This Light Has No Place to Hide (Part 1)

Eyoh Etim

I often tell people that my life is an open book, hard as it is to believe because, after all, we are all mysterious beings; all human beings are. But when you are a fiction writer, your life can be complicated because you realise that you are constantly trying to distance yourself from the stories you tell, all the while hoping that not all the events you depict in your books will be attributed to your primary experiences in life. With this piece, I intend to introduce myself to the world. I hope it disperses the mysteries. I really hope. However, if it does not, I have already resolved to embrace my stories as part of the writer’s identity marks; for we are a sum of what we have read, listened to, said and written. We cannot run away from a society that has given us our identity.

My name is Eyoh Asuquo Etim. I was born on Tuesday 29th March, 1983, at Methodist Hospital, Ituk Mbang, currently located in Uruan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. My father, Mr Asuquo Etim Effiong, is from Ikot Etim Ntung village in Atabong Clan, Okobo Local Government Area. My mother, Mrs Ekaette Asuquo Etim, is from Ekpene Ukim in Uruan Local Government Area. My grandfather married from Ekpene Ukim as well. I have lived in Ekpene Ukim all my life and I will always consider myself a native of Ekpene Ukim. Ekpene Ukim raised me and I love the land and the people. I have represented its landscape, and Uruan as a whole, in my creative works and have claimed its identity forever. But the reality is that I am from Okobo Local Government Area. I cannot run away from that too. That is where my ancestors are buried and that is where I have my roots.

How did we come to stay in Ekpene Ukim for so long and even thought we were from there? Well, there is a saying in Ibibio folklore that ‘mkpo ama anam ayin ke ubon ette, anye anyong edem eka’ (when tragedy befalls the child in his father’s house, he runs to the mother’s side). The story as told to me by my father is that his immediate family experienced mysterious deaths that saw my paternal grandmother losing all her children till only my father was left. And from all indications, my father (then a newly born baby) was about to go the same way. Fleeing to the mother’s side was the only available option. She took the decision and my father survived; we all have survived. My father was raised as a baby in Ekpene Ukim where she grew up and married his wives from, including my mother. He still lives there to this day. For many years, he could not tell us the story for fear of losing us if we ever go back to our origin. And for many years we lived in Ekpene Ukim with the idea that it was our origin.

Uruan people are known for their seafaring prowess. They went as far as the territories now considered as belonging to Cameroon for their fishing and trading. My father began life as a fisherman before switching to trading, which he practised, alongside my mother, till old age. So much on my parents for now.

Let me talk about my early childhood recollections. I cannot possibly remember everything that happened in my childhood but I do remember snatches of events here and there. I had a childhood experience that echoes the opening scenes of Camara Laye’s The African Child when the young child Laye had an encounter with a harmless snake; only in my own case the snake was not a family totem. It was just natural snake worshipping the innocence of a child by repeatedly bobbing its head as I stared at it without fear. Was it playing with me? Or was it a mere defensive camouflage from the sly creature? The moment a hint of fear crept into my mind because, perhaps, instinctively, I had recalled that snakes could be dangerous, the creature bolted away. At that moment, I began crying and running to call my mother who was fetching water at a nearby compound.

Another childhood experience that I can recall is being carried on my father’s motor cycle (Lady’s bike of that time). A whiff of the village air mixed with the gasoline from the motor cycle had a pleasant and refreshing effect on me as we rode through the pastoral village setting. The memory has stayed with me. I can vividly visualise the scenes as I write this piece. I can also recall walking side by side with my father on the streets of Oron shortly after we disembarked from the engine boat that transported us from Cameroon to Nigeria. We had a breakfast of rice and stew. The restaurant was an upstairs building. The aroma is still with me as I write this, and so are the memories. Funny how I remember this one! I once had eye sore or conjunctivitis (Appollo red eye). I sat outside the house counting the leaves on the banana and plantain trees hoping, as the superstition went, that the sores would be gone once I had reached a certain number! I also can recall the numerous visits to my maternal grandparents on the other part of the street, where we were treated to sumptuous meals and a lot of meat. On one of such trips, I had a bicycle accident. Nothing serious though. The bicycle rider claimed he had been ringing his bell but that I was not paying attention to the road. I remember my mother crying helplessly when her younger brother, Udo Nte Udo, died at sea. I have a number of other childhood re/collections that I hope to share in subsequent posts.  

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