Vous Ne Savez Pas Senghor? You Don’t Know Senghor?

by Charles Sogbesan

Mon ami! Why would you be so abrupt in singling me as the receptor of these grasp?

It’s not like I actually understand what you, re saying anyway. The best I could ever undertake was to impersonate my secondary school teacher and get a good laugh, I did, especially with his thick Yoruba accent. L’attention ou vous de salaire obtiendra battu, l’attention ou vous de salaire obtiendra battu, he would yell over and over again, the whole class would burst into laughter as long as his back was turned to us. Until later we will find out the Gentleman from Saki was actually giving us the dopey warning to behave or bear the consequences. Literal translation; Pay attention or you will get beaten.

This Abuja Lagos flight was going to be testy at best. The affable gentle man by appearance alone looked like, seemed like, from Mali, Burkinabe, probably Guinean (Either or), Senegal was the last probable. Having observed his demeanor at the ticket counter, watching as professional Nigerians, sweat and all, turned into half baked thugs, decorum to the gutter, leaning over, pushing, and shoving each other at the ticket counter, in the desperate attempt to secure plentifully tickets to Lagos.

The unending wonders, how a multimillion dollar airline business could be run so inefficiently, more like a molue exercise. You would wonder aloud why can’t everyone get in line, so we can all buy the “bloody” ticket, all done within the span of one hour tops, it’s bad enough we’re paying top Naira for the one way flight, please everyone remain orderly , let’s get this done in a civilized manner.

No!, not around here, the bustle must be chaotic, at the basic level, lively for it to make sense, especially if it’s a multi billion Naira business, Sharrap (Shut up), mister man, what is your problem, you, re complaining, abeg buy your ticket and commot for line, you think say this na abroad, you dey complain say I dey push you, rub on you for back, if you no wan buy ticket abeg kleear (excuse yourself from the chaos). For the sake of practicality, it wasn’t a fight I was going to embark on but today was his lucky day, as practicality will drown out the echo of compulsion.

Charlie keep cool, Charlie ignore him.

But then on the contrast was a gentlemen who seemed from another planet, he unquestionably was on the same mission as all of us, you could tell by his proximity and wads of Naira crumpled without discipline in his hands.
The affable gentleman had another plan, he will wait it out, wait he did.

He waited till the end of the chaos, promptly proceeded to the counter and asked in polite well spoken English, reminiscence of Ghanaian Friend. Excuse me gentlemen, are there any tickets available. Yes sir, N17, 000 Naira, your ID please. You have got to be kidding, what a gambler!

I just went through this battle zone for absolutely no reason at all? Sweating like a whore in church. I could have let the anarchy dwindle and do like this diplomat looking fella. Mr. Cool, waiting till the chaos abated, blowing big morphology.

Oh well, save that for the next encounter. Oga, anything for the boys, negative “do your damn job and stop begging like the testosterone Khaki inebriates at the junction” I thought, after all, your uniform seemed to display professionalism, wrong again. As luck will have it, the affable gentleman sat right next to me in the plane and as predictable as “getting bad service from the ever arrogant Nigerian air hostesses” I start a conversation, fortunately for me I had met my match.

Ce qui est errone avec vous, translation what is wrong with you? Sekou Toure (Real name Ahmadou) was not having it

It all started after the safety demonstration (seemed they were being forced to do the job), followed by the Lebanese pilots sleepy attempt at flying protocol, blah blah blah, just shut up and lets enjoy the flight. Why should I blame the preponderance of expats on you, when I don’t have a government, It’s not your fault that my fellow Nigerians, equally qualified can’t find such cushy jobs. You, all just seem to know how to navigate these bedraggled waters better.

My name is Charles and in flawless English, Ahmadou is my name, nice to meet you, he must not be Nigerian, otherwise, the 20 second hesitation would have followed to visually analyze my social ladder, before offering a retort. FINNALY A DECENT HUMAN BEING.

Following the crappy snack, handed over like slave master on the Amistad, our conversation ranged from geography to politics to “African time”, apparently it wasn’t limited to Nigeria.

Ahmadou educated me about Senegambia and I did likewise on the Senegalese in Northeastern USA. Our cordiality was just about re assured as I found out we had both studied in the US of A,
Bantered a few war stories of racism, cultural adjustment, brain drain, moving back, disillusionment and so forth, the dirty politics of oil. Telling him about ours, the interwoven predicament of locals in the business, the precarious nature of the multinationals, our lack of institutions and connections between such and a lack of proper representation of locals in the foreign oil company corporate structures, how we aid it, the gamut , we ran. His never ending rants about Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Brazzaville, his regrets about Angola following our paths and hopes for Ghana not to follow ours.

Once he proceeded to lecture me about Sao Tome, I stopped him, I had done extensive research, and I will lecture you, where do I start, Emeka Offor, Abacha or ERHC. Ok Charlie let us talk about something else, OK fine, I was all too eager about De Menezes and Gomes. “Somos todos Primos”
I defer, Ahmadou, I defer.

Then he asked me about Leopold Senghor and then I got totally defeated, all I knew was the man was a former president and some kind of poet. Hence the friendly bellow, not in English (which we have been communicating in the past 30 minutes), but in French, vous ne savez pas Senghor? I’m sorry I do but just not enough, the nerve of this Nigerian, the Senegalese knew about my literary heroes, even the non Nigerians, Achebe, Ekwensi, Wa thiOngo, the man even lectured me about my very own avatar, Wole Soyinka. How do I get out of this?

I was not!

In my colonial English planet I was limited by what my masters handed down to us, to communicate in English and the Britannia’s brogue unaided. This was the limit of my curiosity, in my travels to the few African countries I’ve been privileged, my sense of adventure and curiosity never seem to get past that carve up, the brick wall that language has disallowed, so Ahmadou, it is true, I have no excuses, you are right, not just because I don’t know Senghor, but that you know Senghor plus more, hence you have given me the challenge, Ghana will be cinch, so is Sierra Leone, so is Liberia, so is Kenya and the other Buckingham Colonies.

Forgive me Ahmadou, Senghor was your Leader, a Soldier in the French Army, an Army Officer who escaped German execution and spent years in different prison camps. The first African to sit as a member of the Academie Francaise, permit the slight that I failed to understand he was one of the most important African intellectuals of the 20th century, a master of poetry. To my credit, I do know Oumou Sangare, Youssour n Dour, Baaba Maal

and Ahmadou/Miriam

Thank you Ahmadou, for being cool as ice at Nnamdi Azikiwe airport, thank you for letting me know that their exist a country of France in Africa, a few hundred miles from Madagascar, where the Euro is the currency of the tender, because it is France, yes, the country of Re-Union, sorry a foreign ownership of France in Africa. Now you know (partly) why I don’t know Senghor.

No excuses, I apologize, I promise not to commit such capital offences again, and I’ll find at the very least, translated versions of non English African works. I promise to keep in touch.

To the books I go.

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