— By Amaka from Nigeria
I could remember the day vividly; it was in April 2011, a sunny afternoon. It was when I had heavy loads of food (onions, dried fish and meat) on my head, rushing home to prepare for my journey to the East the following morning. It was quite affordable so that I could buy enough to share with the neighbors and relatives that would visit the house, a gesture to give them a warm welcome.
Overjoy would be an understatement of the way I felt during that period. It was a 2 weeks break during my National Service, a compulsory one-year program partaken by every eligible graduate to serve the country in another state. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was created in a bid to reconstruct, reconcile and rebuild the country after the Nigerian Civil war, hence it was conceived as a way to encourage the development of common ties among the Nigerian youth and the promotion of “national unity” by posting graduates in other states to exchange values and interact with other regions, while carrying out a selfless service to the nation.
Mine was unique. Coming from the South Eastern part of the country, it was my first time visiting the North, a faraway city and an environment I have only seen on television. It had a unique culture along with divergent beliefs, values and traditions. Starting from our 3 weeks camp at Fika -the NYSC training ground- I could feel the difference; the hotness of the weather in the afternoon; the extreme coldness at night and in the early hours of the morning; a condition my body later adjusted to. I didn’t need an alarm to wake up in the morning because the early morning Muslim call to prayer was enough to set me prepared for the day.
My primary place of assignment was a secondary school in the capital city of Yobe State, Damaturu. Serving in a school exposed me to meeting and interacting with lots of students and staff whose daily language of communication is Hausa, thus I made it a duty to learn new words and try to communicate in the same language. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and I couldn’t help it. Then, for the first time I found myself eating one of the popular Hausa food (Tuwo shinkafa) a delicacy made with soft rice and spicy sauce, instead of the normal Eba (Food made from cassava) that I was used to eat all my life. It was just part of the fun. “fura da nono” nutritional drink, “Mia Kuka” soup and the popular dried meat “kilishi” were among the foods I enjoyed the most there. It was an adventure just like Alice in Wonderland.
With excitement, I compiled my stories, experiences and my encounters, including the ones from the villages where we conducted the 2011 elections. Every story had headlines so, for sure, I won’t forget any detail. My face was beaming with smiles and I could visualize the laughter, fun and happiness from my siblings, my dad and mum. I could already hear my dad asking questions with eagerness to know more, challenging me to their language with a speaking competition. My thoughts were occupied, I felt like a soldier coming back after a war while I was sharing my experiences.
The following morning, I headed to the park, bought my ticket and sat close to the window, where I could observe the environment, the mountains, the grazing cattle, the vast empty-land and the mud houses by the road sides. An 18-hour journey by bus, that was tough but fun.
Arriving in the South East, I boarded another vehicle home, expecting the usual shouts of welcome but when I arrived, everywhere looked dull, dried and unexciting. I met no one except for mum who was preparing food for my dad who was hospitalized. Without changing my clothes, I followed her to meet my dad and found him in a critical condition. I found myself asking questions that I never got answers to…“Since When? How did it happen? Why?” He welcomed me and just smiled like someone who found back something lost and has returned home. “Dad I’m fine, I have a lot to tell you when you recover. As I was busy trying to cheer him up, little did I know I was talking to a deaf ear… he never heard my stories.”
For a moment I felt nothing because I thought he was probably sleeping. The next moment, it seemed like I was in a dream. When I saw people gathering and shouting, I felt like I was in a trance. When I realized that he had passed away, I burst into uncontrollable tears. For the first time, my heart was heavy with pain, like a sword pierced my heart. Words seized and tears flowed down my cheeks, filling my heart and soul like water. Just like that? How could he? Why did it happen? How could I be coming home with happiness to encounter pain and sadness? Why the food that I bought for merriment and Easter is going to be used for burial? Why leave the same day I came back? There were questions that puzzled my heart for months. It was then that I understood the words of Washington Irving that say, “There is sacredness in tears, they are not the mark of weakness but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousands tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love. What an Irony of Life!”
He was such a good fellow, kind-hearted and a peace lover. He loved his first daughter more than anything. Willing to sacrifice his last item to save the hungry. He was so dear to me that few could understand, because bereavement is darkness impenetrable to all imaginations of the un-bereaved. Though gone his memories still lives.