Tag Archives: Oba

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.

 

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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.

In defence of (my) Igboness

This blog is NOT about a hatred of Igbo people and things, especially Igbo men.

I do not hate being Igbo.

As a child I didn’t necessarily know I was Igbo. Yes, I spoke the language and I soaked in the culture as if I was a sponge, but when you grow up with everyone singling you out as ‘Nke a muru na obodo oyibo’ (the one that was born abroad) and making it out to be something special, you start to feel you are – somehow – above being Igbo. It’s not something you think about with a conscious mind. You don’t sit for hours pondering your uniqueness. It’s something that thrives in the warmth of admiration but has nothing really to do with who you are. Much like being able to grow your hair past your shoulders or being a lighter shade of black.

I was black. To a large extent, I was white – colourless even; the books I read, the music I listened to, the voice of my subconscious: white, white, white. (If you were born into the middle class and upwards before the mid-90s you understand what I mean. Let’s not get bogged down.)

It took moving abroad to make me appreciate all the things I took for granted growing up; unique forms of expression, smells, sounds. It was like my I-chromosome had been activated. This didn’t happen immediately – nor consciously, at first. It’s true that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. If you let people, they will define you. In my case, many tried.

Yet there is no one definition of Igboness – how can there be?  (I am aware of the irony because the blog seems to hold up a certain type of Igbo as the norm.) I took exception to condensing my life to its purest igbo droplet.  Did this mean I could no longer (unashamedly) enjoy 80s Brit pop? Motorcycles? Spanish culture? Rollerderby? Travel? Trdelnik? World literature? Did this mean I could no longer admire or date anyone not from ‘our side’?  Does discovering other sides to myself make me any less ‘Igbo’?

I don’t think so.

If anything, it has helped to appreciate being Igbo more. I no longer take language for granted, ‘Oh it will always be there’, because it is constantly changing, evolving. More than half the words my maternal grandmother spoke when I was more interested in charging around than listening no longer exist. The paradigms of beauty have shifted so that my dark-skinned paternal grandmother whose teeth were sharpened into points to offset her cheekbones might no longer be considered stunning.

I stopped caring where I was born years ago and considered where I was raised. I know that the English fox is crafty but that the Igbo tortoise is craftier. I know that an Akpu tree is not the same as a cassava plant although they both share the same name. I know what to do with a ripe head of Ukwa even if it is a bloody tough job. Burning tyres will always remind me of New Year as opposed to lynching. I cannot hear ‘Kom Kom’ without being transported to ndi uzu oka. I am from Oba of the nine villages, and my village Ezelle is the youngest, responsible for keeping Idemmili in priests. I can forgive you if there is no ojii when I come to your house, but if you sweep my house at night you are my enemy. Why are you sweeping away my wealth?

I belong.

I do not hate Igbo people. I can take the mickey out of my brothers and sisters, out of my culture because it is mine. I can see our flaws and I can laugh at our mistakes. This does not mean I do not appreciate the beauty of who we are.

After all, you do not throw your baby away just because it has bitten you on the breast.