Twelve-year-old Faizah lived with her parents and two younger brothers, Nuhu and Jamilu, in Korro, a small village in Taraba State. It had a very small population of mainly farmers, who traded their produce to survive.
They lived in an environment where mud houses were built haphazardly amongst surrounding farmland. The houses were built close to each other and faced whichever direction the builders chose, with no proper planning. Paths ran in between the houses in a confusing manner.
Outsiders rarely came to Korro. The people were happy living with one another with no external interference.
Trees and bushes grew everywhere. Many were fruit trees, and only a few were meant to provide shade. The people lacked basic amenities like pipe borne water, electricity, and toilet facilities. They relied heavily on wells and streams for water, oil lamps for light at night, and for their toilet and taking a bath, some used the bushes and some parts of their farmland to ease themselves.
Faizah’s mother, Ummi, had not seen her elder brother Adamu in over 15 years. One day, he 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 Faizah’s home that day. Her mother kept hugging and staring at her brother, who was now very wealthy. He looked rich and out of place in his sister’s humble home.
Faizah and her brothers were introduced to their uncle, and the children wondered why their uncle looked different from them. They never had visitors from the city; this was the very first time.
“Mama, who is he?” Jamilu asked.
“He is my elder brother who went to the city a very long time ago. I was always worried and prayed to God to bring keep him safe 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 and wondered how they could be comfortable with no electricity, pipe borne water, and 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 house served as their toilet, thereby polluting the environment. He was dismayed at the unhygienic condition in which his sister’s family lived.
Faizah, Nuhu, and Jamilu 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 a 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, and they sat under a very big umbrella tree to be taught by the only teacher in the village regardless of their age.
In the morning after a very uncomfortable night, half-lying and half-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 that I have some pressing matters to attend to.”
He did not want to hurt her feelings by telling her that the environment was unhygienic and not conducive for him to even consider spending one more night.
Upon hearing that, Faizah said, “I would like to go and live with uncle and his family in the big city,” she pleaded.
She had dreamt of the beautiful things he talked about the night before. At her age, she knew that she wanted something good, and she had always felt uncomfortable with the way they lived. Having just reached puberty and seeing early signs of mensuration., 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 so vividly described.
Ummi pleaded with her brother “Take my daughter, I want her to have the life I never had.”
Iliya, Faizah’s father, was also in support of the idea. He said, “Yes, please let her go with you. I know you will take good care of her.”
To the delight of the family, Uncle Adamu accepted. “I promise my wife and I will take of Faizah. We will send her to school and give her the sort of lifestyle my children have.”
With tears streaming down her face, Faizah bid her family farewell, carrying her small torn ‘Ghana must go’ bag that contained an extra dress and chewing stick. Her uncle drove off in the direction of Jalingo. She was sad to leave her parents and younger brothers, but a small part of her was happy and looking forward to starting a new life.
Faizah jolted awake when the car stopped at her uncle’s house in Jalingo. They had been travelling for over five hours, and only stopped briefly on the road to eat and stretch their legs. She had slept most of the way.
She stared in amazement at her beautiful surroundings and at the clean environment. The house was a duplex, painted white with flowerpots arranged around the building. Two other cars were parked at the side of the house. Faizah had never seen anything like that before, as she had lived all her life in a small mud house with her family.
Suddenly, her uncle was surrounded by his children. He had told Faizah and her brothers about their cousins, so she had been looking 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.
The youngest child, two-year-old Musa, raised his hands wanting to be carried. Faizah watched as her uncle threw the little one in the air, catching him while the baby screeched and giggled with delight.
13-year- old Audu and his sisters, 11 –year-old Maryam and Aisha, who was eight years old, all stared curiously at Faizah and wondered where their father got the scared, unkept-looking girl. Still clutching her ‘Ghana must go’ bag, Faizah stared back at them.
“Is she our new maid?” 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 Faizah to call her Auntie Maryam. Auntie 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, and let me look at you. Don’t be scared, you will be fine with us here.”
Faizah hesitated a little, then drew close to the woman, who held her close to her bosom and hugged the frail-looking girl. After lunch, Auntie Maryam asked one of the kids to call Faizah to the bedroom she was to share with her cousins.
“This your room,” she said, pointing at the bed in the corner. Opening one of her daughter’s wardrobes, she sorted out dresses on the bed, making sure they would fit Faizah.
“Try them on and let me see how you will look, then you will have your bath and change. 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.”
Auntie Maryam took her into the bathroom and showed her how everything worked, including how to use the shower and the toilet. Faizah stared silently and looked around the white bathroom wondering how it could be so clean.
“This is your toothbrush. 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,” Faizah said quietly, almost reluctantly.
“I want you to remove your dress and get into the bath. I will show you how you to bathe yourself and clean up. Don’t be shy!” her aunt said when she noticed Faizah was reluctant to undress.
Aunty Maryam showed her how to clean herself using the shower. Faizah shrieked at the clean, clear warm water gushing from the shower with so much force. She had never seen anything like it, as she had always bathed at the riverside or with a small bucket behind her house. What she had seen all her life was water from the rivers and streams fetched with a bowl in a bucket that she always balanced on her head.
She smiled at her aunt and said “Thank you, ma,” grateful for how good she felt after she had had her bath
“Don’t worry, my dear, you will get used to it. I want you to settle down and feel at home. Anything you don’t understand, just feel free to ask me or any of your cousins. You are one of us,” her aunt responded.
Faizah 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 again one day. She had a lot to learn in her new home and she wanted to make her uncle proud of her and not regret bringing her from the village.
Uncle Adamu registered her in the private secondary school where her cousins went. He got her teachers to tutor her at home after school so that she could catch up with her peers. Faizah studied extra hard and was always eager to learn and play with her schoolmates and new friends. At home, she helped with chores and soon became best friends with her cousin Aisha, who was almost the same age with her.
Over the next few years, Faizah worked hard in school and passed her SSCE with flying colours, making her uncle and aunty very proud of her. She had grown from the frail-looking village girl into a beautiful, respectful young lady.
Uncle Adamu called Faizah one morning while she was helping her cousin plait her hair and the girls were discussing the university they had applied to in JAMB.
“Faizah, my daughter, over the years you have been a good girl and have made me very proud of you. I know that 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 start at the university. They have not seen you in six years, so you will spend three weeks with them,” he said.
Faizah burst out weeping, “Thank you, uncle. I have missed them so much. I am grateful for all you have done for me, and I will be happy to go back and see them before starting my public health program at the university. I may not be able to take breaks to go and see them when school starts, since I will want to concentrate.”
“The driver will take you the day after tomorrow. Your auntie will buy the gifts you will give them when you get home, so just pack your bag and be ready to leave” he added.
Faizah hugged him tight. She was grateful for the love and care he and his family had shown her over the years.
D-day arrived, and Uncle Adamu’s driver drove her the five hours to her family’s village. Upon arriving at the village, she asked the driver to stop a few houses away from her parents’ house. She wanted to walk the short distance and enjoy the view she had missed so much, and also to arrive home unannounced to surprise her family. The car would have alerted them of her arrival.
She walked the short distance between the mud huts. Walking towards home, she saw her mother sitting on a stone, cooking on the open fire. She tiptoed behind her mother, covering her eyes with her hands. Ummi turned around and grabbed her daughter’s hands in surprise.
“Mama, it’s me, Faizah!”
As her mother recognized her daughter, she jumped up and attempted to pick her up, crying and laughing at the same time.
“My daughter!” she cried in happiness, “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.
Faizah’s father arrived from the farm while his wife was dancing, and, recognizing his daughter, he dropped his cutlass and hoe, picked her up, and danced around holding her.
“My Faizah, my yarinya has grown up,” he said. “How are you? We have missed you!” he continued with tears in his eyes. “Your brothers are on their way from the farm and they will be happy to see you.”
Faizah’s brothers returned from the farm and were excited to see her. 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 Faizah was shocked at the level of poverty and lack of basic amenities. They still used the back of their hut as bathroom and water was still fetched from the streams. She struggled to cope, having tried to teach them about hygiene and how to keep their environment clean.
Faizah knew what she had to do.
“I will work hard and graduate from 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 every word. They prayed for her to succeed.
Faizah had struggled to cope in the conditions in the village, but it wasn’t easy. A part of her was already missing her uncle’s house, which she had grown used to over the years. The next morning Faizah left for the city, determined to work hard and improve her family’s quality of life.
Faizah settled down at the university to study public health science 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, improving the quality of life by making sure they had basic amenities like borehole water, electricity, and good health facilities.
She worked hard at the university for four years and passed her final exams with flying colors, coming out as the best graduating student in her faculty. She was immediately given employment by the state government at the Federal Ministry of Health after completing the one-year compulsory NYSC program.
Faizah was fortunate to be part of a committee involved in policy making and implementation of better life for rural development, which is aimed at improving public health and sanitation, literacy, infrastructural development, electricity, and eradication of poverty. She and her team mapped out strategies for helping rural communities.
She made good on her promise, making sure her village and its environs benefitted from the implementation of the government policy that she was a part of.
Faizah 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, hardworking lady, who brought change to her people and her community.