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Column No.6: Memories of Nigeria’s colours in black and white

I was recently in Kaduna, the city of my birth, and where I grew up. Being post-lockdown, I had to keep a safe distance from…

I was recently in Kaduna, the city of my birth, and where I grew up. Being post-lockdown, I had to keep a safe distance from Yaya, my mother. Save for a cousin, and a neighbor, Yaya and I were the only inhabitants of the house.

Staying in my old room, I picked up old books, re-read dog-eared comic-books which I was only a few years older than, and I rummaged through other stuff. I opened the wardrobe, and a longbox stared back at me.

I had others like it, where my 40-year-old copies of racy Nigerian comic magazines were kept like the treasures they probably aren’t. But this longbox had other treasures: my collection of photos.

Made up of dull-colour pictures I took with cheap Konica cameras in the 80s, better-hued ones from the 90s, and the brilliant ones from after the year 2000, they were literally a stash of memories of my life so far. Below them all, I could remember, were beautifully captured black-and-white photos which originally belonged to my parents, which now belonged to me of course. After a pause, I put my hand into the rectangular box, lifted the topmost ones, and grabbed the stack at the bottom and brought them out. Even though they were black and white, the life within the first one exploded into vivid colour, as my childhood leapt out at me.

My favourite of them all are a series of about six, taken at my big brother’s fifth birthday party, when I was probably just a baby. One with a group of all the kids present, particularly. There was Hamza, whose dad is from Katsina, then still a part of Kaduna State, and his mom from Asaba, which is now in Delta State. There were the Akintola twins, who couldn’t speak a word of Yoruba on account of their British-ness. There were the Olisa kids, three of them, a girl and two boys, whose mother was Russian, and father was Igbo from Anambra State. There were many more children, of varying ages and origins. And that was when it struck me.

My childhood was populated by some of the most diverse families I’ve ever imagined to even exist, and I never took notice then. But today, a jaded adult’s eyes are seeing what an innocent, energetic, happy child didn’t care about: an otherness. Granted, my experiences in life make my perception of the variety I beheld looking at the browning photo a pleasant realization. But when I look back at the journey from the point when the photos I looked at were taken, to today, it is an incredible one in many ways.

I began to think of my sketchy memories of nursery school, and my best friend then, Obinna. He would always call dibs on being the super-fast superhero Flash at break time, which meant no-one could outrun him even if they could in real-life, even if they were Superman, like me. Or when both my parents thought the other one was picking me up, only to discover I was ‘forgotten’ at school. Of course, I was fine, as the head-matron who lived on premises looked after me, gave me Tree Top, and read from the Mister books to me. From what I remember is her name, she’s from Borno State.

Some of my most striking memories are primarily primary school ones, and because I went to Kaduna Capital School – one of many schools I’ve been to – it was a given that I would land smack into a diverse cast of characters. My first teacher there, Mrs. Jega, was Indian and married to a Nigerian from what’s Kebbi State today. I remember her being incredibly cool.

More memories of that period of my life include feverish excitement at preparations for parades at Murtala Mohammed Square, a stone’s throw from the Polo Club. Independence Day or Children’s Day, we would all rehearse our little hearts out. It was all about who would lead the school’s march-past, and it didn’t matter where you were from, or which religion you were born into, not even remotely. D-day would come, and it would be giddy fun bumping into friends who go to other schools, and making new ones. And God help everyone else if our school was judged to be the best. The captain, and the others who marched – and everyone else – would preen for the rest of the year!

After school, and at home, the ‘drama’ was no less. Sometimes there would be Islamiyya classes, which practically came with its own laws of Physics. You found your ‘tribe’, and it would consist of anyone, wherever they may be from. I mean, there was an Igbo boy in my class, and I would only later realize how unique that was, after reflecting it with grownup eyes and a lens that came much later in life, installed free of charge and unsolicited, by other Nigerians.

(Continued next week)


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