A pastor of the Ibo order

An excerpt from Lloyd Jones' new novel 'Hand Me Down World'
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If I am laughing it is because you have come here to Berlin to ask a pastor, a black man, about ghosts. Presumably you mean white ghosts.

Yes. I am being facetious. I apologise, perhaps just a wee bit. I speak four languages. Besides Ibo, I speak Italian, English, Oirish. I was trained by the Holy Ghost Fathers, an order of sunburnt white men from Dublin. Others like me became the Ibo order ‘Sons of the Soil’. I prefer to speak Deutsch since, after all, we are in Berlin. But under the circumstances Italian may be more appropriate.

It is true that I am an expert on some ghosts. For example, there are the ghosts we do not see, the spooky ghosts, the ghosts of the American imagination, creatures appearing in doors dressed in white bed-sheets with the eyes cut out. These are the ones small children worry are lying beneath their beds at night. These ghosts are a puzzle. I like American movies. But what I don’t understand about these particular ghosts is that we never see the consequences of the encounter. The ghost remains a spectre, no more than a possibility. Something to be afraid of. A manifestation of fear, such as the opposition parties in each and every undemocratic regime in Africa.

The other ghosts - the real ghosts if I may call them that - are simply those whom we choose not to see.

These people did not start out as ghosts. God put them on Earth as human beings. Here, I will show you on the map. This is where they began life. Around the horn of Africa. Liberia. Sierra Leone. Senegal. Gambia. Ivory Coast. The Western Sahara.

Many were fishermen. While they were fishermen they were human beings. But then the multinationals with high-tech trawlers scooped all the fish out of the sea and the fisherman with the net was left in the same state as his brothers gazing across fallow land in the midst of a drought. There is nothing left for the fisherman to do but leave.

This is the way they go. They walk, they catch a bus, a bush bus, hitch a ride. It is slow progress. In some cases I know of, it has taken one of God’s souls two years to reach here and here, Tunisia and Libya. And there the human traffi ckers sit in cafes with their worry beads. By now the process by which a man turns into a ghost is well advanced. A human being is of no more value than a sack of rice. A human being is merchandise. Then, once money passes hands, it is cargo. The cargo sets off in unseaworthy boats. Old fishing boats. Open boats. Over-crowded, poorly resourced. Without sufficient food or water - since when did merchandise have such requirements? And they disappear. They disappear at sea.