The first time I crossed the Niger Bridge was as an eighteen-year-old going to the university. The choice of Unizik was a no-brainer for me. My brother had gone there and in family tradition of copying everything he does I had to go there to. And my course of choice was not in the JAMB brochure back then so I got in with my miraculous 201 score.
The culture shock was huge. Everyone spoke Igbo. They cooked stew with vegetables. They called older people ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’ rather than the ‘bros’ and ‘sist’ I was used to. They called eba, garri. First time I asked for starch at a restaurant I was told ‘this no be drycleaner o.’ And of course, they ate banga soup with rice and not swallow. *gasp*
Ten years later (six years of uni and four years of working) I left the east. I had lived in Awka and Nnewi mostly but had spent a little time in all of the five eastern states.
I miss it very much. Every time I see a tweet or a post or a news story about any of the places I lived in I drown in nostalgia. Here are the seven things I miss the most.
1. Okpa (di oku): This meal saved my life more times than I can count. Okpa in the morning with tea or Okpa in the afternoon with soaking garri or just Okpa in the evening.
2. The language: I started out not liking the Igbo language much. But by the time I left, Igbo was the one Nigerian language I spoke fairly well. I miss fumbling my way through it and the delight when I finally began to get it right.
3. Ndi nwoke: See, if an Igbo boy loves you ehn, you will know. Has an Igbo boy toasted you before? I can’t get ‘baybee, let me saturate you with love and by the time I’m done your people will not know you again’ out of my head.
4. Shortening of names: You people think you know how to shorten names? Ngwanu, take a trip to Aba or Onitsha. NK, Chi, Ify, IJ, Oly for Oliver. First time I heard NG, I wondered why the babe was letting them call her ‘engine’ as par ‘short engine’ (she was really short). NG = Ngozi
5. The soups: Oha and nsala particularly. Settle down with well pounded akpu – forget what you Lagos people eat – let Mama Amara change your life forever. The okporoko inside the soup enter class.
6. The accent: Igbos are the brunt of many jokes because of their accent. What most people don’t realize is that the ‘r’, ‘l’ thing affects mostly Anambra people. The different dialects (yes, Igbo has several dialects and Urhobo is not one of them), have different accents. So you can tell an Imo man from an Abia man by the way they speak. Ebonyi people though are another life.
7. The music: Chai! Sonny Bobo! Egwu of laive. See ehn, it just sounds different when you hear it blasting from speakers at a party in Nnewi.