My Experience At Oliver Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg As An Igbo Man – C. Ngobili

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Short trip.

9pm.

We are queued up for all the check-ins. We are to fly by 11/12pm to our Nigerian destination and arrive it the next day. The man in front of me is tall only up to my chest level so I could look over his head. He had three little boys playing around him and his many lugages while yelling him “Daddy”. They were his sons, indeed. But the children connected strongly with me in their physical looks that I felt there’s something Igbo about them. So, I decided to examine their father’s physical looks more curiously. To confirm my suspicion, I randomly asked him in Igbo:

“Nwanne, ọ dị ka Ị nọ na flight a na-eje Nigeria?”

He, excited, returned:

“Aa, ị wụ onye Igbo? A nọkwa m ya Nwanne. Ọ dịkwa ka gịnwa gaga ofu ebe ahụ?”

“Eeye”

From his Igbo, I could pin his dialect to either Imo or Abia areas — the Ọhụhụ/Owere dialect. I would be correct about that later.

Suddenly, a woman materialised and was approaching the spot we stood. She’s not got that facial looks of a Nigerian and her hip sides and the entire rear constituted a significant mass that is un-Nigerian. She was a South African — Zulu. The little boys running around us would shout “Mummy” as she reached us. She had gone to do something else while the husband looked after their children.

She held the two youngest boys close to her bosom rubbing the head of one of them while speaking in hushed tones with their departing father. Soon, they hugged each other press-enclosing the two children between them while the most senior boy stood out of the family ‘energy circle’ observing other things happening around the busy airport. The woman guided the boys out of the scene while they waved “bye” to the first Igbo man I had just met in the airport that night.

The man and I had some good time to converse after we had been checked in. We are now waiting to board but I had initiated a conversation.

“Nnaa, ezigbo oyi dịkwa n’obodo a oo. Mmadụ ga-ebutekwa pneumonia ma ị kpacharọ anya”, I casually remarked while girding myself up against the cold feelings.

“Haa, a gwa gị ihe mmadụ hụrụ n’obodo a mgbe anyị bịara ọhụụ, ị gbaa n’aka. Ọ wụ Chukwu zọrọ mmadụ oo”, he replied shaking his head.

My curiosity was jolted at that shaking of the head. I knew what that semotic gesture could heavily mean for an Igbo man who had sojourned to a strange land thousands of miles away from home to break the poverty ice. The heart-sinking risks, very cold weather, romantic adventures, hard hustles, etc. I was more curious about the marriage to a South African woman.

“Ọ dịka ọ mgbe oyi a chọọ ịtụgbu gị ka ị fụụ nwunye gị a ị na-anụ o wee nye aka ka oyi benata”, I teased him.

He laughed hard and said, “nnaa, eleekwanụ ihe mmadụ ga-eme? A shị ma e nyere onwe m aka makana mmadụ a bụgị nwata. Mmadụ a bịagị here I gwu egwu. Ị lụta onye obodo a, ọ ga-enyere gị aka kpakọọ ndụ gị ọfụma ma ọ bụrụ na ọ dabaara gị na ya. Ụmụ nwaanyị ha laịkịrị ụmụ nwoke ndị Igbo”.

“I meanii ifea? Nyaa, ọ pụtara na ndị na-anụ ndị obodo a etu I si anụ rii nne”

“Eheenụ”, he replied with a firm tone and a squeezed temple to emphasize that ‘extent’ the Igbo man can go to make life better for himself even when he’s away from home.

“Mana, Nwanne, ọ ga-abụ nnukwu úkwù ha ahụ bụ ife na-adọta ụnụ ebe ha nọ?”

“Nwanne, m gaghị atụ ashị, o sokwa oo. Ọ kwa ya oo. E shi n’ije n’úkwù ka e nwee aṅụrị a banyezie n’ịlụ dị na nwunye. E nweghị nke a ma ụma eme”. We both laughed hard at his funny response.

“Nnaa, úkwù ndị a, a fụnurọ m n’ụwa nkea. Kemgbe m bịalụ obodo a, m nekata ụdị nnukwu úkwù obele ụmụazị na-ebughalị, m gbaa n’aka. Ị ga na-eche na ife nwa dị padded mana ị pụta fụ ya, ị fụ na ọ ka chi si kee ya.” He cut in.

“Padded gịnị? Ha niile na-enwe ógbè ike na nnukwu úkwù. Ma agbọghọbịa ma nne nwaanyị. Ọ dị very natural. Chukwu gọziri ha ebe ahụ. In fact, e nwebeghị ihe ị hụrụ sef. E nwere ebe ị ga-aga etua, ị hụkata úkwù, úkwù a hụba gị”.

“Nnaa, biko, úkwù nwa a hụkwana m. Excess úkwù ahụ ada amasịcha m. The thing na-atụgodi m egwu sọọsọ ma m na-enegodịa anya”.

“O nwegị ihe nọkwanụ n’úkwù nwa ma ịgachaa there. Ọ kwa sọ abụba dị ihe ahụ. E mechakwaa i rituo nga ahụ. Mana boys na-agakwa na ya everyday. A ga na-agakwa there. Ọ wụ ihe ọrụ nyere”.

I laughed at that and brushed him with my shoulder.

“Ụmụ Igbo! Ụnụ dị egwu”.

“Nwanne, elee ihe mmadụ ga-emekwanụ?”

“So, nwunye gị a chọrọ iso gị nata anị Igbo etua ị na-alọta?”

“Ọ dịkwanụ interested? Sọọsọ ofu ugboro ka ọ bịatụgoro mgbe anyị lụrụ ọhụụ”.

“Ụmụ gị kwanụ? Kee ka fa ga-esi mata anị Igbo ebe fa si”

“Ha tolitekwuo, a ga m akpọta ha ka ha gụọ akwụkwọ sekọndịrị n’ala Igbo. M na-asụkwara ha Igbo ma mụ na ha nọrọ makana a chọgị ka m ha fuchaa ebea”.

“Ọ dị ezigbote mkpà ime fa ka ha mata ndị fa bụ ma na-asụ ma ọbụ na-anụ Igbo.”

“Ozigbonụ!”

He was fiddling with his phone all along while we conversed and his Facebook messenger chats beeped with messages to my hearing. The interlocutor tried calling twice via messenger and he bounced them. But he had just picked up and said to the person “kwa m sị gị chere. A kpọla m ugbua. Ka anyị kwuo na chat. Mụnwa ga-akpọ gị ma m dị ready. A ka m nọ na airport”.

He turned to me and said “Ụmụaka be anyị a sef. Ha e jigị anya ahụ onye shi eshi a lọta”.

We laughed. I had already decoded the entire situation but kept it in my mind. He was not artful at hiding his phone’s screen while with others in the public so I could see some chats without much effort while we conversed. His interlocutor’s dp showed a fine, single, younger Igbo chick. I could see that the chats had been lengthy and romantic.

“Mana fa kwesịị ịma na nwoke jikwa nwaanyị oo”

“Ọ dị egwu! Ọ wụ ihe ha jụga gị? Ha achọkwaranụ ịma? Ụfọdụ n’ime ha ga-achọdị ka ị lụọ ha dịka nwunye gị n’ala Igbo makana obi ha bụ na nwunye onye obodo bụ nke i ji wee hazie ndụ gị”.

We laughed and I added:

“Mana ofu ụmụ nwaanyị ahụ na-apụta na Facebook na-akpalị ụmụ nwoke maka cheating. ‘Ụmụ nwoke wee mekwa nkea, ụmụ nwoke wee mekwa nke ọzọ’.

“Nwanne, hapụ ndị ahụ. Onye nkea na-eche m eche ugbua, ọ wụgị na Facebook ka m shi hụ ya? Mgbe lọtara na 2016 ka anyị hụrụ anya mbụ. Ọ shị gị ọ magị na mụ a lụgo nwaanyị mụọ ma ụmụaka? Hapụ ndị nkọgheri na ndị ihu abụọ, Nwanne”.

I laughed with a tinge of mischief replying “Ike gwụrụ”.

We began to board. Our seats💺are separated. He was in the back row. I was in the middle row. So, we disengaged conversation to continue when we disembark.
**********************

About 12 hours later. We are in Akanụ Ibiam International Airport, Enugwu. Immigration, Custom checks, etc had happened. Of course, some shameless Nigerian officials of Immigration and Custom were busy embarrassing themselves and other Nigerians asking both Nigerian and foreign returnees for tips. They have graduated from doing it subtly to doing it desperately in such a way that suggests you owe them and would offend them if you don’t.

“Ọga, all these luggage you carry come from abroad you no go fit find us something?”

“Me dey find money too. If you get, abeg give me small. As I come back like ds, na hardship make me come”.

“Ọga nawaa for you oo. Dey go naa”.

The beggarly Custom man discharged me relieving me of his stress on top of the one I was having from the long journey.

My friend had picked up his luggages. A car was waiting for him already. He asked my direction and offered to drop me off from anywhere I can find my way outside the Emene vicinity. The car was posh. Beside the driver was a passenger — a stunningly beautiful young lady. From behind the driver, I could sight her smooth, endless legs running down and coiling with her leg crossing. She was on a hot mini skirt. She greeted me and turned to her lover behind her, almost jumping into the backseat. My friend didn’t want to ask her to change position with me because he knew I wouldn’t be long with them. The lady kept turning to whisper one or two things to my friend giggling and smiling. Clearly, she had missed him so much, almost like a wife would.

Could she his Home wife or Home mistress? Could she be a Home fiancée waiting to be married for Home keeps? The bond I saw was too strong to qualify her as a wife. But I had seen the mother of the man’s children 12 hours earlier thousands of miles away. Are there Igbo men married to SA women who come Home to marry Igbo women for Home keeps should they retire and want to come back Home? Anything could be possible. I thought about these things until I alighted somewhere within Enugwu main town. The lady had immediately rushed to join my guy at the backseat when I vacated it. She didn’t waste any time. Kọnjị ada egbu oge ma ọ nọdụ n’iru ọlụ. I bid my guy goodbye as the car sped him to Owere — the capital of ngwọrị in Igboland. When he told me he was headed to Owere earlier, I said in my mind “okwu a gwụgonụ, jeenụ gbuonụ onwe ụnụ oo”.

When they had left, I thought about the huge complexities of the Igbo man’s life since the 1980s when our people started migrating in large numbers to Europe and US following the famed US lottery. A critical check of most Igbo on social media who had lived in the US for long will reveal that about 70% left between the 1980s & 1990s. In fact, Bill Clinton’s administration, and to an extent, George Bush’s—it seems to me— recorded the greatest mass migration of the Igbo to the US. We had emerged from the devastating war in 1970. It took us about 10 years—the whole of the 70s—to recuperate to an extent. The 1980s military regimes were brutal. Buhari, Babangida. Notorious lots that “sapped” the middle class economy with SAP. Our traders and business men stayed through it because their profession managed to thrive but the civil servants who constituted the middle class mostly had to, in desperation, find alternatives beyond the British Zoo 🇳🇬.

That search for better life, since the 90s, has contracted international marital unions one never imagined, culture shocks, cultural disengagements/estrangements, fortunes of wealth and exposures, violent killings, bitterness, disappointments, betrayals, etc. From the mass sojourn of families and individuals to the US in the 90s to the mass sojourn of Igbo young men to South Africa between 1999 & 2009, the both migrations have been replete with huge complexities that have altered many Igbo lives in significant ways never imagined. I think the saying that “Igbo man is everywhere in the world” was not really so before the war. The postwar hustle and survivalism threw up that path and changed Igbo lives tremendously — positively and negatively — just as colonisation and evangelism did to us. Coincidentally, it appears that at each end of a century and towards a new one (since the 19th century), changes and influences always come in head-on collision with us that leave us with tremendous impacts in several ways. Who else relates?

Daalụ nụ!
Ka ngwụcha izu ụka a wetalụ anyị ife ọma.

©Chijioke Ngobili, 2019

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