WARNING: Essay contains profanity and may be inappropriate for minors
“We are falling like flies everywhere,” the caller said with his throaty voice rising with imperceptible tempo and earnestness. Here is a man who has sad news to tell. He is this writer’s former student Dr. Paul O. (just his first name only), calling frantically with some sad news. He is alarmed, worried, troubled, distressed, or anxious. Something is happening to the people he has known. Over 75 percent of Nigerians Dr. Paul had known since coming to America in 1985 (30 years ago) are now dead.
He recalls names of his Igbo, Yoruba, Efik, and Ghanaian professors whose classes he had taken at various colleges, including Winton Salem State University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Elizabeth State University where he was a student in one of my classes, He believes that most of the Nigerian graduate students he had met while working toward the PhD at Virginia Polytechnic and State University, are among the dead.
“Doc, do you know what is happening? We’re falling like flies,” Dr. Paul continued to lament,
“Who are the we falling where and why? What are you talking about, this man?” I asked.
Somehow, I knew it. I thought I knew it. There is nothing in the whole world that scares grown men more than death. You’ve seen Igbos dance the popular music Onwuzuruwa (death blankets the whole world) and heard them name their sons Onwuka (death is supreme). Have you ever questioned what the Igbos mean by such words? You wonder absolutely. Like a thief in the middle of sun-lit day, death stomps you heavily, strikes you upside down, and asks you: “Who’s above me?” You think you can do nothing. Wait a minute!
You can do a lot. You can stop inviting Death in your home. That’s short and long of the story. Dr. Paul is genuinely concerned about some of the important Nigerians he has known in the past but who are no more. In order to wage a war against his fear of death, Dr. Paul has started a strenuous exercise and diet regimens that have cut his waist size and weight significantly down. I couldn’t believe it when this man sent his pictures through my Metro Cell Phone. He is slim and trim, having lost his massive beer stomach.
He says he is so agile women stop him at the gym to comment and ask for a selfie or two. His wife of 25 years doesn’t take all these changes calmly; she accuses Dr. Paul of seeking to be a playboy. She pushes him away and tightens her torso when he lands between her open thighs in the middle of the night to have sex. The pushing and tightening of massive thighs was a precautious in the case this thinner, slimmer, and okporoko-type man ( man looks like dried stockfish) could be onye oshi ikpu (rapist or a thief of vagina also known as otu or toto)? You cannot be sure! Better be sure than to be sorry. For one thing, Dr. Paul is worried about death, so he keeps lamenting and exercising, just in case.
The purpose of this essay is to report on the huge numbers of Nigerian Americans in general and American Ibos in particular who are falling like fruit flies, and to suggest reasons behind why frequent wake ceremonies are held in Nigerian communities in America and elsewhere. How many times have you been called upon to help raise money to ship bodies of a fallen comrade home for burial? A Nigerian woman tells me she would prefer being buried at a beautiful cemetery in any American city to being flown to her folks at Afikpo, Nigeria. The principal reason for her preference was a personal desire: “so my children can come occasionally and leave fresh flowers at my grave.”
“Why not fly your body on Delta Airline First Class to your Afikpo village burial ground?” I asked, half joking and half seeking an argument. She spat on the ground to demonstrate her utmost disgust, and her spit tells you more story than meets the senses. Afikpo cemetery is rocky, without landscaping. To make matters worse, Nigerian cemeteries are inhabited by amosu (witches); and people buried there are the ogbanje (persons who die and come back to life in bodies other than theirs).
The bottom line is this: Nigerians are dying galore, and these deaths are preventable in the sense that they are needless, avoidable, unnecessary, or escapable. The offending culprits are not just the amosu and ogbanje. They are, first the poor diet your Nigerian tradition has taught from childhood you to eat. The second culprit is your inadequate knowledge of healthcare. The third is your excessive work habit that tells you to “work till you drop.” The last guilty party is your sedentary, inactive lifestyle.
Our diet consists of vitamin-deficient starches that give one the feeling of being belle full (well fed). Belle fullness in actuality is a trick your intestines play on you to hide the fact that you are actually starving, famished, full of hunger. We take great pride in eating our traditional eba, consisting of fattening starches from ji (yams), akpu (cassava), or ede (coco yam). What of unripe plantains and ubiquitous, ever-present rice? That we often neglect taking good care of our bodies is a sermon to be preached in the front parlor of every Nigerian house.
Why do you forget that your body is a living organism that needs to be fed properly with the health-giving substances that support life and replenish all the stuffs that have already been depleted? Why do you ignore taking healthcare measures to ward off falling ill frequently and dying prematurely? Doesn’t neglecting to take care of your body constitute a penny-wise-pound-foolish lifestyle?
The quest for money seems to consume a significant portion of the waking hours of most Nigerians abroad and in our country. Nigerians work so hard round the clock, and the more work the merrier. Money is everything, and more than anything on earth. The period between 8am and 5pm is the most pronounced “slave time.” For most Nigerians work, comes first before life itself, followed by alcohol, sex, and food in that descending order of importance.
Some Nigerians work 24 hours daily in big cities like Lagos, Abuja, New York City, Washington D. C., and Boston Massachusetts. This writer runs into Nigerians doing all sorts of illegality to generate money, including stealing credit cards from mail boxes to make purchases for shipment to Nigeria. This writer knows Anambra man who defrauded American automobile dealers of over 30 vehicles which he shipped to Lagos with false/faked documents. The US Government traced the vehicles to a Lagos destination and sent personnel to retrieve then, while giving the thief a long prison sentence. Stealing seems to be the worst thing to happen to Nigerians since boko haram discovered the use of teenage squads of suicide bombers.
Nigerians are virtual prisoners in the house of work. Chasing after okpoyo (money) seems so satisfying it is amazing. Countless slave hours are spent on jobs which at best are uninteresting, tedious, dreary, mind-numbing, or dull; and which at worst do generate insufficient remuneration or compensation. Work keeps Nigerians JOB (just over broke). Friends complain they work just to “pay bills” or “keep food on the table.” Do they pay for such essential stuffs as ikuku (air), okpomo oku (heat) and anyanwu (sunlight)? Come on, greedy somebody!
Why work, work, and work? It is because we Nigerians generally believed that no meaningful life can be lived without swimming in luxury, or without huge quantities of what is popularly known in Nigeria as kwudi among the Hausa; ego in Igbo; owo in Yoruba; or money in Bekee. What good is money when you accumulate it just to die without enjoying it, when your children waste it before your dead body ever hits the earth, or when your cash falls into unintended hands and for unplanned purposes? A financial support for Boko haram is like building a multi-billion mansion in the middle of hell; hell is uninhabitable, in a state of permanent disrepair.
Excessive work makes Nigerians die like fruit flies. Atlanta Airport in Clayton County is home of the largest and busiest airport in the world. Over 1,000,000 (a million) passengers fly in and out of Atlanta Airport on a daily basis. Over 100,000 vehicles are parked at the airport day and night. Most of the vehicles are taxi cabs and limousines owned by Nigerians.
These Nigerian men are dirty, having taken no baths in days, sleeping in their vehicles, while waiting to pick up or drop off passengers. These men own homes which cost as much as $2,000,000 and in which they do not sleep. How could they sleep when every hour is spent in vehicles parked at the airport, waiting to make money? Wives are lonely, sex starved, and take on lovers behind the backs of money-grabbing husbands who sleep in vehicles parked at the airport.
Lack of sleep combines with ike ogwugwu (tiredness) to kill many Nigerian men. When these men are often tired, they fall asleep with mouths open. The fat ones sleep with mouths open as wide as enyi miri (Hippopotamus) and the skinny ones has mouths resembling agu iyi (crocodile). They snore like crazy, and their snoring can wake the dead at cemeteries in their respective villages . They snore like the newfie (Canadian dog native to Newfoundland). The newfie makes the loudest sound of all creatures when asleep. You can kick or pull the tail of a newfie and it sleeps on. So, what is the “tory” behind the dirty, tired, tossing and turning Nigerian drivers snoring big time at the biggest airport in Georgia with mouths as wide as the hippopotami or crocodiles?
Poor eating is a never-ending problem for Nigerians who die like flies, When they finally wake up from uneasy slumber and are hungry, these Nigerian owners of taxis and limousines are accosted by a retinue of fat bottomed Nigerian women selling food loaded with palm oil to kill the liver; high on cholesterol to clog arteries; and everything else to sicken you and send your body to the morgue. They go back to sleep after consuming cases of Heineken’s and vodka if there are no passengers to ferry around.
Sedentary lifestyle is a big killer of our people in that we live out our life, virtually sitting down in self-contained prisons, remaining inactive in one place, and letting the body to atrophy. To atrophy is to waste away, wither, shrivel, degenerate, or deteriorate. Many Nigerians do not know the meaning of relaxation or chilling out, just as idiots don’t understand why Igbos name their children Uche (wisdom), Uchechukwu (God’s wisdom), or Uchenna (my father’s thinking).
Bad marriages destroy the lives of both Nigerian men and women. This Imo woman named Monika was married to her Imoh husband until other single men convinced her she was a paragon of beauty and asked for secret dates. She dated a few times in hotels, and the word got out to husband who filed for a divorce without wasting time After breaking up with her husband in New York, Monika moved south. She has no children, and that alone makes her situation exceptionally precarious.
This woman literally threw herself into heavy work. GWAM! She had to do that for various reasons that do not exclude loneliness, soullessness, embarrassment, and to save her sanity. You are a victim of soullessness when you lack sensitivity or the capacity for deep feeling. You can follow the story if you could understand things from a woman divorced on the grounds of adultery. Just think of it! You are akwunakwuna (whore), harlot, public toilet. Monika has no man to fuck during the summer nights when pussy needs to be cooled off or during the wintry nights when pussy needs to be warmed up like left-over egusi or bitterleaf soup you intentionally left overnight outside of the refrigerator.
Monika’s life is terrible when the Christmas and New Year celebrations roll around. America’s winter nights are cruel, bitter, and you need something to snuggle up to, warn you up, to fuck you senseless t.d.b. (till day break). Monika sleeps alone, hugging the pillows, and her vagina is left as cold as ice. If you touch the pussy, it says: “nwii, nwii, nwii. Welcome. I’m starving.”
So, how does Monika handle her sex drive? She runs kpuru kpuru kpuru kpuru piling work upon herself as if work were a long penis traded on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. The penis must be grabbed at all costs as Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart prepares to limber, nimble, lissome, or lithe up a tall tree to tap the juice, while rubbing his penis against an intoxicating palm tree.
If you take a look at Monika’s picture on the Face Book, you are confronting a brown African elephant. Chai! Chei is all you can say. Monika is very, very fat, just like ezi (grunting pig), wallowing in the mud. My friend, fatness from unhappiness, overwork, and no exercise will kill you as readily as a gunshot in the head.
I got to thinking like: Monika, are you crazy or what? You opened an adult healthcare business that requires 24-hour-7 day-a week management of CNA’s (certified nursing assistants) , and you are a single woman and have no nursing degree. Then you bought 20- unit apartment complex you are renting out to families headed by American men who would take advantage of you, a single African woman. You have a graduate degree in elementary education, and you don’t have the slightest idea of how to run real estate business, woman. And on top of that, you are becoming so crazy now that you are opening and running Event Hall for party goers in a large American city .Na wa for you! How do you do all that? You are one of the Nigerians who are killing themselves with work. Na wa for you!”
Does Monika share my concern? No. She thinks I am envious of her success. Workaholic Nigerians are ticking as time bombs waiting to explode when conditions are right. Overeating and alcoholism are Nigerian chosen ways to deal with their dilemma. The women are hippopotami while the men are pregnant with twins. Going back to the Abiriba man who wouldn’t stop talking, he says that work is killing Nigerians dead. This writer agrees.
We work so hard to maintain a standard of living that convinces us that we have made it in obodo oyibo (whit e man’s land), as proof to folks back home that obodo oyibo is where the action is We drive the latest vehicles. We buy the biggest, most expensive house in the white neighborhood (USA) to show white people they cannot outdo us even if they continue to discriminate against us maka anyi bu nde biara abia (because we are visitors or new comers from elsewhere).
We parade as peacocks, seeking to be seen with the Joneses. All of this show-show and big manism require much work and take a toll on us. In the end, we die, leaving nothing behind. All of our savings are taken away by funeral expenses, property taxes, bills, and expensive purchases . In the end, we die, and end up poorer than when we first began our journey overseas.
Okonkwo Ani (fictional character) is my favorite Nigerian from Enugu State. He complains a lot about how hard he is working to provide for a family of two teenage daughters and four boys. I say: “Mr. Ani, take it easy, my friend. Please buy a house in Chicago to house your tribe of 8 people.” His wife’s disagrees. Wife’s lack of economic education led Okonkwo to rent a huge house at a cost of 3 times the average mortgage of a 3-bdroom house. He rents and does not own, and when you rent you are only helping your landlord to pay his house note, while you have nothing to show for it.
Any fool can easily prove that Okonkwo is unwise for paying a monthly rent in the amount of 4,000 dollars = 1,444,000 Naira (1,5 million Naira). This is just to rent a house, not to own it. That translates to 17 million Naira a year. I would not be surprised if my phone rings one day and someone announces: “your friend Chief Okonkwo Ani is now the late. Work to pay rents has killed him kpatakpata” It wouldn’t shock me.
There is something else. My friend Okonkwo Ani is refurbishing two houses at Lagos and Onitsha while renovating his late father’s house in the East. He doesn’t have time to sleep while working himself to death, driving limousine. His wife would collect his life insurance and smile at his funeral, with one eye closed and the other winking at the next stupid person to work harder than the late Chief Okonkwo Ani.
While we're on the subject, we Nigerians are unhappy and miserable, having missed out on the good, peaceful life in Nigeria from which we are now disconnected. As if that is not enough pressure on us, we feel that nobody wants us around in Nigeria. The Americans always treat us as strangers who are not fully acculturated to their society, and who are taking jobs from the natives. We do not belong to the American society. We do not belong to Nigerian society , either. Where do we belong? Nowhere!
Lord, have mercy! Our Nigerian relatives back home see u s as Americans stuffed with Dollars. We must be fools to want to return home. They say behind our backs: “You do not know what to do with money? Better stay there and send us dollars. It’s good if you die there,” Many Nigerian Americans sometimes feel that we are slaves to satisfy home people’s unquenchable. unappeasable appetite for material things; we bear their financial obligations when we send 2,000,000,000 (two billion) dollars yearly home to relatives who do not show any appreciation let alone welcome us home, and who would want to see us dead so they would take away our inheritances from our fathers.
If we fail to satisfy these obligations, folks back home would hold unforgivable grudges against us and the children we begat in America. Nigerians live in great fear, and fear is a potential killer just as overwork and illness can kill the human body. In short, we live under a double-edged sword: the sword of being exploited by Americans and discarded when our services are no longer needed, and the sward of being destroyed by envious relatives who see us as failures. Swords create real fear, terror, horror, trepidation, apprehension.
Samuel the limousine driver, says he is afraid to go to his home relatives who would say;” Samuel, why are you coming home to be with us? Are you here to show us your money and laugh at our poverty? Didn’t we think you should be overseas and be sending us money? Why are you here, in the first place?”
Life can be cruel, very cruel. The only way to escape life’s cruelty is to die and be buried in America or carried home in a casket. Make sure your casket is painted gold color so that villagers would exclaim: “He’s so rich he dies and is brought home in nnekwu akpati ozu ola edo (big funeral box made of gold). A Nigerian is not yet dead even at death. He still works restlessly hard to prove he is still rich if one looks at his funeral procession, including the gold coffin , paid dancers, hired church choirs, and numerous finished and unfinished buildings. When are we Nigerians actually exhausted and need to rest? Is it when are we really dead? Your guess is as good as mine.