Dancing to the drumbeats of war.2

 

In 1993, the war drums were rolled out for rehearsals. The staccato rhythms beat across the land in the wake of the June 12 riots. And the people fled from their homes across the country in search of a safety that had become elusive. And they died in large numbers. Very few, if any died from gunshot wounds though. Most died from motor accidents, highway robberies and in some cases, from stampede.

There is a pathetic story of a family who hid their wad of cash in their baby’s diapers as they ran away from the Northern part of the country. When they got to the Lokoja bridge, they ran into highway robbers who demanded for their money. They insisted they had no money and the robbers began a meticulous search. Unfortunately, they found the money in the child’s diapers; they took the money, and threw the innocent baby over the bridge into River Niger. Father and mother turned back to where they were running away from, distraught, inconsolable. They had danced to the drumbeats of war, and it was not pleasant. This is just one out of the many horrible experiences that people went through in 1993 and 1994.

There was no actual war but the drummers drummed and the people danced. Rumours led to more rumors and panic bred pandemonium across the land as we all danced to the drumbeats of a war that existed in the hearts and imaginations of warmongers. Because you see, a war is not just a fight between two armies; a war is an attempt at destruction of everything your enemy represents. When a war happens, the lines are often blurred and the enemy becomes faceless. Fear and insecurity are the twin commodities that go on sale, and everyone is forced to buy. The reason I felt safe in 1970 was not because I was a child; it was more because the theatre of war too was far away for the drumbeats to be heard in my neighbourhood. But not anymore. This time, the sound is loud enough for the deaf to hear and the crippled to dance to its ugly beat.

 

Dancing to the drumbeats of war. 1

There was a song they used to sing in those days; it goes something like this:

Ojukwu wanted to scatter Nigeria!

Gowoni say Nigeria must be one!

We are fighting together with Gowon!

To keep Nigeria one!

It was a song about the Nigerian civil war and kids marched to it during and immediately after the war. But I don’t remember singing it, or any other song during the war. Because I was a baby. I didn’t know what war was, nor what it meant for people to fight and kill one another.

But I do have a clear memory of the war. At least, I recall one period that had a direct, lasting impact on me. The memory is of us-my Mum and siblings- in my maternal village; everyone seemed to be there, although I don’t quite recall seeing my father. He may have been in his own village, a few kilometres up the road, or maybe he had remained in town, working in his office, where he had some strange machines, including one that made squawking noises all day, with people shouting, “something, something over!” which I would later realize was the equivalent of a telephone system.

Anyway, I don’t know if my Dad was there or not, but I know my numerous uncles were there, as well as a lot of other people. Baba was there, as was Nene, the matriarch of the Ojo clan. And though it was wartime, the emotions I recall clearly were happiness and a deep sense of peace and security. Strange that I would feel a sense of peace and security in the midst of war, right? But honestly, that was what I felt.

And I remember a day during that period that I cannot forget. It was the day Apapa was bombed. Apapa was the name of a neighbourhood in my hometown where Mobil, the oil company, had its Tank Farm, or whatever name it was known by. They had these huge silo-like things that were used for storing petroleum products, and till this day, I do not know who did the bombing, Biafra or Nigeria. But I remember seeing a huge column of black smoke rising into the sky from the relative safety of my village, several kilometres away. I remember the shouts of “abombu Apapa, abombu Apapa!” (meaning: “Apapa has been bombed” we like to repeat things for emphasis where I come from!)

I don’t know why that incident stands out of all the wartime experiences, but somewhow I remember it clearly. When I recounted it to my Mum many years later, she was surprised at my ability to remember, but I honestly don’t think it has anything to do with my memory; it’s just one of those things that the brain of a child holds on to. So I remember that one incident, clearly. But there was no fear. And I think I know why.

You see, fear and insecurity are twin brothers. Siamese twins to be precise. One does not go without the other. No matter how much we deny it, our deepest fears are fueled by a sense of insecurity. And that period of my life was as secure as could be. I knew I was loved, deeply and totally, by the people around me. There was my Mum, first child of a doting father and a fierce but equally loving mother. There was my grandmother, who was a lioness, a tigress and a mother hen rolled into one. And there was my grandfather: tall, light-skinned, handsome, with a deep baritone and a confident gait. He was ruler of all he surveyed and there was such an aura of peace around him that it spread to all and sundry. The food was plentiful, play was undisturbed, school was an unknown in the future and I had never been flogged or severely scolded. I was safe. And I knew it. So I didn’t care that whether or not Apapa was bombed. War held no meaning for me. I was safe as could be.

to be continued…

My Warri Chronicles 8. The Library

 

 

My favourite place in all of Warri was the local library. It was situated on Swamp road, at one end of the GRA. It was just a short stroll from my school to the library. The day I discovered that little building, my life changed forever!

I was always a bookworm, and though we had quite a rich library at home, it was never enough. I read anything that was written on a piece of paper, even the ones I did not understand.

One day, during the “Long break”, usually about 30-45 minutes, a friend told me the library was just around the corner; and off we went. As I went through those hallowed doors, I thought I had entered Heaven! How could so many books be in the same place, all waiting for me to devour? I wanted to borrow ten books at once, but the librarian, a stern-looking buxom lady, would have none of it. She said I could borrow one book and read for a week, and if I finished it then she would allow me to borrow two books per week from the children’s section.

Me? One book per week? Okay na.

I filled the form/card and was issued a temporary library card. And I went home with one book. The following day at break time I was back in the library with the book in hand. And the librarian was mad! She said she knew we were not serious! I had returned the book without even attempting to read it, bla bla bla bla..ad infinitum!

I was a very quiet girl, so I politely waited for her to finish pouring the verbal venom on me. When she finally ran out of steam, I told her I had read the book and could tell her the entire story if she wanted. Of course, she did not believe me. So I told her the story, almost word for word. She went quiet, and looked at me ‘one kind.’ Then she let me borrow another book, slightly bigger. And I returned it the next day.

After that, the library became my personal space during the break, and that lady became one of my favourite human beings. Soon she was letting me go home with five books at weekends. And on Mondays, I would return them and we would discuss books like two equals.

It was in that space, I discovered Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and so many wonderful writers that helped to shape my brain and probably, that was when the secret desire to be a writer began. I’m not too sure, but it did contribute a lot to my all-time love for books and libraries.

 

Yes, my Warri was not all rough edges; we had the panache that exists only in bookish towns.

That was my Warri. And we will bring it all back again. Soon.

#MyWarriChronicles #Warri #HomeTowns #WarriNoDeyCarryLast #BornTWriteWell #ElsieWrite

 

My Warri Chronicles 7. Trekking

 

Trekking in Warri was not necessarily an indication of poverty or non-ownership of a family car. At, least, not where I lived. It may seem strange to some people in this era but in the time in which I grew up, your family could own several cars, but you would walk to school, or the neighborhood shops and markets. And very often you would walk to church or fellowship too.

Case in point: I had a schoolmate in primary 5, who was from a wealthy home. They lived somewhere on/around Idama street, close to the Rerri family, I believe. I do not have their permission to write about them so I will not mention their name but they were quite well-to-do back then. But we all trekked home from school every day.

We would trek from our school, close to the Warri library, through Ginuwa road, turn into Father Healy street, pass through Nelson William street and then go down Ogboru road till we got to Idama. From there, people began to turn into their various homes.

Trekking for us was neither poverty nor punishment; it was fun, and it was an accepted mode of transportation. We would tell stories, jokes, and riddles. And we would laugh with glee. Sometimes, there would be a quarrel and two people would break into a fight. And that was another form of entertainment. But we played much more than we fought. And of course, the language of communication was pidgin, the Warri pidgin.

In those days there was no DSTV, or any form of cable Television for that matter. And we did not have the freedom of going out whenever we wanted, so the time spent walking home from school was our time of bonding and deep friendships.

In my Warri, we had no issues of kidnapping, child rape and some of the evils that make neighborhoods so dangerous today. We were kids and we had the freedom to be young and carefree. And we trekked. No shame, no pain.

Of course, there were kids who didn’t trek. I doubt if the Mabiakus, Rewanes, Edodos and such other Warri “Bill Gates” did any trekking, but no matter; some of us did, and we thought nothing of it.

It was our Warri, our way of life. And it was good.

#WarriChronicles #MyWarri #HomeTowns #IAmAWriterByChoice#BornToWriteWell #ElsieWrite

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My Warri Chronicles 2.

The economy of Warri back then rested squarely on the oil exploration companies, and on the companies that served/ serviced them. Shell was the de facto government in Warri. NNPC followed a close second. They owned beautiful housing estates that had swimming pools, well-manicured lawns, clubhouses and an otherworldly ambiance. If you had friends and family living in “Shell Estate” then you were a big man for sure.

You never went quietly to visit your relatives in those places. If you were a shy and quiet kid like me, you would whisper it in a few choice ears that you would not be around after church on Sunday because the family will be visiting that your uncle that resides in NNPC quarters. That was all. Your status went up several notches. And you were hated the more.

And then more kids would want to befriend you so they can come over to watch TV. And so on and so forth.

But there were other companies that gave you status, set you apart somewhat. I already mentioned the oil- servicing companies; they paid well and had “class.” I remember McDermott, although, for many years, I could not accept the idea of McDermott as a company; I think the street on which the company was situated was named after it, and McDermott road became more popular than McDermott company. But they were an okay company to work for.

There was NPA- Nigerian Ports Authority- they were high up there with the oil coys. My best friend, Toma, was an NPA kid so I could flex some on her account.

Lower down the ladder were companies like Kingsway stores (Kingsway Rendezvous was the first fast food company of its kind in Warri, I believe it gave birth to present day Mr. Biggs. They had the best meat pie in the entire universe!)

And then there was AG Leventis, which was where we belonged. And we were alright too, in our own way. There were many other companies that made Warri the vibrant city it was back then; long before the militancy and the nyamanyama that followed.

Soon we shall make Warri great again. Who will blow the TRUMPet?

image courtesy: http://www.nairaland.com

Warri rig

#warrichronicles #mywarri #Elsiewrite #IAmAWriterByChoice

My Warri Chronicles 1.

 

I grew up in Warri-Okumagba layout. It was neither a slum, nor a GRA. Everyone had their level, and respected it.

But there were interactions and jealousies across the divide.

Let me explain.

If you were living in a flat or bungalow that had its own toilets, kitchen etc, you were an object of envy from the neighbourhood kids.

To avoid being ‘waylayed’ and beaten up, you had to allow the neighbours watch TV in your living room. Your close friends would come in and sit on the carpet or on the arms of the chairs, (the chair itself was off limits), and the others who were neither friends nor foes would watch from the window.

Sometimes you had upwards of twenty kids between the living room floor and the window side.

And when they got very noisy you just had to say, ‘shhh!’ The message was well received.

You were hated/envied for speaking ‘simple and correct English.’ In Warri, pidgin is king. If you didn’t speak it you were suspect. Speaking your language was an offence though, pidgin was the thing. That was Okumagba layout.

That was my ‘hood for a time. Soon, I shall make a literary journey back there, but not yet.

Some holidays, we travelled to Trofani (Rivers state then, Bayelsa now). I hear there’s a bridge that links somewhere to Trofani now. Back then, we made the trip by boat. It was terrifying, and fun too.

This time I returned to Trofani. Without going there.

That’s the beauty of the written word. You can go anywhere you like and be anyone you want.

#NewBook #Elsiewrite #BornToWriteWell #IamWriting #IAmAWriterByChoicemap of Warri

Between the kitchen and the other room

Last week we celebrated the International Day of the Girl Child with a lot of noise. Michelle Obama celebrated by drawing a lot of media attention to her quest to educate girls around the world. Groups around the world did various things to show where and how they were standing with the girls. Our own First Lady, though not in direct celebration, displayed unusual spunk when she spoke up against her husband’s administration on international radio. No matter how you look at it, that has never been done before; that a First Lady would say something uncomplimentary about her husband’s administration. What we have had in the past are First Ladies who were ready to defend everything their husbands did, especially in the public. What they thought or did in private was nobody’s business. So when Aisha said what she said, the feminists applauded, believing that of a truth, the day of the girl child had come in Nigeria.

But alas! Oga President Buhari poured the proverbial and sand-sand in our garri with his response to the issues raised by his wife. The President, sitting next to a highly successful and achieving female leader of Germany, said that Aisha belongs to his living room, his kitchen and his ‘other room.’

What! He says stuff like that in the 21st century? President Buhari made nonsense of the gains of the week with his few careless remarks. And therein lies the problem of our society for me. Buhari by that statement shows that he is one who believes the education of women is a waste. Why do I say that? You do not need any fancy education to belong in three rooms. All you need is a front and a back. A Harvard degree is of little use in the living room where you sit and watch Zeeworld or in the kitchen where you stirring ‘tuwo’ and okro soup. Indeed you do not even need Primary school certificate to ‘remove cloth’ in the unnamed ‘other room.’ So if the President is saying all of that it shows where he stands. It is inexcusable though he was talking about his own wife. By virtue of her position, she represents every woman in our society, just as he represents every man in our society. That is the burden of leadership; his own opinion matters on every issue.

I do not consider myself a feminist but please allow me to ‘vex’ very well for the man and to attempt to put him and all men who think like that where they belong.  When a man says that his wife belongs in his kitchen and two other rooms in his house it says to me that he is living in delusion. Such men belong in the cave, hunting wild animals and berries for food. Women passed the kitchen stage a long time ago and no man should attempt to take us back there, not even as a joke. The fact that it was the president who aid it makes me want to weep for the Nigerian girl child. Between the three rooms in the President’s imagination are Doctors, Lawyer, Astronauts, Bankers, Engineers, Professors, Ministers and Governors. And let us not forget that, he was being hosted by someone who had escaped the kitchen and the other room. A woman who is shaping policy on an international level. Buhari should not forget that his minister of Finance is an escapee from his 3-room world, telling him how to run his economy.

I know someone will say he has the right to run his family the way he likes. I beg to disagree. He is the President of the country and people look up to him for direction. He spoke his mind and his beliefs. And that tells me that if he had his way that would be the fate of women everywhere. And even he meant it for only his wife it is still inexcusable. His wife is the First Lady and by that position she represents every Nigerian woman. When a woman at that level is relegated to the kitchen, it says a lot to the woman or man on the street.

Somebody should please help us tell Buhari that we are no longer in the kitchen and the other room. We left there long ago. We are now standing in every room in between.