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From The SGK Writers' Residency: Echoes From Toru-orua By Stella Toruemi

…The journey to Toru-Orua then commenced. Soemi and some of the children dozed off a few minutes after the journey started, and in about an hour's time, she woke up suddenly only to realize the driver was negotiating a U-turn and behold, it was Sagbama junction. In another twenty minutes, they were in Toru-Orua. 

“Madam, which side make I take? Na straight or make I turn right?” the driver asked as soon as he approached a junction. 

“You fit go straight but you fit take this side too,” she began, but before she could end her statement, he had driven past the road on the right. So he stopped, reversed a bit and turned to the right.  In less than three minutes' time, they sighted a giant gate leading to a massive land space containing four beautiful storey buildings with some still under construction, all painted in ash and sky blue so that one could mistake it for an Air Force Senior Staff Quarters. As they drove past, they later realized it was the Governor’s house. Soon, the children identified the street. 

“Have you been here before?” Soemi asked.

“Yes. We’ve been here twice. When we came for sightseeing during the ANA monthly reading at Sagbama and the day we came with our mummy when the committee came to inspect the facilities,” one of the children said.

Finally, they arrived at the compound. Their host was already preparing to travel back to Yenagoa before dusk. All the same, he received them cheerfully and quickly took them round the apartment, showing them all the available facilities at their disposal. He further briefed them about all he had done to ensure constant water supply and electricity for some hours of the day. 

“I have just repaired the pumping machine and now the water is flowing. Somebody will be coming to power the generator at six in the evenings to eleven o’clock and about one hour in the mornings so you can charge your phones and laptops and also pump water whenever the need arises.” 

After the briefing, he handed them a sheet of paper containing some phone numbers of some persons they might need to contact from time to time whenever they needed assistance. The phone numbers included those of the Community Chief, CDC Chairman, Youth Leader, and the Women's Leader including the staff on ground that would be responsible for power supply and other assistance at the residence. He finally rushed to enter the car which was already idling with the A/C on and they drove off.

On the following day, after the morning house chores, Soemi and the kids took a walk round the town. They walked down to the end of the street which known as Koroye’s Haven where the residence is located, and then back to the beginning of the street. On getting to the entrance where they had come in from the previous day, they turned left to explore the ambiance of the community and also to buy some bags of pure water and other petty items.

After some minutes' walk, they turned left again and Soemi located a gigantic provision store which appeared to be the biggest shop in the community. She introduced herself to the owner of the shop and also informed the woman about their mission to the community. 

The woman received her joyfully. “Welcome o! Una welcome!" she greeted, smiling. 

“Thank you madam. I hope say we go enjoy our stay here? Una get market?” Soemi asked. 

“Yes oo! Our market na on Saturdays.” 

“Okay. I go visit una market on Saturday na,” Soemi said, laughing and the woman joined in the laughter. The children finally bought the items their mother had listed for them, with two bags of pure water and they all went back to the house.

Life in Toru-Orua was quite interesting as the environment was devoid of the noise of densely populated cities: from cars and kekes, loud music from uncultured neighbours, polluted air and the deafening sound from generating sets. Then six days later, precisely on a Saturday, the long expected market day, Soemi woke up early and did the usual morning chores. Her co-residents had travelled the previous day so she was alone in the entire house, a five-bedroom flat with a separate wing, attached to the building referred to as the VIP lodge. Soemi prepared a quick breakfast for herself, then took her bath and went into the room to dress up.

Soemi spent ample time dressing up as it was her first formal outing since their arrival. She picked a pair of blue three-quarter trousers and a colourful butterfly style top sewn with a Ghana fabric known as kente which she had bought on one of her holiday trips to Accra. She wasn't a professional makeup artist, but she spent time polishing her face with colours that matched her dress. She then picked blue high heel shoes to match, a silver wrist watch and a set of silver jewelry from the few she had brought with her, and then hit the road.

First she visited her friend, the shop owner. After exchanging pleasantries, Soemi said, “You bin say na today be una market day. Which side the market dey make I see if I go fit pick some small small things for una market?” She laughed as she spoke and the shop owner and other women including the women's leader sitting in front of the shop also laughed.

The women's leader had visited them twice on their arrival. The first visit was just to welcome them after she had been briefed by their host about the coming of certain writers to the community. 

“Chief told me about your coming and he asked me to meet with you people from time to time to see to your needs and also ask for your assistance whenever we need you,” the woman said, smiling. 

Smiling back, the two guests thanked her before she left. Two days after, she came again, this time with a piece of paper in her hand. It was a condolence message she had drafted for the condolence register of the Governor’s late mother at Toru-Orua.
Soemi heard the knock at the door and recognized her voice, so she hurried out from her room to attend to their guest. She opened the door and greeted, “Good morning, ma.”  

“Good morning, my sister. What about your second?” the woman asked, smiling and walking into the sitting room. Then she positioned herself on the three-seater settee. 

“She is fine, ma. She must be in her room. I’m sure she’ll join us soon,” Soemi said, sitting beside her. 

The woman began to speak. “My dear, since you people are writers, I have come with something I drafted as a condolence message to our dear mother who has just left us. I want you people to look at it as writers and make some inputs.”

Soemi took the paper from her and began to look over it. The woman’s handwriting was not clear enough, so she realized she would need her reading glasses or else she would struggle to read each word. She walked into the room and came out with her glasses and a pen.

While she was glancing through, the woman got up. “Let me allow you take some time and go through it. Don’t be in a hurry, I will come back later for it.” 

"No problem, then. I’ll call you as soon as I’m through with it, ma,” Soemi responded. She walked her guest to the door, then went into the room again to get a plain sheet of paper and began to rewrite the letter. While she was on it, her co-resident came out from the room to know who had visited them.

After Soemi had told her everything, Mrs. Alex said, “Oh! You can look at it, then, let’s see what we can do for her. ”

“Yes ma, I’m already rewriting it. When I’m through, you can go over it and make input where necessary,” Soemi said. She bent to continue while her co-resident went back to her room. 

Soon, Mrs. Alex came back to the sitting room with some tins of beverages to fix breakfast for the kids. As soon as Soemi was done with the letter, she handed it over to Mrs. Alex who read through and made a few corrections before certifying that it was okay. Then Soemi called the women's leader to inform her that she was through with the work. In a short while, the woman arrived, and Soemi began to read the letter to her. She had restructured it and added some more eulogizing words in honour of the late woman who she got to know from the letter was fondly referred to as Mummy Gogo. While she read, the woman nodded her head repeatedly, smiling at the tone of the rephrased message and the adjectives used to qualify the revered woman.At the end of the reading, the impressed woman shouted, “Oh! Beke embelemo o! Embele ka me, bet nimigha yo keni edon ka mo,” which when translated means, Oh! English is sweet! It is very sweet, but not knowing it pains me so much.

Now, having got the description to the market from the women's leader, Soemi left her at the shop with the other women. On getting to the market, she stopped first at the table of a woman who sold local spices and picked a few items. She then went to the next table where farina (kpokpo garri) and groundnut was being sold. 

“Madam, good afternoon. This one na cook and dry?” she asked, picking one seed of groundnut each from the two basins and tasting it to be sure it  was what she wanted.
The woman replied, “Na him na?"

After tasting from the basins, she pointed at one. “Madam na this one," she said. “Give me one cup.” 

The woman measured a cup for her and Soemi paid and turned to leave. She suddenly remembered she was on an adventure of discovery so she turned back, switched on her phone camera and called on the woman, “Madam, come make we take picture.” The woman laughed, and then positioned herself for a shot. Other women in the market watched them as if it was a film show.

She began to comb the market and settled at a table where vegetables, periwinkles, fruits, and other items were displayed. She then bought vegetables, avocados, oranges, and periwinkles. Suddenly, she sighted the women's leader walking in her direction and called, “Enheen! Madam, come make we snap picture.” 

“No eee! I no wan snap picture with this kind dress, abeg,” the woman said,  but Soemi persisted, switched on the camera, set it on selfie mode and took the shot. 

The picture was beautiful so she told the woman, “See as e fine, na this kind casual pictures dey even fine, sef.” 

The woman looked. “See as e fine, and I dey even laugh well, sef. E fine oo!” she said, laughing out loud.

The weather thickened, threatening to rain, so Soemi began to hurry home to avoid being drenched. Whaaaa! The rain came pouring, and she ran into a house by the road to take shelter until it subsided. Then she walked home and ate some of the fruits. After a while, she decided to continue her adventure within the town. She went out again, this time not to buy anything, but for sightseeing. Soemi strolled towards the other end of the town and, on crossing the bridge, saw a signboard, ‘Goodbye from Toru-Orua’ and on the other side of it was written ‘Welcome to Angalabiri.’ What a surprise! It was amazing that the two communities were virtually joined unlike other places where one had to drive some distance to get to the next village. Then she began to smile, wondering how small Toru-Orua was.

Soemi walked further because she had proposed in her mind to visit the university site after hearing so much about it. As she went on, she saw a police station and walked majestically towards it but didn’t enter. There was a jetty at the back with some policemen servicing their engine and guns. 

She walked straight to some of them and greeted cheerfully, “Good afternoon, sirs."
“Good afternoon, young lady. May we know you?” two of the men chorused. 

“Yes, sir. That’s why I’m coming to introduce myself, sir,” she said, smiling at them. “My name is Soemi. I’m new in town and we are here on a mission.”
“You said your name is So…”
"Soemi, sir. ” 
“Okay Soemi, you said you are on mission here. What mission?”
“We are actually authors and are here to complete our works.”
“You write, eehn?”
“Yes sir."
“Okay, you are welcome.”
“Thank you, sir. Can I take a shot of the jetty?” she asked. 

“We don’t allow that, o. We are Marine Police and we don’t allow that but since you are a visitor, you can snap, but don’t snap our gun boat and our armoury o,” one said.  

“I know you don’t normally allow that, sir, that’s why I’m taking permission from you, sir.” Soemi went on to take her snap shots. She stood by the end of the jetty where she was able to sight the next community’s water front from her location and took some more shots. 

As soon as she was done, she thanked them and began to walk away, but trust policemen. In their usual irresponsible manner even while on duty, they began to announce their ranks alongside their names one after the other: "I am Sergeant Cosmos, the chief officer in charge of marine operations in this community." 

"I am Constable Odogu, the…"    They went on and on, as if trying to claim superiority over the other.
One, probably the least among them started the toasting ritual, “Hello Soemi, can I see you in the evening?” he questioned aloud, likely feeling more superior. 

“Oh sorry, I can’t make it back here,” Soemi responded. 

“Then can I come and visit you?" he asked. But while he spoke, Soemi walked faster and had put some distance between them so that she pretended not to have heard him. 

She walked to the right side of the major road to have a broader view of the environment, and then began to see some new buildings, bungalows and three-storey buildings. Some were already finished and painted while others were still under construction. At a point, she didn't see any more buildings. She concluded that she might have reached the end of the university site, so she turned back. 

Along the road, she experienced what could be described as a mini drama. As she was about to walk past an elderly man, probably one of the workers on one of the numerous construction sites, she suddenly heard, “Good afternoon! You no dey greet person? If you no greet me I go greet you.”

Immediately, she responded, “Oga, sorry o. Good afternoon,” and they both began to laugh and went their separate ways. Taking some steps further, Soemi turned back, looked at the man and began to laugh again, imagining the drama that had just played out. She asked herself, "Was all the harassment merely for a greeting? I thought he wanted to say something serious." She kept smiling as she thought about it.

Again, she walked towards the market square where she had done her shopping and turned left to a concrete walkway. Moving further, she saw some market shops which were already completed and painted but not yet in use. She was amazed to see such beautiful and modern market shops. Some men were still working, installing some interlocking tiles and putting some finishing touches to the building. She began to take shots of the buildings from different views, walked to the waterfront and also took some selfies with her back to the river to get a view of the river. 

After that, she turned to leave and walked to a thatched hut where she had seen some young boys and girls frying garri on a local oven. Even though she had fried garri in the village during holidays as a child, that particular method was strange to her.

   "What a technology!" she exclaimed to herself. “New method of frying garri? I’ve never seen this before." It was a long clay oven, high up to the waist of an adult, with a long metal rectangular frying pan constructed to match the oven. The metal pot had an opening at one end where the already cooked garri could be transferred to a basin.

As soon as she approached the youths frying the garri, she greeted them and commended their work. She then sought for permission to take a snapshot of them while they fried the garri. 

“No o, no snap me o, abeg,” they said, shifting away from the oven. Due to the length and size of the oven and pot, it required two persons to do the job, one at each side with a long wooden stapler carved specially to suit the purpose. 

“Why una dey shame to snap, na? I like the way una dey do this work, o.” Soemi encouraged them and persuaded them to allow her take a shot of them by the oven. The boys began to laugh, and one of them encouraged the girl to pose for the shot, but she did with her back to the camera so her face wouldn't show. Soemi took the shot, thanked them and walked away.

On getting to another spot, she saw the same oven with a woman sitting by it under a hut. She approached her. 

“Madam, good afternoon,” she said with a smile.
“Afternoon," the woman responded, smiling back at her.
“How na?”
“Fine o.”
“I like this method wen una dey fry garri o. Na so una dey do am here?" she asked.
“Yes o. Na so we dey fry our garri. No be only this village o, even Ebedebiri and other village them around here na so them dey do am,” the woman replied. 

“Mhmm?” Soemi said, seeking permission again to take some shots. The woman granted her request, and after taking the shots, she headed straight home. On getting home, Soemi felt fulfilled having accomplished something on the first week of her arrival in Toru-Orua… 


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