Wednesday, August 22, 2007

PORT HARCOURT: an exaggerated account

Don’t ask me why I haven’t updated my blog, or patched the sole of my shoe, or finished my project, or been to see my lovely grandparents. Just listen to those increasingly familiar sounds outside. The crickets are quiet, in their stead, the rat-tat-tat of automatic weapons, the worrisome whir of helicopters, the wailing of the innocent on his knees about to be executed.
What is terror?

Ask my tailor who used to live in Marine Base, he is lucky to be alive. Homeless, bruised, no more shop, no Butterfly sewing machines, no angry customers screaming at him that the traditional wedding is tomorrow, and that the etubo must be sewn by tonight. He’s lucky to be alive. Marine base is a ghost town. My aunt and her ‘battalion’ are now refugees in some relative’s house. The militants have retreated into the ever-welcoming creeks, the innocents have fled their modest homes, and even the fish in the area have gone off in search of less-troubled waters (I haven’t had a half-decent plate of fresh fish peppersoup in weeks). The soldiers man the streets. Fierce, unyielding, foreign. They make us raise our hands as we pass. They whip women for sport, and savage boys for show. The streets are littered with bodies and bullet-casings. Blood flows into the stagnant gutters, trying, but failing to clot.
What is peace?

Over here on this side of the city, we are a bit more fortunate. We go to sleep hoping that those gunshots are loud rather than near. We pray the girl screaming in agony as the soldiers rape her is not a friend, or worse, a sister. The explosions rattle our buildings and our bodies. Bravery becomes a sentimental concept. We wake up, shrug off the rubble, cough dust, and get on. The grass is greener here, they say.
What is sleep?

The curfew adds to the chaos. The ashewos are cheaper and desperate. The brothels do brisk business between morning and evening. The soldiers have their pleasure on the house. At 6pm the okadas stop running, at 7pm the soldiers start shooting…go ahead, make their night. The night spots are ruined. We keep away from the windows and walk bending forward. We make love whenever we can, on the floor, and with the heated passion of people who know that tomorrow is a big-maybe. Le petit mort as the French say. The little death. Many petit morts before the big mort.
What is death?

The city that was once garden is now full of wreaths. First were the inexplicable killings-armed gangs coming out in broad daylight and killing regular folk, you and I. For a week, in virtually every part of this metropolis, the guns rang out and we cowered in fear.
What is courage?

On Sunday the twelfth I was on an okada, zipping along, wind in my hair and all that. I got to a certain junction, and was told to get off, raise my hands, and walk all the way to the other side. I wasn’t alone. We were legion. No one knew that soldiers had been drafted into our city. We were shocked and yet submissive. Vehicles also had to offload their human cargo. We all walked, hands raised, to the other side. In the middle of the road, three soldiers with body armor, and long guns fitted with bayonets were dancing to Fela’s Unknown Soldier booming out of the speakers of an empty beer parlour. The irony, the frigging irony. So eerie, so messed up. Porter with hands raised, shaking his head and sighing. This is still Port Harcourt right?
What is dignity?

They say the hunt is on for the militants/cultists/kidnappers. I fit the profile: male, indigenous, with a great appetite for fish, and a village in the creeks. What else do they need? I’m old enough to carry a gun, detonate explosives, and kidnap whitemen and little children. I’m who they want. Some people say I should cut my hair. Apparently an afro can earn you a whipping. The military checkpoints are unavoidable in some parts. The last time I did this much hand-raising, I was in secondary school. Can I complain? In some parts they make you frog-jump, or roll in mud. I stay within my neighbourhood. Porter de Harqourt besieged in a small obscure section of his kingdom. At i night i fall asleep. In my dream, Osama sends me an sms:
we r brothrs, Portr. u&i r kin. huntd, pinnd dwn, h8d. me in these mntains u in ur room. we r brothrs u&i
What is freedom?

I see Miss X, in the evening walking past the shop where I’m trying to buy a recharge card. We’ve been eyeing each other for weeks. I decide to make a move now. Life is too short…these days especially. I call out to her, she stops. Hesitantly it seems, but girls are actors. I ask her if she’s in a hurry. Sorta, she says. I tell her I’d like for her to sorta slow down. Why, she asks. Because, I say, because it’s already past 6 pm and I’d love to spend my curfew getting to know her. She tries to suppress the smile, but she can’t, so she bends her head and pretends to look at her watch. She lifts her head and repeats the words. Because I’d love to spend my curfew getting to know you. She’s beaming. She takes my hand and we head for her room. On the way she asks if that was a line. I say maybe. By 7pm we are better acquainted. At 7pm, the soldiers at the junction fire warning shots to signal the beginning of the curfew. Her fingers dig into my back.
What is pleasure? What is pain?

51 comments:

kokolette said...

hmmm...this really saddens me
all this in our own Naija?
well written post i must say. i could feel what you're feeling...brought tears to my eyes...is it over yet?

exschoolnerd said...

I love the way u write...

will def be bck to read some more

i cant believe thats the situation in ph..i thot it was fiction till i saw ph...

take care of urself n stay safe.

lol at the text from osama.

Atutupoyoyo said...

Kai Porter you and Jaja have filled me with a mixture of wonder and fury today. On the one hand I am in awe of your respective writing abilities, on the other I am livid at what is happening in our country. This is not Port Harcourt that you describe, it is Beirut. Wetin man go do now? You are talking about irony. Those soldiers would not recognise irony if it flogged them with koboko five times a day. Me sef I tire!

Your ending made me smile though and the text from Osama? Pure genius.

bighead said...

What is this?
My guy, you dey write "flames" make dem no shoot you oh! Cos that'll be a big loss to the literary world.

All the wahala in PH will end sometime; there was a time in warri, we had to lift hands while, walking, driving, biking, or standing (And if you stand for too long, it'll probably earn you a bullet or two) but that time has passed along with all the companies, white men and their money that used to differentiate Warri from a village. They all moved to PH; by the time they now leave, PH'll be quiet again and broke too.

Keep your entries pouring in; you have become my literary example.

UnNaked Soul said...

my guy, i tire o...
dem wan start their nonsense for niaja...
fire burn dem... all of them!

UnNaked Soul said...

na pleasure... na so e dey be
lol

Jaja said...

lyrical, very lyrical...
i managed to smile may times through it.

this post dey sweet me, i wan buy u beer. but we cant fit comot for evening now with this curfew of a thing. Anyway i go owe u one... send me ur true-true name and number... hehehe

It will pass, these bad times.

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

Despite the serious nature of this post, I thank you for giving me something to smile about. I couldn't believe the text from Osama - genius. It expresses your frustration glaringly.

I spoke to my mom and told her to tell my relatives in Port to get out of there. She laughed and said, "Where do you want them to go?" She is right. We are trapped in a besieged city, we are trapped in a besieged nation, we are trapped in a besieged existence no matter where we lay our heads. But there is nothing more troubling or dangerous than chaos and the inability of those responsible to restore order.

Stay safe my brother.

Nyemoni said...

Seriously on point....I love you more cos of this post, very well done... I have heard similar accounts from my brothers and parents...I have also told them to get out of Ph but really where do I want them to go? I too am scared to go to PH, can you imagine? All because of bad leadership..

I loved your reference to the Etibo...oh my days! Nice one porter, nice one...

Nyemoni said...

oh! and by the way....good luck with Mrs. X...

Justme said...

Luv ur blog! U sound like a fun person

Nilla said...

lol @ the text from Osama.

Yes oh, those curfews add more chaos...traffic is worse as people try to get home around the same time.

Glad you're fine!...and ofcourse I love the way you write :-)

Have a lovely day!

geisha said...

because everyone else has said all there is to say, i will revert to the regular first-timer-comment-type.
hey i jus stumbled on your blog and it's cool! really like the way u write...
(i'd say something witty or whatever, but i'm all flirted out.)

Anonymous said...

Sad, so sad that "Port-Highlife" has come to this. I grew up in both Warri and Port-Harcourt . Half my immediate family is in Warri, the other half is in PH. I remember when oil companies and staff/contractors and people generally sick of the Urhobo/Itsekiri,Ijaw/Itsekiri ethnic wars and soldiers' madness fled Warri for PH. Now it is as if PH is worse than Warri itself by all accounts, I may be wrong.
It will be well, i refuse to accept that things will not calm down soon. And there I was planning to come home in December, where will i stay? Is it in Bendel estate/Ekurode Urhobo annex, where armed robbers can strike anytime or RA in PHC where another bomb can go off or off East/West Road? Where is safe for me to go and experience the Naija i daydream about daily?

Peace and Love, Reader in Toronto.

p.s. No where is that safe, one could just as well be stabbed by the resident crackhead downtown, or run down by your friendly neighbourhood drunk in Toronto. It is just that peace of mind that armed criminals (soldiers, police and thieves, same difference)steal from law abiding citizens that gets to me, it is not as if I can not still hang in Naija, I hope.

Anonymous said...

Is the curfew only in "town"? or does it extend to Rumukwurushi?

Anonymous said...

U have mad TALENT...
After the storm comes the rain...
Naija go better real soon...
Did i hear an amen...

femme said...

finally! you are back!
i haven't read anything and i find I'm not even first five after all the time i spent trekking here everyday.

femme said...

you are so poetic.even though the contents of your post are very saddening, i'm moved more by the richness of your words.
is port harcourt that bad?
how come we dont get a sense of that in the news?
ps
leave all this your law runs. you have serious skills. don't say we didn't tell you.

Porter deHarqourt said...

@kokolette...
...it's not yet over, the curfew (and our torment)has been extended by a week, and so we wait.

@exschoolnerd...
...thank you. i know it'll pass eventually. but sooner would be metter than later.

@atutu...
...i doffed my head to u b4. it remains doffed.

@bighead...
...u r too kind. abi u wan make my head swell? hehehe. first Warri, and now PH...is it some sort of roving Niger-Delta curse, i wonder.

@unnaked...
...ehen! you'd know about pleasure wouldn't u? bad guy.

@jaja...
...ha! i'll take u up on dat offer, but we go do am between morning and afternoon sha.
and thanks for the link u put up on ur blog my guy.

@solomonsydelle...
...u r so right,trapped is the word. the sense of siege is stifling. but i hope it only gets better from here on out.

@nyemoni, luvly nyemoni...
...nice of u to drop by. i hope ur peeps are safe and that things will get sane enough for u to come back here. i go package fresh fish, with isemi, and ngolo for you.
as for Miss X, we still have about 7 more curfews to go!

@justme...
...oh thank u so much for ur kind comment. is it just me or do i sense you are a fun person yourself?

@nilla...
...hope u r safe where you are. how's the service thing coming along?...and thank you. i'll try to stay safe.

@geisha...
...wink* wink*

@anon...
...well put. safety eludes us no matter where we are. but i think the current level of violence here will subside pretty soon, then you can come over and i'll introduce you to some secret local delicacies.

@anon...
...the curfew is citywide. i.e thruout Port Harcourt, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun indoors!

@anon...
...i say SEND DOWN THE RAIN! so i can sing THE STORM IS OVER!

@femme...
...my person! no vex abeg. for all ur trekking, i'll give you a foot massage.
yes o! it's that bad, but just for a while i hope. the news media have their curious agenda.
hey, how did u know about my 'skills' ehn? hmmm...lol!

catwalq said...

in as much as I love the way you write, I am so saddened.
This is a clip from a war torn area.Why is this happening? This is our garden city, home to my temple, land to the gods...
Please be careful

ayotundegirl said...

i hope that this has really been exagerated.
you write well.
you sadden my heart too.
Can this really be happening in nigeria...? in port harcourt...? next door...?
i have got the same feeling i got after watching "hotel rwanda".

Anonymous said...

Mr. Porter deHarqourt

A fantastic depiction of a truly sad situation.

We Rivers State people have been absolutely deplorable in decisively taking our future into our own hands.

(Imposed)Govenor after (Imposed)Govenor come with their own 'Warlord'. And once ther's a dissagreement at 'home' its the people of the state (who never even had any involvement in the first place) that are the victims.

Due to the really complicated political web of our great nation, EVERYBODY knows where the problems are but NOBODY wants to take action..."oh toothless EFCC"

The soothing consolation is that this will not go on forever. By God's grace things will change, and accountability will once again be the order-of-the-day.

Mr. Porter deHarqourt, great piece once again.

NIGERIA POLITRICKS said...

Again, It's sad, sad, sad...And why is it we always act like we are ignorant of what is going in Nigeria; always asking if this is Naija? Like Nigeria is in outta space or something...people are dying everyday and the nation continues to disintigrate into slippery slopes. I am saddened by this nigthmare or appropriately put by JaJa, day-mare...innocent Nigerians suffer because we have a failed state in our hands and I am afraid that not too long, we are going to see a revolution...the people can't take this madness anymore. And I do not see a resolution in sight anytime soon, because the rest of Nigeria and the world carried on like there was nothing happening in PH...we will have no other recourse than to fight to protect what is ours!

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

@ Porter deHarquort: Just spotlighted your story in the newest installment of the Nigerian Discussion Series. Please stop by and share some insight on the questions we are asking about how Nigerians can bring some relief to Port. See you soon.

Anonymous said...

My dear, you've bowled me over. This time,.. with the depth of ur insight, the poetry of ur words, the humour lying within, the warmth with which you write that we who read can feel.
Through your eyes i see portharcourt as things REALLY are to the average person...
Not as they are to a journalist( mere stats and figures...more fodder for news that in turn yield sales figures)
Not as they are to the government.. (a poor depiction of our image "this is not good for our int'l image" they say)
Not as they are to the military.. the foot-soldiers (finally some action.. finally an opportunity to display our drunkeness with power we seemingly "lost" when democracy was returned)
..... the list is endless.
The situation is pathetic.
Thank you Porter, thank you. for the insight.

Bitchy said...

Hey, I saw the link to this on Jaja's. I really like your blog. Have read your 2 most recent posts. I'll be back Xxx

mypenmypaper said...

hhmm,

PH is becoming the next Iraqi capital, while our leaders are driving hummer jeeps around Lagos and Abuja.

bro, pls keep your head low. Let the runs be blazing over. My question is: can our leaders really claim they don't know who these militants are? Worse, the soldiers make the situation hello. Now, all those soldiers who have never been to a war in their lifetime have the opportunity to shoot somebody, harrass, at least, so much of theory, now is the time for practice.

Nice lines there:ill like to spend my curfew getting to know ya. And what more could you wish for, 'getting to know her' with sounds of gunshots blazing over.

Wait, tell me you blog at a cybercafe, or your ISP could still get its staff to sleep in the office.

Omodudu said...

Your eye witness account is superb I am linking to this right away.

Afrobabe said...

Wow,wow,wow..heard about the stuff goiing on there just didnt know it was that bad...It happened in benue state as well..Soldiers every where,very black looking people from the villages mixed with those fleeing tarraba state arrived makurdi with tales of rape,killings,beatings...a father would recount how his 6 daughters were raped in front of him,a boy would recount how he was forced to sleep with his sister or mother,a farmer would recount how they killed all his goats and cows,homes were burnt down,schools were closed...I had just about graduated,I fled....but my heart broke for all those who had no options but to stay...It ended in benue it will end in port harcourt one day.

Nyemoni said...

@ Porter...I'll take your word for it...I expect my nji (fresh fish) Ngolo and isem..Kindly add ofingo and mbana to it...these things are scarce in Lagos ;-)

joicee said...

Beautifully written......
Hopefully all this will pass...someday,oneday.

stuck in my throat o said...

I like port harcourt, but all this drama is removing its appeal. I pray all the wahala ends and i wish the guilty are brought to book.

stuck in my throat o said...

i hope all this PH wahala blows over and is solved by our government. It is not right for anyone to live in fear.

Baroque said...

thank GOD you said an exaggerated account, because i was shocked as i read that i hadnt heard this part of the PHC seige tale...meanwhile, knack us Miss X tory abeg...you tight sha, see you lines...bad boy...update

princesa said...

The situation in Portharcourt...very sad.
I hope it doesnt turn to another UDI incident.
Your writing....creative... i love it.

Am happy despite the whole wahala you still find time to catch some fun,(wink).

catwalq said...

update...
haba

femme said...

guy, wassup?

femme said...

was that just yesterday?

Misan said...

Great blog by the way! and your account of the happenings in PH paint such a sad picture, reminiscent of that of Warri up until last year (as was mentioned by someone earlier). Don't know if to pray that things die down, and PH becomes another Warri (raped and jaded), or to hope it escalates to the point where the new Oga realizes that soldiers and their toys just won't do the trick...

Waffarian said...

I agree with Nigerian Politricks, can people stop "being surprised"? Una no dey watch news? Yes, people are living in shit down there, nobody cares, Warri has become a ghost town and now, they have moved the shit to Port-Harcourt. Yes, it is that bad. Wake up, people!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bold and Beautiful said...

U write in such a unique way...im tripping

AlooFar said...

Will surely come back to read more.

Cheers.

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