Our old house on Imoke street inside the University of Nigeria Nsukka campus, was a colonial British styled three-bedroom, three bath bungalow with a garage for my dad’s Renault on the left side, a huge open veranda to the right and a detached maid’s room that my brothers turned into their ”man-cave.”
It stood on what was quite a substantial portion of grounds (maybe a plot or more), on which we grew so much crop. There was a big mango tree that had the penchant to hang heavy with fruit right at the back, an avocado and grapefruit tree to the side of the veranda.
We tilled the ground ourselves with a hoe and grew crops ranging from cassava, yam tubers, yellow pepper, bitter leaf, curry leaf, potatoes, amaranthus, okra, corn, melon, lettuce, plantain and more. We grew a lot of the crops that we ate.
Sometimes, when the work was a lot, my dad would engage some labour hands to do the tilling whilst we did the sowing. You had to grow a combination of crops that performed well together, that way they would both do very well and the manure from our chicken coop helped in nourishing those plants. I learnt crop rotation through this process.
The house had a sprawling nature (they built them big back then), with big louvered windows that swung open outwards and mosquito nets installed to keep the pesky things away. Instead of a picket fence running round the house, it had a trimmed hedge of purple hibiscus running around it.
It was painted creamy oil paint colour but time and the elements matured its painted exterior to butter-yellow. Its corrugated zinc roof was reddish in colour. The rooms were coated in dusky blue and the hallway, living and dining room with the kitchen were cream in colour. The flooring was terrazzo and we scrubbed its floors with hard brush and foamy detergent every Saturday mornings.
I recollect my mum or dad apportioning spaces each Saturday morning and you had to scrub, mop and shine these floors to my dad’s satisfaction. Of course, there was no luxury of gadgets to carry out these chores. We performed these tasks manually with our bare hands, including washing our clothes.
Our house was quite a beehive. It was a middle class Nigerian home. My parents had six of us along with several young cousins who spent some part of their lives under our roof. It was in our culture to assist in raising less fortunate relatives and back then, when academicians were still valued, my parents were viewed as comfortable, so I grew up seeing them extend charity to other relatives who grew up and went to school under our roof.
The weekday mornings were filled with noisy and hurried preparation for school after a family devotion in the parlour, usually led by my mom and the evenings with noise of different things. Chattering voices, pounding mortar, squabbling siblings, music from my dad’s Grundig, loud singing from one person or the other.
Our weekends were equally filled with house chores, catechisms and block rosaries, play, social events and all manners of things we got up to.
It was always lively and during harvest season, we would all gather at the veranda to either peel cassava for processing, melon seeds for soup or corn for drying. These chores were performed with my mom or sometimes my grandma keeping our minds entertained with old folktales and songs.
The aromas/fragrance that floated through the butter-yellow house were of different blends. On Saturday mornings, the whiff of Omo Blue detergent and drops of dettol disinfectant which was used in scrubbing the floors dominated the air until the evening hours when it gets replaced by aromas emanating from one native pot or the other. This could be yam pottage, vegetable soup, goat-meat and bitter-leaf soup (which is one of my favorite native soups 🙂 etc. but there was an aroma that came to stay for a very long time.
Two particular aromas that linger most in my mind, maybe because they persisted for quite a long while, is the yeasty aroma of home made bread that my mom baked weekly. Slices of her bread slathered with Planta margarine, jam, marmite or peanut butter and a cup of Horlicks would fill and sit in your tummy for a better part of the day. The bread smell was soon joined with that of cake.
She ventured into baking cakes every other day and supplying shops in the neighbourhood as well as students hostels on campus, when the Federal Government started their incessant delays in paying staff salary which led to a lot of financial hardship in some homes.
My mom became quite resourceful with baking and crafting to augment their insufficient and epileptic salary payments.
We would cream the cake batter in a huge local mortar that she bought for that purpose, until she was able to save up to buy a Kenwood mixer.
I remember the flavour of vanilla essence and nutmeg added to the cake batter, the Topper butter that she used for so many years and the licking of the sugary creamy cake batter.
© Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha
In response to The Daily Post Our House
What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.