10411811_868467093166267_7783033631112677398_nI first “met” Fiyin Onarinde one day in April, 2014, when I called to tell him, in Lagos, that I had once occupied the Fulbright FLTA role that he had by then being selected to fill at my old university. His supervisor, the director of the SIUE International Programmes Office, had sent me a mail and asked me to talk to him, answer some of his questions, and generally make him comfortable about travelling to the US for a new experience. We talked for a while, and he promised to call me back, which he did.

He eventually went to SIUE to become one of the memorable Fulbright FLTAs at the Department of Foreign Languages where he taught Yorùbá for two semesters, and made lots of friends. While he was there, we kept in touch regularly, and got feedback from his colleagues, who saw him as a kind and sensitive soul. Later that year, I got a request from him to write an introduction to his book of poems which he had been trying to publish. It was a heartwarming request, which I immediately jumped at. You can read the introduction here, on his Facebook page. The book was published in February 2015.

Fiyin is dead now.

I heard the sad news last week through the same person who had first introduced me to him (who is now based in Ghana, who also heard the news from the university). After his Fulbright year, Fiyinfoluwa had moved from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville to SIU Carbondale to begin a graduate programme. We lost contact for a while, and connected briefly in July while I was in the US. He had wanted to meet, and so did I. We scheduled a meeting, but it didn’t come through, and I haven’t heard from him since. Nobody knows the cause of his death, yet, but foul play has been ruled out, and an autopsy is pending. He was 31 years old, born on Apr 24, 1984, and died on October 18, 2015.

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In this picture, he’s reading to the daughter of his host parent. (Photo: Facebook)

The little I know about him show him to be a kind, sensitive, creative, and decent young man. Our Facebook messages were intermittent, but when we talked, we shared ideas about foreign language teaching, poetry, and the university culture in general. I regret not having met him in person, but the outpouring of condolences from those who did confirms that he made quite a significant impact on those who called him friend. His colleagues and supervisors had only nice things to say about him. He is survived by his parents, and a wife, Busola Asaolu Onarinde.

The SIUE African Student Association is holding a memorial service for him on Friday, November 6 at 4:30 at the Center for Spirituality and Sustainability. An online memorial has also been opened for him here.

His new book, Market Parliament and Other Poems can be purchased on Amazon.

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