Smoking Weed & Sipping Hennessy: THE CHILD ON ITS MOTHER’S BACK

Some years ago, a boy was marking his 5th birthday and he invited the children from both his school and the church. One of those who received the invitation was the son of an indigent widow, who survived on selling firewood. Ordinarily, the widow’s son would never have been invited to the party, given their status, but because they attended the same church as the child who was to celebrate his birthday, it would have been most unseemly not to invite him. On the appointed day, the mother could not raise the transport fares to take herself and the 4 year old boy to the party. But, because the boy was so looking forward to the party, and hadn’t been able to talk of anything, other than the party for days before the event, the woman knew she could not afford for the boy not to go, so she took the boy on her back, and proceeded to trek the distance to the venue, all of 15km.

By the time they got there, the party was far gone, and most of the souvenirs had been shared. They did get some food to eat, and a few souvenirs though. The boy was very cross with the mother and said a number of unsavoury things to her. The woman stoically bore it all, without a word, as they proceeded on the return journey. This time however, she allowed the boy to trek, since there was no hurry. About halfway home, the boy started complaining that he was tired and the journey was too far. Then the mother told him: Now you are trekking the distance, you have an idea of why it took us so long to get there.

In Igbo, they say: “Nwata nne ya kwo na azu, amaghi na uzo eteka”. The child on its mother’s back does not know that the road is far. How often do you disparage the efforts of others, when you are not in their shoes?

Do you value the input of people, no matter how seemingly inconsequential they are? If you don’t you are no different from the baby on its mother’s back. You do not know that the journey is far, and so its easy for you to condemn what may have taken all of some people’s efforts to get done. Sometime in 1994, as a trainee environmental scientist, my MD had travelled, along with his immediate assistant, who I met in the organization.

While away, there was a call for an urgent report to be done. I could have let things stand until they returned from the trip, but, being my adventurous self, and brimming with self confidence (the type they impart in you if you attend University of Ibadan), I set out to work on the report,. At that time, the fastest computer we had available to work on was a 286 (Monochrome), and the word processing software was Wordperfect 5.1. I had to write longhand, get a secretary to type, proof the typing, sometimes having to sit at the system and work on typing myself, when the secretary was tired. Eventually, we finished the report after spending 5 nights in the office. My MD returned, and upon looking through the report, he said, among other things: “This is the most stupid report I have ever seen”.

I was devastated! I spent many a day reviewing that report, and honestly, there was nothing technically wrong with the report, except that because I was not so proficient with word processing softwares (fresh out of National Service, I did not have any prior exposure to computers) and so sometimes, I made reference to a table and then present the table 2 or 3 pages after mentioning it, when the table should have come immediately after. Some months after, I was away on a field trip, and so were other team members, so the MD was forced to work on the computer himself. He worked from morning to evening and could only finish about three very poorly formatted pages. Of course, I couldn’t tell him his own report was more stupid than mine (using his own yardstick), but I knew he realized then, how difficult it was to put reports together. So, while he had us on ground to do the donkey work, he could disparage our efforts, and call reports stupid, because, like the baby on its mother’s back, he did not know that the road was far. Years later, having moved to another firm, I worked with a much younger person, who would stay in the office with us till whatever time, punching away at his laptop almost as fast as I could. When he chooses to leave the office, he would drop by my office to say :well done”, and if he needed any corrections to be done to what I did, he would gently point it our, because he has walked the road before, and so knows that the journey is far.

We all need to acquire the habit of appreciating inputs, no matter how poor they are. Such appreciation is not only human, it also encourages the worker to do more. We must not be like the baby on its mother’s back.

We must acknowledge that the road is far.

Peace and love!

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I’m done, I’m gone, I’m ghost!

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