I'm Catherine Emenike and my parents were born and bred in Nigeria. The first time I went to Nigeria, I was 12 years old and could not handle the culture shock of a hot country, weird food and weird customs. Fast forward to 20 years later and the return with my mother, to the fatherland is a humbling,unforgettalbe and enigmatic expeirence. Here are a few extracts from my journal of that time.

Saturday, January 8th 2005.

My father's house in the village of Umahia is near the entrance of the compound and the house is quite big so it does attract a lot of the rural Africans. Since I got here a week ago, the people of the village have made me feel so welcome. They have welcomed me into their homes and their culture, reminding me that this is my spritual home. Although, there are many discontented young people in the village that yearn for a better life in the West. People here are incredibly poor and their way of life is so different from that of London, the term culture shock does not suffice, the real difference between the two cultures.

Every morning most of the compound wakes up around 6am to go to the stream and collect water and firewood to wash and make breakfast. I have already seen a young boy of 12 carry what seems to be 5 litres of water on his head and a young lady of 14 carry enough logs on her head that weigh a ton, at least(that's not an exaggeration!). I have even tried on occasion to lift a keg of water with my bare hands and am unable to do it. Apparently if I had done for long enough my body would be used to it by now. But they are. They have to be otherwise they would not survive. Speaking of logs, I went on an errand to collect some.

My young friend, Nkechi left Blessing, her young baby girl, sleeping in the compound to assist me. Blessing is a wonderful child. The first day I got here I became acquainted with the young family as they live opposite my father. At five months old, Blessing is already a very inquisitive young lady. When I hold her in my arms she rubs her head against mine and I can tell she has taken a shine to me as I have to her. As we collected the wood, there was a woman's meeting group by the road side in front of a huge tree stump, a regular meeting place for the elder women of the compound. They were called to remember the two elderly people who had died the night before.

The landscape of the village is amazing. Witthin the compound, you have self made huts made out of a mixture of corrugated iron and concrete. These can be found on the inside of the village. Step a few yards away and you find yourself in an endless maze of pure jungle filtered with iroko trees and other sprouts that containd a wonder of fruits including apples, oranges, mangoes and bananas amongst others.

This evening, there was a gathering of the women of the village in my father's front yard, to celebrate our visit. It was quite an emotoinal experience as the women prayed and gave thanks to "Chineke" (God the Almighty). My mother gave them stock fish (dried fish), opara (a very hot, sweet sauce) amd fried meat with a traditional Nigerian dish called hot pepper stew. This is a stew which consists of cow meat and boiled meat. As is tradition, my mother and I provided 2 huge sacks of rice to be shared with each of the families in the compound. The women, including the chief's wife blessed us and thanked us for our gift.

Thursday, January 13th 2005.

At 11.30am we set off for the Umahia War Museum situated on the outskits of Umahia Town, in Abia State, one of the major communities of the Igbo state of Nigeria. The scenic view of the town are breathtaking. Vast reams of plantation composed with the searing heat add up to equal a feeling of sheer awe.

The museum itself is not what you would expect. It begins with the weapons of war used in Egyptian times combined with th Amazon and Roman invasions and how Africans not just Nigerians defended themselves. The large room was concocted of various spears and arrows and shields and other archaic military might. We then went through history and discovered defence and attack offensives used in the Zulu War, the Carthingan War and up to the Second World War and the Nigerian Civil War.

Another part of the museum involved the Nigeria's army including it's air force, navy and ground capability. I also managed to learn about certanin chiefs and commanders who had a significant impact on the national army.

In my father's house after the sun sets, the family sits down to a traditional meal of grounded rice and soup. A few of the residents have television but we have not managed to purchase one,as we are renovating the house. There's not much else to do other then to talk to each other. There is nothing like sitting out on the front porch, under a sky full of bright stars, having a heated debate with my father. There have been many moments like this, since I've been here and I will cherish them for a long time.

Sunday, January 23rd 2005

And so began the long and arduous trip to Abuja, the capital city of the Federal State of Nigeria. If you have a lot of money it is easier to catch a plane from Port Harcourt in the south up to Abuja in the north. It takes approximately 2 hours to get there. However, my mother and I decided to take the long way around. And what an experience it is. This invoved a bus trip instead of a plane ride. 8 hours of bumps and trees and forest and mountains and bulls and Pepsi and other things. From Umahia up to the north of Nigeria taking in the River Jeba, the Niger Delta and the River Benue condensed with bull herding, dense jungle, mosques and streams, the scenic view is breathtaking.

Abuja is a very modern city compared to Lagos. Aunty Anne lives in the heart of Abuja and it is impressive. The houses here are like the loft apartments that you would find in New York City and the compound where our relatives are is huge. Many of the residents are Islamic and just before tea-time, as we arrived, we heard the muezzin sing the call to prayer which I found to be an illuminating experience.

Amongst the other urban areas I've been to including Aba town and Port Harcourt, Abuja is just as impressive. It still has a long way to go to establish itself as the major interaction between Nigeria and the rest of the world, and with time and progression this will hopefully happen.

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