It was a windy harmattan* evening in Ibadan, Nigeria’s oldest city in the south-western region of the country. The leaves of virtually all trees in our compound had dried up and littered our back yard. They were bright goldish-brown in colour and crackled when one stepped on them. As the few remaining leaves that clung to the mighty baobabs and Irokos fell down in resignation, I ran to window singing… snow, snow!
My Dad laughed. Of course snow never fell in Nigeria. Many years later I would learn that the cold harmattan weather was equivalent to a warm summer in Ireland. Still, I had learnt of snow from western books and I guess I was engaging in a suspension of belief as my imagination ran wild. What my Dad found most interesting was that his junior brother, my uncle, had done the exact same thing countless times when they were growing up in Odo-ona, a city not too far away from Ibadan. My uncle had left for the United States some years before I was born, he hadn’t come back since and we heard that he was doing pretty well.
One needn’t look too hard for the source of my fascination with snow. Our house was filled with books with tales of British or American youngsters having all sorts of intriguing adventures. We had Nigerian books as well, but the novelty of those tales of faraway lands was magnetic. Like my Mum used to say, with a good book you can travel on your bed. Each Friday, my elder sister and I would agree to borrow books – only one book was allowed per student – from our primary school library so that we could sneak in two new books before Monday. Also, one mustn’t forget that with the heavy handed military Ogas* in full sway, the whole nation was practically dreaming obodooyibo* each night.
Wanderlust, my encounter with this word was still years in the future. But as I grew into my teenage years I discovered an increasing yearning to explore other cultures. Luckily for me, Nigeria happens to be a perfect place to cultivate such an appetite. It is a melting pot of cultures, with over 500 ethnic groups and a similar number of languages.
In a short while, I was blessed to discover what I considered to be God’s gift to teenage boys… girls! But anyone who’s ever received a truly amazing gift would agree that wonderful gifts could easily become major distractions, without some semblance of self-control. To this day, I insist that I can’t read music because in my first year in secondary school, a beautiful girl chose to smile at me in every class of Music 101. With girls, came some fresh insight for my culture exploration. Anyone who’s dated someone from a different culture will understand what I mean by saying it’s a delightful process of peeling a culture’s onion. The language, accent, food, clothes, dances, mannerisms… let’s just call it a love roller coaster. Ok, that’s definitely too cheesy, but no take backs – in any case, “out of the abundance of the heart, the hand types”*.
I became certain that I wanted to explore more of the world before I took my turn pushing daisies. I didn’t mean just traveling, short trips wouldn’t do. I wanted to live in different countries and cities… soaking up the culture, drinking it up as though from a chalice. A chalice made of earth, wind, and fire. The contents spiked with anointing oil.
- Without imagination, little happens.
- It’s always useful to know the “why” of the path… and never too late to find out.
- Harmattan: A season in Western Africa that is characterized by cold, dry, dust-laden wind, and also wide fluctuations in the ambient temperatures of the day and night.
- Oga: Boss.
- Obodoyinbo: Foreign land.
- *out of the abundance of the heart, the hand types: A play on Luke 6:45 in the Bible.