Twelve year old Ladi lived with her parents and two brothers, Nuhu and Luka in Korro, a small village in Taraba State with a very small population mainly farmers who traded their produce to survive. They lived in an environment where mud houses were built haphazardly amongst surrounding farm land. The houses were built close to each other and faced any direction the builders chose with no proper planning; paths ran in between houses in confusing manner.
Outsiders rarely came to Korro. The people were just happily living with each other with no external interference. Trees and bushes grew everywhere, many were fruit trees, only a few were meant to provide shade. The people lacked basic amenities like water, electricity, toilet facilities etc. They relied heavily on wells and streams for water and oil lamps for light at night. For their toilet and taking their bath, they used the bushes and some parts of their farmland to ease themselves.
Ladi’s mother Ummi, whose younger brother Adamu, had not seen her in over 15 years suddenly appeared in his car from Jalingo, the state capital, he had missed his way but was able to get villagers on their way to the farm to describe his sister’s house. There was a lot of excitement in Ladi’s home. Her mother kept hugging and staring at her brother who was now very wealthy. He looked very rich and out of place in his sisters humble home. Ladi and her brothers were introduced to their uncle and the children wondered how their uncle looked different from them. They never had visitors from the city; this was the first time. ‘Mama who is he?’ Luka asked. ‘He is my younger brother who went to the city very long ago. I was always worried and prayed to God to bring him back after our parents died and today he is here, ya Allah! I am grateful’ their mother sang as she danced around.
Uncle Adamu chatted with his sister and her husband Iliya. He expressed his shock at the lack of basic facilities in the home how they could be comfortable with no electricity, pipe borne water, bathroom and toilet facilities. His sister’s family like so many other families in the village still relied on streams, rivers and wells for water and oil lanterns for light at night, the bushes around their houses served as their bathrooms and toilet, thereby polluting the environment. He was dismayed at the unhygienic situation his sister’s family lived.
Ladi and her brothers Nuhu and Luka sat on the bare floor gazing in admiration at the uncle they had never met but had heard so much about from their mother. Uncle Adamu took a liking to the children especially his niece. He told them about his family, his four children and his wife, and about Jalingo, the city where he lived and worked. The children fell asleep listening to him describe life in the big city and all the modern facilities they had access to. To the whole family it sounded like fairy tale since the children and their parents had never been outside their immediate environment. The children attended the only elementary school in the village where they sat under a big tree to be taught by the only teacher in the village.
In the morning after a very uncomfortable night, half lying and sitting in the only plastic chair in the house, uncle Adamu called his sister and said “I have to cut short my trip and return to the city’, he lied. I just remembered I have some pressing matters to attend to. He did not want to hurt her feelings by telling her the environment was unhygienic and not conducive for him to even consider spending one more night.
On hearing that Ladi said he wanted to go with his uncle to the city, she pleaded. She had dreamt of the beautiful things he talked the night before, at her age she knew she wanted something good she had always felt uncomfortable with the way they lived. Having just reached puberty and seeing early signs of menstruation, her mother had taught her to use rolled up old rags torn from her old wrappers as sanitary towels which was always messy and uncomfortable. The girl wanted the clean and healthy life her uncle vividly described.
Ummi, Ladi’s mother pleaded with her brother “take my daughter, I want her to have the life I never had”. Iliya, her father was also in support. He said, “Yes, please let her go with you I know you will take good care of her”. Uncle Adamu accepted to the delight of the family,’I promise my wife and I will take of her care of Ladi , send her to school and give her the sort of lifestyle my children have” .With tears streaming down her eyes, Ladi bade her family farewell, carrying her small torn Ghana must go bag that contained an extra dress and chewing stick on her laps. Her uncle drove off in the direction of Jalingo. She was sad to leave her parents and brothers but a small part of her was happy and looking forward to starting a new life.
Ladi jolted awake when the car stooped at her uncle’s house in Jalingo. They had been travelling for over 5 hours and only stopped briefly on the road to eat and stretch their legs. She had slept most of the way. She stared amazed at her beautiful surrounding ; the clean beautiful environment. The house was a duplex painted white with flower pots well arranged around the building. Two other cars were parked at the side of the house. Ladi had never seen anything like that before. She had lived all her life in a small mud house with her family.
Not long after, her uncle was surrounded by his children. She had heard so much about her cousins and eagerly looked forward to meeting them. ‘Welcome daddy’ the children chanted, the four of them jumping at him from all directions all wanting to get his attention all at the same time. The youngest child, two year old Musa, raised his hands wanting to be carried. Ladi watched as her uncle threw the little one in the air catching him while the baby screeched and giggled with delight.Fourteen year old Audu and his sisters, eleven year old Maryam and Aisha who was eight years old, stared curiously at Ladi and they wondered where their father got the unkempt looking girl. Still clutching her Ghana must go bag, Ladi stared back at them. ‘Is she our new maid?’ 8 year old Aisha innocently asked. ‘No she is not, she is your cousin my sister’s daughter she will be staying with us so make sure you all take care of her and make her comfortable’, he responded to the curious children.
Uncle Adamu introduced his niece to his wife who was busy in the kitchen, and he told Ladi to call her aunty Maryam. Aunty Maryam looked at the little girl standing with her head bent before her and she knew she had a lot of work to do in teaching her so many things. She stretched out her arms and said ‘Come here, my dear , let me look at you. Don’t be scared. You will be fine with us here’. Ladi hesitated a little then drew close to the woman who held her close to her bossom and hugged the frail looking girl. After lunch Aunty Maryam asked one of the kids to call Ladi to the bedroom she was to share with her cousins. ‘This is your room’, she said, pointing at the bed in the corner. Opening one of her daughters walldrobes,
she sorted out dresses on the bed to see if they would fit Ladi, ‘ try them on and let me see how you will look, then you will have your bath and change into one of these dresses, but first let me show you how to use the bathroom and toilet, it will look strange and different from what you know but you will find it easy to use.’ Aunty Maryam took her into the bathroom and showed her everything worked, how to use the shower and the toilet. Ladi stared silently and looked around the white bathroom wondering how it could be so clean. ‘This is your tooth brush, I will show you how to clean your teeth in the morning when you wake up and at night before bed’, her aunt said interrupting her confused thoughts. ‘Thank you ma’, Ladi said quietly almost reluctant to talk. ‘I want you to remove your dress and get into the bath I will show you how you will bath yourself and clean up, don’t be shy’ her aunt said when she noticed Ladi was reluctant to undress. Aunty Maryam showed her how to clean her self using the shower and use the toilet and clean up properly. Ladi shrieked at the clean, clear warm water gushing from the shower with so much force. she had never seen anything like it. She had always bathed at the river side, what she had seen all her life was water from the rivers and streams fetched with a bowl in a bucket she always balanced on her head in the village. She smiled at her aunt, expressing her gratitude for how good she felt after she had her shower. ‘Don’t worry my dear you will get used to it. I want you to settle down and feel at home. My husband has told me you will stay with us. Anything you don’t understand, just feel free to ask me or any of your cousins. You are one of us’, her aunt responded.
Ladi settled down in her new home gradually warming up to her cousins who grew to love her and playfully nicked named her Lala. She missed her parents and brothers, but knew she would see them one day. She had a lot to learn in her new environment and she wanted to make her uncle proud of her and not regret bringing her from the village.
Uncle Adamu registered her in a private secondary school where her cousins schooled. He got her lesson teachers to tutor her at home after school so that she could catch up with her peers. Ladi studied extra hard and was always eager to learn and play with her mates and new friends. At home, she helped with chores and soon became best friends with her cousin, Aisha, who was about the same age as her.
Over the next few years, Ladi worked hard in school and passed her secondary school exams with flying colours, making her uncle and aunty proud of her. She had grown from the frail looking village girl to a beautiful respectful young lady. Uncle Adamu called her one morning while she was helping her cousin make her hair and both girls were gisting about the university they had applied to. ‘Ladi, my daughter, over the years you have been a good girl and have made me very proud of you, and I know my sister, your mother will be very proud of the woman you are becoming. It’s time for you to go home to see your parents and brothers before you resume at the university. They have not seen you in six years; you can spend three weeks with them’, he said . Ladi burst into tears. ‘Thank you, uncle I have missed them so much I am grateful for all you have done for me, I will be happy to go back and see them before resuming at the university to study Environmental Sanitation. I may not be able to take breaks to go and see them when school starts, I will want to concentrate’. ‘The driver will take you the day after tomorrow. Your aunty will buy the gifts you will give them when you get home. Just pack your bags and be ready to leave” he said. Ladi hugged him tight. She was grateful for the love and care he and his family had showed her over the years.
The d-day arrived and Uncle Adamu’s driver took her on the five hour drive to the village. Arriving at the village, she asked the driver to stop a few houses to her parent’s house she wanted to walk the short distance and enjoy the view she had missed so much at the same time arriving at home unannounced to surprise her family, the car would have alerted them of her arrival. She walked the short distance between the mud huts to get home. As she walked towards home she saw her mother sitting on the stone cooking on the open fire backing her. She tiptoed behind her mother covering her eyes from the back. Her mother turned round and grabbed her hand and turned round to see who was behind her. ‘Mma, it’s me Ladi’. Recognising her daughter’s voice, she jumped up and attempted to pick her up crying and laughing at the same time. ‘My daughter!’ she screamed, ‘I have missed you! You have grown into a big beautiful girl! My brother has done well! God I thank you’, her mother chanted dancing around the compound. Her father came in from the farm while his wife was dancing and recognising his daughter, he dropped his cutlass and hoe picked her up and danced around holding her. ‘My ladi , my yarinya has grown up’, he said. ‘How are you? We have missed you!’, He said with tears in his eyes. Your brothers are on their way from the farm. They will be happy to see you. Ladi’s brothers got back from the farm very happy to see that she looked very different from them – clean and modern. They all surrounded her wanting to know how she was and what she had been doing for the past couple of years. She had so many stories to tell them about Jalingo. Her brothers had grown up into young men and her parents looked old and tired but she felt happy to be back home.
Three weeks with her family went by quickly and Ladi was shocked at the level of poverty and the lack of basic amenities. They still used the bushes for bathroom and toilet and water was still from the rivers and streams. She struggled to cope, having tried to teach them about their hygiene and how to keep their environment clean.
Ladi knew what she had to do. ‘I will work hard and finish at the university. I will come back here and make a change for you. All the things I enjoy in the city I will make sure you have it too’, she promised her parents on her last night at home. Her father and mother nodded at her words. And they prayed for her to succeed. She had struggled to cope but it wasn’t that easy. A part of her was already missing her uncle’s house which she had grown used to over the years. The next morning, Ladi left for the city determined to work hard and improve her family’s quality of life.
Ladi settled down at the University to study Environmental Sanitation with her parents and her village at the back of her mind. She wanted to bring government awareness and rural programs to the place where she was born and raised, improve the quality of life and make sure they had basic amenities like borehole water, electricity and good health facilities.
She worked hard in the university for four years and passed her final exams with flying colors coming out as the best student in her faculty. She was immediately given employment by the state government at the Federal Ministry of Water Ministry Resources after completing the one year compulsory NYSC programme.
Ladi was fortunate to be part of a committee involved in policy making and implementation of better life for rural development which was aimed at improving public health and sanitation, literacy, infrastructural development, electricity and eradication of poverty. She and her team mapped out strategies on how to sensitise the rural areas.
She made good on her promise; she made sure her village and its environs benefitted from the implementation of the government policy which she was a part of.
Ladi built a new home for her parents making sure it had all the facilities they needed thereby improving their quality of life.
She looked back and was proud of herself. She had come a long way from the frail looking twelve -year – old girl who grew up in a village that had been forgotten by civilization to a very strong hard working lady, who brought change to her people and her community.