Lagos to Anambra in Search of Sallah Meat
3:20 pm, Thursday 16th August 2019
The sun that afternoon was so fierce that one would think it had been denied lunch. And there I was, Stucked at the extreme end of a 14-seater Danfo, giving a blank stare through the window at a trader easing herself at a corner just beside her wooden stall. She froze in shock the moment our eyes locked but I wasn’t seeing her. My mind wasn’t thinking about what was under her dress. My mind wasn’t in Oyingbo, where her wooden stall was located. It wasn’t even Lagos, but 486 kilometers away in Anambra- my next destination which I’m super pumped about visiting for the first time.
This was why I didn’t bait an eyelid until the bus conductor shouted ‘gbogbo ero!’ a phrase which loosely means all passengers should come down as we’ve gotten to the last bus stop.
Created in August 1991, Anambra is the 8th most populated state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the second-most densely populated state in Nigeria after Lagos State.
My mission was to secure a night bus ticket which would enable me, Temitope, Bukola, and Victoria (3 of whom are amazing lovers of the Nomadic Negro brand) travel from Lagos to Anambra. We wanted to witness how Sallah, is celebrated in Eastern Nigeria- A region largely dominated by Christians.
Next-Day: Friday 16th August 7:32 pm
Since we were just four of us, decision making and punctuality were the least of our problems unlike the trip to Ghana. So, we hired a cab that took us all to GUO’s park in Orile, where we were among the first set of travelers to arrive. GUO was among the only few travel companies running night trips from Lagos to Anambra.
30 minutes into our arrival at the park, the driver, a short man probably in his fifties summoned us. He looked too angry for one who’d drive us safely as he stood firmly by the entrance with his chubby frame suffocating the bus’ entrance. Like boarding school children queuing for supper, we aligned on a single file.
The bus was awoken a few seconds after the door was shut. It grumbled as it staggered away from the park, longing for the asphalt which led through to the express.
I took in a large amount of air containing a mix of excitement and anxiety, letting it all out alongside a satisfactory smile. I was seated beside Victoria but she didn’t notice my excitement. Tope paired with Bukola on the same row as ours but separated by the aisle.
7:52 pm: Church on the Bus
It started from a lady at the front before the man behind Bukola picked the song of praise without permission using a baritone voice. It became a revival and everyone on the bus was singing so loud that I wouldn’t dare tamper with the 56-seater bus if I were an evil spirit.
No one cared if a Muslim was among us. No one. But we tore through the busy Oshodi-Apapa expressway as the wet breeze slapped our faces through the windows., flapping the curtains in the process.
After a series of casting and binding, the mini TV was turned on. A Nollywood film that featured Mr. Ibu & PawPaw played and I must admit it was funny. It got boring after the 3rd replay because it seemed like the only available film in the player. At the 4th replay, snores from different angles of the bus overpowered the volume of the tv. The man with the baritone voice had the loudest snore.
Trailers of varying sizes sped past us, but I couldn’t tell their colours because darkness on the road was so thick that a sword could cut through.
My eyes were wide open, with heartbeat intensified as random thoughts clouded my mind. The world felt empty until it dawned on me that I only occupy a tiny fraction of it.
I pulled my phone to keep up with John Bosco, my friend who will be our host in Anambra, but whom I’d never met in person. He was still awake and asked me to call him the moment we arrived Onitsha.
3:42 am: The forced Break
Everyone was forced out of their sleep on getting to Asaba. We all had to ease our bladders. I wasn’t so pressed, but I had to do it because it was the norm. “You don’t want to be the reason why the whole bus will stop”, I said to myself.
We continued in the dark through the popular River Niger bridge into Onitsha, the commercial hub of Anambra. This was 4:50 am, a time too early to call John Bosco. Every passenger except us seemed to know what the next plan was as we watched them disembark the bus. We had to chill at the park for a few more hours to allow John some more sleep.
Onitsha Market is the largest market in Africa based on geographical size and volume of goods. It is based in the city of Onitsha, the commercial capital of Anambra State in southeastern Nigeria and governed by one of the most revered traders associations on the continent, the Onitsha Market Traders Association.
6:02 am: The First Encounter with an Eastern Restaurant
It was Tope who first mentioned how tempting the aroma was. Unknown to him, I had been contemplating the same. So we traced the aroma, leaving Bukola and Victoria to watch after our belongings at the park’s waiting area. Then we found the restaurant just opposite the park’s gate. It was still dark, but not too dark to see that rice was ready.
“Good morning ma”, we almost said together.
We bought two plates of rice which we planned will be shared by the 4 of us even though the temptation of buying 4 plates was stronger than the femur.
Happy about our achievement, we went back to meet the ladies at the park. I paired with Victoria and in what took less than 5 seconds, I forced my spoon into the mountain of rice as if to dig some crude mineral. I didn’t pray because I felt everything about me (including the food) was blessed. But that was my greatest undoing. I could have spilled out all I had in my mouth if my reflex wasn’t strong. The food was horrible, to say the least.
We ad an awful welcome to the east. But how come? How were the Igbo restaurants in Lagos able to pull up delicious delicacies? I complained to no one in particular as I focused on the fish.
Well, don’t let us judge all restaurants by just a single encounter, I said as we pulled out how Nigerian are you? A card game that seeks to test how knowledgeable you are about Nigeria, her arts, culture, and politics.
Change in Plan
At intervals, I called John Bosco, but his phone kept ringing without any response. I was gradually getting frustrated as my buddies looked at me for tangible feedback. Time was 6:42 am. We still had no direction.
When John finally picked, he pleaded that we waited till 8 am, as that’s the earliest he could reach Onitsha From Awka. Deep down, I knew we wouldn’t even dare. So we pulled out our phones to search for a comfortable hotel nearby to at least refresh and sleep till John Bosco arrives.
The search wasn’t really helpful, so I turned to the guerilla method. I went with Tope in search of a keke that would help us in the search. On finding one, we told him to take us to the nearest comfortable hotel. “No waala”, he said Without further questioning. We rushed back to our spot in the park to fetch the girls who were evidently tired.
“Pack the games and bags. We don see keke wey go carry us go hotel!” Tope said as we approached the girls.
The joy in their hearts couldn’t speak but was audible enough for me to hear it yelled Yipee!
Hotel at Last
We booked two rooms. The ladies picked theirs while I went with Tope to ours. On getting to the room, my first major act was to call John. “Hey bro, take your time with your journey. We just got a hotel and would be needing to rest till 11 am. I’d text you the address”.
I didn’t allow him time to agree or disagree before ending the call. I texted him as promised and he replied with the plans he had for us for the day.
The plan was so sweet that it eased me into bed. I didn’t count the number of seconds, but I can bet it wasn’t up to a minute before my eyelashes closed.
Cost of traveling from Lagos to Anambra
N5,600 was the cost for a night bus seat in a luxurious bus from Lagos to Onitsha (Anambra)- A journey which took approximately 10 hours.
To be continued…