It’s not often you see a Nigerian poet breaking the norm regarding language usage in their literary works. Nigeria is an English-speaking country with a mixture of local languages, Pidgin, and broken English. We have over two hundred traditional languages, in which three languages—Yorùbá, Hausa and Igbo—are largely spoken. One then wonders, out of all the aforementioned languages, why did Fasasi, a Yorùbá, go into the Arabic world to choose a title? Looking closely, Fasasi’s religion, Islam, plays a huge role in giving his micro chapbook its unique title, Sidratul Muntaha.
Sidratul Muntaha means “mysterious threshold marking the utmost boundary in the seventh sky,” coined from Sidrat al-Muntahā, which refers to the great tree full of leaves and a great shade located in the seventh heaven. What comes to mind when heaven is mentioned? A place of relief. What comes to mind when, after a long journey with your head boiling due to the harshness of the sun and the soles of your feet crying for help due to the hotness of the earth, you finally find a large tree with leaves to shade you? A place of tranquillity. Therefore, Fasasi’s title is a metaphor for somewhere safe, habitable, a haven after a lot of struggle, a land after surviving the mayhem of the sea, a home after years of being a nomad, a wet place after dragging one’s cracked heels through the mummies-filled hot desert.
In one of the ten poems that make up the micro chapbook, Fasasi writes, “Femi said; take me to the place of peace or take me to the very end of this chaos, a place beyond our exodus. Masar said; take me to Sidratul Muntaha, the place of tranquillity, a paradise of unimaginable things.”
Migration is the subject matter of Fasasi’s micro chapbook. In today’s Nigeria, it’s on almost every youth’s lips as jápa, meaning to escape in Yoruba.
The trans-Atlantic slave trade was a major event that brought about a mass movement, especially among Africans. Migration is as old as human existence. We’re always moving from one territory to another.
Adam and Eve’s migration from a place of tranquillity to a place of hardship was caused by deceit. Noah’s ark migrated all living beings and escaped the greatest flood of all time. Jesus, alongside his mother, fled from his place of birth to Nazareth. Moses fled from Egypt to Midian, returned to Egypt and then migrated with the Israelites across the red sea—the sea is a passage here, you see? It remains one of the great passages of migration to date. In Fasasi’s faith, the Prophet Mohammed also migrated from Makkah to Madina, which is called Hijra, through the desert. The desert is a key word here. Another means of migration which is still happening in the 21st century, you see? Fasasi writes, “And I say; take the desert off me, undo me of the sea, take me to my beloved, tell him I followed the path of al hijrah.”
In the above opening, we see how humans and migrations are inseparable. I believe migration isn’t stopping any time soon and will continue till the end of life. Aren’t we also migrating to heaven–for those who believe in it–at the end of the day? Fasasi uses his poetic tools to lay bare the consequences of migration.
The movement comes with a price; some are sweet, some bitter, some bitter-sweet. Bringing Nigeria into the picture means we’ll look at the phenomenon that pushes her inhabitants to migrate. I like to think that people migrate for different reasons, but here, the obvious phenomenon triggering migration is poverty and the ability to survive amidst chaos and insecurities.
Humans are sometimes like frogs or fish—these animals won’t survive if their home is on fire. Poverty is fire. Insecurity is fire. Other inhumane conditions are fire. But what happens on the way to a place bereft of fire?
In Another Sea Tragedy, Fasasi writes:
In another shipwreck, 72 Sudanese, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Gambian, and Pakistani, become a unison flock, journeying their ways into heaven. What would they tell the angels at the border of the clouds? Where would they say they were from, from the sea that wrecked them? Or the countries that banished them? What justifiable reason would they give for dashing out their lives? The gate of Europe was closed on them. I pray, may they never be rejected at the border of heaven; the angels saying you are not welcome, the sea spitting them out like a bitter kola nut, everyone Saying they are unwanted, they are not welcome. I wish they have enough reasons to get them to Sidratul Muntaha.
A UNHCR/IOM joint press release on April 23, 2021, says, “The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.” Fasasi titles one of the poems, At Agadez, in memory of this heart-wrenching event. Agadez is one of the largest cities in Niger. It lies in the Sahara desert, and the Sahara desert is surrounded by some other African countries like Chad, Libya, and Morocco, which leads to Spain and other European countries.
According to Wesley Dockery in The Sahara Route, migrating through the Sahara means one’s fate is tied to violence, robbery, kidnapping, and sexual assault. Many actors often perpetrate these acts, from smugglers and border guards to militias, roving gangs and migrants. Or worse still, you manage to get to the Mediterranean from Agadez like the retrieved bodies. The sea has its negativity, too, as Fasasi reinstates in At Agadez. He writes
At Agadez, all I dreamt of was the blueness of the sea.; Histories at the sea bed; the photographs already losing their faces, The screams no one could hear, the earrings, baby shoes, bracelets, medium-sized undies, letters that couldn’t get to their recipients, diaries.
Economic or financial stability escapes individuals from poverty. Many seek this stability to afford the basics of life and ensure their immediate families get by in society. Another important reason for migration is seeking greener pastures, as they say. A country or place that is not one’s place of birth can be difficult as a settlement. Getting along can be uneasy as one finds different cultures, rules, and ways of life contrary to where one is coming from. An immigrant finds it almost impossible to reach out to his family at the early stage of migration. He misses his family members, and the members of his family miss him too, but unfortunately, this sacrifice is a price everyone involved must pay. It’s inevitable, and for this reason, Fasasi writes to his brother, Taoheed, who’s in Poland, to make ends meet.
Am I on to the Polish Embassy? I seek my brother; a friend And a foe, it has been long we hear from him, they said he has enjoyed your water, your air has made him so forgetful and he’s choking, Tell him, everyone is taking me into account, they said it is our consensus, When I have tasted nothing of your bread not even your soup, Tell him to call home, that mama sits by the phone expecting to hear his voice.
Fasasi’s theory of migration, as a poet of the Islamic faith, believes in the essentiality, totality, and absoluteness of supplication. He believes that a Sidratul Muntaha is a place, a tree, a haven, a paradise where one should end up after the toil, the hustle and bustle of migrating from one place to another. Towards the end of the micro chapbook, Fasasi prays:
I pray this malaise will not be your end and if your end shall come, Let it be the place of your clothes, I pray you will not be another carcass Savoring the thirst of vultures, a wilted tulip beside some hungry cactuses, If you are going to wilt, let it be in the arms of love, I pray you will not be Ashes buried beside the sea, or green bag in an unknown morgue, If you would be a morgue, let it be an old man waiting for the eternal pleasure. I pray you will not be an elegy in exile and if you are to be a sad poem, let it be A country of women, an assembly mourning the demise of a patriot or an eminent.
Fasasi’s collection of poems is made up of ten short poems that let you into the world of immigrants; the ones who died in the course of migration, the ones who drowned, the ones who survived but still suffer from the trauma of the aftermath of illegal migration (which is not their fault), the ones who made it legally but struggled to find their feet in the diaspora—these particular groups aren’t forgetful, they still remember why they are abroad, they are just trying to find balance. Fasasi writes objectively and carefully as he tables the cons of migration through his poetic lens, and he doesn’t forget to insert the theme of hope in the collected poems through a prayer-like poem.