My Thoughts on ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’

 

My Thoughts on ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’

By Veronica Nkwocha

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, the movie directed by Biyi Bandele and adapted from the book by the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a story of two lovers who find themselves caught up in more than the regular mundane trifles that would otherwise concern those in their same situation.

The normalcy is captured quintessentially at the care free start, where Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) worry about things we see across time and across climes; does he/she love me enough, affairs that break the heart, and mothers-in-law who are frightened of the new woman.

We are introduced early on to an archetype angry mother-in-law (Onyeka Onwenu), a cheating boyfriend and a woman in despair and we have a recipe for what obtains quite frequently in Nollywood movies. Same ingredients but tempered as the particular conflict between mother and would be daughter-in-law did not overwhelm. The story was laced with more depth as the characters flowered and found themselves.  HOAYS also takes more risks allowing the audience a peek into a wider range of interactions, the scenes move in quick succession. It sits resolute in a time period, the near picture perfect setting transports the viewer giving integrity to the story.

The serious but optimistic doctor of ‘books’ Odenigbo (a university professor),   his returnee beautiful girlfriend Olanna, her twin sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) and her English boyfriend, Richard (Joseph Mawle) and their academic friends including Ms Adebayo (Genevieve Nnaji), enjoy some happy evenings discussing politics, wine, romance etc, laughing heartily and showing an optimism for the future. Ugwu (John Boyega) the houseboy trailed, never quite commanding the presence he had in the book, not a fault of the actor but more likely the adaptation.

The pacing allowed one momentarily forget that a war loomed. When the conflict that introduced ‘Biafra’ inserted itself violently into the narrative, it came as a shocking intrusion especially with the brutality shown. It drove home a well-known fact in wars; that those who are killed and those who suffer are the innocent, caught up in a gladiatorial contest far removed from their control. Swept along, we follow Olanna and Odenigbo on a journey through their pain and fears and heart-racing; through their triumphs served in small measures, tepid in parts but overwhelming in its intensity.

The gore that typically crowds war movies was nuanced and the flashbacks in black and white, documentary-like, gave a background to the story and fleshed out the narrative. The choice not to use real life actors but archived footage lent a stamp of authenticity of a real life war, it gave a sombre bent to the story taming the after-glow of the happy love story.

HOAYS portrayed the Nigerian Civil War with a delicate balance, walking a tightrope in a story of a two sided conflict of nervous protagonists and antagonists even in today’s Nigeria where a collective amnesia is the seeming default position, a shroud that never quite covers the ‘why’ of the story, barely there but the elephant in the room.

We are held curious to the end. The hunger for more lingered at the end, not only because Kainene was lost, an unending thread tying her to the hearts of her loved ones. Odenigbo and Olanna were brought to life by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton so strongly.

One must not forget Odenigbo’s blue car, it became iconic meandering here and there dodging bombs by sheer luck and nothing else.

The story was told in the second half in ‘quickened’ succession, we raced along as they raced for their lives and arrived at the credits breathless yet wanting more.

Related Articles

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/a-yellow-sun-london-review-647828
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/10756927/Half-of-a-Yellow-Sun-review.html
http://variety.com/2013/film/reviews/half-of-a-yellow-sun-review-toronto-1200603565/
http://africasacountry.com/review-of-the-film-version-of-half-of-a-yellow-sun-chimamanda-adichies-novel/
http://www.loladeville.com/2014/04/review-of-half-of-yellow-sun-movie-by.html
http://www.hotnaijagirl.com/2014/04/movie-review-half-of-yellow-sun-by-biyi.html
http://brittlepaper.com/2014/04/mad-men-nollywood1960s-fashion-yellow-sun-film/

 

The Oil Boom Kids

So I found something I wrote ages ago (late 80s) and I was gobsmacked at my…handwriting! It was clear, precise and pleasing to the eye if I may say so. If you were born in Nigeria in the tumultuous years of the Civil War and in the early 70s, I would say, the piece should resonate. There is a lot of generalisation (please pardon me, confused teen/fresh uni student/jambite) and a great deal of it is written from my own childhood (hangs head and hides).

Where there are tales about content children, it would not apply to everyone and I apologise for writing in a hurry and never getting back to re-writing and editing it. I reproduce it here, flaws and all just so you get a feel of one perspective in the Nigerian tale. It is a fragment (albeit a real one) of the picture of the journey of Nigeria.
image

The Oil Boom Kids
Written by Veronica Anuga

Out of the ashes, a child is born. From out of anarchy, of chaos, a generation is created. Spewed forth in the heights of war and at the crash of the reign of turmoil, fear and helplessness, they symbolise a pause from the ache, a hope for the battered generation.

In that golden era of the post war days when the oil boom served as a balm to healing wounds, the light of the future gleamed, bright. The tottering giant towered, its granary was full and in the bowels of its earth, the oil lay, thick and murky; the black gold. Nigeria was on the rungs of ladder of success, at the brink of self-actualisation. The climb, it knew, would be fast paced but sure; its way greased with the very oil that was its bargaining power.

The early 70s was a period most Nigerians remember today with nostalgia. A period where small towns grew to large cities. The movement from rural settings to the urban, mono-directional. The need for manpower for the ever growing industrialisation was unparalleled with the number of skilled workers. A lot of emphasis was placed on education. Primary, post primary and tertiary institutions grew in number to accommodate this need. Well-equipped hospitals were available and accessible. The standard of living was high, food, clothing and basic amenities were cheap. The growth of infrastructure was dynamic and the network of roads, a kaleidoscope of high technology.

The oil boom kids were born into homes where material needs were not lacking. There were enough toys to play with, plenty of food to warm their tiny bellies and in school, the quality of education was standard. Teaching aids were readily available. Most school children had good uniforms and most importantly, they wore shoes.

Time moved on and the generation grew, unaware of the intricacies that were a part of its life. The intricacies; the mind of corrupt leaders who uncaring of the after effects, fell victim of the ‘chop’ syndrome.

The late 1979 and the early 80s marked the era of Democracy, where Nigeria still towered, a giant but with the beginnings of crumbling feet. The politicians, as though filled with an innate undying hunger, mismanaged grossly the floundering economy, enacted short sighted economic policies and were masterminds at creating and awarding invisible contracts.

The children now on the verge of becoming full-fledged adults were spectators in a complicated game of chess, powerless to move the pawns that would determine their future. At the close of the day, the Prize is to be laid at their feet, their responsibility? How to carry on.

The glut in oil prices in the international scene coupled with the purposelessness of an inadequate administration saw Nigeria into an era of confusion. It was all a beginning, the worst was yet to come.

Through all this, the oil boom kid is growing. While in the tertiary institution which is his right which he realises he’s lucky to get considering that the generation yet to come might not, he hears stories. Of how the amenities he cannot but imagine, were available. Three square meals provided by the school, a standard library bulging with information from all over the world, where the dynamism of fresh discoveries require for one to keep up to date, clean modern facilities, enough chairs in the lecture halls and a job right after. His dream of being a part of what was while he was growing trickle slowly through his fingers. He is not alone.

The picture at the very end of the tunnel sighted in the oil boom days might have been otherwise blurred. How else can one justify the existence of two very different pictures? The playgrounds where these very kids played are now in ruins. The tiny little children hurrying off to school in the mornings have no school buses. They run along on bare feet and tattered uniforms some of them on a breakfast of watery pap. They will not be punished for being unkempt when they get to school, no, they are a product of the society, a mirror of the society. In their classrooms, the baby voices singing ‘baa baa black sheep…’ might not be sitting on chairs, might not be reading from books because they have none.

Meanwhile the oil boom kids have grown. They are the oil doom youths. Victims of a low quality education where the undergraduate need not ask what ‘001’ means; victims of a corrupt group. Nothing is more painful than the loss of a dream. They watch as those they trusted the most turn to mere children as they clutch at straws in their bid to stem the tide, powerless as a gloomy future flows unheeded carrying in its wake, the oil doom.

The giant, a mother, is breeding in her children, an anger, a fear. The towering mountain of ear-aching debts weigh heavily on their shoulders. For how long can they stoop? They are but children in an old man’s body with none of the proverbial wisdom that comes with age. The oil doom youth is restless. He is like a jungle animal on the verge of extinction, his every instinct scream, survival.

The Nigerian Nostalgia Project – Facebook

File:Ancient Benin city.JPG

Do you love history? Not the long winded drone of a stifling hot afternoon of class with the four walls closing in (okay, for some maybe not just History but all subjects!).

There’s ‘The Nigerian Nostalgia Project’ on Facebook. It provides compact, highly visual and informative history lessons by way of old photographs properly captioned and a conversation as people from diverse backgrounds comment and sometimes have hearty debates on the issues surrounding the subject. They can get lively so be warned, it may start from the benign to the controversial and can feel like one is on a roller coaster but it all serves to drive home important lessons of the old days including context, hindsight and a struggle/conflict in attempting to visualise the past using today’s eyes. Ethnic rivalries rise to the fore and simmer and handshakes form across ‘ancient’ miles as today’s youth (and sometimes participants of history from the recent past!) come together via the comment box, lingering, sizing one another up, gladiators in a timeless conflict and then as brothers as they find their common humanity.

I recommend the Nigerian Nostalgia Project, it is a treasure trove of photos of the past. Their greatest arsenal are the everyday people who post photos of life as it happened for normal day to day people, interwoven with photos of milestones as history turned in pivotal and candescent points. All of them important as the puzzle of the time period is put together for the next generation lovingly and reverently by the ‘children’ of the subjects working together in ways that would surprise the sleeping progenitors, could they see, from the dusk of their time.

*Image of Ancient Benin City from here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ancient_Benin_city.JPG  D. O. Dapper, 1668 Description de l’Afrique . . . Traduite du Flamand (Amsterdam,1686; 1st ed., 1668), between pp. 320-21. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-30841) Public Domain

Dusk’s New Dawn (Short Story)

Abuja Dusk

Abuja Dusk (Photo credit: Jeff Attaway)

Dusk’s New Dawn

By Veronica Nkwocha

Dapper. He stood out like a mannequin had just come to life, its perfect proportions in a fluid movement that made her want to dance to his rhythm. She spied from the corner of her eyes and saw he was wearing the ‘Oswald Boateng’ that had caught her eye at the last fashion event she attended in Ikoyi; where perfectly coiffed women walked nose in the air, their handbags dangling delicately from wrists upturned.

He stood at the doorway of the Hilton, Abuja and she realised in a slight panic that he was probably waiting for his driver. She had only a few moments to make her move. She stood up from the comfortable chair at the lounge and dropped her braids from its band shaking them loose. She tugged her blouse as she walked towards him and was pleased that her jade beads nestled perfectly just above the cleavage, hinting not obvious.

She stood next to him at the crowded entrance and pretended she was waiting for her car, then stretched looking around the corner. She stumbled as though her six inch heels had caught where the marble joined. He reached out to break her fall and her heart winked at his chivalry.

“I beg your pardon” he said apologising as he let go of her waist. Her eyes would do the rest. They looked into his, wide and imploring.

“So, so sorry, I shouldn’t have worn these sandals”, she said delicately angling her feet. She had never been prouder of the lady who did her pedicure. The sandals were ornamented with the same jade beads in a yellow rope twist, a thin line encircled as if she was wearing an anklet.

He stared.

“Bingo”, she whispered silently.

“Hi, I’m Uzoma.”

“I’m Mary.”

“Pleased to meet you”, they exchanged, smiling.

It seemed like years ago. That day three years ago when he couldn’t stop looking at her. Her caramel skin soft as silk he almost reached out and touched it. They parted, him with a vice like grip on her bb pin number. He memorised it.

He was surrounded by mannequins fitting their garments to show their best features when she walked in the next day bearing sushi from Uptown Asian Cuisine; their shared love discovered on that long phone call when they couldn’t stop chatting. They had lunch in his studio, he moved the clutter so she could sit and he was glad she didn’t mind.

Their love story began, a gentle drift. A lovingly crafted paper boat set to sail on calm waters floating tenderly away from the beach, both of them oblivious to the oncoming sogginess.

“Oh Mary”, he whispered.

She was the sassy and sparkly diamond that lit up his life from a darkening limbo when she interjected herself into it, her jade pendant drawing him in to her heady sweetness.

He sat on the bench fleeing from another argument, puffed on the inside filled up with her constant dribble; “cloying, needy and self-righteous to boot”, he muttered.

He didn’t very much care for her preening perfection anymore. He sat in the garden staring at nothing, his appearance was of one fixated on something afar off, his gaze and his back, rigid. He exhaled allowing the garden and setting sun to wash over him, their beauty tempering his insides and calming the annoyance that he had allowed consume him earlier. The evening breeze felt cool, their caress softened his thoughts and his eyes smarted with unshed tears; he was sorry for hurting her and he would forgive her again. And again, as always. But it left him empty inside.

They fought over the most mundane things now; whether the newscaster’s blouse was purple or lilac, whether the Governor of a particular state was worse in his stealing of public funds than his predecessor, whether he was falling out of love with her because he didn’t notice her new hairstyle.

He would rather stay in his study, a tiny building at the back of their garden creating ‘masterpieces’, designing clothes and visualising fabrics doing things that only he could make them do. He won the ‘most likely to succeed’ at design school after all. Or be at the orphanage on the other side of town, sharing his skills with the army of eager children gently encouraging them which he did unfailingly once a week.

He would much prefer to hang out with his best mates whom he had known from his ‘A Level’ days when he was fresh out of Nigeria exploring London and then graduating from university five years later. They spent the subsequent three years battling to break into the fashion world as the next big thing. The days when Claudette who was first his best friend and then his fiancée, Japheth and O’Neal and him would pub hop and attend fashion soirees and tease their innards with strange recipes from a hundred restaurants. They would traipse Paris savouring the food and allow themselves get steeped in the language, Claudie urging them on to perfection.

He remembered those days as the most he had laughed, everything excited them; they were on the brink of something new and fresh, suffused with hope. But Claudette had died of stomach cancer. It was sudden and quick and in his brokenness, he had thought to move away from everything that reminded him of her and moved back home to Abuja as one of a large wave of returnees. He had invested the pay-out from her life insurance in a smart studio and show room hoping to ride the tide of the burgeoning entertainment industry and capital city oil wealth but it had petered away. A gaping hole of overheads ate away at the substance until there was nothing left, leaving him a shell of his former boisterous self.

Mary’s face had the pinched look of extreme disappointment. ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ was her current most favourite phrase. Her friends would laugh at one of her many jokes peppered with the phrase but for her it had a deeper meaning. Uzoma. She kept the pretence of a happy thriving home but hated the inside. Nothing was ever right lately, she couldn’t put her finger on it. As though something big was about to happen. Maybe it was the increasing number of fights or the silences and the emptiness on his side of the bed night after night. His excuse for holing away in the study was always another inspiration for designs that died a putative thread in an unending maze.

‘What was he up to, how did she get into this mess?’ The ‘why’ was like a tail that just kept tagging along, wagging and nudging her mind into a niggling that carried on unabated, she became a detective prying through his things. She didn’t like what she found.

Uzoma was planning to leave her. Not only was he a failure and a disappointment, he actually had the gall to shame her. How else would one explain the letter accepting him into a program with a designer in France? He knew very well she couldn’t afford to resign her top job and leave Nigeria for the time it would take for him to complete the program, and in a country where she didn’t even speak the language.

For a moment she paused enraged at his lack of feeling, his disappearing into a world she just couldn’t enter. It happened constantly, he would lapse into French when angry and hold monologues. Once he ignored her and carried on for at least five minutes speaking to himself. She gave him her back and was initially bent over in anger over the piano stool. Then she thought to record his litany on her phone.

She took the recording to a friend’s friend who spoke French and the translation broke her heart. “Why won’t she leave me alone? Let me be. Go on with you pretentious ways and leave me to my failures ‘madam image over substance’.”

What saddened her the most was his ungratefulness, ‘Image over substance’? He was the one without substance she fumed. She had married him when all he had were his good looks, a talent in creative design and ties to a rich uncle who couldn’t be bothered to have a relationship with them. If only she had known his business was on its death throes. All she got was a fancy wedding, the uncle’s famous last name which had all her friends swooning in envy and that was it! No connections or contacts or even further visits to or from the government Minister. They had been forgotten by Uzoma’s late father’s older brother in a land of pedigrees and cronyisms. She had married beneath her station blinded by love she fumed, and then she was contrite seconds later, a shamefaced smallness for being so shallow.

Still she thought, rekindling her anger, she should be the one seeking to extricate herself from the mess. She would be better off without him, carry on without the sad puppy look Uzoma wore she was sure, to annoy her. She lit up with expectation. If he left for France, it would be the perfect excuse to still have the air of a respectable married woman without the appendage of duty that weighed her down. It had chipped away at her initial obsessive love until there was almost nothing left to cling to, leaving her empty.

“Uzoma”, she called as she hurried to the garden.

He turned to look at her. She stopped suddenly transfixed by the sunset, she put her hand on his shoulder to steady herself. He put his hands over hers and he rose from the bench and drew her to him. He cuddled her close. She looked at him as the light bathed his face and she felt his pain. He sighed.

‘This man’, she thought to herself, there was something about him that melted her insides. She wanted to wipe his hurt away, to make things better. He didn’t speak of it but she saw it with sudden clarity as he drank in the glow of evening.

She put her head on his shoulder and they stood until the sun sank slowly from sight, the orange and gold hues embraced white brilliant clouds lingering for a while and then fading into greys and a deepening dark blue.

They walked into the house and sat, knit together.

He started,

“Mary, I know I haven’t been easy to live with. I suppose in failing, I have allowed myself stay down and hurt you in the process. Thank you so much for holding us together. For working so hard for both of us. All I ask is that you bear with me a little longer inugo? Please my love?”

“You know what honey, what are we if not imperfect? Yes, I’ve been upset, confused, hurt by your withdrawal. I’ve said things in anger and have been focused more on the things that are wrong in our relationship rather than see how we can work through this.” She said clutching at the ring of hope she heard in his voice.

“Here’s my surprise. I acted on impulse and applied for a program in France and was accepted but I turned it down. I also sent in a portfolio for the remaking of the bestselling movie ‘King Ramses Temple’ and it’s a shoe-in to my amazement.  So we will be busy in preparation for the shoot which starts in six months. It’s a dream come true.”

“That’s fantastic, I’m happy for you. Happy that you are getting the recognition you deserve cos you’ve worked hard for this. I do love you Uzoma.”

“I love you my angel”, he kissed her, his breath grazing against the jade beads nestling in the dark.

My Thoughts on ‘America’ by Chinelo Okparanta

This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.

My Thoughts on ‘America’ by Chinelo Okparanta

By Veronica Nkwocha

For a story so titled, perhaps it is only natural that ‘America’ will be used and viewed effusively. It is a longing for a ‘utopia’ and with every contrasting detail between the dream destination and home, the latter got darker and drearier. It set the tone for the narrative which was a last wistful glance at home whilst hoping for the future, and a berating by Nnenna Etoniru, the lonesome young lady on her way to meet her lover halfway across the world. She would have to get ‘the visa’ first.

We are told about the journey with flash backs punctuating the story. They didn’t intrude on the flow but provided insight and fleshed out the characters and the emotions that consumed her on this all important bus ride and her life in the last three years.

‘America’ came across as heavy. As though the protagonist carried this weight about her which she never put down even whilst seated on a journey. Her eyes were constantly on the lookout for yet another crack in the system, she didn’t have to look very far with her head jarring against the window with every bump caused by potholes, some the size of ‘washbasins’. Like a child telling on an older sibling to parent, it became a list of what wasn’t working. Her job wasn’t what she wanted, her relationship had to be hidden away and the view outside had children coated in the solid black of crude oil and litter everywhere. Even her parents seemed like fading photographs; a  yellowing tinge of trepidation at her possible disappearance like others, absorbed by America.

Nnenna’s near fawning of America was almost clichéd, her starry eyed portrayal better suited to a character less educated and just fresh from the hinterland startled by the newness of it. The only picture she had seemed to be from the photos Gloria sent as if she did not watch any television at all and had no access to the internet.

We became something – an item, Papa says – in February, months after Gloria’s visit to the school”.

It would have been nice to get to know ‘Papa’ better. What was it about him that made him so accepting of their relationship? He was quite different from the norm, a diametric opposite. Was it his upbringing? His total lack of concern for a grandchild unlike his wife seeing as Nnena was their only child runs contrary to their cultural expectation and there was no indication as to why.

One can imagine that Nnenna may not have made the journey in the end. Did the pull towards America come out of the perfection it occupied in her thoughts rather than an overwhelming love for Gloria? Once it was spoiled by “something like black clouds forming in waters that would usually be clear and blue”, she hesitated. It was the perfect time to study for that Masters degree in Environmental Engineering especially with the fresh information sure to be generated from the Gulf Oil spill yet she appeared to be dithering.

“What sympathy can we have for someone who, after wanting something so badly for three long years, realizes, almost as soon as she’s gotten it, that perhaps she’s been wrong in wanting it all that time? My second night at the inn, the night before I am to return to the embassy for my paperwork and passport, I think of Mama, her desire for a grandchild, and I think: Isn’t it only natural that she’d want a grandchild? I think of the small children emerging from the waters of the Delta covered in black crude. Their playground destroyed by the oil war. And I think: Who’s to say that this won’t some day be the case even in America? It all starts small by small. And then it gets out of hand. And here I am running away from one disaster, only to find myself in a place that might soon also begin to fall apart.” (Emphasis mine).

It is interesting that the fairy tale about the golden hen has no conclusion, her mother refuses to say.

Nnenna, rather than leap happily into the ‘utopia‘ of her dreams seems to be at a crossroad when the story ends,

“I force my eyes shut as if shutting them tight will prevent me from changing my mind, as if shutting them tight will keep regret from making its way to me.”

America’s sad and poignant tone mirrored a wilting of the once thriving beauty of the Niger Delta. The stoic thread that ran through, a reminder of the taboo of same sex relationships especially their secrecy in a society with a deep loathing for them.

*’America’ is on the shortlist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing.

Please click on the names below to read reviews of ‘America’ by other bloggers:

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva
Kate Maxwell
Chika Oduah
Kola Tubosun

Aishwarya Subramanian

Africa in Words (Lexzy Ochibejivwie)

My Thoughts on ‘The Whispering Trees’ by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

This is one of five posts on the Caine Prize for African Writing 2013 Shortlist. A group as organised by Aaron Bady will be blogging about the entries (one per week) for five weeks until the prize is announced on the 8th of July. Please see the links below for details and a schedule.

My Thoughts on ‘The Whispering Trees’ by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

By Veronica Nkwocha

The story opens with a tragedy; the protagonist is involved in an accident and loses his beloved mother. He is at first protected from this knowledge having lost consciousness for a period until he finds himself in hospital.

The Whispering Trees’ happened in stages; as though they were five stories woven into one. The ‘Accident’, where the faint moments when he merged almost seamlessly with the other world is described in lyrical language. It carried on to the ‘Awareness’ (of his blindness and the knowledge of his permanent separation from Ummi); the ‘Anger’, (during which saint Faulata lifted the heavy load). The ‘Limbo’ (where the malam had to carry out a ritual) and then the ‘Awakening’ into a quasi-heaven much longed for at the start of the story.

The bruising of Salim’s soul from the moments of the accident was instant and it never got better. Apart from the brief period when he tried; studying braille, weaving baskets and waiting for Faulata. His pain was described in detail taking over more than half of the story. It didn’t detract from the essence because one comes away with a deep understanding of how much his loss impacted him. (Some questions linger; in reality would Salim’s schooling end with just one month to graduating from Medical school?)

The second bruising where Faulata left him to marry someone else sheared off the scab of the wound and pierced another knife. This time, he did not lose consciousness as with the accident but appeared to enter into a trance; as though the first unconsciousness was a twin of this new disappearance from life. It was near identical, like looking in a mirror; the first, a precursor and tangential (more…)

A Tale of the Unexpected (Okene Harrison- Underwater Sailor)

North and South Atlantic Ocean

North and South Atlantic Ocean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tale of the Unexpected – Womb of Despair 

By Veronica Nkwocha

*Update

The unborn child growing, tranquil and awaiting its birth has no concept of fear. It is in the perfect home designed especially for his needs. A cocoon of love and nurture, very different from the ‘womb of dread’ Okene Harrison found himself in.

On the 26th of May, the tugboat he had been working in along with 11 others in the Atlantic Ocean had just capsized, and he was trapped alone in a pocket of air just 1.5m by 3m. Its wreckage 30ft underwater.

“The 470-tonne boat was towing an oil tanker for oil giant Chevron when it went down 20 miles off the Escravos region of the Nigerian coast.”

Would he be rescued? How long would his stay last? Would the air be sufficient to keep him alive?

As with a birth, he wouldn’t perpetually reside in his new home. The end of his ordeal would have been something he wanted but dreaded at the same time, it could go either way.

He was rescued sixty hours later but lost his colleagues. His rescuers have been praised for their bravery. A delicate effort as his body had normalised to the pressure underwater.

According to US Navy Salvage Officer Patrick Keenan “After spending two days at 30 meters of depth, he had become saturated, meaning his body had absorbed all the pressurized gases and equalized with the surrounding water pressure. Bringing him to surface from that depth, and after having been saturated at 3 or 4 atmospheres, could easily have killed him.”

I found the story of his rescue very hear warming and tinged with sadness for those who lost loved ones. I can imagine the intricate nature of the ‘birthing’ of Okene Harrison, every care taken to ensure one of life’s happy endings.

*Update: Here’s are links to interviews with Mr. Harrison:

I was there in the water in total darkness just thinking it’s the end. I kept thinking the water was going to fill up the room but it did not,” Okene said” http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/12/nigeria-shipwreck-idUSL5N0EO20320130612

“… I was the one who touched the diver, I touched his head and he was shocked. He was searching and I just saw the light, so I jumped into the water. As he was shocked, he stretched out his hands. I touched him.” http://thenationonlineng.net/new/news/the-untold-story-of-chevron-boat-mishap/

“They told me all the others had died and I cried because I thought I was the only one who had been trapped in the boat”, his voice cracking. Despite suffering from nightmares and peeling skin, daily helpings of his favourite banga soup dish – a fish and palm fruit soup – have helped him feel much better, he said. He is planning to write a book on his experience.” http://africansweetheart.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/sailor-harrison-okene-describes-his.html#.UbmUGfnVCn8