Growing up, my mother would often refer to herself and my father as ‘at’apata dide’, literally meaning they grew up from a rock. This is a phrase used to describe people who started from nothing. A rock is bare and usually nothing grows on it. It is no wonder then that my parents are my inspiration in all things. They have managed to go further in life than either of them could have ever dreamed possible. More than the material care they lavished on me, the habit of resilience that they have bestowed on me is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.
Both of my parents are story-tellers. Their stories have been a compass to me. My mother told me that as a medical student she could not afford books, so she would read her classmates’ books well ahead of examinations. My father told me of a time when his father had no money for school fees. So they both went to chop down some trees to sell the lumber. They ran into problems transporting them and had to carry them by hand some of the way. ‘At’apata dide’ means that you must always look forward, one more step is assurance that you will not return to the barrenness of the rock. It means that you must always look for a way, even when the future seems bleak, because anything is better than the relying on the fruitlessness of the rock.
Travelling to Koro-Lolle and Olle-Bunu, we regularly traversered some weather-beaten untarred roads, but the untouched beauty of the landscape was well worth the trouble of getting logged down in muddied and eroded soil. The geographical lessons were well worth the bumps in the road. When you passed by the sometimes silent satiated savanna forests, you understood more deeply what ‘at’apata dide’ meant. It means more than anything, strength of character, but it also means heart. A beautiful heart can be strong as well.
Recently, I have been thinking of my secondary school Agricultural Science and Integrated Science lessons and what we were taught about rock plants. We learnt that plants and trees that grow in or on rocks have morphological adaptations that enable them to survive the seeming desolateness of the rock. Here are a few of those adaptations:
Their root systems have a non-uniform distribution: this is because they are continually seeking for nourishment, so they are flexible. They do not conform to stereotype of expectation. They can go as deep as possible. If they go down a certain pathway in the soil and find no food, they must change course of wither and die. To survive rock plants learn to change course.
Their roots go down, way down into the soil: this means they are patient. They know that there is food somewhere, so they just have to keep on going. This also means that when they find food, they are unlikely to be uprooted by a mild wind – not even by a heavy wind. Their roots hold them up. Rock plant keep standing, because of where their roots are.
The upper parts of the tree may not look great, but they receive inner strength from within. They are less likely to be blighted by the weather, or disease or pollution. In a world that makes outer beauty into a must-have, rock plants turn their noses up at the mould. It does not really matter what they look like on the outside. Because on the inside, rock plants are indestructible.
Even though the rocks, logically seem to be stronger that the tree, in the long run, the tree will break the rock. Resilience and patience always wins. Because there is life in the tree, it will keep going till it gets what it needs. There is life in the tree, there is life in its roots. There is no life in the rock. So the rock plant keeps going. It never gives up. It keeps going.
Keep going. We can all be rock plants.