Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Eze Goes To School by Onuora Nzekwu & Michael Crowder (1966)

As a child I always loved reading. My dad always spoke about a book called Eze Goes To School and when I finally got a copy as a child, I was so excited. I read the book and absolutely loved it. It always remained on my mind.

I saw a tweet from Rio Ferdinand some time last year asking for books he could get for his children. I suggested Eze Goes To School. And it got me thinking; my dad was an adult and yet loved that book so much. Maybe I should read it again, through an adult’s eyes and see if I felt the same way.
I went to a bookshop and I must say I was disappointed that there was not a huge selection of the African titles I had read as a child and loved. 

In fact while I was at secondary school (FGC PH) I would sneak to the library and spend hours reading the African literature books there. I say sneak cos when you are in the in crowd, no one wants to see you at the library (LOL)

Reading the book I was amazed, as literally 50 years after that book was written, things have not changed much. In fact we can say they have gone slightly worse. 50 years! Some things stood out to me and if I try to write them in-depth, we probably would not have enough space. So I’ve decided to outline issues raised - then and now:

Poverty
The Adi family are relatively comfortable, they have all they need with Okonkwo Adi (Eze’s father0 a successful farmer and his mother assisting with small gardening and selling of products in the market. However all this changes after Eze’s father dies, and the family start to live in relative poverty.
It is inferred that Ulu is married off to a soldier, due to the poverty they were living in.

Lack of education
Eze’s father while illiterate knows about the importance of education. On the way to school for the first time, the women chide Eze’s mother for letting him go to school despite his father’s wishes.  That is a reflection of their illiteracy and ignorance. Amazingly in 2015, there are still a lot of people who are opposed to a formal education.  Some of these people have gone the extreme route to abduct and kill innocent children in schools to scare parents and discourage a western education.

Child marriage
Eze’s older sisterUlu is given out in marriage to a soldier who lives in Northern Nigeria. While Ulu’s age is not specified in this book, it is assumed she is a few years older than Eze. At the start of the book, Eze is 7 years old. Considering family planning was not exactly known in that time in the village of Ahia, it’s probable she may have been about 10 years old. At the time she gets married, it’s about 3 or 4 years after Eze starts school, putting her age at about 13 or 14. In Nigeria and certain other parts of Africa and Asia, children are still being forced into marriages. Sadly all over the world, children are still victims of child abuse by pedophiles.

Gender inequality
Gender inequality is shown in this book so many times.  Eze’s sister Ulu who is a few years older than him is never sent to school as she is “a girl”. The only girl in the school at Ama – Chinwe faces a lot of discrimination. She is only sent to school as her parents had been to the big city and had seen the benefits of an n educated child, especially as she was an only child. If Chinwe’s parents had a son, chances are Chinwe may not have had the privilege to be educated.

Even Okonkwo Adi, Eze’s father warns Eze to never be beaten in his schoolwork by a girl. Amazing thing is Eze did not seem to think of Chinwe as any different, until his father had that conversation with him.  It proves that children are indeed influenced by the words and actions of the adults around them. In the book, Eze’s mother is not ever called by her name. Unlike the other characters. Even Ulu is named. 

Eze’s mother not being addressed by name could be a reflection of the perceived insignificance of females in the era. However this could be a deliberate act by the authors, to highlight the turmoil she faces as a woman who is not listened to by her in-laws.  It could also be a writing style similar to that of the main character in Ayi Kwei Armah’s the Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, with the main character referred to as “The Man”.

Not much has changed in 60 years regarding gender equality. While there are some perks of being a woman, in Africa women still face exactly the same battles Eze’s mother, Chinwe and Ulu fight.

In-law interference
60 years ago, widows were victimized in Nigeria. Eze’s mother loses all her husband’s property after they were misused,wasted and seized by her in-laws. Despite her protests against the extravagance and worry for her children’s future, she was ignored, abused and ostracized by her husband’s brothers, except Old Chike.

Even when she had to seek their assistance to pay Eze’s fees, his family refused to offer any help. While some did it cos they truly did not care for education, some others like Iwe refused to help for selfish reasons.  Iwe had hoped his own son would be the first child to finish from school in the Ahia community and saw Eze as a threat to his ambition.

With the African tradition of the bride price being accepted on behalf of the family by the males only, Same Iwe had to stand in as the male figure in the Adi’s family when Ulu got married. Hence, he seized the entire amount received from Ulu’s husband which could have helped to alleviate the suffering of Eze and his mother.

In 2015, a lot of women still go through the in-law interference in marriages. In Nigeria, there are no laws protecting women from in-laws carting away property and money after the death of the husband. in fact, in-laws are known to cause problems in families with their intrusion, even when the husband is living. A poll I conducted on twitter a year ago concluded that 70% of marital problems in Nigeria are due to in-law interference.

Bullying
Eze Adi and his colleagues from Ama were bullied seriously when they arrived at the township school in Ama. They were regarded as “bush” by the township pupils. However regardless of where they came from, they would have been tested anyways. It has almost become acceptable that new children in school face some sort of discrimination and bullying when they start school. It happened in the 1950s and it is still happening now.
It is not acceptable and should be discouraged, Interestingly, Eze himself becomes a bully, as when he is back home from Mr. Okafor’s house, he bullies and beats up the children of his uncles whom he deems responsible for his suffering. Eze was a victim, as much as his little cousins were.

Child Slavery/Abuse
Eze had to work hard to assist with the payment for his school fees. Included selling oranges he had gathered in the market, setting traps for animals and eventually writing letters for illiterate villagers. Now back then it may not have been considered child abuse, but in 2015 it is considered a form of child abuse, especially when the child is so young and should be in school.

Eze was 8 years old when he began to work actively to pay his fees. In a traditional setting (then and now) because of lower risks, it may be allowed to stand. But in an urban setting with the fear of crime and violence against children, indeed it should be illegal. However children still hawk and work very hard to earn a living. I am all for children assisting their parents even at a young age, as long as they have adult supervision, but it’s very difficult to condone it when these children are left on their own.

Eze is sent to live with Mr Okafor, to help him in his home so Mr. Okafor can pay his fees. Mr. Okafor treats Eze as one of his children so it is fair and good. However not all children are as lucky as Eze these days. Children are still being sent to live with relatives and sometimes strangers due to poverty. A lot of these kids are not treated well and there are many cases reported almost daily of the abuse they suffer.

Reckless Driving
Eze suffers severe fractures and remains in hospital for 3 weeks after he is involved in an accident.  The driver was described as a reckless driver with no regard for traffic rules or the safety of his passengers, despite them cautioning him. Sadly, some passengers in that vehicle lost their lives in that accident.

2015, we still have a lot of reckless drivers who still have no respect for traffic safety and unfortunately lead people to early graves. Another accident due to reckless driving is mentioned in the Chinua Achebe book “Chike And The River”.

This book was written in the 1960s. This is 2015.Have things changed much?

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