While applying for my driver’s license last week, I had to answer a few questions at the Secretary of State’s office. One of them was whether I wanted to register to vote. I found this very helpful, even though I’m not American and I turned down the offer immediately. But the fact that the system is set up in such a way that voters can register at the nearest Secretary of State’s office even when elections are far away made a lot of sense. It will reduce the rush that must attend such events when elections come close. There are many things to learn from that.

The other questions I was asked was whether I ready to sign up for the Organ-Tissue donor programme. This is a programme of the state where one’s name is put in a list of prospective donors and a card is put on one so that in case of a fatal accident, one’s body would not go to waste but would be put to immediate use to save someone else’s life somewhere else. One of America’s socialist programs that makes sense, but my immediate response to that, which I didn’t immediately understand, was tufiakwa. No way. Why would I donate any body organ? Who needs it anyway? And more importantly, why am I being asked this question right now? Are they saying that I am going to die the first time I get behind the wheels? And, to borrow a thought from George Carlin, would anyone who finds me at a point of death on the road at the site of an accident have any motivation to save my life if he knows that I have a body organ/tissue that he needs to some transplant for some other dying person? Yea, crazy questions in one moment of answering a question: “Yes or no, sir?” It didn’t help that a first attempt to donate something to the Red Cross ended up in a rebuff tied to the part of the world from where I came. Read the very annoying old piece here.

The next time I talked to someone about it – someone who had actually signed up and technically donated all her body parts to science in the case of her demise (in a motor accident or such), I was told a very revealing statistic: over ninety percent of black people answered “no” to the organ/tissue donor question. Is this surprising to me? Not really. Africans have a strong attachment not only to life and its selfish preservation (do they, really?), but also to their own dead bodies for which they really have no further use. What would it do to me, for instance, if after I’m dead, the remaining useless body is cut and distributed to help someone still living, and the rest burned up with the ashes scattered across some peaceful place? The real reason for objection is that we really really don’t want to consider dying. The same reason why people refuse to make wills, immediately one begins to consider dying, there is a prevalent belief that one has set the process in motion.

Now, before I go, I must tell you that while sitting and waiting for my license to be printed – which was like two to three minutes after the road test – three white people answered “no” to this same question, without any visible change in comportment – the kind of which I had experienced the first time I gave the answer. I say this to somewhat debunk the racial aspect to the objection. In any case, the whole matter has got me thinking very deeply about not just what it means to be selfless, but what it means to die.

Why did I decide to get a car and a driver’s license in the first place? Yes, it beats me too. 🙂

PS: Contrary to the selfish sentiments in this post, it is not meant to discourage people from donating organs to save lives. It’s a very worthy endeavour.

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