Journey to Afikpo (Ebonyi State, Nigeria) : Day 1.

Preface

Between 19 and 29 August 2011, I travelled to Afikpo (Ebonyi State, Nigeria) as the first of a series of travels and questionings I will be undertaking over a period of one year. I had just finished my studies at the Nigerian Law School, and was in search of solace, solitude and definition. The series was originally posted on Saraba Blog and encouraged by the initial response I received, I now hope more people will find the posts useful and interesting.

Although Adebiyi Olusolape, my dear friend, has edited some of the posts, the posts retain most of their originality. I ask the kind reader to forgive any unintentional error.

Please feel free to share.

Day 1 — 19.08.2011

There is so much to say, and hopefully, so much will be remembered.

It happens that I am travelling to Afikpo, my hometown (my Dad’s birthplace) on a motorcycle. I am not good with measuring distances, but my guess is that it is about 10 to 15 km. I am, at first, angry that there is no easier means of transportation. There is, actually. The Church (my Dad’s official) driver tells me that to travel by car to Afikpo from Ohafia I will have to wait for an indeterminable period. I am not good with waiting, so I opt for a bike ride. My anger calcifies into exhilaration, because the ride turns out to be adventurous – considering it in retrospect, that is.

But I am worried about the Police. Two months ago, I had a painful encounter – they siezed my laptop and took all my money. It is disturbing that to travel by road in Nigeria, the Police emerges as a necessary evil. Well, not ‘necessary.’ A word like ‘venal’ will suffice. And it is even more horrendous that it is difficult to tell what might come out of such encounters.

Each time we come to them, and the often needless checkpoints they create (more needless when one considers the psychological import of a boundary), I fix my gaze at the distance, ensuring that even if they talk to me, they will see my anger, and machismo. This works, perhaps, because we are never stopped or searched.

We make three stops because of the rain. It is surprising that the rain is not a nuisance to me. The motorcyclist asks me if we should go on. I say yes. This is before our second stop. We continued the journey but the rain increased soon after. There is no point in stopping, we are already drenched. He stops, saying it is not worth our trouble.

I think it is the promise of independence that makes the rain welcome, for me. Afikpo holds an empty house as a promise.

During one of our stops, the motorcyclist shows me a house he says belongs to a politician. It is in Edda. (Now, Edda had been the setting for a novel I completed early 2010 – a story of how Female Genital Mutilation was abolished in the town. I feel foolish now that I am experiencing the town at close range. It is an assemblage of several smaller towns, villages, hamlets – whichever of the trio is better suited) The politician, I am told, did nothing for his people during his term – Obasanjo’s era. And he failed, twice, in his bid to recapture their interests and vote. The motorcyclist says this assertively, as though he played a part in ensuring bad leadership does not continue – and it seems, thinking over this, that we are all part of a larger scheme of things, whether or not we live in Edda.

Our stops make the journey longer. At some point, I begin to question my reasons. I am just out of the Law School, and everywhere people are asking, What Next? I tell them NYSC; but that is very doubtful, and I am sorry for telling a lie. I believe in Bohemia (although I am yet to map out the parameters of that kingdom), and in exploration, as the conscious terrains a writer must determine. In essence, if NYSC is the idea of being a conformist, I am keen to abuse tradition. I will take my time; I will be a corper when I want.

And so, Afikpo holds the promise of reflection, of walled-out spaces. This is why I am heading to this land which I know barely, and for the first time I will live in Afikpo alone.

When we get to Afikpo, I exhale ‘finally.’ We agreed on 750 naira, but the bike-driver says he does not have enough change when I give him 1,000 naira, and so gives me 200 naira. This is funny because I am waiting for him to say ‘please’ so that it does not seem I am taken for granted. But I indulge him – haven’t we had enough travails together?

Uncle Otu’s house is just the way I have known it. It is poorly-lit because the doors are always shut (and it is a misfortune that there is no electricity throughout the night, which makes my plans fall through, gives me a bad night, keeps me hungry). I go out, after unpacking, to buy food things and provisions that I believe will last me for 10 days.

There is, I remember, a man who, just before I entered Uncle Otu’s house, recognized me as my father’s son. He said he had never seen me, but I looked so much like my Dad. I do not consider this an incursion into my space; but later I do not pick my cousin’s calls.

So that this solitude, envisioned and absolute, will not be breached.

First published in daily instalments on www.sarabamag.com between 19 — 29 August 2011
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© Emmanuel Iduma, 2011