Where in the World are you not Somebody or Nobody? Are you ever just a body?

I just read an article. I'm sorry I must back track. I'm not accustomed to being so direct. It is far better to be an indirect long winded fellow than it is to be the opposite. Why? Because I am an indirect long winded fellow and I love myself without restraint. To prefer the short winded direct people would be to despise myself and I can't have that can I? Yes where was I? I was having my usual gander on facebook when I saw an article shared by one of my famzers, Arriety. (Don't ask me how I came up with that pseudonym. All you need to know is that Hirosama Yonebayashi who was also an animator on Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke directed a movie called the Secret Life of Arrietty in 2010.)

This particular famzer is greatly esteemed not only because she's the sister of my first girl friend but also because she is clever, opinionated and outspoken. The first time she shared something that I had written I wrote the following about her,

"Arrietty and I went to school together. She was two years above me. I can't say that we had that many conversations but what I can say is that her telling me that she loves my blog made my head swell to the point of bursting. I had an extra spring in my already springy step. Yes, that's how highly I regard her opinion."

This is the article that Arietty shared http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/in-nigeria-youre-either-somebody-or-nobody.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&smid=fb-share

Give it a read will you? It will be a hundred thousand times easier to follow everything that comes after this if you have. But because not everyone has the time I will quote the first paragraph.

"IN America, all men are believed to be created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. But Nigerians are brought up to believe that our society consists of higher and lesser beings. Some are born to own and enjoy, while others are born to toil and endure."

This paragraph should tell you all that you need to know. The writer is incurably addled. She's not addled the way I'm addled as I am nothing if not a rambling mad man. Her sense of the world is skewed beyond the point of recovery. As someone who is quite familiar with the world I can tell you with full confidence that some are born to own and enjoy while others are born to toil and endure. To refuse to admit the universality of this statement is to be naive.

Like the writer of the article when I was growing up we had staff. Till this day we have staff. We have a male steward, a female cleaner, a male cook, 2 gardeners courtesy of Omar Gardens, one washer man, 2 drivers and 2 nurses (My grandmother has Cardio Vascular Dementia. The nurses are indispensable). When I was younger the stewards and cooks doubled as nannies. Yes, the Afam household is a little like a small economy. You might say that this many staff running a 5 bedroom house and relatively small grounds is ludicrous. But you know what? My parents have earned it. You see Mama and Papa Afam were not magically installed as the rulers of this micro economy. It wasn't handed to them by God and the privileges of birth. Two decades and a half ago they lived in a one bedroom apartment on my paternal grandmother's estate and my father ran his business from the living room. So you can understand why I insist that this woman is beyond deluded.

As children we were not permitted to call staff by their first names, they were auntie and uncle or mister. Even now that I am a man (well a man-child) I cannot call Papa Afam's driver, Alfred, anything but Mr. Alfred. They were imbued with as much authority as our parents. Heaven forbid you were rude to them or didn't say please or thank you. Sometimes the reward for your poor behaviour was a scathing look but sometimes it was an hour long lecture that put you firmly in your place. If auntie Patience, my nanny, punished me and I dared tell Mama Afam she too would punish me. After they had lived with us for a while, Mama Afam would call them to her room and ask them what they wanted to do with themselves. Some didn't know, and that was fine. Others wanted to go to school, and that was fine too. Whatever they wanted to do we supported. It wasn't uncommon for them to come to us illiterate and leave with better vocabulary and diction than some university graduates. They were not figures depressed by the hand of nature below the level of the human species as Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani seems to think. They were our teachers, our confidantes, our friends, our disciplinarians and our helpers. There were times that it didn't work out. Some of them stole but we weren't so jaded as to believe that they were all scoundrels. If they were all scoundrels then I would have been the worst of them because by the time I was 8 I had forged my mothers signature a few times and stolen 50 Naira when Papa Afam wasn't looking but while I couldn't be dismissed I was certainly punished. My punishments were significant enough that I wished that I could be dismissed.

She goes on to say that America is a more civilized place than Nigeria because of the principle of equality that was laid out in the declaration of independence. To say this is to make light of the struggles that America has endured to achieve the level of equality that it has today. Equality was not presented on a platter of gold. It was fought for. It is still being fought for. And what's more Equality of service is not something that is humanly possible. I cannot expect a waiter to treat me the same as he would treat Rihanna. I am a student. Even if his service was legendary, I could only tip him £5 at best but with Rihanna the possibilities are almost limitless. In Pretty Woman Julia Roberts walks into a store and is denied service because she looks like a whore, but this is true anywhere. Shop assistants have no patience for window shoppers, they cannot earn a commission off you so they try to determine who the likely customers are by going on preformed ideas of wealth. Because of my current lack of funds I can hardly expect to be given a private room and a glass of champagne every time I visit my bank, but if my account were fat enough that would be the least my bank would do for me. We all know this. At least if you don't know, now you know. People act in their best interests. To piss off a man who has banked £300 millions with your bank is to lose your job and earn a bad reference. To piss off a student knee deep in his overdraft is to laugh about it over drinks that night.
The same principle applies in Nigeria. If you do not display certain tenets of wealth you cannot be expected to be treated the same way as someone who does. You should expect the same service but you shouldn't expect to have your arse kissed for it. 

I am not saying that this is right or wrong. I am saying that this is common and not uniquely Nigerian.

But I suppose the fault is mine for making the effort to read and blog about an article that can only be described as the journalistic equivalent of trolling. I fear she fails to realize that somebodys can quickly become nobodys and nobodys can just as quickly become somebodys. My story includes an extensive knowledge about apartments in Knightsbridge that are no more and families that ripped themselves to shreds fighting for the dredges of parental wealth and people that were once somebodys but are now nobodys. Perhaps hers isn't as well informed.

Happy Days,


Imoteda said...

Brilliantly written as always but...


I just commented on the article saying that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and agreed with it.
I am now going to comment on this saying that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and agree with it.

I have effectively thoroughly contradicted myself in ways that seem irredeemable.

I shall try to redeem myself, however this tiny box is making me go a little mental so kindly head over to my blog in about an hour for my response.

Thank you

Bobby ezidi said...

I had a couple growin up..They really did discipline & sometimes, cover up some of my nutty acts.. & who can forget their bed time stories, that always began thus-
Househelp: story story, Me:story.. Househelp:once upon a time, Me:time time.. Househelp:there was a tortoise...

Michaela Ehimika said...

My friend posted this and on facebook and I had already read Adaobi's Op-Ed. Although I hated her article, I must say some of your writing proves Adaobi's point. I'm sure your parents are very hardworking people, but do not assume that privilege of birth did not strongly factor in what they have "earned" today.

Afam said...

Well fortunately I can tell you with full confidence that Papa Afam's birth did not play a strong role in what he has "earned" today. Due to the personal nature of my blog I cannot relay his life story over the blog. I cannot comment on the point Adaobi made. She did however hint that the wealthy are wealthy because they are wealthy and that they would always be wealthy because they are wealthy and she also hinted that the poor would be poor because they are poor and that they would always be poor because they are poor.

Imoteda said...

I find interestingly enough with quite a few parents in my circle that they have actually earned what they have as opposed to the wealth being handed down. But the fact remains, whether handed down or earned Somebodies are still Somebodies.

Imoteda said...

I had to come back and add this.
There is a tendency people have to overlook ones struggles once one has "made it" and to downplay the handwork that people put into getting to the point they are in their lives. This is not only narrow-minded, it is rude and defeatist thinking. The sort of thing people say when they see someone achieve and some green eyed monster in them insists on pissing a little on that achievement.
It goes right in hand with comments I get like "you're only working to pass the time till you get married." and "why do you waste your time on this makeup thing when you have daddy?" It requires little less than a hot knife dipped in pepper passed through the asker's eye.
That is all.

RESTORED said...

For the record, and for the younger ones out there. Not every successful person was born into wealth or stole. Hard work and consistency does pay off. It's slow and grinding but it works. Also, watching ones lifestyle is also very important in conserving wealth. Leave all defeatist attitudes that make you set limits for yourself. Our God is limitless and so should we be.

Aliyu ObabiOlorunkosi Gafaar said...

Brilliantly written rebuttal of Adaobi's article. I couldn't have responded better (and like you, I love myself to bits). The key boxes were well ticked. I particularly enjoy the devastating riposte to the stereotypes in Adaobi's. Kudos. Though I should know that a leaf does not fall far from its roots

Madame Sting said...

Cardiovascular dementia....I "re-learnt" something new today, thanks to you and google. I don't think my psych professors would be too happy to hear that cos i'm sure we covered this in 2nd yr. Stopped reading the article after that, sorry, u can blame my ADD for that.

Afam said...

I find it difficult to believe that you took the trouble to comment after reading so little. You have my sympathies. Your condition must be such a burden to live with, as you can't read more than a hundred words at a time. As such i feel i must tell you that my blog isn't for you.

Happy Days,

Madame Sting said...

lol.... i comment on what interests me that shouldn't be so hard to believe. Somebody, Nobody, Anybody, Body, err...whatever. Since your blog is open to the public, i guess i get to decide if your blog is for me or not.

Happy days to you too, dearest Afam.

Afam said...

Thank you Madame Sting. If you come to the conclusion that it is for you none will be more pleased than I. I might even sing you a ballad.
"Oh Madame Sting, I long to feel your sting,
Every comment makes my heart ping."

Or something like that.

Happy Days.

MsJB said...

Nothing is as delightful as reading my thoughts here. I am just appalled at Adaobi's myopic state of mind.
Now following your blog, I like the way you write

Afam said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I would keep thanking you but you would get bored.

Happy Days.

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