Reflections On Brotherly Love
(Erisohkwode), his brother Ejiro (Ejiroghene), their sister Obehi Amy, and the afore-mentioned Igoni (who with his wife Femke took charge of Rae’s comfort as soon as he landed in Lagos) told me volumes about their maturity and emotional responsibility that I, as a somewhat relaxed, not to say negligent, parent, had not taken note of before. By the time they took him on a tour of Lagos, Edo and Delta States to meet grandchildren, Rae was speaking like a veteran Nigerian visitor and showing a tolerant understanding of the daily trials that bedevil life in our great but complicated nation. By the time that they brought him to meet me in Abuja, he was as close to them and as solicitous of their own concerns as an uncle, who had known them from childhood would be.
As has often been the case at various points of my life in Nigeria, when my brother arrived here I was facing a difficult transitional period. We had no home of our own (having left our domicile in Bayelsa State 10 months earlier to relocate to Abuja with the support of my loyal and long-suffering wife and daughters), and I was threatened with not even being able to receive him in an appropriate manner. However, a miracle of opportunity occurred just a few days before he arrived in Abuja and this apprehensive anxiety was relieved. As my wife insists that I need not bare all the skeletons in my cupboard, I will not go into details about this wonderful incidental miracle, but let me say that my brother’s visit served not only to reveal the depth of family ties, but also unearthed remarkable revelations about some of the friendships that I have forged, as I have become a West African. My frater- nal relationship with the Ghanaian journalist, Ben Odei Asante, is of particular resonance in this wise. Without his deep and constant encouragement as I struggled to prepare for this important re-union, I might have been overwhelmed by disappointment. The fact that I had often joked that he had replaced Rae in my life took on the ring of truth. When Her Excellency, Ms. Ann Scott, Jamaican High Commissioner in Abuja, received Rae in her official residence even though she was travelling home to bury her mother on the night of the same day that he arrived, she set his visit to me off on a high note of respect and welcome. Then when Okello Oculi, the notable Ugandan writer and Pan Africanist, told Wole Olaoye, (a friend whose links to my younger days in broadcasting I had not remembered), about Rae’s visit, he opened his home to us for an impromptu get-together. It turned out to be a celebration of genuine friendship and respect for me that brought tears to my eyes because it was so unexpected.
The fact that, apart from siring a large and brilliantly adventurous family, the maintenance of deep friendships appears to be among the major achievements of my sojourn in West Africa must have struck Rae. I was able to seek assistance from another close and dear friend, Ad’óbe Obe, a very erudite professional colleague, who had been a top adviser to, and friend of, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. His farm outside of Abuja became the venue of a family picnic reminiscent of days that we spent as a family in Jamaica. In managing these outings, I think, I might have helped my brother to reconcile himself comfortably to doubts that he might have entertained about my separation from my family roots. If not, as he left Abuja, at least, I felt that he had fulfilled his expressed intention to get to know the Nigerian branch of the family, and that if I answered the home call without ever seeing Jamaica again, at least, my children and grandchildren would have a link that they can depend on with their blood roots in the island.
The success of this largely impromptu visit and the impression of family solidarity that it has generated give us hope for more exchanges across the void in the future. No matter what it takes, Rae’s effort must be duplicated by us. We need to think about visiting my homeland, and more of my relatives, especially my nieces and nephews, need to be encouraged to take the plunge and visit us as well. Indeed, I am looking forward to another visit from Rae, and at least, one of my three sisters not too far in the future, and this time I should be able to play a much more proactive support role in preparing for what I hope will be an even more substantial West African tour by representatives of the Caribbean Barretts. My brother has inspired me to think seriously about the meaning of our family being both Caribbean and West African in provenance. He has made me understand that I did not leave Jamaica behind but brought its spirit with me in the same way that I have always insisted that the African communities in the Caribbean have carried the soul of the continent within them over all the centuries that they have existed there.
That, for me, is what Brotherly Love is all about - I think!
The Barrett’s on a farm near Abuja - Lindsay is fourth from right with wife, Asamaere; Rae is sitting sixth from right with Evi (daughter of Ejiro) on his knee. All others pictured here are children and grandchildren of Lindsay, but three...