By Tikum Mbah Azonga
Although it is often said that deaths are undesirable and regrettable, they nevertheless have their good points, one of them being that funerals are one of the biggest gatherers of long lost relations.
DEATH AS A GOOD THING
This was the experience I had recently when I joined a group of colleagues here at the University of Buea to travel to Oshie village in Njikwa Sub Division of the North West Region`s Momo Division. We took the trip to bury our colleague of the History Department, Dr. Ndambi Isaac Akenji, who passed away earlier in the year following an illness. Apart from being a colleague at the university, Dr. Ndambi had not only been a mate in High School (CCAST Bambili), but he had actually shared a room in the hostel with me. Our other room mates were Tambe Mathias Eno and Tangie Christopher Chwingum. Although room mates, we fell into two different camps when it came to talking about our former schools. Tambe, Tangie and I came from Sacred Heart College, Mankon, whereas Ndambi was a product of Presbyterian Teachers` Training College, Batibo.
WHERE IS OSHIE?
Although it was a sad event that took me to Oshie, I greatly looked forward to the trip because for many years – in fact since I was in primary school – I had always dreamed of going to Oshie or Ngie or Ngwo. Although this trip concerned only one of the three, it was better than not visiting any at all. So far I had only been as far as Acha Tugi (for those who know the area). So, for me, this day was D-Day, a milestone and a red letter day.
Oshie is a large village of some 20 000 inhabitants (eyewitness accounts) surrounded by Mundun II (Bafut Sub Division), Beba (Menchum Division), Ngie Sub Division, Ngwo (the other village which together with Oshie Makes up Njikwa Sub Division), as well as Konda, Ekweri and Bany villages. The largest quarter in Oshie is Bereje, incidentally where Dr Ndambi was born and buried. Bereje is also the home village of the Fon of Oshie as well as that of Mr Afambele Lucas who is CEO of City Trust Credit Fund and Board Member of NFC Bank. Ngam Fon Zchariah Awanga who is CEO of Samaritan Insurance Company and NFC Bank, as well as proprietor of the newly built state-of-art hotel in Bamenda, Azam, is also from Oshie. Oshie`s main market and market square are located in a quarter known as Edom. Oshie boats a Government Secondary School, an agricultural post and a police post. It also has a grand stand of its own, although it is Ngwo that is headquarters of Njikwa Sub Division.
THE JOURNEY TO OSHIE
Our trip was in two laps, the first of which took us from Buea to Bamenda and the second, from Bamenda to Oshie. When we arrived in Bamenda, it became a different ball game because on account of the bad roads, we had to hire sturdy four-wheel drive vehicles. At the Guarantee Express vicinity in Bamenda where our forward looking vehicles were waiting, I soon found that there were clearly more passengers than vehicles. So I decided to look for an alternative. That substitute was the transport company, UB-Relax, which specializes in ferrying passengers to and from Oshie, Ngwo and Ngie. Even so, the worst was still to come because first, I was given seat number “17” which was “standing position” at the back of the vehicle.
Shortly after, I was frightened when a “good Samaritan” informed me that once we standing passengers were on board, the protective tarpaulin would be pulled over our heads and then we would be plunged into long hours of discomfort. Now I understood what was at stake. I rushed to the front to see if really and truly all the seats had been occupied. They were. Then I inspected the second row of cabin seats. They too were occupied. Discerning my worry, one of the loaders assured me he could arrange for one of the persons sitting in the cabin to give me his seat. Then he stood there staring at me. Concerned, I asked him whether there was anything wrong. He replied: “But sah, how you fit ask me so? Or you no want dat fine chair again?” I understood him. So, I searched in my pockets and gave him a five hundred franc note. He received it with ceremony, as if I had just handed him five thousand francs. Then he leapt into action. Unfortunately for me, none of the guys he approached accepted to give up his seat. My man returned to me and asked if he could propose a thousand francs to the “seat owner” so that the deal could be clinched quickly. I gave him the green light. He came back and told me the other man had rejected the thousand francs. I now approached the passenger myself. He shocked me by asking for two thousand five hundred francs. “But that is the fare to Oshie! That`s what I paid for my ticket. You mean I should pay twice to get to the place?”
His reply was curt, terse and cold: “But you no pay dat money na for me, sah. But if you no likam, you leavam. Na you be want fine chair. No be me”. With my back against the wall, I acquiesced and handed him the two thousand five hundred francs. He took the money with a broad smile of victory and immediately climbed up into the back seat where I was supposed to be. The park boy who had been negotiating for me walked up to me and said apologetically: ‘sorry, sah1”
“Don`t worry. It`s not your fault”, I reassured him. So away he went with the five thousand francs, and here was I condemned spending a total of five thousand five hundred francs just to get to Oshie, instead of the usual two thousand francs. The man who traded his seat was the jack pot winner because what happened was that the two thousand five hundred francs he took from was technically a refund of the same amount he had paid for his ticket. So, he was traveling free of charge! Nonetheless, I did not regret it, for as we traveled, it rained and I thought to myself: “Imagine what would have happened had you loved money more that your personal safety”
One hundred kilometers to nowhere
As we drove through Mankon, Ngyen Mbo, Mbengwi,Tad, Acha Tugi and the rest of the places, I could not help noting that not much had changed along the road, in terms of infrastructure and other development parameters since I was last there over twenty years ago. My comment about the lack of change is in comparison with the last time I traveled along the road to the Acha Tugi Presbyterian Hospital. That was when I was admitted there while in Primary school in Bambili. To this day, the road through Mbengwi is still an earthen stretch that raises dust in the dry season and becomes muddy and slippery in the rainy season. As we drove on, one age-old question kept coming back and nagging me: “Is this really the road that led to and passed through the home of a former prime minister and Vice President of the Republic?” Was not the tarring of that road the least a politician could have bequeathed to his people?
One tree, several branches
Highlights of this journey included the branch from the highway to Njindom, the birth place of Former National Education Secretary of State Yunga Teghen Joseph and the late Veteran Journalist Luke Ananga. I also noted the branch leading to Guneku village, said to be the largest village in Mbengwi Sub Division. It is ruled by Fon Fomuki who is considered to be by far the most modern and most widely traveled Fon in that Sun Division. He also has a beautiful palace that many visitors pause to admire. The branch to Kob, the village of the outspoken lone parliamentarian for Mbenwi, the SDF member Peter Fonso was unmistakable because at the entrance to the village, there is a conspicuous sign board that announces: “Welcome to Kob Village.” Further on along the road, another sign board heralds:”GSS Tienechung”, a Ngie Sub Division village that shares a border with Acha Tugi Village in Mbengwi Sub Division.
Down memory lane
When we got to Tad market, the whole place hit my entire being with old memories of the time when while I was in primary school and hospitalized at the nearby Presbyterian Hospital in Acha Tugi. I remembered that at the time, my mother did her heavy shopping at that market. What happened was that I had just passed my promotion exams from Class 5 to 6, at Saint Francis School, Bambili, popularly known in local language as “Ntsewi”. Unfortunately, during the long holidays of that year, I fell ill and was taken to Acha Tugi. In the end I spent the whole of the new first term in hospital. When I resumed school at the beginning of the second term, I worked hard and passed the second term examination. Although I also passed the promotion exam, my teacher in that year, Mr John Njende decided that I should repeat Class Six because according to him I “could have done better”. He managed to convince my father and so it was two against one. I acquiesced. Perhaps it worked for me because apart from occupying first position in the three exams of class six of that year, I also passed the common entrance exam and left for college from class six, and not seven.
As we drove up towards the hospital on this trip to Oshie, I noticed that the overpowering reddish and harsh earth on either side of the road had not changed one bit. As we went past the main entrance into the hospital compound, I caught a glimpse of the same yard on which I as a little boy of ten years played with fellow patients of my age. I remembered Nurse Naomi who worked in our ward and with whom I fell madly in love at the time, although I was so small. I remember that even after I had left hospital and returned to school, I used to write to her and post the letters. She replied once in a while. But somewhere along the line, we no longer communicated with each other. I can`t remember now who it was that developed cold feet first. But I still remember what Naomi looked like. I still see her pushing the medicine distribution trolley up to my bed and handing me my medicines. When it was Nurse Naomi who gave us drugs, bitter ones such as quinine were no longer bitter to me. Far from it, they suddenly acquired a sweetness that made me smile from ear to ear.
As we exited from Achu Tugi someone pointed out to me the Acha Cattle market which I was told was the largest cattle market not only in Mbengwi Sub Division but in the whole of Momo. I was made to understand that on market days, hundreds of millions of francs changed hands at the market. The trouble is that on this particular day, we were not fortunate enough to behold a single cow: it was not a market day.
GOODBYE TO OSHIE
My stay in Oshie was brief: three hours. After spending some time at the compound of the departed Dr. Ndambi, I took my leave, one of the reasons being that I was determined to make the most of a short trip and see as much of Oshie as I could. I hired a bike to take me to the Fon`s palace. When we got there I was shocked that there was not a single soul in sight. When I asked, a guarded respondent simply said:”We have had some problems here in the village which we are currently solving. But if you really need the Fon`s attention, we won`t lack someone to whom you can talk.” I got the message and said no more. Oshie was burying two illustrious sons on that day, the other one being Abiyah Benson Ofa, a young and dynamic Petroleum Engineer who had died after a brief illness. His father was at Dr. Ndambi`s funeral, so I sought out the mother and consoled her and then took my leave. As I left, I felt disappointed because throughout my stay in Oshie, I asked about a classmate of mine, called Abanda with whom I went to primary school in Bambili. I could not remember his first name. All I could tell those willing to help me was that he lived with his elder brother, also called Abanda, at the Camp of the Agric Farm in Bambui. The brother was a driver for the Agric Farm. I could not have forgotten this classmate of mine because together with a few other class mates, we used to pluck pears on the road from school, bury them in nearby farms and then dig them up two or three days later when they were ripe. We then had a good meal of them. To say the truth, Abanda was one person to whom it didn`t matter whether a pear was ripe or not before he ate it. So we nick named him: “Abanda raw pear eater”.
TRAVELING WITH ODAIN
I got a bike to take me to the Market Square which is the departure point for Bamenda-bound vehicles. As luck would have it, I found a four wheel double cabin waiting. I joined another passenger in the back seat, a woman. The driver who introduced himself as Odain was a contract transporter for one of the national brewery companies. I was surprised that when more passengers came and even offered him more money, he declined their offer on the grounds that his principle consisted of “never overloading”. He introduced his mate to me as a marketing student from the Bambui Polytechnic currently on internship with him. Odain was fun to travel with because he cracked jokes and had a good sense of humour. He also played good music in the vehicle. Well, “good’ because it rang bells with me. Of particular note was the music of Joe Mboule, including many tunes that topped the charts in the 1980s, particularly the beginning of that decade when I was a student at the Bilingual Series of the institution and planning to travel to France in the company of my classmates for one year of French studies. I remembered that in that year in Bambili, my friend and brother Simon Tangi was just like me, a big Joe Mboule fan. Joe Mboule`s music also reminded me of his daughter, Njoh Mboule, who was my student and supervisee in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Buea in the academic year just ended.
When we got to the Sanyere market, the woman who sat with me at the back of the vehicle suddenly said she was terminating her journey with us and would no longer get to Bamenda in our company. When the driver asked her how else she would get to Bamenda when there was no other vehicle around. She pointed to a hearse that was packed ahead of us and hammering loud funeral music. “But that is a vehicle for transporting dead people, madam!’ I exclaimed. “So what?” she interjected, rather defiantly. I thought she was joking. But she was not, for she marched straight to the funeral van and climbed overboard with a look of self satisfaction. Funeral music boomed from the vehicle.
FACE-TO-FACE WITH THE BIR
After the woman left, Odain suggested we get out of the vehicle and have “one for the road”. I welcomed the idea because he looked tired to me and needed a break. He looked like a very popular man out there because everyone seemed to know him. When I put it to him, he replied: “But of course, this is my road. I have been supplying drinks to them for years.” Odain took us to what appeared to be the hottest spot in Sanyere. It was a fairly modern bar that also served as a restaurant. It would appear the proprietor was popularly known as Sam. We were served by two of his daughters, both of them physically looking alike and both also pretty. Before I had time to make any plans about one of them, three young and energetic men joined us and two other members of their fold who were already there eating and drinking. It turned out that they were members of the BIR (Brigade d`Intervention Rapide), and army unit put in place in trouble spots of the country as a deterrent to crime. Of course, being ‘local residents” too, they knew everyone in the room apart from the new ones like me. When I asked about the BIR elements, someone told me:” Oh no, they`re useful. Ever since their arrival, crime wave here has dropped remarkably.”
It was already getting dark when we got to Sanyere. At the time we left for Bamenda, it was even darker. However, we drove and while in Mbengwi, we decided to have a break. So Odain parked the vehicle and we all got out to stretch our legs. I was particularly attracted by some bottle dance music from the collection by Ni Ken coming from a nearby bar. That was where I settled down for my drink. Odain decided to sleep off some fatigue in the vehicle. Later, his mate joined me. At the time I was ready to leave, Odain was not quite ready. So I left them in Mbengwi and boarded another vehicle. Thus ended my love story with Oshie.