Once Upon A Tin-Can Island Estate

September 7, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

By

Abdulrahman M Abu-yaman

Once upon a time, there lived a Tin-can Island Estate in Lagos, Nigeria.

Her bungalows where fairer than “snow-white” with rough vertical lines on their exterior walls like raindrops on a glass window travelling down a thin narrow path. The roof tops of the houses were chocolate in colour. House 56 was my home, across Shelleng street. Unfortunately, all we are left with is flashes of sweet-sad memories of Tin-can Island Estate; my place of birth, our birthplace- we, the Tin-can islanders (as we fondly like to call ourselves) after she was erased and almost forgotten just like the tale of the mythical Atlantis. But I refuse to forget and let go by immortalizing her name by rekindling events and occasions that occurred while she was still breathing.

Apparently, I was not born in England, nor did I grow up in Ireland, but rather in a place that shared something in common with the two aforementioned, an Island! Needless to say, Tin-can Island Estate. Very few people can boast of that anyway. At least I haven’t heard of any incumbent or past President of my country with that privilege as far as I know. Not even the current richest man in Africa am sure will pass on this one. The joy of being surrounded by the flowing sea waters and watching Captains of Ships sailing across, was like a gift to us because many only read about them in books and in myths. But we witnessed it live and direct as real as it could ever be. The proximity of the Sea Port (Tin-can Port) was a major center of attraction and more or less like a catalyst that attracted a whole lot of business activities around its environs.

 

 

Hearsay would have it that the Port was constructed by the “Oyinbo men” who spoke through their nose. What I was not quite sure of was which of the Caucasians it was referring to. Could it be the ones from the west side above the Caribbeans? Or the ones located above our continent (Africa) whose capital passes through the equator. God knows which. So in the process of construction, they built the estate close by, and dwelled in them all through the period when the Port was still a work-in-progress and even aftermath. The estate was strategically constructed and executed. For the electric wires were underground, needless to say, no electric poles were necessary. At least a fruit tree was planted close to each of the bungalows, ranging from Coconuts to Mango and Oil palm trees.

I recall Tin-can Island Estate was a mini Nigeria. For one reason, the three  majority ethnic groups out of over two hundred and fifty available nationwide were very common. Speaking of the Hausa tribe from up north as the Laido family, Yorubas’ from the western part of the country like the Adeleke family and the Elendu family represented the Igbo tribe from the east. And for another reason, just like Nigeria, English language was our lingual franca whenever we came together and interact with one another. That notwithstanding, we hand a good command of our mother tongue native dialect which was quite amazing, considering Lagos which is sometimes regarded as “no man’s land”. And more particularly, minority tribes like Nupe and Idoma amongst others still spoke their languages to their wards. Hence, whenever they visit their various states of origin, it becomes extraordinary seeing that despite residing in “no man’s land”, they have not been robbed of their cultural heritage.

I remember several occasions when we would rush to receive the sea breeze near the coastal fences that had holes carved in them to allow us a glance at harbour activities. There, we would stand to watch the procession of ferries and ships departing and arriving with passengers and cargos. The sea, which is connected to the Atlantic ocean, attracts cargo ships from international countries. The containers carried goods of assorted varieties flooding the arena of the sea port with a multitude of containers arranged systematically on top of each other.

 

 

I cannot forget the games and fun we had on our sandy playgrounds. I fancied the suwe game we played by pairing with a partner, throwing seeds and hopping with one-leg up across the rectangular boxes (except for the last box which was usually larger than the remaining five, where both feet could be relaxed without hopping), trying not to step on the lines drawn on the ground. We would literally throw our seeds together with our paired partner with the aim of the seeds landing on the same rectangular spot. After which we jumped across the box of seeds and across to the next carefully avoiding the lines, for stepping on them would nullify the round for both partners and give other pairs of competitors their chance to play their rounds.

I enjoyed the side versus side soccer matches, which was more like a local derby between the houses on the east coast against those on the west coast. Both sides would present their finest players and arrange a date, which was usually Thursdays or Fridays, for the Muslim players need not worry about attending the Islamic class lessons as both days were totally free throughout the Islamic academic calendar. A neutral rendezvous is fixed as well as an impartial referee to coordinate the game. Both sides came with their supporters from the same side to cheer them to victory. The anticipation and countdown to the match alone was enough to bring joy to our hearts. Then comes the ‘D’ day, where the players arrive with jersey numbers artistically written on cardboard paper and pinned to their shirts. After the referee’s whistle, the battle begins! The adrenaline rush sets in. Even at that young age, some of the players displayed beautiful dribbles and skills, occasionally naming themselves after some greats like Zidane during the ’98 World Cup in France, and also admiring Ronaldo of the Brazilian team. Of course, the side versus side football competition also had its hilarious side. I can remember a player calling upon his team mates to step up their game and be serious, but it seemed all his calling was in vain as he was the only one energizing the team. So to their surprise, and also everyone else’s, he did something that was real crazy and really funny by celebrating a goal scored against his team with the other opponents who couldn’t help but burst into laughter.

The war-scatter game in which we held imaginary guns, shooting and dodging bullets from opponents and even pretending to be hurt or dead in the process was thrilling. After picking our allies and team mates, war then breaks out after a huge scream by all saying “Warrrrr scatterrrr”! Then we all disperse together with our partners targeting and shooting opponents.

I can still picture us during the rainy season, waiting for the storm to be over to pick up unlucky fruits that fell from their branches. Sometimes we even plucked unripe mangoes, burying them underground and digging them out after several days to force them to ripen, a technique which is still applicable to date. But there was a particular specie of mango whose taste was super sweet! Speaking of the “kerosine mango” otherwise known as “sheri monagoe” by some others due to its sugary juicy content. The coconuts were not left out, because we often plucked some and our mothers sometimes prepared coconut rice with the oil extracted from them.

The boju-boju game was sumptuous because cheerful givers threw assorted things like biscuits, chocolates and groundnuts in the air for lucky divers to catch and munch. After singing “boju boju” accompanied by the divers’ chants “hey”, he continues “who catch am” followed by another chant “hey” and proceeds with his song “na em lucky” followed the chants again, “who no catch am, na em lucky”. As soon as he concluded the song, then the stuff is thrown in the air, and he amusingly watched the stakeholders drag, push and jump to catch the prizes.

I remember how me and my brothers rejoiced on hearing the death of Wolf, the king of the three dogs including Ziggay and Mylo, that terrorized us occasionally. It was not literally a wolf but it was a nickname given due to its size and hairiness and also how it howled and whimpered sometimes. Then one day, as usual, it was in the night when we were on our way back home and it confronted us. Perhaps it would never have done so, for one of my brothers made up his mind never to run but to defend himself by attacking it. And so he did, striking it on its left leg which sustained a severe injury. Since, that day, we were free from its terrors and torments up to the day it took its last breath.

Not forgetting the amusement we had with Momila, the monkey from the estate’s boysquaters, that was very jovial and amusing. Loving bananas just like we read in fairy tales and playing games with us like hide and seek. It was the first live monkey we ever saw.

On one occasion, the fences built round the estate near the coastal areas fell off after a huge thunderstorm revealing the naked sea to us. In the afternoon we would go there to relax and watch the swift tide movements that sometimes dumped tilapia fishes on the shores that die after awhile. Then again we would throw them back into the sea. But as the night fell, we departed to our homes having heard rumours by some people, who lived very close to the coastal side, that mermaids do appear in the night sitting on the broken fence and even using combs forgotten by those that visited the place in the day to braid their hair. This story frightened some of us so much that we never visited that place again. But that was not all, it became lan antagonist in the nightmares some of us still have.

During the festivities, the atmosphere was awesome just as we anticipated the countdown to the main events. The Muslims would gift out their Sallah meat to neighbours as an act of charity and the pleasures derived from the spirit of giving out and sharing as required by the religion, while the Christians during Christmas returned the favour with delicious delicacies to different households, prior to which the estate calmness is constantly disturbed with the sparks of knockouts which we popularly called “bangers“. They came in different varieties, ranging from the crackers, which were smaller and tied together as one, and the rocket type that literally looked like one and was buried halfway in the ground before being ignited and before you know it, “boom!” as it shot to the atmosphere and exploded, one after the other until the shots were exhausted. Birthday celebrations were not left out though. Of course the birthday parties were amazing. We had clowns as the MCs and played wonderful games by selecting lucky ones from the audience to participate. Eventually, the winner(s) ended up with sumptuous and palatable prizes.

 

 

Since all parents that resided in the Tin-can Estate were staff of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA), it was not a surprise that most of us attended the NPA staff school. I just can’t forget the pickup vehicle we all rushed to enter to convey us to school. Of course along the way we would discuss events that transpired over the weekend and share stories with each other about soap operas like “Secret of the sand” and “Lady of the Rose” for those that missed it earlier. Similarly, on our way back, top headlines that made waves in school would be discussed. The iron lady, Mrs Akwali, who was the headmistress, whose presence was accompanied with absolute silence whereever she was, made sure indiscipline was met with zero tolerance. She was feared and respected by all, but loved by few. A woman of timber and calibre that even resided in the estate with us and converted her balcony to a rendezvous for extra lessons for interested wards after the school routine.

The immediate environment outside the estate has not left my memory. The closest of them all to the estate was Niger Dock of Tin-can Port. It was busy almost throughout the week except for Saturdays and Sundays when activities were low key. Hawkers and itinerants were always around to market and sell their goods due to the increased number of commercial activities going on. But then again, it was highly secured with fences and sentinels to prevent criminal from penetrating. We saw them sometimes with their single and double barrels, AK47s and even with what we called “Police dogs” when necessary.

 

 

Also, the trailer park just outside the estate was another. And as the name implies, it is a dual highway which is seen more with trailers and trucks parked beside the roadside. Fast food sellers of snacks and soft drinks were also prevalent around those areas to offer their goods to the drivers. It was a route my siblings and I followed on Fridays to the mosque for the Jumat service.

Another structure not too close to the estate was the Coconut bridge that passed across the water body that surrounded the island to connect with the mainland. I remember some occasions we trekked from the estate up to Coconut just as we called it then, which was a hell of a height. But I myself would not look down for fear of some kind of pessimistic imagination of falling into the water; an imagination that often accompanied me to my slumber and nightmares.

I sadly reminisce how we pleaded on deaf ears for Tin-can Island Estate to be spared, but all efforts proved abortive. Leaving us with nothing but nostalgic memories and flashes of our place of birth that was erased from the earth’s surface, which is now converted to a dumping ground for containers from the sea port. But I guess as the adage goes, “the beautiful things in this world are not seen but felt” would summarize it all for me. For despite depriving us the structural framework of our birthplace, they are unable to erase the superb memories from our brains. I mean, they can go ahead and dump whatever they want, but they still cannot dump anything or erase my wonderful memories of what transpired while the estate was alive. Tin-can Island Estate may have been short lived but my memory shall be everlasting. For there is no greater joy than reminiscing about memories that constantly put a smile on one’s face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abdulrahman M Abu-yaman

Abdulrahman M Abu-yaman is a Nigerian poet born in the western part of the country (Tin-can island, Lagos), occasionally visiting the south (Warri) despite being from the north where he currently lives (Minna). He majored in Economics at IBB University, Lapai, Niger State, loves to draw in pencil monochrome. His works have appeared in Kalahari Reviews, Elsielsy blog and forthcoming in Lunaris Review and Black Boy Review. You can follow him on Twitter@abuu_yaman.

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