Memories of Nigeria
Benin Bronze Head
Lagos - The First Time
We had been living in the Scotland, Banchory, in Aberdeenshire. My Dad who was a Electrical Engineer building pylons all over the UK. He then got sent to Nigeria, he had been there when he was younger, but this was in 1974. Four years after the Biafran War, the country needed power as it had been at war for three years and needed building back up again.
It was the most exciting time, my Dad went out on his own to set everything up and we stayed at home in the Midlands. I had never been out of the country before, my sister was only 3 and I was 8. I was incredibly excited to be going to Africa on a huge plane, and going to live there too.
We went from Heathrow (I think) on British Airways DC10, to Lagos, even the name sounded exotic. After an 8 hour flight we got off the plane, in those days it was down the stairs to the tarmac, as soon as I stepped out of the cool inside of the aircraft to the heat, it was like stepping into a huge oven, even the wind was hot. It was night time and very loud, whistling sounds everywhere, crickets, calling each other. From that moment I loved it there, the exotic people with there dark shiny skin, and black hair, they chatted in a language that I had never heard, fast and furious, all talking and shouting at the same time, with loads of bags, pots and luggage, my Mum had brought some apples with us in case we wanted a snack, these got confiscated, little did I know that was the last apple I would see for a while.
Lagos the First Time
Out for the airport we were meet by a driver and taken to the Lagos Airport Hotel, it had a huge swimming pool with a high driving board. The streets were full of people and noise, strong smells and bright lights, honking horns and lots of bikes. Children selling things carried on their heads, huge trays of banana's or piles of oranges on the side of the road on wooden tables you could buy just about anything you wanted. I had never seen so much activity in my life. My eyes must have been huge as I took in every part of the strange and foreign land.
The next day got another smaller plane to Port Harcourt, Nigerian Airways flight this time. This is an experience in it's self. People brought there own food, rice and other strange smelling things, food I had never seen before.
We arrived at Port Harcourt, in those days, it was not much more than a big room, with fans, I don't think it was even air conditioned. I remember I needed to go to the toilet and could not work out which was the men's and which was the ladies, it had silhouettes of a man and a woman, but there were African silhouettes and I was a bit unsure.
We were then met by my Dad's Driver, and taken across the country to Aba, my new home, this trip took what seemed hours, but it was the most memorizing trip of my life, tall palm trees, dry earth, dry dusty roads that were not much more than tracks, broken down trucks, left to rust and rot, a crashed and burnt out aircraft from the war, left there to blend into the scenery. Men herding skinny cattle with huge horns. I loved it more and more.
Then to Aba, the busiest, smelliest, most loud place I had ever seen, people honking horns, massive go slows, were you don't move for hours, bikes ever where, and you could buy just about anything from the boys selling to the stuck drivers and their passengers.
Our first house was actually a flat, with a huge balcony stretching the whole length of the building, we were on the first floor and our neighbors below were some German men working for Siemens. Our flat was huge, it had big hard floors that were cool to walk on, my sister and I shared a bedroom and we had a nanny called Beatrice, to look after us, I remember she had very large rough hands.
We could sit on our balcony and watch Nigerian life from our home. Across the road was a small hut where a Nigerian lady did ladies hair, it was amazing how the women would go and have their hair done, it was a bit like a birds cage on top of their heads, taking black cotton and twisting it around a length of their hair to make it into amazing designs on their heads. It would take hours to do, and they chatted excitedly all the time, in their own tongue. The ladies clothes were beautiful exotic fabrics, wrapped around them, or they would have an elaborate headdress made from fabric on their heads.
I found out that Nigerian women are very strong women in mind as well as body, they are outspoken and strong women.
Living in Aba
New House, still in Aba
We didn't live in the flat for very long, we then moved to a house, with a huge garden, which was called a compound, we had night watchmen as it was dangerous at night, and in the day too, plenty of white people got robbed or killed in their beds. It was a dangerous place, but not to me, it was the best place in the world.
We had a monkey called Gypsy, he was a Green Monkey, and he was lovely, he lived in two trees outside, and would come on our veranda, and sit with us, he would eat fruit with his little hands and I was fascinated by his tiny black nails, and the way he ate his food, he would put his arms around you and hold onto you. We also had some rabbits, which did not fair too well, they got maggots in their feet and had to be put down, so we did not have any more rabbits, we did have a turkey, which my Mum would click to with her tongue and it would come running from wherever it was to feed on corn everyday, we were fattening it up for Christmas, but sadly someone else had their eye on it and a few weeks before Christmas our turkey went missing, we assumed it went to be someone else's Christmas dinner! as we never saw it again.
Our compound was huge, and at one end was a tangerine tree, which bent over in a big half circle so it made the most wonderful hide out. I loved it, it was hot every day, the sky was always blue and there were plants and huge insects that I had never seen before, and the biggest ants ever, also little black ones, that would sting you and it would hurt like mad, I used to like watching the ant trails and see where then ended up the the soft sandy earth. Huge colourful butterflies, would flutter past, vultures would sit on the garage looking for food, look scary and hungry.
At Christmas time the Juju men would come round and do their dance, Juju is black magic and was very prevalent at the time we were there, but when they came round at that time of year, they would do a dance, wearing masks and have spears, banging their drums, looking very fierce, we would give them money or a "dash" as it was called.
You had to "dash" for everything in Nigeria, it is like a tip, for something done, or if you want something done.
There were not many white people in Aba at that time, and even less white children, everyone we met were friendly, the Nigerian people like to have a laugh and have a great sense of humor, they laugh a lot. When we went out in the car the children would line up when they saw we were white and shout to us "unyacha" I have no idea if that is how it is spelt, but that is what is sounded like, our driver, Sunday, told us that it meant, white man, and to shout back, "unyargee" once again, have no idea how it is spelt. which we were told meant "Black man"The children would howl with laughter and so would we, they would chase after the car waving and shouting unyacha, and we would hang out of the window shouting unyargee.
I hope not to offend anyone, with what we used to shout but it was a time when they were black and we were white and it didn't seem to matter, no offence was ever meant by anyone. it was just the way it was.
Our Cook and Gardener
We had a cook, who used to tell my sister and I stories while he was cooking, we would go into the kitchen and listen to him tell us about the lion and the antelope and so many other animal stories, which all had meaning to them, they were wonderful to listen to, and nothing like our stories at home. I can't remember any of them now, but I do wish that I could.
The cooks family lived on our compound in small houses, or quarters, and wewere invited to eat with them once or twice, yam, or rice, with spicy sauces, very tasty and so different to what we had been used to. He showed us how to eat sugar cane, which is very nice, you chew the stork which is a bit like bamboo, and you get a sweet tasting liquid, you have to then spit out the chewed up woody bits.
Our gardener would cut the grass with a machete and a stick, which took a long time, but he also used to put me and my sister in his wheelbarrow and run around the garden with us in it, shouting faster, faster. Poor man must have been warn out by us!
We would go to Aba Club most days and play in the pool, they had a large pool, tennis courts, table tennis, and a golf course, which had more bikes and cars on it than golfers. I remember they used to make really nice pasties. We would have a pasty when we had been swimming all day. My sister and I mostly had the pool to ourselves, other children came and went, we did have friends though most of the time, it could have been a lonely childhood, but I never remember being lonely, I just remember having fun, either on my own or with other children that were there at the time.
New House Again - Still in Aba
We moved into another house, this one was closer to Aba Club and we could walk there, which we did most days, this house had an even bigger garden with better quarters for everyone too. Our driver Sunday had the largest apartments to himself.
The Rainy Season and the Harmatan
The rainy season had torrential storms, thunder and lighting, and huge rain drops leaving hot puddles on the earth, or small rivers running down the roads. Very often it would flood, the hard dry earth not taking the torrent of rain fall all in one go, the storm drains at the sides of the road would overflow, spilling out dirty water onto the roads and side streets. The storm drains are mainly just deep channels dug into the earth with a wooden board across to walk over, in the dry season they are very smelly, green and disgusting. The rain didn't last very long then it would be hot and sunny again. The only other time I have seen rain anything like it was in the Florida Keys, right down at the tip, we had a rain storm very similar to the rain in Southern Nigeria.
The harmatan was different, it was windy and cooler in the morning and evenings, the wind comes from the Sahara and is full of sand, making the whole place dusty, layers of dust are over everything, and the sky is hazy. It is the dry season and everywhere is dry and dusty.
Travelling Around Nigeria
We traveled around with my Dad sometimes, his company were putting up power lines all over Southern Nigeria and he was based in Aba running it, he had to go to Calabar quite often and we went with him sometimes, it was brilliant, a long dusty drive then we got to go on either a speed boat along the river or a canoe which had an engine on the back of it, it was thrilling.
The roads were red with huge potholes so the journey was slow and bumpy but such good fun too.
We also lived in Lagos, for a time, which was not as nice as Aba. We would sometimes drive to Lagos from Aba, staying off in Benin City to break up the journey.
Later on my Dad was then based in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, we also stayed in Kano too, which is a really interesting place, I don't remember the name of the hotel, but it was built into the rock. Kano cools down at night unlike the south which is just hot all the time.
The last time I was in Nigeria was on my 16th Birthday which was January 1982, I can't actually remember where we were but it was either Kaduna or Lagos. At this time I was at school in England and staying with my Aunty Pat, only going out in the school holidays.
Power Cuts and No Water
Then there was the power cuts, these happened quite often, so often, we had a generator in the garage, with enough power for lights, fridges, not air conditioning. It is very hot trying to sleep with just a fan blowing around warm air.
And no water, you can't drink the water and it is often brown when coming though the taps, but worse when there is none at all. We had a tank outside full of water, not drinking water, but washing and flushing toilets. I remember watching this tank slowly get less and less water in it until there was none left.
Nigeria - Loved it
I loved my time in Nigeria, and would not change it for the world. I don't feel I missed out on anything only gaining in knowledge of different people and to appreciate different cultures.
I loved the smelly dirty parts of Aba, as much as the palm trees and green lush bush, with the big ants, snakes and screeching birds.
Lagos and the busy roads and huge go slows, boys and girls trying to sell you anything they had along the Lagos bridge, I bet it has not changed, I bet you can still buy just about anything sitting in your car. My Dad once brought me a calculator for school off one of the boys in a go slow in Lagos.
I loved it, the Nigeria's are full of life people with a great sense of humor, and they protect their family members.
I have many other memories of Nigeria and my Dad has even more, this is just a short article of my second home.
© 2013 Lavender Jade