Tag: Africa

Baba’s Last Journey Part 8: The pressure is on

This morning the generator outside the window wakes me. When it stops, I can hear the long heavy trumpet sound of the (infrequent) train announcing its departure. There are no barriers or fences along the line, unlike in the West, and folk and livestock wander freely across the narrow gauge track going about their business. We bump over the line every trip into town. The grass grows in between the silver rails, and the litter billows up and settles as the heavy diesel locomotive rumbles on by, exhaust blowing blue in the heat haze.

I make my way to the kitchen, stepping over Austin and Ibrahim who are still sleeping in the darkened, open-plan dining room on a mattress and rolled up blanket. Ibrahim is muslim, and has the distinctive slightly hooked nose and dark complexion typical of Northern tribes. He drives, and is employed by Sister Jumoke as a handyman/general assistant, and has been brought down to Osogbo to help out. Many hands make light work. As I step outside, coffee (with fantastic, distinctively flavoured and near black local honey) in hand, I try my Yoruba with the boys. They like to try their English, and after hand slapping, finger-popping greetings (I rarely get the last ‘snap’ right) there is usually a few questions about the UK, and what it’s like outside Nigeria.

In the garden opposite, behind a high fence, are palms and masquerade trees, plus some other broad-leaved species. Some Grey Plantain-eaters, a type of Turaco, flap as if in slow motion into the top of a fruiting palm. We will be visiting the gentleman resident here with an invitation in the next few days.

It’s getting busier and the pressure is on, in an obvious way. The boys laying the stone on the driveway/courtyard, breaking stone up by hand and setting in dry mix concrete, have their work cut out. There are more boys to help, recruited by Ade. There are problems just when you don’t need them – isn’t that always the way? The big Nissan pick-up needs a tyre, and we are unlikely to get one of the right size today, it will have to come from out of town. This truck is dark navy blue, and I have an idea that people often think we are a government vehicle, such is the similarity, that we are often given a wide birth with it!

Baba’s Youngest son Ayo and senior son Segun arrived from Abuja last night. Segun is busy writing for the Order of Service and Celebration of Life booklet. It will be in English and Yoruba, and as usual with these things, running more than a little behind schedule. After all, there is a deadline! With Jumoke’s daughter Uzo arriving from Baltimore USA, and Toyin’s two younger sons Zack and Daniel arriving from the UK today, it will be busy. Out with Lalu and Maureen, we are sending packages from one of the bus stations in town. Seemingly chaotic with the blue suzuki mini-buses coming and going, parking at all angles on the deeply rutted bare earth yard, the man in charge behind his shuttered kiosk window barks instructions. He knows everything. All the destinations and numbers of the buses are handwritten on a well-worn chalk board on the wall next to the window, and I have no doubt it all runs smoothly despite the chaotic appearance!

Truck collage
I’m sure our truck passes for a government or police vehicle, which has its advantages! Bottom left, the Wara seller girls who happily posed for pictures, and right, Uzo causes a stir at the school in Isale Osun!

 

On our way into town I see a small boy rolling a tyre along with a stick. Timeless. Some other uniformed schoolboys call out as we drive by, calling me a “white black man” as they see I am in native dress and fila, a reply in English and wave goes down well, all good natured.
After the usual business of the day we buy some Wara from the girls we see regularly. They know us by now and give us first opportunity to buy from them. I have permission to take their photograph (Back home later in the year, I turn these into paintings on canvas). Suraju has been asking us for a picture of him and me, and when we get some prints made as a surprise, he is really chuffed. He invites me into his tiny wooden house in Isale Osun to see where he will place it. On the wall next to pictures of family members, I am honoured indeed. I travel the last mile of the journey back to the house with 40 eggs in a thin plastic bag on my lap. This time I manage not to break any, despite the deep potholes!

This evening we settle Uzo, Zack and Daniel into their hotel nearby, and have a drinking session on the verandah, a little bitten by the mozzies. We return up the hill to our house at nearly midnite. An old boy guards the wooden pole barrier that is lowered, and as he lifts it for us I see he has a hunter’s shotgun over his shoulder. No deterrent if you are determined, but comforting to note there is some community spirit.

Next morning I have a Guiness hangover, but I can blame my grouchy mood on the malaria tablets (so the small print says). With Uzo and Maureen, we visit the churchyard where Baba will be buried at the First Baptist Church, Oke Okanla, and the family house at Isale Osun, where we visit the school opposite the house for the first time. The kids are understandably unsure of what is happening – who are these people? They are sharing books and pencils between them, and Uzo is a little shaken by their lack of resources. Keen to help somehow, this we do on our last day here, more on that later.

Back at the house, two of the three cows arrive to be slaughtered, Halal style. The boys working so hard on the drive get really upset as the cows are walked across the wet concrete and a lot of shouting ensues, a fight breaks out and a machete is raised in self defence by a wide eyed boy. Bloody hell! Fortunately the situation is diffused, but for a moment there it was looking seriously dodgy.

cook-prep
The slaughter man poses with ‘cow number one’, as the veggies and peppers are prepared for the cook-up about to start. The boys worked on after dark to finish the courtyard, and are clearly exhausted, but still good humoured!

 

There are some guests arriving for the celebrations already, and introductions, handshakes and group photographs are ongoing. Some people have not seen each other for years, after all.
The slaughterman readily poses with ‘cow number one’ for me, and round the back of the house, catering supplies and all sorts of pots and pans, some the size of witches cauldrons, are being prepared. The slaughter man has his well-worn but hopefully sharp knives laid out neatly on top of a barrel. A big fire is lit. A group of ladies are preparing vegetables and peppers for the cooking up, and are singing and chanting. They will go on all night and into the morning. All of the boys are still here, some are bunked down for the night. In the lamplight, I chat with Oscar and Sikiru about the West, and food production, meat slaughter, packaged food, organic food, supermarkets. The differences between cultures, but all governments have agendas etc.

There is a definite sense of occasion, tense and exciting at the same time, like watching a clock ticking just before the alarm goes off. Tomorrow is a big day. The Wake keeping begins. First though, will be cow number one.

Baba’s Last Journey: Part 1, Lagos to Osogbo

I am travelling once again to Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria, with Toyin. We are attending the funeral of her father, Gabriel Oladosu Lawoyin, who passed peacefully away in March of this year, with some members of his family at his bedside. He would have been an incredible 112 years of age in May. The three week trip was quite the experience, recalled here in this series of posts.

Lagos to Osogbo

I can never resist looking down at the scenery below on daytime flights, and here we are over the small fields and woods of France, crossing to the island of Palma, then on across Algeria almost due South. Flying over Algeria seemed to take at least half of the six hour flight time. What’s it like down there amongst the sun baked rocks, my boyish imagination asks.

Lagos, 5pm. The thickly humid and warm air of West Africa hits me, a cocktail of diesel and kerosene, and something else uniquely African which still defies description. Nigerians returning home will know what I mean, it’s immediately exciting. We disembark and begin the long stroll, eyes on you at all times. Men and women sit or stand around casually, some buried in their smartphones with only their lanyard badges identifying them as staff of some sort. There is an air of nonchalance, with many more staff than would seem necessary for efficiency. There was a little impasse for a minute or two when I was asked by the pair of female immigration officers to present a yellow fever certificate, which I didn’t have. I’m sure they would have settled for dash, but we explained the reason for our trip was to attend a funeral, which drew their sympathy. The uniformed officer standing behind them had the shiniest black shoes I’ve ever seen, and in relief I told him so. He immediately broke into a broad grin “Do you like them?” Smiles all round, and we are on our way.

After the usual scrum to have your luggage numbers checked by another phalanx of uniformed men and women (I can imagine the confusion that would occur if they didn’t match) you look to see who is waiting for you, so you can make a b-line for them and brush aside the hands reaching for your luggage and leave the chaos behind you!

In our case Bosun was there to greet us. I already knew his younger brother Yomi, and Bosun is jovial and witty in a similar way. Both instantly likeable, they can be difficult to tell apart, apparently something to do with the spectacles and shape of the head –  their words, not mine. Both men have a dry sense of humour and are quick to see the comedy in any given situation. There are two other brothers I’ve yet to meet, and all four have excelled in their respective careers; academia, aviation, oil and medicine.

We lined up outside the terminal waiting for our driver to come around. More uniformed women made the process of passenger pick-up as smooth as it could be, and eventually we were loaded and on our way, through the Lagos traffic and southbound onto the Third Mainland Bridge, past the waterside communities of Makoko below us and on to Lekki peninsula. Turning off on the 7th expressway roundabout where Chevron have their large and very secure looking compound, we approach the first of several checkpoints in the impressive Northern Foreshore gated community. If they don’t know you, you don’t pass without checks, which may have to be an actual phone call to the house you’re visiting – very reassuring for residents and visitors alike. But it could feel like a prison if you’re not used to such high security. No-one complains. The benefits are obvious.

On arriving at the air conditioned cool of their splendid newly built and spacious house, Bosun’s wife Funmi offers us chilled bottled water, and we’re delighted to hear some chicken and jollof rice is nearly ready to serve! Funmi works for a German firm, and is fluent in the language, and also speaks a little French. She has an easy laugh and a big smile, and long extensions and braided hair and blue jeans is her trademark look.

Before the very welcome supper, there is time to stroll down to the water’s edge to admire the view across the lagoon. Bosun explains that land reclamation and housebuilding is ongoing, which will eventually alter the view, but for now it is peaceful and still. Across the lagoon, at the far end of the Third Mainland Bridge causeway, an illuminated and animated billboard flashes its message brightly in the blue-grey darkening atmosphere. It looks like a rogue pixel on a cinema screen, and is kilometres away, but when we travel back to the airport at the end of our trip, we see that it is gigantic. The sun turns the sky a coral red near the horizon, and right on cue, a fisherman punts across the water. He stares at me and doesn’t respond to my wave. I have no camera, but Bosun has his smartphone, so we manage to capture a pretty good image of this timeless scene.

lagos_lagoon
A fisherman paddles past as I stand on the grey sandy shore

Back at the house, I see a collection of health supplements and ingredients on the kitchen table; organic cider vinegar, turmeric, coconut oil, black cumin oil etc. Something we have in common is researching the best nature can provide in enhancing your diet to stay healthy in a toxic world. For me, as a cancer survivor, it’s an important part of my daily routine. Turns out we use a lot of the same stuff, ‘you are what you eat’ has never been more true.

Bosun also has a huge collection of books on purpose built shelving both upstairs and down. Even on the stairs. It’s really a library. A quick glance at a few spines tells me most all of them are about how to do things; aquaponics, organic farming, fixing landrovers, financial management. Some are political, some historical. All are valued. I purposefully don’t ask the obvious – if he’s read them all – as we share some malt whisky. It’s been a long day.

Before we leave for Osogbo the following morning, there is time for a little birding. A group of ladies stroll purposefully by in their trainers, exercising ‘round the block’ almost power walking, and greetings are exchanged. At the water’s edge, the sun is already hot, and the shallow clear water laps quietly up onto the grey sand. Dozens of hermit crabs stroll this way and that in the shallows, and one or two small mudskipper fish hop about out of the water. A short distance out, some poles are standing upright out of the water. Two pied kingfishers occupy one each, while a third flies by and hovers briefly, looks down but does not dive. Off to my left the green reeds are easily over ten feet tall, and beyond them on the power lines sit a pair of little bee-eaters, their sharp black bills and yellow, black bordered throats just visible against the light. By the house on an empty plot, lush with grass and pools of water, a black heron hunts by shielding the water with its wings. I first saw this on a David Attenborough documentary years ago, and now here we are, exotic birds with unique behaviour strutting around amongst the plastic in new Lagos suburbia. Sharing the square space was a pair of white-faced whistling ducks and a noisy spur-winged plover. One of the things I like most about travelling here, is that my own notion of the exotic can often turn out to be commonplace, and wildlife is altogether tamer than at home. Makes the world smaller.

view to the lagoon

Auntie Sade

Continuing with the series of portraits of folks met while on trips to Nigeria. Seems to be a thing developing here. This is Auntie Sade, who I met for the first time in 2014. Sade is the reliable housekeeper and amazing family cook. I’ve often seen her preparing meals with industrial quantities of tomato and pepper (chili) with freshly prepared chicken – feet, beak and all. Now in her mid seventies, she prepares food in the traditional way, and so wraps her
moi-moi in Uma leaves (Thaumatococcus daniellii also known as Yoruba soft cane) rather than foil or plastic bags.

Operations HQ

I’m standing on the balcony of the newly named Entrepreneurship Development Centre, Emir Haruna Road, Kebbi. Directly opposite is a door and gatemaker’s yard. There seems to be a standard size, with most having quite intricate patterns welded on to the panel faces. The sun is high and the shadows are short. A hawk swoops by fast and straight across the road and disappears over the trees. Could have been any one of a dozen or so species, but the silverbill finches in the small tree in the yard remain undisturbed.
doormakers-yard-kebbi

A man passes by dressed entirely in white with a white tray on his head, too far away to see what was in the tray, suffice to say it was also white. The finished shiny doors catch the sun as they lean on the perimeter fence on display, and the occasional welding flash erupts from the rusty stacks of sheet metal in the yard, shaded by the Neem trees.

The Centre is set up to give young people a helping hand setting up their own art and craft business, anything from shoemaking and beadwork to basketry and jewellery. The taylors are the main focus though, and have been brought here from Osogbo in the South to expand their business. They have a full order book.

Something of a hub of operations for Jumoke’s various business endeavours, the Centre is being visited today by the Kebbi State governor’s wife, Doctor Zainab Atiku Bagudu. Thanks to some frantic phone calls and last minute changes of schedule in response to the (inevitable) short notice her PR team gave, everything is in place to show off the products and talents on offer. She is due to arrive at ten. Five hours later an advance security detail appears and gives the layout and exits a once over and quietly informs us the official cars will arrive within the next half hour.

I watch from the balcony as the motorcade overshoots, reverses up the road and pulls in to the forecourt, all this maneuvering causing them to temporarily close the road while the vehicles assemble. Across the road boys on machines with their pillion passengers stop to look on. Half a dozen soldiers step out of their black SUV, and are directed to the perimeters of the forecourt by their commander who looks pretty cool in his dark glasses and beret. At this point I move inside to be on hand as the governor’s wife and daughters with entourage and photographers duly arrive upstairs and their tour begins. The whole place is suddenly jam packed with colourfully dressed ladies with their PR contingent taking photos and video on various cameras and tablets.
edc-and-bagudu

I am introduced as a foreign visitor and only just managed to remember the Islamic etiquette to not shake hands, but not before my arm flinched upwards. Thanks to a very discreet slight body movement as a prompt from Dr. Bagudu my arm stayed down. I’m sure only the two of us noticed! As the cameras turn my way she asks “And have they shown you some interesting places around Kebbi?” “Yes we visited the Argungu fishing village yesterday which was…”
I started to reply, not finishing my sentence as she turned towards the cameras and staff taking down notes, “I was brought up in Argungu” she proceeded, recounting a childhood detail. I could see how well Dr. Bagudu was versed in the whole meet and greet side of being a public figure here, and how cleverly she turned the question into a self
promotional anecdote for the cameras. I also appreciated how carefully managed
these things are, despite the (again, inevitable) schedule overrun.

When it was time to leave, a group of people were waiting by the vehicles for handouts. News travels fast around here, I thought, as it seemed only half an hour or so had passed since they first arrived. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your trip” Dr Bagudu said with a smile as I took her photo. “I’m sure I will” I confidently replied. Lengthy goodbyes were exchanged and everyone climbed back into their respective vehicles and left. The whole visit was chalked up as a success.
sewing

Earlier today we bought tickets for our flight to Lagos. Once reserved over the phone, we buy the tickets at the bank using cash. At the ATM, the N60k needed plus another N20k for later gives me a fat wallet which I give up trying to close, it’s only a short walk after all. The revolving door ‘capsules’ are supervised by an attentive security guard in paramilitary style uniform and I can’t help thinking if they also serve to keep the sand outside. Inside the bank there are a dozen or so men standing and sitting waiting for this or that. Most staff are dressed western style and very smartly, with many busy conversations ongoing at once, unlike a western bank which in contrast seems to be a place of orderly silence. Although there are computers, things written on paper are still an important part of proceedings here. We are ushered through to a back room where we will hand over our cash. There are piles of paper files, counterfoils and banknote wraps strewn here and there and our money is counted by an old but very serviceable counting machine. We pass back through the tiny revolving capsules and back out into the blazing sun.

Into the Sahel part two

The sun is high as we weave slowly down an axle breaking dirt road into the bush. After every obstacle, our man looks round to check our progress and waits for us to catch up. On either side of us the pink granite-like rocks glitter as the sun catches them. The leafy green bushes are interspersed with small trees of various shapes, and as always I keep an eye out for birds. The track rises through the high ground and down into a flatter plain where small scale agriculture again dominates. Over to our right, people are gathered in the deep shade of the low trees, and we wait briefly while the site engineer is found and advised of our arrival.

We arrive at the mine, and while we wait for the engineer following, it is a relief to sit in the shade and feel a slight breeze. We enter through the gates and as it is Sunday, no-one is working. There are Chinese workers here, and they are taking delivery of their bottled water supply. Looks like enough for a month, though in this heat, perhaps not.
“Welcom from Ingaland” shouts the loud and curious security guard with the Kalashnikov. After brief introductions, our mini tour begins. We pile back into the pick ups and drive the short distance up the hill from the compound. It’s too hot and too steep to walk.

bushcollagelo
Our tour guide, the mine engineer, is from Cameroon and studied in Belgium, he says.
We are looking at a large, dynamited water filled crater, where serious operations began only a year ago. Back down the slope, we are shown the massive machines that break up the rocks and the whole process is explained in Pidgin English and a little Hausa. The view from here is spectacular, with mile after mile of green wooded hills as far as the eye can see, and so I think about this site in context of the landscape. I could describe it simply as a large hole in the ground, a blot on the landscape, surrounded by derelict equipment and broken vehicles, but that would be unkind. The people that are showing us around are visibly proud of what has been achieved here, the 24 hour operation recently hitting the vein of gold. Unfortunately container loads of unprocessed rubble holding gold and whatever else within regularly leave for further processing in China, something the new government would like to change.

As we leave, the security guard again cheerfully shouts “Welcom from England.” I smile and wave convinced I’ve made a new friend, should I ever pass this way again.minecollagelo2

Another slow drive along the trail leads us to the mining camp. The river to the left is running at a trickle through the grassy clearings and shrubby thickets, with deeper pools spread out across the bed of pink sand and boulders. Picturesque is the word that comes to mind, even though we are in a harsh and obviously unforgiving environment.

It is mid afternoon as we arrive at the camp. There are dozens of young men here gathered under the trees. Cooking pots and fires, machines and tarps are dotted around, but there is no mining machinery here as yet. Many men carry long machetes.

Advanced word has been given of our visit as everyone is paying attention except for one or two who are lying down out for the count – there is an amount of weed smoking and glue sniffing here. Some young girls from local villages are selling food and cooking for the men. Staying close to home and with little or no ‘education’ these girls are hoping to find a husband here, something of a cultural imperative, then. The makeup they are wearing shows that they are available. The eldest is barely 14.

mininggirlslo

 

Jumoke gets an update from the young graduate who supervises the site, while we take photos. There is a lawless atmosphere here, and the young men digging in the dirt all know the risks they take. For instance, just feet away from the gathering are hand dug holes in the ground that looked to be several metres deep – I couldn’t see the bottom. A definite hazard even in daylight, I dread to think what can happen here at night.

We leave later than planned, and as the sun casts long shadows across the crops, I watch all black, red eyed fork-tailed drongos flying off from low perches to catch insects, my thoughts turning to the obvious and stark culture differences I’m seeing on this trip. There will be more. The long straight roads back to Kebbi are in good enough condition for Sanusi to speed along at a reasonable lick, travelling at night here has it’s own dangers. Making allowances for other road users with no lights, too much light, and Fulani cattle herders, we arrive safely back in Kebbi just after dark. I’ve not had many days like this one.

 

Into the Sahel part one

Birnin Kebbi stands on the southern edge of the semi-arid Sahel, close to the border
with Niger. Today Sanusi is driving us North to visit a working gold mine, and then
on to another, much less well developed operation in which Jumoke has an interest.

On the road out of town, the Neem trees lining the route have large puddles sitting in
their shade from last night’s rain. Business is conducted under them. It’s also common
to see boys taking time out, lying lengthways across their motorcycles, or machines.
A two hour drive on long straight roads, the flat landscape of leafy bushes, sand and
rock is broken by patches of corn, rice and watermelons. Larger trees and palms
have been left standing here and there and provide shelter from the sun and rain.

leanto_shelter_lo

The blue horizon of higher ground is covered in rocky woodland and bushy scrub. The occasional worker in the fields, termite mounds and strange trees attract my attention as I take all this in. Some trees have the look of a baobab, cartoon-like with bunches of leaves on the end of fat branches and even fatter trunks. There are cattle egrets, rollers and kestrels, swallows and swifts, and I imagine the leopard, caracal or jackal that may be lurking in the distant rocky outcrops, staying out of site until the end of the day.

Roadside compounds are enclosed with neat mud brick walls and rustic wooden hurdles. There are lean to shelters and canopies with benches underneath for socialising, mostly in the early evening. Looking past the pile of discarded tyres and plastic litter I see that inside the walls there are round, thatched mud brick huts of varying sizes raised off the ground. I allow myself to imagine that this stockaded community style is necessary to protect livestock from wild animals. May even be true.

village_walls_entrance_lo

We slow down to make way for cattle and goats being herded down the highway by Fulani men and boys. Traditionally dressed with long cotton gowns and pointed straw hats, their long walking sticks are used to encourage their red Sanga cattle to keep moving. The goats follow the cattle, and some kids that are too small to keep up are carried. Two men lead camels which are fully loaded with all the equipment the group need, for these are truly nomadic tribesmen. Some Fulani, or Fula people have settled, and as an ethnic group they are spread across many African countries. There are about 7 million in Nigeria.
fulanislo1

Eventually we turn off the main road onto a dirt track for a hundred yards to a corral of wooden hurdles where some men are waiting in the shade of a small tree. After a brief discussion, and a much needed leg stretch for me, a tall, thin middle aged man with prominent cheek bones and a pencil moustache leads us on his machine to the
first mine.

 

 

On to Kebbi

A short flight with local airline Air Peace and we touch down (as the only arrival today)
at Sir Ahmadu Bello International Airport, Kebbi in the north-west corner of Nigeria.
Stepping out of the plane, a wall of heat hits me as I notice how smart the new glass and steel terminal building looks, set in a flat landscape of short green bushes and butterscotch and peach coloured sand. Our driver Sanusi is waiting for us with a dark blue pick up truck he is somehow dwarfed by. I realise this is similar to some government vehicles and so draws attention from pedestrians.

We are guests of Jumoke, Toyin’s sister. She is an imposing, handsome woman with
the kind of physical presence which leaves you in no doubt who the boss is. Fluent in all three major Nigerian languages and with fingers in many business pies, she is addressed as ‘Momi’  by all who work for her. It is convention here to use terms such as Auntie or Uncle, Sistah or Brudda etc, depending on the persons’ age in relation to yours, or if you come from the same village. It is unnerving however, to be called Daddy by someone you’ve only just met.

kebbi-yardAfter freshening up, chicken rice and spinach is served, followed by water melon
and pineapple. Later in the evening, a visitor arrives and there is a discussion about
leases, land and mining. Mining is one of many business pursuits for Jumoke, and the main reason she upped sticks and moved here from Abuja. The man brings out an uncut ruby which we place on a smartphone lamp to see the bright magenta colour shining through. It looks curiously like a fruit gum, or a chunk of turkish delight, but is indeed
the real thing. The sapphire he had looked more like a grey pebble you could pick up on
a beach, and a little imagination was needed to picture these stones in a cut and polished state. Most impressive though, was a polished gold nugget, the size of a Brasil nut,
and I’m certain it weighed the same as the coffee table.

auntie-princessThe same wall of heat hits me after dark as I step outside to make my way to our apartment. By lamplight, I see one or two moths, but dozens of large cockroaches
spread around on the concrete yard, on the walls and on tree trunks. I step back
indoors very carefully to avoid an unfortunate crunch.

In the morning, some distinctly unmusical parrot-like squawking in the Neem trees outside turns out to be a pair of Long-tailed Glossy Starlings. Back in the seventies,
starling-cardI was familiar with these birds from ‘The Handbook of Foreign Birds’, where they were described as not for the novice, and could be quite aggressive towards weaker inmates
in a mixed aviary, so best kept on their own or with other glossy starling species.
There is a certain air of confidence about them, something of the pirate, too.

More than forty years later, it really is satisfying to see these (and other) birds in the
wild, which were forgotten memories from the pages of a book. Happily these were to
be a common site on car journeys for the week, regularly seen flapping from bush to bush carrying their very long tails behind. I make a postcard of them, and of the cooking pots
in the yard.

 

cooking-pots-card

Wash that dust

It’s late July in Abuja. The tail end of the rainy season washes the red dust away from the balcony of N0.9d. The near rocky hills and new developments, almost all called something Plaza, are obscured by low cloud and heavy rain.

9d-balconyThe swallows and swifts are not deterred for long. When the sun comes out, it’s blinding and hot. The Variable Sunbirds flit quickly to and fro on the flowers in the garden, the fire finches find seeds on the ground in the yard. The African Thrush sings loudly very like the European song thrush, with simple but fluid repeated phrases.  I started the Moleskine sketchbook on the ‘plane, and already made some notes on the suburban birdlife for later.
The generator needs fuel. Again. Heading down the two flights of stone clad stairs after dark by phone torch, a gekko stays ahead of me the whole way and disappears under something somewhere on the ground floor.  “It’s cockroach season” someone says.
They’re probably the biggest insects I’ve ever seen. Maybe too big for a gekko to tackle.
sketchbook-spread-1

Note-taking for later id….

 

view-from-9d-balcony-1b

 

View from the balcony, number 9d.

After the rain, a girl walks down the road selling plantain carried effortlessly atop her head. No takers yet. The security boys from neighbouring houses emerge onto the street.
There is laughter and chat, and as everywhere else, a lot of thumb action and staring at smartphone screens.

view-from-9d-balcony-rSo, here we are again. Another rip roaring, roller coaster high energy ride for a few weeks through this fantastic country…just hope I can keep up…

The marble, the scorpion and the kingfisher

It’s a sunny and hot morning, and we are off to Oke Okanla First Baptist Church
in Osogbo, which stands proudly at the crown of the hill in a south central suburb.
Our task is to supervise the tidying up of Toyin’s mother’s grave, Patience Aduke Lawoyin. It is a large white marble affair with an impressive headstone, situated at the perimeter wall at the far end of the plot down a gentle slope, slightly overgrown with traditional gravestones dotted here and there, many broken and with much litter.

1st-baptist-churchWhile we wait for our helper to arrive on the back of a ‘machine’, we start collecting old drinks cans, pieces of broken tile and general litter from around the site into an empty bucket sized paint can, itself a piece of litter! I’m grateful for my hat, and already thinking we haven’t brought enough water. A Woodland Kingfisher perches patiently on a wire across the road, and later presents a trophy to its mate,trilling loudly withy much excitement, on a horizontal branch of a tree in the grounds. I couldn’t make out the prey item, but guessed at a small lizard.

service-doorOur helper arrived and proceeded to start cleaning the marble with detergent. Standing close to two slabs of concrete lying near the wall and in bare feet, he suddenly jumped back and stabbed the ground with the scrubbing brush, impaling the small scorpion that had just stung him on the inside of his foot! This was a problem. Fortunately, there were some church members on site supervising the building of the new church nearby, and one of them was an expert in herbal remedies. In no time at all he had come down to the graveside holding a leafy branch, and after spitting on the affected area and scraping it off with a knife, he rubbed the leaves together with the venom from the scorpion’s sting forming a paste, which he then rubbed vigorously onto the affected area. The active ingredient was on the back of the leaves he explained, and that all will be well in a short time, and indeed it was. How fortunate that this healing plant was growing in the grounds!church-grounds

We quickly realised, as we lifted all our gear up off the ground and checked it over, that we had just been picking up random bits of rubbish pretty carelessly and not thinking at all about the potential danger…and so thank you, Patience Aduke. I may have freaked out if it was me that was stung! Many locals know the various medicinal properties of local plants, stings and bites are not uncommon, but it did provide a bit of drama. It seemed a long walk back up to the church pavement, looking carefully where each step was placed, together with a birder’s eye on the kingfishers. Somewhere amongst all this the sun had gone, behind clouds rolling in for another heavy thundery shower.kingfisher-and-roller