Book Review: THE GIRL WHO FOUND WATER, By Chibuzor Mirian Azubuike
Is Nigeria still worth dying for? Is she worth risking one’s life for today? In this riveting personal account, The Girl Who Found Water: Memoirs of a Corps Member, Chibuzor Mirian Azubuike, confronts her fears and insecurities as she embarks on the mandatory post-college national service in a part of Nigeria that is not only alien to her but is also immersed in violence.
Chibuzor had dreamed of serving in her choice southern states. But then she receives a rude awakening after finding out that she was posted instead to the northeastern state of Bauchi, where eleven of her, predecessors had been gruesomely murdered just three months earlier following post-election violence. Crestfallen, devastated, and despondent, she vows to manipulate herself out of her bleak situation. At last, she reluctantly embarks on a twelve-hour night bus ride to Bauchi, with the determination to seek redeployment upon arrival. Instead, she encounters a different “North” that questioned and altered her worldview, transforming her into a change agent in the process.
At the root of Chibuzor’s apprehension is the senseless bloodletting that has characterized northeastern Nigeria. Her bus ride reads like the reverse of Uwem Akpan’s short story, Luxury Hearses, in his Say You’re One of Them collection. Jubril, the protagonist in Luxury Hearses, escapes by bus, religious violence that threatens his life in the North. Just like Jubril, Chibuzor too plans to flee similar violence. But first, she has to risk a bus ride to the same North with the hope of getting her redeployment letter.
The Girl Who Found Water stirs to the fore the unfortunate cycle of politically motivated religious violence that continues to impede Nigeria’s unity. The National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) scheme—under whose aegis Chibuzor engaged her national service—was created in 1973, following the Nigerian civil war, to develop common ties among Nigerian youth towards the promotion of national unity. But the internecine fractions and frictions that led to that mindless fratricide still fester more than over four decades later. No doubt, the book also takes a subtle swipe at factors, like corruption, nepotism, and lawlessness, that undermine the Nigerian project. But it is religious violence, especially in its new face of Boko Haram, with its reign of terror, that carries the day as the biggest threat to Nigeria’s cohesion.
Nevertheless, in spite of all her challenges, Chibuzor insists that Nigeria is still worth dying for. She recalls an overwhelming emotion on the parade ground that made her feel “like a patriot, ready to give up my life for country.” Thank goodness she has role models. For one, the former DG of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), late Prof. Dora Akunyili, once said in an interview with Lagos-based Yes INTERNATIONAL! Magazine that she “scarified everything” for Nigeria in the course of her job. But then she added: “Nigeria is worth dying for any day, anytime, provided you are dying for the right cause.”
Many Nigerian youth would risk their lives for Nigeria—for the right cause, of course. The Girl Who Found Water delightfully demonstrates that there is a lot the youth can do if given the opportunity and encouragement. It makes a bold statement that the noble purpose of NYSC is worth preserving because it still works. It affirms that beyond ethnic, religious and language divides, Nigerians are still a people united by a shared humanity. Our human needs can be recognized and met by any one of us with enough conscience, compassion, and commitment. Our shared humanity transcends whatever we think divides us.
Chibuzor also speaks glowingly throughout the book of her warm relationship with her friends and family, especially her father. Their love and support enabled her to confront her fears and to prevail. Hers becomes a tale of human growth that attests to the benefits of transcending self in the service of others, of choosing a broad perspective over parochialism.
The book’s title speaks of water, of life, and of newness. But beyond that, its reminiscences of Moses finding water by striking a rock in the Bible speak to an inversion of power and gendered authority. Agency is exercised here not only by a female figure but by a “girl,” whose public actions, both in Moses’s and Chibuzor’s service contexts, are restricted by certain socio-religious norms and patriarchal privileges. Chibuzor holds up a “girl” who is both a visionary and a leader. She initiated, fundraised for, and coordinated the construction of the first borehole in Bigi Tudunwada village, and then went ahead to donate uniforms and writing materials to pupils as well as to renovate and equip a carpentry skill acquisition center in other communities.
As an amazing storyteller, Chibuzor nuances these contemporary Nigerian questions of unity, power, gender, service and sacrifice without losing her grip on her reader. She arrests her reader’s attention and engages their emotions with the sheer intensity and vividness of her narrative. That The Girl Who Found Water reads like fiction is a testament to her brilliance in telling a human story of heartbreaks with such beauty and verve that spotlight instead hope, heart, and humor.
– Review By Chijioke Azuawusiefe, SJ