The last time I saw my dad was in August 2007. It was the second time I had been in Nigeria that year. The first was in June as part of a crazy three week West African die hard training marathon. We did a week long Foundations course in Ghana, then flew to Nigeria to do the same, then Sarah and myself returned to Ghana to deliver a course in Community Development Education. That middle week in Nigeria was the first time I had been there since I left at the age of 7.
We used to live in Ile-Ife, a university town near Ibadan which in turn is just north of Lagos. My childhood memories are of wide open spaces, large houses and gardens, a giant mango tree next door, busy highways, bustling market places. I think much of the scale in my memory is a factor of my relative size at age 7! Both my parents were faculty members at the university – my father was dean of the medical faculty and professor of paediatric surgery, while my mother was part of the faculty of public health – also a medical doctor. Life was comfortable but the marriage was tense, which effected things. I do remember having Muscovy ducks and geese – my mother cared for them all, the gander was particularly attached to mum! Some times when she was sad, mum would go and sit at the gate to their enclosure and the gander would come and rest his head on her shoulder. I recall holding one of the first batch of eggs that was about to hatch. We only had chickens at the time and their nesting conditions are too dry for duck eggs to hatch. So when the ducklings are ready they can break the shell but they need some help with the inside membrane. I held the egg ever so carefully as mum cut through the membrane with a pair of nail scissors. And in my hands a small duckling emerged and was welcomed into the world. It was a beautiful moment.
Mum also grew sweet corn and pineapples and we had banana trees, and I recall mum’s pride and joy, the avocado tree that bore its first fruit the year before we left. Our gruff old next door neighbour who we nick named the grizzly bear, had a massive mango tree in his garden that he let us climb and pick the fruit off from time to time. I loved hanging out with my big brother Richard – he and his friends had chopper bicycles that they spent hours riding around on! Occasionally we had a family outing to the zoo and we played hunt the thimble – the zoo was set in a bamboo forest with seats and shelters dotted around made of bamboo – very handy for hiding things like thimbles!
When I was seven we left Nigeria so that mum could have the medical care she needed as she gave birth to my younger brother Chris. Within a year the marriage had broken down and Dad left, that was in 1980. I saw Dad three or four times over the next 27 years. The last time was at Lagos airport, when I spent a couple of hours with him before catching my plane home to the UK. I don’t recall what we talked about, but it was special to meet as adults, each with our own story, life and choices. I remember going through security and having a cordial interaction with the customs officer who thought it was great that I had two Nigerian names on my British passport! I got on my plane and haven’t heard from Dad since, my brothers say he’s OK.