Oyamelu village in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State isn’t the most awesome place you’d find, but fond memories warm my heart when I think of growing up there. I lived in a two-room apartment with mother and my two sisters. Father never was around. He always was in the city where he found flourished pastures.
Growing up was fun, and in the small village of Oyamelu, one never escapes the hangover. Back then, everyone knew everyone, and everyone was everyone’s friend; so spare times presented robustious playtimes. We would play hide and seek with other children in the moonlit nights, tell tales of tortoise and other animals under shades, wade and swim in the Umunkwo stream on hot afternoons, and dance to the tune of the local egwu-oja on Saturday nights; and every morning, barring weekends, we would go to school with our assignments undone.
School to us meant trouble—an unsolicited one—not a learning center. We secretly held grudges against our parents for imposing it on us. Each morning we trudged to the assembly ground with fallen chins, leery of the day. The people there in school never made it any easier. Our headmaster had no smile left in him and our teachers were stern. They never overlooked errors. Religiously, they upheld the mantra: spare not the rod that the child may be saved.
We felt oppressed always. To get even, we nicknamed our teachers and sang derogatorily with their names—behind their backs of course. Each new name crafted or song composed gave us a sense of avenged misdeeds. One of the teachers, Mazi Ibe, named Aka-iwe, was odiously peculiar. He was never seen without his cane. We presumed easily that he slept side by side with it, and each morning the cane woke on the wrong side of the bed, we were condemned to swollen buttocks. This earned him Aka-iwe, the vexed hands.
I always wondered how we survived those moon-less nights when crickets sang creepy songs, and the ones who were older than us told scary stories of Willi-Willi, of bush babies and ojuju-calaba. We sat transfixed, not shutting our ears, not running into the house, dreading not hearing how the stories ended and having to imagine possible scary outcomes of them. We survived these—yet when Teacher Chike strode past, we scurried away, lest he asked us the sum of two and two.
My best days were Saturdays when we only had to wake up to play. We played extensively, taking to the sand easily like earthworms. Errands were run at snail-speed, given at every turn, playmates lurked. Mother would go to farm, and by the time she got back, half of the chores we were instructed to do were yet undone. She never spared us much for this. Beyond the reprehension and scolding, we got the whips and occasional head-cracking knocks on the head. Her hands were made of rock.
My school results were awful—like that of every other person I knew. I struggled past primary school and into secondary school, scaling through the entrance examination with just a point above the drop zone. To this day, I like to think I was merely lucky. Most of my friends were trapped in primary school.
In secondary school, I had no trouble making new friends. My play life and nonchalance to education continued. My new friends were very creative on how to waste time. We never gave our ears to the voices of the teachers. They were, to us, foreign gibberish. And we found new methods to skip writing our assignments and yet avoid the punishment that normally followed. I took full advantage of this, guilefully dipping myself into the Sahara sand of illiteracy.
But then, by some uncommon hand of fate, I left my village for Lagos where father lived and worked in. Father thought it was good I learnt to be a man early. I wasn’t interested, but it wasn’t like my opinion was solicited.
There in the city center of Nigeria, life became very challenging. I felt always like an unclothed man in the streets of frozen Moscow. In the Ibo community where I come from, it is a common saying that when the wind blows violently, the feathers of the chicken fails in its duty to hide its body. Well, my intellectual deficiency was exposed in Lagos. It was so glaring and so humiliating. I was taunted daily by the boys in my new class.
“Does this villager know beyond the first letter of the alphabets?” Ayo The Sadist, the big boy in the class, would razz me. It was his favourite line.
The boys were all very arrogant, conceited and insensitive…and bright too, I have to say. Each morning, I went to school wishing I’d know one of the questions they carelessly flung at me. I remember whining to Father more than thrice that I’d die if he didn’t send me back to the village. The old man never bulged. I thought he was becoming more of a sadist than a father.
But somehow, the insults in school began to ignite in me something that didn’t use to be there—a hunger to learn; a passion to be better. My response, to this day, leaves me awed still. As aptly captured in a Yoruba proverb that the goat which discovers a white barn in the farm would soon discover a preference for white yam, I began studying the way the other boys did. I spent time reading my comprehension, and even more time on my arithmetic. At home, I buried myself in the pages of my books. I found it difficult to rest until my assignments were done. I felt I deserved bragging rights too like the other boys.
In time, after so much effort and a scary number of failures, I earned their respect. My insecurity crumbled, my confidence mounted; the metamorphosis of Chidu it surely was. It felt really good being counted as one of the bright students in class; and during my years in the University, it became difficult to remember I once was as brainless as a canned tuna fish.
[Here, I hear a skeptic whining: ‘Didn’t he say this was about flood?’ Well, relax, it still is. Watch this page for Part 2! To God Be the Glory!]