Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Friday, May 21, 2010

To Zayda: Not entering fire

Even if you are brave, you can't enter a fire. (Ghana)

Dear Zayda,

Prime Minister Golding came out and apologized on Monday night. He admitted he misled the nation, but once trust is lost, it is hard to regain. So what is happening since Monday night is like a fire that is out of control. And the Prime Minister has gone absent, instead of doing what he can to put out the remaining flames.

My sons had a direct experience of a fire that got out of hand. They were about seven or eight years old and staying at my parents house for a day or so. One of my parents was not well, so my sons had time for unsupervised play. Well, there was a pile of rubbish in an outside room, and these two little boys decided to help out their grandfather by burning the rubbish. The flames were fine for a while, and then they just got bigger and bigger. If the flames are determined enough, a little water can see to make them burn even stronger. So finally someone had to call the fire brigade. Fortunately this was an outside room, and nothing much burned except for old newspaper.

Golding has a lot more at stake than burning rubbish. Telling the truth too late, suddenly doing what he had said was impossible had kept the flames alight. The man he was trying to protect is the gang leader in Golding’s constituency, a man termed a “don” This man is called Christopher Coke. The United States currently wants him for gun running and drug trafficking. This is the man Bruce was protecting for the past nine months. Now the police have a warrant for his arrest, but they cannot reach the street where they think Coke lives. The people in that community have put roadblocks on all streets leading into the area, so the police would have to remove the roadblocks before they can come to get Coke. A couple of days ago some soldiers in an armored vehicle tried to push past the road blocks, and gunmen fired at the vehicle. So the roadblocks remain. They are illegal, but no one has moved them for the past four days. The Mayor of Kingston represents this community. He has the job of clearing the streets, and one time he removed my car because I parked in a no-parking area. But he cannot or will not remove these old cars, old fridges, and other debris used to block these streets.

All because of lies. And probably because of fear as well – the bigger the lie, usually, is the bigger the fear.

We may not always tell the truth, Zayda, but we can avoid telling lies that cause as much damage as a fire gone out of hand. Even if we are very brave, not to mention very clever, we still can't enter fire without damaging ourselves.


Your shangazi

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at