Tag Archives: breaking rules

Swinging Party

No, not that kind of swinging (tut tut!). The good old-fashioned swinging on a swing kind of party. This story goes back a very long time (well over 20 years) so bear with me if I ramble on. Let me set the scene. This happened in Yola, capital ‘City’ of Adamawa State in North East Nigeria circa 1990. That is where I spent my childhood. I was 5 going on 6. I will tell you a little bit about Yola for those of you (I suspect most of you) who know it not.

Yola is a big town or as we residents like to call it a small ‘City’. It is one of the oldest established towns in the region and is the home to one of the biggest surviving Kingdoms (the ‘Adama’ kingdom) which covers a large region from around Taraba State across the North East border of Nigeria into Cameroun covering places like Ngaoundere and Maroua. All are united by the language Fulfulde, ruling the Fulani people. The King resides in old Yola town which is a stone throw from my childhood home. Happily, some of the royal traditions still exists and the Palace is a beautiful example of old Northern Nigerian architecture. I digress. So back to Yola. It is very close to the Sahara and indeed North-East of Yola we do boast an expanse of desert these days as deforestation and global change take hold. By virtue of location, it is very hot. Average temperature is above 35oC and at its peak, it is between 40-45oC. The coolest I remember is about 20oC and we all thought we were going to freeze to death. Again I digress. Suffice it to say, Yola is a traditional town. Hot, dry and home to my childhood memories and many of my family members and the Joda family home.

Now to explain the lack of public services and amenities. The Government does not take its public health and basic amenities seriously to say the least. Up until the last decade, most places do not have a proper waste disposal site. Still a problem in Yola. Electricity is patchy at best despite paying your bills. Water shortage is a chronic problem. Many have to rely on wells and for the more well of, boreholes with (if you can afford it) a mechanised system of pumping water into an overhead tank which then ensures you have a steady clean supply into your home. As you may have realised, in a hot town like Yola this is a very big issue.

We were one of those lucky one who had an overhead tank so water was in plentiful supply most of the time. I think it was early summer holidays before the rainy season was in full swing. On a day that was pregnant with heat, waiting on the next rain and we were bored with nothing to do. We had in the past had a tyre swing on a tree at the back of our house but my sister went and broke her arm so my mum had the tree cut down and we were without swing. We had dogs at home and chains for the rare occasion they were left out of their hut during the day (they were ferocious guard dogs who took their duties very seriously you see so poor neighbours needed protecting). There was 5 year old me. My sister was 9. A neighbour probably 11 years old and a cousin maybe 16 years old. One of us had the bright idea to set up a swing and we quickly realised the dog chains were the strongest rope substitute we had. We then debated where to hitch this swing and looking around the outside, soon settled on the metal frame holding up our water tank. We worked quickly and within minutes, we had our makeshift swing. The metal frame was definitely NOT set up for swinging on so with the swinging came a slight swaying and an ominous sound. Did we pay heed? Not on your life.

We swung merrily away, laughing and having the time of our lives. Our neighbour, Hajja Adama (now sadly departed), who was probably in her 50s then, came to investigate the sounds and discovered our misdeed. We paused, caught in the act and knowing how wrong it was. I don’t know how we did it but we soon convinced her to sit on it and being a much ‘heavier’ customer, the tank frame protested loudly. She jumped off and left but we knew she wouldn’t be reporting us. We got carried away as you do and unfortunately for us, my stepfather caught us in the act and we all got a caning for it. Well-deserved too but you should have heard the shrieks as we jumped about and he tried to cane us on our legs. Of course, the swing was very swiftly dismantled, never to be resurrected again. I might have cursed him too (cheeky little girl that I was) but you know what, the danger and the act of breaking the rules intentionally gave us such joy that I will never forget that swinging day. So good!

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Is the UK really a democracy or is it a dictatorship in cloaks?

no to war

Do you all remember when Tony Blair announced that Afghanistan was a direct threat to us UK citizens and that we would be sending in troops with America to fight the Taliban? That was in 2001. I was only 16 years old. Yet I saw straight through that lie. What a whopper! America was out for blood after September 11th and wanted one man in particular Osama Bin Laden. Majority of the UK population knew this. The marches in protest against sending in troops were the biggest ever in British history. Numbers quoted for those marches were around the 30,000 mark (police say 20,000, some sources say up to twice that number). I was one of those thousands of face. I might have been once of the few ‘children’ there but I can tell you, there were people from all works of life. Some poor, many middle class, few clearly wealthy. Some young adults, some elderly with walking aids, even the odd scooter here or there. There were Caucasians, Asians, middle Easteners and Africans like me. There were atheists, agnostics, muslims, christians, hindus, buddhists and more. Many came from all corners of the UK to join those of us who lived in London. We all marched for hours across London. We made it clear that we did not agree with the premise of the war and did not want our taxes paying for the illegal invasion of a foreign land. We signed petitions. The media talked about it for weeks on end.

The outcome? Tony Blair and his Government went ahead to approve the war and committed us to over 10 years of conflict. Our taxes paid for more than an estimated £37 billion. 454 of our armed forces died in that war. An estimated 21,000 innocent civilians living in Afghanistan, already terrorised by their Government and the Taliban, lost their lives. All because America lost 2996 people in the September 11 twin towers bombings. Sure that is a big number but what does it have to do with the UK really? Is the US not big enough to fight its own battles? Where is the proof that it was actually Bin Laden that carried out the bombings? Or maybe it was the Taliban. If there had been proof, the Afghanistan Government was willing to extradite those responsible. No such proof was forthcoming. Instead, the innocent were slaughtered.

Now their blood is on our hands. Despite the fact we stood up and said no. So I ask you: how is this a democracy when a significant proportion of your electorate says  we do not want it and you don’t even dignify them with a proper answer. No appropriate justification or apology for the cost of the war which we all could predict but not the government that is supposed to be looking after us. Can you imagine what we could have done with that £37 billion pounds instead? That is over £2.8 billion a year. That could have paid for 95,000 junior doctors, 113,000 band 5 nurses or 98, 000 high school teachers. We could have paid for most of the proposed high speed rail project (estimated £46 billion) or paid for an upgrade of our main railways and motorways. Which would you rather invest your money in?

Personally, as a taxpayer I would have been happy for the money to be spent on any of the aforementioned worthy projects which would improve our lives. I resent that I involuntarily paid for the slaughter of thousands of innocent Afghanis. Similarly, we invaded Iraq and the costs are still adding up. Because our murdering politicians (Tony Blair and his parliament) decided like a bunch of dictators to pursue an agenda not in the interest if their population. Not only are we still paying the financial cost, we now face bigger threats from groups like Islamic State who have evolved directly from the Afghani/Iraq conflict and our role in it. So shame on you Tony Blair and whoever was in a position to stop this and chose not to. Shame on you, You murderers of innocent children and women and unarmed men. Shame on you politicians pretending to be democratic when clearly you are the worst kind of dictators. Who else wants to declare war on these criminals and invade them, capture them and extradite them to Afghanistan and Iraq so that they can be punished for their war crimes? Anyone?

A Frenchie Couple of Days

Ebola is easy [to catch]. In the 1990s scientists in America put an [Ebola] infected monkey in a cage on one side of a room and a healthy monkey in a cage on the other. Two weeks later, the healthy monkey was dead. Following a spate of Hollywood films, most people believe the human race is at greatest risk of annihilation from a giant meteorite or some kind of religious nuclear war. But if Ebola ever gets on a plane, experts say that 90 per cent of us will be dead within six months. It is known in America, where they are good at names, as a ‘slate wiper.’

I am quoting directly from Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘The World According to Clarkson’. I have been trying not to lotl (laugh out too loud) as he brilliantly ridicules everything from the Lottery’s Heritage fund to the British Government’s then PM His royal Tonyness to the fact that Germans actually rule the world. Of course, the Ebola bit is not in the least bit funny. It is kinda scary in this period when Ebola has taken nearly 1000 lives in Africa. Having read half of Clarkson’s book so far and finding myself agreeing with him on things I never thought we would have in common, I came across this quote on Ebola and it prompted me to put the book down and write this blog. I am currently sitting in Charles De Gaulle Airport (Paris) and trying not to be suspicious of everyone that passes by me. I am especially trying not to be racist against my own race since majority of known infected patients are from West Africa like me. I am to my shame eating my first Mackey D’s meal in 5 years because it was a choice between a McDonald’s, something piggy or a dry bit of chicken for the price of venison in a Michelin-starred restaurant in England. In the end, it was an easy choice, if a little disappointing.

This is one of my main gripes with Paris. On British telly, all the chefs are always saying how all food French is simply amazing and many a guidebook or review will agree with that. Well, that’s a lot of kaka I tell you. The first time I went to Paris, I innocently believed in these chefs’ believes so imagine my horreur when I asked for a bit of authentic French fod (onion soup) and when it came it tasted like dirty boots with no salt and the texture was not much better. Now I am one of those people who once I make a choice to have a meal, I can usually eat a fair bit of it and remain positive even it is not the best meal I have tasted. With this soup, the crushing disappointment combined with the disgusting taste and I couldn’t manage more than a couple of spoon fulls. I had to resort to sharing my mama’s salad which thankfully was more palatable. Then on my 2nd trip this time with my mama and dear sister, we were on the Avenue de Champs Elysee when hunger struck and we decided to chance the overpriced restaurants there. What we got was edible this time but my good God! It really wasn’t worth paying an arm and a leg for. I mean my sister enjoyed her frogs’ legs but my badly done chips were not worth the plate they were served on. The best food I have had in Paris was either from a fast-food joint (mostly crepes) or from the home of a family friend who lives in the suburbs. Maybe the reviews should specify this salient fact. You can get good food in Paris if you like baguettes or crepes or if you happen to know any Parisians who would cook for you.

My 2nd gripe is related and is about how expensive everything is. A can of pop in England ranges anywhere from 50p to 80p. In Paris, and not in a posh area, I have just paid 1 euro. I walked past a plastics shop and a cheap tatty toilet brush would have set me back by 6.90 euros and a single croissant in the land of croissants was 90 cents or 1 euro. What a scam! My ‘cheap’ McD meal is 7.70 euros (compared to something like £4 in England). A single to the airport, their equivalent to Heathrow is just under a tenner. A simple phone charger was 25 euros and a £100 mobile phone costs 200 euros. Don’t even get me started on their ‘fashion’…the simplest vest top would buy me a lovely dress in H&M England. To be fair, my cousin dragged me into their H&M and I realised that H&M is amazing even in Paris and it has French fashion to boot so I know where I will be going for my ‘French fashion’ the next time I visit Paris.

My biggest gripe is the stench. Don’t get offended if you are Parisian and reading this but man alive! I stepped off the plane and 100m away from the first restrooms, I could smell the stale urine. I declined to use the ladies at this juncture because I thought this is because they are the first restrooms after getting off the plane so maybe that why they are so smelly. Not so! Just before immigration, I spotted a seemingly isolated Ladies and off I went. The stale urine smell was pervasive even though the floor looked clean and dry. As I really did need to go by then, I inhaled and ran in to do my business. I came out and joined the ‘queue’ for immigration. I use the term queue loosely because apparently people here do not know the term. After 2 families squeezed in front of me in the queue and I was forced to endure the body odour coming off them, I cottoned on to the technique and pushed and shoved with the best of them. By the time I got to immigration, I was sick to the gills with all the smelly people around me and hacked off by their disorderliness. I almost forgot I was there because my one supportive uncle had invited me to come and spend a bit of time with him and his family as they holiday in Europe for the summer. And over the past 48 hours, the only bathroom I went without the stench was in a mall at La Defense so if you have to use a public restroom in Paris, I suggest you hold it until you get to this oasis of true hygiene.

There are numerous other things I do not love about Paris but I shan’t go into them all for fear someone labels me an anti-Frenchie and tries to stab me to death. What I will point out is that there were not even cute babies and young children to soften the disappointment and lighten the heart. So where are all the pretty Parisian kids in their designer clothes, enjoying frogs’ legs and foie gras? Maybe they all go to the French Riviera in the summer and are not due to return until the school term is about to start. I did have a good laugh at some of the fashion though. Lots of uncool ‘edgy’ fashionistas on show but the one that made me pinch myself so I would not lotl was a middle-aged lady in knee high cream pop socks tied up using wisps of netty material worn with open sandals and a long flowing black coat of shiny pseudo-suede material. OMG! Give me our English goths and emos anytime. I did clock a cute white baby who might be Parisian in the airport but doesn’t matter, plenty of mixed race and African babies going through Charles De Gaulle to brighten up my day. So now I understand the comments of some of my friends who greeted the news that I was going to Paris with a look of bewilderment and quite a bit of amazement that I had been to Paris twice already and was willing to go for a third time. Je suis une ‘silly’ saucisson! Hehehe.

Straight Up Nigerian

Nigeria is a humongous country so I will not even attempt to write about it all in one little blog. It would take a whole book to make a dint in the story that is Nigeria. This blog will focus on my memories of growing up in Yola.

Yola City. 2 words. Enough said but just in case you have not sampled the delights of my hometown, I shall expand on the 2 words. Why do I love Yola so? Biggest reason is because my mother is the happiest there and whatever makes my mama happy, I love. Yola like me is full of contradictions. It is still small enough in Yola town (different from Jimeta a.k.a Yola North) that most residents either know me or my mama and will definitely know who my granddad is. So I cannot go round being naughty willy-nilly because they will come round to my house and make me feel like I am 3 years old again.

Knowing so many people is a great advantage. When I visit Yola, I get lots of food brought round and somehow these people know all my favourite foods, all the food I spend many hours daydreaming about back in Birmingham. Every morning is like a lottery and throughout the day, I intermittently check on the little dining table by the fridge to see if there have been any food deliveries. This time, I got at different times: Dan-wake, waina, masa, sinasir, dakuwa, kosai, gari basise, okro soup, this tapioca-type grain which I had with yoghurt, zogale (a.k.a moringa) seeds which were awful, a traditional kanuri drink made up of milk with bits of chewy yumminess in it, dambun nama, zobo and more. I was in food heaven. I ate small portions often in an attempt to get through a bit of everything. I didn’t remember half of those who sent the goodies to thank them but you know what? They probably got report that I stuffed my face with all of it and are satisfied they have done their bit to feed me.

Yola’s geography is awesome. We are in the North-east corner of Nigeria. In the old days, we were definitely in the savannah but now with all the aggressive deforestation by unethical businesses, we are part desert and part savannah. When you drive to Adamawa from Jos/Bauchi sides, you can see the more abundant greenery and exotic plants give way to Neem and baobab trees and green green grass in the rainy season dotted with low shrubs and anthills. I think Adamawa has cleaner crisper air and I can almost taste Yola when I drive into the Adamawa region. The river Benue goes through the state and is an amazing sight to behold in the rainy season. In the dry season, the water level is so low that the river Benue is reduced to a network of streams. In these months, you can see families fetching water, doing their laundry and bathing in those streams. I always want to stop the car and go down into the river bank, feel the sand underneath my bare toes like those families. In the rainy season, it is very different. The banks of the river are full to bursting. In fact more and more these days, we get floods as the effect of global warming is felt. Around Numan if you look carefully enough down at the river from the bridge, you’ll see how there is a clean side of the water and the dirtier muddier side of the water and curiously, the 2 seem separate as the river gushes past. I cannot remember the explanation my mama gave me when I asked decades ago but it doesn’t even matter to me. All I know is that the clean water somehow knows not to mix with the dirty water despite there being no physical barrier separating the 2. Incredible.

I love Yola market especially on ‘market’ day which has always been on a Friday. Back in the day, my mama banned us from going to the market unless in the company of adults. Most of the time, we obeyed that rule but not on Fridays. Every Friday, we would find a way to sneak out of the house with all the pocket money we had managed to save and head to the market. The biggest draw was the snake charmers who would display their trained cobras and even pick on members of the public in the audience to help them out with their tricks. My mama hates snakes so although I was less afraid of them, there was still a healthy dose of fear that I inherited from her. I used to have to look away from time to time during those displays as the excitement crossed the border into fear. However, I never turned down a chance to go there as long as my sister and I were in town on the Friday.

The other act we loved was the monkey owners. These people were less reliable and would turn up randomly. They even went house to house to perform and get given change. I loved the monkeys best and would pray for them to turn up every day during the school holidays. Sadly, my house was never visited. I am not sure whether it is because of our scary dogs or maybe my mum or stepdad were not receptive. Anyway, I was resourceful enough to catch them at the market or neighbours’ house. Another reason for my love of Yola market is the contraband fast food on sale. Contraband in my house meant any cooked food from a kitchen whose owner we didn’t know personally. Naturally I loved everything not cooked ‘at home’ so I was a regular customer and my favourite buys were Dan-wake and allele (bean cakes) cooked in tins with a drop of palm oil to make it glorious. Mmmm, these 2 foods are still my absolute favourite snacks from home.

Other delights I will never forget in Yola market include Amani who had a bad scarring infection on his face once upon a time and his vegetable stall. I loved the exotic fruit sellers sitting in the fruit section who came with their fruits picked fresh from the villages in our state. I loved the goruba sellers right at the back of the market especially because they had sacks of the thing and I always wondered if they ever sold it all and what sort of tree the gorubas came from. I loved the ‘odds’ lane where everything from nails to tree gum for charcoal ink and batteries were sold. I also loved the sweets man near the Fulani ladies with their fresh milk and yoghurt. I was a regular at his stall and especially loved it when he went to Cameroun and came back with the little pink mint balls with green stripes called bon-bon. On the rare occasion we needed to buy yoghurt, I would speak to the Fulani ladies and be amazed they spoke my language because these were the nomadic Fulanis (the bororos) and they were so pretty and different from us. I would watch in fascination as they tipped a ceramic dish of yoghurt into the one I bought without disturbing the smooth set of the yoghurt. I was so happy then. Le sigh.

I will finish on one final point about Yola. I loved the neighbourly spirit in the community when I was little. I rarely ate a proper meal at home in those days. I was always round one neighbour’s house or the other eating their meals because it was different from the meals at home. You know as a child, the grass is greener on every other side. There was always food in these homes and I was always welcome to it. I ate to my fill and said thank you then off I went. Mango and guava trees were abundant in those days (and I guess still are) and when those fruits were in season, I would forget about meals and just gorge myself on those fruits, sitting high up in the trees. So much so that I was constipated half the time because in my impatience, I would eat the fruits half raw particularly the guavas. I, of course, kept my medical problems to myself because I knew fully well it was self-induced and that actually my mama was clear on the rule that we should not be eating unripe fruit. One year, we discovered the delight of climbing up date trees and we were round Amadi’s home daily, eating so many dates that I still cannot handle more than 1 date at a time these days. I had a whale of a time growing up in Yola despite all the naughtiness. I have no regrets fortunately.

Close Call with a Ram

It was late afternoon, probably a Thursday or Friday since we were not at Qur’anic school. It was one of those rare occasions where my sister and I were home with no friends over and we chose to play at home. Normally, we would be round to a neighbour’s house, climbing their guava trees or picking mangoes or just playing with other kids.

On this late afternoon, it was warm as Yola is generally and we were bored. I don’t know which of us had the bright idea but we both thought it was brilliant. We decided to climb onto the wall around the perimeter of our house and run around the whole house. I must have been around 5 or 6 years old and my sister was 8 or 9. My mother’s cousin (around 20 years of age) was in the house somewhere and hadn’t a clue what we were up to. We conferred for a moment as the wall was too high for either of us to climb onto unaided. ‘I know’ I said to my sister. ‘We could get up there by climbing onto the A/C steel cage by Mama’s room’. I was a right little monkey all through my childhood days so if there was anything solid I could climb, I was all over it. This was why I knew that the steel cage around the air-conditioning unit poking out the back of my mama’s room was perfectly positioned for us to get up on the roof and then onto the wall, our destination.

We both got onto the wall safely using the A/C cage and the roof. So far, so good. Then we ran around the house once and I remember enjoying that so much we started a 2nd circuit. As we got to the back right corner of the wall, I looked down and my eyes met with the next-door neighbour’s who I had never clapped eyes on. I was so startled; I jumped back and fell off the wall.

Why was I so startled? Well I’ll tell you. This neighbour was an old lady who never left her little hut which was surrounded by a crooked wall of rusted steel sheets. The children of the neighbourhood never saw her. She was never visited by any relatives. She never left to go to the market for food. She was strange because in old Yola town, no one lived alone. No one was completely visitor-less. Everyone went to the market or sent the younger person living with them to the market for food. So, being children we decided she must be a witch. You know like a witch in the fairy tales of old who were always old women, living alone, doing strange things behind closed doors. The kind of stereotype that is damaging and we all know now is so wrong. But the older kids (the adolescents) used this stereotype to scare us the little kids. We were threatened with being taken to ‘her’ whenever we were naughty and we were scared stiff so it worked a treat. This is why my first sight of her was so startling.

So I fell back into my house and I wasn’t hurt. I think I had a graze or 2 but basically, I was ok. So no harm done, right? Wrong. It was the month leading up to Eid-el-kabir, the big Eid and the Eid that was the Muslim equivalent to Christmas in terms of significance. It was the Eid you were encouraged to slaughter a ram as per Muslim tradition if you could afford it. The idea was to have a 2 day feast with some of the meat and to share the fresh meat and grain with family, friends and neighbours. I digress. What I was leading up to is that we had a ram sequestered in that left back corner of our house, delivered from our granddad’s farm, awaiting Eid day. He was a beautiful animal. Large and white with black spots and long fierce-looking curly horns with sharp tips. And he was bored, kept in captivity on his own.

When I fell into his enclosure, I didn’t notice where I was at first. My sister who had kept her head and feet firmly on the wall spotted him. Her shout alerted me to turn and I looked straight into his eyes. OMG! He pawed the ground (do rams do that?) and my sister and I knew he was about to charge. I had no cover and the wall was too high. My sister was dancing in place, clearly anxious. She reached down with one hand and I stretched up and grabbed her hand with both hands. She tried to pull me up but couldn’t. I looked into her eyes and she looked back at me and I know the panic I felt was what I saw reflected in her eyes. I remember my heart pounding so hard that I couldn’t hear my sister’s instructions. As the ram charged, we braced ourselves and just before his horns made contact with me, she pulled and I jumped. His horns rammed into the wall with a loud crash, narrowly missing my legs which I had curled up and tucked under my chin. As my sister’s grip started to slip, he wheeled around the opposite end of the enclosure and prepared to charge again. I was back on the ground, looking to my sister for guidance. We repeated the grip and hoist, again timed to perfection so he just missed me. My memory makes it seem like we must have done that action several times but thinking back, I think we gripped and hoisted twice and somehow, on the 3rd attempt, my sister heroically hoisted me back onto the wall.

My hero! We sat on the wall, looking at this ram that had nearly gored me and was now looking at us with intent. After we got back our breaths, we got shakily back to our feet, walked back to the roof and got off the wall. By tacit agreement, we didn’t tell anyone what had happened. However, we were so uncharacteristically quiet, I remember someone asking if we were both ok. We must have been convincing enough that we weren’t pressed. We never got back on the wall, bored or not.