One of my fondest memories of Kaduna is reaching it for the first time, unannounced, with only the memories of conversations with my closest friend at Uni, Ja’afaru – memories of how he always said he lived in a place called Barnawa in Kaduna.
This was 1997 or 8. I am not sure now. Kaduna was already known from its active North/South, Muslim/Christian faultline – that could be dormant for years and then suddenly, without warning, erupt.
And still it was much more innocent times, when a young undergraduate – Lagos-bred, southern and Christian – was not in any way wary at the thought of leaving home, and going off by himself to explore the North.
In Kaduna, armed only with the knowledge that Jaf (as I call him) lives in Barnawa, I found my way to this…Barnawa, and began asking total strangers – on the road, in kiosks, standing in front of their gates, at a random basketball court I walked past – if they knew a certain Ja’afaru (kataf, father is late, law student at University of Abuja – you know?)
Till I met a young man, about the same age as me, who said – “Oh, you mean Ayee (that’s Jaf’s native name)? Yes, sure, I’ll take you to his house.” And that is how I found myself knocking at Jaf’s gate.
His mother came out and peered at me. I was a total stranger to her – tall, skinny, black faced boy with glasses and a backpack – but when I told her I was looking for her son, she let me in.
And even though she had not known that I would be showing up that day, let me stay for 3 days, as if her house was my house. Yes. This is how I found a type of home in Barnawa that day.
And so yesterday, as I walked up from my hotel in Barnawa to the event centre where I was getting ready to stage my show, I went back to where I had stored these earlier memories of Barnawa, in those safe, soft, armour-plated places in my heart that hold the diverse truths of my origins as a modern Nigerian.
This is the place I always access before I get on stage with this show. It is why my voice always quivers with emotion each time I say, (no matter how many times I have done this show now, it is why my voice always quivers with emotion each time I say), “My roots are those people that kept me alive. my roots are those places that helped me to thrive. But these people and places are scattered all over.
So, the one thing I know is that I was made in Nigeria.” It was a small audience – smaller than the hall we rented. But I will tell you this for free – to be a good public speaker, you must speak to one as if you are speaking to a thousand, and speak to a thousand as if you are speaking to one. Yes.
For this reason, by the time the show was over, the hall was full – of hope, of love and of faith. I had communicated. You see? For these are the very same values that those safe, soft, armour-plated places in my heart hold. And will forever hold.
After the show, I mingled with those who came – different tribes, different tongues, different faiths. And I saw again what I see so often when I look around me, that there is a humanity – beneath the veil, behind the tribal marks, underneath the cultural accents – that we all share. It is there. As a small, travelling, self-sponsored theatre group, we can afford very few luxuries.
So, we all stayed back to pack down, and load up the van, for its early morning trip back to Abuja. We would follow by train. It was late when we finished, but Kaduna’s hospitality is extremely patient. Our host at Space2000 – the event centre we used – would not let us leave without a proper meal.
It was in a bungalow, furnished the way only an artist can furnish a house, set on grounds that featured beautiful gardens, an amphitheatre and an open-air theatre – a haven for creatives in Kaduna.
On the plate were water melons and groundnuts, kunu (I had 3 glasses) and, on the dining table, big serving bowls full of boiled yam, peppered chicken, goat meat and egg stew – all the handiwork of a camera-shy young woman, the wife of one of the dancers in my crew – Jiga, we call him – whose effort had made our trip to Kaduna possible.
We ate, we laughed, and we drank from the deep wells of Ruth Sankey’s wisdom. She is the owner of Space2000, our host, a dancer and thespian herself with a lifetime of experience. She said – Keep it at, for hard work, creativity and passion always pay off in their own way, in the end. I tell you – There could not have been a more perfect way to end the night. For, you see, once again, I had found a type of home in Barnawa.