Tag Archives: monkey behaviour

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.