Several days ago, I was in Jos, my hometown, out walking in our neighborhood with my Uncle M around 7 in the morning. As we were circling back toward the house, we approached a woman selling kose (bean cakes) by the roadside. My Uncle offered to buy me some for breakfast. I was delighted – they are a sweet childhood food. As the woman prepared to re-heat the bean cakes and then wrap them up for us, I looked down and noticed a pile of newspapers. On the top was an article about the esteemed Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s memoir of his experience of the Biafran War, There was a Country, complete with three photos: one of him, one of the cover of the book, and another alongside a photo of Professor Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel laureate for Literature. Getting my Uncle’s OK. I grabbed the newspaper, lest the woman choose to use this piece of newsprint to put our breakfast in.
Reading the article at home – it was from The Nation and dated Feb 20, 2013 – I discovered it was a piece about a reading of There was a Country hosted by the Rainbow Book Club of Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt has been declared by UNESCO as World Book Capital for 2014. (I’ve not yet read the book yet but was thrilled to see it on sale at Abuja Airport on Monday and picked up a copy). From the account, Achebe’s personal take on the war is controversial. Some feel he’s given Ibos an inflated view of themselves.
I was then even more tickled to read a quote in the article from Mrs. Judy N. Aunty Judy is an American who met her husband at Oxford, attended my parent’s wedding in London in 1959 (!) and moved to Port Harcourt later that year. (She, like my mother, is now an expatriate widow.) She and her husband lived through the war – his law books were burned by the Biafrans and at one point, he spent time in jail. In the piece, she encouraged us to read as many accounts of the Civil War in Nigeria as possible because one person’s account cannot adequately capture the numerous complexities of war. Wise words from a woman who’s made her home in southern Nigeria for over half a century.