Comfort in Discomfort: My Ibadan Experience

December 14, 2017 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

By

Kingsley Alumona

 

Ibadan is a city that is better revered in books and stories. The stories seem to be the problem. It is one thing to read about a place, but it is another to live through it. Many people who visit Ibadan for the first time after reading or hearing these stories feel disappointed by what they see and experience. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story, reflects this better.

My first physical interaction with Ibadan was in February 2013 when I visited the University of Ibadan from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka to carry out laboratory analysis for my undergraduate project work. As a geologist, I found the rocks and undulating terrain of Ibadan absorbing but the outmodedness of the city’s structures amazed me. My craving to tour the city within the two days I spent there, even when I did not have the time, waned because of the things I saw and experienced. I had travelled back to Nsukka with a different story to tell.

The other times I visited Ibadan were in 2015 during my youth service days in Ede, Osun State, and when I came for the University of Ibadan geology test as a prospective Master’s student from Rivers State after my youth service. The reason for those visits to Ibadan, while I was in Ede, was to obtain first-hand information about the postgraduate admission and about the nature of the course I wanted to enroll for. Those periods, even though I did not have the time because I had to travel back to Ede that same day, I toured the campus, which I found quite fascinating.

Fortunately, I was admitted into the Master’s program of the Department of Geology, University of Ibadan. When I resumed in April 2016, virtually all the rooms in the postgraduate Abdulsalami Abubakar Hall had been allocated, but thanks to Yemi, I was allowed to squat in his room for some weeks at the risk of being caught and fined. Life in Room A11 of AAH was fun and a source of comfort to my accommodation discomfort irrespective of the rats and cats that accosted students in the corridors and bathrooms. It was in Room A11 that I met Paul and Levi, who later became roommates in the off-campus lodge we lived when we left AAH.

For two reasons, it was not easy for me to get off-campus accommodation. First was the stress of juggling classwork and navigating the towns around the campus looking for an apartment to rent, and second was the futile appointments with real estate agents who knew how to exploit students. In my quest for a cheap apartment that was close to the campus, I settled for a kitchen-turned-room apartment in Latona Estate in Agbowo about hundred meters from the campus main gate. It was an eight-by-eight feet apartment that was close to the toilet. Sometimes a foul smell from the backyard pervaded the room, and on many occasions, I fought with mosquitoes and cockroaches. This was my official welcome to the Agbowo ghettos, the genesis of my discomforts in Ibadan.

The first course I attended was PHY 781. Fortunately, it was the first examination I wrote; unfortunately, I failed. My reflection on this experience cut deep. I knew I did not have to blame myself for this, because I was sick with pain and a migraine during the examination, but I wanted to. What compounded my sorrow was that physics used to be my favorite course back in Nsukka. But at the peak of my hurt and discomfort, I convinced myself that failure in that course was not tantamount to failure in the program. This self-encouragement gave me comfort and made me stronger.

My next discomfort came like an earthquake. One late November evening I came back from a conference and noticed that my apartment had been burgled, and my HP mini laptop computer stolen. That laptop, which was one of the scholarship items given to me by PTDF in Nsukka, meant a lot to me. In it were my lecture materials, e-textbooks, vital documents and, more importantly, my literary works. Everything was gone. But my solace came when, a few days later, the burglar was caught trying to burgle another room in my compound.

My experience with the police when the burglar was taken to Sango Police Station was not pleasant. It pained me that the police have deteriorated to the point I had to, even in my straitened state, fuel the patrol car, pay the photographer that took pictures for evidence, pay for transportation the first time the burglar was arraigned in court, and for other trivial things. Perhaps my case would not have been attended to if I did not facilitate it in cash. However, I thank the police for helping me get justice, which was a source of comfort to me.

At first, I thought by apprehending the burglar my laptop would be recovered, but I was wrong. The burglar had already sold it for seven thousand five hundred naira, as I was informed by his brother-in-law, who, advised by their lawyer, solicited for an out-of-court settlement. It broke my heart that my laptop and works had been reduced to nuisance money. It was a shame to see the burglar in the witness box, intriguing to watch lawyers argue his charges and gratifying to hear the judge decide his fate. At the end, my comfort came when the family of the burglar got me another laptop, and the case was struck out of court.

I had the most financial challenge that culminated in discomfort during my last semester on campus. There were rent, tuition and field school fees to pay. Project work was also there, waiting. To make matters worse, the money I invested in Get Help Worldwide and Twinkas Ponzi schemes vanished when they crashed. I had not felt this frustrated before. Any normal person would have quit the program but since I did not consider myself normal then, I hung on. But, with time, all the fees were gradually paid, and the discomfort metamorphosed into comfort.

The field school exercise came with its own travails. With only one thousand five hundred naira in my pocket, I travelled to Gambari with my fieldmates for a twenty-one-day fieldwork. At first, it seemed more like a suicide mission than an expedition. Every morning, sometimes on an empty stomach, we traversed bushes searching for rocks that did not want us to find them. I remember how we were assaulted by vicious insects and fatigued by a long-distance walk with heavy rock samples on our shoulders. On the other hand, I remember the magnanimity of the villagers and their farms with cashew fruits that fed us. But in the face of discomfort, we experienced the beauty in geology that offered us comfort after each taxing day.

Moreover, while in Gambari, my comfort came from my fieldmates. They were Tubosun, the team leader that put the team first; Emmanuel, the pathfinder with GPS and compass expertise; Chinedu, whom with a sledgehammer, hard rocks became soft; Olaitan, the meticulous geologist, who left an outcrop last. There were also Abimbola, the funny lady, who made us laugh when the tension was high; Ogemdi, who knew the right time and place for us to rest and enjoy her bread sauce; and finally Adenike, who after each stressful day still made out time to cook for us. We were a wonderful team in spite of the arguments and discomforts in the field which were fun, educative and comforting at the end.

At certain points, the program was daunting for me. However, the pressure was made manageable by some of my classmates and colleagues, and it behooves me to appreciate them. They were Nneka, my good friend, who made examinations and life easier for me; Bola, my generous friend, who, with her three adorable daughters and kind husband, hosted me on Christmas and New Year when I had no other place to go; Gbenga, whose benevolence I will always appreciate. There were also Tayo—who, on some occasions, slept in my kitchen-room and had his own fight with the mosquitoes—and Yusuf who helped and facilitated my project work; and finally, Dr. Olawale Osinowo, my solicitous project supervisor, who understood my financial constraints and allowed me to carry out an affordable, yet innovative, research. The comfort they offered was unprecedented.

Latona Estate, where I retired for the day, irrespective of its unkempt surroundings and dilapidated structures, played a role in easing my stress. Many of its residents were students, and I regarded them as brothers and sisters. They were Rose and her three children, who nicknamed me “Professor”; Cynthia, who sometimes shared her delicacies with me; Kingsley, my namesake, who sometimes helped when I was broke. There were also Faoziyah, Zainab, Oyin, Joy, Blessing, Janet, Damilola, Ronke, Nana and her siblings, to mention a few, who did not give up in teaching me Yoruba. Furthermore, there were Paul, Kingsley, the two Michaels, Joseph, Elijah, Sesugh, to mention a few, who when time permitted, we discussed life, topical issues and politics. They made my kitchen-room seem like a safe haven.

I have learnt and relearnt a lot of things, and allowed myself to be shaped and reshaped by the streets and people of Ibadan. I have realized that comfort and discomfort are relative concepts, mostly about the mind and choice of an individual. I have also realized that they are inevitabilities of life irrespective of geography, gender, age and class. Sometimes it is difficult to navigate the labyrinth of comfort-discomfort without help, and this is where I must thank my psychology friend, Funmilayo Olowa, for teaching me, not just how to tell them apart but also how to manage them.

Ibadan could be boring sometimes but if you are patient enough, you could discover the lively side of it. The city is like a coin. Whichever side you choose and the memory it creates, Carl Sagan said, “In all our searching, the only thing we have found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” In my studentship and residency in Ibadan, the people that made my discomforts bearable were still people of Ibadan, and this made it more comforting. Prose is not enough to express this feeling. I have decided to poetically express how I feel with the poem I have chosen to, like J. P. Clark, title Ibadan

 

Ibadan…

I am undulating on the rustscape,

Comfort above, discomfort below,

Both on one leg standing,

Exploiting the paradoxical abundance of time.

 

Though Ibadan is a popular space, its popularity should not only be defined by its physical size, but also by its people—their life and dream that create a bond of friendship and stories that would give it a new identity, for the identity of the city mirrors the cultural and psycho-social dispositions of its people. In the core of this identity are stories worth sharing, stories that explore its good and grey sides, stories that encapsulate its people and culture, and finally, stories about its metropolitan landscape and rustscape that influence choices and relations.

It is imperative to end this reflection with a salient observation: Everybody is susceptible to comfort and discomfort. One of the lessons I have learnt in my one-and-half years in Ibadan is that you cannot find the best of anything in it, but you can choose the best of everything in it. I am happy I chose the best city that inspired this and other stories. I am proud I chose the best apartment that is in sync with my capacity. I am delighted I had good friends and colleagues on a campus that cared. I am glad I lived with neighbors that were nice. It was not by chance that I came to Ibadan and met these unique people, whose friendship cannot be quantified, who I cannot thank enough for everything, and more importantly, who erased the “dis” in my discomforts.

 

 

 

 

Kingsley Alumona

Kingsley Alumona hails from Delta State. He read Geology at the University of Nigeria and is currently doing a master’s degree in Applied Geophysics at the University of Ibadan. His works have appeared in Kalahari Review, Daily Trust, The Tribune and The Sun newspapers.

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1 Comment

  1. chinny December 23, at 08:07

    Nice write up Kingsley.. I found my self smiling at some point and also feeling sorry. I could relate with every bit of it... Comfort in discomfort. Didn't no u were such a good writter. Way to go

    Reply

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