Categories
Books reviews

Book Reviews With Oumissa 12: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Generational stories take more time and dedication. It is harder to tie together and make the dates, historical events and flow add up. When an author achieves this, the time spent is worth it because you don’t have to be doing the mental gymnastics.

Two sisters start life out on vastly different paths. One gets married to a slavemaster, the other is captured.And in this way, two genealogical lines are formed. This heartrending account follows the lives of their descendants across different eras and locations, tracking their journey. Each lifetime had a tumultuous event that drastically redirected their path in life in a major way.

No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But still, Yaw, you have to let yourself be free.

They all remain connected not just by blood but by an indecipherable spiritual bond. So powerful is it that centuries after the forerunners , their descendants meet in a most unexpected of places.

The work of historical fiction begins in the Gold Coast when the intraAfrican and then transatlantic slave trades were in full swing. As it unfolds, positions change, fortunes dwindle, and expectations get shattered into splinters.

The branch that remains at home experience abolition, colonialism, a budding democracy and then migration to America. The other lives through the horrors of the dreaded voyage across the Atlantic, slavery and the variety of indignities people of colour faced.

Yaa adeptly describes the ugly moments and how slaves fought to hold on to the few moments of normalcy and happiness in all that bleakness. Abolition, the harsh conditions of the coal mines, racism, economic disenfranchisement give way to the drug era and finally an educated generation that is do close to getting equal rights as whites.

Through it all, we see love in its purest form survive the most arduous circumstances. Aku is that member of the family that’s the link between the past and the future. She binds everyone together and feels the experiences of the lost relatives she has never met. She has gripping visions of the dark past, holds tight to her customs and beliefs, lives to see the Gold Coast become Ghana and is so attached to Marjorie, her granddaughter helping her to recognize her past.

In America, the worst thing you could be was a black man. Worse than dead, you were a dead man walking.

There is a pervading sense of the supernatural throughout the book and many passages will raise the hair at the back of your neck. It is also beautiful to see how each character tries to pass down the family history to the next generation.

It was a gripping and fast-paced read.so graphic were the descriptions that you could feel how tight the slave decks were in the ship, could feel the claustrophobia in H’s coal mine, feel the self hatred Richard had towards his wife and child and feel that electric spark when Marjorie falls in love with her many times removed cousin. It is a splendid work in narration, vivid in its capturing. While the continuity isn’t great as one person’s story often ends abruptly leaving you wondering what happened to them, it is in all, a brilliant work that paints so well what black people still experience today.

Categories
Health Lagos Girl

Danfo: The Travails of a Lagos Commuter #1

two-people-holding-hands-1101732Waking up late and having to rush to work is a vicious cycle of stress. It was such a relief to get to the main road and find traffic. Let me explain, it was not the notorious kolori-konidi type. You know the ones you can neither make head nor tail of. I could easily see that it was due to a construction diversion and therefore was moving.

Hurdle number two was getting a bus. Due to the increased LASTMA presence, all drivers were obeying the no-indiscriminate-stops rule. I had to walk back to my initial start point to get a bus. Next time, open your eye well dear. Hurdle number three, getting a bus to my next stop is an exercise in patience as they come one in fifteen. Always annoying to see bus after bus approaching only to be disappointed at the destination being called.

At last, I found my bus and hurdle number four was beating the other Disappointed Gang members to the few available seats ahead of the many others going my way. It is important to identify your competitors in this battle. If not you will sleep there.

Alhamdulillah, let’s take a deep breath, get comfortable on the plank seat and use my inner mind to try to channel the traffic into dissipating. The predictable fifth hurdle of change was laying in wait. The fare was already hiked so I was in no mood for this everyday shenanigans. The conductor grumbled, “Ko si change o, mo ti so fun yin ki e to wole”. I kept my money.

I thought to myself, “Ah, this man can lie! He did not mention any such thing when he was looking for passengers. When you are ready, you will collect your money.”

“E ma bole o,” he added in a feeble attempt at being menacing.

“You and who are coming down? After waiting twenty minutes with the sun burning my face, you must be joking bruv. Emi ti mo ti late.”

We coasted along. After a while, the road became free and Fast and Furious mode began. The whizzing air started billowing my scarf inside one man’s eye. Sorry o!

Mr Conductor collected his money finally and said we would have to sort change when we get down, that he has multiple people to give change to. I still did not say anything. God will help, you hear?

As I was bracing for the inevitable Joining Games, the conductor started calling my end destination. What manner of luck is this? I asked him if he would stop at my precise junction, he said yes and I was thrilled. One less bus to jump, less exposure to the sun.

Onwards Island, we connected with the Third Mainland Bridge. We raced alongside other cars until we saw a build-up of vehicles. Now, this is actually the story. My therapist, bless her heart, is used to my long preambles and digressions by now. Be like her and let me land.

“Iru hold up wo leleyii bayii,” a lady with her goods lamented. So we are even plenty that are late. A MOPOL got down from his car and helped direct the traffic. That’s when we saw a long line of cars and people. In confusion, we craned our necks and wondered why they all stopped without an obvious accident. What really habbun? Then we heard one of the numerous bystanders saying someone has jumped inside the water, The car the person apparently got down appeared to have a sinister aura.

Oh no! Not again.

This had a chilling effect on us all. The following exchange ensued in the bus:

Conductor: Why will anyone kill themselves? How can he get down from the car and jump like that.

Trader: E ma so be! You don’t know what the person was going through. (Yes, the general assumption was a man even though Yoruba does not have separate pronouns for the sexes.)

It is not easy o. people are facing a lot.

Eleha: Some people have problems with no one to help them and this feels like a way to end it.

Conductor: Ehen! (the one that means ‘you don’t mean it’)

Trader: It’s true. One woman near my shop found her husband’s swollen body at home, he had downed a whole bottle of *now-banned pesticide*. This feeling is like a strong spirit, one needs to speak out about it . Avoid staying alone.  If not, it will overwhelm you and the voices will tell you to kill yourself. When I feel like that, I go out and spend time with my loved ones or anyone that can cheer me up. May God have mercy on us.

Man in Northern attire: face registering confusion. Someone translated from Yoruba to pidgin. Confusion gives way to shock and he shakes his head in palpable consternation.

Conductor: This is terrible. I heard of a similar case who drank *same now-banned pesticide*. He is not a poor man o.

Trader: It is not always about money. Some people have overwhelming problems with no hope. Some feel sad more easily than others. It could be debt but it could also be anything. We have to watch out for these sad feelings.

Other passengers: exclamations and heavy sighs.

Eleha: I hope the divers usually around there get him out. They have saved several people this way. When this thing happens, one can go to the clinic and get treatment before it gets to this level.

There is silence as we all are lost in thought, end up forgetting our bus stops as the driver heads to a different destination than originally planned.

…………………

I hope that the person who jumped off the bridge yesterday was rescued. I saw a video of the LASG rescue team and the divers. The bridge is such a common location for suicide but the increased police presence at different parts of it is thought to prevent this. However, anyone whose mind is set on it can get past the watchful eye. Telling the Uber driver he wanted to throw up only to jump must have been such a nerve-wracking experience for the driver.

Suicide can be prevented. We need to listen, be sensitive, build resilience, strengthen our mental health services, increase awareness and end the stigma around mental illness. There is hope.