A Lesson to Remember

15-year-old twins Peter and Paul Isiaku were born in Europe to a wealthy family. They were brought back to live in Nigeria when they were three years old. The family, made up of their father, Mr. Isiaku, their mother, Dr. Lara Isiaku, and the twins, resided in Maitama, a high brow area of Abuja, the Federal Capital City of Nigeria, surrounded by rich and very influential neighbours.

Their father, a trained Petro-Chemical Engineer, was the managing director of Krail Oil and Gas. He holds a powerful position of coordinating resources, both internal and external, to ensure the continued growth of the company. Mr. Isiaku had strong influence in the society as a seasoned golfer well-admired in the elite social circle and a philanthropist who loved taking care of the needy, particularly orphaned children.

Mr. Isiaku gave his special twins, as he called them, the best of everything. They attended one of the best international schools in the country. He made sure the family vacationed outside the country at least three times a year.

Dr. Lara Isiaku, a beautiful light skinned woman fondly called Larry baby or Doctor baby by her husband and close friends, was a medical practitioner, a specialist in pediatrics. She chose her field because of her love for children, and ran her household with love, always attending to everyone’s needs. She was a very social, fun-loving woman who loved hosting and attending parties during her spare time. Admired in her circle of her friends for her love of jewelry and her fashion sense, she loved looking good, paying attention to what she wore both at home and out of the house.

She had a joke that she always shared after dressing up: While admiring herself in the full-length mirror in the master bedroom, “looking good is good business,” she would say while twirling around to the amusement of her husband and children.

Her husband would respond, “I made a good choice when I chose you,  and I would do it again and again,” he would say, winking at her.

Peter and Paul Isiaku knew from a very tender age that they were lucky children. They had the best upbringing, doted on by their parents and household staff. They were bubbly, humble, obedient, and well-behaved children who shared their parents’ love for good things.

They loved having fun with their friends and playing all manner of computer games. They surfed the internet looking the latest games to buy, always pestering their parents for new ones. The twins also inherited their parents’ love for fashion.

Their friends would come over to spend time with them by the poolside every weekend or during school midterm breaks, with a constant flow of soft drinks and snacks supplied by the housemaids. They had instructions from Dr.  Isiaku to feed the boys and their brood of friends, as she believed that boys needed to eat a lot.

Chapter 2

Dr. Isiaku was a clean woman who was very particular about hygiene. She encouraged her family to be clean, as she knew that the human body could be a host to  parasites and germs, and it is less likely that they would get inside the body if everyone had good personal hygiene habits. She taught her children to cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing.

Every time the twins saw her coming into their room, fondly calling out, “Double P, have you…” , they wouldn’t allow their mum finish before chorusing, “Yes, Mummy, we have brushed our teeth, washed our hair, taken our bath, and cleaned our room. What else do you want us to do? Come and see if don’t believe us!”

Both boys would jump at her, laughing. They knew that washing their hands after playing, going out of the house, or using the toilet was a normal thing. Their mother had taught them how to properly wash their hands with soap and she wasted no time in lecturing their friends on the good habit of hand washing and good hygiene to avoid falling sick.

Mr. Isiaku was not spared by his wife in her quest for cleanliness and proper hygiene.

“Sweetheart,” she called when she heard him coming in from a game of golf one evening,  “don’t you think we should have some sort of sink close to the front doors so anyone coming in can wash their hands right away?” she said, looking up from the book she was reading.

“Larry baby, what you are suggesting is too extreme. We can all wash our hands in the house before doing anything, so why mount a tap close to the front door? It won’t look nice,” he said frowning, wondering where all this was coming from. “You always have one new idea or the other.” He bent down to get close to her. “Give me a kiss and I will consider it.”

“Eww!” she shrieked, jumping to her feet with her hands stretched out in front of her to keep him off. “You smell of sweat and you are covered in germs! You need a bath!” she said as he chased her around the living room.

“Ok, ok,” she panted. “If you go upstairs and take your bath, that kiss is all yours”

Her husband smiled as the children walked into the room. ”What have you boys been up to?” Mr. Isiaku asked them.

“We went to the mall to check out the latest computer game that was released last week. You promised you would buy it for us!” Paul said, coming to stand beside his father.

“I didn’t promise, I said I would think about it and I am still thinking.”

Before Paul could plead and cajole, his father ran up the stairs to clean up, taking the stairs two at a time. His wife was left to deal with the children’s never-ending requests.

Chapter 3

Mr. Isiaku spent the night tossing and turning. Summer vacation started in two weeks and he was yet to make a decision about where they would vacation. They had spent Christmas and Easter holidays in America and Geneva, respectively.

At breakfast with the family, he was unusually quiet and deep in thought. He wanted the children to learn life lessons. The twins had a good life and never lacked anything. They needed to know what it was like to lack the basic necessities of life.

Mr. Isiaku had come from a very humble background. He had worked hard to get where he was in order to provide well for his family and give them the lifestyle he did not have growing up.

”Are you ok?” his wife asked when he picked up his briefcase on the way out of the house. ”You were not really present at breakfast. Is something the matter?” she probed.

“I have an idea. We will discuss it when I get back from the office,” he responded, giving her a peck on the cheek on his way out.

That evening, still in a pensive mood, Mr. Isiaku sat at the poolside in his family garden with Peter.

“ Call your mum for me. I need to speak to her,” he said.

“Yes, Daddy,” Peter responded, jumping up and running back into the house in search of his mother. He bumped into his twin brother coming out through the sliding doors leading to the garden.

“Ouch! Hey Paul, watch where you’re going!”

“Sorry, I wasn’t looking. I am trying to google the new PlayStation. Where are you running to?”

“Daddy asked me to call Mummy for him. Do you know where she is?”

”She is in the dining room filling up bottles with liquid hand wash. You know her phobia for germs,” Paul responded, running off in the direction of the pool where his father was.

Peter continued into the dining room.

“Mummy, but you filled bottles like two days ago. Why are you filling more bottles with hand wash? Where will you put them?? Peter said when he found his mum standing by the tables with different size plastic bottles in front of her.

“I will hand them out,” she responded.  “You know I come across many people every day. The drivers and gatemen at home and at work will get one each. I want everyone to make habit of good hygiene, and we can start by encouraging people to wash their hands. It helps to keep germs away. Falling sick is not an option.

“Do you want something? I know you wouldn’t come looking for me except…”

Before she could finish, Peter cut her off.

“No, Daddy asked me to call you to the pool,”  Peter responded, skipping off and leaving his mother standing alone with her bottles in each hand.

“Tell him I am coming!” she called out.

Dr. Isiaku walked to the poolside and  settled down with her feet on a low stool stretched out in front of her.

”You said we needed to discuss something this morning. What is it?” she asked her husband.

“It is about this year’s summer vacation. You know, it starts in two weeks,” he replied.

“Have you decided where we are going?” his wife asked. “I would like us to go to Paris. It will be fun for the twins and I will be able to shop and add to my perfume collection. I checked this morning and my bottles have really gone down. I want to buy new ones. You know I love to smell really good,” she became quiet when she noticed her husband staring at her.

“Nope,” Mr. Isiaku said quietly. “I have decided this year we are all going to the village. We will stay with my mother in the family house. I want the boys to know where they come from and appreciate what they have. They need to know that there is more to life than having everything they need.

“They have never been to the village, and it’s time for them to be educated in another way. Life is not all about silver and gold. Most people don’t have as much as we do, and they are happy. You know, my mother refused to allow me to build her a modern house. She still lives in the one my father built over fifty years ago, so you and the boys will have to make do without every comfort you know. Everything for the next two months will be different,” he finished.

“But we can’t do that!” his wife cried out. “Germs, the dirt, no modern toilet and bathroom facilities, the water, nothing is modern! There will be germs and we may all fall sick!” she said with a look of horror on her face.

“I have made up my mind and I need you to support me. Please, it’s for the good of the children,” he said.

“How long are we going to stay?” she asked, knowing it was an argument she couldn’t win.

“I will just take you and the children there for two months. I have business meetings in Abuja and Lagos. Since you decided to take time off work while they are on vacation, it works well.”

”I can’t stay there that long!” she said, getting worked up.

Mr. Isiaku decided to compromise. “Happy wife, happy life,” he thought.

“We will leave next Saturday and you’ll spend a month there. It’s seven hours to Lissam in Taraba State. The twins will get to see their hometown for the first time, and they will see their grandmother. Remember she hasn’t seen them since she came to Abuja three years ago,” he said. “They don’t need much, as it’s total village life.”

Mr. Isiaku left after he finished talking. He knew he had to escape before his wife thought of one thousand and one reasons why they shouldn’t go.

Chapter 4

D-day arrived. The children woke up very early, as their father had told them they were travelling by road and they needed to leave home at 7am. Dr. Isiaku was still not happy about the change of plans, but she went along with what her husband wanted to keep the peace.

She had inspected and chosen the twins’ clothes and she packed plenty of liquid hand wash. She planned on making sure everyone practiced good hygiene while they were on the trip. No germs could escape her when she was determined; after all, she was a doctor and saw how people fell sick due to carelessness.

The trip to Lissam in Taraba State was very eventful for the children, as they had rarely travelled by road, always by air. It was an opportunity to see the countryside and beautiful green land. Their father kept pointing out landmarks as they went. They were both happy,  eating the snacks and chicken their mother had packed. Dr. Isiaku decided to catch up on her beauty sleep, as she had gone to bed very late packing and leaving instructions for the house staff.

They arrived in Lissam into the waiting arms of their grandmother, who they fondly called Mami. Mami was a tall woman with streaks of grey in her short hair. She was very happy when her son called to tell her his family would be spending their vacation with her instead of travelling out of the country like they usually did.

The children leapt out the car, calling “Mami, we have missed you! Why haven’t you come to Abuja all this time?”

Mami stretched her hand out to her daughter-in-law, who dropped respectfully to her knees to greet her. Mami knew that as a doctor who had always been particular about hygiene, Lissam was the last place Dr. Isiaku wanted to be.

“Hmm, she will just have to cope,” Mami thought. “All her modern facilities are not available here. God will help us o.”

The twins walked around the compound wondering if they would be taken to a hotel to sleep later. The house looked very small and not in good condition. They were used to their own big white house surrounded by flowers and beautiful lawns in Abuja.

”This looked like a scene in a movie,” Paul thought.

Mr. Isiaku led the way into his childhood home. He had not visited in a while and what he saw made him unhappy. His mother had rejected his offer to renovate or build her a new home after his father and brother died in a car accident many years ago. She said she wanted to preserve their memory, so she left everything untouched, just the way it had been when they were alive.

He turned around and caught his wife’s eye. “Are you ok?” he mouthed.

“Yes,” she responded. “I am fine.”

She was already thinking of what she could do to keep herself and the twins healthy and comfortable. She eyed the small bed in the room she was to share with her boys for one month.

“I will cope,” she thought. “It is just for a while.”

Mami bustled happily around the small house trying to get them to settle into the small space. She had been lonely on her own.

Chapter 5

The next morning, after tearful goodbyes from the children and trying hard to ignore his wife’s long sad face,  Mr. Isiaku left for Abuja.

“Take care of my people, Mami? he said as he drove off. “I know they will adjust. I want the children to experience how other people live and appreciate what I have been able to provide for them. They are here to learn life lessons, Mami”.

Dr. Isiaku called the children after their father had left and Mami had gone to the village market to get fresh vegetables.

”Boys, I need you to keep the same momentum we used at home. Good hygiene at all times. Wash your hands with soapy water as often as you can. I came with so many bottles of liquid hand wash, and soap is also good to use. If we run out, the bathroom facilities here are a little different, but there is water all the same and you must always use it.

“I asked Mami to get someone from the village to come and clear all the grass around the house so that everywhere will be neat. It will reduce the mosquitoes. Don’t ever go to bed here without using the mosquito nets we came with. I don’t want anyone falling sick. Mami will also get a lady to come in daily and sweep the compound.”

“Mum, can we play with the kids we saw looking at us from the other building?” Paul asked once his mother had finished her talk about hygiene.

“Yes, you can play. That’s why daddy wanted you to spend your holiday here,” she said. “In the next couple of days, I will get some villagers together and teach them about proper hygiene. After all, I am a doctor. Maybe there is a reason I am here. It’s not so bad after all. I might even enjoy it.” she said, smiling.

They had fun settling down to village life. The children adjusted well, to their mother and grandmother’s surprise. They made new friends playing and running around the compound.

Dr. Isiaku made sure her children took their bath at least two times daily and washed their hands at every given opportunity. She went with Mami to the village market, meeting and interacting with various women. She was pleased that they were friendly and made her feel like one of them.

“Mami,” she called one day when they had just gotten back from the market, “I have an idea. I’d like to educate some of these women on good hygiene, how to take care of themselves and their household. What do you think?”

Nodding her head, Mami said, “Yes, my dear. It is a good idea. They will listen to you, as they like you already. I will tell the Village Head to send out a message to gather at the village square near the  elementary school, the one on the way to the farm. I have already been telling some of them that you are a doctor. I am sure they will have so many questions to ask you,”  her mother-in-law said, smiling.

Chapter 6

The town crier of the village made the Village Head’s announcement, going around with his gong, hitting it as he asked the villagers  to gather at the square for an important lecture.

When the day arrived, Dr. Isiaku arrived at the village square with her mother-in-law and her children, carrying two very big Ghana must go bags containing plenty of bar soaps for washing hands and bathing and toothbrushes and small tubes of toothpaste. There were enough to go around to almost all the families.

When everyone was seated, the Village Head stood up and made hand gestures for silence.

“My people, we are gathered here to listen to our daughter, sister, and mother on what will help us to avoid falling sick,” he said. “Doctor,” he beckoned to Dr.  Isiaku, “come and teach us how to take care of ourselves”.

Smiling and nervous, Dr. Isiaku stood on the small flat stone placed in front of the people. Everyone was silent as they waited to hear what the beautiful woman in front of them had to say.

“Good day my people,” she started. “I am happy you all responded to my call. You are all welcome here.

“As some of you know, I am a doctor. I am trained to take care of sick people and also to teach everyone what they can do in order not to be sick,” she paused when a small baby started crying, prompting the child’s mother to quickly put her breast in his mouth to stop the distraction. “I will not keep you here for long. After I have given my talk, I will give all of you the gifts I have for you.”

At the mention of gifts, a joyful murmur went around the people, who were nodding and smiling.

”Please listen carefully,” she continued. “Taking care and cleaning ourselves is called hygiene, and this is done to prevent small things we cannot see called germs from sticking to us and causing us to fall sick.”

She had decided to explain in a less complicated way so that the villagers will understand what she is saying without a struggle.

”There are different types of hygiene. The first one is toilet hygiene. When you wash your hands properly with soap after using the toilet,” she said lifting up a bar of soap and demonstrating how to wash properly, “rinse off your hands with plenty of water.

“The next type is shower or bathing hygiene. It is good to bath twice a day, both morning and night. Wash your body with soap and a sponge, and scrub the hidden parts of your body and rinse with water.

“Cut your nails and keep them short, as long nails attract germs to live under them. Cut them with nail cutter, or you can use a brand-new razor blade if you are careful. Mothers, please help your children cut their nails. Some of them always put their hands and fingers in their mouths. This is a major source of sickness amongst children” she went on, happy that they were all paying attention.

“Another very important one is teeth hygiene.” Lifting up a new toothbrush, she removed it from the package and placed a small amount of toothpaste on it while demonstrating the upward and downward motion of cleaning our teeth, without putting the brush in her mouth. “Scrub your tongue very well also, and rinse with water. This will prevent germs from growing on our teeth and causing tooth decay.

“The last one I will be explaining  today is hand hygiene. Please always wash your hands as much as you can daily. It is never too much! Help the young ones to wash their hands, especially when they play outside. Our hands carry germs to different parts of our bodies,” she concluded smiling. ”If you have any questions, please feel free to come and see me at home. I will be happy to attend to you. It is already getting late and I don’t want to keep you.

“But first, let me give you the things that will help you practice what I just told you,” she said, waving her hands at the twins to bring the bags forward. “Everyone line up. You will each get one or two soaps, toothbrushes for every member of your family, and toothpaste. Don’t push each other!” she said when she noticed the villagers were fighting for space in the line. “There is enough to go around,” she said. smiling in the direction of Mami, who was waving at her.

That evening, seated outside the house gisting with Mami about the eventful day while the twins were abed, Dr. Isiaku said that coming to the village with the boys had been a good idea.

“At least I was able to share some knowledge with people. From now they will take good care of themselves.”

“I am very proud of you my dear,” her mother-in-law said.  “My son is very lucky to have you.”