I grew up in Ikot Ekpene. Please don’t ask me where that is. That’s how a popular Nigerian writer, acclaimed gan, asked me where Uyo is. I told him Gombe state. Hiss. Only Nigerians wear ignorance like an expensive club badge. Hiss again.
Yes, I know I've told you before that I grew up in Ikot Ekpene but I’m going somewhere. We were fairly comfortable but at some point , things got rough and we had to ration meals but I have never felt poor. If anything we joked about it, my mother would ask us to decide if we wanted 101 or 110 or 011. 0 meaning no meal. But the tough times never lasted as tough times often don’t and we would go back to the luxury of two slices of bread, a tiny spread of butter, half an egg each and what my uncle described as coloured water. It wasn’t a function of wealth, at this time we could afford more but children just didn’t eat full eggs less they steal. The first time I saw someone eat two boiled eggs, I was shocked. Two boiled eggs. That’s gluttony abeg.
My parents were farmers among other things. On many Saturday mornings , we’d gather to peel cassava and in the evenings to separate the weed from the water leaves. It was work but it was also family time. I had cousins who traveled abroad often but nobody threw their wealth in anybody’s face. I did not feel like anything was missing in my life. My brother and I were happy to play Names, places and things during holidays. Who remembers the game? That’s how you know you’re old.
Secondary school was different. There was the poor, the rich, the fake rich etc. We had the Namibean presidents kids in my school, even though thinking about it now, those girls might have been lying. We chopped many lies in secondary school sha. Despite the many different ‘types’ of people in secondary school, we did not know class. We played together, studied together and chopped cane together irrespective of who our parents were. So when did things change?
When did Nigeria become so class conscious? Or has it always been this way in the West? When did a child born abroad or one who spends all his holidays abroad become more important than the brilliant and well behaved child? I know families that struggle to pay rent and school fees but don’t miss holidays in Europe or the States.
I believe in travel, I think it’s one of the best things you can give your child but it doesn't have to cost money if you can’t afford it. Before I visited the States, I knew it. Same way that I know Australia and Canada even though I've never been there. From books. Most M and Bs were set there and boy, I read those things. What are young girls reading these days by the way?
My brother and I, we read. We went through so many books in the Ikot Ekpene library. My brother visited the library lately and guess what? The librarian offered to sell him as many books as he wanted at a low price. A librarian, selling off library books!
When did we become like this? It seems as if the second coming has happened in Nigeria but this time, our god became money. Can we fix us?
PS. I wrote this sometime ago, after the your passport is better than mine conversation when I was feeling quite patriotic.