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October 1, 2013
African Voice
For Every Ailment an Herb
by Imo Eshiet

This past Sunday, two incidents took my mind right back to my youth in Africa. At about 1:20 p.m., barely twenty minutes before our sacrament meeting started, at the Greensboro Summit Ward, a fire alarm started blaring.

Like most members I had arrived early and was visiting with friends, old and new members, missionaries and investigators. Earlier that morning, sister missionaries had called our home trying to arrange for my wife to pick up a female investigator who had asked be assisted to church by a female member. My wife was at work, and since I am male, the missionaries ruled me out of the favor.

When I arrived at church with my seven-year-old Tina in tow, we met the missionaries and shook hands. They winked at the investigator and I nodded knowingly. It was just about then that the alarm went off. Instantly, my mind was agitated for the safety of kids, the elderly and those in wheelchairs.

Of course since as we say in Africa, charity begins at home, I instinctively swept the lobby with my eyes, searching for those in urgent need of evacuation and for Tina in particular. She was nowhere in sight. Tina has her own large network of friends at church that she eagerly looks forward to meeting every Sunday. So immediately when we get to church, it is always a tug of war keeping her by our side and away from her friends.

Often when our friends get the better of our attention in the brief window before the meeting begins; Tina too visits with her friends so that finding her often recreates for us the experience of the Lord’s parents who lost their child after their trip to Jerusalem!

Sure enough, we too would find our little fellow rubbing minds and exchanging pleasantries with both the young and wizened folks in our ward. Since church etiquette demands families sit together, we would tactfully try to separate her from her friends and coax her back to sit with us.

So when the fire alarm sounded, I knew from experience that my girl would not be beside me. Instantly, I began a search for her while at the same time keenly watching out for smoke, heat and other signs associate with fire outbreak. I shouldn’t have bothered. Some members had already taken care of my interest, perhaps long before my mind picked up the situation went into fight, flight, and survival mode.

As I tried to sort things out, I was happily impressed to see my child and other kids corralled and protected by these other less-panicky members. At that very instant, I not only strongly felt the bands of love firmly around me but also a strong feeling of being among my own folks.

I guess there is something in an exile’s mind to makes it seek connections between where it finds itself and the home it had been sequestered. What happened that afternoon impressed me significantly. The response of my ward members was exactly what those with whom I share bloodlines could have done if the incident had happened back home in my obscure village in Nigeria.

I was certain no one would have asked which child belonged to whom before making sure every child was on safe grounds.

When the fire alarmed turned out to be false, everyone put away the drama and our meeting began. Later on at Sunday school, the instructor taught lessons on how Mormon pioneers used singing and dancing at the end of every arduous day to fight exhaustion, renew their spirits and buoy their hopes in their traumatic westward migration.

Again memories of home rang poignantly in my mind. In the rural areas where I was raised, folks trampled in the dust and forgotten without a twig of conscience by successive rampaging governments, often sang and danced their frustrations and occasional joy.

Every social event, be it a marriage, the birth of a child or naming ceremony, rites of transition, farming, harvest or even something as commonplace as storytelling sessions, were always enacted through songs and dances. It was as if in our groping for happiness we somehow connected with some truths in the restored gospel such as man was that he might have joy.

That joy came to us mostly through kinship relationships. Every man in rural Africa has a kinsman. The abject poor, the raving madman who walks with no article of clothing on him and even lepers exiled to the very fringes of society all have kinsfolks who support and watch out for their interest.

As a growing child in rustic Africa nothing impressed me more than the beauty and consistency of kinship in our locale. I recall once waking up at cockcrow and traveling with the rest of my siblings several hours to weed our parents’ farm deep in the jungle. To our surprise upon our getting to the farm, we saw that the whole work had almost be done by an old woman so bent over by age she could hardly walk without the assistance of a cane.

We later discovered she was a distant cousin of our dad. I could not figure out her she managed to get up that early and got to the farm to do so much work all on her own. She had made the trip and worked on the farm to help support dad in raising us. It surprised me that such a frail woman could risk her life and walk alone in the dark jungle to work for free for a distant relation.

When I expressed concern for her safety, she used a series of metaphors to teach me that everything in nature is interconnected and so her safety was guaranteed.

“All plants and animals in the jungle”, she said “are human beings.” “For every ailment known to man, there is an herb in the jungle,” and, “the gods who created dirt also created water,” she added. Apparently she felt certain that being her kinsman’s keeper and being at peace with her environment was protection enough for her.

As I continued to visit with her in the farm, she asked me if I knew why tidal waves when they hit the swamps do not drown the mangrove. When I answered in the negative she said it was because, “Mangrove trees stand close to one another and have interlocking roots.”

Somehow even without the aid of the restored gospel, my rustic folks seemed to have intuited themselves into some eternal truths revealed by ancient and modern prophets. One such sacred and self-evident truth they keep close to heart is that man was not sent to earth to walk alone.

Missionaries seeking to add light to light in Africa, especially among rustic Africans, can benefit a lot if they know how kinship systems prevalent among my folks work.

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