With a little close to zilch to do the next day, I decided to go round the town and survey some important areas of the town; my home for the next ten months. Places like market, abbatoir, possible eatery or decent restaurants and football viewing centre and a possible pool (snooker) joint are what I’m referring to as ‘important’.
I found Ohafia to be a big community, albeit only in land mass, with small villages under its motherly wings. One of these villages is the famous Okon-Aku; land of the great kings. The village is rumored to be the Juju (black magic) headquarters of the entire Igboland. In this village, one can be killed, eaten and still be brought back to life. A small stone can be turned into an egg, incubated and hatched and breed into a big fowl ready to be devoured – all within five minutes using mystical means: Okija, another notorious community in Anambra state, a close runner up. There’s Amuma, land of the great prophets, Asaga, home of the gem sister, Elu, Amaepku, Ndi Ibe, Ebem, the heart and headquarter of the Ohafia community and a lot other small villages.
Entering Ohafia, the first thing a foreigner will notice is the outrageous number of demented individuals kicking nylons on the street. From Amaepku to Ebem, just ten minutes drive apart, one gets to encounter nothing less than five of these sick fellows walking aimlessly around the major road, not counting those who hang around dark corners to have enough space to exercise their madness.
Another observation was how ubiquitous coffin makers were in the community. During my survey, which lasted about thirty minutes, I counted six different casket workshops before I gave up. Every now and then, the sound of siren from an ambulance leaving the morgue and heading for the funeral home or God’s acre always rent the air. No matter how young one dies in Ohafia community, against what I’ve seen, heard or read about other places, a ceremonious funeral service was always conducted.
One particular heartrending story brought me inches close to shedding tears. A young man of thirty died a week into his wedding, only for the same set of people who celebrated with him few days back to dance around town carrying his picture same way my ‘village people’ did for my grandfather when he died at the rather ripe age of one hundred and thirty five. Old men and women, old enough to be his grandparent came to share out of the merriment while they laid him in the ground. Some even wore the same jersey (Aso ebi) from the wedding. It was a horrible sight.
I voiced my discontent out to someone who had lived the better part of his life in the ghost village and he explained their custom, which is that no matter how young one dies, be it at age two, twenty or two hundred, a ‘befitting’ burial rite will be performed with pomp and pageantry as if one died a Methuselah.
No disrespect to them, Ohafia is the poorest place I’ve been to all my life; probably because I hardly leave my comfort zone in the South Western part of the country. No job opportunity for the teeming youths who do nothing than ride motorcycles. The infamous Ochendo government could only bless them with more than enough ‘Ochendo’ tricycles.
Fela Anikulapo, the late legendary Nigerian musician and activist, must have been to this part of the country to be so inspired to sing his famous track “Suffering and smiling”.
Even with the fact that a staggering 93% of them were living neck deep in abject poverty, they made no effort to make their lives better. They accepted their fate and kept existing rather than living.
Though the community has produced few Professors and eminent personalities in the country, likes of former minister Ojo Madueke et al.; the only professionals you get to meet in the entire community with population over 5,000 are teachers in their late sixties who get nothing more than the stipends a mai-guard in some other part of the country gets as take home. It was worse than one can imagine, but these infected victims care not.
The few ones, who could afford a meal or two and some with a bicycle to ride, are always braggart and boasting about how rich their brother or uncle is in Abuja, Lagos or overseas. Most, if not all, of this class of people are seen managing and guarding their beloved brother or uncle’s properties with their lives without making any meaningful effort at getting theirs.
In the face of all the unpleasant sights and sounds, I had to end my survey abruptly and headed back to the “family house”. I spoke with Maryam later that evening and also contacted the two other corpers and we reached a consensus to move to the school’s corpers’ lodge the next day so we can put the place in a better shape before school resumes fully.
The school, my place of primary assignment, Hope Waddell International Secondary school, is located at the outskirt of Amaekpu, the end or beginning of Ohafia community, depending on which route you’re coming from.
I was elated when I saw ‘International’ boldly written on the sign post as part of the school’s name. It became a laughable matter when I entered the school.
The structures, like huts in a war torn village, were scattered all over the place. The classrooms were messy with decrepit wooden tables and chairs scattered everywhere. The wall chalkboard which is supposed to be black has ceased to anything but off white. The laboratory was nothing to write about as the only chemical available aside Water, is Sodium Chloride (table salt). The library; oh the magnificient library looked like an anachronistic incinerator, with books as old as my grandmother honorably gracing the shelves. I couldn’t access the Staff room, but I was sure it wouldn’t be any better going by the ‘beautiful’ sight of the Principal – the supposed head’s office. The dormitory which housed the boarding students wasn’t looking anything significantly different from one of cells in Panti police station.
The school lacks power supply as it was yet to be connected to the nearest electric pole less than 200metres away, thereby leaving the school in an infernal state most, if not all of the time with only the godforsaken “I-better-pass-my-neighbour” generator coming to the rescue, though for nothing more than 2 hours daily. The school guard was a frail septugenarian, who obviously needed serious guarding lest he gets carried away by the winds. The only thing that brought smile to my face was the standard football pitch. I breathed down and walked away.
I knew a lot of things were about to change: life, the way I see it, people I have around me and how I spend each minute of the hours of each day but one thing I knew would forever stay is who I am – both on the inside and the outside because I wasn’t going to change me irrespective of whatsoever I face in the strange land.
Sometimes, life makes us worry about the closed window that we become overly depressed and oblivious of the door wide open or the collapsed wall. I made a decision to live above board not minding the fact that the school environment is a dire mess. I chose not to influence my posting and landed in Abia, and here again I didn’t work my way to get posted to the beautiful state capital; I’m here because I chose to and I’m not going to regret not faking a medical report and claim some life threatening ailment just to get my awesome behind to the centre of excellence. In that perspective and other related ones, I’ll like to be known as a moralist and I stood my ground even in the face of all odd situations. Really odd situations
Without using much exaggerations, my room was as big and spacious as half the size of Highbury stadium of blessed memory. If you’re the kind who gets easily irritated, you will puke at the sight of it – well judging by my hubris stands. The room hasn’t been lived in for years and it looks like one of those haunted house I’ve seen in movies. With one hand covering my mouth and the other holding my nose, I left the room for fear of being choked.
One of the things that have kept me going in life is something Mama taught me while I was growing up: She instilled in me that edifice and or interior decorations and accessories, no matter how luxurious they are – ranging from Olympic-size pool to an Helipad, do not make one half as happy as living with good, lively, lovely, caring and sensible people does even if you’re sharing a torn mat under Obalende bridge.
The thought that “I am not alone” was all I needed to ‘feel at home’. I met Anuoluwapo Adejobi, Segun Likinyo whom I’ve met earlier in December. Maryam Ibrahim, the lady who was still posing as my BBM Display Picture moved in same day. As mightily big as the lodge was, it wasn’t well designed architecturally, leaving most part of the house wasting away. The sitting room and two tiny rooms beside, which only God knows what’s meant for, were just there, useless because the window louvres have all taken a long stroll.
Segun took the room opposite mine with our special bathroom and toilet separating us and the space in front converted to kitchen. May’s room was adjacent Segun’s and Anu’s room, a bit far away with at least three wooden doors secluding him from my one room apartment.
Since we all were total strangers to each other, the process of acclimatization started.