Based on true events, a story of childhood in Eastern Nigeria post-Biafra war
Aunty, Uncle Good afternoon oh
Afa’m bu *Zoba , I heard that you people are there complaining about “Change”, but you are enjoying oh!, you don’t know.
Me, I am a boy, living in 1983 and I want to tell you people how life is.
Today is Thursday, so we awake up *na onu ututu to baff, clean our teeth with chewing stick and go to school. Me and my 2 brothers and 3 sisters we all sleep in the same room. The big umaazi sleep on the bed but me I’m a small boy so, *na ana ka’m no. All of us, we rush and baff so we can get to school early before the assembly time.
What are we eating as morning food? Is that even a question? It’s same thing we ate yesterday night and in the afternoon and in the morning. And every day; 365 days a year *soso Sunday afternoon; Fufu! And is not even that smooth white that one you people know; this one is black and they mix it with “chaff”.
So after the morning food we run *osiso to school. With our 10 toes.
You see,*kitos are too expensive, only *umuaka ndi big men can buy kitos of N15. Sometimes, our big brother and sister can get kitos for Christmas. When it gets too small, they dash it to a smaller child. But by the time it reaches my turn, the kito *e mebi go. So I have never had my own kito. But, I have plenty of slippers. It’s just that if I wear it to school, teacher will collect it and cut it in my very before. They said “either you come to school in sandals or you come with your 10 toes”
I have my exercise books and my “slate” in my school bag. Well, it’s not really a school bag, it’s one empty cement sack like this and *o di it is very strong oh. You people don’t know what you’re missing. Me that am in primary 3 and I’ve been using it since primary 1.
We close school between 1:30 and 2 o’clock. The sun is hot. The ground is hot. We don’t have sleepers . So we *gba oso across the red sand, very very fast till we reach home. Then we fetch water from the well to cool our legs.
We are home without our parents; Mama is in the market and Papa is in the farm. Hungry catches us. So our big sister goes to the backyard pick *nchu anwu leaves and pepper. She pounds it inside a small mortar adds some “Agino moto” and that is the *ofe for our afternoon Fufu. Sometimes if we are lucky, we will see lizard and catch it to eat with our soup.
In the night we eat together as a family. Fufu. But with better ofe. Mama will cook ofe with vegetables. If we catch rat or snake, then we have meat for dinner. Mama will serve the food for us. 3 of us eat from one plate. She put the fufu and the ofe without vegetables. When Papa has finished eating, if he remains vegetable for us we eat. If not then that’s it for the day.
Sometimes, a special day will come that mama will cook rice and stew. Actually not really stew, *nto nto tomato will be swimming inside groundnut oil. She will cook 3 cups of rice. Papa eats one cup, Mama eats one cup. Then the 6 of us umaazi share one.
Sometimes, mama will cook the rice, serve our own and hide the remaining one in her room so that she and papa can eat when he returns. Me and the smaller ones, we would squeeze ourselves into her room though the window (even with the iron protector) and chop that rice.
But apart from those special days we eat rice on Sundays, after *uka. I am from a royal family from my father’s side. My father’s brother is the king of our town. So on Sunday all the family members gather at the palace to eat jollof rice. Umaazi eat seperate from adults. And adults eat chicken. They say chicken is for adults that when we grow we will eat it. But *nsobu a diro, Sunday after uka is still my favorite day because of Jollof rice.
So Aunty, Uncle, I just wanted to tell you, that even if you think that things are hard, some of us used to have it tougher. At least you people are enjoying toothpaste, and chicken and television and you have kito to wear to school. Things will get better. O ga di mma.
I know it is hard to believe but take it from me. I have spent my childhood in the gutter; I would rather be where you are, only standing at the edge.
- Afa’m bu means “my name is”
- Zoba,full name; Chizoba means “God takes care/ will take care of us”
- Onu ututu means “early in the morning” or literally “In the mouth of the morning”
- Na ana ka’m no means “I’m on the ground”
- Soso means “only or excluding or except ”
- Osiso means “quickly”
- Kitos refer to a type of sandal
- Umu aka ndi big men means “Big men’s children”
- E mebi go means “It has spoiled”
- O di means “It is”
- Gba oso means “run”
- Nchu anwu leaves means “Scent leaves” or literally “Leaves that chase away mosquitoes”
- Ofe means “Soup”
- Nto nto means “small”
- Uka means “Church”
- Nsobu a diro means “There’s no problem”