Little things, Musings

Jonathan’s chronicles

It’s been very quiet here because I needed to resettle into my Naija country. Someone, we’re all settlers… always reaching for more. And I’ve missed my readers and they’ve missed me.

My story begins with January instead of October. I deleted it from Nijava’s with hopes to take the story to a wider audience by publishing it on adda stories. But you know… rejection is part of a writer’s game. I’m glad to associate baby Jonathan to my come back. You’ll always be fondly remembered. 

 

January is almost ended. Only four more days to go. It feels like I’ve already lived a year. I think I am getting better in the art of assuming the problems / needs of others and of sharing in them; making them mine. And so I have lived so much. I’ve wept and smiled and laughed so hard.

But today made the crowning point of it all.

Jonathan was born and died today.

When I was in primary school, I learnt a rhyme of Solomon Grundy for the days of the week –

Solomon Grundy; born on a Monday, christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, …, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday. That was the end of Solomon Grundy.

It didn’t make sense then. I couldn’t fathom how Solomon who lived for only one week could have done so many things. Now, many years later, I don’t have a Solomon. I have a Jonathan instead. I’m going to let him tell his own story. It’s a short one. It lasted not one day but 60 minutes only; 3600 intense seconds.

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My name is Jonathan and I am a being for death. Of course that quote isn’t mine – it’s Heidegger’s. A 60 minute old child isn’t supposed to know anything, to have lived anything, to have felt anything. But I know a lot. I know what it is to be chosen to be kept and loved by a mum and a dad and 2 sisters and a brother.

10 weeks ago, when I was five months old inside my mum, we went to hear what the doctors had to say. They said something like ‘fatal kidney failure’ and mentioned ‘death’. At that point, I stopped swimming and squatted still. Not because I knew what that word meant. I mean, I don’t have any online dictionaries inside the womb. I stopped because I could feel mummy’s dread.

The doctor went on and advised abortion given the circumstances. The baby – I – wasn’t going to live after being born. Most couples chose that option. The other one wasn’t worth trying. I wasn’t worth keeping.

Daddy thanked the doctors and got up, ready to take his wife home. A decision had to be made. Mum’s cloud of dread hung thick over me. I laid still, face up, wondering what it all meant.  Mum began to cry as soon as they got into the car. I was disturbed as the cries racked her. But that cry was good, very good. It drove the cloud of dread away. All was clear again. My life had returned to normal. My world was okay again. I resumed swimming.

Two weeks later, I heard Tess, Dan and Leah whispering together. Dad and mum had called a council. Dad repeated what the doctors said, omitting death and the abortion option. It made no difference anyway. I still didn’t know what those words meant. What mattered was this – that thick fog had been dispersed two weeks ago and it hadn’t come back since then. My siblings erupted into cheers. Dad had added that although the doctors had vouched for the uselessness of the decision, we were, they were going to keep the baby. And – mum added – we’re keeping Jonathan. Hurray!

Now they had to inform the rest of the family. Well, I suppose each one reacted in his way. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. What I know is that since that day when Dad told his family and mum told hers, I became a celebrity. There was ‘Jonathan’ on many lips. There were many cries to heaven for Jonathan. My aunt Charlie went as far as telling everyone of her over 100 Philosophy and Theology classmates in Rome; her Jonathan was passing through a rough time and could they please say some little prayer for him and the family.  My feeling of importance shot up. I am Jonathan and I am world famous.

Mum changed clinic. She simply started going to another. I found it strange. But no matter. I guess a woman like her knows what’s best for her baby. The doctors in the new clinic said it was going to be very difficult, almost impossible. But never again did I hear the words ‘useless’ or ‘needless’ or ‘in vain’. Given that everyone, even my 2 year old sister Leah, was saying a little prayer for me, dad decided to add his grain of sand. He would pat mummy’s stomach many times. And I felt his touch; as if he was holding on to me, asking me to fight, to hold on. But I don’t even know what ‘to fight’ means.

Fast track to New Year’s Eve. I was now 28 weeks old. Mum was going to see the doctors again and Dad had patted me to say that he was coming of course. The doctors mentioned February 13th and added ‘an hour more or less’. Dad, I suppose, sent the message to his extended group. My aunt repeated it to all her classmates – a cry for help for Jonathan. Help for his family.

Today finally arrived. But it wasn’t February 13th as planned. I couldn’t wait. I had to come now or never. At 6.40am, I was born into earth. After the quick clean up by the nurses, everyone rushed in. Mum was weak but smiling. Dad too. But there was this tinge of sadness in the corners of his eyes. Mum’s dad was there. Dad’s parents too.

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Baby Jonathan and his brother

They all wanted to hold me, to cuddle me. I couldn’t understand. I could only rest in the intensity of their love. As if they could transform every one of those minutes into days, into years. Imagine, 60 years instead of 60 minutes. But what am I saying – I don’t even know what a ‘year’ is.

They took pictures with me. I was truly a star. They wanted to keep these memories of their baby and their brother and their grandchild. I was slipping away. But I didn’t know it. I was just content to be in the arms of Tess, Dan and Leah; their arms joined together to hold me, their brother. Time pass quickly. Time passed quickly. Mum called for her baby. And she cuddled me with dad on the bed beside her. I was still slipping, going by the minute. Leaving, leaving…, and still leaving; until the 60th minute when I left. Mum’s dad broke into tears.

—-

Jonathan died at 7:40am today, 60 minutes after he was born, surrounded by family and by love. They dressed him in a white dress with tiny wings attached. Their little angel! And they mourned him, each in his / her way, but together, closely bound by this baby.

Thanks to Charlie for the privilege to share in this story. 2 weeks ago, I practically wept over the death of Catherine, who died from infections after giving birth. She was a total stranger to me. I stumbled on her story on Facebook and wept with the knowledge that she died in an attempt to give life. Women shouldn’t die in the life giving process.

My sorrow was dealt another blow when I read Akwaeke’s story of removing her uterus for reasons which I would never have imagined. Dear Akwaeke, I wish you a quick and complete recovery from your surgery; and a light in your path of discerning your place in this world. I’m with you!

Then came the good news of the birth of my niece. My sister posted pictures on Facebook, thanking our dear mother for having gone to help with the baby. I appreciate my sister. I love the baby. My senses have been sharpened by sorrow. I value this new act of generosity by my sister and her husband. Never again will I take it for granted. My sister added – ‘many more grandchildren on the way’. How beautiful.

Dear Rebecca and Simon, parents of Jonathan, we are with you. And Jonathan too. From heaven. He’ll help you adjust, recover; help you to live through those moments when you’ll want your child in your arms, your new born baby. When your breasts will be full with milk, ready to feed your Jonathan who now has no need of it. You won’t ask yourself if it was worth it – you already answered that question 11 weeks ago when you said yes to Jonathan, to Him. Thank you so much for keeping Jonathan. Thank you so much for giving him the 60 minutes chance. Thank you. Thank you.

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Little things, Musings

Give and take? Receive and give

Benjamin Enekhai started a blog some years ago and he called it ‘Cogito ergo sum’. I think therefore I am. I got an invite to the blog and I was bemused with the name. Descartes had coined that phrase in latin before latin was left to only the Catholic church. And Benjamin has always been a latin freak [at least for my almost non – existent level of latin].

I think therefore I am. A going from the subjective to the objective, from one’s reason to the tangible world. It’s what we call rationalism today. And we are the products – all of us! because we are children of our time. Don’t we try to fit reality to our own way of thinking? Look around you; see and appreciate the widespread individualism. I think – it’s I, me, myself. I’m not only in the centre. I’m the centre!

So Java, aren’t you exaggerating? I am. Each one bears the individualism in varying degrees. I know and I live with many people who are more selfless than individualistic. Or who are at least trying to be. My friend Benjamin belongs to that category. That’s why I was bemused. And I told him so – ‘I know you, my bro. And I think this title is not the best for a blog owned by you’.  He accepted. The blog was renamed – Nemo dat quod non habet. No one [can] gives what he doesn’t have. That phrase stuck with me – so simple yet so profound. Active voice, present tense; easy to remember. I can’t give what I don’t have. Neither can you. It’s that straightforward.

But I want to. I want to give time, an open ear, joy, hope, peace, smiles, encouragement, understanding, faith, Christ. The spiritual intangible goods are harder to give. It’s a paradox. They don’t diminish by being given; yet we rarely find them given.

Let’s go back to cogito. I think, therefore I am. I’ve tried it before. We’re a self – sufficient bunch right? Add to that a strong choleric temperament and you have me. I’ve tried it before. I’ll do this by myself – when she come in, I’ll smile at her. I’ll not nag him. I’ll try to see things from her point of view. I’ll share her joy instead of being envious [the bad envy eh!]. I’ve tried and I have failed.

Existentially speaking, cogito ergo sum didn’t take me far. Until I met Cogitor. I found it in a theology manual. Cogitor ergo sum. Passive voice, present tense. I am thought of; therefore I am. It thrusts me back to objectivity. I am not the centre. I don’t have to do everything. I also have to receive. I have received my being, my existence from something, from someone outside of me. I can receive time, an open ear, etc., from someone, from others. And then I’ll have.  Then I can give. Better still, if I’m open to constantly receive, I can also constantly give out of my overflow.  Without this, nemo dat quod non habet. You can’t give what you don’t have.

 

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ART, Little things, Pixpers

Transformation

I once heard that no one eats with their mouth

Children eat with their eyes;

Young people with their stomach

Adults with their head.

WARNING;  mouthwatering presentation. Risk of hunger afterwards.

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Okay so, where are these pictures from? Most of them were made by me in collaboration with others. It was such a delight last summer to learn to transform the usual fruits and vegetables into such lovelies.

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Little things, Musings

DRINKS AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC

My first contact with the sound of music was thanks to Mrs. Togonu – Bickersteth, the vice principal of my Federal College. That day, without previous warning – at least to the students – the academic staff had gone on strike and we were bereft of classes. To help us take advantage of that free time, the vice principal invited all the girls to the school hall to see the musical. I had to leave with other day students half way through. This was in 2001.

Over the years, I have seen clips of it on TV, listened to my friends sing some of the songs, sang doe, a deer, a female deer in music class at school; but I never got to see the movie from start to finish. Until recently. With the birthday of Amanda.

Amanda, my friend from Hong Kong, wanted a big birthday bash. So we went all out for it. A good homemade buffet, thanks to the Administration of my residence, a make-shift bar with a proper bar tender to boot and a movie! From the dining room, we went, cock – tails in hand, to the sitting room, to see the sound of music. At last! I’ve always considered it a beautiful story and a great movie; sitting through it now didn’t diminish my high regard for it.

At the Bar

Yesterday, I put down the book behind the musical. It’s called the story of the Von Trapp family singers. The musical is only a taste of the icing. Maria von Trapp, the novice turned wife and mother, recounts in a very wonderful way the family’s trip cum flight to the USA and the fight they had to put up to live a dignified life in their new country. It’s an extraordinary book that tells the ordinary life of a family of 12. The episodes that shine out are few in number. But neither are there any dull moment.

Maria writes of the hard work, their joys, their rehearsals, their different singing tours, their faith in God, etc. Along the way, there are many who cross their path and many of these stay on as part of the family. There are the various friends who welcome this new group of immigrants – yes because Baron Von Trapp was just one more Austrian immigrant – and help them with their first tottering steps in making a life for themselves in the States.

Maria also demonstrate her understanding and respect for those who saw things differently from the Von Trapp family. I was very impressed by the way she writes about the Austrian Relief Fund; an NGO started by the family in 1947 to send aid back to their ailing nation at the end of World War II. They publicized it during each of their concerts asking their listeners for donations to send to the needy in Austria. Maria mentions that many of the responses were positive; the participants were usually much moved and gave a lot the next day. But there were also negative and even violent responses. In some cities, some in the audience complained that they had come to listen to good music and to relax and not to be burdened with the world’s problem. A very legitimate opinion. But read what Maria writes next

With time, she says, we got to respect those views too and to ask the opinions of the organizers before the concert if we could publicize our Austrian Relief fund and if we could expect a positive response from the audience. From then on, we received only positive feedback from our audience.

They didn’t shy away from their NGO in order to keep up their singing fame. Nor are there any negative comments in return for each of the negative responses they received. They tackle the issue the right way – with dialogue and with a lot of charity and respect for those at the other end of the table. I’m definitely picking up one or two tips from this.

Now the Von Trapp family still have to ‘contend’ with the millions of fans of the sound of music, some of whom visit their Lodge in Vermont, who firmly believe that the reality was exactly as the musical; which it is not, I assure you. The directors of the Sound of Music knew their stuff. They have given us a classic and if I’m writing this blog post after reading the true story, it is thanks to them. Without the musical, the book wouldn’t have called out to me when I first saw it. But life is richer than a two – hour long musical which gives us ‘the end’ after the fifth chapter of a more than twenty – chaptered book.

Have you seen the musical and didn’t even know that the book existed? Well then, it’s not too late. You’ll truly get good value for your money. For those in my shoes who have read the book and seen the musical, I’ll like to hear from you! Am I alone or do you see things the same way?

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Little things

Hangout with dodo

Assina and Java

Hangout – to spend time doing nothing in particular.

I challenge that definition. My hangout was very particular. I spent it dodolising! Assina had invited me to an ‘African’ lunch. Normally, I’m ‘allergic’ to the word African. It brings all the ‘horrors’ of the generalization to my head. Like; I’m going to Africa or There’s an African on the queue, Anyway, I have decided that anyone who still generalizes like this is not updated and it’s up to me to add to their cultural knowledge.

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For eg. – Nigeria vs Italy.

So it’s usually a smile and a

‘Oh really. Which country in Africa?

‘An African? Does she speak English or French? At least if she speak French, that leaves us with 31 out of the 54 countries in Africa.

Back to our lunch o jare. Assina is Congolese and she was going to introduce me to two Congolese friends. So when she said African and added lunch to it, I packed up my fight and left it at home. Let’s eat lunch in peace o. Fight will come later.

Assina Kahamba, Congo JAVA

That’s how I arrived there to find my friend bustling around in the kitchen – heating up the chicken, frying the dodo, making some salad. Oya now, where are the two friends? Friend ni, friends ko. I was transported to the biblical parable where the King’s guests turned down the invitation to the royal wedding for unreasonable reasons.

One friend had just woken up. Eh, we’re in summer and it’s a Saturday. Agreed! The other had forgotten the directions to Assina’s place. It’s alright. Two’s company and three is a crowd sometimes. So we consoled ourselves and sat down to the plate of dodo made for four. And we gisted – about moving our respective countries forward, of Assina’s job in Congo as the Director of Formation in a school in Kinshasa, of the joy of living and of cooking, of eating healthy, of my sister Oge who’s expecting her third baby, of my summer plans, of everything! Did we have a swell time? You tell me!

Dedicated: to the two dear Congolese who couldn’t come. Ope o! Thanks for not showing up. See you some other time.

 

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