In the year 2011, I was to work in a lovely isolated village in Nigeria (sub-Saharan Africa) as a Medical Doctor for a period of one year. This village was well cut off from the township, about 100km along a major road, and 50 more km off the road. (Happily, the road was being well-maintained.) Hence, it had preserved its idyllic awe. It had a semi-arid climate and could be really bright and hot. Its vegetation was mainly savannah –with many grasses and less woody trees and shrubs; though, there were patchy regions of bare earth. There was some desert encroachment stripping some areas of soil quite bare and loose. Whenever the hot winds blew (and they blew often), one was in for a shower of dust!
Once off the main road, one would be the only passenger of a motorbike, as that was the flourishing transport business. One would pass many farmsteads and other villages on the way to that village. The main shelters to be seen were huts; there were fewer plastered (cemented) houses. On the speeding bike skilfully ridden by an adolescent usually, the hot, dry, dusty winds forced one to squint. But, one could not afford to close both eyes to the innovatively constructed huts with thatched roofs, fences made from dried maize stalks, and the relative abundance of wells and boreholes (about one well or borehole to an area equal to two football fields). And this was fairly adequate because there were only about eight families to it. I should add though, that a family could have a man (the head), two to three wives, and twelve children. Also, how could one ignore the acute-eyed children bathing one with admiration and amusement; smiling faces, white teeth, playful lean bodies, all in interesting costumes (or dresses).
I eventually got to my destination. The area was more populated than the vast areas of farmland in-between the clustered human settlements. I met a fellow health worker, one John Ikpae, an applied microbiologist, at the central lodge for other workers in my category. These other ones, however, were not in the medical line.
A roasting-hot afternoon sun alighted upon two souls –that’d be John and me –on a long lightly travelled road about the distance of 4 football fields, well-tarred, flanked by farmlands on either side. He led me to the hospital, the only one that served the entire area (as large as 200 football fields).
Walking through the gates on the left side of the road, I saw a yellow-coloured bungalow at the end of a short well-cleared un-tarred path flanked by farmlands too. The compound was about 9 football fields’ long. The hospital itself was “T” shaped, having the reception area, corridors, and wards very much the size of bedrooms. A little way to the right of the hospital itself led to two separate smaller bungalows. These were the lodges for the health workers. John turned out to be my flatmate.
My apartment had a moderately spacious raised veranda, the living room boasted of upholstered couches, a red rug, and a refrigerator; the dining section, at the far end of the room, was slightly partitioned with two chairs at a rotary dining table. The living room was well aerated with five windows. It could be pleasantly bright in the midday sunlight. A door joined the dining section with the kitchen. To the right of the entrance was a small passage, with a first branch to the kitchen on the left; [so one would move round going from the passage – (left turn) – kitchen – (left turn) -dining section – (left turn) -straight towards the entrance through the sitting room – (left turn) – passage again]. There was a second left branch to the toilet with a bathtub; on the right of the passage were the two bedrooms. At the other end of the passage was the backdoor out to the backyard, which was bounded a fence. Not a fence made from dried maize stalks! The bedrooms were quite spacious for a village accommodation facility. A king-size bed, wardrobes, bedside cupboard, and a chair were in each room. We both shared a room because the other room was to be used by a hospital administrator whenever he would come around and be delayed in the area till nightfall.
I settled down, managed the bachelor’s meal John prepared, and strolled out in the evening to see other workers at the central lodge. That was to be a regular visiting spot for me. From there, I went to the main chemist in the village. This was about 2 football fields further from the central lodge. It was the main spot where one could easily charge electrical gadgets. I charged my phones and laptop, watching movies while at it and chatting with friends online.
News travelled fast –a medical doctor was in town. My first day at the hospital was quite fun. It was fun being lost for words with patients because I didn’t understand the local language. I had to use the help of an interpreter. It wasn’t nearly as busy as where I had worked before there. That afforded me more time to familiarize myself with the patients; I had better quality consultations than in the metropolis where I worked. The hospital workers fell in love with me in no time. Also, I did not discriminate between people based on job descriptions. I had a record for a friendly personality in my previous working place too. I guess this is a good attribute. And I have someone to owe that attribute to –Jesus. (I used to be more closed-up way back). The workers were willing to teach me the language; and in a couple of months, I was able to handle consultation sessions all by myself. I saw all categories of patients –paediatrics(children), geriatrics(old-aged), obstetrics and gynaecology(women and pregnancies) though the women usually had Traditional Birth Attendants(TBAs) on hand for house-deliveries, surgical(though only minor cases could be done because of the sub-optimal theatre state; so I ended up referring them to bigger hospitals), general medical cases, AND my favourite, psychiatric cases. Being an aspiring psychiatrist, I was eager to address those cases, though I had to refer most of them who needed better care than the cottage hospital could offer. Besides, I wasn’t exactly a registered psychiatrist. I still needed to go through a specialisation programme.
My average day began at 9am as my alarm tone –Holy, sung by Nichole Nordeman –would brighten my senses. If you have listened to the song, you should understand why it was, and is, the perfect song to wake up to. I would rush to freshen up. Already, John would be awake. He slept like a domestic fowl. No slight intended. He never slept deep; he would make up at odd times during the night; also he was always the one to chase the huge rats that favoured our healthy kitchen in the midnight. Strange breed! Sometimes, he’d go fetch water for our domestic usage from the borehole that served the hospital; other times, I would go, before we left for work. The issue of domestic chores and house-keeping happily never became a big deal with us. Both of us had the domesticated edge to our personalities. Then I would get to the hospital between 9:30am and 10:00am; he would come along later around 10:30. The patients would start strolling in leisurely around 10am. I remember how lost I was when I rushed to the hospital around 8:30am on my first day. It took a while for me to learn that the “official” arrival time for the patients was 11am. Imagine seeing a very ill one-year old whose mother claims has been ill for days and hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours; and this woman comes to the hospital at 12pm (noon). Of course, I was so amused (or concerned) I had to ask; and I think I should keep the funny responses I got to myself. I can’t say who will be reading this! Hehehe! By 12noon, I would be getting ready to leave. The other workers would leave around 1:30pm, except for those on duty –paramedics, gateman/security. Occasionally, John would leave before me and would start off “something” in the kitchen! But most times when I left, I would be the one doing it in the kitchen. I loved doing some experimentation in the kitchen since it would be easier to convince John to bear whatever “poison” I might end up with; more often though, I came up with something good. Whilst cooking, I would lay on the sofa with my book Abnormal Psychology which I enjoyed reading in preparation for my training programme in Psychiatry. Like I said earlier, the house was well-aerated and quite bright in the midday sun. There was something mentally invigorating about reading in that bright, well-aerated room with the occasional sights, sounds and odours of cows grazing by, freshly cut leaves, the butterflies and other insects, and the birds (which sometimes came to see what I was reading through the backyard before we sealed the small openings in the backdoor. I usually ate my first meal of the day around 1:30pm. Occasionally, my mealtime would be interrupted by a patient or by one of our friends. I would read till around 3:30pm, watch a movie till around 4:30pm, then have my one-hour siesta, waking up to that beautiful alarm tone again. After a little exercise, I would freshen up and be out with John by 6:30pm. It was a very lovely stroll to the general lodge. The air was always smelling clean and fresh. We would pass by villagers returning home after a long day at the farm. They would greet in their usual friendly fashion –happy faces, all teeth and smiles –as they led their cattle on. The typical mode of transportation was an assemblage of a large wooden container piled high with hay or any other farm produce, balanced on two big wheels and hitched to two cows. The others were asses, bicycles, and occasionally, motorbikes. The elderly ones always seemed to have our attention and were always eager to sample our use of their language, never forgetting to tease us on account of our bachelorhood. They believed any young man should be married as a sign of maturity. And here you have two dashing, exotic, somewhat comfortable and presumably biologically sound men, one an applied microbiologist, the other a medical doctor, UNMARRIED!!! You can be sure our hospital workers never let up on the issue too. My favourite interpreter was always surprised he never even saw me with any lady overnight. He told me of how “liberal” the doctor before me was! As we strolled to the lodge, my big headphones, set in bass booster equalizer, would be riding me on the waves as it rolled out songs from my playlist. I would be having the best of the evening. That feeling of vitality, ecstasy and perfect serenity all in a sane mix!
We would play for a while with the other workers. These worked in the educational and political sectors. There was a ludo, but I favoured the draft. Honestly, I only had to make do with the draft/draught(s) because I considered it quite inferior to chess. I hope I have not gotten a draft player riled! Then a couple of us would go over to the chemist to charge our electronic gadgets. When I wasn’t browsing the web, chatting or watching movies, I would stroll further into the night, into the more active part of the village. This bore some semblance to what one might find in a quiet city. Noises(human, animal, cars/motorbikes), lights(street and shop lights, lamps, vehicle/bike headlights) and smokes(fires from fries and grills, cigarettes and social vices) filled the air; people, stalls/kiosks and goods filled the land. More friendly faces, little children singing folk songs and dancing in groups; some running around; some on bicycles with torchlight to help see, some helping their parents sell things by the roadside or in kiosks, some at the Quranic school, others just sauntering about also sampling the night. The older ones –adolescents –would be gathered in groups mostly, a kind of ritual; some lurked in the shadows engaging in some social vice, some appeared to be sampling younger ladies who would be prospective marriage partners; some seemed to carry the game further as they strutted about in the streets, dressed somewhat fashionably in near-western fashion, appearing to advertise themselves to the females. Of course, they were not mindful of ladies their age group because these were usually engaged or actually married; and would usually come out just to buy things. The younger ladies who were yet unmarried would be the ones taking the night as they strolled ever so seductively waving hips at prospective games. They would be attired in “costumes” (dresses actually) too colourful to be ignored even at night and liberally decorated with ornaments, talking quietly amongst themselves, always smiling. Both groups of advertisers always seemed to be going somewhere, but one who followed or observed them long enough would know they were actually where they wanted to be –in the spotlight! The young men would be married; most would be in their shops selling things (usually foods); some would be gathered in groups sampling prospective second wives (since polygamy was the norm); some were the commercial motorcyclists alongside the adolescents. The middle-aged men, when seen, were usually in shops or smaller groups discussing the “serious” issues –politics, family life, marrying more wives, etc –and of course, they also did sampling of the prospective second or third wives. The middle-aged women were seen less commonly. The older men were also frequently gathered in groups, usually near residential houses (huts) or well hidden in shadows behind sheds or stalls. I can imagine the discussions and samplings they also carried out! The older women were mostly keeping the homes, and less frequently in shops. Strolling in the street, one would have an eye-full of things being sold. The most common were fruits and vegetables, bread, and provisions, drinks and household supplies in the bigger shops. The less common were fries, roasted meat (popularly called suya), electrical gadgets and domestic fuel (kerosene). I would often buy bread, eggs, or drinks. Once in a month, John and I would travel to the city to get our supplies (foods and others) from the market. Occasionally, I would have to see a patient at the chemist because they already recognized me and wouldn’t have to wait to come to the hospital. Around 10:00pm, I would be on my way back to my own cottage hospital lodge, the only person usually. The others didn’t like staying that late. John would have also gone ahead. I had my torch. But, when it was the full moon, I wouldn’t want the torch to mess with the glistening tarred road. There was a way the moon overhead made the road shine, like one generously sprinkled fairy dusts on it. And flanking the road here and there were toads. Whenever I shone the torchlight directly at them, they just seemed unbothered; like they had some grave responsibilities less mundane than the disturbance I was causing them. They appeared stout in the light, their heads held solemnly high like a nobleman who has a kingdom with subjects under him. Switch off the lights and they look light dwarf knights flanking the silver carpet leading up to the throne of the moon overhead. I never disturbed them beyond shining the light; except for one that dared stay in my path. I would pay my solemn respects and move on. As I strolled on, my headphones would be doing their thing as I “walked on the moon itself” feeling perfectly at ease in the lonely night. Talking about courting rituals amongst humans above, the night was full of cries of nocturnal animals, particularly the frogs advertising their vocal skills. I could wager a piece of well-wrapped frog shit that they are better than Ron Kenoly or Barry White himself. It was always very fascinating witnessing a most eventful period of the day for these ones. Once in a while, I would walk past my hospital lodge just to enjoy the night sounds better, making some audio recordings. So, after passing the “amphibian region” –which was what I nicknamed the whole stretch of the road after my noblemen frogs –I would turn left, off the road. That small patch between the main road and the hospital gate is where I once saw my first live out-of-the-zoo snake ever. It was a beautiful slim green snake about 1cm wide and 1m long. Hence, I christened it “the snake’s zone”. Then I approached the “scorpion’s territory”. This was the brown sandy path leading to my lodge from the main hospital building. It was easy for the scorpion I saw the other night to have been well concealed. Talking about scorpions, permit me to briefly mention four related incidents.
The first happened four years before this village experience. It was just a night like any other. I was a medical student who had had a normal day and was having a normal night with a normal dream. Then it called me instantly from my dreams. A sharp pain in my right leg! I got up, not with fright, but with curiosity, switched on the light. And there it was, waiting in defiance. I happily pinned the scorpion down with a cup, and switched on my cooker. I felt psychologically eased of the pain as I watched my dear innocent scorpion roast. Believe me: I knew it was obeying the law of nature and we bore no long-standing grudge against each other. I also hope it bore no ill-feeling against me after death.
I was wrong.
The same year I came to this village, I was at a camp programme. On another normal night, I had my headphones on, strolling with slippers, when I felt that sharp sting on my left big toe. Someone close-by checked around with the light to see the defiant elegant monster. Another scorpion! By now, I was realizing the defiant attitude was favoured by this arthropod. It was killed. I had an eventful night fighting and trifling with the pain as I refused treatment. Instead, I went over to my room and had a video recording done of myself groaning in pains!!! It would appear the first scorpion somehow got to its living members with the news of me. On both instances, I slept through the pains, singing songs, to wake up my usual self.
The third incident happened on a night, again. John and I were just entering the room, I ahead. I stepped on a springy material. On reflexively removing my right foot, I heard a scurrying sound on the carpet. Light on, I saw my good friend again -Mr. Scorpio. He had been told of how defiance didn’t work and was smartly running away. I leapt to the game like a dog to the wabbit –sorry, rabbit. I pinned it down and dealt with it appropriately. Dear Reader, please make no mistake. I am friendly to nature. My descriptions of the toads and the snake should reinforce that claim. But, it’s clear by now that the scorpion kingdom has blacklisted me! Please, anyone know Dwayne Douglas Johnson (“The Rock” who acted “The Scorpion-King”)? Kindly tell him to lay his hordes off me. Thank you!
It was a night like any other, I left the chemist; he left his hole. I began my usual stroll home; he began his quest. I had gone far but yet to get home; he had gone far and reached his destination, waiting. I passed the snake’s zone. My torch had been off, being a bright moony night. Just for luck, I decided to switch on the torch. I passed the inter-territorial agents –noble toads –along the scorpion path. As I neared “No-man’s Land”, the safe ant-dominated area near the porch, something moved subtly on the brown loose sands near my right foot. Voila! Got you, Monsieur Scorpio! I just quietly eluded it, shook my head, and walked on. I hoped it would carry the news of my good nature to the kingdom. I hope by now they have come to see I was just being misunderstood, since I haven’t killed any scorpion since then.
Back to the present. Once inside the house, I would lock the door, occasionally leaving it unlocked (though closed). There wasn’t really any need being overtly security-conscious. Then I would settle down on the bed beside sleeping John with dinner and movie. I would be getting ready to sleep by 2:00am after doing a few writing at times. Later, my sleeping habit, coupled with the fact that none seemed to care much about using the spare room, meant that I had to move to the other bedroom. Here, I had enough space as I spread myself with ease on the king-size bed. Here I would pass my last moments singing and communing with my Christ in sweet fellowship as I passed out (slept off) at the brink of ecstasy!
I got to the village in dry season, when there was no rain and the midday sun was burning. You couldn’t afford to walk the open without some form of covering for your neck. Even a black man like me, though fair-complexioned (nevertheless having good skin melanin protection), still felt the burning heat.
Then the rains came. The cases seen changed from the prevalent malaria cases to more of respiratory infections –with flu-like symptoms.
With the rains, the floral life in our backyard flourished, and our wild rat twins were having the time of their lives. They were the craziest omnivores I had, and have, ever seen. I am not starting a zoology class by saying of cockroaches: they can eat almost any food stuff. When there’s no food, they’ll switch to cotton textiles, furniture, etc. And they go gaga in extreme cases as they eat the corpse of a dead fellow cockroach. When finally all chips are down, our beloved cockroach will feed on its old “skin”, since cockroaches periodically moult or shed their exoskeleton covering. You can now imagine my lack of surprise when the rats ate poor John’s cornflakes or our noodles. But, they got me when they started eating our rubber/plastic containers containing palm oil! Now, comes the main part of this rat-story. As the floral life flourished, the snake kingdom decided to make a second region in our backyard, as a snake hole emerged near the kitchen window. I was asleep one afternoon when John felt like using the toilet which was close to the backdoor. This was before we sealed the openings in the door. He heard noises in the bush close to the door, and along came a snake. It was coming through the backdoor. And, what have we here? Two grizzly, well-fed, scary-looking rats were CHASING a roughly 4cm-wide, 1.7m-long snake! John grabbed a bar and withstood the snake, which turned away another direction. Away from the rats! I thought a snake was supposed to fight back when threatened by a mere rat! Were they not both from the wild? I was disappointed he didn’t wake me up to participate in the action and take a video recording. I saw the twin rats some other day and bore witness to what scared the tempers out of the snake.
The rains brought out the domestic flies who were the inter-territorial agents for the day. It was bordering on irritation when in the evening, after taking my bath and smelling all nice, they would all come on me as I strolled jauntily on. With the rains also came frequent drenching as I returned from the chemist in the dead of the night.
During this period, there were festivities, and “tributes” came in for the beloved and esteemed village doctor. My pot flourished. Talking about tributes, I soon became a regular visitor to the palace of the district head. I held private consultation sessions; and, though definitely not the aim, I always had honoraria to show for it. Tributes came in too when the farmers harvested their crops.
Then came the harmattan with temperatures unusually cold. It appeared I was well-adapted to the cold. I was the only one of all the workers, and one of the few dwellers there who went out with shorts or short-sleeved tops.
With the removal of fuel subsidy in the country at the start of 2012, the cost of living expectedly increased. Seasons came and went. I travelled between the village and my home many times; found road trips to be more fun than flights. I enjoyed sights and sounds, and lives of the place. I enjoyed serving the people, and wouldn’t have minded spending more time there; but life had to go on. I learnt a lot about the people, became loved by them. I explored the environment, always paying more attention to nature than the people; truly in love with nature. I witnessed visits by political entities and paid visits to political entities. I enjoyed visits by traditional figures and paid visits to traditional figures. All the while, I was enjoying my own life with my Christ; Morning-Maker woke me up into heaven’s arms at the start of the day; Night-Weaver lulled me to sleep at the brim of ecstasy at night; Peace-Giver and Secret Protector kept me through the day’s challenges. I didn’t do much of church-going but I couldn’t live a day without my Life-Force and Soul-Mate. I lived true, free and high. Of course, I had low hellish moments and experiences, but HE finds a way to get through to me and carry the weight all off me.
Finally, it was time to leave. I said long good-byes over days; and re-lived moments spent. Some of the other workers were also about to leave. We all had to part ways, as we were going to different places. So, off I went the same way I came, no worries in my mind, my headphones to my ears, setting my spirit free.