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.
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
#warrichronicles #mywarri #Elsiewrite #IAmAWriterByChoice
(The African woman faces untold hardships in her quest to provide for her family; this story and a few others published on this blog are excerpts from my book on the African woman titled “Gold River.” Gold River is due for release soon. Watch this space)
She lifted a corner of the curtains to look out into the pitch darkness beyond the windows. The world outside was silent and eerie. No sound whatsoever; even the neighbourhood cocks that would start crowing as early as 3am had chosen to be quiet. They seemed to know instinctively that all was not well in their little corner of the world.
Hauwa was worried as she dropped the curtain back with a silent sigh. What was she going to do? She had no idea that time it was but she guessed it must be about 4:30 am. She had been awake for hours as she usually was most nights but tonight had been different. Most nights she was up as early as 3am to begin preparing for her day. Her daily routine involved going to the tiny building at the back of the house that served as kitchen and factory rolled into one. She would then begin the painstaking process of making her hibiscus wine, known locally as ”Zobo.” The drink was easy to prepare but it required care and attention to detail so that the taste would be just right. Many women across the metropolis sold Zobo but Hauwa liked hers to stand out. That way she sold off her stock quickly and she was assured of continued patronage. Her Zobo was being talked about in the neighbourhood and she had dreams that one day she would actually go places as her Pastor kept telling her in jest. Recently she had upgraded her operations from the simple cellophane packaging to bottling, if you could call it that. She collected bottles of water from people who drank bottled water and she washed them thoroughly with soap and hot water and used the bottles to package her drink. By that singular act she had increased sales by over one hundred percent. Her clientele had also gone several notches higher. The people who would not buy her juice because they felt the packaging was unhygienic and could not be trusted were now flocking to her.
Hauwa had also increased her product line. From the very easy to prepare Zobo drink, she had added Kunu zaki. Kunu zaki was made from millet grains and required even more care in preparation but Hauwa was nothing if not careful. She was seeing increased sales and a major shift upward in the family income. So she was excited every day and did not mind jumping out of bed before dawn. She did not mind the long hours she put into preparing her juices for sale and the long trek to where her customers were eagerly waiting for the refreshing drink. She also did not mind that she had to go to the market every day to buy her stock and then be home in time to prepare dinner for the family and attend to the kids before falling into bed exhausted about midnight every day. She did not mind that for all her hard work she had only two wrappers and a few tops to show for her wardrobe; she wore those two wrappers to church, weddings, parties and everywhere requiring her to look nice. The clothes were long past their glory days but she acted like she did not care; of course she did, but what could she do about it? There were other issues at stake, bigger problems crying for attention and clothes were not on her list of priorities; after all she was not naked was she? Her family could feed and that was the most important thing. They could go to school though it was a big challenge most of the time. They never had enough of anything and almost everything they needed had to be carefully evaluated to make sure it was a pressing need. The only catch was that these days everything on their list was a pressing need!
Hauwa’s mind ran a dozen miles that early morning as she mentally ticked off the things they needed urgently: a new pair of school shorts for Baba, whose old pair was so badly torn and patched that it would take no further mending, new pants for the two girls, the old ones had fallen to pieces and she had been scandalized to see that her younger daughter was going to school without underwear! The toilet soap was finished, they had resorted to using salt in place of toothpaste several weeks ago and she could not remember the last time the family had luxuries like body lotions and deodorants. She had learnt to improvise; Shea butter which was sold very cheaply in the market was good enough for the skin and for deodorant she had adjusted to rubbing half a lemon under her arm to eliminate the smell of sweat.
All these thoughts rushed through her mind as she paced restlessly across the room, waiting for some sign of life from outside; something to show that it was safe to step out and face her production line so her family could be assured of a meal for that day. This was not the usual pattern but then, nothing was usual about this night. The sound of heavy gunfire had woken her up hours earlier; and she knew that everyone else must be awake too; too frightened to come out before it was broad daylight. The gunfire had gone on for so long with indistinct voices shouting in a strange language a short distance away. Hauwa could not be sure where exactly was being robbed, or if it was in fact a robbery operation. She found herself almost praying that it was indeed a robbery operation, the alternative was too frightening to be considered..