Today, like most days when I sit outside the compound where I live, I noticed hawkers whose wares can be counted in a couple of fingers. They hawk in the sun and when it rains, they take cover, watch and go back to hustling. They meet people who ask for the prices of what they sell and do not buy and they walk on. They meet few who buy but when you check through what has been sold, you’d discover that it may not be enough to pay for a meal at a semi-comfortable restaurant.
Quite a good number of these street traders do not look sick or malnourished. They appear healthy but once in a while, if you manage to look into their eyes, you’d see the weight of the burden they carry – uncommon burden, of rents to pay, of children who are in school, or extended family members who may not mind some assistance. And you’d see souls that have tried to explain their ordeals but have decided to keep it inside their bodies, to carry it around, quietly.
One of the amazing things about these traders is their uncommon smiles and the way they find humour easily, in an insult thrown at them or in a broken ware. When laughter breaks through a sweaty face, and silences burdens, you’d be wowed at this state of calm. I have tried to find out the thing that drives them – that makes them believe that there is a brighter day tomorrow. What is responsible for their holding-on, for chasing hope? When they have issues, an emergency, how do they solve them, how do they fix their challenges, how do they pay bills and the everyday challenges?
I have also come to understand that Nigerians, especially, have this uncommon hope that cannot be quantified and explained. If you were to measure it, you’d not make it through the first stage of naming it. You’d be confused. But there is hope and this hope makes a bulk of the population to stay away from suicidal thoughts or to take to crime.
I believe that if we were to have crime rates according to the number of people facing challenges in Nigeria, the country would be in massive chaos. Almost everyone would be into crime, to help fix their worries but this is not it. Despite the failed dreams and the lack of assistance, people keep hope alive; they never fail to find a reason to laugh. The few people who are into higher crime are there because all hope is lost or maybe crime is their best alternative. But whatever kind of laughter that crime prompts, it dries out quickly and this has never ended well.
One of the things that have kept Nigerians strong and positive would be the church. Religion – something that can also account for its slow pace in technology and the arts has driven Africa into some form of solace. There is the proliferation of churches in Nigeria – in every space. These churches are so small and everywhere, you’d have no doubt that the preachers have studied the environment, the chaos and they have seen that almost everyone has problem and sometimes, the socio-political world does not do enough and even when the person finds healing, the emotional trauma continues until the promise of a better tomorrow through what God would put in place for his followers. That promise of a divine tomorrow has been one of the few things that keeping Nigerians alive and free from taking their own lives.
Happiness can be generated from within – with self-love. You can find a reason to be happy every day. It may not be the completion of a fantastic mansion. It may be the daily encounter with children who leave the house early in the morning to school, with the hope that whatsoever dream they have in their heads would be achieved and that they would alleviate their parents or friends or relations. The thankfulness for the available and the believe that if the creator of mankind could care for the birds of the sky, that humans too would find enormous assistance from the creator has been one of the drivers of the uncommon hope found in Nigerians.
Bura-Bari Nwilo lives in Port Harcourt. He is the author of A Tiny Place Called Happiness.
We are everything we can imagine. We are the wind. We are the stars and most definitely, we are over-comers