We do not choose the circumstances we are born into, but we can rise above them. I was born in Jeba, a community filled with laughter and playing children. The sounds of our feet stomping and hands clapping could be heard for miles during the games that we played. Sometimes, I would pause unexpectedly as my friends and I played, kneel on the sand and shout out as loud as I possibly could, we are happy, we are happy, we are happyyyyy! My elongation of the last syllable in happy always drew loud cheering and added more laughter to the group. That was Jeba.
Yet if you asked one of the officials who made their monthly rounds in my home community what Jeba represented, the laughter will stop and so will the games. To them, everything in Jeba was to be taken seriously. There was the endless count of numbers, statistics they called it, which they carried around as if forgetting them would mean losing what their very existence meant. The dead, the hungry, the orphans, the skinny boys, the pregnant women, the beans, and the rice were all given a number, a stark reminder that Jeba was what it was, a squalor.
When we first arrived in Jeba, I held onto Nuba, my younger sister as Mammy collapsed in front of our new home and wept. I walked around and made new friends who were eager to give us some of their beans and palm oil mix. We split half of the food wrapped in a black cellophane bag and brought back the second half for Mammy. She got up to eat and slept only to wake up shortly after and continue weeping. She never asked where we got food from and we always kept her share. I was accustomed to this as I was the one in charge of feeding Nuba when she was born. She was a joy to feed and always giggled and bopped her head up and down at the sight of any food. I was happy to have a sister and was eager to make her happy especially when she cried all night for Mammy.
Mammy rarely slept at home before we came to Jeba. Even though all she did was cry, we were glad to have her with us. Having her there made me feel like our family was complete and Nuba laughed even more. She looked so pretty when she laughed and I always imagined how nice Mammy would look if she did the same since they looked so much alike. Sometimes, I envied their beauty, but Gusté, one of my new friends at Jeba told me not to. He said that is what gets women like Mammy in trouble.
I didn’t notice any trouble as the only problem Mammy seemed to have at the moment was weeping. I also noticed that as the days passed she became bigger and I often joked with Nuba that if she laughed less and cried more she wouldn’t be so skinny. This made her laugh even more. Thus, it came as a surprise when we returned to our shed after playing one day to find Mammy screaming and thrashing about. I ran as fast as I could to Gusté’s shed and his mother and some women came along to help Mammy. Nuba and I sat outside the shed at their request, but at the sound of a baby crying we rushed in to discover that there was indeed trouble. Mammy cradled a baby in each arm as the women slowly left. From now on, Nuba and I would have to eat less beans