A Long Walk from Yesterday

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| This is the 393rd story of Our Life Logs |


Living in the rural village of Echem, in South-Eastern Nigeria, I had a difficult life. I was born in 1954, the youngest of four children, but we were not my father’s only children. Most certainly not. In fact, I was 16th in the rankings, including my father’s children from his two older wives, who each had six children before I was even born. What’s more, I didn’t even get to meet my father. He passed when my mother was six months pregnant.

You see, all my father’s children and wives lived together in a family compound, even after his passing. I just tried my best to swim through life. Every early morning, I’d go to the river to collect water for the household. Occasionally, I’d go rodent hunting because they were easy to catch and their meat could pass for steak if they were tantalizingly soaked in a hot pot of egusi soup.

While I found ways to be happy on my own, my home was not pleasant in the slightest. My family could be characterized by broad-daylight jealousy, backbiting, and sheer voodoo. My father’s first wife was hell-bent on only seeing her children progress. She used diabolical means to attack the dreams and opportunities of his children from the other wives so that they thought less of their futures and spent fruitless time in the village wasting away. If you can imagine, my home was filled with the living dead. In the nook and crannies of our compound, grandchildren without any direction lounged around. Some were far older than me yet had no idea what they wanted to become in life. I cringed at the sight of my siblings with their overbearing personalities and rude comments.

On top of that, my father’s first wife was unstable and violent. On numerous occasions, I stumbled upon her twisting the neck of a native cockerel amidst talking gibberish in the wee hours of noon when most people were away in their farms. The few times she spotted me staring, she cursed at and threatened me, saying that if I ever told anyone what I saw, she would kill me with a snap of a finger.

I dreaded the sight of coming face to face with my father’s first wife and her unaccommodating tramps she called kids who were downright impossible to cohabit with. I wanted to leave the compound so badly, but my immediate siblings had their own lives. I was stuck in the village with my poor mother who had developed frail health as I got older.

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When I was 12 years old, my elder brother, who had left for Goldcoast (modern-day Ghana) to get a good job and start his life, returned to the village for a visit. Seeing how well he was doing, my mom cried herself lean, insisting that he take me along so that I could get properly educated. Although I knew why she wanted me to go, I was her protector and I hated the idea of leaving her all alone in the village, especially in our family compound which was an obvious war front with voodoo spikes flying left, right, and center. Still, she insisted. My brother concluded his visit after two weeks, and, after some begging, my brother agreed.

My journey to Goldcoast was like the plot of a modern-day action film. Risks were high and the smallest misstep could blow everything. I was leaving Nigeria without any documentation—no passport, no border passes, no visa, or resident permit for Goldcoast. There was no promise I’d get through, but for my mother’s sake, I continued on.

We started the three-day trek from Owerri to Lagos and then passed through the famous Badagry road leading to Seme border (the boundary between Nigeria and the Benin Republic). The tension was overwhelming as we approached the border. Our driver glanced back and asked, “Who doesn’t have proper documentation?” I quickly told him that I didn’t, and the man shook his head. “You shouldn’t bother then. It’s easier to cross the Nigerian border, but it will be a tug-of-war after that.” I knew he was right. Crossing from Benin republic to Togo would not be easy, nor would going from Togo into Goldcoast. But I had to try.

After we passed through stern-looking immigration officers at the Seme border, we went our way heading towards the other end of the small country. Just a few meters away, our driver made a quick stop beside a bush path, pretending to let out the passengers who wanted to pee. On his cue, four of us left the vehicle and waded into the thick bushes for our escape.

The sanctuary of the bushes was littered with tattered clothes, worn-out toothbrushes, scarves, and all sorts of trash. It was definitely a route for illegal immigrants like me who tried to cross to the other side without proper documentation. Twenty minutes into the smelly and dirty bushes, I felt it was the beginning of the end for me.

Unknown to us, the immigration officers conducted periodic checks in the nearby bushes because of illegal immigrants who tried to defy the odds. When they approached, we were in full throttle, running sideways and zigzag so that the sporadic shootings, just inches away from sending me to “forever land,” wouldn’t hit my teenage body. It was the first time in my life I had run for over 20 minutes and I couldn’t even sniff a bit of tiredness.

I ran farther and looked backward; I noticed it was just me and another young man in his early 20s that were left. What happened to the others? Your guess is as good as mine. For me, the biggest tragedy was not the other two people we couldn’t see again or account for. The biggest tragedy was that when we arrived back on the main road, our vehicle had left us, with my tattered bag; I practically died.

To cut the long story short, we got to Goldcoast three days later through a villager who lived around the border area. He accommodated us for a day before riding us on his scooter to Togo. Luckily for us, the driver that had taken us from Nigeria had left a message in Togo with some other drivers who were conveying passengers from Togo to Goldcoast to pick us and drop us at the famous Kumasi motor park.

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Life in Goldcoast as a Nigerian at the time was “wrenching.” The local people didn’t hesitate to make your life a living hell if they knew you were from Nigeria. They detested us so much, and I didn’t understand why such hatred ran so deep in their bloodstreams. Still, the biggest challenge living in Accra was the weather. It was so hot that the scorching sun could shine as long as six hours without a break. Maybe that’s why they were all like roasted humans.

I found schooling in Ghana a lot different from what we had in Nigeria. The government in that country emphasized on qualitative education such that they set the bar high for students to work extra hard in their academics and become relevant in the future. Within six months, I settled in perfectly and had put my travails behind me and begun to embrace my new environment.

I finished elementary school in flying colors and proceeded to a Catholic high school as a boarder. This period for me was the most challenging, as my elder brother had subtly left me to my fate and hardly sent me any money to survive. Returning to Nigeria for the holidays was another drama at the time. My elder brother had introduced me to one of the officers at the border who had given me a temporal paper tagged ‘lasse passé’; this document was a duly typewritten note from the immigration that clearly stated that I was visiting Nigeria on a temporal basis, and it would help me cross the border without hassle.

During most holidays, I would return to Nigeria to do all sorts of menial jobs to raise my school fees, transport fare back to Goldcoast as well as money for my upkeep. There was a certain year I overstayed in Nigeria by over a month because I hadn’t saved enough money; I was almost expelled from school.

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Several years down the line, I also graduated from high school and sought admissions to several universities and polytechnics in Europe and America for scholarships. I couldn’t get any scholarships, but some of these schools gave me admission to pursue a degree in engineering…I just couldn’t afford it.

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With some of my classmates, c. 1975.

In the long run, I secured admission into the Bishop Bearden College of Science and Technology in Accra to pursue a diploma in Mechanical and Automobile Engineering. This was the turning point; I graduated with an upper credit in Mechanical Engineering, alongside passing in flying colors my City and Guilds of London professional certification. I migrated back fully to Nigeria in 1982, and got a job with the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as an engineer, working in the powerhouse of the airport.

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Me—the working man!

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In April of 1985, I married the love of my life and we had our first son in August of the same year. With a puffed chest and a proud smile, I brought my wife and son to my village to show them to my mother and to my people.

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With my beautiful wife on our wedding day, 1985.

But then, a year later, my son died of a sudden illness. I couldn’t substantiate why my healthy son would fall sick within a short period as soon as we arrived from Lagos; more than anything else, I suspected my father’s first wife. Edward Junior’s death was a kick below the belt for me. I saw my whole world come crashing down before my eyes and wouldn’t say I have recovered to this day.

My wife and I had another son in April 1987, our second son in May 1989, the third son in October 1990, and our last boy in August 1993. The presence of my children was a huge motivation to me and I constantly worked hard to give them the best I couldn’t get growing up. Whatever voodoo still spun in the air, I shielded it with a level head and chose to keep climbing.

My aged mother, after seeing three of my kids and giving them her blessings, passed on in early 1993. I was devastated at the time but I clung to her words that she was happy and that I had defied all odds to be a success in the family. I was the first person in the family to own a car, which I brought to the village, and a house in suburban Lagos.

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My wife and I, c. 1990.

My elder brother, who brought me to Ghana, died in 2017 after a long battle with a strange illness; my elder sister died about five years ago, and my immediate elder brother, who was the supposed “black sheep,” died two years earlier than my eldest brother. I am the only one left of my mother’s children.

Through the torrid journey from Owerri to Goldcoast, I can look back with pride that my long walk from the yesteryears was really worth the walk. All these years, I have learned strongly that no dream is impossible and no mountain is too distant to reach if you put your mind to it and work hard. I have also taken a lot of time to inculcate the same values into my children as they prepare to start their own families. I have countless reasons to be grateful.

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This is the story of Eddy Oparah

Eddy was born in 1954 in southeastern Nigeria. From a young age, his life has been characterized with all sorts of drama, given that he was born and raised in a polygamous family where greed, selfishness and voodoo was the order of the day. In order to make a life for himself and get properly educated, Eddy left Nigeria to Goldcoast (modern-day Ghana) without any documentation. At the border in Togo, Eddy escapes death from immigration officers that had shot at them. On the long run, he finds his way into Goldcoast and gets proper education, turning out to be an Engineer. He is currently retired from active service with the Federal Government of Nigeria and lives with his wife in Lagos, Nigeria. Eddy is the proud dad of his eldest son, a music producer; his second son, a journalist by profession and a director for a start-up company in Nigeria; his third son, a psychologist currently serving the Federal government of Nigeria; and his last son, a student in his final year at the University of Lagos where he is studying estate management.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on July 19, 2019.

| Writer: Jeffrey Oparah   Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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