The Peoples' Institute for Re-thinking Education and Development

The Wounded Wall Story

In a story from Nigeria, an old man who knows his time is near decides to complete one last project to bless his relationship with his city-dwelling son. He proposes they build a house together, a small mud hut, with their bare hands. The son agrees and relocates to the village where his aged father receives him with great generosity.

They begin in earnest, marking out the plot, clearing the field, drying out straw to help with thatching, and offering libations to bless their venture. Weeks go by and the project slowly materializes on a piece of land the father inherited from his own ancestors.

On the day the house is completed, the old man lies in his bed, expecting the very next breath to be his last. The son completes the thatching, sweeps the new compound, and runs to report the good news to his father. The old man listens in silence as his son tells him the house is complete, that it is beautiful, and that he is so proud to have been honored by his father. And then, to the son’s utmost surprise, the old man jumps out of his bed with an alien strength. He pulls out a large hammer from under his bed, takes a look at his son and says: “It is not complete. Not yet.” He marches to the new house, his son tailing him with a confused look on his face.

When they arrive, the father inspects the property, moves closer to one of its delicately moulded walls, and then – with one heaving blow – blasts a hole through it with his hammer. The son is speechless. When the dust settles, he father rests a trembling hand on his son’s shoulder.

He gestures at the gaping hole in the wall: “Now that the hole is there, people wandering by will ask if you need help. You must tell them yes. That is how community gets built. In the city, you are alone and whole. Here, you are wounded and gifted with the manifold.”

His final words will stay with him for years to come: “Nothing is complete until it is wounded.”