A Gift of Life from Nigeria

Waking up with a terrible headache one morning, I staggered toward my backyard, placing the palm of my right hand on top of my head as though my head would fall off if not clasped. What was my mission to the backyard: searching for the herbs or tree bark that could banish my headache quick. It was summer of 2006 and to think that I could forget myself so easily, the way I did that morning, surprised me. Forestation is widely supported in the United States, but there is no way it could compete with what obtains in Nigeria, Africa. A tree in Nigeria could serve multiple purposes, one of which was healing.

That morning, my nostalgia level rose to a critical mass and it could only be imagined how desperate I wanted to fly away. Only those who left their countries , families, wives and children, and colleagues that they’d grown up with can tell how it feels to be away from one’s beloveds to sojourn in another man’s country for a long time.

I’d arrived in the United States of America during the spring of 2001, in search of, as they used to say, greener pastures. Whether or not I understood what greener pastures meant in 2001 was a different thing entirely. All I knew was that I was leaving Nigeria for the USA (that was how my friends called it whenever we fantasized with the idea of hiding inside a cargo plane so as to come to the USA), land of opportunities; the land of honey and milk. As these appellations go, I had expected that at my arrival in the USA, my life would immediately turn around for good; I thought I would find silver and gold scattered in the ground like cowries on the sandy beach or on the trees like apples, and that all I had to do was just pluck them up. I soon knew how wrong I was.

Eight years after I arrived in United States, I have neither seen where the grass is green nor the opportunities, gold and silver, and honey and milk I so much heard our seniors talked about back in Africa.

It is impertinent to say that the USA rather than make me rich, succeeded in making me age overnight. No because one night, actually two days after my neck breaking headache, I had received a raffle winning that paid my flight to my choice of country. Without a second thought, I choose my country. To see Nigeria, my home and my family after nine years, was priceless. Especially there was a place of interest I had in mind to visit when I get back to Nigeria. It is a village, Asoko village. It was my birthplace and, though local to the core, the economic center of my city. Anyone who knows what it means to be close to nature would appreciate the ingredients Asoko is made of. But anyway let me save that fine information until later.

My flight to Nigeria was 13 hours non-stop but it was in a big Arik Airbus, filled with a number of things that lightens the ennui of a long journey. Aesthetic interior, huge leg room, comfortable seat, assorted wines and food, movies both local and international all kept me in company throughout my journey. Nigeria has changed so much within my nine years absence and I didn’t find so many of my colleagues around as I’d thought I would. In all, I spent a total of 15 days in Lagos, Nigeria and though they were all happy moments, none was as thrilling as my visit to Asoko, my village, my birthplace.

Asoko evoked my age of childhood. Young men are said to be innocent at such an age when they refer to local herbs as mere vegetable. It was at such an age that I lived in Asoko before my family moved to Ibadan city. I was 10 years old and had returned to my cradle 24 years after. A lot had changed.

I arrived at the gate of Asoko towards the evening. The bright moon and glinting stars being visible against the pale sky cast Asoko village into a luminous play ground and I thought within myself, my birthplace is beautiful.

The one mental note I made at the commencement of the journey was to look out for our sage story teller, Adolphus. Adolphus would gather young boys (girls were busy cooking with their mothers) in the Market Square at sunset and tell us fables of different morals and shades. We felt we were close to nature with such stories. Sometimes when he’d finished his story we felt gripped by the presence of the omnipotent creator whom we call “Olodumare” (the owner of heaven and earth). It was an ethereal feeling in entirety that which usually took long to wash off our mind!

This was my last hope to meet Adolphus, if he were still alive.

As I inched closer to the center of the village, in a sloppy movement, I noticed swamps and steep-sided plateaus that rose to about hundreds of meters. The north of Asoko was vast grassland and in the west, mountain tops were visible. Spectacular were the seven hills that earned Asoko the coinage “Jungle on the Seven Hills.” The hills encircled the Jungle, encapsulating its history. Seven hills for the seven words of the seven patriarchs, each hill symbolizing a word of a patriarch: Love for others as for yourself, Unity for strength and power, Service to one another, Truth for reliance, Discipline for good nature, Understanding for tolerance, and Obedience for peace and progress. These were the unfaltering principles of existence that were imparted upon the natives of Asoko (of which I am one) that life as a gift is a connection, an extension, a bond, an unstated promise of looking out for one another. To live life to the fullest, you must be kind to one another for whatever affects the native of one world, affects the native of the other world. “Distance is immaterial,” the progenitors had forewarned.

I shuddered to think, what would be anyone’s excuse if asked to live in such a calming and serene society. I failed once in my life to realize that wealth has different faces. The wealth that comes from the inside and spread unto the horizon cannot be found in such a place like the hustling and bustling mechanical, fast paced, no-rest cities of the USA. It is here, in an obscure village like Asoko, my own very birthplace, where people touch, see, feel, taste and hear nature. No wonder Adolphus was still alive at one hundred and twenty five years old.

Surprise was yet to come. I trudged the narrow path that led straight to the Market Square, and there it was, staring me in the eye. The market square, a vast area of land situated in the center of Asoko village, flanked on the right by the cemetery. As I turned into the wide footpath that ran straight into the market, I saw rows of bamboo-made stands that market women and men displayed their wares and stuffs with. Farm product like oranges would be stacked on one another to form small pyramids while sellers called for buyers with such melodic lines as: “come, buy my orange. This orange is sweet, hurry before the pyramid falls”. I quickly recalled how, following mother to this market one day, I had seen a lot of people selling and buying, first disagreeing to the point of fighting and then with common understanding, agreed to a price. Mother said it was called “haggling”.

I slowed down my pace and noticed the huge mango tree. Adolphus used to pack the kids under the mango tree for the moonlit story. The dry logs of wood chopped into seats were still there, many of them. The little clapper bell tied around the bough of the mango tree since my childhood was intact, too! Rocked by the gentle breeze, it dished out rhythmic chink-chank chink-chank like the hollow metal bells with a rattling pellet.

Adolphus was full of story as he was of age. One of his famous rituals before story time was lips curving. He would curve his lips in a thoughtful posture and then say, “Once upon a time,” with a deep stentorian voice to which we children replied in unison “time, time“. Then Adolphus would sail forth with interesting stories. A particular story I committed to heart, maybe it’s because the story appealed to obedience (being one of the principles of life as represented by one of the seven elders) was the story of the child that turned into the moon. Ladele, as the story went, loved to play outside until very late in the night regardless of several warnings from his mother that bad thing could happen to such a child that stayed outside late, playing.

Ladele continued to disobey his mother, Ayoka, until sunset one day. An old man appeared to Ladele and requested of the lad to run an errand for him. And that was the last everyone saw of the disobedient child. No one, according to Adolphus, ever knew what became of him. Some said the old man was the moon and that he must have taken Ladele with him back to the sky. This was a horrifying tale that chilled our spines, but as we grew, we became familiar with its moral.

To say the truth, I expected that I would meet Adolphus at the place reserved for the dead. But I was wrong. Adolphus at 125 years was still in his burnt brick little hut. I met him outside in the east side of the market square boiling the mixture of lemon grass, efirin and dongoyaro leaves inside a black earthen pot. When I was young I remember my mother used to boil concoction whenever I had headache, fever and some other types of health issue. She held me astride and pumped me full of it! She said the concoction of lemon grass, efirin and dongoyaro leaves is good for curing malaria fever and general body lassitude.

Little wonder the sage Adolphus was still kicking and rolling around. Maximum use of nature gift was his secret. I dared to say that Adolphus looked healthier than those of us who profess living good life in the urban area.

What I enjoyed while I spent the little time with Adolphus will be my own personal issue; I beg to keep it as confidential as the food I ate this morning. But in all, I enjoyed myself and will always remember what life feels like when one is closer to nature.