|Print | Back||October 27, 2015|
African VoiceAll Blood Runs Red
by Imo Eshiet
In some communities where I lived in Africa, some parents renounced their children for dishonoring their family name. Teenage pregnancy, abortion, prostitution, stealing, smoking weed or Indian hemp as it was popularly called, or breaking any number of taboos were often grounds for such drastic action. Society often approved it by ostracizing such kids.
But the trauma such disowned children bore was so severe some lost their minds. Seeing their wrenched suffering, I quietly committed that if I made it to adulthood and raised a family, nothing my kids did would make me cut them off from me. At school I learned about genes and that reinforced my impression of the futility of disowning family. It helped that my parents never disowned me even though I was sometimes wild and difficult to handle.
Growing older, I made more commitments. Like my father, I decided I would marry only one wife and raise all my children through her. Despite occasional temptations and not knowing what lies in the corner, I have so far managed to keep it. Here again, the example of my parents has kept me going.
I must confess my father's influence as an especial bulwark in my family life. Though grandfather had dozens of wives and an equal number of concubines along with that, yet Father committed to one wife. When his father passed in the 1940s, tradition assigned some of his concubines to Father, but he would have none of it. I do not know how he resisted the pressure being so young at the time.
I know however, that my mother was not an easy woman to marry. She was feisty, often quarrelsome, but also self-sacrificing. She was a helicopter wife and mom, but none of these ever made Father think of divorce. Because of his steady character, Father became my role model and has remained a guy after my heart three decades following his death.
At a certain point of my membership in the Church, I made covenants and more personal commitments. Having personally found that the gospel is true, I determined nothing would make me quit. Yes, I have made some false steps, but when I came to myself like the prodigal son, I knew where to turn for my salvation.
As a new member over twenty years back, many people of influence in my life wanted me to leave the Church. Some of them had studied in the US when racial discrimination was so virulent it searing memories. Though at the time I had not yet visited the US, but as a college teacher of African American literature, I was familiar with the experience they described. I also knew some of those folk prejudices had infected the Church.
I was not dissuaded because I believed Moroni meant what he said when he first contacted Joseph Smith and told him the gospel was for all nations, tongues and kindred. Occasionally I have struggled with this since arriving in the US. But like Nephi "having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God," my testimony remains unshaken.
I have been blessed to meet people here who are indeed angels though they have no wings as popular imagination would have us think. I have also met folks stuck with a pre-1978 mindset.
One such woman showed up the Sunday after this past General Conference. The week following the conference, I and my spouse had gone as we regularly do, to interpret the teachings of our prophets, seers, and revelators into Efik and Ibo languages for the benefit of our folks back home in Africa so that they could hear the proceedings in our languages. It's usually demanding work that goes on from 9 a.m. until late in the evening on Saturday.
On Sunday morning I was so tired I would have gladly stayed on bed if Livina did not drag me out to attend sacrament meeting. We found our way to the Joseph Smith Building to attend the 11 o'clock block. We got to the place on time, but being strangers could not readily locate the door that led to the chapel, especially as scaffolds for renovation had been mounted on the majestic building.
When eventually we found our way, the meeting had started with members singing the first line of the opening him. In company with us were other African volunteers who came from Texas and Maryland for the same work that took us to Salt Lake City. As we made our way into the chapel, a woman apparently the greeter, made a vapid effort at stopping us.
The meeting was in progress, she announced, so we could not enter, but if we desired to take the sacrament we could sit in the hallway and it would be brought to us. We said ok and were about to settle into the luxurious settees outside when two Caucasian couples leisurely walked in and straightaway got into the chapel.
Stung by what she had just seen, Livina shot up from her seat and before I knew it, pulled me into the chapel. Following our cue, the other interpreters also got up and together we settled down and joined in the singing.
I felt thankful for the calming spirit as the meeting progressed. I had reason to be, because I knew my feisty wife (I wonder why men end up marrying women who look like their mothers or sisters!) would have gone out to let the Sister who had earlier stopped us from getting into the chapel know that she needed to repent.
In fact when Livina in the course of the meeting told me she wanted to go to the restroom I silently prayed she should not go outside and start a fight with that untactful greeter. I was so scared I offered to go with her but she assured me she would be fine.
In fairness to her, the woman who tried to frustrate our entering the chapel may not have been prejudiced against our skin color but we could not help reaching that conclusion since she let in others who were not different from her.
We Africans in the US are very sensitive to our color because we simply stand out in a sea of White people. We are also thin-skinned about poverty and related issues because many tend to see us as beggarly. We might indeed be, but no one likes being told her mother is a bad cook.
In fact in a ward I recently moved into, I was shocked during a testimony Sunday when a member spoke with offhand ease about African tribes who stick their limbs in holes as bets to catch Anacondas for meat.
Unknown to that brother, these large snakes are never found in Africa but only in South America. He possibly meant pythons, but that didn't help my feelings. I guess since the Church is global what is wanted in such diversity is respect. President Hinckley said that much in his 2006 General Conference talk, "The Need for Greater Kindness."
Certain colors and foods might feel creepy, but as the Lord told Peter when he showed him a basket full of food tabooed to Jews (as a prelude to directing him to meeting with Cornelius, a Gentile) none of these do men create.
This last conference Elder Quentin Cook spoke on the need to be loving and compassionate as a church and not to be disrespectful of others. Apparently he knows how the poor judgment of some can affect the confidence of others. If we sustain our leaders, we need to carry on with their wise counsel.
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