By Asaju Tunde
Canada is not all rosy as any immigrant transitioning knows. There’s a lot to learn and a lot more to adapt to.
Two years ago, I bought a shed to store my tires (we swap tires twice yearly – summer and winter for safety). All three permanent residents in my house have cars and when I was jobless, I kept my hands busy picking, fixing and flipping bicycles. True story and a proud one too.
I dismantled the shed from its previous owners and bohemianly transported it home. But I am hopeless putting things together. After two weeks of trying and failing, a neighbour advised me to contact a more handy neighbour.
There was an association war going on in my estate and my closeness to one of the groups put me in jeopardy. Nevertheless I approached the man who promised to help out on Saturday.
Come Saturday, he knocked on my door and we got to work. He had visited Nigeria and knows my wife relatively well. Within two hours, the shed was up. An amazing feat.
Well, he promised to help with my fence the next summer. I kept an eye out for him but when I didn’t see him, I mentioned to another neighbour who told me that the man was DEAD.
DEAD kẹ? How? He looked strong and healthy. This neighbour said I couldn’t quote him on that as the man’s wife did not want the sad news spreading. Learning to adjust to a new culture that respects the wishes of families even at hard times made me I keep the sad news to myself.
Last weekend, I decided to put the skills I observed at the mechanic village opposite Kundilla Housing Estate in Kano to work on my old RAV 4. The paint on one side was scuffed and I wanted to scrape it, potty and repaint – by myself. It is legal!
While working on that project, I saw a young man working on a car at my ‘late’ friend’s parking lot. For a while, I was torn between going to introduce myself and not. Finally, I summoned courage, walked down and introduced myself as my neighbour’s friend.
I told him I heard the sad but incredible news and wanted to know if it was true. He confirmed that indeed ‘my dad passed’. I condoled with him even as he wanted to know how I heard the news. I relayed the dilemma.
He told me point blank that his dad had committed suicide! He was sharing the sad news in case I know someone who might be going through ‘stuff’.
For a while, my brains traveled back home, to how we perceive suicide and how it is perceived here…with respect, non-judgemental, understanding and care for the dead and the people they left behind. Because #mentalhealth is real. Mental health is no respecter of persons. I offered as much words of condolences as I could mutter. We shook hands and I went back to my project.
Since then, I have heard the painful news of the death of two other people with whom I am close. I am trying to be stoic, not knowing when my turn comes. But I have not recovered from the death of my neighbour. He was strong, had basically toured the world on a ship looking for greener pastures. With the skills he had acquired along the line, he went about helping others. He gave his house a befitting facelift with his handyman skills. He was eager to help many people in our hood. He was friendly and talked freely about life’s experiences. It was encouraging talking to him at a time I was going through a hard point of life personally.
I wouldn’t know that he was going through anything himself. He looked like a successful man, living THE DREAM. I wish I could have discerned it. I wish rather than gift him a bottle of rouge, I had invited him to dinner or even to the nearby pub. Perhaps he might have opened up and shared his problems with me. Perhaps talking could have lightened the burden of life for him and preserved his life.
My mind just can’t pull itself from the missed possibilities.
I am sharing this to encourage someone out there struggling. If you are going through stuff, please don’t be strong, share. Don’t pretend, please reach out to someone for help, you do no wrong. Don’t end it, endure it. Don’t stop it, restart it. Speak to someone, anyone, even those who might laugh at you. A problem shared is a burden uplifted. I just wish I could have helped him.