Everyday life in the time of Boko Haram

I took this photo on Eid 2016 at a zoo in my hometown of Maiduguri, Nigeria. Whenever I look at this image, it gives me both joy and sadness.

It shows the vibrancy of our fashion, the bold makeup one experiments with in their teenage years but also signifies the ability of the human spirit to fight a feeling of despair and powerlessness and to have hope.

It reminds me of the many Eids I spent as a child and takes me back to a time when our town lived without fear.

I was born and raised in Maiduguri, a town of about two million people in Borno State in northeast Nigeria. I had a happy childhood, surrounded by extended family, living in a compound that my grandfather built for his sons and their wives. There were fights, but we depended on each other.

Eid was the occasion that always brought us together.

Families prepared for weeks. Tailors would be swamped with requests for elaborate dresses, fitted designs in lace and atampa. My sister and I wore colour-coordinated Eid outfits for most of our youth. On Eid morning, children roamed the streets, wearing their best clothing, bringing food to neighbours.

They also took photos with their friends at the photography studios, wanting to eternalise these memories. My cousin still has an old studio picture of us and two other cousins, all with 90s-style thin eyebrows and shiny lip-gloss.

Over the three days of Eid, Sanda Kyarimi, the zoo, became the place to be for young people from certain communities to meet and mingle. It is one of the few attractions in town, although there are few animals to see – an elephant, some monkeys, a snake and an antelope.

The groups of friends at the zoo were famous for dressing up. The boys emulated rappers, and the girls wore more traditional designs. They would go to outshine each other, meet their potential “catches”, have picnics and ice creams.

There were durbars for public entertainment at the palace of the Shehu, the well-respected traditional ruler, and music and dancing in many neighbourhoods. The royal entourage would ride through the neighbourhoods of Maiduguri in a decadent display of horsemanship on their way to the mosque for Eid prayers.

We were a quiet town and Eid was the holiday we looked forward to, with its dancing, dresses, and freedom. We could never have imagined it would all but stop for nearly eight years – a period laced with fear, killings, and trauma.

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