Ifem & Ceiling 8

Alphonsus made vegetable soup. Ceiling and I were hanging out at the dining table after eating.

“What a stupid idea to announce a ceasefire with Boko Haram, who came up with that? Is it that these people don’t think?” I asked.

“They are eager to announce good news. Elections are coming fast.”

“Announce good news and then make a fool of yourself. Haba. The most stupid part was suggesting a day for the release of the girls.”

“Beyond stupid. You know you are dealing with mad people in Boko Haram. You also know the average Nigerian does not trust you and your stories. Best thing is to shut up and say nothing and let the action speak for itself.”

“In short, they should be like Sullivan Chime. The man doesn’t talk at all but look how he has transformed Enugu.”

“Exactly. And also like Peter Obi.”

“The problem is that Obi’s achievements are not as easy to see.”

“Yes, because they are not visual. They are not roads. And remember he started with nothing. Anambra was a mess after all the rubbish that went on there. Awka was just a village that became a capital. But Enugu has a long history of infrastructure and development. It will take Awka a long time to get to Enugu’s level.”

“Nneoma was telling me how Obi changed education in Anambra. She said Anambra is the best performing state in WAEC in Nigeria. I didn’t know that.”

“He also invested Anambra’s money well. No more stories about the state not paying salaries and pensions. The man had a real vision. He just doesn’t do public relations.”

“And it doesn’t help that Igbo people are so detached from politics. Nobody in Nigeria knows how well Obi did in Anambra because Anambra people are not telling the story. Instead they are busy unloading their containers in Nnewi and Onitsha. And Enugu people are not telling the story of how well Sullivan has done because they are busy eating abacha.”

“Anambra chauvinism!”

Ifem & Ceiling 7

I hope the Doctor Without Borders Ebola patient in New York makes it. American politicians are like Nigerian politicians – they will use anything to score political points. So, some New York politicians who have upcoming elections are trying to scare people with Ebola, and then position themselves as Ebola saviors. Even if the so called saving doesn’t make sense. Shame. And the governor of New York has no business scolding that Doctors Without Borders doctor. The doctor followed the protocol that he was supposed to. And he bloody donated his time to fight Ebola at the source – something that the politicians in America might want to focus on. Ebola is about ALL humans, not just about African humans.

Anyway, Ceiling and I were talking about this and I told him I have always admired Doctors Without Borders.

He told me he has, too.

He said he loves what they stand for and what they have done and did I know the organization itself started as a response to the massive human suffering in Biafra?

I told him I knew. I told him it was part of the reason I donate to them. I donate to them every month. Automatic deductions from my credit card.

He said – me too.

I said – are you serious?

He said – yes. I started a long time ago. For the past five years.

I said – me too!

So, we support the same Charity. We started supporting the same Charity at about the same time without, of course, knowing what the other was doing. #Lovenwantiti #truecompatibility #mostromanticcoincidenceever

Ifem & Ceiling 6

Remember that story Nneoma told us about her flight back to Lagos? Here is how it ends.

A man and a woman are in a relationship. The woman is unhappy. She decides to end the relationship. She tells the man she is done with him and then gets ready and leaves for Lagos. She wears jeans and a yellow top; she likes yellow because it brightens her mood. The man is furious that she dared to end the relationship. He goes online and finds the number for alerting authorities about Ebola ‘suspects.’ He calls the number and tells them there is an Ebola ‘suspect’ on the Arik flight from Enugu to Lagos. He tells them she is fair and is wearing a yellow top and jeans. He tells them she has symptoms and he is worried that she will spread it to the people on the plane.

And so the authorities jump into action.

Up Nigeria!

Down with that stupid idiot nonsense of a man who thinks Ebola is something to play with!

Ifem & Ceiling 5

In May, we heard about the soldiers in Borno who shot at a car carrying their commanding officer. The commanding officer was not hurt. The soldiers were angry. Apparently because their (poorly-armed?) colleagues had been ambushed and killed on a road known to be Boko Haram territory.

But it was probably about much more than that single incident.

Their anger must have come from a sense of helplessness, of being poorly-led.

We often hear about soldiers not being paid their allowances, not being fed well, not having the arms and equipment they need, while fighting a guerilla war for which they are physically and mentally ill-equipped. And in territory that is vast and uneven, desert and forest.

Now twelve of them have been sentenced to death.

It feels wrong. It feels immoral.

Mutiny is to rebel or revolt against authority. To refuse to obey orders. It is a serious crime, but mutiny also assumes that the soldiers have been given fair orders.

If a General asks a group of soldiers to turn their guns to their chests and shoot, and they refuse, would that be considered mutiny? No, because it isn’t a fair order.

These men who have been sentenced to death represent the average Nigerian soldier who is fighting Boko Haram, dying, not being acknowledged.

It isn’t merely their orders that are unfair, their very condition of service is unfair.

They should not be killed. It achieves nothing. It will not act as a deterrent either, because if the circumstances remain the same, another group of soldiers will act from a sense of enraged helplessness. The solution is to improve soldier welfare. Give them what they need. Don’t send them to fight battles if they are not properly equipped.

The Army must do its own part, before it can demand so much of its soldiers.

Ceiling and I want to start a public campaign to overturn the death sentences. Question now is how best to do that?

Ifem & Ceiling 4

Ceiling’s cousin Nneoma visited us two weeks ago. She came to the East to attend a funeral in Awka. We drove her to the airport. “See Enugu airport looking like an airport instead of a bus station!” She said, laughing. This story came from her, later that day:

The Arik flight from Enugu to Lagos left on time. A smooth flight. A good landing. As usual, impatient and unreasonable Nigerians began to get up while the plane was still moving. The flight attendant asked them to please sit and wait until the plane came to a complete stop. The plane did. Still they waited. Fifteen minutes passed. What is happening? The pilot announced that there was a problem with the staircase. They were waiting for another one. Thirty minutes passed. Passengers complained loudly: What kind of nonsense is this? I will sue Arik o! I have a meeting in thirty minutes! I am going to call the minister of aviation! An hour passed. The pilot said he was sorry but now they had to taxi to the international wing, to get the new staircase. Staircase, imagine! Only in a stupid country like this!

The plane taxied to the international wing. Passengers looked out and saw that they were not close to the airport building. The plane was in the middle of the vast space beyond the airport. Ah ah why are we here? What is happening? Another thirty minutes passed. Tempers and suspicions increased. This story makes no sense! An angry man got up and ran to the emergency exit. Other passengers restrained him. Speculations. It is Boko Haram! They are holding us hostage, maybe they put a bomb on this plane unless the government gives them something. God forbid! No, I think it is Arik. You know Arik always owes money. Maybe the airport authorities have refused to let us disembark until Arik pays. Another thirty minutes. Finally flight attendants opened the doors. Passengers looked out and saw many people in full protective gear, covered from head to toe, standing around the plane.

Ebola!

Passengers were asked to come down one at a time. Each was given a form to fill out: seat number, address, phone number, etc. A few women were asked to step aside. Finally one woman was taken away. The rest of the passengers waited for a bus. Finally a bus came.

What happened? The passengers asked an airport staff.

“Somebody called from Enugu and said there was a female Ebola suspect on the flight. The caller described her. So we could not take any chances. We informed the airline and while our port health staff got ready, we had to keep the passengers from disembarking. We have just checked her and it looks like a false alarm.”

The passengers were impressed at the care that had been taken. So was I, when Nneoma told me. Lagos state is seriously trying. Although I think the airline should have told the passengers the truth of what was happening, and we should stop calling them ‘suspects.’ (How about “possible Ebola patient?’)

“Ah! No! I don’t blame the pilot o! Tell Nigerians in a locked plane that there might be somebody with Ebola among them! That one will be pandemonium!” Nneoma said.

“Actually, it won’t,” Ceiling said. “It will probably make everyone shut up and even cover their mouths and noses with their hands!”

We don’t manage information well in this country. We need to trust people a bit more. And we need to try a bit harder to gain trust. One of the questions on the form was: Have you recently been to a funeral?

Nneoma wrote, in capital letters, NO.

When I asked why she lied, she said, “If I say yes now, they will start harassing me.”

Ifem & Ceiling 3

At the entrance of the bank, a smiling man approached us with a thermometer. He raised and aimed it like a gun at Ceiling’s forehead. “36.6. Welcome sir! Normal temperature.”

“What if it was high?” I asked, as he aimed it at my forehead.

“Ah, ma. We will not permit you entry. We have to be careful. Life is hard but nobody wants to die.”

We all laughed.

Ebola has been good for the sellers of hand sanitizer. Inside the bank, the receptionist said ‘good afternoon’ at the same time as she pushed across a bottle of hand sanitizer.

“It’s better to wash your hands with soap and water,” I said.
She looked at me with a sharp expression. As if to say ‘my friend, use the sanitizer jor!’

Ceiling squirted some in his palm, then squirted in mine.

“But Ebola is a virus. What can antibacterial sanitizers do?” I asked.

“They say it’s the alcohol in them that actually kills viruses,”Ceiling said.

“So we can soak our hands in whiskey instead?” I asked.

Ceiling laughed.

The receptionist was looking at us with wide alert eyes. “You soak your hands in whiskey?” She asked.

“No, no, it’s a joke,” Ceiling said.

“I was just joking,” I said.

We are all so scared of Ebola. Fear is the end of reason.

The bathe-in-salt-water thing started as a joke too. Somebody said maybe we should bathe in salt water to prevent Ebola, since there is no cure. And before you knew it, it had spread through the country. Very early one morning, I got calls from my former driver, my aunt in Makurdi, my hairbraider. Ceiling got more than twenty calls. All said the same thing: put salt in warm water and bathe with it!

Others added, “make sure you bathe before 7 AM.”

“Is that when the Ebola virus wakes up?” Ceiling had asked one of his aunts.

We found it very funny. And very sad.
It showed our collective fear.
It showed our lack of information.
It showed our deep distrust of our government.

As we left the bank, I told the receptionist, “I was joking o, my sister. I heard the best thing is wash your hands with soap often, avoid crowded places, report any sign of sickness. You have the Ebola phone number?”

She stared at me. “I don’t have it. I will never need it in Jesus’ name.”

Ifem & Ceiling 2

Ceiling is different here in Enugu. He’s lighter, he jokes more, he is less silent. But I sometimes see his face fall and I know he’s missing Buchi. We’re supposed to be ‘dividing our time between Lagos and Enugu’ while I work on the magazine but since Christmas we’ve really mostly been here in Enugu. He’s gone to Lagos for short visits only to see Buchi. Now he wants to bring Buchi to Enugu for a week or two, before school starts. He called Kosi and before he could finish saying, “I want to come and pick Buchi…” Kosi hung up on him. Then his phone began to beep nonstop, text message after text message coming in. I read some of them. So you now want to bring your child to a house where you are living in sin with another woman and you have no shame, setting that kind of example blablabla.

Ceiling deleted the texts and did not reply. He said, “She’s upset. I’ll call her later.” And I found myself getting very angry. Yes, I like that Ceiling is so polite and all but he is over-indulgent with Kosi and it pisses me the hell off. The child is his as much as hers but the way Kosi goes on you would think Buchi is 80 percent her child and 20 percent Ceiling’s. She has all kinds of crazy rules. Two nannies have to come with Buchi when she spends weekends with Ceiling. Ceiling has to ask for permission for every single visit. Kosi can just decide to go out with Buchi on a day she knows Ceiling is supposed to come. Don’t get me started on the texts she sends about money. Latest one: she wants to register Buchi in a pottery class for toddlers that costs 300K. And all this is happening while she is ‘consulting with her pastor’ about whether or not to sign the divorce papers.

Ifem & Ceiling 1

Ceiling and I have been spending a lot of time in Enugu. I love Enugu, the sense of restfulness; it has a certain ambition about it – the mall, the new roads – but it retains a small-town feel. Here, strangers still greet one another. And I love this house. An old house in GRA painted a fresh and blistering white, with a wrought iron verandah wrapped around it. Inside is very modern and clean and tile-shiny, but the old charm remains: those louvers made of thick glass that you shut carefully so you don’t break them. The compound walls are draped in purple bougainvillea. The yard is wide. It goes on forever, filled with trees and bushes that bloom spiky red flowers. In the back, three frangipani trees hold court, their branches beautifully gnarled. They shield a painted blue bench, which is as sturdy, as rooted as a tree. Yesterday, after a brief rain, we sprayed OFF on our legs and arms, sat on that bench in the evening cool, and ate boiled corn and ube. Bliss.