Tag Archives: rain

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.

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…