Reflections On Brotherly Love

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - GUARDIAN ARTS -

(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 daugh­ters-in-law, three sons and a daugh­ter and six grand­chil­dren are ab­sent

PHOTO: FEMKE BAR­RETT

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