FEAR NOT THE IDES OF MARCH

Fear not the Ides of March
Go boldly your path to the end
What’s unclear today, another Plutarch
Will explain one day again

Fear not the Ides of March
Fear is the foe of your nature
Your feet it’ll drag, tongue it’ll patch –
Heed not every Seer or Preacher

Fear not the Ides of March
Though your friends turn into traitors
Or family conspirators, sly and arch,
Join and jubilate with your tribulators

Fear not the Ides of March
Death cannot upturn your victory
Tough as larch and strong as starch
Shall eternally inspire your Story.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije.
15.03.2019

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

SUCCESSION

It‘s a Saturday morning
My spirit wants to fly
My soul wants healing
My mind looks back and forth

My body is self-rejuvenating
I want this moment to last longer
My children want to watch TV
I‘ve told them to give me 20 more minutes

Five minutes later,
My daughter pokes her head
Through the living room door and asks
„Are twenty minutes over yet?“

I look up from the book I’m reading
And see the book of life staring at me
„No,“ I say, „Not yet.“
Five minutes later her brother comes in

And asks me the same question.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije

MOTHER

Happy 70th Birthday to my dear

MOTHER

If heaven were but a grain
Of those arms on which I was once lain
And only a mere faint echo
Of that inspiration which has become my life-long shadow
Then claim me kiss of death
That upon your hearth
Mother Again will be my first breath
And I’ll never crave rebirth.

It is between Scylla and Charibdis
For me to start to describe what it is
To eternity in the warmth of a bossom
And the gentle resourcefulness of a flower in blossom
So comforting and caring
So loving and true
This comes straight from my heart:
Mother, I love you.

Che Chidi Chukwumerije
1990.

I wrote this poem for my mother when I was 16. Today, almost three decades later, the words still hold true.

HAPPY 70th BIRTHDAY, MUM.

FAMILY

Is it those that smile at you
Or those that frown at you?

Is it those with the same blood
flowing through their veins
Or those with the same thoughts
springing from their hearts?

Is it those who want nothing from you
even when they’re there
Or those who always want something from you
even when they’re not there?

Is it really a bound tree
With invisible tangled-up roots?
Or is it an open sea
Rolling freely in all directions?

Does the departed soul really stop and turn back
Or does it hurry away into another life?
Are all those who call themselves family
There to bind or to free each other?

Is protection sometimes limitation?
Is liberation sometimes abandonment?
Is a kiss sometimes an embracing of betrayal?
Is severity sometimes an anchorage of love?

Only the sincere should read your inner book.
Only the sincere should read your inner book.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

THE WAY OF THE DRAGON

What was strange to others, was ordinary to us. When other kids went for children’s parties, we went for training and competition in martial arts and swimming. That was our father’s way – and it was the only way we knew; and looking back now, God bless that man. He was just unapologetically himself. He gave us a different world in which to live because it was the only world he was convinced of. A world of discipline, simplicity, hardwork, scholarship, modesty, frugality, brotherhood and fraternity. This is the root of our bond today – my siblings and I.

The most horrible thing that can happen to any person, to any family, to any society, is to think that there is something wrong in being different. For, then, there will neither be change nor progress. Just be yourself, even if it is different – nay, especially if it is different. Earth thrives on diversity. And diversity is only guaranteed when each person has the courage to be himself/herself. Thus, courage is the protector of our future as a human species. People, BE BRAVE.

Our father wanted to strengthen bravery in us, so he threw us into the martial arts, where you are alone in the ring and only your own fearlessness will see you through – and, win or lose, will cement your character and your legend. Just fight fearlessly. That was his message: Let fearlessness be your blood; that is all I ask of you. Win or lose, please my child just fight to the end.

When we turned it against him, though, it caught him unawares. Maybe he unconsciously hoped everybody was burning to be a public servant, or a socialist, and things like that, like himself. But I just wanted to be myself, to answer the call of life in another context – and he had taught me the courage to do so. But myself, at least in that period, was everything different from what he wanted for and from me. The irony and riddle of doing what is expected of you and thereby going against what is expected of you. The split was unpreventable, unavoidable and – for many decades it seemed – unhealable.

But Time, that great Mender, was Merciful. And Love pushed its stubborn head through and I will forever be grateful for the three beautiful years we had until he died.

Well, what on earth is this life all about? Who really knows? Is it politics? – Not everyone can be a politician. Is it the professions? – Not everyone can pursue one. Is it family? – Not everyone will make one. Is it ideology? – Not everyone will feel inclined to one. So what on earth is this earthlife all about?

In the end, it is simply whatever is in you that has to come out of you. And all you need to do, to make that happen, is simply to BE BRAVE. Brave enough to follow your innermost voice, no matter what!

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

DADDY DEAR

Ashes to ashes…

Dust to dust…

Spirit to spirit…

Have mercy, o Holy Ghost!

CDKC

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

Another anniversary of the day I beheld for the last time the noble countenance of my father. Then we closed the coffin and confered his cloak into the warm arms of Mother Earth. And set the spirt free for the Flight back Home. Always in my fondest Memories, Daddy dear… 22.5….

(Pic: my first day in Boarding School, Sep 1995 – King’s College. Lagos)

AT HOME

When you already have
What you’re looking for
What are you still looking for?

What are you still living for?

Some live to find – when they find
Their life finds meaning

Some live to seek – when they find
Their life loses meaning

They must seek a new meaning
To their lives

To appreciate what you already have
To cherish it, to nourish it, to
Protect it, maintain it, value it and
Valorise it
Make something more out of something less.

Sometimes there is nothing better
Out there.

– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.

LEAVING

There was a girl
the fruit of her labour
Was the world
With a cry of pain and a shout of joy
She gave birth to the world
And primitive was the world

Harsh the lips that burned her nipples
Rough the tongue that broke her word
And we’re still here today
The earth is still not enough

Mother has become a stranger
The outcasts have grasped their destiny.

-Che Chidi Chukwumerije..