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I accept never apparent so abounding aggressive men in my life. There are all sorts of checkpoints, and not the affectionate you acquisition in Southern Nigeria, breadth one broken administrator stands beside your car and asks, “Oga, annihilation for the boys?”. No, these are aggressive affairs, abiding aloof like a cine set.
There are sandbags to barricade the road. By the bend is a soldier sitting on a 250cc motorcycle, the handlebars adapted with an AK-47 mount. The soldier is menacing, his easily on the handlebar, accessible to accord chase. There is a ram angry to the barricade, because the locals accept to pay admiration too. Soldiers in appearance with leaves afraid out of their helmets are all over the place, a practiced, active alienation to their swagger.
The practices are still the aforementioned as the South though. At every stop, the disciplinarian squeezes a channelled agenda into the soldier’s anointed approach afore we are coiled off. At one point, a soldier credibility at me and motions for me to appear out.
“Let me accept your phone.”
“Sir?” I duke it to him.
“Do you apperceive why I appropriate your phone?”
I didn’t alike apperceive it had been seized. “No, sir.”
“Go abroad and angle there. Acquaint me aback you know. Absurd boy.”
I angle some ambit abroad from the checkpoint and attending at the adolescent occupants of my car apologetically. I achievement they accept that I do not beggarly to adjournment them.
Another solider beckons to me.
“The administrator bedeviled my phone.”
“Are you from this side?”
“Were you acute it?”
“Yes, but I was not demography pictures.”
“You are not declared to use your buzz abreast a checkpoint. Sometimes bodies booty pictures and column all array of debris lies adjoin us.”
“Thank you, sir. I will apologize to him.”
I acknowledgment to the soldier.
“I am sorry, sir. I did not know. I was not application my camera. I am sorry.”
“Look at this absurd boy. Villager! Do you apperceive I can breach this phone?”
“Yes, sir. I apperceive you can.”
“Get out from here! Villager! Shebi you dey go North-East? They will assignment you there!”
He easily the buzz aback and ends the barter with a few added best insults.
I abide to Yelwa Village, breadth my host has larboard a motorcycle for me. My destination is the Ngel Nyaki Backwoods Reserve. An old man who knows the breadth of the abode in the mountains hops assimilate the pillion and we alpha our adventure up the Mambilla Plateau to the Nigerian Montane Backwoods Project, breadth I will be staying.
During the ascent, we ability a point breadth the aisle turns sharply. I columnist on the advanced brakes to beacon the bike, but the bike’s advanced brakes are not working, so we blast into a abundance of earth. After that, I abandonment the motorcycle to the old man—he is accomplished at manoeuvring the path—while I airing abaft and booty photos.
We appointment no bodies throughout the ascent, aloof peaks, plains and the connected mist. The Mambilla Plateau is the coldest abode in Nigeria, and daytime temperature hardly exceeds 25°C. This makes the breadth one of the 2 locations in Nigeria acceptable for growing tea. Some afar away, in Kakara Town, there is the Mambilla Beverages Aggregation Limited, the alone tea assembly aggregation in West Africa.
As we abide the ascent, the alone bodies we appointment are a drifting Fulani ancestors who accept belted off some allotment of the plateau for their beasts and goats. There is a hut fabricated out of broiled grass and mud. They will alive actuality for months until the acclimate changes, and afresh move on.
We abide for some added meters and access at the active abode of the Nigerian Montane Backwoods Project. I am accustomed a arenaceous room, which I set about cleaning. I am apparent the kitchen breadth I can baker my meals. The abode has a garden and I am blessed to see some red and blooming alarm peppers there. The ambrosial red vegetables will be abundant bare in the acclimate here. The walls are covered with pictures of the endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, the putty-nosed monkey, mona monkey and tantalus monkey—all of them endemic to the region. There are some Forestry undergraduates in the abode too; they are accustomed out some research. They allure me for a backwoods airing that will authority the abutting morning, and afresh retire to their rooms. In a abode like this, no one hangs alfresco for long; it’s too algid alfresco for chitchat.
On the morning of the additional day, the acceptance appear to alarm me for the backwoods walk. They are acid boots and hoodies to brace themselves adjoin the weather, and we airing out into the backwoods breadth we achievement to atom a mona monkey. We do not see any monkeys but we booty pictures aloft the peaks with the plateau as a backdrop. The air is clean. I will absorb one added day with them, braving acute temperatures and agriculture on noodles and mackerel.
After that, it’s time to leave and I alight the plateau again, booty a bus to the Nguroje Local Government Motor Esplanade breadth I will lath a aggregate cab to the Gashaka Gumti Civic Park, Nigeria’s better civic park. Beside the motor esplanade is the market, and back the cab is bisected abandoned and will booty some time to ample up, I aberrate into the bazaar to shop. I buy some built-in atramentous soap, twine, unground pepper soup spices and calabashes. As I shop, I apprehension that the adolescent men in the bazaar are active around, accepting agitated conversations in Fulfude and the Mambilla language. I see a soldier airing up to a adolescent man and cut off a block of beard from his head. I admiration the acumen for this and bustle to acknowledgment to the assurance of the cab.
Soon, a soldier walks up to me.
“Remove your cap.”
It is not acceptable to altercate with soldiers, so I abolish my cap.
He hisses and attempts to boost a scissors into my blubbery arch of hair. I about-face his duke away.
“Drop your hands.”
It is not acceptable to altercate with soldiers, so I bead them. He attempts to cut my beard afresh and I about-face his duke away.
“Excuse me, what is the problem?” I am agitated at the about-face my cruise has taken—what makes a soldier appetite to accord me a affected crew in the average of the market?
He attempts to cut my beard again, and I resist.
“Follow me,” he says. He walks up to his aide and talks to him. His aide credibility a gun at my kneecap while the soldier attempts to cut my beard again.
I let him. He takes his time accomplishing this, blame the scissors into the base of my beard and acid off chunks, acid in a clockwise afresh anti-clockwise motion. I feel beard bead about me but he does not stop. A army gathers to watch this appearance in the average of the market. I feel article balmy on my cheeks.
“Get out,” I apprehend him say.
I airing abroad and the disciplinarian of the bus walks up to me. “Sorry o. Na those boys dey afflict them. Go affront your beard for there.” He credibility to a board kiosk. “We go delay for you.”
I airing into the board kiosk. It is aphotic and anon my eyes adjust. A soldier is sitting on a board chair, accepting a shave. He is about done and aback he finishes, I acquaint the barber, “Please advice me affront my hair. Abolish everything.”
I sit on a asperous board armchair in the kiosk in the Nguroje Market. There are pictures of 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G on the wall. I apprehend the bombinate of the clipper and feel beard abatement over me. I admiration at the abridgement of bureau that exists in this region, and how abutting to a aggressive accompaniment it has become; a boondocks breadth adolescent soldiers can deathwatch up anytime they like and adjudge that any macho aural afterimage should get a haircut.
The beautician is anon done. It is not a adorned affair, as I instructed him not to shapen my edges, a action alleged ‘friction.’ That is the action that leads to breaking of the bark and presents a allowance for infection.
That is the aftermost time I abound my beard out—what is the use in befitting so abundant beard aback a man in biscuit can point a gun at you one day and force you to accept it shorn? What’s the point in everything?