Tag: Nigeria

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.



North to Kaduna

Today we drive the 200 odd kilometers due north to Kaduna. We are accompanied by Lowo, a quiet and kindly artistic soul who dyes fabrics and makes handbags as well as experimenting with painting found objects. Our trusted driver Emanuel knows his way around for the right price, and doesn’t seem to need a map or sat nav. Lowo is keen to show us Zuma Rock, a pudding bowl dome of two-tone grey igneous rock rising almost vertically 725 meters up from the surrounding corn crops and green bush. Couldn’t miss it.

nigeria-travel-kadunaToyin grew up in Kaduna and worked in the family hairdressing business in the town.
She plans to have her hair done while we’re here and see if any old familiar faces are still around. The main reason to visit though, is that her cousin Samuel and his new wife Abigail live there. Sam comes to meet us and we drive in convoy to his house. He’s very excited to see us. Cold water bottles are brought out (the unspoken first hospitable gesture when guests arrive) and lunch is offered. He insists we stay the night, which we agreed to do, and in the afternoon, while the surprised and delighted hairdresser Simon is set to work, Sam takes me around to kill time while we wait. First stop is Gamji Park, an extensive green space on the banks of the river.

The formal gardens are laid out with low walls separating the paths from tree lined green spaces, with the occasional gazebo and shrub covered arbor here and there providing places to sit in the shade. The place has a slightly unloved and dishevelled look, but seems well used by the locals. In one corner there was an r&b artist with video crew miming to his track with air grabbing, finger wagging moves encouraged by his director behind the camera. There were also groups of girls dressed identically sitting around, presumably waiting for their turn to perform their dance moves. As we watched I couldn’t help thinking how tedious this process could be, saved by how snappy and cool the finished videos often are.

Elsewhere there is a merry-go-round and a lido (temporarily closed), and an enclosure that apparently once contained some ostriches. There is a magnificently odd looking giant terracotta coloured calabash fountain set in the centre of a shallow pool, with three or four local crocodiles lounging in the still water underneath in the shade. I’m reassured they actually do get fed regularly.

calabashnetmanBeing adventurous and naive in equal measure I opt for a short walk along the lush riverbank which entails climbing through the broken chain link fence, which I manage relatively gracefully, and largely because I hear some exotic bird calls and hope to catch a glimpse. Sadly their identity remains a mystery. We did come across a fisherman however, who seemed quite happy to show us his catch inside the hollow calabash he was carrying above his head, and to show how he uses it as a float while he paddles to check his nets. Any fish are placed inside the calabash while he paddles off to the next net. ‘Are there crocodiles in the river?’ I ask, mentally assessing the risk the fisherman is taking ‘Yes’ said Sam, adding after a short pause  ‘…though for a Nigerian, a crocodile is more an opportunity than a danger.’ I look down at my shoes, imagining what that might mean for Lowo’s handbag trade.

Further along, some stupendously large trees have been left to grow with their buttress roots now straddling the kerb stones in the car park. I’ve no idea what they were, but they seemed to rise up forever into the sky. Next stop was a quarry, where Sam buys hardcore for his building business. The young workers were I’m sure very curious about a guy being shown how they break up rocks into smaller rocks with heavy sledge hammers, but we all entered into the spirit of the thing which shows in the snaps.

At the end of the day, we stop off at one of the local markets to buy fruit. Stall after stall of fresh fruits and vegetables in sumptuous colours laid out neatly for inspection. It’s getting dark now, and the market continues trading by lamplight with the mauve sky above, peppered with fruit bats making their way to night-time feeding areas. For the wide-eyed visitor, upwards of a hundred thousand large flying mammals passing daily over your town sounds spectacular but on the other hand, oh so everyday if you live here.
They’re not on the menu apparently, not even as bushmeat.

After supper Sam gets out his Yamaha keyboard, on which he is pleasantly proficient, and we have an impromptu Yoruba sing-a-long. We each sing a line, and I can’t help thinking mine is the hardest to pronounce. I have a go at playing the talking drum and the following morning, an attempt at rythmically slapping congas in Sam’s church, which was thankfully empty apart from the caretaker, who seemed suitably amused.
nigeria-travel-snackstopSam and Abi are driving us back to Abuja this morning. We stop briefly for corn sticks roasted while you wait. Staying a few days with us until we leave for Birnin Kebbi turned out to be a happy decision, as we were able to spend a few more days in their good company while we figured out the best way of getting there, an internal flight or a nine hour drive.

We took the flight.

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.

Note-taking for later id….




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…

One hundred and ten, and counting

This is Baba Gabriel Oladosu Lawoyin. In Oshogbo and beyond, everybody knows of him.
An education officer back in the day, he is a well travelled, well read man of kind disposition with a gentle, laid back manner. And one hundred and ten years old….

baba-gabrielThese days Baba likes to read, and also keeps up with current events via CNN and BBC but is also amused by the Nigerian soap operas, with their purposeful, wide eyed overacting and shouty storylines. There goes a man who has seen many things, and
has many stories. I was grateful for his generous hospitality.


Freshly picked

These tangerines were freshly picked a couple of hours before I painted them, and then er, ate them. Unbelievably sweet and juicy, it doesn’t get better than that. I’m used to seeing these fruits but with orange skin, or should that be ‘old’ skin!
The tangerines below, neatly piled and with peppers and kola nuts, are for sale on the street, delicately balanced in a large enamelled tray on top of the roadside drainage channel wall.

Nearby is a plot of land owned by the family, and Jumoke is developing it as a cafe and art centre. Work had just started as we visited. The site has a pretty stream with characteristic large boulders, banana plants and a tall old palm, which will make an ideal backdrop for the thatched parasol outdoor seating that’s planned.


Opposite the site is a churchyard with mature trees and gardens giving the neighbourhood a relaxed suburban feel, and next to that is the Justice Development
and Peacemaker’s Centre, a Catholic charity. I sketched the poles and power lines while business was being conducted at the cafe site, and applied some watercolour later
back at base.

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