|BIG-HEARTED BIAFRAN: The Nigeria-Biafra conflict was the first to bring
pictures of starving Africans into our living rooms.
It was a declaration that never actually "took" mind you.
Biafra is still officially part of Nigeria. But that doesn't stop Biafrans from recognizing the independence movement.
And I'm telling you this for a very good reason.
Tuesday, I had lunch with an extremely good friend named Okey Chigbo. His first name is pronounced "OK," it means something like "He holds God's gift in his hands." He was born in Biafra but now edits CPA Magazine, a slick award-winning business journal published here in Toronto, where I just signed a contract to do a bunch of work.
(I'm beyond thrilled about this chain of events and if you click here BUT ONLY AFTER YOU'RE FINISHED THIS BLOG!!!! you'll see another story I wrote for them recently but that's grist for another day.)
My point here is, Okey and I met Tuesday to discuss my role around CPA, but we ended up going down another path altogether.
He told me that he remembers exactly where he was when Biafra announced its independence. Okey was a little boy at boarding school in Biafra, and the principal--a Scottish-born Roman Catholic priest--told the students they could take the rest of the day off in celebration.
What followed couldn't have been worse.
War broke out.
This is what Wikipedia says: "Over the two and half years of the war, there were about 100,000 overall military casualties while between 500,000 and two million Biafran civilians died from starvation."
Okey was in the middle of it.
And while his parents and brothers and sisters survived, he knew scores of people who didn't make it.
I told him I remember growing up in Sudbury and filling specially designed donation cards with dimes that were then sent to the starving kids in Biafra.
That's right. The starving babies we saw on our screens could well have been somebody Okey knew or was even related to.
Happy doesn't come close to how I feel about the fact that little Okey grew up and moved to Canada to study and wound up working as a writer in Toronto.
And on Tuesday, when I mentioned the little dime-holding cards, he said "thank you," he wasn't joking, and it touched my heart.
I should also mention that he bought lunch. We ate at a chi-chi Irish-style pub called Fionn MacCool's, the type of joint that's always packed with fit and good-looking yuppies where a burger will set you back $20. It was probably one of the most memorable meals I've ever had in my life, never mind that I have no idea what I actually ate.
Today it's Thursday and I dropped into the CPA office.
Okey greeted me and asked how I was doing and I told him that I'm okay except that I remain mystified.
|SATURDAY AFTERNOONS: I think mine were spent different from Okey's.
I'm mystified: Why, I ask, was I chosen to be born in the most prosperous time in human history in this, the most civilized spot on the globe, at this point in this time--the very acme of peace and harmony? I freaking live in a world where it takes seven seconds to Google the word "acme" to find out if I used it correctly. Turns out I did. But I also remember seeing it in Saturday afternoon Wile E. Coyote cartoons and thinking it was pronounced Asim. Just occurred to me. I must ask Okey if he spent a lot of Saturday afternoons in the '60s slouched in front of a TV set. I think I know the answer. But I digress.
Okey responded to my question with "I know! I know! We are living in at time of unprecedented comfort."
He and I started listing all those things from the good old days and other parts of the world that my generation in the West has managed to escape, starting with, oh, you know, starvation. And war.
Me: "I own not one but two brown leather jackets."
Him: "I know. I have so many toys I don't have enough time to play with them."
Me: "Deodorant! We have soap and shoes with form-fitting insoles."
Me: "Last year, I read a book about what life was like in castles. It stank."
Him: "Yes, even for the aristocracy. They didn't have toilet paper. They had, like, wet--what do you call it--corn husks."
Me: But not in quotes. Just here. At the end of my blog: I have nothing to bellyache about.
Especially when I have guys like Okey around to remind me.