By Azuka Onwuka
The main reason many people don’t like to travel to their ancestral homes is because they don’t have their own house. That is also the reason many fear to retire to their village when they are old. Many people don’t like leaving their comfortable apartment (or mansion) in the city to live in a room in the house of their father or, worse still, their brother.
And houses at home are not built like those in the city where the toilets, bathrooms and kitchen are all inside the apartment. In the village, if you are pressed at night to empty your bladder, you have to step out of the house to do that. Nothing scares children like coming out at night in the dark to urinate. When they look at the plantain or palm tree close by, they feel they see a man with a knife there or an “ojuju.”
Then for women, the worse thing for them at home is having to share a kitchen with another woman. They don’t want anybody to monitor what they cook or eat. They also don’t want the embarrassment of having to be cautioned for singing too loudly or closing the door too loudly. No parents want to be told to warn their children for playing too roughly or making too much noise. Any of such is seen as an insult. Such parents will usually murmur to themselves something like: “I don’t blame you. Is it not because I’m staying in your house?”
So, anytime the man in the city remembers that he has to travel home, he postpones it with one excuse or the other. Even if he has to travel, he gets home on Saturday and leaves on Sunday. That way, there will be no time for any quarrels with anybody.
Anytime he tells the wife that they have to travel home, the wife discourages it. Even the children are not eager to go home.
Rather than face the truth, the blame is placed on witches and wizards at home who will kill them or steal their destiny and all the evil people at home who hate their progress. The other excuse is that “that place is so backward and boring.”
But one of the easiest things a man can do is to build a house. Yes, that is no joke. If you are lucky to have a parcel of land inherited from your father, then, it is very easy to have a house there, no matter your income. As a child growing up at home, I watched cobblers, palm wine tappers, carpenters, labourers, and poor widows build houses of their own, while some relatively comfortable people – especially those working in the cities – had no houses. How did they achieve it? They stopped waiting for the right time: they just started!
A house is a house whether it is a one-roomed apartment or the 828-metre-high Burj Khalifa in Dubai. If your income is too low to afford a mansion now, leave the central part of your land for that mansion and build a small house by the edge of the land. It could be a three-roomed house. If that is still too big, build the so-called boys quarters of two or three rooms with a sitting room. It is done on a straight line. But ensure that the toilets, bathrooms and kitchen are all enclosed, so that nobody has to go out at night to urinate.
So, where will the money come from if you earn about N50,000 a month? Don’t worry. There is no law that states how long it should take to complete a house. If you have about N10,000 to buy a trip of sand, buy it and drop it on the land and continue with your life. When you have raised enough money for 10 bags of cement, engage a local person to start moulding blocks on the land. When the blocks are dry, let them be stacked and covered with a tarpaulin. Continue moulding the blocks in batches until you get about 500 to 1000 blocks, de pending on the size of the house you want to build. Start saving money for the foundation.
Once you have done the foundation, you will not want to spend money on any other frivolity until the house is raised. Once you reach the lintel, you won’t like to see your house beaten by rain and sun for long.
By the time you know what is happening, you are a landlord. You will be pinching yourself repeatedly to ascertain that it was “poor you” that built such a house.
When you have a house of your own, once in a while, you will like to go home to rest from the noise and stress of the city. When the schools’ long vacation comes in June, you may even want to take your holiday then so that your children will spend some longer time at home. Unlike before, your wife will be the one asking you, “Darling, when shall we travel home?”
The Igbo had that big problem until the 1966 pogrom in Nigeria made them to flee from parts of Nigeria to their towns and villages. Many big men in Kano, Kaduna, Ibadan, Lagos, Port Harcourt, and so on scampered to their hometowns and villages to be faced with the shock that they had no home of their own.
They and their families had to manage a room in the house of a brother or father. Like a proverb says: “Treat a guest like a king the first day; next day, give him a hoe to go to the farm.” Soon after the warm reception, the returnee squatters saw that there was nothing as good as living in one’s house. Strife and quarrels began among the wives, brothers and cousins. That the returnees had no access to their money made matters worse.
Those who even had uncompleted houses fared better. They found tarpaulins or abandoned corrugated iron sheets and used them to cover one or two rooms in the house and moved in there, to avoid the insult caused by squatting in their relatives’ houses.
After that humiliating experience of a big man losing all he had and becoming a squatter, a new orientation sprang up among the Igbo: Before you start building houses all over Nigeria and the world, go home and build a good house. Even if rats and cockroaches live in such a house without paying rent, anytime the owner has a reason to return home alone or with his family, there is a place to live in comfortably.
Many have even gone to the extreme of building castles in their hometowns that become so huge and lonely and difficult to clean when they have to spend one or two days at home. Such people prefer to sleep in hotels when they make such short trips back home to avoid all the trouble of cleaning and loneliness in such mansions. But it is better than someone who has no place to call his own.
If every urban dweller erects a house in his or her village, that community many see as “undeveloped” will become a developed place. Many towns and villages have developed their communities that way and such places are no longer seen as “remote and rural places.” The bent dry fish that we love so much was not created bent. Someone bent it.
Azuka Onwuka is a Public Affairs Analyst.