By Kole Omotoso
We all remember the Yoruba children’s word game. You are asked to choose who you would rather be: would you rather be Mr./Mrs. Odolu or Mr./Mrs. Odele? Odolugbese and Odelesinrin mean Debtor. Whichever short form of the words you chose you were choosing to be a debtor! Lock up or lock down whichever way you were locked you were docked!!!
More recently, former president of South Africa said the Ace told him “Lockdown, what lockdown? Nobody can lockup Jacob Zuma!”
How the thought got into one’s mind it is impossible to say.
Perhaps too much reading of novels from England, Scotland, North America, Latin America, Europe especially the former Checkoslovakia, now two countries split in spelling half, and of course Russia and the Soviet Union. India and China came later. What all these readings of novels did to me was to tell me that the world was bigger than my world in Akure. If the world was looking for me they could find me at number 7 Ereketa Compound, off Arakale Road, Akure. Or they could come to number 45 Boudilonn Road, Akure. The compound survives but Boudilonn Road is no more. But that’s if the world was looking for me. What address should I seek if I was looking for the world?
Some how, the menace of the larger world was what fascinated me. Years later that larger world would be named climate change, globalisation and worldwide capitalism. All the travels that followed in search of the world was done to understand the nature of the world danger that was larger than my Akure world.
The power of that danger is demonstrated at the beginning of my auto-biography. The narrator speaks of being sent to the Mosalasi market to buy a penny worth of salt by his Aunty, his Uncle’s younger wife, the tall one about whom much more later in the narrative. Getting to the market the narrator was attracted by the cinema man and his magic cinema box of wonderlands. He promised to show him the Bible lands and the famed pyramids of Egypt where the infant feet of Jesus trod! He swore the viewer would walk the streets of London where the characters of Charles Dickens slept. And all these for one penny. He does not remember any hesitation before surrendering the penny for the magic world. “Hey eh Taj Mahal, Agra India, built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumthas, the unsurpassable in beauty. Here follows The Red Square, Krasnaya ploshchad, in Moscow. Kremlin, royal citadel, merchant quarters called Kitai-gorod…” the box was yanked from his eyes and the next penny was already enjoying the magic.
For a long time he sat on the steps of the mosque built on an outcrop rock, with people coming and going into the mosque by his side. What was he to say to Aunty Bose who had sent him to buy the salt? He had some money in his savings box. He would break it and give her penny to her. And should she ask why he did not buy the salt? What to say will come to his mouth. He got up and began to think of going home. Then he remembered the larger world coming to their house or their compound to confound everything and everybody so that nobody would bother about the penny and the salt. He sat on the steps again and thought more about going home.
As he entered the compound through the neck road between Grandaddy’s brother’s house and Pakoment’s house he saw a crowd occupying the L-shaped area of the original building of the compound. Whatever the quarrel was about his uncle and his younger wife were in the midst of it. At the end of the evening Aunty Bose was taken to the hospital and nobody remembered anything about a penny worth of salt.
Lockup has always been there since the colonial masters lockup trouble makers but lockdown came out only recently, during the age of Coronavirus. Visionaries have always predicted the coming of the age of Coronavirus. Nicodemus of yore predicted it to the greatest detail. Less grand names have also predicted such an unmanageable disease disaster including Bill and Belinda Gates. The World Health Organization also predicted the coming of Coronavirus but named it Disease X. Nobody paid any attention.
The result is what is happening in Italy where the headline says that the country has surrendered to the disease, Italy can fight no more. The prayer of the prime minister that their salvation is in the hands of heaven.
Many video clips doing the rounds in the social media insists that Coronavirus is not for the poor man. Rather, it is the rich and famous and powerful people that are being targeted by Coronavirus. This is a most dangerous misconception. Rather, as stated an Indian journalist that the rich and famous and powerful flying up and down the world carry the virus around. Once on the ground they pass on the virus to the poor people to go and die for them.
Misconceptions abound about the virus. It was out to get the over 70s in age. Then when a baby not a year old died of the disease, that foolishness collapsed. Then there was the misconception that the virus could not withstand heat and so Africa around the tropics were save until the same areas in the USA began to see massive deaths from the Coronavirus. Which makes the Italy situation unbelievable. Hospitals are full. Mortuaries are full. Verandahs are full on corpses and churches full of coffins. What about the medical team that came to Italy from Cuba to help?
Whichever way you look at it, Coronavirus has taught the world a lesson in globalisation and cooperation across national borders. Why would Trump, President of the U.S.A. Unrepentant builder of border walls agree to send planes to pick medications from China to help him bring the Coronavirus under control. This is a matter of using Abu’s resources to entertain Abu while visiting us. Hopefully the prayer of the prime minister of Italy will be science. Only science can answer our prayers.