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The Road to Okigwe (1): A Tropical Nonsense

July 3, 2011

The Orie Owere market I walked into a few years ago was a strange spectacle. Some nine youth sat around two tables illumined by a hazy electric bulb in front of one of the late-hour stores. It was, indeed, strange to see nine teenagers sitting so relaxed at drinking tables so late at the market square.

The Orie Owere market I walked into a few years ago was a strange spectacle. Some nine youth sat around two tables illumined by a hazy electric bulb in front of one of the late-hour stores. It was, indeed, strange to see nine teenagers sitting so relaxed at drinking tables so late at the market square.

There was a group of three boys and two girls at one table and another group of two boys and two girls at a second table. It was even stranger that all of them were drinking beer. In fact, each one of them – both the boys and the girls – was sipping directly from either a bottle of Gulder or a bottle of big Stout. They were all bright-eyed, animated, and loud in the very fashion of every company propelled by alcohol. They seemed too steeped in their consumptive effulgence to acknowledge my entrance, which worked rather well since the scandal of the occasion found me craving anonymity and shirking recognition. I belonged neither to the age nor to the moment and place.

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An impressionable part of my growing up had happened in the town of Ezeowere. The first time my mother learned of my relationship with a girl from a neighboring town, she quickly ran home from the city to lay down the law: “Whatever you do in the village with people’s daughters is too close to home. If you bring this family to disrepute, you will have to answer to your father.” Since we were Catholic Christians of postcolonial African heritage, her phrasing of “your father” sounded so damning that what rang in my head for years later was, “God and the ancestors will come after you!” Nothing in my childhood experience ever suggested that just a couple of decades down the road adolescent boys and girls would sit round bottles of beer and puffs of cigarettes under the exposed glitz of the fairly refurbished Orie Owere at ten o’clock in the night. Do they not care (I jousted with the inscrutable fiends of the night) that Orie Owere sits at the confluence of seven tributary roads which run from the heart of Ezeowere through all corners of the three counties of Ehime Mbano, Isiala Mbano, and Ahiazu Mbaise? How could Orie Owere, the most socially dreaded public space of my youth, have become for another age a choice spot for the languid display of absolute decadence? Whose daughters were those would-have-been virgins who caroused and tottered on the brink of beer bottles in that hazy light with equally fledgling boys who have hardly left their mothers’ apron strings?

But you need to understand why I was scandalized, indeed, muddied, not so much by their cancerous smoke as much as it was by the very shady spectacle of their presence at that place and at that hour. Though I had completed the last three years of my elementary school education while living with my paternal grandmother in our ancestral town of Ezeowere, it was not until a few years later that I could confidently claim to have had my first one-on-one embrace with the natural forces of the upward bound village and its then vibrant youth. I had enrolled in the summer classes of the new Ezeowere Academic Union as a high school junior. Our English teacher was an ever smiling young man named Charles or Charley. Charles or Charley was also the founding president of the Ezeowere Academic Union, a purely community initiative that was the forerunner of the largely Ford Foundation-funded and massively fraudulent NGOs that dot every cranny of Nigeria today. In a traditional African community where a teacher was never called by his proper name, no one had inhibitions about calling Charles or Charley by whichever form of his name that came handy.

And because of his constant endearment, camaraderie, and unalloyed friendship, no one seemed to have bothered to find out whether his actual name was Charles or Charley. He freely answered to both names just the same way he freely extended a firm handshake to everyone, while his constantly smiling eyes warmly sought to know how everyone was doing and if every family member at home was doing well. (It took me over twenty years, when I met him again in the US, to settle for Charles!) Charles taught English language and literature in a way that opened our fancies to the vast ranges of a global horizon. Though I was originally a technical student, taking Charles’s English classes became one of the driving forces behind my transition to language and literary studies. His classes were always alive with words that climbed walls and imagination that scaled mountains. His classes were also the most crowded of all others. Some of the students amusingly tried to model the inflections of his speech tonality.

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Not long after those glorious days of dreams, news broke that Charles was headed to the United States for his university education. The whole community sang for joy and hailed his journey mercies. He in turn rewarded our collective dreams by later distinguishing himself as one of the foremost American immigrant attorneys through his acclaimed law firm in Atlanta. Unfortunately, however, like Sophocles’ Thebesian plague which could only be appeased by human blood the leadership of his academic youth project was suddenly hijacked by a nefarious ring of night bats which sought to augment its warped intelligence and defective vision by flagrant ego drive and blatant hokum. Like predators who knew they would surely die without the blood of their delirious host, the leeches pursued the most ephemeral programs – like remote conclaves and ballroom dances – over and above the primary project of classroom teaching. They persistently drove wedges between the teaching and student community by recruiting some brainless vessels and, therefore, most gullible of their ilk to hawk gossip and poison the fountain of communal wellbeing.

Within the cabal’s first term at the helm of the youth program the Ezeowere Academic Union was dead. The promise and fortunes of Ezeowere youth advancement was frittered away overnight by gluttonous ghosts who could not distinguish between a forlorn cemetery and a communal green.

In the years of interregnum the Ezeowere community fervently hoped that the Ivory Towers of the Nigerian university system which had lured away the cabal of vampires would channel its excess energy for the good of the community. Alas, such prayer was like preaching to an entombed stone or a riotous band of weaverbirds neither of which could hear beyond a deafened preoccupation with itself. A giddy university education only succeeded in sharpening the group’s destructive fangs and in turn sired rabid champions of clannish thuggery. Its post-university years have been entirely fixated on the confines of Ezeowere politics, instead of either traveling the world to expand their horizon or even linking up with a Nigerian national orientation to smoothen the roughages of their archetypal immersion. A few of their acolytes who ventured beyond the shores of Nigeria were promptly clamped into foreign slammers and sometimes bodily repatriated to Nigeria for running drug cartels and advance fee fraud syndicates, betrayed by their habitually loquacious mouths.

A circle of these new shameless kings of dishonor has been known to scalp elderly men and women of their hard-earned cash, their only stalls at the Orie Owere market, and their tiny plots of land with bogus promises of gargantuan development projects that never came to fruition. It has been known to take state government contracts to install community water taps in the village, taps that never produced a single drop. It has been known to plant guns and had its own kinsmen locked up on trumped up charges just to blunt competing political ambitions. Some of its members have turned into mobsters and contract killers and others drive around the town surrounded by gun totting policemen and knife-wielding henchmen. This gang of bloodsuckers has turned the once-pristine haven of Ezeowere into a kidnapper’s prowling grove, at one point causing the death of a revered old lady and at another time endangering the life of a philanthropic businessman. It has conveniently exchanged the humane language of neighborly love and communal building which guided the noble vision of Charles’s Ezeowere Academic Union with the fierce growl of animals and the alien prater of those cartoonish Martians whom Will Smith (as Captain Steven Hiller) and Jim Brown (as Byron Williams) respectively battled in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996) and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! (1996): the antilife language of boasts, blood, and doom. (Note to the reader: Yes, Jim Brown is an Orange man like me!).

In the wake of the inimitable darkness, an incubus of tropical nonsense, under which the regime of predatory simpletons has blanketed our whole town, we now have the social emergency of this baffling generation of beer-quaffing virgins and smoke-guzzling rabbits. Were I not there to bear witness that my generation was raised on the living principle that extols the incomparable power of learning, unflinching love of Ezeowere, and unfettered aspiration for community leadership it would be almost impossible to imagine that things have not always been this scary. But have no fear. The emerging leadership of well-traveled and knowledgeable men and women, led by Representative (Professor) Chudi Uwazurike and Senator (Ambassador) Matthew Nwagwu, is a dazzling sign that Okigwe’s sun shall rise again. I will confess the beauty of my education in Okigwe.

Dr. Obiwu may be reached at [email protected]

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