Tag Archives: hero

Here but for the Grace of God

lightI was 6 years old. It was the rainy season in Yola and the rains had come in and come in hard. In Yola, rain tended to fall predictably. Mostly heavy rain was late evening into the night and could last all night with thunder and lightning punctuating the pitch black night. There was always a power cut when those thunderstorms came but we didn’t mind because it cooled down so much that we reached for blankets and hot drinks. When it rained in the day, it was usually a slow build up. We all watched the pregnant clouds gathering. There would be no wind; the still before the storm. Then there would be a lovely light breeze which would quickly whip up steam and turn into strong winds. At this point, everyone would run out and grab all the clothes hanging out to dry, put away their food, crockery, shoes, livestock and whatever else was outdoors. All windows would be closed and latched. The humidity would build and everyone would sweat. Every bucket in the house was gathered, ready to be placed under the roof of the veranda after the first rain to catch some cold pure rainwater for drinking. Our dogs would sense the storm approaching and would go into barking fits. We would hear chicken flapping and squawking from the neighbours and children letting out excited shrieks.

Then as we all withdrew and watched from the window, the gusts would pick up the sands in little whirlwinds. The leaves would be shaken off the trees and the large Neem and Baobab tree branches would sway wildly in the wind. Then the huge drops of water would begin to fall and the children would dance around with their mouths open and pointing up to catch the first drops on their tongues before the downpour. Until the mothers noticed and pulled them back and latching the door shut too.

This particular morning, we woke up to the smell of rain. The sky was overcast but as yet there were no cloud to be seen. My sister, A’i (a cousin) and I decided to chance going to A’i’s father’s house. We thought it would be the usual slow build up and we would be back well before the action began. His house was a good 30 minutes away so off we went. As we walked, the clouds began to gather and by the time we got to his house, the sky was grey and the breeze was starting up. We stayed about 30 minutes then decided we couldn’t risk staying any longer because the downpour would start and we wouldn’t be able to get home for hours, maybe even all day and night or worse, we would get caught in it. They had no phone (not everyone had a landline those days) so we couldn’t call home to warn them where we were and that we would come back after the rain. As we didn’t want them to worry, we decided going back was the best option.

5 minutes into the journey, the whirlwinds started to pick up and we had sand in our eyes. Eyes streaming, we had a short debate about whether we should turn back. In our young minds, we would rather be home for the rain and not out visiting so we decided to continue with more haste. In another 5 minutes, the sky opened and torrents of rain lashed down on us. We were soaked instantly and getting colder by the minute. The roads immediately began to flood and soon we were wading through muddy water and getting slower as we went. Before long, there was so much rain that we could barely see each other or where to place our feet. Despite our best efforts to stay together, we kept getting separated as the elements pushed us around.

I was a tiny little thing, very lightweight so when I placed a wayward foot into the unseen ditch by the side of the road, I was immediately swept away by the current of muddy water. I spluttered and shivered and tried to find my feet but I couldn’t withstand the power of the water. Several times, I was tumbled by the water so I was immersed in it and swallowed disgusting mouthfuls. I remember thinking I was going to die and panicking. A’i was skinny like me so she couldn’t be of much help. All she could do was shout my name and I shouted back, only we could hardly hear or see each other. My sister was bigger, taller and stronger so somehow, she made her way to me and she eventually caught me several hundreds of meters down the road. She clutched me to her side and A’i drew closer to her other side. In this fashion, we dragged each other all the way home.

It must have taken nearly an hour to get home. I remember how numb I was all over. I couldn’t feel my hands and feet. I had painful goosebumps all over my skin. I was filthy. I was trembling like a leaf. I couldn’t speak for trembling. We were stripped off as soon as we collapsed into the house and put in the bath where warm water was poured over us until we regained some life. Then we were all wrapped up in large blankets and given hot sweet chocolate. As I sat there, still shivering and feeling like I would never again feel warm, I felt my eyes fill with tears and I thought ‘I am alive’. When my head was under water and I couldn’t see or breathe, I was certain I was a goner. My limbs were stiff with cold and fear and I would have surely drowned. Yet again, my sister was my hero! If she hadn’t been there…

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.