It is almost impossible to give a vivid description of a place or a people except you have been to the place and lived with the people. There has been a lot said about the south southerners, mostly derogatory. I have heard various versions of their philandering men, misogynistic tendencies, the easy virtue of their women and their proclivity for incest. If you have heard as much as I had, you had probably thought Calabar is the new Sodom and Gomorrah.

However, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme opened the angle not frequently explored about these people. Prior to my mobilization to Cross River State and subsequent posting to Calabar, I have fed on the erroneous portrayal of a people; a situation Chimamanda Adichie described in her Tedx Talk titled The danger of single story. I was guilty of believing the single story of the Calabarians. Partly because these stories are the popular tales one hears in the West and also because I had an uncle who was nothing short of the stories I have heard.

My interaction with the Calabarians has shown that they are nice and friendly people. If not the most hospitable people in Nigeria. I know how corps members are treated in the West. I lived most part of my life in Lagos and Oyo states and I have seen, first hand, how corps members can get ignored, teased, or even maltreated. I have seen a corps member beaten to a pulp in Lagos by an intolerant bus conductor.

Please, do not get me wrong. My aim is not to paint the western Nigerians in bad light just to score some cheap goals for the Cross Riverians. I am only trying to explain to you how a people cannot just be one thing and one thing alone; either good or bad.

My first day on the streets of Calabar was adventurous and the first time the veil of the Calabar stereotypes began falling off. I had to get to the NYSC state secretariat to cancel my relocation back to Oyo state. I had applied for and was granted relocation in camp but I had to go cancel it. I should tell you the story around my relocation, cancellation and the aftermath of the decision but not today, some other time, maybe.

Novice was written all over me as I tried to find my way in an unfamiliar terrain. Talk about fresh otondo standing out in the crowd of corpers, I was a good example. Dressed in the full regalia of NYSC uniform and armed with the direction given by ‘ senior corpers’, I stood at the Ekpo Iso junction, looking confused while I waited for cab that would  take me to the secretariat.

Finally, a cab came around, the driver muttering things I do not understand, I peeped through the window and told him, “NYSC Secretatriat by Highway”. He smiled and asked me to enter. I was received with warmth greetings and assuring smiles, like a best man who had come to give a toast to the couple. I was a little sacred, and I have legit reasons to be. The smile seemed too good to be true, just that, it was actually true. I will later realise that it is a ‘calabar thing’ for cab passengers to exchange brief pleasantries whenever a new passenger gets into the cab. I also got to know that everywhere in Calabar is by somewhere. For example, the bustop of where I work is ‘Atimbo by Access’, I have a friend who used to stay at ‘White house by majesty’, I go to church at ‘Marian by Hi-quality’. So, when you visit Calabar, be sure to ask “by where?” else we might have to announce a missing person on TV.

It was a smooth all expense paid 10 minutes ride. You see, as a corps member in Calabar you can go out without single naira note in your pocket and still get to make a choice of which car to ride in. You don’t need to be a lady to enjoy such privilege, all you need, is just being a corps member with a form of conspicuous identification. There are fellow corps members who go out every day with the intention of hitching a free ride. As a lady, you don’t have to be scared when you receive such favours. People pay your t.fare without as much as looking at your well made up face, twice. Calabarians are just cool like that.

Another story not frequently heard about the Cross Riverians is their love for good food. If you’ve ever said that Nigeria doesn’t have variety of food, perhaps you’ve never left the West where everything we hear is Amala and Iyan with very limited soups to accompany the morsels. Here in the South, you can conveniently eat eba three times a day, 7 days a week and not get tired. You have different soups to choose from; melon soup, groundnut soup, afang, edikaikong, white soup, all kinds of soup. Eating in Calabar has been an adventurous voyage; there is always more to keep you excited. Just so you know, they have great appetite too.

This is probably what I found most fascinating about calabarians and Cross Riverians generally, they are fine creatures, especially their girls. They can be described in one word; breathtaking! Before you start protesting, Yoruba peeps are fine too but in every one Folashade that is ‘drop dead gorgeous’ there are three Tanwas who are ‘ OMG kind of ugly’. In Calabar, hardly will you see any girl on the street that isn’t enticing to look at. She might not be an Agbani kind of fine but she will sure give Lupita Nyong’O a chase for her fame. By the way, even Agbani does not always look like Agbani. An average Calabar chic will look better than Rihanna if exposed to half the beauty regimen of Rihanna. Cross Riverians are beautiful!

They are also highly considerate people. Growing up in Lagos, I got to know plenty of songs from ‘Salawatu Abeni’ to ‘Tope Alabi’ to ‘Aye Loyun’, all thanks to taxi drivers. You enter a taxi and the driver does not even care about corrupting your music box with his genre of songs. It’s a totally different ball game in Calabar. An average Calabar driver understands the heterogeneous nature of his customers, so he plays songs that almost everybody can relate with. I am sure there are Efik songs he will like to listen to but he would rather play the general songs everyone would relate with. If that is not being considerate, I wonder what is.

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