The Place We Now Live

Chika Obi

© Copyright 2018 by Chika Obi

Photo of a poster about a Nigerian celebration in Houston.

My siblings and I were born into an environment that made us bother less about the exuberant side of life. We were born and bred in a town called Ihioma; located in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State – one of the five eastern states in Nigeria. Such an apparently low-class town, with far-fetched signs of development. The streams were the main sources of water supply and the power supply then was obviously epileptic. But that was the haven of activities, we came to know.

My parents lived there a couple of years, prior to our birth - we were told it was up to a decade. But then as we were born and we took the natural course of growth, we wholeheartedly embraced Ihioma and its environs. Of course, we could gainsay the fact that we never really had a choice on the contrary. And as our senses developed, we gradually came to decipher some things. The neighbours and indigenes around us, appreciated their tradition so much, that they were unwilling to let go of it for anything. Part of such was their practice of masquerading. They loved masquerades a lot. And we were not any different.

In fact, we became huge followers of the masquerades, that we regularly skipped chores, just to catch some glimpses of those figures in action. Usually every morning, we cleaned up the house; fetched some good quantity of water; swept the compound thoroughly, before any other activity for the day – even before eating. But the masquerades and their colourful displays, mostly made us alter the routines. On each occasion, we rarely missed being punished by our parents. But I doubt if that dwindled our interest in such traditional practice of our host town; regardless of how religious our parents wanted us to be.

More worrisome – to our parents, was the fact that, many of the folks around us were scarcely of good conducts. Unknown to us, they were mostly unruly and had very faint moral foundations. They were termed ‘wild’ by our parents. But if that was the only definition of being wild, then I can say we naively relished that brand of wildness. Of course, those were the folks with whom we went hunting together; walked the length and breadth of the town in search of the masquerades; ran around the neighbourhood, each one joyfully rolling along his own abandoned tyres. The tyres were our own vehicles; the bigger boys owned the biggest tyres, while the smaller boys owned the smaller one. The order was there – unchallenged. Those ‘wild boys’ were the same boys, who made our evenings very active; and we looked forward to the breaking of the dawn. They were the same boys that made us a bit fearless. And anyone who rebuked or harassed us instantly received our wrath – old or young. Again, those boys were the same boys that made us initially appreciate taekwondo as a means of self-defense, until we realized that, moving our hands and legs like praying mantis and mewing like hungry cats would never save us from our foes. Sometimes at the nearby market square, we were treated to luxury of; kulikuli, chin chin, fanta , doughnut , by these same ‘wild boys’. Even when we suspected that the monies were stolen, we cared less.

The mingling continued, almost unabated – unknown to us, our parents had their plans. It became glaring to us, one morning, as we woke up in anticipation of the unveiling of some new brands of masquerades, our parents unequivocally made known to us, the reason behind the massive washing and cleaning of the house. Alas! We were packing out. We cried and pleaded, but they fell on deaf ears. Plans had been concluded – we were leaving the Ihioma of our birth. And that Sunday morning, quickly wore a gloomy look. Of course we left Ihioma, to start a new life somewhere in Owerri – the capital city of Imo State. Our young selves quickly looked forward to the new life.

The days rolled by and we had the beauty of Owerri to behold. Even though Owerri was as adventurous as life in Ihioma; we still came to appreciate the lessons it had for us. It was a more developed area, that notwithstanding; it still had its own challenges of development.

Though there were no streams, but, there were few sources of water supply. So, we had to comb the neighbourhood in search of water. Power wasn’t anything close to ‘wonderful’ in Owerri; though it was better than what we had at our former neighbourhood. Each time power went off, we had alternative in a generator. That wasn’t the case at Ihioma, where we once resided – we neither saw nor owned a generator.

Furthermore, life in Owerri was relatively more ‘polished’. Our parents scarcely scolded us over trivial matters. Of course there was an obvious paradigm shift amongst us; probably because we began to live life from more mature perspectives. With the nature of Owerri, the appearance of same would be very strange and laughable. But life in Owerri, we gradually began to embrace; the schools we were enrolled in, helped shape us.

Meanwhile, all through our school days, there was an unspoken dissatisfaction in us. We were very much unsatisfied with what we felt the future held for us; judging by what was obtainable in the society. With each day, came a strengthened craving for a better life. My siblings and I dreamt of it and we also worked towards it. Soon, as we got the opportunity, we tendered our visa application, which was graciously granted in due time. That meant that our long-admired dream of traveling to the United States was officially given a pass. By then, we were already in our 20s; except for the youngest among us, who had just turned nineteen. Glory!

That was how our dream of a better life drew closer to reality. That same dream collided with reality, after plans were perfected and we made our way to the United States of America. No doubt, that’s the place we currently reside - daily exploring the new life.

Moreover, our early days in the States weren’t anything close to cherry-picking. The weather was strange and unwelcoming. Initially, to our dislike, people were so conscious of their time, as though a second wasted, amounted to a huge chunk of their lifespan drained. People were always on the move – each person, minding their own business. This was unlike the communal life we were used to, back home. Nevertheless on arrival, all of quickly drew a comparison between Ihioma – the city of our birth, Owerri and Houston and a new sense of satisfaction overwhelmed us all. Albeit we cherished and still cherish the experiences we garnered while growing up in those cities; one thing is for sure, regardless of the rigorous life here in the US, my siblings and I are still very much convinced we made the right choice for a stay.

Quickly as we were opportune, we enrolled for further and better studies; which had always been part of our dreams. That was a month or two, after trying our hands on a few jobs. We worked as attendants in health facilities and grocery stores. And at our spare time, some of us would put our driving skills to work, as Uber-registered drivers. That was how our days usually went.

Knowing we hadn’t come here just for the frenzy, we tried as much as possible to adjust to life in the United States; ever since, my siblings and I have tried keeping up with the Joneses. It has been about four years down here and never has any of us regretted our choice of coming – knowing that our dreams of a better life is steadily becoming a reality. No one among us still has to worry about basic needs like; water supply and healthcare. Of course, power supply is very much steady.. The United States of America is the place I currently live, and I strongly believe that in due time, her people shall be glad to have me around.

NB: kulikuli (a native snack, made from grounded groundnut)

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