Tuesday, 12 May 2009
BY BISI ALABI WILLIAMS
CALABAR, with an estimated population of 1.2 million residents, is the capital of Cross River State. Of late, the city has been in the news following the state government’s effort to transform it into a tourist destination.
Bordered by the Calabar River, the Great Qua Rivers and a lot of creeks, the city is a pure delight. The sign “You are in Calabar, keep it green”, which welcomes a visitor into the city, aptly captures the entire ambience.
Indeed, the atmosphere can be mistaken for any major city somewhere in Europe, perhaps. The weather is calm and pretty quiet, the streets are extra-ordinarily neat; and the lawns well laid out like a craftman’s piece of work.
Lightings and signs are strategically positioned on almost every road. The roundabouts are designed with beautiful sculptural works and hardly can one find potholes on the roads. This, no doubt, is a place any tourist would love to visit.
Life in Calabar is good. Traffic flows on the wide roads and streets like a sweet rhythm. There is hardly congestion anywhere on the roads; the residents abide by traffic regulations.
The commercial motorcyclists, popularly known as okada riders, comport themselves with some measure of discipline and pride, as they move around the city with their helmets on their heads, in full compliance with road safety regulations.
The people themselves are warm and friendly. As long as the visitor understands English language, finding his/her way around the town is very easy. Places to start tour in Calabar as a first timer are many; they include the national park, which houses an interesting collection of plants and animals.
I WAS on official assignment. It was a roundtable for print and electronic practitioners in Nigeria. We lodged at Pyramid Hotel, one of the best in the city. It indeed proved to be a beautiful place, a well thought-out location. The meals were sumptuous, with a wide choice of cuisine.
Break time and the end of session was a great opportunity for me and my team members to escape to town. Moving round the streets was fun, watching its magnificent hills also a joyful experience. The parks are famous for their scenic beauty. Notable among the tourist sites was the Duke Town church, said to be one of the oldest in the country, established by the Presbyterian Church missionaries; and also the tomb of Mary Slessor, the missionary. The old town (Duke Town) is well known for its many shops, which line the streets.
At the river bank, you are sure of getting sea catch from local fishermen at an affordable price. The museum is a must visit; it concentrates on the history of Calabar, region, people and slavery. It boasts of large collection of original documents and artifacts.
The University of Calabar is located in the heart of the city; which also has a botanical garden, the first of such in the country; developed by the British colonialists to cultivate some plants for export. A new botanical garden is currently being cultivated at the same site.
As night falls, the street lamps light up the city. Where to relax, eat or spend the night is the individual’s decision, as there are many hotels, restaurants and bars scattered throughout the city. My teammates and I drove round town with friends resident in the town to a buzzing section of the city, called Atekong. Here, it is fun all the way.
I MADE two young friends; one of them, Ekaete Akpabio, who was very eager to be debriefed about the city, revealing the secret of its clean look. She said the women take a few hours in the early morning to clean the streets before going home to get their children ready for school.
“Calabar streets are always kept clean because the people are naturally clean. We are proud of the environment in which we live. It is part of our identity. We see cleaning not as an activity that is beneath us but as a way of life,” she said.
Her friend, simply called Christy, was quick to add that during weekends, “the city is filled with tons of people due to its strategic location. People come in from all the neighbouring states and towns such as Port Harcourt, Benin, Asaba, Warri, even from the creeks and other villages to enjoy the peaceful and quiet atmosphere of Calabar, mostly fun seekers. They spend the weekend and find their way back to their places on Sunday evening or first thing on Monday morning.”
Calabar, though richly endowed in some way, cannot boast of having most of what some metropolitan cities in Nigeria have, but the people try to use what they have wisely.
It was learnt that about 823 women are employed to sweep the city’s streets for three hours a day, earning around N7,000 naira a month. The city also employs around 700 men to clean drains, prune trees, cut grass and collect refuge. Refuse bins are found on almost every corner.
The streets of Atekong would linger in one’s mind because it is a different part of town. It is a busy, sizzling part of town. The streets are well lit. Multitudes can be seen everywhere: in shops, restaurants, clubs and all kinds of joints, chatting or ranting noisily with one another over some local dish — a plate of pepper soup or goat head, popularly called isiewu in Igbo language, served with drinks. My friends are I were equally busy in a corner.
As I sat there, sharing thoughts with them, I thought within me that it would be a wonderful idea were I to move to Calabar, my beautiful Calabar!