Saturday, 24 October 2009
BY GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR
The evening was cool. In fact, the coolest of the days I spent in Port Harcourt for the Garden City Literary Festival, which held last month. It rained heavily that evening; it was very fierce, and it lasted for about two hours.
We — journalists from Lagos — had left the conference earlier and so we weren’t bogged down in any traffic. You think people can drive in the city when it rains, just wait to see the utter chaos of a rainy day in the city.
I had missed my flight back to Lagos the previous week after we spent close to three hours in the traffic. On this day, it had rained, and so, the roads became unmotorable.
After the rain this evening, everywhere was very boring and I felt like returning to Lagos. I concluded in my heart, only a few more days and the festival would be over.
The roast yam, plantain and fish, a favourite menu in this part of the country, which I bought while returning from the festival ground, was still where I kept it before the rain started. I ambled over to where the roast stuff was and ate a little.
My mind wondered afar. Three days in Port Harcourt moving from hotel room to the festival ground and nothing more. I wanted to see the Garden City. The dirty part. But how would I? Where do I know?
I was still wondering when my phone rang. It had gone on for about three minutes before I knew it was ringing at all. It rang again a fourth time. The caller was Tonye, my friend.
“I’m coming right now to take you round Port Harcourt,” he said cheerfully, but slightly aggressive.
In a fit of spontaneity, I accepted an invitation to see the City. But I was incredibly nervous. The image that flashed into my head was that of militants wearing headscarves and bandana dancing (maybe bobbing back and forth at best) in small tight circles, in a completely belligerent manner.
Port Harcourt, with its robust nature, has a vibrant social life with booming entertainment that is well entrenched. Just like its steaming commercial pulse, its social life is on the upswing with numerous outlets, natue and mood.
“Yes, Port Harcourt, here I come,” I inhaled.
In about an hour, my friend was in my hotel room. The time was almost 10pm and fear gripped me that I was going out in the city where “your next door neighbour may be a kidnapper”, so I thought. The adventurous spirit in me urged me on.
As soon as we drove out, my friend asked, “where do we go now?”
“Let’s try the sit-out on Stadium Road,” said another friend of his in the front seat.
“Okay,” my friend said.
I was silent during the ride. Where do I know apart from the festival ground and my hotel room?
Suddenly, the car came winding down the narrow Circular Avenue GRA, and rolled up to a halt in front of a popular hotel on the street. I was apprehensive. But suddenly, the apprehension gave way to excitement when I saw a troupe of ladies ‘mounting guard’ on the road. It was as if the whole girls in Port Harcourt had milled down to Circular Avenue. They were all there — all shades of colour and height. I stared in amazement
“You see, I wanted you to see the other side of Port Harcourt. Its seamy side, but nonetheless a perfect way of saying that the Garden City is safe. Don’t you think so?” my friend said.
I nodded a “Yes!”
I wanted us to get out of the place to see some of the clubs not the pub. The night was crawling in gradually and I didn’t want to miss out.
Our first shot was D’s Place, a sit-out in D-Line. We guzzled wine for the two hours we spent there; as we waited for the night to wear on.
We sat in a far corner of the table and watched, as people streamed in and out. A fair complexion young lady, with a graceful figure, sat on a table by the side. With her was another lady of almost the same age, but with impaled complexion.
There was a characteristic note of intimate conversation between them. My friend left his seat to join them.
“Would you please come to our table”, he said. “Okay,” one of the girls responded.
They soon joined us. “This is my friend, Greg, he is a visitor, I want you to welcome him in Port Harcourt way.”
My heart almost leapt out of mouth. I thought I would be introduced as a journalist, it would have meant there won’t be opportunity to have a little knowledge of nightlife in the city.
“So, who is this queen,” I asked.
“My name is Cynthia,” said the lady. Her voice had a clear-cut edge to it that is typical of Port Harcourt ladies. Her friend added, “I’m Jennifer”
My mind raced towards the other girls I had met at the conference in the morning. Must every girl in the city be Cynthia or Jennifer?
Jennifer gave me an anxious look and asked, “what brought you to Port Harcourt?”
“I came for a conference.”
She stared at me, maybe intrigued by what I said and asked, “When did you come to Port Harcourt and how soon are you going back?”
She seemed all interested to milk a cow, a mugu, probably the 10th or 20th.
She brushed off another lady, who was itching to come closer. I guess she would be singing in her mind: Maga one pay, shout alleluia.
The girl appeared an accomplished actress and ‘practising liar’, amusing me with a load of lies. And I was only inclined to believe her piece of theatrical twaddle.
WE left D’s Place about 12midnight for Baracuda with our new friends, Jennifer and Cynthia. From Baracuda, we went to Casablanca. We were everywhere.
The clubs we visited were all located in almost the same enclave in GRA. Actually fees are not just fixed in Port Harcourt’s club. However, every good one has its fancies. Bongainvilea is not entirely on fees, it’s about being classy and there are few restrictions. Casablanca is really all-comers, but sometimes operate on moderate fees. Casablanca is one place to catch real fun.
With a well established clientele and right balance. The girls are all gold diggers, like any place you get a mixed crowd so be firm, pleasant and select wisely.
Wine Bar is elitist and classy; The Wish is all-comers so also are Baracuda, Little Angels and Illusions. However, in all, your money tells your class and the class of girls you hang out with.
Besides, a bottle of beer or energy drink costs a baseline of N500 while a good wine or whisky goes for at least N6000; champagne is minimum of N30,000. The girls are very friendly, very hot, mostly clean, good fun and up for anything... at a price.
Some go as high as N10,000 per night, but those that enter Port Harcourt from Aba go for N5,000 or slightly less. You can drop into any of the clubs from Friday and it will be a pleasant environment to socialise.
AT Casablanca, we had great time. The music was pretty good, with the DJ offering up a mixture of local hip-hop and the standard rotation of RnB/Top-40 nightclub hits. We saw a lot of ladies, who looked like drug addicts, skin weathered by crack, with bodies squeezed into body-hugging dresses. There were girls shimmying their hips to hard-hitting hip-hop bass on the dance floor, and those flinging themselves, wholeheartedly.
Sure enough, every eye in the room was on Cynthia when she began to roll her hips with the beat. I sat inconspicuously in the corner taking it all in, emotions alternating between fascination and endearment, as the girls danced.
After a time, I joined the dance floor. My mind went to The Lonely Women Of Port Harcourt, a piece done by Reuben Abati on Friday, August 31, 2007. I wondered what would have happened to the married women, as their husbands ‘shadow walked’ in these clubs.
When I got to my hotel room at about 5am, I was filled with excitement. I had somehow forgotten I was still skeptical, and even less than enthusiastic about going out in the night. My mind eyes grinned with excitement that the City still greens in its Garden. There’s peace afterall.
The last time I visited, the city was under siege and there were guns booming in the air, death on the streets and panic in the hearts of men.
FOR Tamuno Godwin, a staff of one of the oil companies, “Port Harcourt is now safe again. There has been a tremendous improvement in the security situation. You won’t hear gun booming in the air or deaths on the streets.”
An opinion corroborated by Blessing Amadi, one of the residents. She said, “crime rate has reduced in the city.”
Freddy Ndigbara, the Assistant Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Rivers State, insisted, “it is not the issue of propaganda. People are seeing the efforts of government at bringing peace to the state.”
He added, “before now, there was daily occurrence of rape, and other terrible things in the city. Fear was rampant and murder was at is peak. But all these have gone and this why the government is encouraging people to carry out their private investigations about security in the state.”
However, Amaka Okolie, one of the girls, who attended the Garden City Literary Festival, said more needed to be done in terms of security. “You can’t drive for up to five minutes without noticing a police patrol team.” An assertion Ndigbara said, “is only for stop and search.”
Land for Beauty pageant
ACCORDING to the state’s Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Marcus Nle Ejii, to show the state’s commitment to peace, it is hosting Miss ECOWAS Peace Pageant slated for Saturday November 14.
The state also supported the last edition, which held on December 20, in the state capital.
Last year’s winner was Miss Fatoumata Diallo, the 22-year-old former Miss Senegal.
The objectives of the pageant include building platforms aimed at communicating and building the culture of peace and development in the sub-region.
The Executive Director, Maxine Menson, said, “this year’s theme is Peace and Development in diversity. This is basically to communicate peace and unity in the Niger Delta area, within West Africa and the entire Africa as a whole. This edition will be bigger in terms of more participation from member countries.”
This year’s event is expected to have a female American artiste, three other African artistes. The event will be broadcast live to millions of viewers across the world.
The event’s director, Chris Ondokor, said, “by hosting it in Port Harcourt for the second year in a row, the commission seeks to join the government of Rivers State in sending a clear and unambiguous message to the world that Rivers State is enjoying peace and is a great destination for tourism and investment.”
He added, “this year’s event is expected to have two representatives each from the fifteen African countries and this is being done through an open and transparent process in all the participating countries. The Pageant is beyond beauty… I promise you a swell time.”
...And an international Film feast
The international touring film festival — ION International Film Festival — will hold between December 9 and 12. Dubbed ION International Film Festival Port Harcourt 09, the touring film festival, which moves every year to a new location around the globe in an effort to promote global awareness, peace and unity, will make its debut in Africa with this edition.
The festival had been staged in Los Angeles in 2007, Dubai in 2008. It is expected to move to Istanbul in 2010. ION launched the call for entries in 12 official categories on April 1.
Also in December, the city will be hosting this year’s River Carnival (CARNIRIV).
First held last year, it is the convergence and display of the state’s cultural heritage amidst fun, colour and grandeur.
The week-long event is expected to drive foot-traffic to Port Harcourt and its neighbouring cities with an unprecedented attendance of people.
The key objectives of the festival are to instill the aura and spirit of brotherliness in the people of Rivers State, to put the state on the positive light.
Highlight include African Cultural Exhibitions (ACE); Walk for Life; The Great Carnival, Gala Nite, an International Film Festival, Miss ECOWAS Beauty Pageant and CARNIRIV Musical concert etc.
According to the commissioner, “ last year’s event was designed to re-awaken the people’s cultural pride and values,” adding, “it was geared to unveil a people with the most beautiful culture in Nigeria and to the rest of the world. However, this year’s event is packaged to place Rivers State in a positive light in the comity of nations and to make it a destination that attracts business, people and tourists globally.”