civilized conversation

We’re back in civilization and I’m at a barbeque doing my best to be good company.

“So what’s your novel about?” the lady said, perfectly coiffed, delicately buffed and polished, foundation and eye liner applied with the touch of practice.

“It’s a thriller, set in the 1960’s in West Africa, Nigeria. Night Must Wait.”

A slight sneer, more than one expects on a lady’s lip and she said “But that’s so, well, you know, depressing. Africa, people don’t really want to read about Africa.”

I guess I should have said –you’re so right, I’d better go back and fix that.

“It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived,” I said instead. “Don’t worry, it isn’t all grim. I have a lot of humor in the story.”

“But Africa, Nigeria, why they’re stuck back in the fourteenth century.”

I lost some of what she was saying at this point, my ears buzzing with an uncomfortable vibration of rage and disbelief.

“A disaster, all those African countries. Tribalism, wouldn’t you say,” she continued. “They’ll never grow out of it.”

“Reminds me of the Republicans and Democrats,” I said, finally finding some words in my mouth again. “Tribalism, yes. Humans are like that.”

She felt we’d had enough, and turned away to buttonhole another conversationalist.

I always think of my best lines after the party. Why didn’t I say:

In the fourteenth century what was going on in Nigeria? Well, indeed, my lady. Back in the thirteen hundreds what were all of you and a half of my ancestors too, doing in Europe? What do you know of Nigeria’s Yoruba kingdoms, The Edo state kingdom of Benin? Don’t forget the Igbo Kingdom of Nri which began, we think, around 900 C.E., the Sokoto Caliphate of the North, the kingdoms of Nupe and the ancient Nok culture smelting iron on the Jos Plateau before 500B.C.E.?

And all this in a climate that made it hard to preserve any kind of written record, in a land full of disease and parasites that the Europeans never had to fight.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. I didn’t manage to do that history reminder, but it makes me quiet today. Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall. I cannot see my way clear to sneer at any of them. I think of Kipling’s warning in his poem ‘Recessional’ written for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

The tumult and the shouting dies—

The Captains and the Kings depart—

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget! ….



If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!


For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard—

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

And guarding calls not Thee to guard.

For frantic boast and foolish word,

Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!



Filed under writing

4 responses to “civilized conversation

  1. You could solve this by avoiding barbecues, but a better approach when you encounter such a person (of either gender) is to wait out their first lifted eyebrow or sneer, then say, “So nice to know you’re reading these days.”

  2. Laughing… out loud. The cat’s looking at me and I’m going to tell him it’s Shelly’s fault!”

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