Monthly Archives: October 2012

Oil on Water

Oil on Water by Helon Habila

A young journalist is asked by the husband of a kidnapped woman to go deep into the Niger delta to make contact with her captors.  The woman’s captors are “militants”, her husband is an engineer with an oil company.  The journalist goes on a disorienting, surreal journey into the delta,where he is never sure whether he has already crossed the paths of militants or soldiers, or whether he is about to. The territory is marked by the criss-cross of oil pipes, oil leakages, oil fires, gas flares burning and burning, corporate helicopters circling, sabotage.

In the middle of it all is an island built around a “shrine”, whose inhabitants wash themselves clean in the river every day as a penance for letting the rivers run red in the past, and who worship the sun as a harbinger of a new day and a new start.  As other communities on the delta are fragmented and experience the effects of awful environmental degradation, can this one survive?  And what hope can it offer its inhabitants, or its neighbors on the delta?

Very unsettling.  A novel, yes.  Not a documentary.  But terrible things have happened to the people and the environment in this delta.  Do I care about the welfare of communities across the world, or do I only care about the cogs of capitalism remaining…oiled?

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Notes for a water poem

Some background research-
Prudent before jumping into the choppy waters
Of a water poem.

Noah told stories about pigs, scorpions,
Confined spaces, cubits and feeding time.
But the water has receded from his mind
He has his own grand design to complete now
And a lot of wood to recycle.

I waited for Moses and reviewed my notes:
Nile floater, sea divider.
They said he was on his way, just round the corner
Night fell, I couldn’t read my notes
A no-show.

Jonah- I expected a trembling, sarcastic man
But not the ocean’s calm, disturbed only by nose and cheekbones.
That fish, it took me as far away
From the temple, as I could ever go
That fish, it spewed me right onto the forecourt
Me and my prayers, neatly packed
Ready to go
I’ve gone. There’s so much happiness
In knowing your story has an end.

I cast the net, pulled it up
I’m still putting the words together.
Somebody let me know when I’m done.

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