Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away - Christie Watson

After finishing the book, I first read the biographical summary of Christi Watson, since I sensed a slight difference in approach from the other African authors.

It dawned on me why I enjoyed the humor in the book so much. It reminded me of what Alexander Fuller said inCocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness about being English: "In this way, the English part of our identity registers as a void, something lacking that manifests in inherited, stereotypical characteristics: an allergy to sentimentality, a casual ease with profanity, a horror of bad manners, a deep mistrust of humorlessness."

It is present in most British authors I have read, regardless of the seriousness of situations or events, and I love it! It was a delightful addition to this narrative and correspond with the kind of attitude one finds in Africa. It also explains why people can endure so much and survive it all. Laughter is really the essence of survival.

If you are serious about pollution disasters in the world, you have probably read more about events such as the fracking issues in Pavillion, Wyoming, where Louis Meeks asked 'What happened to my water?" and blew the lid on the disastrous consequences of frack-mining that started a huge international protest; or why the cats started to dance in the streets of Minamate(Japan) where an entire community was poisoned with mercury and killed over a period of thirty years; or the aftermath of Chernobyl(Russia), or the tragic story of Hinckley, California which made Erin Brockovich famous.Tiny Sunbirds Far Away will give you a clear example of the devestating effects of oil pollution in Africa on many community's lives. But compared to the serious journalistic reports on similar issues, Christi Watson has written a 'light read' in comparison, thanks to the sense of humor she applies to ordinary people's day-to-day lives.

These different events also offer a conceptually clear and affectively powerful example of the concentration of elements in food chains, the sometimes unexpected interconnectedness of humans and their environment, and the complex interactions of biology and culture. In short, it is a paradigm for teaching ecology and science-society issues.

This is the background of Blessing and her family's story, but without the superior ultra-impressive scientific jargon! 

Actually, her story puts the dots where they belong in a simple, eloquent way. Reading books like "Tiny Sunbirds Far Away"the reader will discover the humor, happiness, intelligence and perseverance of a continent's people under siege by the corrupted government officials, the 'freedom fighters' and the Sibeya Boys.

It is a triangle of interest groups battling each other in Nigeria with the ordinary people somewhere in the scramble. The book explain the complete situation. I would not call it a chic-lit book per se since it is about more serious issues. The tone of the book is light, gentle, dignified.

Blessing is a perfect character to use as protagonist. From the Better Life Executive Homes of Lagos, to a poor village near Warri in the Niger Delta was a culture shock for 12-year-old Blessing and her 14-year-old brother Ezikiel after her mom found her dad lying on top of another woman.

When Blessing first arrived from Lagos, her grandmother introduced Blessing to her new life by saying: "We must row in whatever boat we find ourselves" 

Blessing would attempt the new boat, new destiny, nosing her way in. Yes, even smells draw the line between prosperity, laced with luxury in Lagos on the one hand, and poverty, hardship and chores in Warri on the other. "The air was sweeter inside the house, and bitter at the same time... It confused my nose and took me a long time to stop sniffing." 

When their Lagos driver Zafi was sent away by Alhaji, the young Blessing's Lagos life finally concluded. Her last memory would be particular smells: "He walked away, the driver with no car, like a tortoise with no shell. Zafi took with him the smell of Lagos, of crispy suya, and frangipani flowers."

They will soon have other people in their lives which will play a vital role in her development into a young woman. 

Her grandfather, Alhaji - the village chief who converted from Christianity to Islam; the qualified unemployed engineer who cannot find work at the oil companies; he loved work: yes he could watch it for hours while he made sure the women in his household earned enough for him to uphold his standing in the community! He regarded Marmite as the wonder cure for everything from allergies and skin ailments, to a nutritional wonder supplement and a 'doepa' against serious illnesses."Nigerians do not have allergies" he asserted when he learns about Ezikiel's nutoil allergies and his shaking, wheezing asthma. He was convinced the boy could be cured, like everything else on Allah's earth, with Marmite. He controlled his own fears by rubbing Marmite on his forehead.

Blessing's grandmother will ultimately become her role model with her wisdom, stories and skills. She taught Blessing to become a midwife.

Then there is 22-year-old Celestine, her grandfather's second wife who will become important in Blessing's life. Celestine went to a 'fat house' to be prepared for her wedding by being fed until the fat rattled several seconds when her bottom was slapped. Her breasts were so enormous, it could slap anybody unconscious who surprised her. When she was pushed, her body went one way and her boobs the other. 

Some Nigerian tribes' men, such as Alhaji's, preferred well-roundend women. Grandmother herself was a mountain in her own right. Alhaji needed a second wife to produce a son to him. He desperately needed the offspring to ensure his standing in the community. Twenty-two-year-old Celestine, with her patchy face from whitening cream and her orange-bleached weave, the same color as the Jesus Loves You sticker on the car, complied boisterously with loud laughter, screaming, grunting, and high-pitched clucking noises when Alijah visited her during several consecutive nights. 

Alhaji was not a big man, and he was old, but he sure had guts.
Blessings and Ezikiel had to sing all the Itsekiri songs they have ever learnt in school to grandma on the veranda, and very loudly so, to drown out Celestine's commitment to Operation Offspring every night.

Her crazy spending of the limited family funds, leads to Grandma finding her a job as the official Town Mourner, with often hilarious results.

The story is multi-layered: funny, serious, sad, happy. There is lots of excitement, drama, sometimes suspense. It is a lesson in the importance of family and a confirmation to the African expression 'it takes a village to raise a child'.

I was not impressed with the ending dragging out over a few short chapters at the end, but it was necessary to complete each layer of the narrative.

I will certainly read this kind of book again. I felt immensely happy when it was finished. Happy as in feeling good about life and Africa and how the people deal with the daily challenges, however dire.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/616691897