gives a helmet to someone who wants his services, and that someone, sufficiently clairvoyant, refuses to wear the helmet and tells the bike rider to wear it instead. The bike rider refuses; that someone raises an alarm and people gather and pass a judgment that the rider must wear the helmet as a proof of his being a non-ritualist. The biker puts on the helmet and disappears. “No, not Nollywood”, a free reader at the newspaper stand argues, swearing by his late father’s grave.

Another variant: the commercial bike rider gives the client the helmet and bystanders are watching. The client puts the helmet on and immediately turns to a tuber of yam. Bystanders raise an alarm and rush at the bike rider. They beat him into a pulp, Lagos-mob-style, and call the police. And the police, not trained to fight crime in the realms of spirituality and superstition, ask the tuber of yam, “Are you a human being or a tuber of yam? If one plants you can you germinate? If one cooks you and pounds you, would you cooperate with egusi soup?”

So, the fear spreads, from hellmate to hellmate.

So, the helmet story turns the hellmate into a movie star.

He opens his eyes and finds the contents of his skull at the feet of a giant vulture.

And the melting roads of hellonearth pass through his memory to the limitless void....

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