Wednesday, October 10, 2007

EHIRIM FILES CLASSIC: Amazano's Vegas

AMAZANO'S VEGAS

by

Ambrose Ehirim


Dandy Apakama (L) and I do justice to the home-made dishes prepared by Amazano women as we recall our boyhood days in Las Vegas. Ehirim Files Images, April 2003


Onye rara oga ndowara n'obu, kwambe! Ochichara rara oga ndowara n'obu, kwambe! Ochichara ghoo oghu, okuko erie ya. Okuko ghoo oghu, egbe eburu ya. Egbe ghoo oghu, egbe gbagbue ya. Egbe ghoo oghu, akpo isi ya oku. Oku ghoo oghu mmiri awunya ya. Mmirii gthoo oghu, ala amita ya. Ala ghoo oghu, ahihia erishie ya. Ahihia ghoo oghu, nd'yom asuchaa ya. Nd'yom ghoo oghu, atuwa hu ime. Ime ghoo oghu, amuta ya n'nwa. N'nwa nwa ghoo oghu, ele ihe aga ashi ya? ---AMAZANO FOLKLORE

AMAZING HOW TIME FLIES!

It is said "facts do not fade in memory, but feelings do." I believe my memory has not failed me since I can still recall most, if not all, of every detail in the heydays when I was growing up in Amazano.

The track roads we walked by and played along as we went down the stream to take a wash and fetch water for cooking. The woods and the "wilderness," its track roads with reptiles, amphibians, birds, and several other species of mammals peering out as we walked through.

The moonlight plays; hide and seek, and bedtime stories. The folklores and story telling. The civil war stories told by the elders and kinsmen. The petty gardening we did growing vegetables and fruits in our backyards.

The way we walked back and forth; from school to the marketplace, and from the marketplace to the football fields where we hanged out and "tapped leather" barefooted.

The town-crier who sounded his horn and announced meeting schedules or special engagements at dawn when the villagers had gone to sleep. The carnivals and Owu Festival which brought every indigene home to celebrate and jubilate on a unique custom and tradition amid flamboyant and colorful display. The dancers and the singers. The audience and the players. And, of course, the players of instrument. In the end, oso ike n'ado appears amid fanfare to mark a month-long festival finale.

Going to church was fun, too. The long walk to St. Mary's Catholic Church and one of very few occasions we had on shoes. The ink and paper, new book smell of Lamb Tales from Shakespeare, Eze Goes to School, The Only Son, Pride and Prejudice, Things Fall Apart, Animal Farm and Akin the Drummer Boy, read with kerosene burned lantern until saturated. The political discourse as some of us were attracted to the ideals of socialism, Karl Marx's social contract and egalitarian society,

Akanu Ibiam, Kwame Nkrumah, the enigmatic Patrice Lumumba and Alvan Ikoku which irritated our mothers on the ground we were suppose to be reading our books. The long walk to Orie Amigwe in the company of my brother Philip and cousin Anthony, my longest walk ever, coming back from Accra. The nutritional change when cassava (fermented, grounded, cooked and pounded), oil bean, garri, akpukoro, sliced cassava, aki beke (coconut), ihe aforoafoo (poridged meal) and iwo, dried or smoked fish became the staple food. The macho me beating up everybody and had no one else to beat up in my age group until my seniors taught me a lesson, beating the hell out of me.
The bell for cross-country and meal time in high school.

The school recess when we came back home to the village and had student meetings to stage ballroom dances, football matches and match-making as part of student day celebrations. The group walk at night to the sensational Ugbele Students Day ballroom dance on Christmas eve. The neo-pop culture--hippies, funk, soul, rhythm and blues, and all that music that turned us on. The afro hair cuts, slim-fitting stone wash jeans with wide bottoms, slim-fitting v-neck polo shirts and six inches three layers high heeled shoes. The fight over the girls and the games that followed. The letters we wrote to friends and well-wishers. The love letters and how the girls drove us crazy. The in-house parties just to get the girls belong. The "we miss you" letter from Accra and how the folks at Ruga Park mentioned my name at all times. The exchanged correspondences with my childhood buddies Teddy and Eugene Onyeji, and how they got me into adoring "The Mark of Zorro," "The Lone Ranger," "Flip Wilson Show" and "Bonanza" episodes on TV.

The homecoming of my cousin Edward from Accra. The agrarian and state of happy society where one common interest prevailed--where kindness and brotherly love were manifested in all of the everyday affairs of life.

The makeshift fireplace in our family's ime ibari , where we gathered to stay warm from the chilling harmattan season. The ifo, stories, roasted corn and ube.

The sharing of meat done by seniority as prescribed by omenala, custom. The spooky and ghost stories told by our elders. The warning that certain things were beyond reasoning, and that agwuisi and amadioha, the gods of our fathers are the alpha and omega. The family's gateway to Ezi Ukwu where the rite of passage was observed and upheld from boyhood to adolescence. The noted "facts" and myth we were descendants of Njaba, and that Eke Njaba must not be killed under any circumstances, or else, its burial would be done the same way we humans bury our dead. The music that turned me on and how I got into Fela Ransome Kuti's afro beat. The record changer and Fela's "Shenshema." The boogie nights.

The casual jobs at palm oil extraction plants and how we spent the money on what we wanted. The tedious, exhaustive farming work, raining season and the mood that came with it. The ploughing, hoeing and sowing.

The "boys will be boys" arguments and fights, and how scores were settled. The hangouts where we played double Dutch, trash talked with high dosage of gossip that was the order of the era.

The football match between Rangers International Football Club of Enugu and Mehala Football Club of Egypt. The talents of Chairman Christian Chukwu, Kenneth Ilodigwe, Stanley Okoronkwo, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Aloysius Atuegbu, John Egbonu, Dominic Ezeani, Emmanuel Okala, Adokie Amesiemeka, et etcetera.

The duel between Rangers International of Enugu and IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan which nearly erupted to a civil war between the Yoruba nation and the Igbo nation. The talents of Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Felix Owolabi, Kunle Awesu, Best Ogedengbe, etceteras.

The magnificent broadcaster, Ernest Okonkwo. The TV drama "Masquerade," "Village Headmaster," "Adio Family," "Bassey & Company," "Mirror in the Sun" and "Cockcrow at Dawn." The super-hits of Wrinkars Experience, Ofo The Rock Company, Ozo, Funkees, Strangers, Black Children, Wings, Apostles, Heads Funk, Action 13, One World, Doves, Sweet Breeze, Tony Okoroji, BLO, Bongos Ikwue, Ofege "Boys" and Founders 15. The celebrated DJs Alan B, Teddy Oscar Uju, Eric Uzoma, Benson Idonije, Pat Oke, Tony Ibegbuna, Jones Usen, Bode Seriki, Fred Oshodi and Jacob Akinyemi Johnson. The long vacations and the trip to Lagos, Apapa Amusement Park, Race Course, Bar Beach, National Theater, National Stadium, and Lagos International Trade Fare. I can call up nearly everything. So as it happened, Amazano was in Las Vegas on Memorial Day weekend, and I had no problem in recognizing all my old-school buddies.

I had planned to be in Las Vegas and had booked my reservation at MGM Grand almost a month ahead of time which indicated how determined and dedicated I was to see many of my extended relatives once again. As it happened, I had been a little bit exhausted from my preparations in Los Angeles to three and half hours of riding with my cousin John on the 110, 10 and 15 Freeways pulling up at the parking lot of MGM Grand Hotel. The driving was fun as I called many of the Vegas bound buddies to find out what they were up to regarding their preparations in a record-setting event--old-school reunion, Dike's wedding and the convention that would follow, thereafter.

When we finally pulled up at MGM Grand parking lot and checked-in at my hotel suite, I called Dike from my cell phone whose Vegas wedding would be taking place the next day.

Dike: "Hellooooooo!"

Me: "Dike, I'm on The Strip at MGM Grand Hotel. Where is the party tonight?"

Dike: "Ambu, the party is not too far from MGM Grand, just stick around and I will call you back in a few when I get the information."

Me: "Ngwanu!"

We took a tour of MGM and later settled on the ground floor where it was all happening. The Strip, Las Vegas Boulevard, has the same resemblance of the good-old-days when Suya Spot was real hot in Suru Lere. The kalukalu days when one thought gambling was a fine sport. Not anymore. But they got me, again. The habit I left long time ago--gambling and pub-crawling at Suya Spot--resurfaced on Friday evening, May 23, 2003.

John and I then strolled down the hallway, window-shopped, watched the tourists and gamblers and their telltales, took the stairs to the card playing and slot machine rooms. The place crowded around the clock with gamblers looking forward to a kill, the world of fantasy that may never arise, and a dream which may never be fulfilled got me into a different mood.

I located a spot, the spot that may change my whole world and pulled out twenty-dollar bills I had gotten from the change counter and began betting against the house. Sooner or later I will be a millionaire. We'll see. Winning is one thing and losing is another thing. In this case, I was winning and losing, never knew when to quit especially when the booze was free as served by the attendants who watched with keen interest your mood and pattern of play.

By the time I was served a third shot of free cognac, I was on the losing side and had began sweating in an air conditioned room, realizing it was about time to leave gambling alone or else the bill collectors will be stalking me and knocking on my door for months in Los Angeles. Vegas is fun, but gambling is not, notably when you are not winning. As it also happened, John, who never gambled his entire life, and whose Vegas trip coincided with his birthday was given a birthday presence in form of cash, in anticipation he would join the million dollar boys club. It turned ugly. He got more than he bargained for.

The trouble of the evening began when the attendants issued us what they called MGM Mirage Players Club member card for staying at MGM Grand Hotel. As explained, playing by inserting the card in the slot machine gives one more points and better chances of becoming a millionaire. That gesture encouraged me to give the series of machines another shot. The ebullient John joined me in the quest for new millionaires around the block. He was so excited with the card thing and stood up, played with more enthusiasm than noted professional gambler Bill Baxter. When it was all over and after losing some hundreds of dollars, a sweating and frustrated me emerged knowing gambling was not real.

We left MGM Grand for a ride on The Strip. The incredible night life, the amazing scenes of people drinking alcohol openly in public with no hassle, and the whores who were solicited without threat from the authorities makes Vegas the number one sin city in the world. As we drove by every block on The Strip, my phone rang like a hotline. Old-school buddies are in town and I need to get back to my hotel room, take a quick shower and get dressed for The Foothills bedroom community party.

We took a bite and headed to The Foothills. We reached the place about half an hour before midnight, and the approach to it was highly exciting and picturesque. The intensive Vegas heat at near hundred and something degrees at night, and the 24/7 city was bursting and jamming with people from all walks of life.

When we arrived at The Foothills, the music was loud, the crowd so excited and becoming of an anticipated reunion. Beautiful people and glamorous women were all over the place and voices of the whole multitude can be heard upon arrival. I had expected I may not be recognized. I was recognized by all. The admiration of the crowd, hugging and handshakes was demonstrated by almost constant cheers and greetings of "Hey man, I haven't seen you for a while!" "How have you been, man!" "You haven't changed, man!" You are still the same guy, man!" "I miss you, man!" "How's life been treating you, man!" "This is 'Explosive, man!" and the like. This gesture lasted well into the night with old-school vibrating in the background.

I was so well pleased with the appearances of my buddies I have not seen in ages, and the prospect of jubilation and happiness among them, that I want another reunion as soon as possible. We left the gala with the last song "I want you to be mine" and tailed Nnamdi who drove his entourage to Polo Sport, a stone throw from where I was staying at MGM Grand Hotel. Apparently we were all exhausted from long hours of driving and long hours of partying.

The time was 5 o'clock in the morning, very unholy of hours to stay up, not in Vegas though. We went back to MGM, to the ground floor where the world of fantasy was still bursting loose. I surfed the web, read my emails and went to sleep. I slept all morning to be awoken by a phone call from Nnamdi wondering why 'am "missing in action"--the wedding, more faces and reflections on the days we were growing up in Amazano.

Up and ready to roll, John and I dressed up, had something to eat and drove to Henderson Convention Center where Dike's wedding reception was to take place.

At Henderson Convention Center, the parking lot was nearly full with sharp-dressed young "fellas" who hung on the hallway, on the corners of the ballroom and who obviously came with their parents. Some of the kids, I have met in Los Angeles, while some I have not seen until this day. A new generation has sprang up.

I walked down the hallway to the lounge where mama Nnamdi was sitting waiting for her son to be back from some errands. We hugged and spoke at length. I lifted mama up and we walked to the ballroom, found a table where all of us--mama nnamdi, my brother, John, Nnamdi, Uchendu and Dandy--sat. As guests entered the ballroom, music from the DJ's box greeted them. The reception began with introduction of the bride and bridegroom with entourage of the maids and groomsmen. Dike was eulogized by his brother Benji while the bride Juliet's eulogy was delivered by cousin Ifeanyi.

On this beautiful Saturday afternoon, professionals from all aspects of life, friends of the bride and bridegroom, distant relatives and cousins gathered for cocktails--assorted drinks--food and conversations in the reception area. The ballroom was full to capacity according to Henderson Fire Department Safety Codes and Regulations.

Enter the party and celebration. There was no punk rock, hard rock, blues or funk. It was all old-school, egwu agba ochie, the kind of music that had made body and soul one while growing up in Amazano. We danced, stomped, sang to the tune of the music reflecting the emotions and feelings that we do live in a small world. That cousins, who once lived a walking distance away would be scattered all around the universe.

Then, the classic, Prince Nico Mbarga's "Sweet Mother" which turned everyone who grew up in that era loose. I could not resist it. Nnamdi and I lifted mama to the crowded dance floor and sprayed money on mama's face kind of stuff. We danced, and danced and danced!

I left Henderson Convention Center back to my hotel room to figure out what's next for the evening. Meanwhile, John, his friend, a twinkle little star he met that night and I, decided to check out the incredible night life at Mandalay Bay. A very huge place with many activities. Not only was this part of Vegas resorts and casinos more exciting, but I felt more relaxed among the patrons who were being their natural selves and not causing any havocs. Another perfect place which took me aback to the days we spent all night partying and pub-crawling at Yaba and Suru Lere.

We found a spot where a local musical ensemble was entertaining guests with Van Halen's smash hit "Jump." John ordered some drinks as we watched the musical ensemble display their talents.

I took a walk amidst gambling machines, series of pubs, curious gold diggers and call girls, then found another perfect place called Boogie Nights, a crowded night club that spinned 70's and 80's hit--"I'm a Pushover," "One Nation Under a Groove," "Le Freak C'est Shit," "All Around the World," "Get Down Get Funky, Get Loose," "It Makes You Feel Like Dancing," "Super Freak," "It's a Private Party," "Boogie Nights" and things like that.

We left Mandalay Bay around the most of unholy hours back to my hotel room looking forward to day three of Amazano's Vegas. Day three of Amazano's Vegas was actually one of my oft-longed for retreat when tired of the noise and contention of the day-to-day hassles and bumper-to-bumper traffic while I could enjoy the present, forget the past and be free from all anxiety. It was not to be so. But the phone kept ringing and more events popped up. After all, I'm in Las Vegas where the city never goes to sleep, remember? My retreat to be in a world of my own never came.

Seriously speaking, forget the retreat. I'm in Las Vegas anyway!

The city of lights and its incredible nightlife, Vegas rocks twenty-four hours around the clock. It was, also, a family reunion, time to mingle with loved ones and folks not seen in many, many years. I left my hotel room and drove on Las Vegas Boulevard heading east toward Main Street to downtown Las Vegas. Here, I saw the worst of the much celebrated city. I saw a very filthy town-crack-heads, homeless people, prostitutes and their likes throwing swear words I'd never heard before, not even "mad-dogging," the gang jargon from L.A.'s South Central Blood and Crip street gangs.

However, Vegas is not just the nightlife, casinos, clubs, whores and destitutes which appears to be the only cliché about the sin city that equals Los Angeles-Hollywood glitz. There are professionals who do their own thing besides the nightlife, gambling and stuff like that. Before my Vegas trip, I had thought, oh, if you live in Las Vegas, you must then be a gambler. Not really so. Of all nd'be anyi, my people that I encountered in the sin city, none had gambled, and none had attempted in taking the chance of becoming a new millionaire around the block. "Illusional," they would say.

Many professionals from all aspects of society who live in Las Vegas have no clue of what the nightlife is all about. They work hard for their money and retire to their respective bedroom communities. They believe gambling is just a world of fantasy, not even worth giving it a shot, of a tiny fraction, from their hard-earned dollars. It's not only "Vegas." Vegas's also a place where you work on your identity. There are medical doctors. real estate brokers, currency and future traders, pharmacists, bouncers, clerical engineers, structural engineers, software writers, sports recruiting agents, lawyers and so on and so forth who have never considered gambling as a profession and would never give it a thought.

So, when I met my beloved Amazano cousins who trooped from around the globe to Vegas not "Vegas," I learned Amazano's Vegas was not about gambling and things like that. It was all about reflections--family reunion, wedding, conventions and building community--that we live in a small world; and no matter what, and according to Diana Ross, "Someday We'll be Together."

This article originally was first published in The Igbo Network in May 2003.

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