My grandfather’s house.

I’m writing a scene in my book which draws on my image of this house and it occurred to me that I was not even remembering it how it appears in this photo.



I remember when the cherry bush on the right was on both sides and full of berries. Behind the hedge on the left, there was a rectangular metal tank, the old ones that used to be mounted on blocks of wood, that gave you warm water when the sun was directly overhead and whose taps could be padlocked. Remember those? We used to love dashing around the compound and knocking on the tank, especially when it was half-full because only then did it make the most beautiful music (there is a doorway in the wall beside the bush on the left).

The house seemed small and dark the last time I was in Oba, in April. It was always dark but it wasn’t always small. It was and wasn’t the same house, as I was and was not the same person standing in it.  All behind the back of the formerly spacious compound, my uncles are building houses of their own and my father wants to tear down this house because it’s “old anyway” and a hazard. It could fall at any time, he says. I managed to convince him to let us do it up, make it stronger but keep it the way it is. I’m fed up with all the tearing down, all the newness in Nigeria — even if I understand it.

I understand that ‘New’ is synonymous with prosperity, status and progress and for many people who have grown up with nothing or a little -in the shadows of a world to which it seemed they would never belong –  it is the way to go. But it irks me that people pay good money on visas to go to countries where they trundle around  in buses to visit other people’s old houses, their dilapidated abodes, ruins with the dust of ancient farts lingering in the breeze.

At the same time, a part of me wonders if newer is not simply easier. All around me during my last trip, my mind struggled to play catch-up, to reconcile the things I was seeing with places, houses, even people that no longer existed. It was hard to look for myself in popular haunts and not find me. It must be brutal to have to live with that every day. So, people build. To carry on.

It is in human nature to want to exceed our parents’ achievements. I get that. But at the expense of a blank slate where history should be? I would wager not.

‘Without Sin, There Is No Forgiveness’ – a love song by Celestine Ukwu

My love for Celestine Ukwu is well documented, so I shan’t begin to gush about how his melodies soothe my soul, how the lyrics to his songs are full of meaning, of Igbo philosophy. How it harks back to a time I would probably consider simpler, an assessment with which my parents might disagree: ‘Love your neighbour’, ‘The enmity of a friend is dangerous’, ‘Don’t do bad shit,’ ‘The world doesn’t belong to you alone so share it well,’ and so on.

Anyway, this morning I was writing a short story (in fact I am still writing and will return to it once this blog post is done) when this song popped into my head. My story’s about this woman who plays Igbo music whenever there is trouble in her household. At first she starts with playing one of Chief Osita Osadebe’s hits but soon she segues to Celestine Ukwu. She’s a typical Igbo woman, in my view. Not great at talking about the softer parts of life, but very vocal about the hardships and her disappointments. And so, she lets the music do the talking for her.

In this song, he narrator starts by pleading with his lover, Adanma not to leave him. “The two of us will leave together, Adanma,” he says, although that’s a transliteration. In English it will be more like “Please say you’ll stay with me.”

‘Adanma the woman in my heart won’t let me rest

Adanma  my friend whom I love won’t let me sleep

My love whom I have in my heart won”t let me rest

My friend whom I love, take my heart away

Adanma whom I have in my heart, take my heart away

Take my heart away, Adanma whom I love,

Take my heart away Adanma whom I carry in my heart

Take my heart away, Adanma please don’t leave me

Etc etc etc. A lot of begging, backed by sweet music.  Then:

What have I done that’s caused you to run away from me?

What have I done to make you angry with me?

Whatever it is, please forgive me

If there is no love, there will be no forgiveness.

Please come and embrace me, Adanma

Ah. I am not romantic or sentimental but this music sits in the soul and washes it clean with its tears. If I were Adanma, I would have agreed with a quickness that would make your heads spin!

I wish the whole world spoke Igbo because I cannot write down the lyrics in their entirety. But trust me, they are very sweet, heartfelt and even a little sorrowful. Because you know Adanma is an Igbo girl and she DEFINITELY did not agree to forgive him. I can imagine her now, her eyes sharp, hand on her hip, mouth twisted in disdain.

“Is music food? Are words meat? What, am I now supposed to eat music? Mschew! Nonsense. My friend zuz out.”

Chai. Why are Igbo girls like this?

Enjoy the music! Tell me what you think in the comments section.