I used to dread nightfall. Not because of the imaginary shadows I could have sworn lurked in the dark. It was also not necessarily because of the cats and rats that ran around the public toilet area. I used to dread nightfall because my mother made sure none of us children would have dinner until he or she had drank to the last drop his or her apportioned cup of dogonyaro (neem tree) juice.
Like all other parent in our part of town, my mother believed in the efficacy of this very bitter juice squeezed out of the tree’s leaves. Back then, fighting malaria with dogonyaro was not only cheaper but also quicker (since the tree stood in front of almost every house along the street while the same couldn’t be said of medicinal drugstores). At first, whenever any of us was down with malaria, he or she was treated with dogonyaro juice and modern medicine either simultaneously or successively. But my mother eventually made it mandatory for everyone irrespective of whether one was sick or well after Mr. K, a friend of my father’s, shared his latest travel experience with us.
Mr. K, who traded in dried fish, claimed to have travelled to Maiduguri where mosquitoes were as large as honeybees and possessed proboscis that could pierce through any garment of iron. In spite of that, Mr. K had told us, people in Maiduguri walked about and slept almost naked without any fear for those winged little devils which actually stayed away from them because they had taken in so much dogoyaro juice until their very sweat and body odour had become more repugnant than any insecticide.
“They not only drink dogoyaro juice,” Mr. K had sworn. “They also use the stick to clean their teeth every morning and evening and use the leaves in place of cabbage”.
Back then, we lived within fifty metres from the Kaduna river. Moreover, the settlement was crisscrossed by stagnant drainage channels which were breeding ground for mosquitoes. Because of that, I was sure that my mother would have maintained the nightly dogoyaro juice if not that one or two of us still caught malaria weeks into the exercise. Today, looking back, I find it easy to forgive my mother who was only doing whatever she could to keep her children well. Poor woman!