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.

 

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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…

Happy Mothers Day! 

Today is Mother’s Day  in the US and since I’m in the US right now, I want to celebrate some amazing women that have mothered me here.

Top on the list is my beautiful sister, Francisca Ehikhuemen. From the moment I arrived in the US, I knew I was home. She has loved me and welcomed me with open arms. I have eaten what I want and done what I wish without feeling even a twinge of apprehension. Who does that?

Happy Mother’s Day Ma’am. I want you to know that your love and warmth has not gone unnoticed by Heaven. Your proper day of celebration is coming. The Lord will perfect all that concerns you. Nations will rise and call you blessed and you will reap the fruits of your labour.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Other women here have loved me too. Hannah Ezekiel went out of her to take me out and pamper me for a whole day! Warri sister like no other, African Mama with no apologies. I celebrate you and pray that God will wipe away every tear and restore everything the enemy has taken from you!

My high school sister, May Olusola has always been a blessing and we spent a beautiful evening together  catching up on old times. The Chinese dinner we shared will not be forgotten in a hurry. May all your motherhood dreams come true my dear sister.

Maureen Erere Ibe had never met me in real life and what she did shocked me to my roots. She drove forty five minutes with her kids to come see me and spent a lot of time with me which  I found most heartwarming. I would have been grateful if she had left it at that but she didn’t; she picked me up on a different occasion and took me to her home. I was not prepared for a sleep over but she would have none of it. She took me shopping, for lunch, breakfast the following day, and generally all over the place. Maureen, thank you for giving me that look into the typical life of a Texas mother. Your lovely kids and beautiful dog added so much colour to my stay and the sacrifice of your husband driving over an hour out of his way to take me home will not be forgotten in a hurry. Happy Mother’s Day beautiful sister.

My trip to Illinois was the icing on my cake. A woman who had never met me, married to a school mate, did so much to make me feel welcome that my heart is still pumping from the experience. I choose to write about her separately.

My sister of many years, Helen Black has been nothing but a blessing and I celebrate you. God bless you good.

Happy Mother’s Day to all these lovely women and many more who have brought me to where I am today. Our day of celebration is coming, but for today we are grateful for the joy of motherhood.

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 6. Warri Taxi

The Warri in which I grew up did not have this contraption they call keke napep or Marwa. It did not even have the one we call ‘okada’ (by the way, when will Igbinedion rescue that name from shame and disgrace?)

The thing that Warri had for transportation was the taxi cab. And if you are thinking of Uber, then sorry for you! In Warri we don’t do things like that.

The Warri taxi was old from the day of manufacture. It was usually ‘Datsun’ model if memory serves me right. New taxis in Warri were unheard of; why person go come take new ‘shasis’ moto take do taizi na? shuo! Na wa for you oh! (we will speak the Warri language soon, not today though).

The doors of the cab were attached by something that did not exist in real life. The drivers wore shirts that were either torn on one side or T-shirts that were permanently askew from too many washings, and the last wash was before the man became a taxi driver may years ago.

If you were not careful boarding or alighting from the Warri taxi, your dress, or at least some part of it, would remain in the taxi as souvenir to its cutting ability. And if any part of it touched your skin, you were guaranteed a cut that would earn you a tetanus infection in other cities. Not in Warri though. Our skins were made of tough material. In the Warri taxi, it is ‘2 for front, 4 for back.’
Although I seem to remember a time when it was different?

Then the taxis began to reduce in quantity and it was difficult to get around; especially if you had to go to the market. But in Warri, everything is an opportunity. Some smart guy came up with the idea of pick vans as passenger transport vehicles.
The route I recall was the one to Igbudu market. The pickups were as old and rickety as the taxi cabs, or older? The back was lined with a few benches and the people-usually women-would sit like they would in church waiting for a sermon, smelly body against smelly body.

Some passengers would face forward and others would face the place they were coming from; noisy, smelly, shaky, but it was a means of transportation.

It would shake its occupants all over the place at its own pace which was often at the whim of the driver.
At every bus stop, you would hear, “dropping dey, oh.” Until everyone got to wherever they wanted to go. Then they would rescue their limbs and waists from the cramped space and find their way home.

I don’t recall ever entering any of those things myself; but I trekked. In my Warri, trekking was often a means of transport and it was no big deal.

We shall talk about trekking another day…make una manage dis one first.

#warrichronicles #mywarri #BornToWriteWell #ElsieWrite#IAmAWriterByChoice

My Warri Chronicles 5. Market matters

Ogbe Ijoh market was right on the beach beside the Atlantic Ocean…or whatever the name of that body of water is…in other places, it would be said that the market is on the beach, but not in my Warri.

The market was on a large stretch of sand, so the Warri man…or woman…gave it an appropriate name; it was known as Sand Sand market.

I kid you not.

We had sand sand market in Warri, and it was where you got the best, straight-from-the-ocean seafood. The other place where seafood was in abundance was Pesu market, quite far from my end of town so, we did not go there often, but it was a good place to get some kinds of fish used for preparing some Ijaw or Urhobo delicacy.

Then there was McIver market. Or was it spelt Makaiva? I don’t know, and I doubt if the market women cared about the spelling. I never could tell the difference between Pesu and McIver…still can’t actually.

Ibo market was right in front of the St. Andrews Anglican Cathedral which was “our church.” And where I would marry decades later. The area around Ibo market could easily be referred to as the CBD of Warri in those days. The post office was in the same neighbourhood, alongside some other important government establishments that my memory is pushing away. I think P&T offices (Nitel) was in the same area.

Ibo market was where you bought fabrics for school uniforms, trousers, shirts and other “oyinbo” stuff like leather shoes, bags, etc etc. By its name, you knew immediately it had a high population of Ibo traders. It was not a particularly big market, in fact, it was more a combination of street shops, but it was a bustling place. And it served its purpose.

Everything in Warri served a purpose; the markets more so. To an outsider, Warri was a disorganized and disorderly place, but not true. Warri was one of the most organized cities I ever lived in. You just needed to understand the organogram.

Warri! One of your girls dey remember you!

#WarriChronicles #WarriNoDeyCarryLast #HomeTowns