(A complete and revised version will shortly be available and will be released in the book “Flight to Germany”)
Stephen was born in a small town situated in the north of Nigeria, West Africa. His mother started suffering from a severe illness when he was only ten years old. One day his father took him along to visit his mother in the far-off city-hospital, where she was being treated. When he is greeted by her, he is bewildered by the serious look on her face.
He does not understand the critical condition his mother is in. Nobody is willing to explain the mother’s illness to him. He can still recall the long loving expression in his mother’s gaze, when both of them share some time alone together, after his father had left for work. After a while she breaks the silence by blessing him with a prayer and solemnly declares that God will always protect him and that everything will turn out to be well.
Unfortunately at this point of time he can’t understand the meaning of this gesture and does not know, that sadly this will be the last time he will see his mother alive.
He remembers his mother as being an extraordinary good looking and sweet-tempered woman.
Stephen was later told that his mother was transferred to their home village shortly after his visit to the hospital. After consulting the doctors, who see little chance of her being cured, she can be persuaded by her family members to return to her birthplace.
She is treated by the traditional village healer, but all his efforts are in vain, she dies. The funeral is attended by the whole village and the ceremony is held by an Anglican priest. There is not a lot of time left for Stephen’s grief over the loss of his mother. Stephen’s father has taken on a job that does not enable him to take care of Stephen, so he sends Stephen to his brother (Stephens uncle), who lives out in the countryside.
The village is far away from any city. The community is equally divided up into Christians and Muslims, also traditional religious African rituals and ceremonies are still in common use.
Communal life in the village is very good, although the day to day struggle of survival and the lack of basic necessities plays a major role in day to day life. Stephen’s uncle is a farmer and cultivates a few fields. Stephen and the other children are treated like slaves. He is often mistreated by his uncle. When I asked him about this, Stephen reassured me, that his uncle was not a bad person, but that life in the countryside was very hard. Harder than we Germans could imagine or understand.
Water for instance had to be fetched in jugs from the villages well or one of the water holes that lay outside the village. It often occurred that nomads and their herds of cattle would pass through and would plunder all the water, up to the last drop. When this happened, hunters had to be sent out to scout fort water, which could easily take them a few days.
Stephen gets up every day at 5 o’clock in the morning. This is necessary, because as soon as the sun is at its highest, the locusts would show up and feast on the fallen grain. After only a few hours the sun becomes relentless accompanied by the danger of snakes, scorpions and red-ants. But Stephen can also recall good moments. Due to the fact that there were only ceresin lamps and candles available as a source of light in the village, the night sky with its bright shining stars offered a breath taking view at night.
His grandmother was a fantastic story-teller. Sometimes, when the starry firmament was clearly visible and the moon was shining bright, she would gather all children in the village and would tell them lovely stories about turtles (Stephens favourite), snakes and other animals.
On such occasions his grandmother would tell stories until way past bedtime.
But sadly those moments would only be the exception.