[written in Enugu, Nigeria, while living there as a full-time volunteer]
Things fall apart. The title of a novel by Chinua Achebe, yes, but also one of life’s truest stories. I met a man today who has dedicated his life to depicting hundreds of versions of these stories, an artist who has emerged from seven years in a Nigerian forest and now largely keeps to himself as he creates haunting carvings out of the trunks of trees. His home is his studio is his world—his “mad world,” as he describes it—and he lives amongst the wooden statues he calls his “stupid babies,” which, despite being inanimate, tell profound and terrible tales. So exquisitely does he capture the agony of the human condition that the silence of these statues seems unnatural, and thus all the more troubling. I thought of their sighs and cries remaining forever unheard and shuddered: the same holds true for so many of the people these statues represent. The artist spoke on behalf of some of this suffering, but his comments always seemed truncated—
“The politician here has no right hand; he cannot hold the masses who elected him to power. Politicians never finish what they start, so I will never finish this.”
“These soldiers fight with no bombs, no guns, but they are in the worst kind of combat: economical warfare.”
“Notebooks, pencils, and textbooks—the foundations of learning—have devolved into machetes, guns, and axes. These are the things we now see as sources as power, modes of communication.”
—his brief explanations hanging in the air like loose threads of an incomplete conversation. With every piece of his artwork (and subsequently, example of social injustice) that I encountered, I yearned to gather a few more of these threads. Maybe if I accumulated enough of them, I could begin to patchwork together what has been broken. Maybe I could help to make a difference as the artist has. After all, from what has fallen apart, he has made art: art not pleasing, yet art very precious. His artwork is not beautiful, but how could it be? He has carved with intricate and striking detail the viciousness of society and its political, economical and social violence. There is nothing beautiful about the atrocities his work illustrates, though there is something highly valuable about it, as it invokes what might otherwise be forgotten or overlooked.
T h i n g s
f a ll
a p a r t.
Sometimes naturally and sometimes forcibly—a-part here, a-part there—and sometimes irrevocably. And sometimes when things fall apart, we forget that we are a part; we are a part of what makes this world whole. We are a part of its brokenness just as we are a part of its beauty. When things fall apart, we do, too. But mercifully, god is also a part—god, in fact, is every part—such that with god, broken does not mean abandoned. On the contrary, broken means bound: ogbajuru doro. When things fall apart, god is with us.