Many years ago, when I was growing up in the very divided central city of Jos in Nigeria, I was rushing to catch the early morning bus to the university one day when I encountered an experience that was to transform my, then, very narrow perspective about life. Jos is located right in the middle of a predominantly Muslim north, and the predominantly Christian south of Nigeria. This was at a time when the conflicts between the christians and muslims was at its peak, everyone walked around the city in fear of the next impromptu attack, many harbouring deeply-seeded fears and thinly concealed hatred and dislike for members of opposing religions. Stepping into the bus that morning, the conductor (a name we fondly call the man seated by the bus entrance who collects the transport fares from passengers) who from his looks, language and accent, I could instantly tell was a muslim, soon got into a heated exchange with me over the rate he was charging to my location as compared to other buses. It all ended in him calling me very derogatory term used to describe a female dog.
In my pain, anger and humiliation all the thoughts that ran through my head pointed to the fact that this misogynistic islamist only spoke to me that way because I’m a female and a member of a different religious affiliation to his, I wondered what the world needed from such a bitter and horrific human.
Just as the trip was about to end, an old, equally christian Kaka (old lady) seated at the back from me was going to drop off just before the traffic light. As the bus came to a halt I heard this new found mortal enemy of mine in [the] person of the conductor, offering to assist her in crossing to the other side of the street with her quite bulky luggage. The bus driver’s objection fell on deaf ears as the conductor gently assisted her down, swooped the two big bags off from her and made way across the street.
He was back in no time and the ride continued uneventfully. I was stunned. I couldn’t quite understand how such a level of kindness could emanate from the same human being, the one who I had already made multiple assertions in my mind towards. That singular event for me started to shatter the societal walls that we had all been indirectly spurred to build when we see people for the first time, we place them in labelled boxes and whatever we get from them or see in them is explained by the labels. He is this tribe, she is this religion, they are that race, I am this gender… It’s goes on and on. This prevents us from seeing beyond these superficialities and into the deeper and mostly awesome realities that lie beneath, it shields us from considering that everyone has got a story, and that perhaps maybe if we walked in the path they’ve walked, we would understand why they are acting the way they do. And rather than feel hatred and repulsion towards them we would feel empathy and even love towards all mankind, and consider ways to create change even in our small spheres at whatever capacity we can.
Everyone we see on the street is a walking volume of stories. Stories that form and mould the individual into who they are. If we understand that, we’ll appreciate more, love more, tolerate more and give more.
There’s good in everyone.
by Fatimah Oriola