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When men were boys - Chapter 2: We were smokers



By Samuel Stephen Wakdok


We smoked because our lives depended on it.

At such tender ages, average of 12 years old, we became smokers. That advert which said “the federal ministry of health warns that smoking is dangerous to health” did not apply to us.

We smoked to live.

We smoked because we had to.

Before you judge me, you will not perhaps understand our situation. It was our only chance of survival. When we arrived 25 years ago it was a culture deeply entrenched all around us. No matter your class or religion, tribe or family you had to smoke. We couldn’t do otherwise.

We woke up in the dead of the nights to smoke. We smoked at day. Dawn, dusk or noon it didn’t matter. We smoked in our rooms, outside and worse still in our classrooms. As a matter of fact the best place to smoke was inside the classroom when the teacher suddenly leaves or in desperate cases, we got our heads beneath the lockers and smoked like mad with the teacher right in front of the class. We smoked in the bus and in the bush. It wasn’t a matter of addiction; it was a matter of survival.

Without smoking many of us may not have survived. We were kids but we didn’t have a choice. We wrapped it inside a sheet of paper and rolled it before smoking or put inside a nylon and tie it. When we were more buoyant mostly at the beginning of term or immediately after visiting we were sure of combining the three elements but when the term is far or during austerity we smoked without any combination.

As boys under difficult conditions, far away from home we smoked because we could not afford the luxury of soaking garri (a popular West African food in form of granular flour made from cassava tubers). We smoked dried garri as junior boys because our lives depended on it. You could go two days straight without finding time to go to the dinning hall. You could reach the dinning and get served but because you had no cutlery you will have to stare at your food till you are sent out. Worse is when you just got served and the provost shouts ” I am counting 5 for you to finish eating one, two, three, four, four and the half …and lastly five… devil baptize you that you are still seated.

We smoked garri to remain alive.

This article was originally titled “We were smokers”.

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