You ever heard that joke of the Nigerian father who paid for his kid’s swimming lessons? Anyway, it goes: the father saw the child drowning during their first swimming class and yelled; “Ayomide! Rise! Don’t waste my money!”
That joke used to crack me up probably more than it should.
Last week, during my favourite class at NYU, Asian and Arab Diaspora in Literature and Film, we watched the film Mare Nostrum.
Mare Nostrum is a short film on Vimeo depicting a father’s difficult decision to prepare his 6-year-old to migrate to Europe across the Mediterranean, in a small passenger boat.
He didn’t know how to swim, and neither did she. In the film, the father throws his daughter directly into the ocean without warning. She spends several minutes yelling out for him while struggling to stay afloat. Eventually, a stranger hears her screams and jumps into the ocean for her.
Both father and daughter cry in each other’s arms as he carries her home.
That night, the daughter refused to share a meal with her father.
The next day, the father throws her into the water again, but this time, he falls in himself. He almost drowns but holds onto a wooden support as he cries. His daughter doesn’t come up until a few minutes later. She learned how to support herself in the ocean that afternoon.
The last scene in the film is a news report of a boat with migrant passengers from Syria. It contained about 40 people. More than half of them drown and the rest are rescued. Included in the people who survive is a six-year-old girl.
My professor asked the class to write letters to either the father, the daughter or the ocean. I chose the father.
To the father;
Did your father slap the meaning of love across your face when you were still a boy? // Did you run to the ocean to cry so the crashing waves would drown all your cries? // Did you stand at the shore, afraid to step into the water because no one ever taught you to swim? // Did you listen to the news every night as your daughter lay sleeping? // Did she remind you of the woman you once loved with all your heart; the woman who was taken from you by force? // Did you look at your daughter’s face and see the ocean…? // An endless wonder // Inexplicable courage and strength // She was the wave that drowned all your cries as you heard your neighbors plan to leave the war behind
Is that when you decided that she must live?