Put your yam down and ask questions.

One of my all-time favourite poems is Niyi Osundare’s ‘Not my Business.’ I know poetry can appear dry and extremely abstract but I think this piece by Osundare is an exception. Have a read:

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.
What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam*
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out.
Then off to a lengthy absence.
What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.
What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.
The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

Yam – a root vegetable widely grown and eaten in tropical countries

Niyi Osundare’s poem is pretty much a Nigerian’s remix of Edmund Burke’s famous admonition “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I’m all for minding my business, in fact I LOVE minding my business. I don’t stop at ‘GO’ to collect $200, I just carry on walking. I’ve resisted the temptation to join in countless visceral virtual conflicts. As valid as my opinions may be, I just end up asking myself ‘what’s your business, Dammy?’ Like many people, I tend to save my rants for the private (and safe) viewing pleasure of close friends and loved ones.

So, why have I asked you to read a poem about what happens when people like me continue to mind our business? I’m not here to incite you to become armchair warriors – in fact we desperately need some to retire and consider a different career path.

What I am asking you to do though is to check your reaction to grave issues of injustice and abuse around you. Injustice can range from big hot button issues like racism to the brutish and inconsiderate manager at work. Like I wrote in a previous post, hate is hate. The fruits may differ, but the seed is always hate.  

Even if you’re not going to join in the fight, do you care enough or are you inquisitive enough to put your yam down for a minute and ask ‘what happened to Chinwe?’ Are you sensitive enough to reflect on the pattern of disappearing people, chances, opportunities and freedoms around you?

We have walked past too many toxic things for too long and reacted with callous indifference. There’s a massive difference between staying out of a fight because you don’t necessarily agree with either sides of the debate and staying out because you want to protect your selfish interest. For too long, we have walked past demeaning bosses, abusive religious leaders, controlling spouses/partners/friends, corrupt leaders, etc. Too afraid to rock the boat because we’ve got our eye on being the favourite.

The things I fail to confront today become unnecessary bottlenecks for my children to deal with.

Unvarnished truth

I’ve finally realised that the things I fail to confront today won’t go away; rather, they become an unnecessary bottleneck for my children to deal with. Edmund Burke’s words are more than a cute little tweet; they’re supposed to be a rallying cry against callous indifference.

Now, if you read this and automatically think it is permission for you to go out there and embroil yourself in endless debates on social media, you have missed the point. Let me warn you: TROLLS ARE REAL. If you come back bloodied, battered and bruised, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

Real change starts with asking yourself questions. It starts with asking your leaders questions. It starts with calling a meeting with that manager who behaves like the Devil’s doppleganger. It starts with asking, where did Akanni, Danladi and Chinwe vanish to? If you don’t ask and continue in the Not my Business Ministries, you might just find that you’re next on the disappearing list and guess what, it won’t be anyone’s business to ask where you went.

N.B: Whatever questions you ask, do so with grace and courtesy and be prepared for an answer you don’t like. It’s risky, but at least you have asked.

5 thoughts on “Put your yam down and ask questions.

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