Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Calabar my Calabar!

If I mention the name David Diop, I guess most of us who have ever come accross it would identify him as that great poet who wrote the poem

"Africa my Africa!

Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannas Africa of whom my grandmother sings,

on the banks of the distant river....."

Well, my piece today is neither about David Diop nor his poem, rather, this piece is about "Calabar my Calabar!"

I couldn't resist putting that caption in green! Even though the official colours of the Crossriver State is "Blue-White-Blue", you can't help but think of the colour green as you find your way around that city.

I’d heard about the city from friends and colleagues and I was like “Yeah right!” Even before I left Lagos to be with my husband in Port Harcourt, the air waves were already being inundated by news and adverts of the Calabar Christmas Carnival – the brain child of Donald Duke and his wife several years ago.

I honestly didn’t go to Calabar for the carnival per se (we both had to be back in Lagos for the Christmas celebration with family), neither did I go to see the people or any such thing but my husband and I needed to get away for a few days and Calabar seemed to be the natural choice. The Obudu Ranch Resort was way out of our budget at the moment so it wasn’t an option. We were just going to go to Calabar, see the sights and return home.

And that’s exactly what we did. Only we came back a lot more inspired.

We got into the city at night and the Christmas lights on the street lights and roundabouts were truly beautiful. Tired from the 6-hour trip from PH, all we wanted to do was hit the sack. All other explorations would have to wait till the next day.

And early did we rise to face the next day. We stepped out of the hotel and I was immediately struck by the ‘laid-backed-ness’ – if there ever was such a word – of the people in the immediate vicinity considering it was a weekday. I mean these people didn’t seem to be in a hurry at all; didn’t they have jobs or businesses to attend to? It was a Tuesday and so it wasn’t like TGIF or anything. We walked down almost the entire length of the road – and it was a long one – but it was the same. You just got the feeling that life here was easy and free of hassles. While this may not be true for everyone in Calabar, it was a sure indication of the people’s general psyche.

Another thing that struck me was how clean the city was. I’d heard of this before but I’d always thought to myself how this was possible since you really couldn’t control the amount of waste generated by a city’s inhabitants especially in any Nigerian city. In Lagos for instance, anyone who’s been around for a while would bear me witness that things have changed a lot especially in the area of waste management. The government is doing a lot but you still find heaps of bad smelling garbage spilling over to the ground from the trash receptacles from time to time. Although they are usually cleared within a day or two, the stench around the site still lingers in the air. So in my mind, if they say Calabar is clean then it just means that the horrible smelling garbage is cleared a lot earlier and the stench isn’t quite as bad as the ones in Lagos. Right? Wrong!

My husband specifically pointed out to me that the streets had already been swept that morning but I wasn’t quite sure. Does it mean that the Highway Managers (as they are called in some parts of Lagos) did their work as early as 5am? Or worse still, did they sweep the streets while the city slept? What ever the case, when you got out of your house and onto the streets, you’d find that they’d already been swept! I saw several garbage receptacles but not once did I see one spilling over, nor covered with smoke marks and rust from having the garbage in them being burned, nor standing askew as though missing a wheel or two. Did they clear the garbage on an hourly basis perhaps? Or didn’t these Calabar people generate any waste at all?!

The streets are lined with trash baskets with an inscription “USE ME” pasted on them. Every once in a while as we walked by (Yes we did a lot of walking!), I would actually see someone use the basket! You would have to forgive me if I sound too unpatriotic but since when did we actually start using waste baskets on the streets? No, don’t get me wrong. P. and I have actually had arguments about why I always insist on bringing my ‘trash’ home. You see, for as far as I can remember, I just cannot for the life of me throw peels and wrappers of stuff I ate on a bus out the window and neither would I drop them on the floor of the bus. In his opinion, if I didn’t want to throw stuff out the window then just leave it on the floor of the bus but I just can’t! There’s always a separate nylon bag in which I put all my trash – banana peels, orange peels, gala wrappers, yoghurt packs – just name it and when I get home, I go straight to the dustbin and dump it. End of story! But we all know that a lot of people in Lagos throw stuff out the window with unbridled impunity right? Not in Calabar. There wasn’t a single ‘KAI’ official or other enforcement agency in sight but these people knew where all trash should go and that none of it should ever deliberately leave your hands and touch the floor. It was all integrated into their lifestyle.

So much has been said about the new crash helmet ('Element') law currently being enforced in Lagos and other parts of the country and I have seen all sorts. I’m sure the ‘Okada’ riders in Calabar would laugh if they ever saw what their counterparts in Lagos were doing to ‘fulfill’ the law. Every ‘Okada’ rider in Calabar has a proper crash helmet on his head at all times and if you refused to wear one then you could go find alternative transportation as he was not willing to take the risk of carrying an ‘unprotected’ passenger! There’s no special unit enforcing the use of the helmets, the people just knew that they should and they did!

We went to lots of beautiful places in and around the city of Calabar and I had an eerie feeling that the people were too good to be true. How did they come to have this kind of lifestyle?

We left Calabar not only refreshed but truly inspired! It is possible indeed to have a society governed by the simple rules of civility. An entire people could actually be influenced to the point that they have a common psyche for the common good. Already, I see it happening in Lagos but it is yet to pervade the very fabric of our society. I hope it won’t be long.

So the next time I see anything that makes me feel like we’re too far from an ideal society, I would bring out this picture and look at it again and again if only to remind myself of the possibilities that lie ahead. This picture of Calabar my Calabar!

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Olufunke said...

I love your vivid description things.

I believe Lagos would one day be like that...all clean, everyone obeying the laws, people just doing the right things just because the its the right thing to do, not just because 'LASTMA or KAI officials will catch me' and we can write "Lagos my Lagos'

Interesting post, good to know you enjoyed your 'time out'
Looking forward to more!