I walk into Starbucks to find the safest thing to keep me awake. I ask for a small because I’m unfamiliar with the lingo. English is the least powerful. Then, the next sizes progress to Spanish. And finally, if you are trying to stay up for 7 days straight, you will need to brandish Italian.
“Short?” was not a question the cashier even bothered to confirm my request for a ‘small’ with and the cappuccino they tried to fill me up with did not even fill up the cup.
I stand waiting in a second line and have to wonder why, with that all too familiar question, why the person behind me gets their drink before me. Being upset is not something I ever want to be. But, it’s welling up inside of me. She even has the server inscribe a ‘Mrs.’ with her last name while I only give my first. Is she better than me?
Is this a form of subtle communication meant to make me go mad? Did I do something wrong? Is it what I am wearing? Is it my hair? How do orders change just like that? And, why does it make me upset?
“It doesn’t matter,” I pretend to feel even inside the safe walls of my mind. I don’t share even a visual grievance. I actually force myself to smile, but I’m kidding myself.
As my anger gives into subtle disappointment, my bowed head is quickly saved by the message it is then able to perceive. Beneath me is the New York Times and filling it’s front frame is the picture of a Nigerian grandmother who looks not much older than me, if that, telling the world how she was forced to take classes in suicide bombings to strengthen the power of Boko Haram.
For me, Boko Haram has no face as didn’t al-Qaeda—their center of organization in Afghanistan has no shortage of local East Asian faces. Can these faces be called Arabs even if they too happen to have a Muslim faith like al-Qaeda? Are we confusing ethnicity with race with religion again? The ethnicities of Boko Haram’s members, are they even the same as the ethnicities of the people they kidnap, rape, and kill?
As did al-Qaeda to Afghanistan, Boko Haram is also giving all of Nigeria a bad name and with a little more than half the total population of the U.S.A. and 1/10th the size of America’s land, Nigeria is the 7th largest nation in the world. Nigeria speaks more languages in one city than all of the U.S. combined.
I don’t assume that Chiraq in Illinois reflects what must be happening somewhere in Kansas next door. But, still, people assume this about what is happening in the very northern part of Nigeria with what must be existing in the rest of the country. It’s going to take over Cameroon perhaps. Chad and Niger are in danger, too. Really?
Where do we focus? Where does the bad part start and end? How do we know who is good and who is bad? Where do we not dare go on holiday? Brussels and France aren’t options anymore. Violent things are happening there, too. Are we paranoid? Are our jumped-to conclusions actually fanning the confusion?
“Things Fall Apart,” Chinua Achebe wrote and titled his famous novel. I would have to agree. It seems that the Holy War provoked by British missionaries in Nigeria in his book is now being provoked by Boko Haram in Nigeria in real life. And, so I have to ask myself in an as absurb a thought as possible in order to see clearly the dilemma—“Whose beliefs are right?” Everyone assumes that theirs is such.
In Achebe’s book, you are given both sides and you also see the absurdities of both as well as the things each side does that could make sense.
Where is the enemy coming from? How do we stop them? Why do they think they are right and that others are completely out of their minds? Some people know the “missionary position” to have been introduced by missionaries. Some people know the croissant to have been invented the day after the French won victory over the overpowering Moors—the crescent shape of the pastry representing the crescent shape of the Islamic symbol to be devoured daily as constant reminder of their conquest. Just, who are all of these religious people claiming to be first in line? Are they like you and me?
And then, when I think about the lady who got her fix before me in line and my consistent anger at such affronts, I realize that I do not know her and she does not know me at all. How I can I assume that my rules apply everywhere I go? Yet, how can I not if I believe they are universally good? And, what am I really supposed to do about it? Kill everyone who disagrees with me? And, is this a lesson, justice, or just hate? All of our differences, what are we really supposed to do about them when we don’t even know each other? Tell me, who is the most right? Who is the best? Who gets served first in line?