THE CHANGING JOURNEY

I know how it feels to die, having done so twice in this earthlife. The third time, I guess, will be the last.

In everything, I’ve learned that life comes and goes, like the leaves of a tree, like the steps of a journey, like the chapters of a book, in phases, steps and stages. And the most important recognition of all was this: Don‘t live in the past.

You can never be again the person you once were, nor do you need to. When you wonder – „What happened to me?“ – you miss the point. You are on a journey, a journey of inner development; a journey of character and personality growth; a journey of spiritual maturing. This is the real journey of life.

On this journey, you will pass through many phases of personality, different characteristics of character, you will be different people at different times.

Have the courage to become the new – and when it has grown old, have the courage again to shed it, leave it behind and move seekingly towards the new New. Do not be enticed by outward gains to stay in the old; nor pressured by difficulties to abandon the present or the New. Go your way with integrity, dignity and trust, because Vanity and Indolence are the true enemies on the journey of life.

You will be born many times, and die many times. And the past will be as a Dream. Just like a new born baby cannot remember it’s former earth-lives, so will you even within one earth-life sometimes die and wonder „What happened to me?“

Life happened to you, my friend. Like a train going from station to station, you are journeying from one state of being to another. It might be an upward journey or a downward journey – the choice is yours.

Just remember, what ever you do: Do not live in the past – no matter how good or bad it was. Like a boxer in a fight, sitting in the corner between rounds, you cannot go back and correct a bad round, but you can get up and fight the next one better.

Like a boxer in a fight, sitting in the corner between rounds, you cannot go back and hold on to the last good round you fought. Then you were fresh, now you‘re tired. Then you were strong, now you‘re injured. But you‘ve grown too, in knowledge and experience. So, get up and go into the next round – and give your best.

One good thing about life: it is not boxing. It is greater. Your best rounds are the rounds in which you give not darkness, but Love.

Che Chi-di Chukwu-meri-je.

JEMILA’S JOLLOF RICE AND CHICKEN

“Jemila, this your jollof rice and chicken is too sweet oh! Chai! How did you make it?”

“You that can’t even fry egg, how do you want me to start explaining to you how to make jollof rice and chicken?”

Chizo, who was listening, started laughing.

“You people don’t know we are in Africa where you can’t be laughing at your senior anyhow, abi.”

Of course this only made them laugh louder. So I had to take up the challenge.

“OK, next time you want to make rice and chicken, just call me. I will watch, take notes and learn it by force.”

Their laughter became uncontrollable.

Chizo said, “Please, let it be on a day when I am here oh. I have to witness this spectacle.”

It was early 2004. I was abroad most of the time, doing my Aviation Management course. I had given up my flat in Apapa, and anytime I was in Lagos I stayed at Aunty Uzo’s place in Maryland. Jemila, her daughter, had a bad case of sickle cell anaemia. It had taken a slight turn for the worse and she stayed at home a lot. She had bad days on which she lay around and did not say much, but you saw the pain on her face. But she also had her good days. On the good days her voice was loud and her laughter was bright, she would go into the kitchen and cook and there was no end to her cheeky rejoiners and replies to everything she heard. But, good days or bad days, every Sunday she tried her best to get up and go to worship. She prayed a lot and had a pure simple childlike faith. She was 20 years old.

Well, the day finally came. One of her good days. Chizo was there, visiting Aunty Uzo and her younger cousin Jemila like she often did. And I was in the country. I took my notebook and joined Jemila and Chizo in the kitchen.

“So what do you want to learn now exactly?” Jemila laughed.

“That your jollof rice and chicken you made the last time.”

“Everyone makes their own differently oh,” she warned.

“Just that particular one you made, that’s the one I want. It was too delicious.”

“Okay oh. So how do you want to learn it.”

I brought out my notebook and pen.

“Just be doing, I will be watching and taking notes. Anything I don’t understand, I will ask you.”

Chizo had been trying her best to hold back her laughter. At this point she exploded and settled against the doorpost.

“Ngwa nu, let’s go,” she said.

———- ———- ———- ———- ———-

It is 14 years later, I am going through some of my old books and papers, like I am sometimes wont to do. I pick up a little notebook that I have not bothered with for longer than I can remember. Idly I flip open the first pages and suddenly … I freeze. The shock of reawakening memory hits me like a blow. Sadness and joy seize me simultaneously. Slowly, as if in a trance, I start to read:

JEMILA’S JOLLOF RICE AND CHICKEN

1. Put Chicken in small pot with assorted seasoning: e.g. curry, thyme, onions, dried pepper, maggi (1 cube), small salt, any other chicken seasoning. Put everything on fire without water for 2 minutes, turning and stirring. Then add a little water and cover pot on fire. Leave to cook until it gets soft. Along the way keep adding water. Be tasting the broth along the way, adding any seasoning whose taste is missing (e.g. salt, maggi).
– Soft Chicken takes about 10 minues to soften
– Hard Chicken takes about 30 minutes to soften

2. While waiting for Stage 1 to complete itself, grind (or blend) tomato and pepper. Wash the tomatoes and cut them first (if blending). Wash and cut onions also and put into blender. Wash and open fresh pepper (tatase). Wash and remove seeds from Tatase (don’t touch with hand, if possible: tatase seeds peppery). Then cut up and put in blender too. The Tatase is just to make it red, that’s why the seeds have been removed.
We’re cooking 3 cups of rice.
Use e.g. 8 or 9 fresh tomatoes, 1 onion bulb, 2 Tatases, 5 to 8 fresh peppers.
We could have used more Tatase, but because we’re also using tinned tomato, which is very red, 2 Tatases are enough.
NOW BLEND UP! BELND UP!

3. Wash rice. Put in a pot with water. Put on fire. We are parboiling it, maybe 5 to 10 minutes; so it doesn’t get soft, just white. (It may last 20 mins…).
After parboiling, wash again and drain water away (with sieve, if available).

4. Break Maggi into parboiled rice. Put thyme and curry and also any other seasoning you have into the drained parboiled rice.

5. Make sauce in another pot:
Slice a quarter onion. Put enough oil into new pot on fire.
Add sliced onions and little salt.
(Salt helps onion not to burn quickly – CHIZO’S THEOREM!)
Add tinned tomato. Add blended mix of STAGE 2. (Keep stirring all the while). Now cover pot and leave to cook on fire until it boils – might even dry up a bit – because of pepper and tomato. Also add Chicken Broth!
After some 10 or 15 mins, add a little more thyme and curry.
Add a little more water and then transfer the parboiled rice into the ready sauce. Add also a little more oil (groundnut oil oh!). Cook until it cooks fully. (Never turn)

6. While cooking is on, say about 15 mins before end, slice carrots and green pepper.
Add 2 more maggi cubes, soften with tiny water. Slice the carrots lengthwise and breathwise.
When rice is soft, introduce carrots and green pepper. Now turn, stir and mix. Taste for weak seasoning, e.g. salt, maggi, etc. If needed, add, mix.
Turn off fire.

7. WACK UR GRUB.

———- ———- ———- ———- ———- ———-

Quietly I close the notebook and sit still for a long time.

If Jemila were still alive, she would turn 35 today. I remember the picture Yvonne and I took of her. It was at the end of 2004, at Azuka’s wedding. She looked happy. If she was in pain, she did not show it. She was shy, smiled and looked down when she saw the camera. She looked older than she was. A beautiful moment. Our favourite picture of her.

The year after that, in 2005, the bad days came more often. Her face would be contorted in pain. An unending crisis. One round of dialysis after the other. Her eyes wiser, much wiser, than her age. On the 26th of February 2005 , she left. She was 21 years old.

The deepest memories are sometimes stored in the simplest of things.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

In loving memory of Jemila Ibrahim: 25.04.83 – 26.02.05

THE DEPARTED DO NOT REST IN PEACE

No, I do not want to rest in peace. And when my body dies and I, the spirit, move on, please do not wish me to rest in peace. If you love me, wish me activity – joyful activity. Because, believe it or not, life goes on. I was me when I was on earth; I want to remain me when I leave the earth – an explorer. An experiencer. An adventurer.

Nobody steps off a plane after a journey just to slump into the ground and rest in peace. Nobody arrives in an interesting new place just to close their eyes and become inactive. And when you cross over onto the other side, you will become seized with wanderlust, an overpowering restlessness. You will want to explore, to follow the pull of that invisible magnet drawing you somewhere.

Only the inwardly indolent, the weak and the lethargic come to rest – but not in peace. Motionlessness is torture.

The departed do not rest in peace. They set off on a journey to a better or a worse place. Or they hang around, dissatisfied ghosts, trapped in inner space or bound to the unsatisfying earth. And sometimes they are so lethargic, they just lie down and wait for the torturous sleep of eternal death. But they shall not rest in peace.

Eternity is for the living, the inwardly mobile, the spiritually active. It is the land of perpetual motion and joyful activity. That is why it is called Eternal LIFE.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

DISHARMONY

There came a time in my life when I prayed to die. Not because I had no food to eat, but because I had no gratitude with which to eat the food. Not because I had no bed on which to rest, but because I had no rest to place upon the bed. Not because I had no one to talk to, but because I had no friendliness to offer. Not because I loved death, but because I hated life.

Then I met a journeyman inside my soul, full of humility, laughter and ordinariness. And of the boisterous acceptance of the reality of things.

I am still trying to fathom this journeyman, to understand who he is; to come to grips with the simple realities of everyday life, like everyone else also does, none of whom is less weary of the toil than I am.

To become a man, Nigerians say, is not the job of one day. It requires time. Think I not that only I long for Home – every other Wanderer does so as well. Every.

Mayhaps if we made the Earth a better place, the journey would not be so unbearable afterall. Or what sayest thou?

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

TRAYVON

Trayvon-Martin-1

You’re walking on water
Don’t think it is land
The tide is about to turn
Your feet into sand

Signals sent out over the earth
Kill them before they grow
There is a protection Claws in our justice
For a darker tomorrow

Subliminal messages
Password more valid than passport
What is the colour of love?
Blindness is just in court

Mankind will destroy humanity
And claim to be its saviour
And cunning will mask hatred
And none shalt love thy neighbour.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

In Memory.

CONSTANT CRY

He lived with us very briefly
When I was still a child
My father’s elder brother

When we prayed before our meals
And made the sign of the cross
He teased us, Protestants, about having gone Catholic

When he shaved in the morning
He explained to us the mysterious science
Of shaving stick, cream and blade

Other than that he didn’t talk much
A quiet quiet quiet man
Hurt no-one, thoughtfully kept to himself

Very different from the others
Never preached, never argued, never moralised
Never scolded, just silently observed

Three decades have passed
Rarely our paths ever crossed again
A short Hello each time, nothing more

I’m still trying to understand
The pain I’ve felt all morning today
Since I heard of Uncle Joe’s death

It doesn’t make sense
Someone I hardly knew
Just a few childhood memories

Just a few memories
That remind me of a time
Rich in memories and childlike insight

And a few memories
Of a quiet adult who never found a voice
In a culture of big egos, loud voices and aggression

His silence was louder, calmer, more lasting
So deep that only his death
Would open the deep wound of memory in my heart

His middle name was Ahamefula
Meaning “May my name not get lost” –
No, dear Uncle, it will not.

In loving memory of
Joseph Ahamefula Chukwumerije
1935 – 2013

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

NO LAWS CAN SAVE A NATION

The simplicity of reality
Drag me down to earth
Some mistakes can be corrected
Only through death and rebirth

But it takes even more strength
To live with your unrectified error
And if you can no longer change your path
Then go it with virtue and valour

The outer Change is not as important
As the inner Transformation
If individuals stay inwardly corrupt
No laws can save a Nation

And when you lose your fear
Of mockery and condescension
You’ll see that most People are simply Followers
For fear of ostracization.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

REFLECTIONS ON TRANSITION

The earth is the mother
And the physical body the womb
In which the soul incubates and grows
Before birth into the beyond.

Each time we on earth are born
We have but been sunk
As a seed into a surrogate mother’s womb
To grow there a little strong.

Death is but the midwife
Dying the throes of labour and pain
Someone misses you each time you are born
Something receives you back at death again.

And all the things you did on earth
Shall be as a dream in the womb
So heed your spirit even while in the flesh
For it alone remembers its home.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.