It is a cool evening in West Africa. As the sea breeze intensifies, street sand kicked into the air gives the setting sun a little more orange. A tint spans the landscape. Meanwhile, school children pour into the streets celebrating another done day and weary workers await the buses that will take them home until tomorrow. The occasional honk of a desperate taxi-man harmonizes with the unending street chatter to provide profound acoustics.
I walk on the side of a major road, called Le VDN. Everyone is heading home now. As I take my first step to cross the street, a city bus zips by. In the front seat of the bus, there is a middle-aged woman wearing traditional Senegalese clothing. The light blue of her headdress tastefully complements the off-white color of her gown. The tint of the evening sun gives her gown a color that can only exist at this specific time of the day. It is majestic. Her apparent elegance is juxtaposed over the backdrop of an overcrowded bus. For three full seconds, we make eye contact. The bus passes, taking her and everyone on it speeding towards infinity.
“For how many millennia has this woman been here?” I wonder to myself, subconsciously invoking the Eastern notion of reincarnation. Perhaps, she watched from the grand Dakar promontories as the first Portuguese ships rolled in from the horizon some six hundred years ago. Or perhaps -- she arrived on this very peninsula in the days of Mansa Musa and the Malian Empire in the fourteenth century. Or, perhaps, she watched as the awesome power of industry mixed with European imperialism brought the first motorized vehicles to this part of the world a century ago. Perhaps she was present for all three events. Perhaps she was present for ever.
Life is fascinating for countless reasons.
Not least of which is its nature to repeat itself seamlessly, obediently, endlessly like a continual song. In such a song the musicians may change, but the notes, the rhythm, the crescendos, and the decrescendos remain unchanged. Peaks and troughs of human advancement, enlightenment and war dot our history books. But is this the case because, at our core, humans have always retained the same natural predispositions as a result of the obscure force that we have named human nature? Or is this because we actually are the same creatures wielding the same spirits, albeit locked in a closed system – each generation yielding more-or-less the same personalities, traits, and intangible longings as the last? Sometimes these spirits achieve fame, sometimes they achieve infamy, and sometimes - as is the case with most - they remain trapped in obscurity.
Upon arrival at home I open my computer and see the news. It is as banal as ever but I am drawn to hear the latest soundbite from the so-called leader of the free world. “Believe me, I am going to build a great, great wall…” He wheezes these words with a disturbing energy. For how many centuries has he fooled us with this very phrase – and in how many different languages? In epochs past, who did this restless spirit haunt? Peter the Great of Russia? Qin Shi Huang of China? Otto von Bismarck of the German Empire? Or a rambling buffoon in the hills of the Rhineland? Did the specific worldly circumstances in this specific trough in the temporal continuum give birth to a unique Frankenstein? Or, rather, is he simply the newest actor chosen to occupy the main character role in the 21st century rendition of the screenplay called humanity? And are we simply today’s agitated crowd?
And how many times have I written about this?
Surely, this can’t be the first.
- Yinka Ezekiel