As this week is Thanksgiving in the United States of America this blog seems fitting to share. I am home for my mid-assignment break. I return back to PULSE after the holidays. I am thankful for the chance at this experience, thankful for my family that has provided me the support to take this journey, and I am thankful for the people I have met along the way.
I have three short stories from the side-lines about people I continue to meet. It is funny how a conversation will start and where it will go. Chats may be long, others short – just in passing with a ‘you’re welcome’…..you hear a story, and remember why we are here and why we should be thankful –
The street sweeper: Anulika (in Igbo is means: “happiness is the best”)
Along my walks through Maitama, or driving through the city you will encounter the street sweeper. I met Anulika along a walk one early Saturday morning. She was in a group of three but stopped her task as I approached. I felt this was my chance to ask her story. At first reluctant, she went on to explain that she and her women friends sweep the streets and sidewalks every day under heat or rain with nothing more than a hand broom. She said it is not safe, drivers speed by and we have nothing for protection but our orange coats to let drivers know we are here. For Anulika this job is her life and only source of livelihood. She is a widow, she takes this job to keep her family alive with the income she makes from sweeping the streets. Regardless of her life situation, as she talks to me she is full of smiles. A grin that cannot help but make you smile back. She is thankful for the chance to chat and wishes me well on the rest of my day. I do the same – happiness is the best medicine to get through the hardships we encounter. She went on her way and I had the chance to photograph a woman whom I may never meet again but one that reminded me to be thankful for what you have.
The banana seller: Korede (in Yoruba means: ‘bringer of good things’)
I encountered a young woman on my walks and our eyes would meet but I always declined buying any bananas. I’m not a huge fan but I did finally give into buying a bunch of bananas. I figured even if I didn’t eat them, they were not expensive and I could give them to the children on the street where I lived. Korede thanked me and said she was happy that she finally could convince me to buy them. I don’t know if it was convincing or that this young woman with a shy smile is what won over my heart. We chatted over the course of several weeks. We always seem to meet in the same place almost at the same hour, a Thursday evening after 18:00 as I descended a hill along the back road off the main highway of Maitama. I asked her name and how she come to sell bananas in Abuja? Like so many people here, she is not from Abuja but from a village miles away. She explained that she always wanted to go to school and be a doctor but coming from a poor village she learned about medicine from her grandfather and how different fruits and vegetables could help your health. She went on to explain that she is the banana doctor. ‘Bananas make you smarter, help you with your memory, make you happy, cure hangovers, helps with morning sickness and protects from blindness and helps your muscles during workouts, and builds strong bones.’ I was slightly amused and when she saw me smile she said – ‘see they already make you happy – you look like you need to be happy’. Korede’s smile and the bananas were the best medicine I had during my time in Abuja. She may be the self-proclaimed banana doctor, but she was so much more. I thanked her every week for the chance to chat. A few weeks ago, I had the courage to ask to take a picture with her but she declined and walking away she asked that I remember her face with a memory in my mind not on a piece of paper. With that she placed the basket of bananas back on her head, turned and said I could photograph her from behind. This was her picture – her story, the reason why she is here.
The Uber driver: Imade (in Igbo means: ‘I did not enter the world by mistake, I have a purpose in life’)
In my conversation with an Uber driver one Sunday afternoon on the way to the market we chatted about names. I said I am fascinated by the names of everyone I meet. Imade is an engineer by training and drives his car for extra money (naira) on the weekend. I asked him about his unique name and I received the following lesson that I will carry with me. ‘My name is my cultural identifier. It was the first gift my parents gave to me as a child – he said it was a noble African name. You wear it the rest of your life, it links you with your past, your ancestors and is a part of your spirituality.’ He went on to say, ‘regardless of your religion, on the Day of Resurrection, you will be called by your names and your fathers’ names, so make your names good.’ He asked about my situation, why was I here. I explained with a short synopsis (one that I have come to rehearse as there are not many westerners in the city). He then asked my name and his response was that is a good strong name. It means ‘bright’ and I see brightness in your eyes to learn about others around you. He asked would I mind if he gave me another name, an African name? I said that would be cool but I would need him to explain to me what the name means and why this name. He said I name you ‘Griot’. He said whilst French it is a West African name that means – story teller. He said you ask questions that allow others to tell their story. Seems like a wise man to me –
Now, whilst the following is not a story about someone I met along a walk or ride in the city, it is to acknowledge my fellow PULSE-mates here in Abuja. They have stories too and I hope you look for them in the blogs they have posted about their journey. They all have experiences worth hearing.
Today is Thanksgiving, and I thank them for the friendship they provided here on the ground over the course of several months. I think of them as my extended family. The picture below was my ‘going away’ pic with the team. I am on my mid-trip home and by the time I return to my PULSE assignment they will have departed and I will be on my own as I finish mine. Till we meet again friends –
Left to right – Venelin, Manish, Carolina, me, Ian, Gatit, Girish, Imran and Juergen (inserted by Venelin who was on travel) but whom we enjoyed a good weekend celebrating at Millenium park.
Previously in a blog I posted pics of a policeman here in Abuja dancing in the street whilst directing traffic. I think of the people I have met, the stories I have told, and the smiles that have blessed me. It reminds me that my life is good – but we need to remember that when life is not the party you hoped, you still need to get out there and dance in the traffic.
So, as I leave Africa for my first trip home since I departed on July 7th I am reminded once again of an old African proverb by my soul-sister Anne-Marie: Return to old watering holes for more than water; friends and dreams are there to meet you….’Welcome Home’ and Happy Thanksgiving to all –