Is Humour a one-sided affair: The Paris bombing.

As stated in other blogs I was born in London of West Indian parentage.  I now live in Nigeria and have done so for a number of years.  When I lived in London, amongst friends and family members, I would make jokes and people would laugh.  This did not make me a stand-up comedian but I knew I had a quick wit, a sense of humour and a sense of timing, and was able to make a joke out of a situation. I guess as a result of living in the UK and being exposed to the humour that I saw daily on TV, especially the ‘put down’ variety, was something I had gotten used to and therefore did not question.  I felt it was normal to use this same kind of humour when making jokes. But when I got to Nigeria I realised my humour was not seen as funny. My ‘jokes’ were considered acidic and unkind. I eventually got the message when I was at a function; getting carried away telling one anecdote after the other, when the couple at my table got up and sat elsewhere. On another occasion, someone who was a friend actually stopped talking to me because she couldn’t stand my ‘jokes’.  I was surprised.je suis

I had to take two steps back and realise that ‘humour’ can be a one sided affair.  After all, how can a joke be funny and inclusive if people did not get it?  And really, I should know better, that is, not getting the joke or more to the point, when a joke is mocking me.  If I dig into my past and relive some of those toe-cringing experiences, it would be similar to going to a theatre house, where I am the only black person seated amongst a white audience, and on walks the comedian say, Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning, where a large chunk of their material is making jokes about black people etc. I laugh, but with some element of shame at the fact that I am the butt of their jokes! The rest of the audience is satisfied that I ‘see’ the joke but when everything comes to an end and I’m left with my thoughts; I feel humiliated, demeaned, disarmed and powerless followed by the emotion of anger. I’m not, as I said, a comedian nor satirist; I don’t have key contacts or belong to any institutions that can support or protect me. Of course, I can take refuge with family and friends, who gives me the needed support but at the end of the day, they are just as disarmed and powerless as I am.

To make it worse, when I complain to my white friends, they fob me off as suffering from the classic case of ‘chip on my shoulder’ syndrome.  So therein my resentment remains firm, simmering and waiting until a time comes when I can express myself. I understand that the role of humour is to let off steam, release tension.  Laughing at something that deep down is found to be threatening, humour can be the antidote that removes the sting out the bite. For those who find the whole business about immigrants/immigration threatening, humour perhaps, can give them some space between what they feel and the reality of the situation.

What happened in Paris is absolutely tragic. I feel for the journalists who were killed in the bombing and my sympathies goes out to their loved ones.  My understanding is that the magazine where the journalists worked – Charlie Hebdo – was satirical in its content and was well renowned throughout the country.  But I wonder if they went too far, in putting out their brand of humour?  Yes, freedom of speech is at the heart of democracy, but upon seeing a few of the cartoons I can understand why Muslims would be offended. However, I’m relieved that they found it abhorrent that extreme violence was used as a way of ‘correcting’ the problem. They realise, as we all realise, that no amount of provocation can ever warrant or justify violence.

I implore France to do what is right and not allow the histrionics of the Far Right to dictate the fate of the country and not see what has happened as a ‘clash of civilizations’. The New Year has just begun, but it is clear we are living in dangerous times, (as I write this, a bomb exploded killing a number of people in Baga, North East of Nigeria) we should all court tolerance and strive towards unity, if we hope to make it!

One sunny day in Jo’burg…

Two Saturdays ago my husband and I left for Jo’burg. Why were we going there? In the particular country where we live in Africa, my husband, Eddy, had been to a few Doctors to assess the infection in his inner ear. He was not satisfied with the diagnosis. Not consistent, he said. So we decided to head to South Africa and see what the Doctors there had to say. Besides being confident that everything would be sorted, I looked forward in visiting one of my favourite places.
We arrived at Tambo International by 6:15am and were out of the airport with our luggage by 6:35am. Although the weather was fresh and warm, there was a strong indication it was going to be a hot day. A friend, Geoff, collected us, and we drove along the undulated roads as he skilfully took on the slightly sharp bends. I commented on the number of buildings that had emerged in the time we had been away. The conversation eventually moved into silence as Eddy and I enjoyed the smooth drive and the lush landscape.

It was a good thirty minutes before we arrived at Geoff’s house. He removed from his pocket a small remote, pressing a button for the electric gate which took its time to open, then pressed a second button on the same remote to open the garage. We drove in, resurrecting the chatter as we sought to catch up with all what each other had been doing, when I slid the car door open and felt a sudden stinging pain to my left cheek. A man stared down at me with glaring eyes. He was saying something to me but I could not work out what it was. I thought he was a beggar asking for money or he was lost and needed directions. He moved to the front of the car and started shouting at Eddy. Again, his words were lost on me. Not that he was speaking in another language, it was a case of not been able to make any sense. It was only when my eyes slowly travelled down his frame that I saw clutched in his hand a gun. I looked in front of me to Geoff. Through the window, I could see the arms of the attacker pointing a gun in the air, and then in one quick movement he cocked it. Geoff raised his hands up. The attacker lowered his arm to point the gun to Geoff’s head. He asked him to hand over his mobile and wallet. Geoff did what he was told.

We all remained calm as we watched helplessly our money, mobiles, handbag and suitcases being taken away. One of them came round to where I was in the back seat and shouted ‘Jewellery!’ I quickly removed my rings but they were not interested in my gold bangle or the gold watch. We all sat and within our minds prayed that they would leave without harming us. They snatched the bunch of house keys and wrestled with the remote. Once it was removed, they wrenched the car keys from the ignition and then pressed the button for the gate and once it had reached half way, they pressed it again for it to stop. The three men scurried out from the garden, got into a car with no number plates where there was another man at the wheel, then left. I sat in the car and felt my insides churning as if on slow speed of a Kenwood mixer. Eddy and Geoff got out quickly to see if anything had been dropped and to see if they could catch a glimpse of the car. Geoff took the bicycle that belonged to the gardener and headed to the police station. The time was 7:20am.

It was now slightly warmer and the street had not woken with the exception of domestic staff making their way to work. The neighbour, who lived opposite said good morning, then asked if everything was all right. We told him what had happened. He was shocked and there was fear in his eyes.
If they can do that to you guys, what does that mean for us whites?!’ He then said if they were anything he could do, we shouldn’t hesitate. Another neighbour drove passed, and I could see him looking on with curiosity through his rear window. He halted, then did a three point turn and drove to where we were standing. He asked the same question and we told what happened.
‘What?! Here?! When? Just now??’ He paused and looked about himself stunned. ‘My domestic has just come on duty, let me find out if she knows anything.’ He didn’t waste a second, then left.

We stood in the space where the half opened gate was supposed to cover. Eddy paced up and down with his hands buried deep in his pocket. I looked at him, wanting to say something but I was speechless. There was a part of my cheek that was raised and also felt quite sore. It was 7:50am when Geoff returned. He came with another vehicle and we went to the nearest police station to give a report. This took about forty five minutes and we were given affidavits.
For most of time, we shuffled from one place to the next, trying to sort our passports. The Embassy said they would move quickly to help and would be in touch. We then went to the airline company we flew with, to show them our affidavits and to confirm our seats. I did not feel safe staying at the house, so we went to Garden Court Hotel in Sandton and spent a few nights.

South Africa is a fantastic place, as we have done a number of ‘driving holidays’ from Jo’burg to Durban, or Jo’burg to Cape Town, which we have thoroughly enjoyed. Despite what has happened, seeing work already being started in certain places of the city for the new Underground they want to build in time for 2010, makes me feel excited for the place. But the government has to acknowledge that there is a problem. Otherwise lovers of the country will not be interested in going back there again.