This post is written by my older sister, Racheal Osibu, and what is described happened at her workplace while she was studying for her LL.M. It was submitted to me middle of last year in a bid to concur with an earlier blog post;, Uncle Tomism; the Art of not taking bullshit. Enjoy.
The moment she came up to me at the till, I recognised her as a customer I had served before. I do tend to remember some customers and I think that is great considering I come in contact with so may of them each day and only for a few seconds.
She purchases some underwear, and is asking whether if she had to return them, the £5 voucher would still apply. While I chat and serve her, her voice creates the nagging sensation that I have heard it before and quite recently – and especially as she makes a fuss about the voucher – so I try to remember by asking if she got the pair of jeans she was looking for. She says no she hasn’t purchased any jeans recently and in any case she buys online.
I don’t let it go; I ask if she bought shoes recently because I am certain I served her. No, she says, and begins to explain about her Aunt coming from Australia for whom she is making the purchases. Then it strikes me. Yes, she had purchased a bag for this same Aunt the week before, and had also made a fuss about the discount she was getting, wondering whether if she had to return the bag or buy another one it would still apply because this Aunt may not like the bag or would prefer the colour she has which she absolutely adores and which it seems we do not have and do not intend to reproduce.
As I am not an expert on the issue, I call a manger to reassure her. In the meantime, I say, “oh yes, now I remember you. I served you when you purchased the bag for your Aunt.”
Amazement dawns in her eyes, am not certain what it is, that for someone black my memory is so good or simply that my memory is good. I am sorry, but working here has made me suspicious. I see a lot of polite racism and inappropriate condescension.
She says wow, your memory is great, that you were able to remember me considering how many people you come across every day. I smile and say it’s her voice, but yes I do remember. Usually, it is the difficult ones with a sense of entitlement that I most remember; and this sense of entitlement runs rampant here….
She begins to tell me about her family which lived for a while in Nigeria while her father worked there. “Did you like it?” I ask, and I am taken aback by the her answer.
“No,” she says, “you must understand there was a lot of instability, I saw people get burned by having a car tyre put around their necks.”
Yes, I think in my head jungle justice, that used to happen a lot. I smile and say I am sorry. Most people I ask say they liked it. Maybe because it’s different from what they are used to and it confirms their image of the jungle which is Africa, or it surprises them. I have no idea why I am apologising for the ills of my country.
Then she moves on to intimate me on why she does like Africans. By this time, there is a queue forming. I am not supposed to let that happen, I should hurry her on her way. But I am determined to hear what she has to say and I sense she just wants to talk. You get a lot of that in this business. I hear some people’s life stories in 7 minutes flat. So, I ring for help, and keep listening.
Yes, why she likes Africans. They are so grateful, she says. “No matter what you give to them, or how little it is , they are always grateful. It’s the gratitude,” she says, “with a smile that would be kept for the affection delivered by a puppy or cat.”
Well, I think, these people do like their animals and many times more than human beings; but they do not consider them equals.
I keep smiling but a light inside me goes out. She thanks me for being so kind as to spend time listening to her, and for remembering her. I bid her good bye.
Then I think about Africans and gratitude and how our sense of politeness and thankfulness coming from showing grace for a gift, has been reduced to shameless begging and licking the floor on which my benefactor stands gratitude. I look at the poverty which has brought us to this point, not only the poverty ascribed to not having food to eat but of the mind because even our governments as rich as they are keeping going cap in hand to beg for world aid.
I see the dignity that has been stripped from a proud race, from being enslaved, and in spite of the resilient spirit not been able to rise from the constant state of prostration. How can we then as a people be welcomed as equals to the table to eat with the Kings of the world ? If our gratitude makes us less than human and equates us with the dogs.
So I finish reading this and I have chills. I feel really sad. A poem from my childhood comes to me with startling clarity;
Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savanna
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this your back that is bent
This back that makes under the weight of humiliation
Poem by David Diop. (1927-1960
Have a meditative weekend folks, and if you believe in that sort of thing, send out kind and positive thoughts to our girls in captivity, and to their parents who are living this unimaginable horror.
Let’s love one another.