When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother's family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children's school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.
But Blessing's grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family's attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.
Twelve-year-old Blessing lives with her mother, father, and 14-year-old brother, Ezikiel in a lovely home a Lagos. Blessing’s mom works at the Royal Imperial Hotel and her father is an accountant. One afternoon Mom arrives home from work early and catches Blessings father in bed with another woman. Dad packs his bags and goes to live with this other woman. Shortly after, Mom loses her job at the hotel because they only employ “married” women and the hotel now considers her status as “single” so lets her go. Now her husband has stopped paying the rent on their apartment so they are being evicted and must move to Blessing’s grandfather’s home in the Niger Delta in a small village called Warri.
Upon their arrival, Blessing is disappointed to discover that they have no electricity, no running water, and no inside toilets. When she sees where outside she is forced to attend to her bathroom needs she is literally sick to her stomach. This is going to get some getting used too.
Blessing even thought that Warri smelled differently than other place she had been. She said: “The air smelled like a book unopened for a very long time, and smoky, as though the ground had been on fire.”
Blessings grandmother is a sweet woman but isn’t afraid to speak her mind and her grandfather, Alhaji is a strange man. After a few days of settling in it’s time for Blessing and Ezikiel to begin attending their new school. What a total disappointment this turns out to be for both of them. The school is dirty, the girls bathroom has 7 holes in the floor with no doors or partitions for privacy and one must ‘squat’ over the hole showing their private parts to whomever happens to be in the bathroom at the time; there is no toilet paper, no sink, no taps, and no soap; the place is just utterly disgusting.
Ezikiel is a smart boy who continues on with his academic studies at the school but grandpa Alhaji doesn’t believe Blessing needs to continue attending school as grandma is going to teach her the way of a midwife so she can follow in her footsteps. Blessing is totally excited at this prospect and within a short amount of time she attends 6 births and is well on her way to understanding what is required to help birth a baby. Things seems to be going well for the family until Ezikiel becomes less interested in his studies and is falling under the influence of a group of violent boys who call themselves the Freedom Fighters. Add to that the fact that Mom seems to be working until late into the evenings, the once happy family is coming apart at the seams.
This was a great story and I was totally involved with the characters. Christie Watson, in her epilogue at the end of the story tells us that: “The Niger Delta, known as “the Big Heart” is home to proud people, with good reason. It is a beautiful land, with extraordinary wildlife, an amazing landscape, bustling cosmopolitan towns, and peaceful villages. Port Harcourt and Warri are fast becoming centers of cultural importance, with thriving arts and literature scenes, an abundance of restaurants, and independent theater groups. The Niger Delta is a place of laughter, music, and diversity.
But the majority of people who live in the Niger Delta survive on LESS than one dollar a day! They enjoy none of the enormous wealth generated by the oil rich land. Many people of the Delta have no access to schools, health care, or clean water. They live with the effects of the environmental devastation caused by the continued gas flaring and frequent ecological accidents, which have amounted to more than one and a half million tons of spilled oil.”
What a sad reality for the people of the Delta, so rich in so many ways, but so poor in others. I would highly recommend this book for everyone.