“We are among those who could not get there – when the school bell was ringing” says an old woman picking up fire wood near a village school.
Her pain is in this quote. It is a lingo of regret. Her lack of opportunity to attend a school. It is not a joke or pantomime. A wise person does not reply to such comment or gestures. Simply allow a monologue as the old woman pours her heart and a “steer clear”. Do not in any way beautify what has eluded her. She knows her pain. It hangs in her heart but smokes all over. Perhaps, it might linger, if not forever. Uya is the nearest expression of this feeling!
Her agony is liken to a young man in the 1970s. He failed the school certificate examination four times. On his way to get some cash for a resit, his sponsor died!
There is a feeling that marks a difference between the old and new. The new is clearly found in a generation that dons brazenness as ear piece and prides in ossified characters and institutions. They chose to live in a mind cave. A cave sprouting everywhere, yet pilloried by some but daily glorified by many. Its builders are not bothered by an emergency that should force the door open for action.
But the ‘old woman who was not there when the bell was ringing’ knows the school opening bell. The bell that updates students to act promptly. She knows the bell at school announcing a change of lesson, break time, closing time and unusual bell students say is “Alarm Bell”.
“This bell is unceasing.The bell stands ears of all especially those who patronize trouble. The bell wakes up even the ‘dead’ anywhere in the school premises. The bell is clearly an emergency. When serious offence is committed by a student and immediate disciplinary action is to be taken, an alarm bell rings. The old woman says alarm bell local equivalent is a clarion call ekekekekeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
What a mastery adorned by time and experience!”
Mark the word “she says”.
What is the new alarm bell.
“The alarm bell is on the environment.”
It is not just the unprecedented ice breaking in the Poles, tsunamis in the Pacific, hurricanes, Idai cyclone, flooding, landslides in the Atlantic regions, unremitting cold temperatures in the north, snowing ice in the Sahara and extreme hot weather in the south.
It is the aforesaid lurking in our minds and beeping daily in imaginary cum physical encirclement. The mental hiccups come steadily, bitterly and deeply. Environmental ebbing is now a havoc. Yet, some victims are in a huge laughter. But you are sure this laughter is only a jeer at oneself, indeed, at self preservation!
The Environment! Whenever you say it is an issue only for intellectuals, reality makes it a staple for you!
It is a staple. Everybody knows about it- children, market women, artisans, all and sundry. If this is an assumption, it is not made too far. They all benefitted from free primary education in their days. Then, there were few private primary schools. Everybody attended the same village or town school.
Children were taught Nature studies – environment. Identification of insects, plants, animals, rivers, oceans and weather across the world. In those days a primary school pupil knew so much. The basic was known.
“We heard that pupils were taught that trees breathe as humans. When anybody enters a village or town, it is easy to recognize a school by trees planted in a row either as a demarcation or making of an apian.
All these people you call locals are supposed not to be local. Do you allow the word local to carry a derogatory tinge of know nothing? Trees and nature are known by all. Some locals simply failed to upgrade. Perhaps, it is a choice but do not confuse it with the rhetoric – they do not know anything about the environment.
The old women queries again. Do you say they never heard of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. They say men breathe oxygen. Trees take carbon-dioxide and gives out oxygen. Carbon monoxide is not good for the body. It is gas harming humans and nature. The damage is in installment.
“Local” these days is an irony. These men and women who consumed Nature Studies seem not to reflect basic knowledge of the subject anymore in their lives.
The meaning is seen in their environment. Hardly can you see trees planted around their homes. When Europeans came they love trees. They planted flowers, trees and live with them. This is noticeable where they lived. They also lumbered and decimated trees in our forest using Igedu timber trucks. Perhaps, this double dealing created a contradiction.
Anyway, what is the nature of the places they once lived? Do you still find a tree in every compound?
The ‘enlightened’ local is now a kind of local mixed with another kind of local. They seem not to know the basic again. Admixture of local that claim to know but show they don’t know. It is not the old woman’s words. The environment says so.
Interesting discovery but not new. The challenge subsists with same coinage. The grade A local in a part are averse to seeing trees grow in their compound because of superstitious belief of tress and shrubs being rendezvous for night activities of ‘wicked people’.
On the other hand the grade B local hardly think nature because other mundane things engage them. What you see is entire city without trees. When a storm starts from one end, without barrier it sweeps through leaving extensive damage in its trail. Why are there a thousand houses without a thousand trees? Is it not possible to have a thousand trees around a thousand houses to douse scorching heat wearing out our cities?
Where are the municipal agencies that should encourage locals to plant a tree? She says “they are there talking and “acting movies”. Often, their acting is simply a diversion. Otherwise how do you explain the absence of trees after all the noise and budgetary input- resources locally and internationally over the years?
Do not wait for any man to save you. Save yourself and other generation. Plant a tree in your homestead.
If municipal authorities are interested they can give tax incentive, persuasive but subtle pressure that can encourage the society to do something handsome.
Apart from the environmental benefits, trees at home can be a source of income. There are economic trees that could be carefully managed as gain. It is doable as it is in other places. A little thought and sustained action will change your landscape.
You and I may not be an environmentalist. We may never have heard of Green Peace, Green Party, All Green or kindred spirit. We could be a local, whichever grade you think. But like the old woman who had no opportunity to go to school, yet she knows so much, we have a duty. Do not simply know or claim not to know. Take action. That is where the difference lies. Not knowing and not doing is never a shield.
When the environment calls, denials of ongoing decay do not create a buffer zone!