On the Dispossessed
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I have just read Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile, and I feel renewed, invigorated, alive. If you have not read this book, please read it. It is a Legend's wise and true musings, and it is a treasure. It got me thinking about the dispossessed - we Nigerians, we the products of decolonized countries and colonized minds.
At the British High Commission in Lagos, I was struck by the Nigerian guards in the deep olive uniforms and hats, how full of an inflated sense of their own self-importance they were. They do not walk, they trot, literally, dramatically. They stick out their chests. They bark at fellow Nigerians. And they never answer any questions directly, instead a superior smart-alecky attitude is the norm.
Oga - is this line for visa renewal?
Which other line to you see?
There are four different lines here. I want to know which one is for renewal.
Did they write it on my head? Go and ask that oga there. In short, wait here first. In short, come back. In short
And what this attitude seems to say, to me, is 'We have been employed by oyinbo, we are validated, we are better than you non-oyinbo-attached Nigerians.'
It was the same thing at the British Council in Lagos. To support the Caine Prize, the British Council sponsored my trip to London for the events. But I had to go through a Nigerian employee in Lagos who made it a point to rub in, in the most supercilious way, the fact that she was employed by oyinbo. She dragged her feet, did not return my calls, made me know she was Important and In Charge.
And when I told people about this persons attitude, the first thing they would ask was - was this person
a Nigerian? And when I said yes, they would nod and say of course, what else did you expect? (It is a sad fact that the British woman I talked to was cordial and professional. It is a sadder fact that this rude Nigerian employee at the British Council was very polite when I heard her talking to an oyinbo.)
My mother says often that some things are ife ojoo na-ato amu, - sad things that are funny. And I think this is one of such things. It was funny watching those guards at the High Commission faking British accents when they spoke to their superiors, it was funny watching the British Council employer wielding her ephemeral power. But it is also really sad.
Achebe writes about the female Nigerian writer who happily talked about her book no longer being put in the African section, and how Nigerian writers in Nigeria wrote very badly but once they moved to England, they wrote better (read - talent is not in a person, but in a place) Another funny and sad thing.
Or the Nigerian woman who I met in Lagos and who was offended when I spoke Igbo to her five-year-old daughter. No, she said, no, she goes to the British School, I take her to London, she doesnt speak Igbo.
I could go on.
A friend of mine thinks that we Nigerians, we who Achebe would call the dispossessed, need a massive re-brainwashing. Brainwashing is a scary word but my friend argues that since we have come to believe we are inferior through an insidious and often times subtle process of brainwashing, then we need to be re-educated. We need to be re-taught that there is dignity in being who we are.
I dont know. Re-education sounds great, I agree in theory, but I wonder how realistic it is. And I worry.