“Like that constipated whale that had to stomach Jonah’s vigil, it appears this lodge is bent on spitting me out. Electricity is bad, water supply is getting worse and some of the corps members are starting to misbehave. It’s okay though, I’m itching to leave too.”
Just when I started to whine about my predicament on Facebook, Globacom struck me with a more devastating blow. They seized my internet access and reduced my phone to a calling and texting machine, leaving me to wonder with bewilderment how folks with feature phones survive in this age. Never mind the fact that about a year ago, I was one of them. I spent the rest of the weekend with my Bible and a novel given to me by a friend as I relived scenes of solitude that have become familiar in my ten months of living in Ifite village, Nkwelle Ezunaka.
Moments like this, it is easy to wonder what would have happened if I had accepted the offer to serve in a place like Lagos or Ibadan. Would I be better off living in an urban centre, driving my life in a direction that seems better suited for the lofty goals that I have for myself and even loftier ones other folks set for me? Then I remember the beauty of watching the white highlights of the moon against the soft blue hue of the sky as it ends its night watch and the moments when just by craning my head from east to west, I’ve caught vistas of the setting sun and the rising moon simultaneously. Surely, this has not been a waste.
It is here that I’ve renewed my love for fiction, enjoyed the pleasures of writing and the wisdom that solitude bestows. I’ve discovered that despite technology’s best effort to bridge the gap that exists between folks that are continents apart, it can end up driving a wedge between folks who are inches away from each other. I’ve also learnt that graduates still court ladies with the same methods they used in secondary school – with no change in results, and that holiness is sometimes just skin-deep… wait, I’ve always known that.
And there are those things I’ll miss: the pawpaw trees whose delayed, synchronized fruition led to weeks of continuous feasting on their yellow succulent fruits; the guava tree whose flash season gifted me just one of its fruits, the others lost to impatient kids who couldn’t wait for the deep green fruits to turn lemon; and the cashew tree whose fruits still ripen hourly.
I won’t forget the students who told me Ife means light in their language and then mangled the name at every attempt to pronounce it before resorting to calling me Sir. I told them I wasn’t interested in listening to their language during school hours, but that didn’t stop them from asking questions in Igbo till my ever-present cane restored their English speaking abilities. They wanted Sir to realise the fact that it is their village, their language and Sir is just a passer-by who can’t rid them of their mother tongue. The point was well taken.
But above all else, I think I should mourn the loss of my ability to hide my reclusive tendencies under the cloak of frequent black outs and the drastic change that will happen to the phrase “I’m going to work”. For now, it is a quick bath 15 minutes before work starts and a 200 metre walk down a slope. All of which will soon transform to an exercise in the discipline of waking up by four in the morning, jetting out of the house by five, joining other rats racing across an 11km bridge to workplaces where they’ll slave it out for their peanuts only to spend the return journey in cars and buses lined up like uneven segments of a caterpillar; a caterpillar that makes a 45 minute journey in four hours while digesting bottles of Lacasera accompanied by Gala. My God! I’ll miss Nkwelle.
I think I understand the desire of a lot of people to remain in their comfort zones – places that bear a semblance to the world as they know it. I don’t judge such folks. But if you are scared of living in a village because… well it’s a village, then you are denying yourself the opportunity of a different, and I daresay richer perspective to life.
There are many ways to interact with communities such as the one where I’ve found myself: you can pretend to be a saviour who has come to rescue them from a lifetime of obscurity, a passer-by who cannot afford to be contaminated by their savage ways or a reluctant corps member who failed in the bid to influence his posting and can’t wait for the nightmare to end. But from someone who is now living in that nightmare there is a lot to learn from it.
Am I telling you to leave your life to chance? *shrugs* I might not even get you to see the wisdom in the things I’m saying, so let’s all forget it and focus on the fact that it is time for me to revel in the euphoria of my impending return to life as I’ve always known it. Places where markets do not charge a limb for basic condiments, where clean water and electricity is a given and I get to spend time in the presence of my love – a clean, functional water closet.
So long Nkwelle.