America on His Mind and the Challenge of Our Times

If you don’t know your true friends, you may be deserving of your “frenemies”.


Via Chicago OHare Airport, 2008
Via Chicago OHare Airport, 2008

The young man has been greatly enthralled by the map of the United States of America. It was two days before Christmas and the day has already ran late into the night. Willy has been engrossed mending an old big map. It was one of those fold-in maps from an old edition of the National Geographic magazine. An average adult can make a decent T-shirt from cloth size measures of two of these maps. Come any day, several old copies of the magazine are scattered all over the house.

Frequent folding and unfolding has resulted in some slashes along its edges, but the map was still in good shape. That night, Willy insisted on mending the torn map. For this purpose, he has previously bought a sellotape from a nearby store. The borrowed pair of scissors from his mum also came in handy. Right there on that night, the focus and commitment of my young man attested to the truism that nobody ever gets weary or tired from a self-imposed obligation.

He was completely engrossed. His mum said that the boy is like me in this area. That’s a heartwarming compliment by the woman that knew me best. I’m not sure I could be that focused and concentrated though. But I do remember that one of the first purchases I made when I started working was, of all books, a college atlas. The atlas is still resident in our home after 35 years.

Fixing up a broken America map
Fixing up a broken map of America

Daddy: “Willy, you’ve spent so much time repairing a “broken map” of USA and cramming the names of all the 50 states in US, can you even tell me the names of all the 36 states in Nigeria by heart?”

Son: “Yes. That is easy now. I can name all the states in Nigeria along with their capital cities.”

Daddy: “I’m sure I can do the same too if I really have to. When I was your age, Nigeria had only 12 states… ”

Late in the evening of the following day, resuming from where he stopped yesterday, Willy has itemized the list of almost all US states in his notebook. Hawaii and Alaska were also included in the large spread-out map. He has written down all the names of the states of US correctly (along with their capital cities). All, except for the state of Rhode Island. At long last , tracing his finger towards the North East section of the large map, he exclaimed with excitement.

Son: “Daddy, is Rhode Island also a state?”

Daddy: “Yes, it is. On the map, the state is very small, that is why you were not able to locate it quickly.”

Son: “The area is very small. It’s about the size of Rivers State.”

Daddy: “I think Rhode Island is even smaller than our own Rivers State.”

Son: “Daddy, I can mention almost all the states by heart.”

Daddy: “Are you sure you can do that?”

Son: “Yes.”

Daddy: “Sure? OK. Will President Obama, Bill Gates or any American citizen give you an award for naming all the states of their country correctly without looking at your map? You had better go and find some better thing to do with your time instead of cramming the name of the states in US. Don’t forget to sellotape together the large slashed out hole in the center of the map. Doing so will help the map to last longer.

Listing the states of USA
Creating his list of America States

On my part, I’ve been through only 3 of US states – Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois. Do you know that Texas is more than half of Nigeria in terms of land area? Texas and California are the two largest states. You can even see that from the map.”

Son: “Daddy…”

Daddy: “Yes son?”

Son: “How do you pronounce this state M-a-s-s-a-c-h….

Daddy: “That is Massachusetts.”

Son: “Okaaay.”

Daddy: “One of the most famous universities in the world – Massachusetts Institute of Technology is located there.”

Mercy: “That is “MIT””

Daddy: “It is not pronounced MIT (as in meat), the alphabets are pronounced individually M-I-T.”

Mercy: “I know.”

His sister, Mercy momentarily, chirped in her “MIT” and left shortly afterwards.

Now addressing myself to Willy, “you had better start putting in more efforts towards your Math. You never can tell. May be one of these days, you will find yourself at the MIT.”

Son: “OK.”

Now self satisfied, he was grinning from ear to ear. Finally, he rose up and started walking away from his work station. The map was still left open on the plastic table. Seeing him on that day, you would have thought that he has finally fixed up America with all her problems, real, imagined or self-inflicted.

So here is my son working hard to fix a “broken map” of America. And I said to myself, it seems that Americans don’t know, neither do they even care to know who their true friends are. This in part explains why they don’t take interest in the tragedy that is unfolding in our country. No, nobody is faulting American government for their tepid or none existent voice against the #endSARS protests and other atrocities bedeviling Nigeria and other West African nations. We are just not in their priorities.

What do you expect when you don’t even know who your true friends are? You will only end up running from pillar to post since you cannot differentiate between your true friends and your sworn enemies. At best you will end up with enemies pretending to be your friends — frenemies.

And I said to myself further on, if only there were more of our youth who will commit themselves to mending this broken and battered nation of ours — Nigeria? Let us all commit ourselves to this goal in this year 2016 and going forward. This is the challenge of our times. Willy’s Challenge.

Smile of satisfaction

A version of this article was originally published by the author here and here