Wahala

by Genevieve Anakwe-Charles, 3rd year Pharmacy student.

On a hot and humid July evening, the sun is descending behind the clouds, and a warm breeze blows in the dusty, dry air. Mallam Hassan sits on his balcony, with his first wife, Amina as she serves his favorite dish: tuwo da miya. This is a heavy porridge served with okra soup.  He pauses briefly to pray over the meal “Mun gode Allah.” Amina sits quietly by his side as he eats, watching to see any hint of approval on his face. “Abinchin yana dadi, food is delicious!” he exclaims as he licks his fingers. With a satisfied smile she timidly says “Na gode, mai gida, thanks, my husband.”

Hassan looks lovingly at her, raveling in her beauty. She is dressed in a colorful wrapper, abiah, a matching blouse, head tie and a shawl that covered her hair. She was tall and slender, and the edges of her hands and feet were painted with reddish body art, lalli. Amina shyly bows and moves into the house. Hassan flashes a smile and nods. He swallows the last piece of tuwo. Then washes his hand in a bowl of water. He sits back in his chair with a satisfied grin on his face. Amina’s cooking was always so good, and he wished his second wife, Hadiza could cook just as well. He had given into pressures from his family to take on a second wife. Hadiza was barely eighteen years old, she was beautiful and hardworking. But Amina would always be his favorite.

This brought back memories of his courtship with Amina. They grew up in a small village on the outskirts of Kano city in the Northern region of Nigeria. As Hausa-Fulanis, his family were nomadic herdsmen. His Father, Alhaji Abubakar was a wealthy cattleman, with four wives and twenty children. Amina was the most beautiful girl in the village. He won her hand in marriage after enduring the Sharo tradition of whipping suitors before the intended bride. This tradition is a public ceremony to introduce young Fulani men into manhood and to prepare them to get a wife. This practice is a rite which features two hopefuls, who are whipped continuously until the people whipping them get tired.  The whole village looks on as the women sing and dance. The suitors are expected to show physical bravery and endurance by not flinching. This is a test of virility and bravery. He emerged victorious on that day, but the pain lasted for several days. The whip marks are still visible on his back. This tradition is prohibited in the big cities today, but it is still practiced in rural areas of the North.

Hassan shakes he head, and sighs. “Amina, come and take the plates away” he shouts. Then he looks up at the starry dark sky and thanks Allah that he did not have to perform the Sharo rite when he married Hadiza. Hassan takes a sip of his water, and sits back in his chair. He is suddenly startled by Amina and Hadiza’s screams. They both run onto the balcony, shouting, “Wahala! Wahala! Trouble! Trouble!” Hassan quickly jumps to his feet, knocking over the plates in front of him. “What is it?” he asks. Amina breathes hard as she replies: “There is a riot on Murtala Mohammed road. Several Muslims have been killed already!” “What are we going to do?” Hadiza interjects as she restlessly paces back and forth, with her hands on her head. Hassan tries to keep calm, but he knew that the situation was dire. There had been some tribal killings last week between some nomadic Fulanis and the native Idomas in the neighboring state of Benue. The dispute had been over encroachment of the Fulanis’ cattle on farmland. The Fulanis’ prized cows were slaughtered, which resulted in an all-out tribal war.

“Gather the children and stay in the house,” Hassan commands. Amina and Hadiza quickly run into the house.  Hassan calls out to the gateman, “Ahmadu! Make sure you lock the gate.” “Na gi! I hear you” as he runs off to secure the gate. Hassan’s cell phone rings, “Sannu Mallam Ibrahim, hello Mr. Ibrahim” says Hassan.  He talks on the phone for several minutes, nodding his head as he paces back and forth. “Yi hak'uri, I’m sorry. Don Allah ji mana, please listen. This is not the solution to the problem, this will only do more harm than good” Hassan cautions. Hassan’s eldest son joins him on the balcony with a concerned look on his face. “Please don’t do anything rash, Mu kwana lafiya, goodnight,” Hassan pleads, and then puts his phone down. And turning to his son, he says, “Alhaji Ibrahim’s shops were looted and burnt to the ground during the riot.”  “A’a, A’a, no, no. That is unfortunate, he is a good man” his son replied.

Hassan looks up at the eerie dark sky, which was dotted with just a few stars. A low, waning gibbous moon hovers tenuously, and a dark, wispy cloud eclipses the crescent moon. It was as if the sky was readying for something ominous. Then a loud noise in the distant, the house vibrates once, then twice. “What was that?” Hassan shouts in a startled voice. Hamada comes running in with his hands on his head, “there has been a bomb blast at Gadabiu market!” Hassan sinks into his seat, with fear, and confusion on his face. Then he lifts his hands in a prayer-like manner, and closes his eyes. “Don Allah, save us from the hands of evil,” shaking his head from side to side. It was going to be a long and bloody night. He felt helpless and defeated.

There will surely be reprisal by the communities that were destroyed. He had seen too many religious and tribal clashes to know that the worst was yet to come. Just last week, several churches were bombed in the neighboring city. This resulted in three days of bloodshed. Even the strong police presence, checkpoints and mandatory curfews did little to curb the carnage. “An angry crowd is coming towards our street!” Ahmadu interjects. Hassan jumps to his feet, and orders his son and the gateman into the house. The noise of the crowd grows closer, and closer. They chant loudly in broken English:  “Wahala, Wahala, someone must die this night!” as they walked past Hassan’s gate. The crowd was made up of the young men from the native Berom tribe. The market that was bombed was in their neighborhood.

As the crowd moves down the street, the cries of fear and anguish can be heard in the night air. People that were presumed to be Muslims were being dragged from their cars, beaten, and then set on fire. Chaos and anarchy was ruling the night. The sounds of police sirens and the angry chants of the crowd could be heard from all directions. The bloodshed rages into the night, it seemed like the world was coming to an end. As the dawn approached, the faint and golden gleams of light, which usually heralded the birth of a new day could be seen in the east shooting skywards from the bloody earth. The air was thick with the smell of death. Yes, Wahala is here to stay.