The best decision I took in 2016.
So I took my first family vacation.
We were to travel with our friends, the Babaekos in December of 2015, but, as usual, I chickened out.
You see, I’ve been working since I was 18, afraid of failure and too ambitious for my own good. I do get to travel often, around Nigeria and overseas. But it’s usually brief. Usually for trainings and meetings and even more trainings. If you are the CEO of a young, growing business, it’s easy to think there’s no time to take time off.
So I never took time off.
But in 2016, my body started telling my brain to have some sense. I would listen to their conversations and shake my head.
It was during one of such sessions, while I did my best to not meddle in those body-brain arguments, that the Babaekos offered again; asked actually, if we’d love to come with them to their home in Kabba, in Kogi state, for a family vacation.
It’s one of those offers you accept before thinking of the implications. In fact, I think my body put a gun to my brain’s head and screamed YES, as if it was an answer to a marriage proposal.
It’s the best decision I took in 2016.
So at the peak of work in December, I shut down, drove 10 hours to Kabba, in Kogi state, and remained there, for all of 10 days.
I was born in Aiyetoro-Gbede, about 15 minutes from Kabba. And I had not been in that area since the burial ceremony for my grandparents in 1996.
So you’ll understand when I say this was more than a vacation. It was a spiritual excursion, a trip into my past; my beginning, as I prepare for the next phase of my life.
From visiting the street I suspect I was conceived, to combing over 150 plots of farmland, attending the Obangogo carnival where I failed to get to the top of the hill; to pounding yam with Steve, Dotun and Yetunde, playing tennis at St. Augustine’s, and drinking palmwine like it’s going out of vogue, I spent the period between December 23 2016 and January 2, 2017 chopping the life of my head in company of the most important people in the world, in one of the most important towns in my life.
The kids made new friends, played football, spent time swimming, threw fireworks, and fought over what to watch on TV. It’s the longest time I’ve spent with them, without having to rush off to work, or to one of those endless meetings. Actually, it’s the longest I’ve stayed without rushing anywhere, or doing any serious work, since 1995. For the first time in years, I found no use for my computer; no use for social media.
If you live in the city, rushing to and fro work from Monday to Sunday, working day and night for a take home pay that can’t take you anywhere, you’re likely to look at those living in villages with contempt. If you live in a place like Lagos, barely taking vacations and ‘hustling’ your days away, it’s easy for you to be deceived into thinking you’re living the life.
Spending 10 days in a village taught me one lesson: the most important things we need in life are food, shelter and basic healthcare. And these people have all three. It may not be luxurious buffets and Banana Island town houses. But they eat fresh, organic food, live in decent homes, with the basic facilities needed to exist. It’s actually likely they eat better food than we do. They don’t have to deal with traffic and noise pollution. And they actually have standard educational facilities. St. Augustine’s, where we played tennis, is as good as they come.
I don’t expect all of us to suddenly move back to the village, and I’m not saying there are no opportunities here for those living in places like Ayetoro Gbede, Kajola, and Odobata. But as we take frequent trips to London and New York, as we visit Kenya and South Africa and Dubai, we need to take a look at our backyard and return to our roots. As recession bites and the nightmare of foreign exchange continues, we need to consider tourist trips and spiritual excursions to our ancestral homes; places where we don’t have to spend dollar and pounds; where there are even no shopping malls!
And what’s more, I was convinced the government of the state had no clue of the opportunity for tourism and foreign exchange sitting untapped in this place – an actual goldmine waiting to be discovered and explored. I was enthralled by the picturesque landscape; the delicately balanced rocks seating precariously atop one another; the fiery dust sprinkled generously on everything, everywhere. Kogi only recently increased its monthly IGR from N350m to 600m; nothing to write home about when compared to Lagos which generates around N30 billion per month. The amazing Obangogo hills alone, with no clear access roads, maps, facilities and guide, is a waiting contributor to the state’s IGR, if the government would see the opportunities and put the right things in place. Instead of opening just once in a year, Obangogo should be a tourist destination available to host visitors 24/7 – with good revenue from ticketing, food and beverages, tolls, photography, games, etc.
I for one will plan to take more vacations, alone and with my family. And it won’t be just to London and Glasgow. I’ve already pencilled my home town, Oka Akoko, in Ondo State, where both my parents are buried, for my 2017 vacation.
The Babaekos gave us the vacation of a lifetime; and opened our minds and eyes to a world we – especially my kids – didn’t know existed. Then heading back into Lagos, we spent the night in Akure, visiting Dotun’s younger sister, her mom and grandmother. When we settled down with mama in her living room, and I brought out my phone to photograph four generations of Nigerian women, I knew the trip was definitely not a good decision. It was the best.
What a way to start a new year!