I miss the North, the land of my birth.
A land literally flowing with milk and honey.
Yielded from herded cows and numerous incidental beehives.
Growing up in Zaria in Northern Nigeria, life was a mix of exotic/blessed/fun.
From the vast land freely giving its abundance of flora and fauna,
To the beautiful language(s), the songs and the food, all sparked joy.
The 80’s were a great time in Zaria, at least in and around my home.
The ABU university environment was a melting pot of diverse peoples and magical occasions.
From the Rotary parties where I won all the kids dance contests (or so I recall).
To the amazing local plays in theaters, or on TV like ‘Magana Jari Ce’ or ‘Pot of Life’.
Endless fields beckoned to play football, climb trees and chase (or be chased by) dogs.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned Suya!
And oh we played! Riding bikes down seemingly infinite roads,
Playing football on multiple fields or hide and seek at the ‘Sculpture Garden*’.
We even invented new games; the ‘Gmelina** wars’, Police and Thief, and more.
On rainy days, we watched movies, or read Nigerian originals like The Passport of Mallam Ilia, Time for Adventure, The Pacesetter series, etc.
And on it went, in the land of bliss…
Real life externalities like SAP, Coup d e’tats and other global issues were non-existent.
And yet, tendrils of today’s northern existence were visible though not dominant.
From times when kiddie disputes would result in us being called ‘Nyamiri’ for being Igbo
To herdsmen who often boldly knocked, requesting (or demanding) water, whilst the ‘or else’ was silent.
Seemingly, the embers of the past Biafran war still glowed, yet to be fully extinguished.
And yet, we all hoped for the best.
Alas! First it began in trickles, a skirmish there, a fight there…
Like early birds, expats silently but surely began leaving in droves.
Then Boom! In 1987, violence on both sides led to the destruction of some mosques and over 70 churches.
A just like that, a veil was torn off and ‘the fear’ became normal
Everyone adopted ‘spider-senses’, oft needed to sprint at short notice, just in case.
Things finally came to a head and in the 90’s, my family (like many others) upped and bolted.
And so we began to build a second life in the bustling city of Lagos.
Exchanging the wealth of culture for that of material safety, all to blend in a so-called “no man’s land”.
Yet years later, trading stories with other ‘leavers’, we counted ourselves lucky for our early exit.
We lived! So supposedly, all is well and good. Fine even, and more…
Now we watch the North on TV, like one would any other remote war zone.
Numb to the poverty, terrorism, and neglect; like seeing an old friend with the eyes of a stranger.
Till one day many years later, one is driving through Port Harcourt with no care in the world.
When on the radio, the Hausa folksong ‘Dan Maliyo’ comes outta nowhere.
And overcome by a rush of emotions one stops the car; to listen, to reminisce, and eventually, to cry.
Over memories of what once was, what is not, and what may never be.
Yesterday’s land of bliss is but a distant memory, yet better wisps of that than today’s nightmare.
I miss the North that was, and pray that what once was may one day, ARISE
* Scuplture Garden as implied, is a garden of beautiful sculptures on the ABU Campus.
**Gmelina trees produce pebble like medium-hard seeds that kids use as playful weapons (like during snowball fights)
Sculpture garden (culled from https://www.theabusites.com)