RIP Chinua Achebe: 1931-2013

achebe

Breaking News:  Just announced that Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has passed away at a hospital in Boston. Achebe was eighty-two.

Achebe rose to fame in 1958 with the publication of his first novel Things Fall Apart,  a work that met with both critical and popular success. Other international best-sellers include No Longer At Ease, A Man of the People, Arrow of God and Anthills of the Savannah

For the last four years, Achebe has been the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Here are ten memorable quotes from both his lectures and works:

1. “To me, being an intellectual doesn’t mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them.”

2.  “When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.”

3. “It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have – otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.”

4.  “Procrastination is a lazy man’s apology.” -  Anthills of the Savannah

5.  “There is a moral obligation, I think, not to ally oneself with power against the powerless.” -  There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra

6.  “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” ―  Things Fall Apart

7.  “We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.” ― The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays

8.  “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. ”

9.  “Charity . . . is the opium of the privileged.”

10.  “I believe in the complexity of the human story and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say: This is it. Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing; the same person telling the story will tell it differently. I masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.” Think of that masquerade in Igbo festivals that dances in the public arena. The Igbo people say, “If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place.”


The Beginnings of a Sea Change

In an area of Nigeria that is “as densely populated as Paris” but contains only one primary school, innovative architecture aims to make education available to all.

In the water community of Makoko just off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria, an exciting new project attempts to turn the tide of limited education and unstable infrastructure. Though the Makoko’s population is soaring, a lack of well-constructed buildings means that the community  houses only one primary school to serve its approx. 86,000 residents.

Why the lack or solid infrastructure? It’s because the islands of Lagos amongst which the fishing village resides are vastly covered in water. Residents of Makoko have for years built their homes atop stilts embedded deep in the seabed. Now a team of architects led by native Nigerian Kunle Adayemi will update that idea in order to build schools that will not only withstand the rigors of West Africa’s current climate, but hopefully also for many years to come.

As pictured above, the increase in rainfall and rising sea levels Lagos has experienced over time, due to global climate change, renders the local Makoko housing unsuitable. Adayemi’s solution is to create a completely free-floating building—one unchanged by any rise or fall in water levels. He and his team have also worked to make sure the new schoolhouses will be eco-friendly and space efficient to boot:

Adayemi is hopeful that the design will help more than just the people of Makoko: “The building can be adapted for other uses, such as homes or hospitals. Ultimately, it’s a vision that can be used to sustainably develop [African] coastal communities.” But of course, such an inspirational story is inevitably accompanied by typical political woes; the government of Lagos is reluctant to encourage the expansion of a water-based community. Just in July of last year, “Nigerian government officials destroyed dozens of residences after giving residents 72 hours’ notice of eviction,” an act that resulted in the death of one Makoko resident. The reality Adayemi faces—one greater than the threat posed by natural disasters—is that this mere slum (for lack of a better description) occupies prime waterfront, a commodity the politicians of Lagos won’t readily relinquish.

Thus the project, while furthering the possibilities of architecture, science, and education, faces its biggest opposition in near-sighted bureaucracy: a reminder that advancing education in Africa is never as simple a task it seems on its glass-like surface.

For more on this amazing project, head to the Guardian. Its article contains an interesting video that provides a bit of visual insight into life on the waters of Makoko.


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