Taking in Abakaliki

The sun shines hot and bright over Ebonyi

When they say the sun rises in the east, it is no joke, it literally does. As early as 7:00am, the it shines as bright and is as hot as the midday peak harmattan sun. I am naturally a lover of early morning sun, the kind that warms you up and gets your blood flowing as it enriches you with the right amount of vitamin D that can only be gotten from the sun that comes out before noon. But this one in Ebonyi has no vitamins, whether D or Double D. It is not to be trifled with; It holds more promises of a stroke than any health benefits .

 

The indigenes, their skin the colour of the bottom of a cooking pot, barely notice the scorching nature of the sunThey. It makes me wonder at the nature of things and about an individual’s ability to adapt to an environment so much so that they become a part of it, like a chameleon blending into its environment. The chameleon takes up the colour of the area surrounding it so it doesn’t stand out. So it can blend in. So it can survive. In the end, man’s ability to adapt has become one of our most important characteristics. We need to be able to change enough to fit into the natural order of the place we have found ourselves. Without that, we would not survive.

Beyond their ability to adapt and survive, the people of Abakaliki are fascinating in many ways.  For one, the way they pronounce the state capital, Abakaliki. You can hear it shrieked by the  conductors of the buses that ply the routes to the capital from nearby towns and local government areas.

 

“Abakaliki!” They scream. 

 

The third to the fifth syllable of this melodious word takes on a different form, completely alien from the initial first and second syllables in the mouth of these conductors, sounding like the click from the South African Xhosa tribe. It is a high, guttural sound that rose even higher with the fourth syllable and stretched nearly to infinity with the last. It is always interesting to hear, and oddly musical. And I chuckle to myself every time I hear it like someone has just tickled me below my chin.

 

The other fascinating thing about this place is the sheer number of mad people, and I am talking clinically insane, I-walk-aimlessly-along-the-road-and-eat-garbage kind of mad people. I know it sounds morbid, but they are everywhere. On three different occasions, I’ve had to dash into random stores to escape a mad person that had started following me in the market. I ran inside the store so the owner would deal with getting rid of them for me.  Needless to say, I came out with merchandise I absolutely had no plan on buying. Twice, I ended up with half a dozen four-inch nails which are still wrapped up in a corner of my room gradually rusting away.

With time, I’ve learned to navigate my way past them, though mostly by avoiding them. If I see one on one side of the road, I cross to the other side. I don’t think I need to tell you that sometimes I still meet another on that side as well. Most times I just hold my breath and pray to pass by unnoticed (I have heard a lot of stories of mad people attacking indiscriminately and this feeds my fear of getting chased or beaten by a mad person). 

Once, on my way out of the market, I had just climbed an okada to take me home when a mob of okada riders began beating a mad man with sticks and throwing stones at him. The blood gathered on his lower lip as he tried to dodge the stones while holding his torn trousers from falling to the ground. When I asked what happened, I was told the mad man had just moments before attacked a girl as she was about to climb an okada at the very spot I had. He had picked up a stone and had hit her over the head with it for no apparent reason. And that would not be his first time of unprovoked violence. A long time ago, he had pushed a pedestrian into a trailer as it sped down the highway. 

As they told me the story, all I could think was:

1. I am a girl.
2. I just climbed an okada
3. That could have been me. 
 

But there are good things too. Most of which is tied to my being a National Youth Service Corps member and a writer. 

As a corps member, nothing beats the smiles and the expression of awe the indigenes give you. The look that says, “I respect you. I envy you. I want to be like you”.

And then, as a writer, everything that I find wrong and horrible about what I feel is the backward state of the east becomes good; even the bad things. Everything is a story I want to write about or a feeling I need to express on paper.

The searing heat from the sun has burned words in my head that I can’t shake away. The people become characters that stay with me long after I meet them. My nights are crammed with dreams that are a re-enactment of my day; begging to be brought forth into prose.

The air here is mostly still. Once in a while, a light breeze will rustle the leaves on the trees and move around gently kissing sweaty faces. But the heat is embedded even inside the air. There is always this choking feeling like your lungs are not getting enough clean air.

So I write about the whistling of the leaves on the palm trees as the occasional, gentle breeze moved through them. Or the red earth that is hard and cracked like the back of a palm kernel. 

I create stories about the people; going about their daily lives, speaking a language that rolls from their tongues with such ease and grace but remains indecipherable to me, and about their skin the colour of charcoal; darker than a moonless, starless night. 

Each day here leaves me full and bursting. Some days I never want to leave my room because I know my brain will only soak up more than there is space left for. Lately, every pore in my body seems to be trying to help out my brainBut I am like a sponge: A bursting wineskin. 

When I am done – full and overflowing – I will explode, into a million wonderful colours and lights of prose, dotting endless pages of leather-bound journals like the numerous stars that decorate the Abakaliki night sky.

 

 


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Ronke is first and foremost a writer. Creative writing is to her what art is to any artist; a means of self expression. She studied Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan.

Ima

Flying Bishop of Benin fame

34 Comments

  • Sonia Osi says:

    So is the writer trying to say that everyone who lives in Abakaliki is the colour of a burnt cooking pot?? ( which is actually a very offensive and insensitive way to describe people who are dark skinned) because I have lots of friends and family who live in Abakaliki and that are all different beautiful shades. Is the writer also trying to say that people aren’t educated there? Like in the entire city? Because I don’t know what to make of the part where she talks about indegenes being in awe of her because she’s a corpe.. Lastly, what was the purpose of writing something like this littered with negative connotations left and right about an entire population of people ? I might sound angry but I’m not, I just feel this is insensitive and not even very accurate and that it just feeds into the whole looking down on other states because you’re privileged enough to live in Lagos or Abuja or PH.

  • Aja Okike says:

    Ronke, as a reader, the only thing I find interesting about your writing is that fact you’re serving in Abakaliki. Seems to me like you’re not happy you were given the opportunity and privilege to serve in Ebonyi state. Duh! Well, my question is, why tarnish the image of the city and it’s population like yours in any better? You say you have been chased by “mad people” on three separate occasions? Yes, it is not funny but you must have something they like to be a regular in the mad people community. It is not by force to take in Abakalibi. Frankly speaking, I wonder how your story would have been if they posted you to somewhere like Zamfara. All I am saying is, for someone who claims to be a creative writer you no try at all. Of all the time you have spent in the city, all you could come up with is that your brain is sweating from the heat, and the people are blacker than the galaxy because the sun lack vitamin D? You try!!

  • Pulchae says:

    Sonia sweetheart, one thing about writing is that it is based on perspective, hardly intended to offend but it paints vivid images of how best the writer can express themselves. As a corp member myself, I served in the east and people are always in awe (not reverence but respect), both educated and uneducated alike. There were university students who accorded my small frame with respect because of that fact and trust I am quite small. Don’t see it as insensitive, see it as a lyrical presentation of a beautiful Mind because that is really all it is. Life is simple unless you are not.

    • Sonia Osi says:

      Hey, thank you for addressing that bit of my comment 🙂 I’m assuming since you didn’t address the other bits of my comment it’s because you can’t think up a suitable defense for the author’s slander… Either way I appreciate your response x

  • Abigail says:

    I liked the dark humour this writer used to express her writing. Contrary to some comments here while reading, I actually had a vision of her smiling. I wouldn’t agree that she hates hates Abakaliki… Maybe some days cos I found myself thinking of air conditioners while reading. But I also understand why this writing can be seen as insensitive. Perhaps if you had explained the positives as you did the’negatives’. You certainly didn’t leave me thinking : Now I surely have to visit Ebonyi… And to say my sister married from there!

  • GreyVerse says:

    I’ve visited the place a couple of times. Abakaliki Makes you want to write. I enjoyed reading this.

  • Chimere says:

    In all honesty I find most of the piece insensitive and just down right inaccurate. The writer tries to infuse the piece with some silly humor that can be taken as very offensive to the indigents of this state, I mean life isn’t a bed of roses so the article can’t be all smiles and butterflies but come on u serve there for one year and you can’t write more than one positive paragraph…and then about the mad people so u see a mad person u cross the road and u see another person?! were u living in a mad person community?! Or is everyone in abakaliki just mad Ronke?! Na wa o!..I don’t want to be so critical and call this a hate article but if u write an article and u are critical of every single thing even how the inhabitants of a place pronounce the name of the place then what else can this article be termed?! Let’s ask our self can u read this article and want to serve in abakaliki?! I mean it’s probably no lagos or abuja but it can’t be as bad as Ronke is making it out to be…anyways this article shouldn’t surprise anyone the author clearly says she took in more than her brain could carry maybe dats why she was only seeing negatively…anyways all I know is Nigeria is a beautiful place and every place is beautiful in its peculiarities be it the bustling metropolitan like lagos or the “backward town according to ronke” of abakaliki I can say I have lived in both places for an extended period of time and they are beautiful in thier own little ways.

  • Ogomma Nwaka says:

    I wish an Igbo person would go to Ibadan or any Yoruba town and then come and publish a ‘creative’ piece on how everyone is the colour of burnt pots and charcoal and then dissect how they pronounce their things, how the air feels stale and smells like shit and how the place is backward… I can bet all hell would break loose. Also, very funny how I’ve been to Abakaliki many times and I haven’t noticed this outpouring of mad people, it’s Ronke that knows why she was seeing mad people everywhere she turned. Looool.. Babe probably thought that so low of the entire state that she assumed no one would have internet access to see what she wrote and call her out on it? It’s okay to be tribalist or to hate a people but try to stay somewhat objective and truthful if you want to get away with it or just own it all..

  • highlandblue says:

    Have to chip in here. Some cities just rub you the wrong way. Not everyone will leave a city with happy memories. The writer’s experience, while traumatic, must not be viewed as the general opinion of everyone that encounters Abakaliki. And it’s not a tribal thing either. Let’s not try to read more meanings into the post. I hope this helps.

    • Sonia Osi says:

      Is it as a result of her trauma that she decided to describe the people as all being the colour of charcoal and burnt pot bottoms? Where and how is that alright? Abi it’s poetic license to say that? I’m not even addressing the fact that it’s not even true because so what if it, and everyone is dark skin, is that the way to illustrate it? I promise I’m not even offended because I myself am a very beautiful shade of chocolate, I’m legit just wondering how it’s okay to just insult people like that,.. because it’s a ‘backward’ town as she puts it? Oh well.

  • Monso M says:

    First of all ,
    I read this article imagining you as a conquistador remarking on the trivial travails of the primitive race you happened to have discovered. Probably because that is the exact impression your writing creates . This is particularly surprising because well Ibadan isn’t exactly littered with cloud piercing sky scrapers .
    Also comparing people to burnt pots is a quite the analogy but I understand why you may feel that way when you catch a glimpse in the mirror of your luminous ,untainted imperial skin .
    All the best , I look forward to being regaled with more narratives of your future conquests .

  • Nnaemeka says:

    From all you’ve said i can easily conclude that you are not a creative writer because if you are, you cannot just start criticizing a state Just because you are privileged to come from the city. Ronke, you are so wrong about most of the issues you talked about, To me this is an act of disparage and calumniate, you heard some one talk and you conclude that all the indigene have bad accent, and that their skin color is like the bottom of a pot. All this denunciation does not qualify you as a good writer but rather you are just being a misanthrope here, Abakaliki i know very well and have lived there for sometime, and still a very conducive place to be, unlike here in Lagos that I’ve seen many yoruba indegenes that don’t speak or understand English at this digital age. So all i am saying here is that no place is perfect, rather Ronke you should try and see the positive side of peoples life and stop making yourself a a habitually grumpy person for we all are created in the Image and likeness of God Almighty (Gen 1:27), also read (james 4:1, Proverbs 10:18, Luke 6:45) and amend your mouth.

    • Pulchae says:

      Sigh… Please don’t be prejudiced. Bringing the Bible into this makes it look like an attack on a person’s faith. Not so my people,

  • tonypox says:

    Okay. I am from Ebonyi state and to be very honest, I do not feel offended by this post. Exposure and education has been one of the issues with the state which is why it was celebrated when the state was created because it was believed that development will get close to the people.
    I see this as her experience. Makes me want to go home more and take pictures and experience the place a bit more. It is also a reminder that we need good leaders to do their jobs and bring about developments to our states and cities across Nigeria.

    • highlandblue says:

      Thank you for this

      • Sonia Osi says:

        So lack of exposure and education is why the son is hotter there with no vitamins? the people are all burnt pot coloured and there are mad people everywhere you turn? How does that even add up in your own head abeg?

        Like you said you need to go back home to your apparently ‘backward’ state maybe that’s when you’d feel offended by someone trying to pass off negativity as truth.

        Better leaders won’t change the air, or people’s complexions or the sun that hits over there mind you… Toh.. It’s you that understands what you mean or what you think your lack of offense means but you have written well sha, sheybi they are thanking you.. Oshey.. (Y)

  • Pulchae says:

    But people, you can’t see me but I can proudly say I am Charcoal black now and Sonia darling, I do not believe that is an insult… Colours have different shades and how will you visualise if she didn’t say Charcoal black? If she had said the sky in Abakaliki was Coquelicot, would that be offensive too? have you ever really seen the real Charcoal, and the glittering shiny beautiful aspect of it. if you have, you will praise her for depicting them in such a shade. She didn’t say dirty black did she?
    Thank you for this insightful reply at the right time @Highlandblue. Perception is not reality and Ronke may just write it the best way she can express herself not that she is a tribalist; and she didn’t say anything about not loving the place now. There was simile in the way she addressed the stars of Abakaliki and her writing; In case you don’t know there is beauty in negativity. There is no such thing as bad publicity. What she wrote made me what to see the people, the place and I love the place just through her writing. All is fair in love and war people.

    Oya o! Ronke, come and defend your “Creativity”.

    • Sonia Osi says:

      Okay. Kindly explain the burnt pot bottom away as a compliment too. .. ill wait.

    • Chimere says:

      It’s not the charcoal black that rubs me the wrong way to be honest it’s the burnt pot remark, I don’t know how u would convince me a burnt pot is beautiful… and the article isn’t annoying because of some clear testing of what the line that divides hyperbole and lie is. what annoys me is the lack of balance in the article by the author, sure you may say negativity is beautiful and no such thing as Bad publicity but not everyone is enlightened not everyone can see through this “dark humor ” some people read things like this and form opinions on it so calling her out on some of the things she wrote isn’t beef against the author per say, it’s trying to balance out the negativity and show readers who care to read the comments that abakaliki isn’t that bad. Just a little balancing out that’s all. Cheers!

  • Dami O. says:

    Lol.. I like how if you commend the writer then it’s a good thing to be thanked but if it’s your opinion that what she wrote was inaccurate then it’s a bad thing. Someone that doesn’t even go home but is simply from the state is talking about not being offended. How can you be when you know nothing to compare it too.. for all you know it’s a backward state filled with mad and pitch black people. . All the same, nice write up. Havent been to either abakalilki or ibadan so i have nothibg to use to compare but her words did paint a vivid albeit condescending picture which isnt easy to do. Kudos!.. May God bless us all with good leaders so that in the future it won’t even be a believable lie to say a whole town is filled with mad people. Ah.

    • highlandblue says:

      Thank you for this comment. All comments that are not insulting are welcome (that’s why they were made visible). You can thank anyone for any comment too if they said what was on your mind.

  • Sonia Osi says:

    Thank you @Pulchae for your kind words and trying to pacify/mediate. Hopefully this is my last comment.

    See ehn, I’m not even from Abakaliki; my village is like 2/3 hours away from it sef let it not be like anything but I feel it is highly unfair to slander an entire populace unjustly. Imagine if someone came to LIE about a place or people you cared about? or that someone you loved cared about? Or is maligning now so entertaining that as long as it doesn’t affect us directly we’re down to encourage it? Because I think if anyone is being sincere with themselves they’d see the negative and condescending vibes all over this article even when she managed to not say anything condescending.

    I’m fine with her having her perspective, and what not tbh. Chances are if I ever went to Ibadan I probably wouldn’t like it either but I don’t think I’d have the insensitivity to publish an article criticizing them about everything from how the people pronounce their town’s name to the air to the sun to their burnt pot complexions (because suddenly Yoruba people aren’t like the darkest Nigerians if we want to actually go there)

    If we are being honest with ourselves there is no compliment in describing someone as looking like the bottom of a burnt pot. If you think there is please go tell your loved one that as a compliment and then tweet me their glowing response (@BohemianSugar). Maybe if you follow it up by saying they look like charcoal it’ll soften the blow.

    All I want to say sha is that anyone who reads this article should please know that first of all not everyone is the colour of charcoal, then again there’s no way anyone is going to believe an entire town consists of people with solely one complexion unless they’re in fact stupid, so I probably don’t need to point that out as a lie. Secondly, please the place is not brimming with mad people, to be honest I haven’t toured the entire Abakaliki before sha, I haven’t gone to every nook and cranny so maybe the area that Ronke was in is some uncharted territory that me and no one I know has been too. No wahala. Anything is possible.

    I’m done with this article because first of all, it’s obvious that comments that aren’t commending and supporting the picture being painted aren’t welcome and because I’ve said all I can say and by now you guys understand my grievances. Plus I’ve achieved my aim which is making sure that anyone who reads this takes it with an entire bag of salt.

    Maybe one day Nigerians won’t take pride in mocking and feeling superior to less fortunate people in less privileged places and then we’d see ourselves as brothers and sisters and so even when we’re absolutely sure we’re superior to them we’d have the humanity to not write and say things that are damaging and hurtful and that serve absolutely no purpose (except entertainment to those who share the sentiment or who find it difficult to imagine the effect words especially untrue and negative ones have on others)

    I hate to be a voltron but too often people just slander people from certain places perhaps deeming them so ‘backward’ that they don’t have internet access to see and defend themselves… usually I’d just ignore, but this particular posts held way too many untruths I just had to comment.

    Cheers everyone.

  • Sekinat says:

    I don’t understand how this article became a Tribal thing. If Ronke was Igbo would it be alright? I do not understand why we have to make everything tribal. She described how Abakaliki was to her and she is wrong because she is Yoruba?

  • Frank says:

    In as much as the writer described Abakiliki in an ‘offensive and insensitive way’ as said earlier, I think she was just being honestl about the whole thing, like trying to say what she felt/thought about it. Now, I schooled in the East and I totally feel you on the sun thing and the mad people roaming the streets.

  • 'Laolu says:

    I know I’m late in this comments section but it’s been 3 months and I still don’t get what the offense is about. I’m really dark skinned and jokes are made about it everyday. These are things we say randomly and we know it. Most people who served in states other than their state of origin or residence usually have less than savoury experiences at some point during their stay there. It’s not a tribal thing, its a human thing. I served in Lokoja and if you could hear me talk about it, you’d be surprised at my seemingly condescending opinion of the place. Doesn’t me it was all bad, just means I had some bad experiences. I was really surprised by the responses here. It is well. P.s. my mom is from Kogi state and I still thought Lokoja (state capital) was somehow. Grace and Peace to you and yours.

  • Marie says:

    I didnt find this in any way offensive and yes maybe this is because i am not an indigene of Ebonyi or indeed Abakaliki.
    I only noticed that the writer was speaking of her fascination with the state and the many things that stood out to her.
    I didnt notice trauma or hatred.
    But maybe thats just me.

  • Amaria says:

    I served in abakaliki two years ago and stayed back in the town since then and I must say I get where the writer is coming from. Having grown up in a town less than 1hr from abakaliki, I was shocked beyond words at how hot the town can get. It’s takes a while to get used to because the heat is usually accompanied by power outtage (just like any other town ) and then sometimes breeze will just disappear. Trust me, abakaliki can be hot for Africa.
    Every town has mad people. Every town has most of their mad people roaming the market. This town has its own share. Maybe the poster visited only the market area of the town on her outing days. U actually find a number of crazy people in the meat market . Maybe for someone who has never seen a mad person on the street that’s a lot but for people like me no biggie. I’m yet to see a violent mad man in this town sha . ..The ones Ive seen smoke their cigarette and mind their business.
    Even as an igbo girl, I was surprised at how different the dialects in ebonyi state can be . Till now I don’t even understand it but it trips me . It trips me more how available fresh food is in the state. I must say the indigenes are very hard working. The so called hot sun can never keep an ebonyi man away from his farm and it’s reflected in the prices of foodstuff in the market. Unless that food item is something tinned, packed or tomatoes, u can never compare their prices in abakaliki market to anywhere else in the east. I give it to them , ebonyi people are hard workers.
    Abakaliki is a town that grows on you. I guess miss poster has not been here for too long. I cannot say it’s my favourite town in Nigeria sha but it’s not all bad abeg.

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