Ephraim, my older brother left for Auckland, New Zealand twenty five years ago. For the first five years after his departure, we did not hear anything from him apart from an earlier mail that had a UK post stamp. This suggested that he had given it to somebody to post for him in the UK. He said in the mail that he was alright. He told dad not to worry about him. He reminded dad that he knew that he was from a tribe of warriors and that he will succeed in life.
Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years. We were expecting follow up letters from him. None came. He only sent Christmas cards once a year.
He did not leave home on a very good note. He was upset and tired of the way he was being treated by the government and the political system in Nigeria. His greatest bitterness was that his country had denied him the chance to dream and see his dream through. He was now a professor of psychiatry.
Throughout the flight from Dubai to Melbourne the email I had received earlier on from my nephew was on my mind. We had caught up courtesy of the digital age. I had developed and built a relationship with Otong and Ekpedeme over the internet. Skype was our favourite. We used to talk for hours. They would see me and my children, their cousins. We would talk about stuff and life in the UAE and New Zealand. We knew that it was only a matter of time, a family reunion was inevitable, even though my brother said, “never in Nigeria, for him.” Ekpedeme was eighteen years old and was working part time while studying at a local university. He was hoping to save enough money to travel to Europe and Africa on an extensive tour. Otong was still in high school. She was preparing for her final exams. She was also planning for a trip to Nigeria.
Dear uncle Okposongowo, My one and only dream is to meet a member of my dad’s family in real life. That is the greatest gift anybody can give me and I can give myself. We live off the memories of what dad tells us of his people. Please come and visit us in Timaru. This would be the best gift you can ever give your nephew and niece.
Three and a half hours of flying time is not a joke. I toyed with the idea over and over in my brain.
Before settling down to sleep in Marriot at Melbourne, I brought out my iPad and searched for flights to Christchurch. My conference was finishing on Friday early afternoon. I booked a flight out to Christchurch from Melbourne, it would take me about four hours. I drifted to sleep and dreamed that I saw my brother. He held on so tight to me. He said that since he arrived NZ twenty five years ago, he had been working and working to give his family the best in life. He was a successful physiotherapist and psychiatrist. He was running his own practice. He leaned his head on my bosom and cried and cried. His two children were watching from a distance and his wife kept saying ‘aawww, poor thing”. I awoke at the sound of my alarm.
My niece and nephew were so excited at the possibility of my coming down to Christchurch from Melbourne. They day dreamed that I came down to Timaru to visit them. They were like little kids who had just gotten a visitation from Santa Claus. They hugged me and held on tight to me, they wouldn’t let go. My niece, Otong kept pinching me. It was a world they often escaped into and would do anything to remain there. It usually satisfied them.
Before I left Melbourne for the airport, I had chatted with Ekpedeme. I got a rough idea of everybody’s itinerary. I was not good at surprises and I prayed that this would work out well. If all went according to plan, I would be at Ephraim’s home about 9pm their local time.
“Uncle I wish you could make it down here” Ekpedeme said.
“I know what you mean. I have been exploring how I could fit that into my programme” I responded.
“Dad is coming to see you before you fly out anyways. The only thing is he has not booked his ticket yet. I wish I could make it with him, but I gotta be at uni” Ekpedeme carried on.
“I was going to travel with dad, but he hasn’t told me which day he is coming. He is trying to reschedule an appointment of his before he can purchase his ticket” Otong announced.
Ephraim had studied at University of Auckland and University of Canberra. He did his masters at University of Auckland, and PhD at University of Canberra. After completing his PhD, he worked for a few teaching hospitals at Wellington, Auckland and Melbourne. He set up his own practice at Timaru and continued consulting for Christchurch Hospital. He was a much sought after mental health care practitioner in the locality.
Ephraim was married to a Kiwi girl Heidi, who was born in the UK and grew up in Tanzania and Burundi. Heidi worked for a bank as Human Resource Manager and during the summer holidays, did voluntary work with the natives in Papua New Guinea. Ephraim’s children were all born and brought up in NZ. The only family they knew was their mama’s family. They have never seen a family member from their daddy’s side. This was not of their own making. NZ is not a place that people from Nigeria visited often. The travel time alone is enough to put someone off. Looking for flights can be such a pain and then travelling for what would seem like a lifetime; only to spend two weeks seemed like an injustice. Ticket costs for such routes were astronomical. Change of flights and lay over times were not fun. The visa application process wasn’t the easiest too, from Nigeria. All of these added up to, people not being eager to make that kind of a trip.
‘Ding dong’, the door bell went. ‘I hope I don’t give someone a heart attack’ I thought. I pushed that bell button again. I overheard voices talking inside. A conversation like “someone should get the door, is anybody expecting anybody?”
“Maybe, it’s Sarah!”
“Oh no, Sarah is not in town” the voices carried on till the door stood ajar in front of me and Heidi was transfixed. She stared at me for a few seconds and I heard Ephraim’s voice thunder again “who’s there honey?”
Even though we have talked a couple of times on Skype, it did not prepare her for the reality that stared her in the face.
“Honey I said, who’s there?” Ephraim’s voice drew nearer.
She opened her hands for me and the rest of the family had joined her by now. Yells and screams and hugs and backslapping of hands followed. Ephraim and I spoke Ibibio for once and we talked like we were back in the village. Phone cameras were clicking and my niece and nephew thought it all a dream.
My niece sat to my right and nephew to my left. They would not let go of me for a second. They barraged me with a tornado of questions. Through my interaction with them, I found out that they knew a lot about Nigeria. Of course in this day and age, you can sit down and ask Mr. Google anything you would like to. But that reality, always shocked people.
It was a weekend of super fun. We walked around their neighbourhood like gangstas in the morning. We walked to the beach. We swam and played football. Ephraim cooked wonderful breakfast for us. We went to Caroline bay beach. We visited the Centennial Park. We ate in fancy restaurants and Heidi and the children treated us to ‘Heidi Grill Night’. We were hosted by Heidi’s family. We had a fabulous weekend together. We were all like kids again screaming, shouting, and speaking Ibibio language. By the time I was about to leave, they had all learnt a few Ibibio words like ‘abadie’, meaning hello, what’s going on, ‘amesiere’, meaning good morning and ‘di dia mkpo’ meaning – come and eat. All the neighbours knew that Ephraim’s brother, who was a desert specialist, was around from Abu Dhabi.
The entire of Ephraim’s family and Heidi’s family came to see me off at Christchurch airport. The memories it holds for me and my niece and nephew is priceless. The smiles it brought on the faces of my nephew and niece is unquantifiable. They had now touched base with a bona fide citizen of Uruan in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.