I’ve been recently having bouts of nostalgia about my childhood, and so, with a bit of encouragement from my Facebook friends, I’m writing this blog post about my days in Nigeria — the place where I spent the first 17 years of my life, and which I consider my home away from home.
My father was a medical doctor, and after finishing his postgraduate degree decided to venture into sub-saharan Africa to apply his medical skills where it was most needed. This was eleven years before I was born. He first traveled to Nigeria as part of a Catholic mission to Oyo state in southwestern Nigeria.
After nine years in Nigeria, my dad came back to Egypt and married my mom. They immediately went back to Nigeria again so that he could continue his work. My sister came a couple of month later, followed by me a year and a half afterwards.
Although I was born in Egypt, my parents went back to Nigeria as soon as it was possible for them to travel with me. So, as I state in my bio, I was born in the deserts of North Africa and brought up in the rain forests of West Africa.
I don’t remember my early days in Nigeria, but we moved around quite a bit. From Oyo state, to Ogun state to Ibadan, and then on to Lagos. But the part that I really remember well, is my stay in Ogun state’s capital, Abeokuta.
It is in Abeokuta that I spent most of my live. By that time, my dad was the general manager of three hospitals spread across the southwest, and also taught in the University Teaching Hospital in Ibadan.
We lived in a walled compound that housed the main hospital my father was in charge of, Sacred Heart Hospital in Lantoro, Abeokuta, as well as the dwellings of the medical staff and their families. We also had a lepers’ camp within the compound. People infected with leprosy were ostracised from the general community in Nigeria, and part of our mission was to give them a place to stay.
To serve the foreign community in Nigeria, our mission also ran a school. The teachers and administrators were mostly British and Irish and we were subjected to a rigorous classical education in the heart of Africa. My formative years were spent in this school, and most of my culture and attitude was developed there.
We used to have great times in Nigeria, I still remember the trips we used to take to remote villages in Oyo state to supply them with medical supplies and services. I used to tag along with my father and made a lot of friends in these villages, believe it or not, these friends are still dear to my heart. They were true friends, something that is difficult to find nowadays in more “civilised” settings.
Part of the entertainment in Nigeria was regular barbecue parties. As the administrator of the hospital, my father used to invite the medical staff at least once per month to a gathering in our backyard. There, we barbecued turkey wings, drumsticks and pork ribs.
We also had a tennis court and a swimming pool in our house and we, or at least I, used to play tennis on a regular basis. After each game, I would take a dip in the pool next to the tennis court to cool myself down. These were some of the best days of my life.
Also, during Christmas, the Convent, another part of our mission, used to hold Christmas concerts and operas to celebrate. All of the medical staff was usually invited to these events.
My best friends were Martin and Catherine Claudny, they were from Poland and we used to do almost everything together. I remember when we convinced our parents to get us mountain bikes, and took them to the local “mountain” in Abeokuta — more like a rocky hill actually, but we used to call it a mountain.
We then rode our mountain bikes to the top of the hill, along a well beaten path, and had a picnic at the summit. I remember there was an old woman in a sort of cave structure at the top that tried to sell us “juju”— the Nigerian word for magic — items.
I also remember when we took a trip to a waterfall in Oyo state, climbed up behind it and had a picnic lunch while watching the rainbows that formed when the sun shone through the waterfall. Just writing about it makes me want to go back 🙂
Anyway, towards the end, my father became the medical doctor of a presidential candidate, I think his name was Masood Abiola. Masood won the presidential elections, but he was from the south, and the military, dominated by northerners, prevented him from taking office. We almost descended into a civil war as a result, I remember being “rescued” from school by my dad and some of his friends during a live ammunition fight between supporters and opposers of the government.
It was at this point we decided to leave. Even though I’ve been in Egypt for quite some time now, I still think of Nigeria as my home. It was where I made my first friends, had my first crush and some of the most memorable events in my life occurred. I really need to visit there soon.