I grew up in a large five bedroom bungalow, the compound was not fenced, there was a perimeter fence for the whole barracks with soldiers guarding the gates and on patrol 24 hours a day. The men lived some distance away from the officers within the same barracks sometimes called Base. The barracks was 20 kilometers away from town. There were small village markets nearby serving our daily needs.
We ate fresh foods and fruits in season, there were schools and a hospital. There was an Officers mess .. I wonder what they mess up with in there? Never got to go inside. And a soldiers club, what goes on in a club is an easier guess. And then there was the Mammy market where you could buy the weirdest of things from Monkey meat, Monkey tail which had nothing at all to do with Monkeys as well as 404 meat that had nothing to do with the 404 car. It was dog beef pure and simple and considered by many to be a delicacy. Grilled in lots of pepper and sometimes used in pepper soup.
The Mammy market was a go to place in the evenings, it sprawled with people and activities and I always looked forward to the long trek there on my many errands to buy this and that. You could compare Mammy as it was fondly called to a Town center in a small town.
The barracks was classed, there were Officers and there were men. Everyone knew his or her place. The men lived in smaller more cluttered houses lined up in rows; the officers lived in bigger bungalows, with reasonable spaces between the houses. Ours was one of the biggest among the biggest. It had a courtyard in the middle, which was basically used for drying out the washing, I wondered if they knew they could put out cane chairs and a grill in the courtyard and have barbeques? I read about barbeques in one of those Mills and Boon books I snuck to read in my quiet time.
Papa had instilled the habit of reading books in me at a very young age, I learnt to read at age four and I still remember some of those funny picture books papa bought me in those days. He being an ardent reader himself. He was a teacher in the military, and a secondary school teacher before that and a teacher in a college after that. Papa loved to read and to teach. He had a trunk load of those books, in there were books about everything and anything. Books with pictures and books written in a language I couldn’t understand, books with maps, books with graphs and numbers. All sorts of books in papa’s trunk.
I travelled across oceans and continents in papa’s books, I learnt to be anyone and someone, I smiled when I saw characters like myself in papa’s books and I made many friends in those books, I knew that I had the potential to do great things just reading through those piles of books,
These days I was in love with Mills and Boon, I don’t think papa would have liked me reading them, but it’s not my fault I now live in a book-less house, I’m sure he’ll understand. I borrowed them from the Officer’s children in exchange for helping them do their homework. Even though I thought some of the stories outlandish I read them anyway, perhaps one day I would stop being a tomboy and be a lady in my own large house with my own prince charming and our quiver full of lovely children. “Perhaps if soldiers read more, their lives would be more meaningful” I often thought.
The house had a garage, large windows allowing in cool gentle breeze blown in by the gentle sways on the leaves of the large mango trees outside. The house was painted blue and white. The paint was never redone, I wondered why.. I remember the day we arrived that grand house, it was bigger and more beautiful than any we’d ever lived in. My aunt stood in front of the house with a large smile on her face, shoulders held high and said. ‘Yes, now I know I’m an officer’s wife, a big man’s wife’, the husband had received a promotion and a new office, Base Commander! He was now the big boss, not an ordinary officer. The new office came with a driver, a PA and rifle wielding guard for the house. But no maid, why should there be a maid, the madam’s little niece was here, I was maid enough without the title.
Our house was surrounded by large mango trees providing sweet mangoes in season, shade from the hot Makurdi sun and plenty of work. Sweeping the fallen and sometimes dead mango leaves alongside rotten, half eaten rejected mangoes was one of my many daily chores. But the most annoying of them all, was being asked to make mango juice for officer’s wives, oh the labour that went into that thankless duty. ‘Ada, make some mango juice for the Igbetars,’ ‘yes aunty’ I would mutter under my breadth, ‘little Doo would pick it up later’. ‘yes aunty’ And then it would be for the Babayaros, the Emekas, the Bioduns, the Nssiens, the Fakoroghas, and the list goes on till the end of mango season.
If only my aunt had a little business sense, perhaps she would have started a little mango juice business. But no, she was content with the compliments she got for providing her fellow officer’s wives with mango juice made off the sweat of a little overworked girl.
The mango making process was simple enough, peel the skin of a large basket of mangoes, chop off the meat, blend it, boil and strain with a cloth sieve, throw away the chaff, bottle up the juice and keep in a refrigerator to cool, drink up within 48 hours, Simple!!! It’s not rocket science!!! Why couldn’t they and their children just do it themselves? at least they could bond over that. But no, “the little niece down the block living with her very nice aunt would make it for us, why soil our pretty little fingers” am sure they thought. And no, I haven’t made any mango juice in 25 years!!In fact the smell of mango juice gives me tummy ache.
To be continued……