Endings

At the end

Having said what I could say and more

Not leaving anything in store

After taking the space that is my due

And doing my best to keep my intentions pure

I’ll leave you with one word always true

If Love is not your motive, nothing you do will endure.

My journey as FPW ends here but I hope you who read and journeyed this road with me continue to strive to reclaim yourselves from whatever it is that holds you back.

Thank you for reading always. 💕

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Mother-right

This should be, but is not a book review.

It would be but the book it would review is not a book that can really be reviewed. At least not by someone like me. But books have always been one of the many means by which She speaks to me. The means by which She reassured me that She is very much alive despite protestations to the contrary. Books have always been a conduit to Her realm. The means by which She has whispered sweet suggestions and painful truths into my ears. Sometimes a new revelation, sometimes a breath stealing confirmation, written in the exact words She had used when She told them to me so I would have no illusions about Who was speaking. Her message has spanned generations and traditions, cut across borders of time and space to reach me, always there when I needed the truth about myself and this beautiful, stupid place She has sent me to.

So, this is not a book review, we’re agreed? Good. But if you must know which book it is, then go and buy Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater.

OK, now that we have settled that little issue I will tell you the story of a little girl with two M/mothers. They are right when they say you break the child by taking away her M/mother. Me? My Mother was first taken away from me many thousands of years ago, taken away in the way that men drunk on father-right deny a Goddess her due. I watched her fall and I would have died with Her, had they killed her as they thought they had. (we are not dead. we do not die). Instead I went underground, back to her realm, the place they fear. The place they dare not enter. But she sent me back to my  mother (my earthmother), who, also,  was taken away from me before I was born, taken away in the way that communities steeped in father-right take women away from themselves and/or their children so just a shell of who they are, who they could be, remains. Ultimately powerless avatars, ineffective in the ways that count. My mother fought back, but it was the kind of fight that meant pursuing an education away from her children and being punished for it because it meant she was away for most of those crucial years when daughters must be protected from the possessed phalluses, old and young, that currently roam this realm, and the entities that ride them. Maybe this is why my Mother gave me to her? This earthmother could never really have me, anyway, so I would always be off balance, I would always yearn, always remember?  I honestly don’t know and no one is inclined to answer, yet.

What I am still not sure of is why my Mother thought I needed to even come here. She asks me often if the beauties of Her processes are not worth being embodied to bear witness to. They are, but I truly would be indifferent if I had never gotten the chance to experience them in the first place. I fight often with Her. I want to come home. I’m tired of this place. More specifically, I’m tired of the people. I’ve tried to go home. She bars the way or sends me back every time. (OK, there was that one time after I left the hospital when She reattached my umbilical cord and told me to cross over if I really wanted to come home. It would have been peaceful. In my sleep. I felt the intoxicating tug of disembodiment, the pull back to Source. I woke up instead, crying, missing my earthmother. I stuck my tongue out at Her when She smirked at me. She laughed and told me it was alright if I wanted to stay with my earthmother a little longer.)

But I digress.

I had other mothers to compensate. Plenty of them. I am the last of 5 children (7 if you count well, perhaps more if you looked really hard and counted really well). Only one of these is a boy. I had many other mothers. Sisters, aunties, cousins, family friends, but the one who counted the most also got taken away, prematurely, permanently. This was the final blow that broke the child. A sibling-mother is a double bond (later that year when a mountain erupted and she recognized the heaves of her little broken heart in the tormented heaves of the earth, even as her senses reeled from the raw fury of the manifestation, she understood that she had to reign her rage in or risk destroying even those she loved on this plane). I was broken, exposed, vulnerable, bleeding in silence, with the occasional violent crying fit and panic attacks (earthparents and doctors thought it was asthma). My essence poured out daily, as fast and as unchecked as the essences of other hurting people poured in. All their pains and illnesses, sinful hopes and tortured dreams soaking into me like I was a sponge.

I think my Mother was mightily miffed when the earthparents heeded the recommendations of a nun to send me to a school that was closer to home. I, for my part, was relieved to be going closer to my earthparents and welcomed the change. She knew better it seems. At the Catholic school I was in, I had access to and could make devotions to the Virgin Mary, one of her watered-down manifestations. This would keep an awareness of Her in my mind, without conflict. This new school would be a Baptist school where I was sure to meet the one they call Jesus and his supposed followers. She had no problem with her own son but his staunch followers are another matter, that is why She leaves them with him. My Mother is impatient with dogmas, you see? Change cannot abide dogma. Truth is capable of shifting with time and space. I’m sure She saw the incoming damage because before I switched schools, She had my father (a superstitious man desperate to protect his fracturing daughter) take me to Her sacred grove by a river where I was marked for Her, not that he or I realized what was happening. In retrospect, the fact that a woman said the incantations that dedicated me, should have been sign enough.  I resented him for this and when the opportunity came, I gave myself over to Jesus readily. But they could never reach me, these followers of Jesus and I could never really be His, I came to find out. I tried to be with him, to be with them. Mother knows I tried. Mother knows because she said no. Jesus himself would tell me later at the door to his throne room which he only gave me fleeting glimpses of, his eyes gentle and sad, that the claim on me was not one he could tamper with, that this was not the throne room I should be looking for.  He wouldn’t, however, tell me whose claim he deferred to. “You will see,” is all he said. I couldn’t believe it. I resented him for that for years and stubbornly clung to his side even when it was clear I would never belong to him or that crowd. That one still gets the side eye even though it amuses him more than anything else. Sons who are gods should be loyal to the Mother, I suppose.

As should daughters.

I ate a lot those days. Tried to fill the cracks and holes with food. The body needs food to heal and grow, doesn’t it? At least I could taste my earthmother’s love in the food she cooked. I also prayed a lot. There were the prayers to Jesus/God. Words and scripture sang, shouted, whispered, groaned. My earthmother watched me pray often concern marring her brow, so deep were my sighs. Then there were the prayers to the Other One, Her, the One who really listened, the one who actually gave a shit and got things done that I needed done. Groans in the heart, silent pleas, desperate looks. Like the time I needed a reason to believe in this reality and looked up just in time to see the sun sink beyond the horizon between the islands in the Bight of Bonny, its lingering rays shimmering in purples and oranges, lighting up the sky.  It is a weird thing to witness the earth move. Or the time I tested Her and said, “use me, don’t just bless me” and by the end of the day I had to give thanks, my face warm in ecstasy and wet in tears because she led my work to my own doorsteps, with her son’s help. Or that time during prep when my mind was spiraling and I could not study and desperately needed to zone out but I also needed to be School Senior Prefect and model a good example so I wished for a power failure and the lights went off as soon as the words left my mouth. A friend called me a witch that night. I just felt relief. Or the fact that as soon as I finished college, the path for me to leave Cameroon opened without complication.

She is Mistress of Many Little Graces and Big Favors. Consolatrix Afflictorum, some call Her.

She tried to come to me in many ways after I accepted that me and Jesus could never be but by then, the incomplete doctrines of certain factions of Jesus’s followers had done the work of blinding my eyes to any other possibilities even though I saw clearly through their other illogics. She came to me in a book as Sophia of the Gnostics, Queen of the Ecstasies. That didn’t work. It frightened me more than anything else. She tried to draw me back to the Virgin but I would have hidden myself in a convent, something She didn’t want. We that belong to the Mother are not Brides of Christ. When the Carmelite Mother Superior, speaking with Her voice, turned down my novitiate request emphasizing that the work I had to do could not be done behind convent walls, the rejection stung. It still amazes me that I believed the words of men over the words of a god, of gods (there were other friends, hidden in trees, in animals, in rocks, in the wind, in the folds of my mind, in the very fabrics of life itself). I believed humans over the Word of Life. I walked away from organized religions altogether, now confused by the conflicting messages I was getting. She seemed satisfied with my rejection of mysteries from the Levant.

“There are more expansive ways to grow,” She told me “and don’t say I didn’t try to protect you this time.”

Then she let me loose on the world. Her little strangeling. Her little monster.

“Go and be. Feed on what feeds you. Take what you need from the world, only give back fairly.  Live a life worthy of My mark. Forget Me, forget Us if you must, but We will not forget you. And when time is fulfilled, We will come for you, daughter.”

And so it was. She came for me when She was ready, and She pointed me in the direction I must go.

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Sweet Bitterleaf

The day Daddy’s release from prison was announced on the radio was the day I discovered that feelings could taste sweet. Mama fell to the floor crying. Grandma and Aunty Nina, Mama’s mother and sister held her while thanking God for his work. Big Papa looked pleased and his pleasure seemed to increase when Uncle Clovis came home with the palm wine he’d gone out to get for him just before the announcement was made. My joy seemed to bubble up from my stomach and spill over my tongue and it tasted sweet like honey. Me and my cousin Shirley jumped up and down happily hugging each other close. A few minutes after the announcement was made, a large crowd of people flooded into the compound of our house in Bonduma, in their jubilation, trampling over and completely destroying the vegetable and flower gardens Mama worked so hard to keep neat and productive. The crowd grew big, so wide reaching was Daddy’s influence, the gendarmes had eventually shown up to disperse them, careful to behave appropriately, because they knew that anyone who had so quickly been arrested, taken to Yaoundé and then released by the Regime without anything untoward happening to them, was someone to treat with care. My cousin Shirley and I exchanged wide eyed looks after as we surveyed the yard, concerned what Mama’s reaction might be when she saw the damage to her years of hard work. She had barely noticed, so great was her joy. I walked around that day and the days that followed until Daddy came home, with the sweet taste of joy sitting at the back of my tongue, drawing its fullness out to savor fully when I remembered that soon, I will be able to hug my Daddy and smell his perfume again, read newspapers with him, ask him all my questions, and drive around with him as he checked on his farms and various projects in Buea. It feels good to see how loved and respected my father is. His workers always look very happy when he shows up. These activities with my father are the highlights of my life. It’s not a very long life as I am six years old. I used to say “only” six years old but Daddy told me to embrace my age. I was not sure what he meant so I asked him. He told me it means to be ok with being a six year old girl and learning how to be the best six year old girl I could be.

The day Daddy came home from prison is the day I learned that feelings could also taste bitter.  Grandma and Aunty Nina had come to our house from the village the day after Daddy was arrested. So had Big Papa, daddy’s father and Uncle Clovis who was a distant relation I couldn’t explain but who always travelled with Big Papa to assist him. I had not like being made to say hello to all of them when they arrived. Their attention made me itchy and I did not like being touched by anyone but my Daddy. Big Papa patted us on the cheeks and commented on how we were big women already. He asked Shirley when she was getting married. I frowned in confusion when he asked that because Shirley is only 13 but everyone laughed, like it was the most normal question in the world. Maybe they were just glad to be given a reason to laugh because it felt like a cloud of tension and fear had descended over our house after Daddy got arrested.  As everyone laughed, I noticed Uncle Clovis looking at Shirley, his eyes lingering on her the way Daddy’s eyes linger on Mama when she forgot to wear her house coat over nightgown. Shirley didn’t like this very much. I think so because I looked at her right at the moment she caught Uncle Clovis staring. Her eyes grew bigger then she looked at the floor. Her body then slouched over as if she was trying to hide her chest. The whole exchange caused my heart to skip a beat. I wasn’t sure why but I was sure the tight feeling I got between my eyes and nose after was not something I wanted to feel again. More relatives showed up from the village the next day, crowding into our house. The day of the return itself, even more relatives and friends started showing up as early as 6am, bringing food, drinks and anything they thought would contribute to the celebration.  It was a happy festive mood in the house. A little bit like Christmas but the buzz of excitement held something more to it. I heard the uncles sitting and talking in the parlor say Daddy is a true son and protector of his people. They continued to list Daddy’s good qualities: a well-known business man, a family man, young and dynamic, with good values and ideas as demonstrated in the scathing takedown of the Regime he had penned that got him arrested. The conversation shifted to politics with the men debating loudly if secession was really an option and if they could trust any of the people likely to run in the presidential elections next year. I heard some suggest that Daddy should run in the presidential elections or even lead the move for secession. The men in the room seemed to like the idea. Uncle Kome, Daddy’s classmate from Sasse seemed to like it the most.

“He is the best we have right now, I can’t believe we didn’t see this before!” he said in his typical forceful manner, his booming voice rattling the small cavity of my chest. As he talked, I saw small drops of spittle fly from his lips from where I sat in the corner fiddling with the food I didn’t really want to eat because I didn’t want to spoil the taste of joy in my mouth as I listened to everyone talk about my father.

“The man has had integrity since from our school days, so what he wrote did not surprise me” Uncle Kome continued, proud of his long relationship with my father. “We thought he was quiet but the teachers would always read his essays to the class because they were so brilliant. He is a natural leader. One article in the Post! Just one! And the Regime gets so afraid they send goons to arrest him. What a failure of a government!”

The men in the room agreed heartily. They talked about Mama too. She would be a real asset, a whole professor, and of course a beautiful woman.

In the kitchen, Mama and the women cooked.

When the car carrying Daddy showed up, I was the first to see it because I was waiting near the gate. My excited scream when I caught a glimpse of the familiar silhouette of my father’s head drew everyone’s attention and people came pouring out of the house. They and everything else disappeared as I focused on the man whose presence in my life was love, safety and joy. I flew into his arms, his laughter washing over me like a sweet, warm river of love. All was right in my world again. I fell asleep that night curled in Daddy’s arms, against a backdrop of music, the thick scent of beer and palm wine and excited talk about elections and secession. That word again. I told myself I had to ask Daddy it means.

I woke up in my bed from one of the bad dreams I started having when Daddy got arrested. Normally, I went to Shirley’s bed but I was already sharing my bed with her, since Grandma and Aunty Nina shared the other bed in the room. I listened to her soft breathing for a few seconds before deciding tonight was a night I couldn’t bear to be separated from my father. Still half asleep, I made for my parent’s room hoping to get in their bed. I stopped at the door when I heard sounds from inside the room, then froze in surprise, coming fully awake when I realized the sound I heard was the sound of Mama crying. Why is Mama crying? I thought. Daddy is home! She should be happy. Why is she crying? Was he in there with her?  I wanted to open the door, go into the room and ask why she was crying but then I heard Daddy’s voice low and deep. I could not make out what he said but he sounded angry. The volume of her crying seemed to increase just a little before being abruptly cut off then I heard a sharp intake of breath, a scuffle, footsteps and what sounded like a muffled yelp. I got that tight feeling between my eyes and nose again and the sweetness of joy I had pulled to my tongue as I thought about sleeping close to my parents seemed to intensify to the point my tongue felt numb then as the intensity dissipated, a flat bitterness was all I could taste. A small crack formed where my chest used to be solid and sure. It frightened me. Why is Mama crying? I decided to go back to the room I shared with my cousin. As I turned away from the door, a rhythmic sound, similar to the sound Daddy and Mama’s bed made when I jumped on it came through the closed door. I would have had to be jumping very fast to mimic this sound, though.

The next day, Daddy and Mama seemed happy with each other so I asked none of the bitter-tasting questions that had lodged themselves in my mouth. Over the next weeks, things slowly returned to a new kind of normal. Grandma, Aunty Nina and Uncle Clovis stayed after everyone else left. I was glad Grandma and Aunty Nina stayed even though that meant I had to share the bed with Shirley but Uncle Clovis’s presence confused me. He was always with Big Papa, and I wondered who would fetch the beer and palm wine Big Papa seemed to exist on if they were apart. When I asked Daddy about it, he said Big Papa was worried what might happen to him next, he wanted Uncle Clovis to stay and keep watch over the family. Daddy now spends a lot of time travelling and meeting with different people to talk about politics. He doesn’t take me to these meetings as he would his other meetings. I asked him why and he told me these discussions would be too heavy for a little girl. It made me want to go even more. I wanted to spend time with my Daddy in case the Regime came and arrested him again. I wanted to know about politics if that was how one stood up to the Regime that arrests people’s fathers because they write well. I continued to have bad dreams which seemed to increase every time Daddy came home from one of his trips. Sometimes, I would wake up and go to their room to sleep with them. The nights I heard Mama crying and those strange sounds, I went back to my room after licking some toothpaste to lessen the bitter taste that coated my tongue, breathing through my mouth as if that would stop the crack in my chest from growing bigger, spreading from the point in the center. Very soon I began to hate this politics thing that had come into our lives and taken my Daddy away from me. I felt like crying and the broken glass screen that was my chest vibrated in a weird way when I thought about it for too long. Is that why Mama cries at night too sometimes? I wondered.

The tightness between my eyes and nose and the bitter taste on my tongue have become a fixture of my life since then. A few weeks later, however, when I saw Fatou, our Francophone neighbor’s house help crying behind their firewood kitchen, the tightness bloomed into a headache. Mama sent me to get bitterleaf from the garden in the backyard which was the one the part of our yard that had not been trampled upon weeks earlier. I was glad to have something to do in the kitchen because I always felt like I was underfoot when Mama and Shirley were cooking. Today, with Aunty Nina and Grandma present, my services were scarcely needed at all. I went off on my errand happily and picked the leaves carefully as I’d been taught to. The first thing I heard was hurried footsteps then a heavy sob followed by hysterical crying. I peered through the wood fence and shrubs that divided our compound from theirs and saw her sitting on the ground, her plump body folded in on itself, shaking as she wept. The crying was many things I didn’t have words for yet but the sound, the keening, hollow, hopeless sound of it hit the already fragile space in my chest, exploding its fractured solidity into many tiny slivers. A big yawning, seemingly bottomless hole was left and I felt myself falling into it and the bitterness flooded my tongue so strongly I felt I could scrape it off with my teeth.

“Fatou?” My voice trembled.

Her head swung up in shock when she heard her name. She scrambled up from her sitting position and ran to the fence, her eyes wide with fear. She had sought out the spot hoping to hide, I realized. From who? I thought frantically, feeling my own fear rise. I walked to a spot in the partition that had little shrubbery so I could see her. She moved over to where I stood.

“Rosa!” she whispered my name urgently, crushing the “r” as Francophones do. She pressed her face close to mine through the fence, so close I could see the red veins in her eyes, swollen from crying, the tears still forming as the spoke. There was a bruise on her lips with what looked like bite marks on them. I could smell her sweat, the Vaseline she used for body lotion, and the sour breath that accompanied the words that came out of her mouth next. “No tell any man you see me crying. I beg you! Promise!”

“Ok.” I whispered.

I blurted out what I had witnessed the moment I got back to the kitchen. The air seemed to go out of Mama’s body when she heard my words and she cast a worried look towards the neighbor’s house. Grandma and Aunty Nina both looked askance at her. Shirley sat frozen with a faraway look in her eyes.

“Has Aurelie’s father come back from Yaoundé?” Mama asked Shirley.

My cousin nodded, suddenly very interested in the plantains she was peeling.

Mama sighed.

“The least they could do is send the child to school.” Aunty Nina murmured.

“When she’s not a relative?” Grandma asked, sounding scandalized.

“All women need an education these days, Mama.” My mother said softly.

That wuna book wey di make am woman no di want shiddon inside house, so…” Grandma said, her mouth set in a decidedly disapproving line, as she leaned over to poke at the wood fire.

I saw Mama and Aunty Nina exchange looks. No one said anything else. Aunty Nina and Grandma left a couple of days later and Uncle Clovis stayed.

I asked Daddy why Aurelie’s father makes Fatou cry about a week later, when he was in town.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Fatou and the hole in my chest but neither Shirley nor Mama wanted to discuss the topic again. Besides, they always treat me like a child and Daddy answers my questions like I am smart enough to understand.  I had to wait because Daddy is now very busy. He travels a lot and when he is not, he is talking politics with the seemingly endless stream of men who come by to visit in the evenings. I asked him when we sat in his study as was our morning tradition, him reading the newspaper, me halfheartedly doing calligraphy exercises since Daddy wanted me to have perfect cursive writing. I worked quietly waiting for him to share some news from the paper with me so we could discuss it but that had happened less and less since his arrest and release. Now, we mostly spent what he called our daddy-daughter time with him reading and me doing some exercise he assigned. My questions needed answering, though. He’d come back from Bamenda the day before and Mama had cried last night. I wanted to understand what was happening around me and why I now walked around with this hole in my chest I was deathly afraid I would fall into. His lips set into a very hard line when I asked my question and he asked me where I’d heard that. I told him the events of the week before, down to Mama’s conversation with Shirley, Aunty Nina and Grandma. His body vibrated tensely when I finished. I’d never felt that from my father. It frightened me and the hole in my chest seemed to pulse in invitation.

“I’m going to have a talk with your mother about the conversations she has in front of you.  But I will try to answer your question since you asked. Relationships between men and women are complicated and people feel hurt sometimes, so they cry. That’s all that was. You see, the girl told you not to tell anyone, right? That means she will be fine, so do not worry about it. Just remember that no good and honorable man would do anything to make a woman cry, alright?”

I wanted to ask him about Mama and why she cries at night. I wanted to ask him if that meant that he was not a good and honorable man himself. But I already know my Daddy is a good and honorable man and that now, sometimes Mama cries at night. I felt that tightness between my eyes and nose again so I said nothing more. I didn’t want a head ache. That night I slept with my parents. I woke up the next morning from a dream about Fatou, Aurelie’s father and I which involved us falling down that hole in my chest –  her crying bitterly as she had been that day, him laughing as I’ve heard him laugh over the fence from time to time and me listening to them in a detached way. I perked to attention when I heard Fatou’s name and knowing they would stop talking if they knew I was awake, I pretended to still be sleeping.

“Stay out of that business, Beatrice” my father was saying. “First of all, they are Francophones and he is a military man. This is a delicate time for everyone. The girl, they call her Fatou? Didn’t she tell Rosa not to tell anyone? Obviously, she has some stake in keeping the situation as it is, which looking at the man’s wife makes it understandable. She’s young but they pay her probably makes it worth it. She’s always seemed too loose for my taste and reasonable men do not do what you claim that man is doing.  And even if so, that is more reason we must break away from these people. I hope Shirley no longer goes over there.”

Mama assured him that she doesn’t.

I told Shirley what Daddy had said and her eyes took on a glassy look like she would cry. She said nothing for a few seconds, her breath seeming to flutter in and out of her chest.

“He’s right.” She said finally, her normally high-pitched voice a small sound barely louder than a whisper. She wouldn’t meet my eyes when she said it and seemed to be in a bad mood for the rest of the day, avoiding everyone. Her mood was so bad, she disobeyed Mama for the first time I’d ever witnessed and refused to take Uncle Clovis his food in his room when Mama asked her to.

Mama beat Shirley for the first of many times that day.

 

Wind of Change

They say a wind of change is blowing
And I cannot disagree
But change means very different things
I had to ask the wind

Of course, I blow
The Grand Dame said
Nothing is, otherwise
But change means very different things
What would you have me be?

At that, I paused
A little unsure
Too big a question for me
I know the wind can energize
But also pulverize

Whatever it is
Whatever you bring
Oh please don’t let it be
A wind that carries on its breath
The scent of death and waste

If I am only here for myself, then why am I even here?

(This is an incomplete thought. I had wanted to wait to publish but time is running out.)

Life. Not death. Life. Not death. 
 

This is a follow up to the piece I wrote “Can’t Play Fair If The Game is Rigged”. The premise of that piece was that conditions as they are in Cameroon and around the world, are such that the average Cameroonian woman (any woman for that matter) is playing a losing game. I emphasized that there must be a fundamental change in how we see ourselves as women, as individuals in our communities, and as a collective of individuals forming this community. I also recommended that the first step to this transformation is reflection, thinking about yourself as a human being and what that means, but also to think about your needs and what you can to do to fulfill them. The hierarchy of needs outlined below by psychologist Abraham Maslow is a good place to start:


 

I’m going to take a small detour in this essay to address the most common pushback I get, as a person/woman decrying the sorry state of affairs in Cameroon. I want to this before I continue with what I want to talk about so that you understand why I still call bullshit on any reason I am given for things being the way they are, or why I am wrong for being as frustrated as I am.

 

The most common pushback I get is that I am not strong-minded, mentally balanced, grounded etc. I am told that I allow my emotions to be easily influenced by surrounding circumstances. That I need to elevate my mental state in order to achieve mental balance and not be weighed down by “ungovernable” circumstances. Basically, that my redemption consists in rising above these circumstances, surrounding myself with the right people and living for myself and those I love. The reasons given for this approach usually fall along the lines of “You can’t change the world…”, “People are selfish and you just have to take care of yourself…”, “This is just how things are…” Now I’m willing to bet that you’ve heard similar advice from family and friends, lovers and husbands, bosses, and even random strangers.

 

This is not bad advice per se. In all honesty, it’s the sort of advice I would give in a similar situation. I agree with the school of thought that our minds regulate our reality and thus mental mastery is needed for optimal life. But unlike most people who offer this advice, I wouldn’t end here. I would say that this exhortation to mental conditioning needs to eventually extend to the people in our communities, these same people whose individual and collective beliefs and actions create the circumstances we have to deal with, including the so called “ungovernable” ones. I would do this because I recognize that no matter how I craft my inner realities, that is, the world (starting with my community) as conceived, perceived and experienced by my mind, no matter how I craft this for my own wellbeing, I still have to contend with external realities – the world (starting with my community) as conceived, perceived and experienced by the people who make up that world (community). This is what Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie means when she says people make a culture and not the other way around. Things are the way they are because we want and/or allow them to be the way they are.

 

As the individual mind believes, so it is. But also as the collective mind believes, so it is.

 

But how do a lot of us in Cameroon operationalize the concept of mental balancing or whatever it is we choose to call the process of mastering our mind? It seems to me that the act has become transactional like prayer, fasting, and many other philosophical and religious practices which while intended to connect individuals to the Origin, the all-encompassing entity that some call God, that we may align our wills with what makes for Life as it could be, has become the “legal tender” by which we bribe this entity into giving us what we want, regardless of the effects it has on people other than ourselves and the people we care about. I feel like it has become a “major key” to help you live your best life, the emphasis being on what you are going to do to make you and yours comfortable, given the circumstances. So essentially, you recognize the situation is suboptimal yet only look for ways to craft it to your immediate benefit and nothing more.

 

Ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, indeed.

 

Ubuntu is one of the main philosophies or worldviews to come from the African continent. Simply expressed, Ubuntu means: a person is a person because of people. Or in the words of philosopher Michael Onyebuchi Eze:

“ ‘A person is a person through other people’ strikes an affirmation of one’s humanity through recognition of an ‘other’ in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the ‘other’ becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance”.

Why do I bring up Ubuntu? Because as African peoples, regardless of what part of the African mosaic we come from, one unifying philosophy is the fact that we take care of each other, that we are all we’ve got, that we go together, that it takes a village, that communality and individuality are in constant interplay, and our humanity is guaranteed because we guarantee the humanity of others. We thus navigate this path between individual consciousness (self) and shared consciousness (society, community) for the entirety of our lives so, how are we so comfortable with worldviews that limit the scope of who we consider as “ours” such that we define areas we are going to care about and ignore everything else (and wonder why we have such corrupt societies)? As I see it, this approach, is valid and WILL work for those individuals who abide by it but unless a critical mass of people does the same, it’s of minimal value to the larger society – the shared consciousness and thus the reality of the individuals who make up said society. As a result, the factors that create these less than ideal conditions don’t change by much.

 

As the individual mind believes, so it is. But also as the collective mind believes, so it is.

 

For example, my mind as a Cameroonian woman is deeply disturbed by patriarchy and sexism in the country, all it brings with it and how it has complicated to the point of destroying, is complicating to the point of destroying and unless we do something about it, will continue to complicate to the point of destroying the lives of women, and by extension society as it could be. Following the recommended thinking however, I would be expected to focus on elevating and balancing my mind and doing what I need to do to make sure this is not the case for me and those I care about. Basically, patriarchy and its attendant evils are present but how I orient my mind regarding it is what really matters and any attempts I or others make to challenge the status quo first in minds and then through policy, is wasting energy because this is just the way things are. I don’t know if I’m the only one who realizes how fraudulent this is, ESPECIALLY coming from a “well-meaning” man or woman whose praxis is patriarchy.

 

Think of it this way: You can become enlightened enough to eat and drink healthy, exercise and rest regularly, meditate etc. You can even know to take medications like ACTs and have access to the best. But if your compound has optimal conditions for mosquitoes to thrive and you do nothing about that, malaria will continue to plague you. Matter of fact, the parasites will likely develop resistance to whatever restorative or preventive actions you take. Similarly, you can be enlightened enough to know what patriarchy and sexism are, know how to protect yourself from their effects and live your life so all people know you will not stand for that nonsense. But if the collective mind/consciousness of the society that generates these patriarchal sexist attitudes doesn’t become enlightened as well, they will simply adapt around you and you will need to repeatedly dip into these mental balancing resources to just function normally. Energy that could go towards more fully realizing our potential goes towards just simply surviving the day without losing it.

 

Talk about perpetual energy drainage.

 

Furthermore, there is an incrementalism to this approach, an unnecessary “take am small-small” attitude which in my opinion speaks more to moral cowardice than to wanting to take a measured approach. What are we taking small small when we see the destructive effects of these attitudes multiplying exponentially? What are we taking small small when we see the causes and effects plainly? What exactly are we taking small small, when by each of us holding each other accountable as a collective, we can cover that ground much faster? There is also what I see as a communal irresponsibility imbedded in it which is why counselling/therapy, medication, meditative practices and all the means by which individuals can control their minds notwithstanding, our societies keep deteriorating. The individual can do the work but only on the level of the individual. If shared consciousness and collective reality is to change, this self-reflection, need for assessment and mental regulation also must happen at the community level. ​

 

So yes, we need to master our individual minds as beings in this universe and as women living in a deeply patriarchal and sexist world. But where is the exhortation to work towards mastering the collective mind for what we all know is the good of the collective?

 

As the individual mind believes, so it is but also as the collective mind believes, so it is.

Curses loading…

You dehumanize your wives
You beat them
Some of you force yourselves on them
A man can’t rape his wife, can he?
You humiliate her with your mistresses
Mock her devotion with your other children
Endanger her life with the diseases you bring home
Marry, impregnate, abandon at will
Love is a word that drops from your lips
Poisoned
But I’m high strung if I talk about it
I’m unstable if I call out your cowardice
Feminists are evil, right?
But you’re manipulative and controlling
Selfish beyond belief
Emotionally underdeveloped
Spiritually vacant
Morally retarded
Spirit killers
Enemies of life
Thieves of potential
Prison wardens in disguise
Beta men pretending to be alphas
Whatever the hell that means
Broken children emulating broken fathers
That’s not evil
The problem is the women
The same ones who you claim should tell you what to do
The same ones you wouldn’t deign to listen to
Your gods are watching you
All of them
Old and new
There will be a reckoning

Review: The Mirror and Nine Other Stories by Susan Nkwentie Nde

 Heather Snell continues our summer voyage into children’s literature.

AiW Guest: Heather Snell

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The Mirror and Nine Other Stories is a product of Langaa, a press with offices in Bamenda and Buea. As Langaa indicates on their website, access to publishing is a problem for African writers. Distribution is an even bigger problem: Langaa partners with the African Books Collective, Michigan State University Press, and Amazon to distribute African stories, but due to high printing costs Langaa must operate on a print-on-demand-only basis.

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