Few days ago, VANGUARD newspaper tweeted the picture of a set of twins. Their mother was denominated as a Warri-based lunatic. They were swaddled and serenely asleep. Beautiful cherubs, they seemed to have been particularly sculpted for exhibition.
The virtual meeting, as real life encounters with newborns do, gave me pause. The fragile new arrivals were unspeakable gifts, replenishment to the human stock. But a question sooner took the better of me.
This double birth evidences the role of another actor. A man’s shed semen originated this end result. Who is that man? Where is he?
Now, there is an apparent injustice encoded in nature. It’s the basis for male chauvinism legible in the differential function of the reproductive apparatus of the two genders. The male makes his deposit and walks away: the female is trapped by the act and becomes a beast of burden. The man’s short-lived reflex forces a year-long trusteeship on the woman.
So rigged is the system in favor of manhood that the supposed father is absolutely exempted from the implication of the shared intimacy: he may be found playing draughts or drinking gin at the hour when some woman is pushing the limits of pain to offload his baby.
Many of our mentally challenged women are getting pregnant. We should ask why. Does a large share of these pregnancies result from the women’s liaison with their mentally challenged male counterparts?
It’s unreasonable to imagine that mental defect displaces the sexual instinct. Thus, we can presume that sexual intercourse is normal in that shadowy niche. But the increasing ubiquity of pregnant mad women on our streets requires a more realistic accounting.
We are aware of a diabolical orthodoxy that prescribes sex with mad ladies as a potent solution to many problems. It guarantees that you would burst into wealth or beat a terminal disease if you worked up the nerve to mount the insane. And the credulous and the lazy explore it. It’s doubly attractive: It promises panacea and free black market orgasm.
Pregnancy is more than the span between morning sickness and travail. It is more than a nine month long biological haulage. It’s a period of intense turbulence, even for the strongest and most sophisticated of women. It is beyond a man to fully appreciate the dimensions of that gender-specific complexity.
Some sensitive men, however, manage gestures to service the debt of their quiescent involvement in the pregnancy. Barred from taking over the weight or sharing in its carriage, they resort to token compensations: waiting on her and buying her her wishes. The well-to-do fear the local statistics of maternal mortality and fly them abroad as due date of delivery approaches.
A lunatic isn’t treated better during pregnancy. She has no lover, no friend. She is the abandoned property of the city, a forlorn destitute. Nobody considers she could use some antenatal service. We avert our eyes from her. We refute the validity of her pregnancy. We suggest to ourselves that whatever her protruding belly harbors is too trivial to arrest our interest.
We don’t care for two reasons. One is that we esteem the mentally diseased filthier than the rags on their back. They are the untouchable caste. We fear that any contact with them will sully our own sanity and degrade us. The other reason is the very character of this age. Narcissism won’t let us look past us.
As the ascendancy of the selfie underscores, our focus has pivoted to us. And the great downside of being the crowd of one enamored of you own self is not insularity. It is the fact that you become so poor in humanity that you lose ability to entertain serious concern for another human.
When a pregnant mad women tramps down the road, the tendency is for our semi-permeable minds to shut her out. We are rarely hospitable enough to admit her onto our thought train. The closest we come to pondering her condition is judging her unworthy of the baby bump. This mad woman is a wrong person to be an expectant mother. We wish it was legal to rip her open and graft the fetus onto one of our childless friends.
All development indices affirm that Nigeria is one of the worst spaces to live in. An average person has a tough life here. It’s truer for the mentally ill. It is known that hardship ramps up some forms of mental issues. So ours is an environment that drives you over the precipice and punishes you for falling – a victim.
For a start, we derecognize the insane. We revoke their personhood. We banish them from the commune. We deny their citizenship. We label them as liabilities because they can’t vote or pay tax.
We characterize the mad as embarrassing blots on the aesthetics of the city. When the President is scheduled to visit a state capital, a task force is mandated to collect them and detain them in a hideaway. They are unleashed to continue their rendezvous with scavenging after the august visitor and his entourage has gone with nice impressions of the town.
No, this is not formatting reality. The state must erase the possibility of the sight of naked vagrants causing the President offence. He must see only fine flowers on our streets.
Fault the state for hypocrisy, for having no soul? The essay in sadism is enabled by family dereliction. Kith and kin divest the mentally sick of consanguinity. They release their sick to range like ritual animals, sacrificed to the gods and detested by the village.
A Nigerian ruler was once queried on the poor state of the economy. He fumed. That was a thinly veiled condemnation of his leadership and policies. He said the hardship was exaggerated. This could not be the worst of times because all Nigerians had yet to start picking their meals off the dunghill. That’s the authentic index of human misery.
Today whether the times are good or bad , the mentally ill of Nigeria are denizens of the dumpsite. They have no choice. Not even begging. They must subsist on the food we throw away. They are trash, if it is true that people are what they eat.
For a pregnant woman, her deprivation entails the starvation of the child forming in her womb. She takes in far less healthy food than her body needs. And the unborn is a shareholder in that deficit: which invariably results in its development as a mentally deficient being.
This presents a vicious cycle. The gestating woman has a mental problem. She is oblivious to her surrounding and her intrinsic worth. She is a proper innocent. And so is the tenant of her uterus which would be born with reduced cognitive capability. Mother’s history taints the baby’s future. And the baby’s future imitates the mother’s history.
A mad woman would be lucky to go into labor in daytime. If birth pangs seize her at night, she bears her cross alone. Her tango with pain, her agitated alarm, will go unnoticed and unacknowledged. Only in broad daylight can her desperate struggle receive attention. Fellow women would scamper to her and form a human wall around her. Only their camaraderie and swift donation of clothing prevents her from being a bloody spectacle and lends the entry of the child into this world a veneer of dignity.
Not a few early risers going to dispose household waste have met a newborn and her mad mum lying atop a foul stinking dump. And they change their mission to delivering the baby from a mother who could murder it. Sometimes, the story is sadder. She had dumped the tiny crying thing: and a stray dog arrived before the neighborhood awoke.
It’s a shame that one of our proverbs tells the seemingly despicable lie that the insane has no relative. But it is a tenable truth. We disclaim them and let them navigate an impossible existence; without food, clothing and shelter. Our abandonment is no less consequential than passive murder. Though we don’t dye our physical hands in their blood, we depopulate them by starving them of all that pertains to life.
This reductionist paradigm that counts the mentally ill as scrap is deplorable. No kind of handicap diminishes human value. Mental illness should not earn anybody the life sentence of incalculable suffering.
Our strategy for dealing with them has to change into something better than stigma and marginalization. We do not excise people with other forms of sickness- we invest in their rehabilitation and recovery – but we ostracize the mentally ill, making them go homeless, hungry, naked, exposed to sexual predators.
As a nation and a people, we must evolve a decent arrangement that caters to their vulnerability. We must house them, feed them, clothe them and provide them medical care. Not because we owe them charity or indulgence. But because we must answer to our own humanity.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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