Chidi my Help, and the danger of a single narrative

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I find myself easily drawn to Chimamanda Adichie’s speeches, with far much more devotion than to her written works.  

My favourite of her speeches remains what I consider an all-time classic, “The danger of a single story”. In giving this speech, Chimamanda explores the rather incomplete perception we hold of people, often based on a skewed exposure or interaction with them, rather than a more holistic relationship which reveals who they really are, or what they really are about.

My first conscious experience of this was with Chidi.

I had met Chidi through a referral from a friend. With my CRAZY work lifestyle at the time, I required the services of what we call a ‘house-help’, to help out at the home front.

(Lol… I miss that Nigerian life. Try it in obodo-oyinbo, and know whether you will not be on the streets homeless from debt)

Chidi would clean my apartment, wash my clothes, iron my clothes, wash my car, and even get me my weekly groceries from the market. All I did was work, and study, and work.

And pay his monthly remuneration.

I was hardly around when he cleaned, and came to trust him enough to leave my key for him. But the few days I was around, he would dutifully do all his duties while I worked at home, chanting “Aunty” every time he needed my attention for something.

Chidi always called me Aunty. (*rolls eyes*)

I knew he knew he was light-years older than me, and did not subject him to any evil like those wicked stepmothers in Patience Ozokwor style movies. Initially, I warned him to stop, but he just kept on with the selective amnesia, till I got tired.

(Maybe this was God’s way of recompensing me, considering I am the last of my parents’ offsprings, and never had anyone to call me Aunty) 😁

On some Saturdays that I did not go to the office, I would have small talk with him here and there while he cleaned. One of those days, he let me know that his wife had finally delivered a baby girl, and invited me to the baby dedication the next Sunday.

I was engrossed in typing on my laptop, and did not appear to be visibly interested. But I asked him to drop the mini-invitation on my television counter, and made up my mind within me to surprise him by attending.

So on the Sunday of the next week, I attended the first service in my church, and drove 80km to the address Chidi had provided as his home.

As the GPS indicated that I was close to my destination, I began to notice a large number of cars packed along the street, up to the gate of the house number. I found a place to park my car, and went up to the gate to ask for Chidi. But no one I asked seemed to know him.

I had almost given up hope and was about leaving, before I thought to ask the last person if they knew of someone whose wife just gave birth to a baby girl, after twelve years and five male children.

Ahhhh! Igweee!!” he exclaimed.

Quickly, he ushered me into the house, and I saw the compound filled with lots of people under canopies, with a disc-jockey blasting Nigerian-pop music in the corner. I eventually saw Chidi – or Igwe – swarmed by a sea of people.

When he saw me, he beamed in a million smiles, and brought the new-born child over to where I sat, along with his wife who knelt and she hugged me.

Aunty… I did not know you will make it o! Welcome. I rigo ihe obula? (Have you eaten anything?)

Before I could respond, he was barking orders to some of the people around, who were all genuflecting and chanting “Yes Sir!” left, right and centre. He visibly commanded respect in the area, and no one referred to him as Chidi. He was Igwe – translated in Igbo as ‘king’.

Quickly, isiewu and fried-rice with roasted chicken appeared from nowhere, along with bottles of red wine. And when I explained that I was a teetotaler, fruit juice quickly replaced it. Mounds of akpu with ofe-owerri followed next (Holy chicken-feed!). 

Anyone who would have tried to prevent me from descending on the Lord’s table laid before for me that day, I would have met with a:

So I sat down, enjoyed my feast, and when I was leaving, a cooler of food was packed in my trunk. Chidi promised to bring more goodies when he came to clean my home during the week.

I got home, and sat for a while in my car. Sober.

This same Chidi who washed my car and ironed my clothes, who called me Aunty everywhere, was a force to reckon with in his community. He had a following of his own – his own clout, and was an influencer of sorts in his own right.

I had discovered that day, that Chidi the Help - whom I had hitherto just seen through the lens of a cleaner - was also ‘Igwe’ the community leader. And father, uncle, big brother, mini-King, somebody’s role-model, and perhaps, mentor also.

That was when the danger of a single narrative really hit home. 

I have since learnt to not just size people up based on the one-sided interaction we may have with them, or the knowledge we (think we) have of them.

For example, that a young NYSC person is more or less the office 'coffee-girl' does not erase the fact that she could also simultaneously be a social media influencer. Or even the world’s best mother. 

You would be surprised at the life experiences she has had, and the wealth of knowledge she may possess, outside all things Coffee.

And that old man, who always sits by your favourite corner-café in the evenings, shining shoes… “old man” or “shoe-shiner” is not all that there is to him. You would be surprised at the other interesting narratives which make up his life.

But we are often guilty of summing people up, and looking down on (or up to) them, based on the controlled circumstances in which we meet  or interact with them. We are guilty of this, even on a global level.

After all, Africa is often pictured in thatch-roof huts, hungry round-bellied children, and roaming tigers. So that immigrants to the West from that continent often have to go the extra-mile to prove that (western) education and work experience in their chosen fields is no rocket-science to them, contrary to the single narrative espoused by popular media, of how backward all things African are.

(But that is discourse for another day)

That a person is a certain way in given circumstances does not guarantee that s/he is that way in all facets of her/his life.  

If we open our minds (and experiences) to the possibility of multiple and/or alternative narratives of the people around us, we will be pleasantly surprised by how much we stand to learn and gain from one another.  

Thus, if you remember nothing else, always remember that there is bound to be a certain danger in summing up another human, based on a single experience, interaction, or given narrative.

There is much more to everyone.



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1. Ban-Yido on

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  1. Nice piece. Words fail me. Keep this coming.

  2. Hahaahahahaa... But... I'd wish to know how Igwe managed to pull those stunts!

    1. Igwe is a HUSTLER!! Apparently, he does a lot of odd jobs here and there. As at when I left, he was cleaning for four other of my friends too, barging, selling stuff. He's a very industrious human.

  3. To think that I met Chidi too...
    Hmmm I have just learnt very strong life lessons from this story.
    Thanks so much maami

  4. Oh gosh, I learnt a lot from this. There am I, always looking for a new post of yours. Thank you for this inspiring and well-articulated write-up Meg.

    1. My pleasure! And thank YOU for following our posts.

  5. This is really good... Thank you

  6. Never look down on anybody is what I learnt from this. But the way you described the food is making me hungry right now.