Stream of Conscious Conscience

[written in Enugu, Nigeria, while living there as a full-time volunteer]

Selfless and brave I am an inspiration they tell me as if what I do and who I am will actually matter to Nigeria and although I have come with the intention of service it’s really just a pretense because what will be accomplished and who can I affect in such a way that I will have an effect is a question with an answer that humbles me so deeply that I know I do not deserve those medals of honor my loved ones try to bestow on me so I just want to shirk the compliments I have not earned because there is work to do in the meantime so much work that I become dizzy merely thinking about it so I tell myself to at least start with the small things like learning how to use the pencil sharpeners the kids use at school because last time I was unsuccessful chiseling away the fine flakes of wood to reach lead because I was unaccustomed to using that small blade for sharpening pencils I had always thought they were made of brightly colored plastic and even that tiny and seemingly minor difference that I could put in my pocket or even carry in the palm of my hand reveals that life in Nigeria is hard like my friend here called Valentine told me during our first conversation and although I am sure he doesn’t know the man whose sad story I heard recently I wonder how common of a tale it is here so maybe he knows someone whose story is at least like it because it could be anyone’s story I guess but I really truly hope not because the man has a wife and three small children and he’s a stubborn man very proud I think so much so that his extended family thinks he will do something rash if he ever learns the truth they all know about him which is that he is HIV-positive a disease he probably contracted at the barber’s because there they only use spirits to clean off the blade which makes me wonder actually if barbers shave faces the way students sharpen pencils but the point is that after months the family still has not told this man his own truth because they fear what he will do they wonder if he will just drop dead that very day the way a woman they all knew did when she learned of her status so this HIV-positive man might unknowingly infect his wife if he hasn’t already and though the family realizes their silence risks his wife getting sick too they stay quiet because they think she would leave him if she knew but maybe she wouldn’t and in any case what about those three small children who could be without parents in a matter of months orphans not at the hands of HIV and AIDS but at the hands of ignorance and fear and the thought of the lives soon to shatter of these children cause me to open my mouth to offer assistance until I heard no words coming out so I shut it and cursed myself for the things I could not do and worse the things I would not do and all these undone things reminded me that despite being in Nigeria which is weak with rampant poverty but somehow robust with prevailing spirit I still have so much more than the people who this land belongs to who call Nigeria their country and home an ownership that gives no favor just adds burdens and instead I get the favor so while they persistently hunger I am offered second or even third helpings at dinner and they stare at walls of mud or maybe clay but I have painted walls and windows I have the option of looking and going and I can easily afford the overpriced fee the seamstress charged me when she saw that I am white which on the one hand is obviously not fair but on the other hand it might be the only way to even resemble fair because it is surely not fair that I was born with enough health and wealth to wake up every morning planning only my next work out while too many Nigerians wake up without even considering where and when they will next eat because first they would need to know how they can make that happen but in I stride to this place anyway, naïve to a dangerous degree until the perverse profoundness of the suffering Nigerians nobly bear strikes me in a moment not artistic and not invoking of awe but just plain honest and I know that the selfless and brave ones are them not me that it is they who are the inspiration.


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