THERE are two ways to see Jos: from air and from land. 2011, we relocate to Jos and take an Arik flight that we’ve pleaded the blood on Jesus upon so that our own blood would not be shed instead. No drinks served. It’s just like taking a BRT; only, this time, by air. I think some planes should be categorized as maruas. Others as BRTs. Most as definite molues. Only that they fly. An hour later, this is my first flight within Nigeria after coming from Kenya in 2007. The pilot circles the airport awaiting clearance to land and for once I gasp: Jos the beautiful. Beneath us is a lush greenness that comes from agricultural produce. The land looks tilled and the rows of soil and green vegetables are like the plaited hair of ladies. The fog is a deceptive cloud and, as we land, the coldness of Jos welcomes us.
Jos, from land, is approaching a battle field. Soldiers and helmets and sirens. Check points with warnings emblazoned on metal containers painted in military colour. Bags of sand strategically placed left and right and right and left, so that when the bus moves it’s like the slither of a snake, bodies inside bumping against each other, heads bobbing as if to music. Army. Navy. Air Force. MoPol. Almost twenty checkpoints and, still, a bomb just went off yesterday. This isn’t Jos the beautiful. Still, bombs don’t stop humans from moving to Jos even if they blow up human bodies. Bombs don’t stop us from jogging. Bombs don’t stop Jos from being Jos.
JOS in the harmattan is like being enclosed in a freezer with the sound of a revving engine. The wind whistles, then fans itself up and roars and beats the iron roofing sheet like it’s a witch that’s practicing her voodoo on top of the house. It sweeps the compound clean of every paper and clears the sand. Sometimes the wind is so strong you’d think you’d wake up and see your car gone from where it’s parked. The air is so dry it cracks your lips open and takes a painful bite, that’s why my younger brother smears Vaseline on his lips like it’s a warm coat. The sun doesn’t come out and suddenly Jos becomes Nairobi. Outside, people walk with jackets and gloves and socks and hoodies and scarfs and trousers and tie wrappers and you see nothing but wool wool wool. The cold has started a war and we are prepared. Beside her fire, the woman selling akara is covered too. Head to toe. The customers wait in tow. Their hands folded at their armpits.
And the streets are deserted not because of bombs but because of cold as bombastic as bombs.
THE city of Jos wakes up to the claps of early morning joggers. Close to the governor’s lodge there is a multitude of joggers. Boys. Girls. Men. Women. They fill the streets like it’s a crusade. My coach and I jog from Sparkling Junction, close to NASCO, all the way to the stadium at Ahmadu Bello Way, past Terminus. The city is slow to wake up. It is like a body that’s recovering from taking sleeping pills. And that’s how Jos is. After the bombs and killings have hit the city in successive years, there’s a languor to its movement. Some buildings are partially burnt. Some partially built. The city is partially divided; Muslims here, Christians there. And you wonder if this city will ever be whole again. Jos will never be the bird with multi-coloured plumes. The sun is up and blazing and you wonder if this is the same Jos that was cold at a different time in the year.
ON Saturday, a bomb exploded around Terminus. On Sunday, the church was nearly empty. Soldiers were everywhere. Okadas were banned. Then the chorister sang a hymn: In the hollow of his hands, I am safe…. The mood is sombre. The church prays for safety. Prays for the governor. Prays for the bombs not to kill Christians. Ramadan has just ended and the road to the Air Force base is filled with young boys and men and women carrying their prayer mats. This is a city of prayers too. When the bombs go quiet, when the killings go down, when the villages are not attacked, Jos becomes a free bird but only for some time, hoping the hunter won’t shoot it down with its catapult.
About the Author:
Socrates Mbamalu was born in Nigeria and grew up in Kenya. His works have appeared in Waza Africa, Saraba Magazine, Deyu African, Kalahari Review, African Writer, Sankofa Mag, Jalada and adda. He is a 2016 Saraba Nonfiction Manuscript prize awardee. His Saraba nonfiction manuscript The Kenyan Boy is due for publication as an e-book next year. His nonfiction piece, “Lives of Trailer Drivers,” was recently published by adda stories. His essay, “In Defence of Provincialism,” appears in Bakwa Magazine. Twitter: @linsoc
Socrates Mbamalu’s “Jos” first appeared in Enter Naija: The Book of Places, a 2016 anthology of writing, photography and digital art designed to mark Nigeria’s 56th Independence anniversary. Published by Brittle Paper, the anthology was edited by Otosirieze Obi-Young and has an Introduction by Ikhide Ikheloa.