Taking what is ours!

This is my first attempt at a short story on this blog… hope you enjoy reading this. Please leave your comments

The waves poured in sea water in to the sandy shore in quick successions. The clouds were darkening as they moved across the sky. The wind raised sand, paper, and everything on the floor in to the air. I watched women struggle to get their children in to the house and fishermen retreat to the shore for safety- the whole village was in a frenzy. I looked at my fishing net and decided that today was another failed attempt to make some money and I grudgingly returned home.

Fishing has suddenly become a daunting experience in Ekpe, and it has nothing to do with the weather. It is difficult finding  fish in commercial quantity; the available fish are either polluted from oil spillage or dead. Many of the men in Ekpe who were fishermen have decided to leave Ekpe in search of another employment. My wife, Ufoma has pressured me to do the same but it is not that easy. I think the most pressure came when my best friend recently got a job which earns him a lot of money. I discovered yesterday that his wife now has her own shop and his children attend a private school in the city.

When the thunderstorm was over I went to Eduvie’s house. I have been deliberately avoiding my best friend for over a month. The truth is I was ashamed to admit that I needed a job. I really was prepared to settle for any job I was offered at this point.

“So you have finally decided to visit us.” Eduvie said leading me into his house. I noticed the freshly painted walls and the new furniture.

“It is not like that, I guess I have been busy…”

“If you say so. What can I offer you?”

“Eduvie listen. I am broke and Ufoma is going to kill me if I don’t get a job. You know we are expecting a baby. I am not here to beg you for money, I just want to work in your new place.”

“But, Philip I told you to come with me. The problem with you is that you are too stubborn.” He rubbed his tangled afro; a mannerism I observed he did when he was deep in thoughts. “Look, my new job is not so conventional. I am a dealer in oil exports. I-I think it will be a good idea to come and see for yourself.”

“Okay. Where is your office?”

“Philip, this new job is an all-night thing. We don’t have an office.”

At this point I got confused. What sort of job takes place at night? I could only count a few legitimate jobs that could. I had a funny feeling this was not part. I was just so desperate and eager to make money that I did not have the patience to wait.

“Okay then. I am in. Are you working today?

“Oh yes we are. Meet us tonight at Park Avenue by 12am. Don’t be late.”

What was I doing? I couldn’t believe I had just said yes to a job I knew nothing about. As I left home that night at about past 11pm, Ufoma was very upset that I was going out at the dead of night. I had to come up with some flimsy excuse about assisting a friend who was in trouble. Once I left the house all the thoughts imaginable, came to my mind. I became sure that I had made a bad decision and I started second guessing myself. When I was on the point of chickening out after walking about a kilometre by now, Eduvie appeared from the darkness.

‘’Why are you just coming? What took you so long?” Eduvie barked. I looked at my watch and discovered I was late.

“You know how Ufoma is, you have to explain everything to her…” my voice was suddenly lost in the sound of the truck that lightened the dark street.

“You are so fortunate you came in time, we would have left you. Come on hop on.” Eduvie motioned for me to climb on top of the pick up where three other men stood. As I climbed on board, I soon realised why they were standing. There were lots of buckets and huge containers littered on the back of the pickup. One would have thought we were going to fetch water for the village.

Eduvie chatted away with the others after he introduced me to Austin, OFegor and Kevbe. I had no idea what they were talking about, I just enjoyed the beautiful midnight breeze that cooled down my perspiration from the walk of a few minutes ago. The sky looked blank with just a few stars in sight, it was a new moon so it did not help that the sky was not starry today.

‘So Frank, is this your first time today’ Kevbe suddenly asked disrupting my thoughts.

“Yes, it is. I hope tonight will be great” I blurted out, trying to play along.

The drive was about an hour long, there were flash lights everywhere as if we were approaching some sort of night market. The driver suddenly stopped the engine and all five of us disembarked and took the implements from the back of the truck. Eduvie handed me a flash light and asked me to come with him. I held  two huge cans, he had a hose and a pale and another object.

‘Philip, do you know where we are?’ Eduvie suddenly broke the silence as we walked towards the swamp.

“I have no idea Bro, will you at least tell me where we are going?’

“I love seeing you confused, it just makes me laugh.” Eduvie chuckled uncontrollably

“We are going to take what is ours my Brother, something our fore fathers never did.”

“What exactly is all of this about” I cut in, trying to curtail my anger.

“You see, Philip there is a pipeline down the swamp we just excavated. Each of those cans you hold can fetch us N100,00!”

“Are you saying my friendd, that you engage in oil bunkering? You know very well that this is a crime. It is just too dangerous…”

“This is precisely why I refused to tell you earlier. I knew you will judge me! There is nothing wrong with what we are about to do. The oil is ours! It is for our people. We cannot let these foreigners extort our land and leave us with nothing. I am tired of waiting for royalties. Its either u bend down and fetch or you return back to the truck and wait for us.”

All through this discussion, I was so upset that I did not realise how far long we had come in to the swamp. I even failed to realise how large an oil pipeline was. It was huge, and it ran deep along the surface of the forest. It was when I stopped arguing I realised the pungent odour emanating from the oil. There were so many men and women there. It was like a market place. As some where leaving with huge barrels others were coming with larger barrels. There were some young men who we had to pay to obtain the oil. I found this pretty confusing because this was public property.

‘Are you in or out?’ Eduvie asked me, as he brought out some money from his pocket.

“I’m in; I just need to tell Ufoma where I really am”

“You cannot make phone calls here, you wan kill us!” Eduvie suddenly yelled.

Then one of the young men who was waiting for us to pay walked toward me ready to smash my phone as I brought it out of my pocket.

“Go back to the truck to wait for us, we no want any wahala” Austin retorted audibly as he walked closer to the pipeline.

“Ok then I will just wait in the truck guys, I am sorry for all of this” I said raising my hands as a sign of peace.

I could not believe Eduvie was getting his money from oil bunkering. It was totally unacceptable! What did he mean by taking what is ours! I have to be drunk to get myself in this trash. Ufoma will be so unhappy. It took me over an hour to get to the truck. I imagined I was walking too slowly.

I brought out my phone to call my wife. I felt so ashamed of myself. After several minutes I punched her numbers into my cell, a custom I was used to than just dialling her contact name.

After just one ring she picked, “Philip where are you? I can’t sleep”

Listening to the fear in her voice I could not speak, my throat grew dry and I suddenly lost my voice.

“Hello” she yelled through the receiver.

Just as I was about to answer I heard the first bang. I thought it was the local kids playing with fire crackers. Few seconds after I heard it again, this time it was much louder. I looked into the truck the driver was fast asleep. I suddenly saw people running from the direction of the bunker.

“Philip, what was that” Ufoma yelled more afraid now.

“I don’t know honey, I… I….” the ground shook uncontrollably as if a volcano was about to erupt. The driver suddenly woke up and came out of the truck and looked at me bewildered. “Run idiot, the pipeline has exploded”.

I just stared blankly at him, I felt my heart had stopped beating. He suddenly dragged me by the hand and we ran away from the scene to join a stampede of people who were now on the mainstream. I turned back and cried because I knew my friend had died taking what was not his.

 

 

Dedicated to all those who have lost their lives from oil bunkering. It is a punishable offense and the temporary profit is not just worth it. #thinksmart

Altruism is DEAD!

What does it mean to be altruistic? Is it just about WHAT you give, WHO you give to or is it eventually about YOU- the giver?

Many have defined altruism differently with many sophisticated words, but I think the concept of altruism is summed up clearly in three words, ‘Giving without receiving’.

There are so many advertisements these days about the conditions of the poor especially in the third world countries. In fact some companies will demand that when one purchases their product they will have contributed to improving the life of the poor. Is there really anything wrong with such a pro social actions? On the surface no, but upon closer examination there really is. Consumers of the product obviously increase their purchase of the product because they know that the money they spend purchasing this product will help someone in need. Eventually, the company’s scheme is working to their advantage- they are increasing sales a lot more. In addition the Gift aid scheme also enables them to pay fewer taxes and they eventually make more profit. It is a win-win situation to them, but from the angle of altruism, I say it puts a bullet in the concept of altruism. Not only have these companies callously manoeuvred profit for themselves but they do so successfully, unnoticed and unhindered. Altruism is DEAD!

 

Then we come to the customers who purchase the goods, are they really being altruistic when they buy the company’s product? Social psychologists have for decades attempted to objectify this issue as best as possible to determine whether one is truly being altruistic. Eventually the whole essence of giving collapses into egoism. Individuals will give most of the time because they want to feel good about themselves, or because they know their names will be written in the company’s weekly magazine as the person who bought the most products. Whatever reason an individual will give for giving often collapses into selfish reasons. Whether producers or purchasers the motive is the same… Altruism is DEAD!

 

On a personal level however, when was the last time you helped someone -thinking of just solving that person’s problem… I guess it is difficult recalling. Often before we help, our minds tend to do a ‘cognitive algebra’ weighing the costs versus the benefits; we wander what we may gain when we help that person as opposed to the cost of doing so. It’s either we hope for a reciprocal treatment in the future or the immediate obtainment of a reward when we help. For example, it is a rainy day, supposing this is a male reader, you see a young woman at the bus stop struggling to stay under her umbrella which will soon give way. You do not know this woman, but 70% of the time I bet if she was beautiful the average man will assist her! Why? He might not want something immediately from her; it is just her phone number he is after! I tell you Altruism is DEAD!

 

When was the last time you volunteered your time or resources to assist an NGO knowing you will not get paid? I am sure your resumé was what you thought the most of when you agreed to partake in this activity. When last did you give someone money knowing he or she was unemployed; knowing you will not be paid back, I bet you only did it so everyone will call you generous! I tell you altruism is DEAD!

Do you watch Ellen Degeneres or Oprah and still think they are the nicest people in the world… don’t be silly, they only give a tiny fraction of what they earn and gain some more money  by just giving! When was the last time you obtained free call credit on twitter and thought the celebrity was the nicest person in the world, I bet they only did it to get more followers on twitter… there is no such thing as free lunch… there never was! Altruism is DEAD!

As humans it is so easy to manifest our selfish animalistic side, it is only compassion that separate us from the rest of creation. Yet, we have to struggle constantly to show this beautiful aspect of ourselves. If you are still thinking by now that helping your relative in need is true altruism, I tell you again you are only supporting the ‘kin protection’ argument’ for altruism- that is egoism. I quiver at the thought of how life would have been in Hobbes’ state of nature, where man will do anything to protect himself and his kin.

 It is only a few who break free from the norm and show true altruism- giving without receiving, let us join the fight to resurrect to life Altruism a quality for true humans!Image

Shopping in Accra Market

All West African markets seem to share one thing in common- Chaos!

My experience in Accra market can be summed up in those five letters…

Arriving at my destination, I was a little unclear about the location of the market; it seemed as if there were no walls or structure that indicated I was in Accra market. The main street, where the traffic led up to seemed to windup into a labyrinth of shops and stores that continued into other streets. There were so many people on both lanes of the street walking in opposite directions. I soon discovered that it was important for me to pay attention, as no sooner had I began shopping was I hit mistakenly by a man who was at work. I struggled to regain my steps as he apologised for the mistake.

As I walked through the market, attempting to ‘window shop’ I noticed a variety of African fabrics of different colours and patterns, I also noticed several shops selling a variety of female clothing ranging from jeans to tops to even jerseys. While they were structured shops, there were also itinerant traders who moved around and beckoned shoppers to buy their goods. Interesting enough they were some sellers who would approach me with a pair of jeans for example and will beckon me to buy it, that it was my size. At times these itinerant sellers were very vicious and rude especially if you ignore them. It was so distracting and difficult to walk through the market without being patronised by these sellers.

The market led to several streets and it was so easy to get lost. As I continued walking I was hit by the pungent smell that suddenly filled the air. I soon realised that I was in the food section of the market. There was an abattoir, so it was easy to opt for live meat rather than frozen meat. There were all sorts of foods in the market, ranging from fruits to vegetables all at affordable prices. The sun was so ferocious that day and I got exhausted from just looking around. There was so much noise in the market- ranging from frustrated motorists blaring their horns because of the gridlock on the street, to traders -itinerant and store owners- beckoning customers to purchase their goods- my ears were bombarded with at least 60dB of noise that day.

My worst nightmare soon became a reality-I lost my way! I wanted to ask for help, I realised it was useless, I will probably get more confused- most of the shop owners were all Ga (a Ghanaian language) speaking people. At this part of the market there was no major street in sight it was just a bunch of makeshift stores with narrow pathways were people streamed from both directions. There were young girls carrying big bowls on their heads some had shoppers’ things in theirs, while others just moved around and kept coercing me to put my half empty shopping bag into their bowl. At intervals, a huge cart carrying food stuff or merchandise wheeled by one man and supported by another, will attempt to come through this narrow way into the market. Pedestrians including myself had to clam up into a nearby store so that the cart would not ride over us. When I thought I was completely screwed, I noticed I was close to a garage were different buses were picking passengers. I was so excited and happy and walked in the direction of the park. I soon found a taxi that took me home.

Ironically as this may sound, I enjoyed my visit to Accra market a lot. You cannot visit Ghana without visiting Accra market. I discovered from a friend that I had not even covered one-third of the market. Amidst all the chaos I discovered something really interesting. Indeed, it was the hustle and bustle of this African market that made it chaotically beautiful- who said there is no beauty in disorder!Image