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I have a gossip…
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Well, I have been there before, at the matriculation of my kid sister but I didn’t take note of anything. We left for Uli in a private car and it was a smooth ride which didn’t take long, I had no pleasure to note down certain landmarks (that is if there was any!) and we only drove into the school, saw the crowd of young people who were being celebrated for their successful admission into Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University. It was a crowd of mixture, I was sure of that! Some of those crowd would be dying before they graduate due to cultism, some would be dropping out of school, some would be awarded ‘King of Carry Over’, some will sort their selves out of the school but disgrace themselves after they are employed in certain institutions, some would study well and still come out unsuccessful because of one wicked lecturer that has sworn they will not graduate with good points. Well, some other ones will pass through the thorns and hurdles of the school life and still come out victorious, some will also start fulfilling purpose right there in school. In that crowd, I saw mixture of ideas and choices and it was their choices that would be determining how the rest of their stay in Uli Campus will end up.

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I heard the school authorities advising the students to understand why they are in the school and face it, I heard them say so many wonderful things and I looked around, none of these people were paying attention. Those things they say had eventually become rituals and formalities which young people do not pay attention to. Most of the ‘freshers’ at the school were not even present at the matriculation ground, they were all busy running around, making up, making calls, booking appointments and fixing up a lot of things to make sure their visitors meet them in a grand style. For them, matriculation isn’t those things the school organizes on the field, it is the food they cook and other preparations the students personally make for people to come and know that they are out of the bondage of their homes into the world where it is no longer the choice of their parents that matters but their own choices.

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Wait a minute! This is not what I planned writing, it was just my first experience at Uli Campus. So, I had arrived Uli again after some years and those ‘freshers’ I met then were now the bad guys and the old guys of the school, some had gotten wiser and some had gotten more foolish. Some had become much more simple and calm while some had become even more complex just in a bid to keep up with their first impression. Some had even lost their facial identity to excessive makeup and some had gotten very tired of the idea of makeup and the distractions that comes with it. The school was quiet at this time and the school front was scarcely populated. Stepping down from the bus a bike man sped up and halted to a stop, the passenger’s seat of his bike was right before me and he has bended his neat bike to make it easy for me to climb and then he said 

“Where you dey go?”

“I think that question should have come first….” I was almost ending my line when he left me and rushed to another person who climbed the bike even before saying where she was going. Wow, is that how they do here? I asked someone later and she said “most places students are going from the school front is usually 50 naira”. I had reached my destination later in the day; I was visiting my friend and would be doing some other things later. In the evening, it was getting very dark and we had to go out for dinner. I have always heard about “Orange” from the lips of all the students in Uli Campus that I know, I wanted to have a taste of the celebrated eatery and without setting my eyes on it, it was my choicest place. I was imagining something as big and nice as what we see in Onitsha (at least) and we had set out for it.

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I was walking quietly beside the road that led to several lodges and it seemed I was quarrelling with all the bike men including those ones that have no break or even light! They were all driving beside the road not at the centre thereby making it difficult for me to walk by the roadside

“What is wrong with these people? They should make use of the center of the road nah…” I had complained to my friend who laughed and responded 

“Here, it is you who walk in the middle of the street-roads and not the bike men. It is actually you who may have been looking for their trouble. Hahahaha”

“Really” I said “Is that how they do here?”

“Yes… This is not Onitsha”

“Yes… This is Uli” I joked.

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We reached Orange. My expectations were never met, not even one of them… I’d better say I was disappointed. Well, maybe they were the only people who had courage to try out their business in that environment but for me, it wasn’t different from other restaurants around. The few seats were filled up and the entire room was hot, I just couldn’t stay there, I could smell different kind of perfumes. I rushed outside to gasp for fresh air 

“You don’t like it here?” my friend had asked me

“Is this the Orange?” I asked 

“Yes” she responded

“It is Orange indeed… Please take me to a restaurant, they are the same thing” I pleaded and we turned back into a nearby restaurant that seemed to be doing everything possible in meeting up with the little standard Orange has.

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We walked calmly into the restaurant; it was empty that evening but it was neat. At least they met with my primary requirement which is cleanliness. They had an air conditioning machine that has never worked before, I am sure of that. They also had a micro-wave that served as a decoration which without meeting a seer I know it haven’t worked before. Maybe they picked it up from those stores that sell ‘non-tested’… Only Nigerians might know what ‘non-tested’ is and I am not ready to explain. I noticed their small LCD television; you just can’t help but notice it. It is like the legendary empty vessel which makes the loudest noise. Don’t get it twisted, noise is noise! An unorganized sound… Period! The sound coming from the TV matched up with the color mode. Its flat design was the only feature that looked ‘modern’, other things including the sound and display were nothing to write home about. I sat down while my eyes still went round the place looking for things to judge. My friend’s voice brought back my attention 

“George, would you love to eat?” she asked me

“Ermm…” I looked away from my friend and stared into the eyes of the waiter who seemed to be admiring either me or my friend. I just wouldn’t tell who she was admiring but I caught her, it was written all over her eyes “young lady… what do you have?”

She smiled, rubbed her palms, walked few steps closer and responded “we have swallow and rice”. I understood what she meant by swallow but then it had suddenly started sounding funny! Is swallow a name of food?

“Okay… ermm…” I paused; stared at my watch and continued “give us fried rice, salad and chilled Fanta… 60cl to be précised” You remember I love fried rice? Only my committed readers will know how much I love fried rice. But she came back to inform us that they only had ‘swallow’ available. Me… Swallow? We opted for it because we were just hungry and at that moment that was the only choice. I would have personally preferred Fanta and Bread but I didn’t want to ‘fall my friend’s hand’, she just won’t let me eat junk in peace, she will always say “George… I said ‘no junk!’”. 

“Sir” came the waiter’s voice “what soup do you prefer? We have nsala and vegetable soup only”

It was a tough question, if they had bitter leaf soup or egusi soup, it would be easier but she was giving us options we aren’t familiar with when the soup isn’t a product of our mother’s creativity. I personally skip food at home sometimes if it was fufu but here I am warming up to pay for something I surely wouldn’t enjoy. It simply became true that the available becomes desirable when the desired isn’t available. I brought head together with this my friend that has no name here and did some whisper like those elderly men in the village who are considering giving away their beautiful daughter to a man they are afraid can’t take care of her. I bet the waiter wanted to hear what we were saying, the only thing we allowed her to hear was “ngwanu, let us manage nsala soup”. Let me tell you part of what we were saying then,

“My dear, let us get out of here. Let’s buy Fanta and bread… Mehn, if you see enjoyment ehhh” I tried convincing her to join our gang of junk eaters.

“George, we have settled this before… No junk!” she said

“I mean… Good bread and chilled Fanta…” I was trying to make her understand how important it is to avoid the story that touch after we have eaten the food but she couldn’t let me finish

“George, we can drink soft drinks and eat bread later… But we must eat cooked food. You can’t come from Onitsha to Uli and be thinking about junks! You are not a village boy, are you?”

“Maybe… Since I came to Uli village…” I joked

“Now, let us agree… We are eating nsala and fufu” she said and I nodded. I was her guest and maybe I will let her have her way. One day I will be her host and I will punish her with food.

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Finally, what we ordered for had appeared before us, served with ‘canda, towel anu and abuba anu’, if you are not Igbo, don’t bother about getting the meaning of those things I mentioned from me, ask your Igbo neighbor. Frankly speaking, it was a tasteless soup but that wasn’t the worst thing I experienced from the food! The soup suddenly started to congeal as it got cold and I could feel the thickness in my tongue, my palms too were feeling the thickness. Looking at the face of the soup, I could visibly see the oil in the soup turn white. 

“George, can you see what I am seeing?” My friend asked me

“I am seeing it… We bargained for it” I said drawing the bowel of water to wash my hands. I didn’t tell you about the meat, did I? The towel-anu went down my intestine with ease; I just couldn’t eat the abuba-anu because the fat around it had gotten so thick and very disgusting. What about the canda? I don’t need to tell you how I chewed and chewed till I had no option than to spew it out.

“George, so is this how these fat will be inside our body? This is terrible and very unhealthy” she said

“Hahahaha… No junk! Is this what you have been eating?” I laughed

“You know, I don’t eat outside. I just ran out of gas. Even at that… This is better than junk” she insisted. 

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We stayed back for some time to watch the waiter and some customers went at loggerhead in which some of the customers threatened never to be back at the restaurant. We also watched as her employer shouted on her which continued with several minutes of murmur “useless girl, you don’t know these customers are the reason why we opened up this place? Without them do you think we will have money to pay you? Anu ofia! You don’t know that everything they say matter so much… Idiot”. 

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“Let’s go joor… This is Uli… I have seen it” I told her as we left.

We walked towards the school front, everywhere was dark! The University gate had no light and owning to the fact that students’ environment is prone to crime it would have been a great thing to do if the government had installed solar powered light all around the school front! Just beside the school, the car that passed at that moment threw lights on a poster and I saw “Willie is working!” I smiled and said to my friend “Willy is working at the School front… There is light everywhere” and she couldn’t help but laugh! She caught my sarcasm!

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I had some time to look around the school environment that night; it was the usual thing I had seen at several other campuses! Ladies still wore very heavy makeup that night moving around in bum-shots and t-shirts that were hanging above their belly and most of them were very fair. Theirs were even better than what I had seen in Awka. I also saw very young guys wearing ear rings, long chain, unbuttoned shirts and hairy chest. Some were smoking; one was just leaning on the car opposite Orange with one of those ‘bum-shot’ ladies relaxing her head on his shirt. I shook my head but decided to look away, it was needless to start saying “look at what these people are doing to themselves”, it would be a waste of words and those words has no power to help them become better, I only saw the need to facilitate the forceful advancement of God’s kingdom in Uli Campus. I know what they needed; it isn’t change of cloth or change of hairstyle… They simply needed a change of heart and only Jesus can change the heart of men. Something in me was telling me “George, look again at these people and you will see something else”

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Now, I have a problem with what many of us had considered ‘soul winning’, what I have always seen people do is transfer someone from one church to another and that’s all! There are so many un-churched persons out there; there are so many people out there who need the word, many of them are not in Church! It seems the Church has been limited to the four walls; no one is ready to move out! We enjoy ourselves inside the building and still come out cold to the public, is it not an error? I said to myself “it is wrong to frown at whatever anyone did if you have not preached the gospel to that person”. 

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I looked around again and I saw opportunities, I saw fertility in the land, I saw doors opening up to the true gospel and closing down on religion, I saw Saints walking around, I saw Kings who were yet to identify themselves as one and I turned and said to my friend “Dearest, the land is fertile… This is why God has sent believers into this land; we are not left out of what God is doing here. Be ready to host me again… Be ready for a collabo… Hahahaha”

“Yes!” she said “I am in!”

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As I was leaving for Onitsha, I wasn’t hearing “good bye from Uli”, I was hearing a different thing and it is still ringing in my head, it is “WELCOME TO ULI CAMPUS”

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#GracefulGeorge

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