Friday 24 July 2009

Childhood: The railroad back to my roots

The railroad back to my roots

One train journey remains vivid in my memory and it was one I took some 35 years ago. We lived in the Rayfield suburb of Jos in the then Benue-Plateau State of Nigeria.

My parents wanted us to spend the summer holidays back with extended family in the South where I had one paternal great grandmother, three of my grandparents, now all departed, lots of cousins and the potential for new friends.

There was still the residue of colonial efficiency in matters Nigerian and things still seemed to run as they should, we had tickets and clear reservations that no one was going to bump us off.

No falls from on high

We had one half of the cabin for 4 of us, my mother, my sister, my kid brother who was still being nursed and I.

We could sit 4-abreast and at night the back rest folded out into an upper bunk bed where I slept with my sister. In fact, I am amazed that I could sleep on such as high platform because not too many years before, I was called a coconut because I just naturally fell off the bed at night.

The railroad cities

The notable places we travelled through were Kaduna Junction where the railway split for directions far north or to the East of the country. These were haunts my mother was familiar with, she grew up in the North and could pass for a Northerner from her looks and her command of the language.

At Kafanchan, we shopped for refreshments we never had from home, as my mother told us stories of when she was a child and how her reminiscences of her guardians brought waves of gratitude and revulsion of outrageous child abuse that these people got away with, with impunity.

The crossing of the River Niger at Jebba could have happened in 1940s sepia, the experience was as eerie as it was memorable, the bridge went on and on as it we were never going to ever complete the crossing and soon after the crossing there was a long break before the journey continued.

At this stop we tried the pounded yam warps with stew, it was never boring nor without event and after 2 and a half days we arrived in Ibadan where my mother’s brother in law married to her big sister was on hand to pick us up in his trusty Peugeot 403 and take us to Ijesha-Ijebu where the welcome party continued until when I could no more keep my eyes open anymore.

I still love trains

I never had the pleasure of another long train journey like that again, in fact, as I started secondary school and had to travel from Kaduna to Lagos, where my schoolmates from the North were put on trains without chaperones, I was put on a flight with all the trappings of privilege that no more exists.

But, I have not lost my fascination for long train journeys, they are no more like that, now, you get on a train, find a comfortable seat and just as you recline into much needed motion-induced slumber the purser comes round offering you a drink; the mixed emotion of gratitude for succour and anger for disturbance gets assuaged with a can of Perrier.

In two hours, you are in Antwerp, in three you are in Brussels or Cologne, in four you are in Hannover, Paris or Frankfurt, in six you are in Berlin, for longer you can get further on continental Europe and travelling 1st Class does not have to cost you an arm and a leg - they even have wireless connectivity on the trains now, no fear of being off the grid.

Looking out of the window as we cruise passed the meadows and green fields interspersed with stations of renown, I would not be buying diamonds as I approach that city that has a pillow on which ones head would lay.

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