Garden Spot

 

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For The Sunday Wednesday Muse Prompt, Garden Spot. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. A nod to the still vivid memories I have of being dragged off to our family farm by my parents in those dire, dark SAP days.

**
First comes the rain,
and then the wakened worms which turn the
hard, sun-baked soil into compliant mulch.
Grain by grain, leaf by leaf
the beauty of Symbiosis begins
to rear its head, the cycle of death
begetting life and sustenance for the things
we must ingest, for which with backs bent
beneath the blazing sun we labour;
the reward of another day survived eked out
from the hard, earth.

That NYSC Year…

My short Saturday morning sleep (I’d stayed awake till 4.30 am) was shattered by the insistent buzz of my cellphone at a little over 9.00am, and with it came summons to meet up with a bloke I met at NYSC camp and his wife. After braving howling winds and nearly passing out on my feet with the sheer amount of shops we went through, we got to share my peri-peri chicken addiction, and chat. True to form our conversation segued into the murky waters that are Nigeria and its various issues. Thankfully, reminiscing over the highlights of our service year provided a spot of cheer.

My memories of the NYSC year were largely good – bar three weeks spent in the hell hole that was Yikpata with its over-crowded rooms, near non existent toilet facilities and mosquitoes. Thanks to those mosquitoes from hell, I – famed for my obstinate resistance to all things malaria – ended up with a bout so massive that the camp days blurred into each other, a continuum of delirium from which all that survived were hazy memories of flitting in and out of the camp infirmary and nightmares so intense they often felt like someone had a pillow over my face and was suffocating me.

Ending up in Kwara had been the product of my famed quiet stubbornness. In a huff over something or the other my mother had said, I had insisted to the death that I needed no help in securing a favourable posting. In public I sounded very self assured – confident in my ability to take care of myself irrespective of where I ended up. In my less vocal moments, I was very concerned that getting Zamfara would be the end of me, especially given the fact that the sum total of my life lived northward of the Osse River was two weeks, bar my six month sojourn in Ajaokuta.

Postings came with further trepidation on my part. I’d hardly had a stellar three weeks – no success with either the sports or the arts meant I had hardly set myself up for one of the much sought after postings. It turned out I scored a fairly cushy number – 11 months teaching math and physics in a secondary school on the outskirts of Ilorin. Lodgings would be provided in the mission house right next to Maraba with all its accoutrements – loud Yoruba music from the shops across the road, waking up to the mellifluous, if insistent call of the muezzin, and community development meetings at the state secretariat on Ahmadu Bello way. A few of the lads were not so lucky – Dayo* copped a spot in Kosubosu, the Baruten nightmare we all feared, complete with a seven hour trip into the unknown, insular West which was more Benin Republic than Nigeria if the been-tos were to be believed.

Within the first few hours of reporting at school, I quickly learnt that we were being thrust into the deep end. The school – with the requisite mame as long as an arm – was on its last legs, tottering on the edge of the precipice of insolvency. It was massively under-funded, with a new mission head seemingly intent on making it fail and had students who seemed more interested in flirting with the latest batch of Corp members than getting good grades on their SSCEs. I also had an interesting set of Corp members. There was Bukky* – whose Lagos-chic affectations provided good sport for the rest of us (and brought back a few ice cream tubs from the only Mr Biggs place in town) and Musa* who took nominal Muslim to a whole new level complete with nights at the local beer parlour and more than one suspected tryst at the brothel next door.

Thursdays were a special highlight; we would gather at the state secretariat and swap our often very vocal views on the latest Premiership scores whilst pretending to be involved in some community development group or the other. The women by the road side ensured we spent our hard earned allowee on extra spicy akara and fried plantains topped up with a dollop of pepper stew so fiery our eyes would water. It also turned out that my wish to be far from home backfired spectacularly – my mother somehow found a friend of a friend to keep tabs on me and the trip up the road to Tanke every other weekend became a fixture. It helped that they had a son who like me thought DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline were the business, and that Football Manager was a valid reason to offer a full night’s sleep at the altar of a computer monitor.

Eventually, as the service year drew to a close and we began to chase jobs, the physics, math and chemistry refreshers I got from teaching served me in good stead, as did my spiel about mentoring which was made up entirely on the spot.

Reminiscing with my friend and his wife over chicken and coke zero, it all came back to me. I suspect if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Memories of Christmas

My earliest memories of Christmas – and ultimately of growing up – are inextricably connected to the sounds of roosting chickens, the anticipation of a hearty Christmas afternoon meal and the Chapel’s annual Christmas carol night. We were by no means very well off. Those were the dark days bookended by SAP and its attendant devaluation of the Naira and the Abacha dictatorship in which people in the Academia essentially lived hand to mouth. What was an already thinly stretched wage was steadily eroded until my proud, well read father resorted to farming yams and cassava in the space behind his house to augment his wage. The main garnishing to the routine fare we got served as soups and stews was beef bought in abundance from the local butchery, and fish.

Chicken was reserved for special occasions – the odd milestone birthday and Christmas. Over time, a family tradition would evolve around Christmas. Two to three weeks before Christmas, the University farm would hold a sell off of their old ‘layers’ – mother hens which had been pumped full of feed and chemicals would be auctioned off. Mother had excellent links with the farm management – the farm manager had been a classmate from her under grad days – and would give her a heads up which allowed her to scout out excellent bargains. Typically, she would buy two chickens – in one particularly good year, I reckon she bought three. The chickens would be kept alive till two days before Christmas; fed ground corn to keep them fattened and to induce them to lay whatever eggs they still had in them. Two crates of coke would be bought and kept under lock and key in the store, only to be served during the Christmas celebrations.

In tandem with her preparations, an assortment of students from the main church would get us prepared for our special guest appearance at the Chapel’s carol night. Us children from Sunday School would gather twice a week in one of the houses in the Quarters to memorise bible verses from the Nativity narrative, as well as learn our parts in its re-enactment. These usually started off in bedlam – children ages all the way from five to eleven are hardly poster children for law and order – but due to the persistence of the teachers a semblance of order would finally emerge. One year, in one of my less proud moments, I earned the dubious honour of memorising an eleven verse portion of scripture – a punishment for pushing my friend Ejemen so hard she fell and scrapped her knee. The year after though – older and wiser – I would redeem myself by giving a stirring performance as the King of Myrhh from ‘We Three Kings’. Interestingly that would be the only time of note that I would sing a solo.

Two days before Christmas Father would sharpen his knives, command that the chickens be brought before him, and then he would slit their throats – each with one smooth, fluid motion. We would gather around to watch their final gory, macabre dance of death as their surprised hearts pumped out their final life blood. The sisters and I would be tasked with de-feathering the chickens – copious amounts of boiling water would be poured over the now dead chicken to soften the quills and then we would proceed to remove them until the chicken was picked clean. Father would then proceed to quarter the chickens into reasonably sized portions for storing in the fridge for cooking on Christmas morning. Mother allowed us a sneak preview of the chicken meat – the feet, wings and head would be boiled by her in her biggest pot after stewing in all sorts of spices. We would have this as a communal meal – a preview of the Christmas feast.

Early on Christmas morning, Mother would wake up – I don’t remember waking up before her on any of those days – to commence her marathon of dicing, slicing, boiling and frying. All told by the time the rest of us woke up at seven there would be several pots going at the same time as she made up her special Christmas rice recipe, infused with the smell of wood smoke. Church would follow – there would be a short homily (perhaps the anticipation of chicken meat and rice made time seem to pass that bit quicker on Christmas day) and soon enough we would pile into Father’s old beat up Peugeout 505 to head back to the certainty of a hearty meal.

Mother had a thing for refusing to let us drink too many cokes, the thing we quickly learned was that on Christmas day she pretended to turn a blind eye.

On shi**ing (Or, the criticality of the angle of perch)

Gross post alert

The one thing being suddenly pushed out of my sheltered teenage years into shared hostel accommodation (in a very rugged Nigerian University) taught me, was that squeaky clean loos were a luxury. Growing up,  we didn’t live a posh life,  but thanks to theOOhj Snr‘s day job  in the academia, we had decent living quarters – complete with a loo I shared with the kid brother. On pain of a severe caning, Mrs RustGeek (Snr), ensured we kept our little loo clean. Unbeknownst to me, that luxury would be rudely snatched away from me in short order.

My first year at University was a culture shock of sorts. If coping with the new surroundings  – and being far away from everyone I’d known up till that time  – wasn’t hard, a slew of issues made it harder still. First us fresh-faced Jambites were given rooms on the ground floor;  from which we were dispossessed by hardened serial students and confra-men. These same self appointed Lords of the domain  colonised two of the four toilets on the floor, complete with padlocks for their own use, leaving the rest of us scrambling to use the remaining two. True  to form, these were absolute cesspits of  bodily fluids and smells, especially when baked to boiling by the withering sun.  On the first occasion where I popped in, the cornucopia of smells and liquids made every desire to download vanish – a shell shocked state I stayed in for a full week.

With time,over that first semester, I learned a couple of  crucial things that would keep me out of harm’s way through the following years:

1. Timing was of essence: The loos were cleaned at around about 10am – if dousing them in bucket fulls of izal and hosing them down with water could be called cleaning. Given that the rest of us normal chaps had to share a couple of loos, they did get soiled pretty quickly. Give or take, there was a two hour window within which the smell of izal was strong enough to subdue these smells of bodily excretions. I learned to synchronise my download meter to that crucial window to avoid being laid prostrate by the stench.

2. The angle of perch was critical: I learned pretty quickly that the easiest route to various skin infections was to allow fluids from the bowl splash willy nilly. Minimising the particle impact momentum was essential to achieve this goal. Two tactics evolved into very useful tools over that period. The first was create as much of a bed of toilet paper in the bowl [source] to soften the impact, thus minimising splashes. The second – and most important tactic – was to modify the angle of perch. At the right angle, the entire momentum of the solids are  absorbed by the walls of the toilet, leaving gravity as the only driving force moving the delivered pellets. Where delta h (the vertical distance between the impact point and the liquid level in the bowl) is small, the resultant liquid impact velocity is negligible,  thus transferring minimal momentum to the liquids (and avoiding splashing).

I am glad to say that by utilizing these two tricks,  I grew to achieve well nigh 96% success in avoid the splash…Thankfully, after spending a couple of years in those conditions Mrs RustGeek Snr sold off a couple of choice wrappers (those were the Abacha days when money was scare) and got me out of there fast, a feat of quick thinking that probably saved me.

Postscript: Reliving the garish details has made me queasy if that is any consolation. I apologise for any lunch plans I may have (indadvertedly) mucked up… 

In which I perfect the non-trivial art of eating hot dodo

One of my lesser known ‘life skills’ is eating piping hot dodo – and that fresh from the frying pan. Looking back, this non-trivial skill was honed in the kitchen of #19 Aiguobasinmwin Crescent. It must have been sometime in 1986 – those were the heady days in which Lawrence Anini our very own Robin Hood-lite and his side kick Monday Osunbor reigned supreme in Benin City. Sane, un-jazzed-up people stayed indoors, the not so sane limited their night-time frolicking nonetheless.

At the time my coffee intoxicated PhD chasing father, my barely four year old sister and I shared our three bed flat. Meal times consisted of soups and stews warmed so many times that they had gone stale by mid week with rice or eba – hardly something to look forward to. Mother and the other sister lived about 80 kilometers aways in another town, so the best she could do was make the soups and stew over a weekend, pack them and get them frozen for when we had to make the hour long trip, typically on Sunday evenings. I suspect the dull green colour of the food bowls didn’t help either –  hardly an inspiring choice.

Amidst our food travails, suya on Airport Road and piping hot dodo became the only high points we could look forward to. Like all evolving organisms we adapted our eating processes to maximise the amount of dodo we could get. I for one learned to suck in a huge glob of air at the same time as dropping dodo into my mouth to cool it. Many years later I would learn, that the heat transfer rate was proportional to the mass flow rate of air (ie the more air i sucked in the cooler the dodo would be). Over time, I got so adept at pulling this trick off that my father finally put his foot down and made us all wait for the entire batch of dodo to be fried and shared before eating… So much for my ‘life skill’. Sigh

 

In which I (vaguely) remember the Girls I Never Kissed

There is no better incentive to reassess the landscape of one’s failed loves than watching re-runs of NCIS on TV on a Friday night. Something about being slouched in a lazy boy chair, empty bottles of beer to one side and the TV remote on the other, stands in marked contrast to what typical Friday nights are meant to be – maelstroms of revelry, getting hammered and possibly getting laid.

It might be the beer, or the strange attractiveness that the geeky goth Abby exudes, or a certain feeling of kinship with the stereotypically potrayed super geek McGee, but I seem to remember a lot less women than I expect. From teenage love interests, through cousins I almost dated to the slightly zany types – and a couple of Friend With Benefits, I suspect that my history with them would make interesting reading….

Maybe one of these days, when I am in a better frame of mind, I’ll debrief myself.. And download whatever details I still can remember.

It depends…

Huddled around broken tables in the decrepit drawing office that served as a lecture theatre back in the day, a lesson in thinking on one’s feet was forced into our heads. At that time it was impossible to know the importance of that moment, or even remotely suspect that it could be a lifesaver in the distant future. There were no flashing light bulbs, no pressmen, no stenographers capturing the moment, no markers denoting the time and space where a life altering truth was uttered.

The occasion was  a run of the mill lecture – one of a series on the subject of ‘The Engineer in Society’. We were  over a hundred and twenty people crammed into a space once meant for less than fifty. There were blokes straining to listen to the lecturer, others perched on window sills discussing the latest Premiership football results.. and of course blokes milking the opportunity of fraternizing with the especially dengeferous Chemical Engineering girls..

Out of the blue – if my memory serves me right – the Professor, always one for eccentric behaviour, suddenly stopped and asked a question.

What is the answer to every question?

Our very own smarty pants – we called him the prof – rambled on about how there were no absolutes and how everything was relative…. until the real Professor stopped him..

The answer to every question, lads, is it depends he announced. Cue head scratches, confused mumblings and a very visible moment of embarrassment for the lesser prof… If your interrogator is smart, the Professor continued, he would go on to ask what the answer depended on…

Today, seating across the room from the big boss man in the presence of the client I consult for pretend to advise, I got asked a question I was not expecting. Totally flummoxed, I thought about launching into a spiel intended more to confuse than answer the question posed…. Somehow I remembered the magic answer… It depends….

The big boss man cast a wry smile in my direction…. I wonder if he too had had an inventive Professor back in the day…

Musings: Handwritten Notes.

It is the age of the internet – email, Facebook, Twitter, Hi5, MySpace, Instant Messaging and even SMS have contrived to depersonalize our communication. These days, my default mode of communication is electronic. I often reach first to my twitter account to send a direct message (DM) to my closest buddies, or then an email – and shock of all shocks – a phone call as a last resort.   Growing up, hand written notes were the apogee of communication, especially between guys and girls. We went to great lengths to procure the right paper, practiced our cursive hand writing and parodied the writings of the likes of Shakespeare to present the right impression.

A few days ago, I got a hand written note in the mail – and it brought back memories….

Nostalgia: The summer that almost was

The Script’s Break Even just came on the radio, and as usual it brought back memories.  In the main they are somewhat pleasant memories, even though the lyrics to the song are  particularly sad.

Capital FM played the song ad nauseum last summer, and in a way it became the signature tune for that summer of my life – blighted by so many could haves and would haves.  Summer started ok; my days being filled with the boringly mind numbing task of completing my dissertation. In between, I threw in attending a wedding across the Atlantic in Houston, planning my move back to my old Nigerian job and being very good friends with TheB. Capital FM was my constant companion at the time, as I stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning slogging things out. In an uncanny way, it seemed the song became a self fulfilling prophecy – Bisi and I never progressed beyond the friends zone, the Nigerian job fell through, and I missed a first on my degree….

I’ve come a long way since then though – but each time I hear the song, I remember the summer that almost was..