Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recognizing alligator's eggs

Alligator lay egg, but him is not a fowl. (Jamaica)

Dear Zayda,

Things are not always as they appear. In a short while, you will be at the stage of questioning, and of saying “no”. You need to keep this quality when you are grown up. Sometimes people see one and one and they get two; at other times, people see one and one and swear they have 11 or even 1001. So fowls lay eggs, but not every egg was laid by a fowl.

Yet children as well as grownups can get into trouble for asking questions and saying “no”. And if we get into trouble often enough, we may start to say what others want us to say, rather than what we think and believe.
Jamaica’s State of Emergency ends today, after being in force for two months. The two parties continue to argue about who is to blame for ending this State of Emergency. It seems that most Jamaicans want it to continue, but those are not the Jamaicans like Leon.

Leon called me once when he needed someone to talk to. Actually, his uncle, a policeman, suggested that he call me. Leon was so angry at the police, that his uncle feared he might do something bad and get into real trouble with the law.

Leon was working with a man who refused to pay him what was due. One day, Leon decided to go to the man’s office to demand his money, but still had to leave without getting paid. On the street outside the office, the police came and arrested Leon. He spent a week or two in lock-up before the police released him. He was angry at the man who still owed him the money and caused him to be locked up. He was even angrier with the police who kept him in a jail cell that was smelly and crowded, where he needed to go to the bathroom in a bucket and the food was not what anyone should have to eat.

Well, Leon and I talked, and then I arranged for him to see a counselor. As a result, Leon seemed more hopeful, and decided to move on with his life even if he never got the money owed to him.

He lived in a poor community. Because he had no job and no money, he was sleeping the only place he found shelter – in a chicken coop. He was worried that he didn’t have the means to support his son whom he loved a lot. He talked with me about going back to Clarendon to work on his family’s land there.

He did return to Clarendon, and that where the police held him. He has been in lockup now for about three weeks, and the police have not charged him with doing anything wrong. The police could hold him for as long as the State of Emergency lasts, and no one could help him.

I will try to get Leon an attorney, and hope that he gets justice before he gets angrier.

The State of Emergency might look as harmless as a fowl egg to a lot of people. But young men like Leon see it as an egg that hatches an alligator with sharp teeth.

My grandniece, we need always to try to see the world from other people’s points of view as well as our own. We need to realize that truth can be a lot more than what we see or think we see.


Your shangazi


Anonymous said...

Your proverb today is very pertinent to this story: "He who
knows nothing, doubts nothing." They say poverty is not a crime, but it is. There is much ignorance in Jamaica relting to the injustices done to the poor. I listen to Perkins Online sometimes, the Jamaican talk show, and am amazed how people view the society in which they live. They view everything in black and white and can't see the shades of grey. Well, Janmaica, is cloaked in shades of grey. If you look closely there is no black and white. When Leon committs a "crime" against the person who did not pay him and against the authorites who hold him without charging him, people only see a depraved criminal, no matter the depravity that has been committed against him. As the saying goes, "Donkey say this world no level."

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

I agree with you about how we in Jamaica need to see things as black or white. So often, victims are also perpetrators, so we can do better helping people rather than condemning them.

As Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Hopefully, we can one day see that our future is tied up with how we treat others or allow them to be treated.


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