We set off for Osogbo. A short distance down the expressway we pull up at a pre-arranged rendezvous point (gas station) to meet the printer (a cousin) who has with him the funeral invitations with matching envelopes. Cheerfully brushing off the pressure he has been under to deliver to a deadline, he has no idea yet how late the copy for the Order of Service booklet will be! Of course I can say that in hindsight, but my own experience tells me that these things never run to schedule, but the man, or woman, at the end of the chain always has to deliver!
Our driver was Michael Oladiti, known as “Ditti”. A tall, quiet man who also works for Bosun as a mechanic, he lives along our route in sprawling Ibadan, and is keen to get us to Osogbo and return home before dark. The drive to Osogbo took around three hours, much shorter thankfully, than the last time we travelled this way (which took an incredible 12 hours, partly because the road wasn’t finished!) and was uneventful due to the unhurried yet professional manner in which Ditti drove. The now familiar southern Nigerian scenery of thick green bush, orange sienna soil, roadside truck repairs, hawkers and machines (often with two, three or even four riders on board, sometimes whole families with babies) passed by the window for mile after mile. Trucks often have hand painted signs on the tailgate or sides and cabs, some artistically rendered like murals. Some have polite warnings about overtaking or spiritual messages..…”God is great” is common. As we made our way, we listened to the laid-back music of Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, whose songs of philosophy and faith are accompanied by light guitar and percussion. I liked it so much I ended up buying the cd’s from Ditti.
At Ibadan, I looked beyond the endless sprawl of rusty tin roofs punctuated by churches and mosques, with black kites wheeling above, to the blue hills beyond. I was reminded that just there, a few miles over those hills in the Omo Forest Reserve, a population of chimpanzees apparently still survives and, it is rumoured, even some forest elephant. Doesn’t seem possible amongst all this noisy, choking activity, and one of these days I would maybe find out for myself. It’s a comforting thought that we share the world with all sorts of wonders. All conjoured up in the mind of my younger self with just one word – ‘tropical’. For this I have to thank the Brooke Bond tea cards my sister and I collected as children in the 1960’s. One album was Tropical Birds, illustrated by the great Charles Tunnecliffe. As a small boy, looking at those images of exotica fuelled my imagination and now of course, I have seen some of the very same birds that are illustrated in that booklet at first hand, both in Venezuela and in Africa. I’m pretty sure that early experience has carried through to today, which is probably why I find all this so exciting. Perhaps I should make it a mission to see all 50 birds in real life…but that’s another adventure.
There is something special about arriving in to the company of people you have missed, and sure enough we received a very warm welcome. Timely, too, allowing Ditti to return to Ibadan that afternoon before dark. Many hands made light work of packaging the invites we had brought from Lagos into their envelopes and in turn sorting them into bundles for out-of-town destinations.
Baba Lawoyin had a long and distinguished career working for the Baptist Church in education, and travelled widely, living in the North in both Jos and in Kaduna. Consequently many people from across the country knew him, and his extended family comprised both Christians and Muslims. I would get to meet a great many of them in the coming weeks.
The string-tied bundles would be distributed by the Suzuki mini-bus public transport system, and after measuring us up for the outfits we will be wearing for the wake-keeping and funeral in a couple of weeks’ time, taylor Waheedi and his colleague took the bundles to the bus station. Everyone mucks in and helps out around here.
As dusk approached, heavy clouds were lit up by yellow and orange lightning, flashing left to right across the sky, momentarily silhouetting the palms and masquerade trees. I’ve never seen lightning that was not white so another first for me, and I felt curiously at home.