I was quite eager when the opportunity came to relocate to Lagos from Calabar after my secondary education. Despite opposition from some peudo-motherly quarters, I made the exciting trip by road to Lagos (with a bottle of non-alcoholic wine to celebrate). This threw me into a whole new circle of activities and contacts with new people, although my grandma was always there to stabilize my emotions. She was the reason I moved anyway.
Months later in 1994, I was invited to a Vacation Bible School, at the end of which I made quite a few friends and collected several addresses and phone numbers. Before now, I had only posted letters a few times in my whole life; a couple letters to my dad in Lagos, and one or two to my uncle in the United States. I was used to telephone conversations, which were far between in any case. I remember our NITEL phone number then was 087-222889. My brother and I used to randomly choose numbers from the telephone directory and prank calls, until the day my mum screamed at the phone bills.
In Lagos however, grandma had no NITEL telephone. My only options were to write letters to my new friends, or walk from Campbell Street down to NITEL tower at Marina to use the pay phone, which meant I would have to gather enough 10 kobo coins to place my calls. These were precious moments. To hear a friend’s voice at the other end and spending minutes conversing inconsequentially, or hearing the post man opening the postbox outside the house, was most times the highlight of each day.
It’s hard to look back and relate to those days, when communication was carefully planned and labouriously thought through. Today, we carry about fancy gadgets that instantly perform multi-functions, and we rarely think about what we channel via these devices. The rise and pervasiveness of communication technology has so sharply widened the gulf between our immediate past and today that I can’t even imagine how I stayed in touch or fixed appointments with friends.