Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Life, as we used to know...

Life before Technology...
As I sat clutching my raffia bag between my legs, I looked back over my shoulder and saw mama wiping tears from her eyes with the multi-colored wrapper she tied loosely around her waist. She waved at me feebly and I nodded instead of waving back, I was afraid to let go of my precious belonging. I heard the canoe driver shout and push the canoe away from the frothy shore, we are on our way! I thought as he leaned back and pulled the long stick out of the murky water and repeated the process again.  Slowly, we pulled farther and farther away from the shore until it was completely covered up with the early morning mist that surrounded the river most mornings. I sighed heavily as the fat woman beside me readjusted herself on the hard planks we used as seats.  I was on my way to uyo to visit my mother’s brother and hopefully start the modern school that the missionaries just opened in the area.
 I wanted to go to school, but I didn’t want to leave mama and my younger sister, Eno behind in our village. We were currently enveloped completely in thick, white mist; the canoe man continued to push the stick under water but not with much effort now as the strong current carried us along. I wondered wildly if we were going in the right direction, but there was no telling since we couldn’t see where the boat was heading. He started calling out, warning other canoes of our presence, his voice sounded hollow in the grayness that surrounded us, I bent my head and prayed that we go in the right direction; I didn’t want us to get lost and be swallowed up by Ukoyium, the great mammy water that ruled this river. Only two months ago, my friend, Udo and his mother had been swallowed up on their way from a neighboring village where he was taken to for medical treatment. The canoe bobbed gently as we entered another current. I tightened my hold on my bag and kept my eyes open as wide as possible, I wanted to see the mammy water before she attacked me. The man sitting in front of me coughed and leaned forward, slowly resting his head on his folded arms, he closed his eyes. I stared at him as if he was mad, sleeping? How was he able to do that? I pondered as I heard another hollow call back from another canoe, suddenly, their canoe grazed ours as he silently glided by. I exhaled; this method of calling out to each other had been in use since my grandfather’s time, that’s what my father told me when he was still alive. I must have drifted off at some point, I woke up with a jolt as another canoe rammed into ours in the mist, the fat woman beside me shrieked and grabbed my shoulder, her nails dug into my flesh as I winced trying not to panic or cry. The sleeping man in front of me opened an eye in the commotion and shot it again as our canoe man deftly steadied our canoe and moved off in another direction, I stretched my aching body as I tried again to figure out how he knew where we were going. He didn’t . 
After several hours in the mist, the sun finally came up and we discovered we had gone a full circle and almost heading back to my little village. Several passengers started abusing the canoe man and telling him how a skilled canoe man would have known we were not going anywhere. I wondered if anyone would have been able to perceive anything through the thick mist. We finally entered uyo shores close to evening, we were tired, hungry, and stiff from sitting in one position all day, as I climbed out of the canoe into the insipid waters of the shore, pins and needles shooting up and down my leg, I thanked God that Ukoyium didn’t swallow us, but I wondered how to get word out to my mother that I arrived safely. It was much later in the night, when uncle Effiong  had fed me some cold Ekpankukor and he was reclining outside the one room bungalow he lived, that his friend Bassey, a trader came to visit that I finally got my answer. Bassey was going to my village in three day’s time, he agreed to take word back to mama that I arrived safely and school was not in session till a fortnight. Instead of travelling back, uncle Bassey agreed to teach me arithmetics and English until the modern school reopened. 
 Though I was a long way from home, in just one day, I knew my life had changed forever.