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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Unforgettable trip to Ebonyi State

Written by: Muoka Chibuzor G

Totally encapsulated in the happiness and euphoria of a brand new year, it dawned fully on me that I have been posted to Ebonyi state for a one-year mandatory service by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) of Nigeria.  I drew to the side, the rumpled greyish opaque curtains covering the windows of my room, and the golden rays of the early morning sun invaded my room, making it appear colourful and illuminated. Then I looked straight at myself through the mirror on the wall, focused on gazing steadily at my appearance, I couldn’t believe how older I look. Slowly, my gaze fell on the papers in my hands, and repeatedly, I scrutinized the papers with one question revolving in my curious mind, what does fate have for me in Ebonyi State? I actually knew nobody there, and I have absolutely, no idea of what the environmental habitat would be, or look like. An adventure in disguise, I concluded with a heavy sigh; because am missing home already, while still at home.
The persistent thoughts of the unseen and the unknown have long been widening my imaginative horizon and activating my optimistic nature till the early hours of my departure day. As I packed the necessary items, I needed for the trip into my iron box and prepared to leave my friends and relatives in Anambra state. They kept giving me resounding warnings, amid hugs and well wishes, and that was another dramatic phase in my life. As I peeped through my window, I could see Mmeso the jovial girl waving and saying goodbye to me, immediately she caught the glimpse of me, and my face beamed with smiles. Who told her? Ooh! It must be Kene my younger sister. I do see Mmeso and Kene fetching water every evening, and probably, she told her then.

The dos, don’ts, hearsay, maybes, and realities all enumerated in lucidity to enlighten me, to help make my stay at Ebonyi state hitch free were practically innumerable. Amongst these admonishments, the most emphasized were the temperamental irregularities among the Ezza people of Ebonyi state. They are said to be fearless humans and do not hesitate to retaliate with deadly weapons like matchet whenever offended, they were said to have a history of bloody inter-tribal wars. They are bloodthirsty! Said Mr James my father’s friend, sounding horrified when I told him the details of my departure via the family telephone line. Prof. Mrs Nweke my aunt who paid a new year visit to our home, sat me down to enlighten me about the prevalence of hard water and guinea worm epidemic in Ebonyi state. I was getting tensed; don’t drink their water! Better always drink sachet water, she warned in all seriousness.

The most heart touching of them all was the calming and encouraging words of mother. She smiled angelically and spoke in a soothing voice; be careful when you get there, don't live a rough life, take things seriously my dear son, don't disgrace our family, and always remember the son of whom you are. Do not forget why you are going to Ebonyi state. You will be fine; God will be with you. I nodded in affirmation. I won't let you down mama, I replied and continued packing my belongings. Also, do not forget to say your prayer every day no matter how small it is. God hears; mother said as she moved towards her room to prepare for work.

Just then, Father thundered from behind, it was as if he had been waiting for the perfect time to chip in his admonitions. Without mincing words, he said; if you like go there and mess up! You won't even see your mother nor me… Once you misbehave, and you get arrested by the police or get beaten by the owners of the land, your own is over. If you fail to cut your coat according to your cloth, then you are finished, I repeat, you are finished!

Father has always sounded very mean in his dispositions and behaviour, and everyone in the family, including family relatives, have always known him to be so, and always revered him, for he rarely laughs and appears so rigid and strict. Some even called him a military man because of his forceful moves and irrevocable decisions/approach to issues, and most often they wondered how my mother lived successfully with him for so many years, in the days of plenty and little, decades upon decades. Notwithstanding that he often moves like a man going to pounce on an enemy, his gait and tall stature gave him an intimidating look.

As I was leaving, Father gave me a pat on the back when no one was looking, and then he smiled at me ceaselessly. Be a good son, he said, and I nodded my head in affirmation amid astonishment. He helped me carry my very huge, iron box as we headed straight to board a bus that was going to Ebonyi state. According to the posting letter from the NYSC, my place of primary assignment was Kingdom Model Secondary school located in Idembia, Ezza South Local Government Area, Ebonyi state.

Immediately, I paid the transport fare and entered the Ebonyi bus at upper-Iweka Onitsha, Father waved me goodbye with a facial downcast, while I reciprocated with smiles, also waving back at him. Fortunately, I was the last person needed to fill the remaining space in the bus, and so within few minutes the bus drove off, and Father was partially out of my sight, but I could still see a hazy figure of him as he stood still watching the bus leave. I kept looking at him until I could see him no more, as the bus zoomed off.

Seated among unfamiliar passengers, I was seriously thinking about Father's lifestyle and why it’s a mystery to most people. Some think he is cruel and mean, but the hidden smiles from him prove otherwise to me because it wasn't the first time I experienced such behaviour from him. When I regained myself from the thoughts of my Father, I discovered I had missed listening to most of the lovely songs played by the driver, because almost everyone else in the bus was nodding their head to the sound of the famous pop songs, sung by Michael Jackson, except me.

It was a long journey, and the driver of the bus was a dark, middle-aged man with funny looks. He often cracked jokes that left me wondering what a comedian was doing on the steering of a bus. His story about how he got a pot belly and how his wife deserted him, left the passengers laughing till tears took over. Although I smiled at his story, I constantly felt aches all over my body as my bones were becoming weary, and each fraction of it was yearning for a stretch as a result of the long hours of persistent sitting. Luckily for me, I was seated close by to the bus window. From there, I could peep to see what was happening outside. I was so eager to see what the routes and land mass of Ebonyi would look like. I saw the changes in terrain and infrastructure from Anambra state to Imo state to Abia state, and finally to Ebonyi state.

According to stories from Derby my favourite cousin; I could recall when he told me that I would see large farms surrounded by Giant scarecrows, and filled with energetic farmers who own bicycles. He told me the Giant scarecrows were believed to stand still during the day, but dances at night, and then they go to the land of the animals and insects to warn them about coming to the farm of men to destroy their crops. They often threatened the animals and insects that they will kill them if they found them on the farm, but the tortoise always gave the animals and insects fresh ideas on how to attack the farm crops and go scot free. He also told me how Ebonyi women were superhuman, he said they were not fragile but very strong, hardworking and gallant. But, in as much as Derby lived all his childhood with his parents in Abakaliki before returning to Onitsha during the 1967 civil war, I still took what he said with a pinch of salt because I believed that seeing believes.

Soonest, after a 3 hours’ drive, the bus arrived in Ebonyi state, Abakaliki city. I was elated, I stepped down from the bus yawning and stretching my body like a fresh ex-convict from the worst Nigerian prisons. I immediately carried my luggage in haste to the next motor park that will take me to my place of abode in the state, which was Ezza town. Abakaliki is nice and okay, it is a busy city filled with tall buildings and big markets, perhaps that’s why it’s the state capital city, I said to myself. As I neared the motor park, I could hear the shouts of bus conductors, Ezza south, Ezza South we are going now-now… That’s where am going! I shouted to get their attention.

I rushed to enter the bus, but was stopped by a dark tall boy who had an obvious scar on the jaw, he said, hey bro where are you going to? Am going to Ezza south; I replied, then he allowed me into the bus. Immediately I paid, I sat down at the back (last seat) of the bus so that I can have a closer look at my luggage at the boot of the bus. Just then, six old women who appear to be coming from their farmland, and were soaked in sweat, took over the remaining seats in the bus. One of them sat close to me, and I was disturbed! How do I survive this? My problem was that their clothes were unkempt and wet, their presence alone disrupted the internal atmospheric condition of the bus and the air within became unconducive for me. In response to the situation at hand, I tilted my head sidewise and positioned it very close to the window of the bus, in search of fresh air. The evening rays of the setting sun pierced my eyes, and I discovered that everyone was already retiring for the day. Can we go! I hate night journeys; I yelled repeatedly at the bus driver.

I listened attentively to hear what the old women were saying, but it appears that I could hardly decipher and understand what they said. I watched them like a movie although I was lost, I studied their moves, responses, and mood of communication, and I could perceive some atoms of fury in them, perhaps the sun has heated them to stupor. When they talk, it appears to me as if they were in the heat of an argument, I later concluded that they were aggressive in nature. Probably, some forms of language can be aggressive in nature, even when the speakers may not be having issues. I decided to be calm throughout the journey, but I received another shocker before getting to Ezza town. Through the bus window, I could see young girls and women unloading bags of cement, moulding house blocks, and mixing concretes at a construction site, I felt like asking, what species of females are these? But I discovered that no one will answer.

When I got to Ezza town, I hurriedly moved towards the direction of the house that was given to me by my place of primary assignment to live in. On the way, I observed and discovered that there was huge expanse of empty lands, I first called them empty because there were no buildings on them. Then I looked further to discover that these lands were farmlands and Debbie's Scarecrows were in them, tons of mud huts and a few bungalows were still prevalent, and the hand-pump borehole was the only source of clean water as I saw old men and women, teens and children fetching water from it with their buckets and pots. From afar I could see Corp members coming towards me. When we came to an appreciable proximity, they spoke in unison. We have been waiting for you… you are welcomed. I smiled and identified with them, as they took up my luggage from me. Aah what a relief, thanks, friends! But it seems I have landed into another world apart, I said affirmatively, and they all turned briefly to give me a laughable look.

A few hours later, as I sat under the mango tree in the front of my room, my phone was buzzing continuously, as I received myriads of calls, everyone at home was so anxious to know whether I arrived peacefully, and I told them the journey was okay and adventure-like. When Derby and Mr James finally called, I said to them; it seems that there are some atoms of truth in the stories you told me. And they both laughed out loud; just tread cautiously, they both warned.

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