Along Came Fences


We lived in a compound of three flats and a boys’ quarter in Ago Okota, Lagos. Ours was a fenced compound, sort of in the middle of nowhere, last on the street and separated from other buildings by an expansive gulf of undeveloped plots of land overgrown with weeds.

A single mother and her three kids lived in the boys’ quarter. Her first son was my age-mate and friend. When I think back to those formative years, I remember the resolute cooperation of two nine-year-old boys who decided to make a bench from abandoned formwork lying about an uncompleted building close by.

For days, we slaved to make a three-legged bench that a parent bought for N10. My friend and I always watched with pride as our siblings and parents sat on the bench in the evenings. We made another, which I marketed to a relative, selling it for N5. I walked for half a kilometre with the bench on my head to deliver it. While making those benches, a rusted nail pierced through my left foot. My mom took me to a nearby clinic to have me treated. The bill was N200.

When we moved to Kaduna, only two houses on our street were fenced—ours and another one down the lane. Our gate was the opaque border bounded by four high walls decorated at the top with broken bottles.

Despite my love for accessing that side of solitude that engages with written words, the part of me forever enslaved to fantasy fed fat on cartoons and I hungered to bring the adventures scripted in them to life. So, during my teenage years, the call of the streets drew me past our gate, to a circus of street hockey, boris, hunting traps, bangers, suwe , and games of catcher with many other children. As dusk fell, I would reluctantly retreat from the big compound that was our street to the confines of the opaque gate.

In the space of two decades, every house on my street has grown a fence. The ‘big compound’ has shrunk away from the backyards, front yards, and trees, which were common property supporting the imaginative expressions of every kid. The evening bustle of legs and screams have vanished. Moreover, kids have now been tamed by big and small screens that keep nagging them, demanding every bit of their attention.

My village is different. Even today, there are no fences. Solitude is alien and greetings and communal assistance are prized. People do not distance themselves from the identity and stories of others who live around the corner.

Fenced houses and gated communities are the norm in cities. We insulate ourselves to feel secure. However, I maintain the premise of one of my favourite lecturers who is a past president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects: the best form of security is communal and that happens when there is a sense that anyone could be watching a thief from a nearby window.


© Samuel Okopi 2016


Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

74 thoughts on “Along Came Fences

  1. This makes me think about my reluctance to get too close to my neighbors- after having had a couple of experiences in the past that were too close for comfort. I live in LA, which can feel isolating in its spaciousness and freeway culture of everyone needing a car. These days, I am learning to lower those self-imposed walls around me and finding comfort in community but it’s requiring me to tear some of those fences down.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. City life inspires what someone called ‘all of us alone together’. I suppose there are good reasons to limit contact with neighbours sometimes. I wish you godspeed as you attempt to tear fences down and seek comfort in community. We are wired for connection…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hello, Thanks for reading. Echoing Timi, godspeed with your new resolution. I wish my self same because I know it’s never easy risking your personal space for the benefits of community.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a nice post, idealistically. But when in reality you have fences and people still hop over those fences and make away with your purses, wallets and valuables, you thank God for giving you the wisdom to erect fences.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m laughing at the picture your comment evoked in my mind. XD

      I think that Samuel is saying that a spirit of true community would mean less fences and less theft of the kind you mention. If there are already fences, true community doesn’t exist… in that case, do we need to build bigger fences? The issue certainly isn’t cut and dried… I like the perspective and angles you’re raising. Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly, Timi. You took the words from my mouth. The broader issue, I believe, points to the root of the problem; one that is present amidst the questionable ‘solution’ of fences and the extra security measures sitting atop them.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Samuel for this. I enjoyed every bit of it.
    It brought back memories and makes me feel a wierd pity for kids nowadays at the same time, it leaves me asking; what happened to us? What did we loose our sense of belonging? Our communal spirit? The string that binds us together, are they still there?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot for reading! I am glad you enjoyed this. Hmmm…I think so too…but perhaps we live another kind of reality that cannot appreciate the pleasures and advantages of the world kids experience nowadays. Sometimes I wonder: could it be that nostalgia distorts truth and perception? I might never know. I do know that fences preach a kind isolation many would rather do away with if possible.

      Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Samuel,

    Your well written story held my hand and took me on a journey back to simpler, more trusting times. Thank you

    I remember playing on the street with the kids in my neighborhood, with little or no adult supervision.

    These days parents watch with hawkish, paranoid eyes, who can blame them? Too many evil intentions lurking in the shadows. It’s like Perversion also grew up as the years went by.

    @ “Despite my love for accessing that side of solitude that engages with written words, the part of me forever enslaved to fantasy fed fat on cartoons and I hungered to bring the adventures scripted in them to life” This made me smile knowingly, I read a lot of story and comic books. 🙂

    Back then we knew that we were responsible for our own enthusiasm, and found “organic” ways to entertain ourselves.

    This era of neighbourhood solitude might have some economic motives, times are harder, one is less likely to receive financial requests from a neighbour that has not been allowed too much familiarity.

    A N200 medical bill for N15 tables was hardly a profitable business venture. Ah! The joys of childhood… Lol

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hahaha @the last line. Yeah, I didn’t add that I received a lecture from my mom on how unprofitable my foray into amateur carpentry turned out. Of course she also emphasised that part about facing my books.

      Your comment about playing without supervision tells of the innocence and freedom of childhood that many miss in this era. Ah, the gone days of childhood. 😊

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Along came fences indeed…we do live in a more gated community now and on the one hand I love for the innocence and freedom of back in the day but with all the horrendous crimes being committed these days, I have to say if I was a mother I would be too scared to let my children play in the street and I would be extra wary of them being too friendly with the neighbours…I’d have to do some kind of Inspector Gadget background check on them first…maybe I’m part of the problem…( :

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol @ maybe I am part of the problem. I don’t think you are. Your worries are acceptable ones. I believe that gated communities can still foster a great sense of community if they are planned well and provided with good and adequate social amenities. Housing architecture of modern times is greatly concerned with fostering a sense of community in contemporary building typologies ( think skyscrapers and apartment blocks) Architects and planners who succeed in doing so are highly applauded.

      I think it all boils down to having a fenced village rather than a fenced house. More like looking at security from the community level rather than the household level.

      Liked by 3 people

  6. We simply had a row of bush hedges if….there was a barrier in our neighbourhood. Neighbours had fence to keep out dog.

    I was on a CAnadian large construction engineering project. We were told about jobs in Nigeria with the firm for another upcoming project. We were told that job would include benefit of living in gated compound.

    To me, it sounded awful to be living in a compound. I guess it’s the amenities, swimming pool, other ex-pats. I would get bored living like that after awhile.

    There are the rare gated communities in bigger Canadian cities but they are rare. Yes, of course, some houses have fences. Not all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting comment, Jean. Unfortunately, insecurity is a grim reality in Nigeria and expats are at more risk in certain areas. Then when you add the diplomatic implications of putting an expat in harms way, extra measures usually have to be taken.

      But that’s not to say life turns out boring for expats here. In cities like Port Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos, I believe, there is much to excite the imagination by way of people, places and cultural events. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Hey Samuel,

    Great post! This resonates with me because i had a similar experiences growing up, and no doubt the feeling and experience communal living leaves us with is priceless. We grew up to see fences shade us away from that freedom. However, i think Nigerians have embraced fences largely for security reasons. And again, corruption being a major issue forces the man who has stupendously enriched himself to seek for protection abi? Oh well, until EFCC knocks maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Emeka! Glad it resonated with you.

      There is a lot to be said about the place of fences in Nigerian society in particular. The truth is that a lot of it has to do with the failure of government on the aspect of mass housing for the general populace. So, we have the ugly situation where some quacks or community heads delineate plots of land over a large area and sell them off without any tangible amenities brought to such areas.

      And then the houses begin to emerge, and each one draws power and water to his house in improvised ways. A high income earner builds a big house in the midst of low income earners. No proper drainage. Then we have this chaotic environment that sets a perfect stage for crime and other vices. This is one theory, mine, of why fences invariably come along to screen and protect each one household from the fears of both night and day.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. When our children were young we lived in a rural area, and though cut off from our neighbors by a hundred acres of woods, we were involved with them because when there were floods or fires or snow melting road bogs, we all needed one another. And all the children roamed the woods, creeks, and fields together.

    Now we live in an apartment complex and the children do gather outside and play together, but the adults have very little to do with one another. I don’t even know the names of some that live right next door. We are a lot older than the rest of the neighbors and though they speak and even offer to help us carry groceries in, no one socializes. We are all watching our TV’s or on our computers when we are home. Different times have different kinds of fences.

    I enjoyed exploring your childhood with you. My childhood, though in American cities, was actually similar to yours in the important things of friendship and community.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Striking submission, Eileen. The paradox of having closer ties with neighbours living so far from you than with those in the apartment complex, is solid food for thought. The times have changed and with that has come new issues for deep reflection; like taking stock of what community and friendship really means to us all, even as we reexamine the impact of smartphones and televisions in our lives.

      I am honoured to have had you explore my childhood with me. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree also that the best sense of safety is community. When we moved from large cities to the rural area, no one here locked their door or car and children could go downtown on their own. Everyone knew everyone else, including which people might be a problem. Are you an architect? My husband is.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Oh yes I am. Interesting that you are married to an architect, Eileen. You must be commended. It is common knowledge that architects do not have closing hours. Work never really ends and can resume at odd hours! Lol.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. He is 79 and works at least 9 hours 6 days a week and sometimes half a day on Sunday after church. Lucky for me I have a computer and the internet, so I have the world at my fingertips.

            Liked by 2 people

  9. Love it. And would love it more if you’d explain some things while you write…I’m curious! I thought N10 was a house number 😛 and then the games you played in italics…what are they, I wonder?

    But what’s interesting is your observation of fences and borders. That’s something I’ve simply haven’t thought of! Many houses in Hawaii don’t have fences, but as more houses are remodeled, more fences pop up. Although, a fence in the backyard is more common than a front yard fence. A world without fences…hmmmmm.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha! And we tried to make this global, Timi 😀

      Lani, glad you love the piece. Before I say anything more, I’ll shoot right to the glossary:

      1. N10 is ten naira. Naira is Nigeria’s currency. 😜

      2. Boris is the term for a large skateboard made from a plank of wood (or other material) with ball bearings attached for tyres. How that name came about I have no idea. The single ‘tyre’ at the front (think tricycles) connects to a steering usually improvised from deformed metal hangers. Boris can be ridden by either sitting or standing on it.

      3. Suwe is what I’ll call a game of throwing and hopping. Kids draw a set of squares on the ground and take turns to throw a small stone (or other small object) into a particular square and hop through connecting squares to get to the square that holds the thrown object. A picture is a thousand words they say ☺ :

      I hope I didn’t get you more confused 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nah. I’m fine. I did figure out N was Nigera’s currency when I kept reading – and by following your link I understand suwe is the same thing as hopscotch.

        I think if you want to write for a global audience, you have to explain these things. I know I have to remember to explain things that seem so obvious to me. Of course, sometimes the reader can figure things out. I suppose if its not important what the game is, then just give us the name, but I think when you help the reader along from time to time, it helps us visualize your world or the world you are sharing with us.

        Sorry if I’m being annoying. I just think it would be nice to get feedback from time to time with things that I write to help me, so I’m coming at this from my point of view of what I’d like from my readers 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Lani, thanks so much for your observations and no you are not being annoying. I appreciate your feedback.

          In editing the story, Samuel and I took into consideration the global audience for this post. We went back and forth over using phrases to further throw light on certain words. We also played around with the idea of footnotes.

          In the end, we had to ask ourselves what the story was really all about. We decided that the central themes he wanted to convey were unaffected by the ‘foreign’ words. We expected that these words would be understood in context, and the curious reader would use google, or ask as you’ve done- since blogging affords a level of engagement with the author.

          On a side note, there’s been this ongoing debate in African literary circles about how much and how far a writer should go to explain indigenous words and local slangs. Sometimes in a bid to cater to a Western audience some writing gets ‘lost’ in translation, in my view.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I understand what you are saying. When I write for an audience that is not familiar with Thai culture, I have to think about how much explaining I want to do.

            Plus, when I wrote a book, I received enough feedback to know when I needed to elaborate on something that folks were excited about or were unclear about. I think this is part of the challenge of the writer – how to draw the reader in + keep their interest. I will admit that when there are too many words that I don’t understand, I will lose interest. So, there is definitely a balance.

            Footnotes are not a bad idea!

            An experiment that could be interesting is to write the same paragraph with and without the explanations. And see what readers think. But yeah, I know, you want to move the story along and not explain everything. I eventually did understand what N was from the context. Ultimately, we writers have to make the decisions.

            So, I guess we better not get into writing one thing and having it interpreted in another context, eh? 😉

            Liked by 1 person

  10. Your story reminded my of my childhood in the United States. No one had fences on my street. All the neighbor kids played together, riding bikes, climbing trees, jumping rope, playing dolls and paper dolls inside and outside each others’ houses. My children grew up in Manila in a neighborhood where every house was surrounded by a wall. Still, the children played together–on the street, in each others’ yards, and in the park on the next street.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading! I am happy the story resonated with you. Some of my most enduring memories are from childhood. Even my adolescent years spent in boarding school where interaction couldn’t be escaped, sowed a lot of experiences in my life that I recount with mates from those days. And all these were possible because community thrived on that thing that we call sharing.

      I love that your children were still able to have fun and create shared memories from the common spaces we sometimes do not value enough. Thanks again for reading and taking us back to the trees and dolls of your childhood. ☺

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I am so grateful to be living where I am. Much (if not almost all) of western society isolates itself from its neighbours now. People want their privacy. People don’t want to be bothered. The problem with that is that we were made for relationship and community. As a missionary, living on a mission’s base, I have the privilege to live in community. I love it. My kids live outside running and playing with other kids when they’re not in school. We have impromptu coffee meets at one another’s homes. There is always somebody to talk to when you need to. And homeschooling a high functioning autistic there is wonderful. The community helps out. He speaks about what he learns to enforce it, and others enter into his world with it.
    I remember playing outside with my friend when I was a child. You don’t see that very much anymore. Kids being free to play together outside and all.
    Great topic Timi. Samuel did a nice job.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow. All of these in one breadth. The life you enjoy is a reminder to us all that a lonely road of chasing wealth–that one most traveled–must not be the only road to happiness. I think that our world now moves so fast that we forget to be human sometimes. We forget that the ordinary things of life … the ordinary things like playing a game of catcher with your kid or little sister, or telling a story to a group of kids on your street, might be what brings to us the most happiness.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. There is a statement that fences make good neighbors. I disagree. With you, I believe that the best security is a close neighborhood. We grew up wandering and playing in common areas and friends yards, out in the woods, and on local ponds. I once also put a nail through my foot. It was off to get a tetanus shot. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A surreal moment I am having yet again. That was my childhood! Something has to be done about the fences. Something has to be done to bring back the spirit of coummunity; that warm glow that was once the hallmark of the comparable experiences we share.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Great post Samuel! I enjoyed reading it very much. One of your references reminded me of an incident that happened to my when I was a boy playing in the back yard of our house in Southern California. I stepped hard on a nail lodged in a piece of wood and it pierced deeply into my foot. When I pulled my foot free bright red blood spurted from the wound in my foot like an oil gusher! I had struck an artery. Of course I was rushed to the hospital for immediate care. I don’t know how much it cost but I will never forget the incident. Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Awww.😊 This just goes to show how closely we all are connected. Thanks for reading, Benn! Glad it took you down that tunnel that leads to your childhood.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Great post Samuel. I too grew up just when the fences started to crop up. Also at a time our parents started to fear for our safety and Life in The Outdoors as we knew it slowly faded away especially since we moved house at some point. I guess I adapted to the fences – I no longer was curious about my neighbours, I grew to make up my own pre-occupations. I had my books, I had my dolls, I had TV. Then I had cooking, and I had the phone. Now as an adult, I wondered where the sense of community fled to till I read your post. Now living in a block of flats, I am aware that I do not have the social skills to facilitate my daughter making friends in the neighbourhood – even with other kids on our block. Now I wonder how we can get it all back…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading and finding the piece enjoyable, Abi. “I no longer was curious about my neighbours.” That’s a very strong line. I will be taking that with me. It has only now dawned on me that caring to know who our neighbours are, is an important step in engendering a decent and fruitful kind of mutual respect.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Uju. A village having fences strikes me as odd 😀. I am trying now to place fences around my village…oh wait! There is very large compound in my village that’s fenced all round. The city is slowly creeping into the village, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Marie. It seems it’s happening the world over. I had an intense debate with someone on the value of virtual friendship, years ago. I contended that some virtual friendships can rival the very best of ‘physical’ friendship. But these days I am beginning to question if virtual friendship, though prized, can really measure up to the multi-sensory interrelations one can have with that friend who lives around the block.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yevandy, thanks for reading ☺. Glad the piece took you down memory lane.

      Timi, don’t even let me start the story of jumping off a moving bus with my goons to impress the girls in the bus. That happened when we moved into a fenced estate in some other place in Lagos. 😎 And so many adventures…

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This writer is a kindred spirit. The one thing that I hate about cities is this “enter your house and mind your own business” lifestyle in it. And it’s got to my village. I don’t enjoy visiting home as much as I used to as a kid. Everybody and their dog is trying to protect their children from everybody else and their chicken. Kids can barely have fun. No more crazy fireworks and the shouting that comes with New Year’s Eve. I miss life as a kid like that.

    In the end, it’s respect and fear. There are many who want to wall themselves off because the general thought is that distance inspires respect. Then there are those who wall themselves off because they’re scared that people want to hurt them. These are valid reasons. Our economy has produced a lot of insecurity and impunity so everyone is doing what they can to protect themselves. But I wish that could change. By the mercies of God, I’m doing more than wishing too. So, I believe that by the time my walk on earth is done, there will be some significant change and enough of a foundation for even more change.

    Thank you for sharing, Samuel. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hmmm distance inspires respect… like the saying that familiarity breeds contempt… I hadn’t thought of this as a reason why we build fences …

      Lol@“enter your house and mind your own business” lifestyle 🙂 An apt description though. I pictured people trying to protect themselves from ‘their chicken’ XD It seems city life is encroaching on village life. Will things change?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hmmm…thoughtful words, noble goal. I wish with you that things change and that the kind of respect and fear we express become those kinds that lead to positive developments in our communities.

      And ah, the fear of witches and diabolic relations. Some adults don’t know the roads to their villages for this singular reason.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Hi Odii,

      I like the points that you’ve raised.

      Indeed, this “neighbourhood solitude” is mostly related to respect and fear. The economy has also contributed to the wave of insecurity. Reducing one’s exposure might shield them from malicious elements.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Samuel, you took me down memory lane with your story. My street was ‘our compound’, even after all the houses sported fences.

    The village is like an extended family spread over acres of land; the city, a land of strangers. Therefore we insulate ourselves with fences, literal and figurative. Although I have not lived in an area with fences for a while, I probably interact with people on my blog far better and longer than I do with some of my neighbours. And yet I have felt the security in communal assistance: someone on my street alerting me to danger, receiving a package on my behalf, redirecting a guest to my home, etc.

    Still insecurity is very real, I don’t see high walls coming down in Nigeria soon. If anything we have moved from broken glass at the top of fences to circular barb wires to electric barb wires!

    These days in the cities, it is very likely that there is no one at home watching a thief from a nearby window.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s sad what has become of this world. Insecurity is so palpable. CNN, BBC, Aljazeera, Channels … it’s all there, everyday–the wars, the strife, the suspicions.

        In the end, the fences are not the answer. In a world of turmoil, people still need each other to provide common fronts to wade off evil, rather than going against the popular axiom that no one is an island.

        Thanks for the opportunity, Timi! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I too remember the days of hardly any fences, when compounds were delineated with hedges of ixora, and we kids roamed free.

      I think each generation looks back with nostalgia and laments what the current generation is missing. But are they really missing? Can thy miss something they never knew? And doesn’t their current version of entertainment suffice… some? 🙂


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