Still in Enugu

Immaculata Abba

To love Enugu is to love peace. Or at least that is what we tell ourselves when we compare the city to Aba or Lagos. We say: Enugu is calm, Enugu is cheaper, Enugu makes sense. The Uber driver I meet in Lagos tells me of his retirement plans to move to Enugu next year: “Please, let me go and join my friends drinking and eating nkwobi from 3pm.” 

I remember how my family moved to Enugu from Aba. My mother had travelled with me to drop me off on my first day at boarding school in Abuja. She was sick with malaria, and so, driving back to Aba, she had to stop at Enugu. One day became three days, and my siblings begged to come to visit. This was the Aba of the early 2000s, with a tremendous crime rate and the brutal Bakassi Boys. Sunday-morning-rotting-burnt-bodies-on-your-way-to-church Aba. You don’t leave Aba and look back.

When I travelled back to Enugu for Christmas holiday after being away in boarding school, I saw what looked like the quiet after a storm. I mean that Enugu felt like it had seen things, seen better, brighter, more exuberant days, and had gotten tired of it all. Civil servant Enugu. The buildings were old and kept, the people religious and unrushed. The state government was in the process of changing one of its parks into a mall, landmarking it with a Ferris wheel. The water fountain on Independence Avenue worked; that felt so American. A water fountain? Working? In the middle of the road? For free?

But then years passed, and between school terms in Abuja and holidays spent in the village, I was not able to make friends in Enugu. The city began to feel like a party I could not attend. And then, more years passed, and I saw that there was no party in the first place. The quiet started to feel like stagnation; the peace, a lack of opportunities; the slowness, a lack of funds; and the religiosity, faith without works. I would walk around with my iPhone 5s, and sometimes my big Canon 5d, trying to get hold of the city’s spirit. Maybe then I will understand how to make the most of this city, I thought. When I shared the photos from my wanderings with editors, I used the word ‘languid’ a lot. I tried to connect the dots between the red dust that settled on everything, the assurance of Igbo Christianity, and the fact that no young person I knew in the city could find a formal job here. There is a bigger picture somewhere and I am still weaving it out; all these threads are still dangling in my head. 

But see, here is the fruit of my attempt after all these years. Here is how I see the people of Enugu, seeing themselves, seeing the city.

Immaculata Abba is a Nigerian photographer and writer exploring how Africans are making a living under global capitalism. She is a proud member of Black Women Photographers.

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