I grew up in Aba, a small commercial town in the eastern part of Nigeria. We moved there when I was six (in the 70s). I recall that every street had at least two millionaires (disputable). Most driveways had a minimum of three expensive cars. Beautiful mansions and well maintained gardens were everywhere. Men and women were chauffeur driven. It was known as the “small London of the east.” Being a child in a rich town like Aba, I was quick to build my perception of what constitutes wealth.
My parents were civil servants. So within the context of Aba, I had very humble beginnings. Our being economically ‘humble’ was something I internalised without knowing, and that influenced how I viewed every aspect of my childhood. It influenced how I saw my father, and my childish expectations of his image. I loved and respected him till he passed (still do); and I always take pride in telling my children about him. However, I couldn’t help how I sometimes viewed him through my lenses as a child…
he was a groom on a bike
I can’t recount how many times my mother said “Nola, you need to work hard in life. Look at your father now. When I met him, he was so ‘poor’ he rode a bike”. She always told me how handsome my father was then (“although he rode a bike”). She would go on about how his car was a reward of his hard-work. She told everyone about my father’s bike and proudly declared how far he had come in life. From a child’s perspective, I took an exception to my friends knowing my father was once a cyclist! It was the height of poverty! Only the poor cycled then!
Fast-forward to the contemporary world, my father’s bike wouldn’t be a problem at all. In fact, it has become the accessory for all classes of the society. He would have proudly worn his cycling outfits and his helmet. Even David Cameron is seen cycling to work. From a health perspective, my father richly improved his heart and lungs fitness. He toned his muscles and burnt unnecessary fat (which may have accounted for his “handsomeness”).
he was a man who quit smoking
My father smoked pipes and cigars till I was about seven. Other children on the street would joke about how ‘rich’ he looked with a pipe in his mouth. He had a routine after work. Every evening, he would light his pipe or cigars, sit on his armchair and read the papers. He looked picture perfect in my eyes, because distinguished men were portrayed with pipes or cigars in their mouths. And then, he suddenly quit smoking. Argh! The only sign of wealth I saw him with, literally crushed!
Looking back now, he saved himself from lung cancer and other illnesses associated with smoking. His decision meant we grew up in a ‘ rich’ smoke free environment.
he walked a lot
In Aba then, being called “oji ukwu aga Aba” (the town Trekker), was a derogatory way of saying you were too poor to afford a car. My father walked everyday and everywhere. He used to park his car and walk. Once he came to pick me up from school. He parked his beloved Volkswagen Beetle car because he didn’t want the potholes to damage it. He walked about half a mile to my school. So whilst others were driving home, he held my hand and we walked to his car. One of my class mates noticed that he didn’t drive to school and laughed at the thought of my father not owning a car.
I now see pictures of ‘good dads’ holding their children and realise how wonderful he was. Moreover, all he did was, walk his way to an increased cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness; reduce his risk of contracting hypertension, stroke and heart disease. I can’t recall him having joint pain. In fact, I wish I could walk like he did.
he had a flat belly
My father was slim and his tummy was flat! In today’s world he would have been seen as fit. After all, men and women with toned bodies or better still with six-packs are seen as physically attractive. Back then I didn’t view it that way. To me it was evidence of our low economic status. This was because, word on the streets had it that men with pot bellies were the rich. You had to be rich and have a good life, for your stomach to protrude. It was a sign of wealth. Slim actors who played rich men were made to tie cloth round their stomachs and walk belly first.
In reality, what my dad didn’t have then was, central or abdominal obesity. By having a flat and toned stomach, he reduced his risks of vascular and metabolic diseases. Aesthetically, he was perfect (at least in my mother’s eyes).
I look back and wish I knew then, what I know now. I would have seen how ‘rich’ my childhood was. I’m the opposite of my dad in the sense that; I don’t take walks, I can’t ride bikes, my stomach is….! Since health is wealth, I’m in the ‘poor’ spectrum. I’m almost like the heiress who failed to inherit.