by Ikhide R. Ikheloa
America. The leaves are falling in America. And we celebrated the changing of the seasons with a barbecue. The kids love things that come off the grill. We had hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs and steak. I cooked the steak the way my American foster parents taught me; introduce the meat to the fire enough to race the blood juices in the steaks to medium rare glory. And like their American forefathers and foremothers, I fed my children bloody strips of meat hot off the grill. They loved it, the little carnivores. Oh yes, and the corn and the plantain. They loved the corn but they were indifferent to the plantains – big bananas, they called them.
Change is hard. In America. We live in a land where people with strong opinions stuck deep in the rigid ways of the land devise engineering experiments that dream of mixing the rich, vibrant colors of our humanity into a cloying palette of meaninglessness. The result deceives and lulls the senses away from where the real communities are. Subversively, people are forming neighborhoods a la carte. Here in America, I don’t know my physical neighbors and I don’t care. If I need a cup of salt I will order it online. Long live the Internet! The spirit lives on my monitor screen.
There is a yard sale down the road, past the blonde kid manning the lemonade stand. They sell used languages and broken cultures, and my people come in broken trucks to buy tee shirts and dying books that will go to die in Africa. Buy one, get a free hot dog. And some lemonade. I bought shadows of our former language and the owner of the hot dog stand gave me a hot dog, some ketchup and some mustard, and I said, Hola! America wishes to sell Africa’s carcass to my grandchildren. Welcome to the new world. Say hello to Babylon, the ultimate blender, mixing little bits of truth with gallons of lies, mixing skin colors to produce virtual vitiligo, mixing sexes and sexuality to produce nothing.
America, take our children, these rejects from the indifferent gods of the land of my ancestors. They stumble through the land of their birth, these brand new warriors, pants at their knees, knees rubbed raw from worshipping the gods of the dollar. They speak in the funny accents of the masquerades that raided my father’s yam barns in his sleep, and they mock me, scandalize me behind misty veils of nuances and insincere platitudes. And we ask you, father, we ask you mother: “What have you done? See what you made us do?” Did you not say: “Go to America, they will like you over there,”? America has snatched our offspring from us, and like a hungry hyena, made away with our jewels dangling merrily in her jaws of steel.
Here in America, we see our children; they don’t see us. What the eyes see confuses and aggravates our anxieties. Looking away in sorrow, I shudder at the past, hug my son and hold him close. I remember my chores at his age – splitting firewood, getting water from streams, going to the market, baby-sitting fellow babies, and maneuvering my way around adults sporting dark, dark issues. Oh, Nigeria. It was not always suffering. There was some smiling, through the tears. Oh, Nigeria. You should see my little son, he is every inch the spitting incarnation of our ancestors; every cell of his, every muscle, every attitude, that face. Oh, that face; may our enemies never catch up with him at that junction that houses ethnic cleansers; he would not stand a chance of survival.
But hear my son speak; watch him eat; he is an American, no ifs, no buts about it. Goddamn it, he is an American. What have we done? My friend, she lives in Nigeria, her daughter goes to school here in the United States. The other day, as she listened to her daughter speak in her new “perfect American accent”, she broke out in grateful song to her Lord Jesus Christ, she clapped, hooted and hollered with joy; her daughter’s vocal cords have been liberated from the tyranny of that “Igbo-made” accent that followed her like an unwanted guest from Nigeria. She will throw a big owambe party to celebrate the blessed event – the graduation from the shame of our being. I shall invite you to the party.
We are living witnesses, perhaps, to our own irrelevance because we are not managing change well. It is our turn, perhaps, to be hunted, captured, skinned alive, kept alive long enough to supervise the annihilation of what stands, what once stood, for us. For, even as the world browns, we have ensured that this is still not our world. First, we will let them bake us into willing caricatures, and then they will kill us off. Have a glass of lemonade. And a hot dog. Do you want fries to go with your hot dog? Here, have some mustard; it gives your hot dog some taste. Welcome to our America.