I heard this statement during a church programme and it made me laugh. Not only did I laugh but it made me think. I thought of how poverty has pushed many to commit atrocities that are too heavy and tragic for the mouth to speak. Well, it was a good programme but I remembered that statement again when I read George’s Woes of Ikenga. From the title alone, the story is indeed a narration of woes. Woes that cause you to cringe and as it was for me, made me terrified and horrified by our society and the global community.
The search for a better life is the search of every man. Everyone seeks wealth and at least desires some level of comfort. Ikenga wanted this just like you and I. He had known poverty and like culture puts it on the shoulders of every young man, Ikenga was to get his family out of the shackles of poverty. The sad part of it is his erroneous belief that the grass is greener on the other side and by the other side, I mean overseas. By the end of the book, he understands better.
Ikenga leaves his village in Umuafor to Germany (permit me to describe it as a journey of crossing the seven seas and forests as it was quite an ordeal) to meet his cousin who lives there and ironically is believed to be studying medicine whereas, he is spending time in prison. Ikenga spends close to a year moving from one country to another so he can land in Germany. More horrifying are the dangers he puts himself into to by going through the deserts and sea of which he almost loses his life by boarding a ship that was overloaded. If you think these problems would pass as soon as he lands in Germany, you are wrong. These were the beginning of sorrows.
Ikenga begins to search for means by which he could obtain a resident’s permit but first he starts by seeking for asylum and changes his name in his claim that he was from war torn Sudan and lives off the monthly allowance given to asylum seekers. His friends don’t help matters as most of them are also trying all crooked means to get the residential permit called kpalli. They sell drugs like Mascot (Ikenga’s friend) or marry women who are citizens only for most of them to be humiliated and kicked out of the marriage before they get the Kpalli. This is the plight of Ikenga when he marries Vanessa and even fathers a child with her only for her to kick him out of the house before he lays his hands on a residential permit.
Others like Eze who is briefly mentioned in the novel, gets a minor pregnant all in his bid to secure a residential permit and is arrested. Mascot deals with drugs and Uncle Ray who is the cousin of Ikenga, opens a church to feed on the ignorance of other illegal immigrants after he also has been in prison and would not want to return home without a penny in his pocket. Ikenga spends twenty two years in Germany practically living as a vagabond always running from the police and basically feeding from hand to mouth. He finally breaks down mentally and returns home with just a hand bag.
What makes this book worth reading is that it exposes to us the truth that traveling outside the country to the white man’s land is not the solution to every man’s problem. Ikenga learnt the hard way. The weight of responsibility and the love for his family keeps him struggling to make a living in Germany but it fails. Ikenga had known what it meant to be poor. The hard conditions he faced in Umuafor pushed him to desire to succeed even if it meant damning the consequences and getting outside the country. Even if it involved cheap labour, lies, humiliation and sexual escapades with foreign women, Ikenga wanted to pay the prize to be free of poverty.
George laments in the book “It is hard to figure out the rationale behind a man abandoning his friends, relatives, and in some cases, wife and children for an unknown world, armed with only faith and determination… Why would anyone risk his or her life and leave everything he or she is accustomed to, for a dangerous trip across the dry deserts of North Africa and the treacherous Mediterranean sea with very little or insufficient means of a safe passage?” (299)
The novel is as real as real can be as the author paints the grim pictures of the lives of illegal immigrants in Germany and one can boldly generalise as the plight of most illegal immigrants in other countries. Due to the incompetence of African leaders in fixing their nations, youths run to the West. Click To Tweet They desire at least a slight touch of what it means to be wealthy and just be comfortable. The drive to be better and be reckoned with in society moreso, if you are male pushes some to do terrible things. Though females are not left out as Stella in the novel is also encouraged to go into prostitution just so she can feed her seven siblings in Nigeria. However, the man especially in the Igbo culture is saddled with the enormous responsibility to be a man and manhood is mostly determined by wealth. The weight culture places on the man drives Ikenga to become less than the man he could have become.
If you would take your time to read this book, you would say along with that preacher, God punish poverty! But I get to wonder, do we put our human failings on God to magically handle for us? As you get to read the book, you would also see that George addresses the religion question. You can come to your own conclusion whether religion alleviates the problem or further compounds it.