I will pray / For the Black child who has never dreamed of height

Image: silhouette of mountains on a foggy, grey morning. Photo by tian kuan on Unsplash

From the hilltops and the mountains
— That be and those that still rest in imagination —
From the dust they came from to the dust we shall become,
From the peaks we have seen to the ones we will create,

I will pray
For the Black child who has never dreamed of height
I will set free my voice from its cage,
And let my whispers into the night turn into shouts,
Allowing the cold air to breathe life into my words,
Turning them into chalk on blackboard

I will turn To the one in whose palms we rest…

Malam Mamane Barka performing Doro Lelewa live in 2014. cred: Marc Arnold via Youtube

Doro Lelewa garin dadi… Ya Jallah kai mu Lelewa mu sha dadi… Doro Lelewa is a song written by Malam Mamane Barka featuring his frequent collaborator, Ousmane Adamou. Barka sings the song while playing the biram, a traditional instrument belonging to the Boudouma tribe of Niger, most resembling a harp. In the song, Barka expresses a desire to visit Doro Lelewa, the town of his former teacher who passed away. Doro Lelewa holds real sentimental value to Barka as it is where he was initiated to learn to play the biram. Yet, to the listener, the descriptions of Doro Lelewa…

I remember when the land was fertile. A garden in the back blessed us with banana peppers, bell peppers, and the occasional tomato. We would spend time running through the fields of overgrown grass, pausing to blow dandelions, picking up ant-infested flowers for our mom. I remember when we were almost one with nature. We would pick leaves from the evergreen trees, examining them and writing nonsense down, trying to be little scientists. We would crush pine cones with our bare feet and hop on over to the dirt patch where dad kept his cars and make sandcastles and mud…

From the hilltops and the mountains
That be and that are yet.
From the dust they came from to the dust we shall we become.
From the peaks we see to the peaks we shall will create.

Oh I sing! And I will pray!

For the black child who never dreams of height
For the color of the neglected and the color of night
I must not break my trust.

For the moon that shines light.
For the addicts of this life
Those who have created a calm in chaos,
A place to be free.

Oh I yearn! Oh I worry! Oh I pray!
And I keep on telling the mountain
To keep its praise for another day.

My friends and relatives don’t think Nigeria belongs to me completely. They are partly right.

Image: shot of waves hitting the beach in Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria. Photo by Zenith Wogwugwu on Unsplash

Before 2019, it had been five years since I last returned to Nigeria. Five years dreaming about gida, tracking ticket prices obsessively, shopping with home always lingering in our thoughts. The construction of our mom’s house was finally finished after four years of hard work and toil. Every so often, long after everyone had fallen asleep, she would look at me and say, “I think I’m just wasting my money.”

I assured her that it was a worthy investment and that she would see worth in the fruit of her labor. She persevered and, in her words, built a home…

For many people in Muslim and immigrant households, it was — and for some still is — an uphill battle to get parents to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. They either didn’t believe it was real or didn’t think it was as serious as portrayed. They ignored the precautions and tried to continue with life as usual. The burden fell on us, their children, to keep them and others safe. Some people used science to show their parents the importance of taking recommended precautions. Others resorted to appealing to their parent’s spiritual self.

It’s 11PM y’all should be asleep right now.

Sirens and shouts

Voices that should be familiar but are unrecognizable through the thick noise.

I find comfort in the birds that continue with their life. We should continue on with ours.

Screaming and knives

It’s something heavy and thick like the accent we speak:

Steps across the sidewalk. Almost silent, yet deafeningly loud a thousand words in one feet.

Hot and deserted.

A place that should be familiar but is a stroke.

Nostalgia and laughter of this life is all I have.

It seems to be all one badly written joke. But the show must go on.


Fake gold jewelry sitting proudly around our necks,

Strained and about to snap from the weight of it all.

Tuni duniya ta daina dadi. But what can we do but laugh and pretend everything is fine?

Mu’azzin calls for prayer, stopping the gossip for at least ten minutes before

The circle forms again.

There is a cure for every ailment except ours.

Shea butter and man zaytoon sometimes,

Cita and karamfani always. We can no longer trust the people of our time, but the ancestors have always been right.

Their spirits are forever knowing.

So we drink placebo cita with lemon juice and draw our casbaha close to us with our right hand and curse the devil of this life with our left.

Black clouds are always overhead. Never quite touching the earth.
But it doesn’t have to be raining somewhere to know that rain is near. It is in the smell, in the earth’s bones.

It is with soft, consistent, touches of the sun that things change. The wind blows in the direction of the clouds, and its song comes my way. My mom calls it “waswasi”, a menace, an annoyance, and another wall between her and me. This has been going on for years now, yet I still don’t know how to cope. The sun rises from one side and goes…

Jummai Umar

Muslim. Writer. Poet. IG: @doro.lelewa

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