Eating My First Bowl of Amala and other things Returning To The West Has Brought Me

When I informed my family and friends that I was posted to Ondo State for my National Youth Service, after spending the last year in Ile-Ife, Osun State most were of the opinion that I held some kind of bond to the Southwestern part of Nigeria.

I have always loved the West as a child, without (good) reason, and even though I make frequent trips to Lagos, it was not until last year that I experienced the West for all that it embodies. I have never had to geniculate to greet an elder, attempt to eat amala with ewedu or say, ‘Mi o gbo Yoruba,’ when someone says something to me in Yoruba that I do not understand.

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The picturesque hills of Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State.

When fate had me returning to this part of the country, I decided it was either to learn something I missed out in the course of the last year, correct a misconception or understand better a few things that puzzle me.

For whatever reason I have to spend the next year in the West, I am open to the thrills, new experiences I will have and new persons I would meet. This time, in a largely different setting, a livelier city, and on much better terms – a Nigerian Corp Member with an abundance of time and goodwill.

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Behind the Lens: A story of Papa

Papa lives in Sothern Nigeria. Even though there are tales of its sojourn in the South-South region of Nigeria, it appears that Papa makes its home in South-West Nigeria – these people are more acquainted with Papa’s escapades.

I first heard and came into contact with Papa in November, when I was sent to the NYSC Orientation Camp, Ikare-Akoko, Ondo state.

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NYSC orientation camp, Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State, Nigeria. Shot on Samsung Galaxy J6+ by yours truly.

Papa was in our vicinity, its presence felt in increasing measures as our days turned into weeks.

Being a corp doctor, I was mostly in the clinic, attending to sick corp members and other NYSC officials who were camped with us.

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Reflections: The Past One Year – Gains, Losses, and Hopes

A little over a year ago, I packed my bags and relocated to the ancient city of Ile-Ife to begin what would be a one-year-long paid internship in the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals Complex (OAUTHC), Ile-Ife.

Before arriving Ile-Ife, I am not sure if I knew about the hospital, but I was already on what my friends and I optimistically termed, Medical Tourism; traveling across the federation and visiting its various medical institutions in the search for placement for housemanship.

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Work & Life Lately

Happy new year, lovelies.

Allow me welcome you to your best year yet.

Yes, that’s how I feel about 2019.

In the days and weeks that I haven’t put up a blog post, a lot has happened revolving around work and life generally.

My last blog post was about my internal medicine experience and there was a lot of cheers to my tenacity, and I earned a community of friends and family who were counting down with me to the end of the posting.

Weeks after I made the post and had most of my seniors at work, who are thankfully my friends also, read the post, one said to me, ‘You better go and tell your blog readers that you are suffering now. You had not gotten the real taste of Renal when you made the post.’

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Africa Through My Lens

I might not have been to a lot of countries, but for the average Nigerian of my age, I daresay I have done well for myself and I am still pushing.

Tony

I might not have been to a lot of countries, but for the average Nigerian of my age, I daresay I have done well for myself and I am still pushing.

I have visited and spent a good length of time in eight African countries; seen the borders of four African countries; and the world through the stories of my friends who live in different parts of the world.

As a child, I got restless being in one place for long. It was not until I got into the university that I discovered that that was a pointer to who I was to become later – a “Traveler/Walker.”

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From Jalingo to Port Harcourt, and Everything In Between

My trip to Jalingo was the first time I was going to be away from home for more than a week. Well two weeks, if you count the holidays I spent with my grandparents as a child. And home has always been Port Harcourt, of the Bole and black soot fame. When you’ve lived in one city for over twenty years, it sort of grows on you and makes it difficult to adjust to any other place.

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Although I love to travel, I wasn’t enthusiastic about this particular journey at all. The only bright spot was that I was going by air and the entire trip would be over in less than four hours. So that Monday morning in November, I dragged myself to the airport at 8, boarded by 9, and less than an hour later we touched down Abuja amidst the blistering heat. After some thirty minutes of back-and-forth at the check-in counter, I was able to secure a seat on the only inbound flight to Jalingo airport. The flight itself was pretty uneventful asides the constant panic attacks of the white lady who sat next to me whenever the plane was in turbulence. And oh, I think the state governor or the deputy was also on the same flight.

But I wouldn’t say any more about that journey or the details of all that went down during my three-week stay in Taraba state. Instead, what I will talk about is the journey back to Port Harcourt, a 20-hour road trip spread across three days, six different states and countless villages. I decided to come back by road for two reasons. First, the flight tickets were a bit pricey and since I wasn’t quite sure the exact day I was going to leave town, I didn’t want to risk it. Besides, somewhere in my heart I also wanted to experience the upsides of a road trip like seeing actual landmarks and crossing boundaries.

To get the most out of the journey, I had planned to travel from Jalingo to Markudi or Onitsha (relatively close towns) where I could find a decent hotel to lodge for the night and then continue the following day to Port Harcourt. Sure enough, this journey didn’t disappoint with some of the thrills I’d expected, but a few lessons got thrown into the mix as well and these I want to share with you:

1. If you know the details of the journey, you may not be willing to take that first step

On the day the journey was to begin, I had to wait until mid-day for the green light to leave Jalingo. When it eventually came, I was still determined to leave and I frantically searched for a bus leaving town immediately. Soon enough, I joined a Volkswagen headed towards Wukari (a border town) after the driver and some other passengers reassured me that the journey to Markudi would last no longer than five hours- just in time to get a decent hotel.

As the journey progressed, I realised that Taraba was much larger than it appeared on a map because we spent almost four hours getting to its border with Benue state. At the border, we also had to switch vehicles because our driver had no plans on going further. I was lucky enough to join the last vehicle en route to Markudi but then had to wait an extra thirty minutes for it to fill up. The journey to Markudi wasn’t any easier, and barely two hours away from midnight, I was dropped off at a lonely bus stop in the middle of town.

Although I still do not regret leaving Jalingo, this experience has taught me a few things about life and making plans. A straight line from point A to point B during the planning stage could turn out to be squiggly during execution. But this shouldn’t deter you from making plans or leaving the confines of your comfort zone because if you knew beforehand every twist and turn along the way, you’d probably lose the courage to start anyway. And while you can seek the counsel of mentors and coaches, bear in mind that their experiences are unique and won’t necessarily be the same as yours. At the end of the day, it boils down to trusting that there will be grace and strength for every stage of your journey.

2. Be careful not to make assumptions

It was no surprise to me that we finally got to Markudi late into the night. In fact, somewhere along the line, I’d begun tracking our position with Google map and the app gave an almost accurate prediction of our arrival time. What I didn’t expect though, was that I’d be left stranded in Markudi at such a time. If you’re close to me, you’d probably know how much I hate being caught unawares. In fact, halfway through the journey, I’d already made alternative arrangements as to where I was going to pass the night since it’d be too late to search for a hotel.

The only thing left to do was to find someone who knew their way around town and could help me locate the address I was given. And who else but the driver? I did the most logical thing and asked him, “Sir, do you know so-and-so place in Markudi? That’s where I’m going to stop.” He looked at me, nodded several times and even repeated the name of the place I mentioned with an air of familiarity.

So, you can imagine my shock when few minutes after we enter the city, the driver stopped without warning, brought down my luggage, and gestured for me to come down. He zoomed off before I could put myself together. It was only in retrospect that it dawned on me what actually that night. I had assumed the driver knew where I was going to. Worse still, I assumed he was going to drop me off at that place. And all the while I was busy making assumptions, the driver couldn’t hear or speak English!

And this leads to the second lesson I learned, albeit in the most unfortunate circumstances: A nod doesn’t always translate to understanding or agreement. Before you go ahead with any decision, you need to be certain it is founded on fact and truth and not mere assumptions. One foolproof way to avoid the assumption trap is to ask questions and keep asking again and again. Even more important than asking questions, is asking the right question and demanding appropriate answers to the questions you’ve asked.

3. Be grateful for the littlest of things; your trash may be someone’s gold

Of the numerous thrills of road travel, I particularly looked forward to watching the changing scenery as we traveled down south and enjoying the breeze as it rushed past my face. Fortunately, I almost always got a seat by the window of the vehicles I boarded. In fact, I spent a greater part of the entire journey staring out of windows than sleeping or fiddling with my phone.

Though I recall seeing a few breathtaking hills, plateaus and rivers, what left the most impression was observing the lives of the locals as we passed through their communities. I took note of the children playing semi-naked, mud houses so small you’d wonder if there would be enough space for your legs, and the absence of transmission lines and pipe-borne water. Once or twice, I even caught myself looking for some form of discontentment or sadness in the eyes of the hawkers who pressed against our windows urging us to buy their wares.

But then it struck me that this was life, as they knew it. I could only feel discontented because I was opportune to grow up under different (and probably better) conditions. Rather than whine and grumble because things don’t pan out the way I want, I’ve chosen to fill my heart with gratitude for what I have. Yes, I didn’t attend Harvard or any other ivy-league, but I was privileged to have a decent university education. Yes, I can’t afford to vacation in the Bahamas, but I have access to the Internet and books which inform me of the existence of such places. And though I cannot have dinner at a fancy restaurant as often as I please, every night I’m surrounded by a loving family with food on our table. I think you get the point so I wouldn’t stress it further.

Finally, I discovered in the process of documenting this journey that certain details and memories became hazy as though they never happened (and to think it’s been barely three months!). So, one last lesson to wrap this up is: learn to enjoy each phase of your journey, for very soon all you may have would be vague memories. Like a blogger-friend once told me, don’t be so focused on tomorrow that you lose sight of all that today affords. Be intentional, do life on purpose, and embrace your journey.

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– Fae for AEW.

About our guest writer

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Fae is a girl of many parts: engineer-cum-numerical analyst, amateur baker, travel enthusiast, fiction lover, logophile, speaker and most recently blogger. But don’t let this fool you because her perfect day is spent curling up on a couch with a good novel and she hopes that one day she’d be paid for this.

She is also the host of Shenonyms, a yearly workshop for young women to network, learn about God and live purposefully.

Connect with her on Facebook @faenomenal, and also on her blog faenomenal.com where she creates light-hearted and relatable content weekly.

Love,

Annie.