During Lent in parochial school we filled the slots in the card with coins, dull pennies and nickels, the occasional shiny dime, and if one felt truly penitential, the fat Washington quarter. Forty slots corresponding to the forty days of Lent. It was shameful to have some empty slots at Easter. Our donations were going to help the Pagan Babies. How, it was not clear. Maybe get rid of their paganness.
Rita doesn’t particularly appreciate bad jokes about pagan babies when she asks if I will sponsor Jonathan, one of the boys with rickets. She’s been in Nigeria over half her life. A life of service, you could say. (I struggle how not to make it sound pious.) Here is Jummai cutting hair perched on her new chair . Here is the plump baby and the happy mother. Here are all the children who had their legs broken and put into casts by the surgical team flown in from Germany, children who now can stand on their feet and not scuttle, Jonathan among them.
Elections are February 14. No surgical teams from Germany will be coming for a while. Rita tells would-be visitors to wait until the election is over, half-joking she is going to hide under the bed the whole week. The kleptocrats, she says angrily, shower President Goodluck Jonathan with millions of naira for his re-election campaign while the country falls apart from lack of funds and indifference. Both sides spill invective and threats. Every day there are more bombings, more outrages by crazed young men and less hope for bringing the lost girls home.
Meanwhile the well is dug, the water flowing.