REMINISCENCE: Umunede at christmas

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time. 
~Laura Ingalls Wilder

                   

Chim Agboifo writes from Lagos.

As a result of the horrendous traffic on the third mainland bridge (Ibrahim Babangida Bridge actually; no wonder we need Maradona skills to drive successfully through it!!), going home for us, non residence workers on the Island (Victoria and Lagos Island), after a day’s work is to a large extent, the greatest challenge of the job, ranking next to the need for an improved pay package to match the economic situation in Nigeria!

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As
Christmas is here again (for Christians, a time to remember the birth of the
Lord Jesus; and for business men and women, a time to sell and make great
profits) the sales of Christmas decorations, pirated Christmas carol CDs and
all what not are the flourishing activities of the nomadic sales men and women
who take advantage of the traffic situation to sell their goods. To get my mind
off the traffic, I close my eyes and try to relax taking my mind off the road.
As the Bonny M. Christmas song playing from the deck of the pirated CD seller
infiltrates into my thoughts, and I am transported a few decades back to the
years of my childhood when with much excitement we eagerly waited for my dad to
˜bundle” us into his car for a trip from our cozy estate in Aladja near Warri
to Umunede to spend the Christmas holidays with my late grandmother, fondly
known as ˜Nne Martha”.

The Christmas season
then was characterized by very dry, dusty and cold weather. It was the season
of strong Harmattan. Our lips were constantly glowing, thanks to lip gloss
called Kiss (as if we applied groundnut oil) which helps to prevent cracked
lips and whiteness. We also wore colourful rubber sunglasses to prevent the
wind from carrying dust into our eyes. For the little girls, Christmas was also
an opportunity for us to feel ˜grown up” as mum would apply relaxer on our hair
to make it softer and eventually curly after the fire blazing experience of
letting the hair ˜get cooked”(relaxed). For those in the village who couldn”t
afford the relaxer cream, they resorted to using ˜soda soap” (ncha soda),
a painful and near death experience when applied to the hair. The painful part
is that at the end of the ˜soda relaxing” the outcome looks more like roasted
cockroaches or the furs of an electrocuted rat than the normal relaxed hair.
But the village ˜chics” wore the hair with pride if not for anything, at least
the gratification of having a ˜supposedly” relaxed hair do, with ˜Ikobo
ikobo” (one kobo) rubber hair clip adornment.

My greatest challenge
then during the holidays was that I had to wake up early in the morning for Uka
Ututu (morning mass) at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, not far from my
grandmother’s apartment in ˜Idumu Oba”. But my consolation was that I
would be walking down to church with Uba nwa wazi, a boy I had a
childish crush on and on the other hand snub, and make iyanga for Chidi
Nwa catechist and other village boys that I didn”t fancy much. We also had
game and tricks we played on each other like ˜police osen”, ˜action” ˜ten
ten”, ˜siwe”, London
stop.

Another high point of our holidays was the
construction of moto akasi, (toy cars made from cocoyam stem and
broomsticks) and huts made from palm tree branches. We would divide ourselves
into families and do cooking competition with egu nni ejan (cooking with
sand), although sometimes we stole from Nne’s kitchen and cooked real
food. We also watched the boys play ˜table soccer” world cup (bottle cork
football played on a table or on leveled ground).

However, the best and
the most memorable occasion for me was Nne’s story telling time. With Nne
at the centre position, and we all gathered around her, she would tell us stories
of why the tortoise has a broken back and the story of the seven brothers who
went to obtain isi eze nmor from the evil forest. Each story had a song
to go with it as Nne will sing with her sonorous voice as her eyes
glowed with the reflection of the moonlight and the sparkle of the evening
stars. After the stories, we asked questions and got answers as well.

At the end of the
holidays, when dad’s white 505 GL salon car parks in front of the nne’s house
and we watch with eyes full of tears as our bags are loaded into the boot, we
cry and wish the holidays will never end. Though we spent most of our holidays
in Umunede and sometimes Lagos,
the Christmas holiday in Umunede was always the best for me, and they are
memories I hold and cherish.

How time flies, I can”t
event remember the last time I travelled home to spend Christmas since Nne’s
death. Nowadays the harmattan is gradually becoming a season we will have
to describe to our children. This is because we no longer experience it down
south, especially here in Lagos, the way it use to be in those good old days
when harmattan season use to be between the ending of November to the middle of
March. The longest we experience it these days is for barely two weeks. And the
Lagos struggle
continues. I got home by 1am!!! That is the worst of all the third Mainland Bridge and Ikorodu road traffic jam I
have ever experienced.

Despite all
the challenges, I am happy about this season, because it brings hope and fills
my heart with joy. It is the season of love, because, the God who is love came
as man to the world for our sakes.

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