Maldives has a way of sucking the living potential out of you. After 2 years of relative boredom I found myself professionally fat and lethargic with the fact that I was on top of my game. There we no more mountains to scale, no room left for my fins to splash around in this small pond of a country that had seductively hushed down my zesty pace of life and cradled me with a lullaby of comfort and nonchalance. My native friends around me were well past this stage. With their British, Australian and European double degrees and masters, here they were, on permanent vacation for the rest of their lives. We all had more than enough money, a rather tiny but nice place to live, a job that’s was almost a hobby and the wonderful choice of going for 15 minute rides round the island capital every evening in either a clockwise or anti- clockwise direction, just so that we didn’t get tired of the scenery.
The only ambition that could be deemed worthy of a fight for anyone blessed with a mouth connected to half a brain was to get votes simply because the government was hitting the snooze button on whatever alarms the country’s clock was struggling to sound. Yet, no matter what happened, it hardly evoked much emotion other than perhaps anger. Not many really talked about inspiration, vision, ambition or even romance for that matter, leave alone their future. Perhaps this had something to do with what appeared to me as how very transactional most of the people were. Just as every punch, paper ball or insult was equally and immediately returned in a classroom, all relationships one could have were solely based on mutual benefit in its most primitively transactional sense regardless of whether or not emotions were involved. As hard as this is to explain it was very evident and there was absolute minimum regard or enthusiasm for one’s job or career maybe unless one was the owner of the company that he/she worked in. Similarly, marriages were mostly short-lived, perhaps because they were hardly based on anything deeper than sex and/or money. Life was more about maintaining a desired level of satisfaction which was not difficult. Just like the sea all around us there were jobs in abundance, good looking potential partners flocking by and easy fixes to most problems in life. Life was a bed of roses made of tuna fish and tourists and we sure didn’t mind the smell.
Time drew near to my son Noah’s arrival. I for one did not picture myself trying to console a crying infant with the sight of construction workers and swarming motorbikes from atop our miniature balcony. I needed to see and feel the green that I fell in love with in my hometown ofKandy. I needed to know that a 15 minute car ride will not take me in a circle only to bring me back to where I started. More importantly, I needed to erase the ‘castaway’ feeling that made life depend on the tides rather than my actions. Little did I know that returning home had much more implications than I ever imagined.
It started with a high fever. Roshi called me when I was at work, thoroughly engrossed in the process of making grandiose plans to celebrate my return. It was when she told me that Noah was not moving in her womb that I realized this was pretty serious. With our regular doctor away on vacation, a sinister elderly stand-in doctor told us that he was “tempted to take the baby out” after glancing at Noah’s heart rate report for a split second. I was tempted to slap him across the face but settled for another half hour of monitoring which turned out normal as expected…After a sigh of relief, a hearty lump rice lunch and deep breaths of serene tobacco I return to the room only to find out that Roshi was taken to the operating theater for an emergency C section delivery…
In my early years as I remember, not much came out of me that was not regurgitated in some way. As a 5-year-old not much came out of me at all. My oversized head struggled to look proportionate to my body with pear-shaped knees grazing each other as I stood and rolled my eyes upwards as high as I could to try to communicate with adults without the slightest upward tilt of my head much like my way of saying that “I have nothing to say to you” since it was obviously a difficult stance to maintain. Perhaps Africa was not what my genes were prepared for. My parents were both the eldest and only members of their large families in rural Sri Lanka to get university degrees to be teachers of the English language and Nigeria was where the money was at the time and like a herd from a documentary on animal migrations, my family roamed the dusty country for 3 years to finally settle in Kano where I was born and where we stayed put until I was 9. The same could not be said about my schooling though. If my family migrated like a herd looking for food and water then I could be compared to the lost calf who kept following different herds of different animals in relation to the way I kept switching schools as I was reported to be unresponsive and in a state of suspended animation most of the time. Perhaps my glazed over look and rolled up eyes were responsible for this as I remember thinking I looked like Bruce Lee only when I peered down my nose and similarly I thought that I would invisible to them if I did not look up at them with my entire gargantuan head. Eventually I found myself pushed directly into Grade 2 of a school that had other expatriate kids which was a little comforting in a way as I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with me as I could not blend in with the wave of African faces with pearly white teeth glistening like incandescent light bulbs in the dark in the previous schools I had been to. I was by that time used to questions about why my skin was light and hair straight though. This fostered an early sense of awareness in me that was rekindled when we moved to the Maldives which was just an hour away from Sri Lanka yet worlds apart in more ways than Nigeria. Again I found myself slipping back to my blank non responsive state and not saying much in fear that I would be exposed as a foreigner. I did find myself relishing the fact that I could be mistaken for a Maldivian though, which was impossible in Nigeria for obvious reasons.. Over the 8 years we stayed there until I finished my A levels (or High School) and finally returned to my home country, I could speak, read and write their language to the equivalent of a 10-year-old local which was actually quite sufficient to effectively pass off as one of them by adopting every possible Maldivian mannerisms and strategically not saying much.
Today at 27, I find myself back in the Maldives with my two-year employment tenor as the branch head of multinational shipping company coming to an end and a lot of free time to reflect on my life gone by in what seems to be the calm before the storm as the direction of my career never seemed so vague and with my unborn son due to make an appearance in less than 2 months from now. Having developed a tendency to leave nothing to chance and a strong belief that life is what we make of it, it had recently dawned on me that there is very little I do to influence what happens in life but that I could influence how I perceived things and reacted accordingly. I needed to believe that it was own doing that had brought me to where I am and this did have its perks of having a sense of envisioned direction which was based on my ambition and the specific goals I had in becoming a manager and having an MBA along with financial stability, social status and the whole hierarchy of needs thinking. However, establishing my purpose in this world was something I had battled over in my head ever since the sudden death of my father when I was 16. As I listed the different things I wanted in life there seemed to no real purpose to life other than having an offspring of your own no matter which way you looked at it. This conclusion was not without my vehement arguments to the contrary as I always maintained that the main reasons behind having children was primarily for one’s own satisfaction and to serve one’s own selfish needs, I declared that if ever I had a child that he/she would be adopted for I refuse to bring another life into this world when there are so many variables and chances that I could not take with regard to the health of my child, his well-being, overall satisfaction with life and the possibility that he might ask me the one question that I have questioned my parents in my mind in my darkest hours in my teens; “why did you give me life?”. Bringing up a child in this world gave away an immense portion of the control I had over mine and it simply was not something I was prepared to give up. Instead I preferred to see that people wanted children of their own for the selfish reason that they were incapable of loving and caring for any child who was not of their own flesh and blood and that it was all about selfish pride of having a child who mirrored their parents achievements or characteristics so as to be immortal in some demented way. I saw the world as having enough and more people, enough and more suffering and that we as a race must cut down on reproduction since it was no longer an evolutionary requirement on which the survival human race depended on as it once did.
The change of mind and heart came with completion of my masters. Career no longer appealed to me as it became clear to me that in the end it was not the highest rung on the corporate ladder that I climbed to and it was not the amount of money I made but simply the happiness and the sense on contentment in my life that I had that really mattered the most. My material ambitions fell away like sand castles in the path of the salty foam of gentle waves on the beach and the egotistic need to be respected in lieu of what corporate position I had as opposed to the kind of person I was gradually faded to give me a warm sense of being in the hands of something bigger than me. With the positive pregnancy test and the subsequent anticipation of the gender of the baby I found myself helpless right from the beginning in terms of the control I had over any development of this life that I was now responsible for. It took me back to my father’s temperament towards my eldest brother and his first son’s development as a teen which was far from any image that my father had so badly wanted to emulate. His disappointment and frustration was linked to his inability to acknowledge the elusive fact that one’s offspring is not necessarily a reflection of one’s self and during the course of his adolescence he was shouted at, punished with branches of a variety of different trees that grew in our housing compound in Nigeria and was once hit with one the chairs of the dining table that smashed to pieces on his back like a breakaway chair we see in the movies. My father gave it his all to ensure his children had the education that he had to struggle for throughout his life. Perhaps his expectations far exceeded my brother’s natural abilities but closer to his passing he developed an aura of acceptance maybe over the regret of not realizing the error of his ways sooner. These memories emerged along with the many questions that emerged as I came to terms with embracing fatherhood and I did wonder whether I could really be prepared to acknowledge and accept my son for who he is and not who I want him to be.
The deeper my thoughts sink into the premise of being a father, the more I realize it is perhaps my own rebirth. These thoughts start to revolve around what I would have done differently, what circumstances I would have put myself through and what kind of parent I would have been to myself. In the end, would I have turned out differently or is a person defined by what he does in his life rather than who he is? Or is it merely a personal choice in how we define our lives by the closest way possible to feel content with ourselves?
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