Mindfield Series: Mettle (Part Three)

Edentu D. Oroso is the head of Special Projects Group for Kakaaki Magazine, a magazine published in Nigeria delving into development journalism. He is a seasoned magazine columnist, biographer, motivational speaker, and poet. A former President of the Writers’ League Benue State University Makurdi, Edentu is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Benue State Chapter and its former Director of Welfare. His published works include the eBook Tears From A Rose, Wings of Freedom – a biography of Ralph Igbago; and The Alfa Sky, a biography of Air Marshall Ibrahim Mahmud Alfa, Nigeria’s longest serving Chief of Air Staff. He coauthored The Hidden Treasure a compendium of essays on former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and coedited Voice of the Earth, an anthology of poems. He has been featured in many poetry anthologies such Sentinel Online, Bridge for Birds, and Cerebra(lity).

Part One

Part Two

METTLE IS DEFINED BY ODDS CONFRONTED

Nature is a great teacher. Hidden in its complex mold are some of the greatest lessons of the human experience. Nature’s lessons do not cost much. Often times they are given almost for free. What is required of the learner is a keen spirit of observation. Then the ability and capacity to try out the apparent lessons observed in nature’s whim.

At barely twelve years old, I learned an important lesson. Nature was the teacher as well as the classroom. The lesson, however, was conveyed through an intermediary, which was my mother. I remember all too clearly those childhood memories at the fishing camp located on one of the vast beaches that sprawled along the Gbajimba village waterfront. Their import stirs the mind with the significance of the human will in the face of odds. They remind one of the truth that man’s mettle is defined by the odds he confronts.

Now the story. The first time it happened, it took me unawares. My mother and I had been regular in the fishing brooks and open waters of the River Benue, specifically, along the Gbajimba waterfront. In the swift river currents, swollen by the rains, we had fished so many times before with diverse expectations and catch. But on this particular night during a holiday in my last year in primary school, it was different.

We had set out with modest expectations early in the evening from our fishing camp on the beach across the river opposite the Kabawa camp on the eastern reaches of the river bank at Gbajimba village, Benue State, Nigeria. The weather was clement. A sprinkle of stars dazzled the night sky and the cadence of a subtle wind wooed the senses as if to say there was something spectacular about the night and its offerings.

My mother, who sat in front of the dug-out canoe, looked up into the night’s sky and said with a hint of enthusiasm as she rowed away, “The weather’s so calm and friendly tonight. I hope it turns out to be a good catch as well.”

My lukewarm response from the stern boat was, “I hope so”. Those flights of enthusiasm were recurrent decimals in her daily romance with nature. So it had little effect on me.

The downstream currents made the upward glide of our canoe a bit difficult. But we had to row all the same with a force of will, using long bamboo sticks at times to pull through the river bank to get to our destination, the point where our net was to be cast. We made it there as usual in spite of the strain. There were other fishermen and women, Ijaws and Jukuns, already on cue at the edge of the swollen river bank for their turn to cast their nets. We waited patiently for our turn as the night sped on.

Then the unexpected happened as our turn got near. Of a sudden, the azure sky became very dark like a thousand thick blankets pulled over our senses. A clap of thunder echoed through the silence of the night reverberating in the distance like an explosion of a hydrogen bomb, shuddering our canoe and those of other fishermen and women by the river bank. A fierce southwesterly wind howled, slapping our faces with its vehemence. The thunderclap, now accompanied by lightning, became persistent, breaking the dark veil of the night with its flashes of light. An awesome storm was in the making. The river currents began to bob to the sweeping wind, and soon took dimensions of huge waves as the first showers of rain poured down and pelted us like pebbles from the heavens.

“It’s going to be an interesting night of fishing!” Koloendi, my mother, said in our language.

“Did I hear you say an interesting night of fishing, Mama?” I probed naively. “How can anyone go fishing in this storm?”

She turned and stared at me through the blanket of darkness sensing my fear of the elements. She couldn’t make out my outline immediately, so used her torchlight to graze over my face momentarily.

“Take no notice of the storm,” she replied, almost on top of her voice for the splashing rain, wind and thunderclap had taken over completely. Nature’s fury was at its highest. “This is the best time to go fishing. Now, get ready. We are sailing out. We’ re riding the storm to a bumper catch!” she added confidently.

“No, Mama. We are not going out into those towering waves in this dug-out canoe,” I argued. “Not in this storm anyway. I suppose you don’t want us to drown out there?”

“My son, I mean well,” she said calmly. “This is the best part of our fishing expedition tonight. When there’s a storm, when the river currents are turbulent, that’s when all kinds of fish come out to play. That means a bumper catch for us!”

I almost didn’t believe her. Why would any fish find comfort in turbulent water or in a storm for that matter? I was scared of the prospects. Yet for the fact that my mother who was wiser in such matters had given her assurance of our safety and the possibility of a bumper catch, I gave in to her wish.

“Mama, I’m hoping that you would handle this well,” I said indifferently. “I’m not too comfortable with the storm. I’d rather suggest we wait for the storm to subside”.

“Don’t you worry! All will be fine!” she assured me. “Now, look at it this way. We have the choice to wait here by the river bank till the storm is over. We also have the choice to plunge headlong into the storm and turn the situation to our advantage. Between the two options, I’d rather go for the latter option.”

This theory didn’t seem to cotton with me. “Mama, why?” I asked naively.

“Because if we wait by the river bank, we will still be drenched by the scud-like rain, the wind too will continue to slap our faces, and the waves will continue to bang our canoe against the river bank. In essence, it is still the same risk as going all out into the storm. But if we do take the plunge, we stand to profit from it because we are sure of a bumper catch. Which do you prefer between the choices?”

“The latter I guess,” I said.

“Now, let’s set out! But be careful to steer the canoe away from the crest of the waves; always place the canoe in the troughs, that is, in-between the crests of the waves. That way, we are assured of safety. Keep your calm and focus. Are you ready?”

“Yes, I am,” I called back loudly.

“Ok. Here we go!”

So we pulled out of anchor at the river bank and embraced the storm, the waves rising threateningly and the wind howling and blinding us in its fury. Yet we were undaunted as we rowed on, taking the waves in-between troughs as they came in turn.

Once we had edged a little distance away from the river bank, my mother told me to reverse the canoe as swiftly as possible in such a way that the front of the canoe, the prow, will now face the direction of the river bank where we had left, while my end, the stern, will face where we were headed. This was quite a dangerous move in the violent storm. It had to be done with precision on the crest of a wave, and in a matter of seconds, else the canoe would be imperiled by the onrushing waves. However, I did the manoeuver successfully. Once that was done, she began to cast the net in the darkness aided only by a miniature torchlight she held between her jaws. Meanwhile, the thunderstorm raged on.

Few minutes into the bargain, the net was fully cast. In less than twenty-five minutes afterward, we were at the point of retrieving our net due to the swift downstream currents. The catch was bumper just as my mother had envisaged. In fact, it was the best catch I had seen in a long while. Different species of fish got caught in our net. Some were fairly large, some were of medium size, and some had to be hit with a wooden wedge to silence their thrashing and writhing in the bowel of the canoe.

Perhaps, as my mother had hinted, they were out to play in the turbulent currents and got caught in the process. I was overly happy with the outcome of our fishing expedition that particular night in spite of the odds. We went through the rigorous motions of rowing our canoe against the storm and casting our net more than six times before the early hours of the morning when the storm subsided. By daybreak, we had a canoe nearly filled with assorted fish.

That was the first among so many fishing expeditions of similar hue. Subsequently, I knew unreservedly each time we went fishing and there was a thunderstorm, that we would ultimately ride on its crest and make the most of it because that was the time nature was astir in the depths and all kinds of fish were in their elements.

The import of nature’s lesson, however, did not register fully in my consciousness until a little over two decades later when I was privileged to attend a fish farming seminar in Abuja under the auspices of Premium Resource Network.

In the seminar, we were exposed to various fish farming techniques as obtained in the contemporary. But the one that caught my attention most was the process of aeration in a fish pond. In layman terms, aeration is a process whereby the water level and freshness of a fish pond is maintained through an inlet and outlet. In the construction of either a concrete pond or earthen pond, consideration is given to the inlet pipes which carry water to fill the pond. An inlet pipe, which should be about 15cm above the water level in the pond, not only supplies fresh water but serves to aerate it, thus, availing needed oxygen to the fish in the pond. The outlet pipes allow for water holding and easy drainage of the pond.

Now, how does this relate to nature’s storm, the kind that my mother and I experienced in our fishing sprees? The waves stirred by the fierce wind are a natural way of aerating the water currents or depths. An abundance of oxygen is supplied by the turbulence of the river as seen in the waves or bobbing water. This becomes a perfect playground for all kinds of fish. The implication is that they are at their best when a river is turbulent and life’s essence, oxygen, is in abundant supply. A great lesson!

As I tried to place side by side my experience of nature’s ways at the fishing expedition and that of the fish farming seminar, my mother’s words by the banks of river Benue in Gbajimba village many years ago re-echoed: “When there’s a storm, when the river currents are turbulent, that’s when all kinds of fish come out to play. That means a bumper harvest for us!”

It can be inferred from this that the best part of our lives is almost always hidden in the storms of life. The storms would always be there to test our will. How we perceive and react to them will determine how we ride their crests to victory or how we become consumed by their rage.

I learned quite early in life not to be afraid of the storms of life, but to embrace them with confidence and a sense of purpose. Ordinarily, fishing in a rainstorm, a violent one at that, is nigh impossible. But wizened by the ways of nature, my mother, and other fishermen and women, knew that the only way to conquer a storm is by risking a ride in it. She taught me that storms are profitable if we learn to banish the fears that arise out of their unpredictability. While others perhaps were indoors, frightened by the howling storm, or scud-like rain, we went out riding the storm in our canoe and caught as many fish as we could possibly dream of catching even inclement weather.

I learned also that between each successive wave, there is a trough. In positioning our canoe in-between the crests of the waves, we were assured of safety in the rainstorm. In physical terms, storms are the circumstances or violent waves we face in life. In every circumstance, there is a window of opportunity – a trough, a moment of respite. Once you can locate that trough or window of opportunity, you can safely ride the crest of the next wave. All that is required of you is to position yourself in the trough in such a way that it takes you to the crest of the succeeding wave without endangering your boat of life.

Looking back now, my perception of the rainstorm during our fishing expedition was of great danger whereas my mother saw in it an opportunity to showcase her mastery of the elements. She rode on the storm instead to achieve her aim, which was a bumper catch of fish, not minding the risk involved.

Our circumstance by the river bank suggested insurmountable odds. Most of our situations in life suggest this. But we were willing at that time in point to take calculated risks by venturing out into the turbulent water when common sense said we shouldn’t. This means circumstance is a figment of our imagination. It can only demean you and make a mockery of your will by virtue of the sheer force you accord it. The truth is your world comes alive in the midst of a storm. The storms or circumstances of life are nothing other than the aeration you need to be the very best you can ever be in the oceans of life.

There are all kinds of storms in life though. Whether it’s a financial storm, an intellectual storm, a matrimonial storm, a spiritual storm, a political storm, or a storm of friendship, it remains but the circumstance that can be surmounted. See that circumstance as beautiful clay in our hands. You reserve the right to throw the clay away. You also have the right to stare at it daily without doing anything positive about it. But most of all, it is your responsibility to turn that clay into something of rare value. This takes ingenuity of mind, guts, and calculated risks. Once your mind is set on this path, then you have taken the right steps towards going beyond your circumstance.

The lesson nature taught me the courtesy of my mother was never to allow my circumstance, which are the storms of life, define my destination. I should rather let my destination define my situation. This is in cognizance of the fact that man’s mettle is defined by the odds he confronts. Odds, therefore, are the elixir of life.         

A Voice from Nigeria

A modern poem sent to us by Laju Ereyitomi Oyewoli, in the style of a traditional praise of one’s own clan. The Itsekiri people live in Nigeria’s Niger Delta area and traditionally refer to their land as the Kingdom of Iwerre. The area is a key centre of Nigeria’s crude oil and natural gas production.

Iwere ni mi
For I belong to the powerful bloodline
Of the proud Iginua
Whose haughtiness sent him out of Benin
Down to Ode Itsekiri
That we may reside in the richness and splendorous wealth of our pride

Iwere ni mi
For I belong to the historic people of itsekiri
Whose powerful Olus define the history of times
In their heroic deeds

For Omi Iwere ni mi
A people whose greatness has always Shine brighter
Among the sands of time

by Laju Ereyitomi Oyewoli