Tag: sketchbook

Baba’s last Journey Part 7: Are you having the fish?

Wednesday evening cousin Yomi took us to nearby Abeggi, or ‘bar behind the trees’ for a Guinness or two. Having a drink here is something of a tradition when we’re in town. Basically an open grass space with a bar and dj stage at one end, in front of a line of very tall masquerade trees. There are low clipped hedges around the perimeter, and very little lighting. The outdoor tables and chairs are the stackable, plastic type, and easy to move around when it rains (frequently). The waitress service is quick and the music is foot-tapping good. It is always a good idea to cover up though, as the mosquitoes are always ready and waiting. Last year three of us were sat here, Yomi, Toyin’s brother Ayo and me. Ayo was talking and I suddenly interrupted…”Did you see that?” I asked. “Yeah I did” Yomi replied. Ayo had his back to a UFO as it flew over, with solid blue and red light, covering all the sky in a straight line, in about three seconds. Too low and fast to be a plane or chopper, and who knows, one of ours or one of theirs. We’ll never know the truth of what really goes on in our skies!

Day 6, fish sauce

This evening we repaired to another bar, more akin to a member’s only drinking club. The cars outside are mostly new four SUV’s and BMW’s. The owner was genial and pleased to see us. It was obvious Yomi is a regular. Some other regulars were huddled in the half-light around a table lit by a candle in a jar. We placed our order for beers. “Are you having the fish?” inquired Yomi. “Um, yeah?” I replied, thinking it was a spicy table snack, like the peppered beef on cocktail sticks at Abeggi. Suddenly the threatening grey clouds emptied what seemed like angry gallons of warm rain upon us at once, with strong gusts of wind threatening to blow our canopy away. We headed for an open door, water sloshing everywhere, and found ourselves among crates of beer and stacks of plastic furniture. No lights. We all thought this would be a fine alternative if we were to be stuck! The bar owner came to the rescue with flashlight and umbrella, escorting us one by one into the main building, cautiously negotiating the deep drain channels (fine in the daylight but in the dark?) now running fast with a mini torrent of water. In the low light of the indoor bar, past the kitchen, a tv was showing English football behind a bar in the corner. A couple of guys were sat on bar stools watching. A group of drinkers sat at a low table to one side, as we headed for the back of the room. A low ceiling and the dim light levels created a strange atmosphere, but we were relieved to be in the dry. Our fish arrived. Absolutely not a snack. Each of us had a pretty reasonably large catfish, laid predictably in a fish-shaped white plate filled with hot and spicy brown sauce. I have to say it was really tasty, though a little too much for me, as we’d already had sweet potato and beans back at the house, but I made an effort. In the gloom I couldn’t quite see what I was eating, but as this was his ‘after work’ evening meal, Yomi tucked in with relish – eating the head, eyes and all. The sauce was the cook’s own recipe, and was truly more-ish, especially before it cooled a little.

The following day at the house, painters painted, Sunday continued his sewing and hammering, and there seemed to be more foam, more wood, more rubble everywhere. Then I realised some extra chairs had been bought (typically here, from a roadside seller) to strip down and cover with the new fabric. Here the armchairs and sofas are luxuriant in dimension and finish, usually some sort of leather style with shiny bits…an African thing. I supervised some boys planting the potted plants we bought to fill in the gaps in the border. Enjoying gardening as I do, it was difficult not to do it myself and the lads were curious as to why I would get my hands dirty rather than just tell them what to do.

Auntie Sade, the housekeeper, kept us all well fed. It got to the point where there were so many boys around helping with the building work, and all needing high carb food, she was less than happy cooking all day long. I understand her frustration, though Austin the electrician introduced me to freshly cooked yam with honey drizzled over it. Nice.

 

drive cobbles
Progress on the laying of stone on the drive. The fence is newly painted, and posters of Baba Lawoyin are spread evenly along

On the bare ground I noticed four lizard eggs, perfectly shaped, white, matt and soft. About 15mm long and seemingly just randomly lying around on the dirt and gravel, only losely together, which made no sense to me. I picked them up carefully and placed them out of harm’s way. I’ve no idea if they were viable, or if this scattering was normal, but people seemed to think so. Certainly the agamas are absolutely everywhere.

Out in town, we always pass the roundabout manned by two or three friendly traffic officers. Their uniform consists of black trousers and boots, white gloves and eye-wateringly bright plain orange shirts, topped off with a black beret. On a bright day, even they have a parasol handy. Recognising our van they wave us by with a salute and big grin, sometimes with a greeting shouted out as we pass, sometimes even after we’ve passed. Today was a bright day. I could feel the back of my neck burning as I stood in line at the ATM, with Suraju chatting with someone he knows nearby.

Cash and cuts

We’re also changing some cash sterling into niaira with the money changers in the Hausa district along Sabo Road on the south-east side of town. We’ve been here many times, and the guys recognise our car, shouting out their exchange rates as we pass by. This time we see an intense looking boy who has a nasty looking stitched cut on his palm. To us it looks a little inflamed, and we give him our anti-septic gell and instructions on cleanliness and how to use it. He is very grateful. We have to wait ten minutes or so while our cash is being changed somewhere up the road, so I’m invited to sit in his wooden booth out of the sun. Suraju closes his eyes, holding on to the walking stick (now fully commandeered) and micro-naps. We were to check on the boy the following week, and all was well, with the cut healing nicely.

The power steering on the van is getting stiffer, and we soon see we have a fluid leak that needs fixing today. Driver Ade takes care of this, and tells us of a boy killed on the road earlier today, knocked off his machine most likely, where the driver failed to stop and drove on regardless. A reminder that life is cheap here.

Back at the house, today’s rain is coming in quickly. Lashing, squally wind batters the bananas and palms and it’s a wonder they survive. Water runs down the street within minutes, and dries up almost as quickly. I take the opportunity to draw up a couple of postcards to send back to friends in the UK. I’ve been watching the weaver colony in the tree at the gas station, the drongos and kingfisher on the phone lines, but it is the Red-headed Malimbe, a type of weaver, that I decide to draw. I saw this in the morning on a palm in the gardens of the house opposite. A new bird to tick off.

malimbe
Red-headed Malimbe, a new bird for my postcard home series

This evening, Baba’s middle son Lalu and wife Maureen arrive from a long trip from Baltimore, USA. I’ve not met Maureen before, but we immediately hit it off. Yomi takes us all to the bar for beer and fish supper, but I decline the fish this time, opting to just drink the Guiness and watch the others enjoying the hot sauce. In truth I don’t think I could have finished it.

Baba’s Last Journey: Part 4, Banks and Batik

Monday 1st May

Towards evening, we collect artist Oscar from one of the bus stations who has endured the hot and uncomfortable day long journey from Abuja and is commissioned to produce some batik fabric to be used on table and altar tops. A good looking, trim man in a dark t-shirt and jeans with pointed tan leather shoes, a big grin with perfect teeth, he looks much younger than his 49 years, and is one of those expressive, driven characters that as well as working with fabrics, produces poetry, sings, paints and even dances. In the next few weeks we will have many conversations about art, the importance of being focussed to achieve your goals, western values as opposed to African tradition etc.

Early next morning I turn the bedroom fan off – a relief from the noise – together with the generator, it’s like sleeping on a helipad. The quiet still air in the kitchen has a pleasant aroma, a mix of fruit, last night’s cooking and cleaning materials. Mangoes are piled high in the fridge, as it is the height of the season. They are especially sweet and juicy, and in the coming week there is not much room for anything else in the kitchen, save for a couple of bottles of beer and a tin of Peak Milk! A box of matches is balanced perfectly on the cupboard doorframe, where Auntie Sade the family cook habitually leaves them. You could find them in the dark.

I stroll outside with my coffee and scan the trees in the compound opposite. I always do this, looking for anything interesting that may show up. This morning a pair of kestrels are noisily flapping in the top of a fir tree, a western grey plantain-eater flies in and clumsily lands at the top of a masquerade tree, and a group of starlings busy themselves from one tree to another, and then fly off out of site, the reddish brown flush on their wings standing out from the overall near black plumage. A new species for me, I identify them in my trusty field guide as forest chestnut-winged starlings. Because we are here in May, the migratory black kites are all over town, wheeling skilfully low over the streets on constant lookout for a morsel or an unsuspecting lizard. I made them the subject of one of my hand-made postcards back to the UK.

kite postcard

The next few days are taken up with trips into town, the business of the day often involving standing around in banks for long periods. Either depositing sums to pay a bill connected to the funeral expenses,  or using the ATM to withdraw. Sometimes three separate banks were visited in a morning. And again in the afternoon. By the end of the trip we were at least on nodding terms with most parking attendants in all the major banks in town!

Naira bills are counted with a machine, the operator wears a mask as a token protection from the micro dust, (some bills are very, very dirty) and the question “are you the last person?” is heard more and more as Nigerians in general are getting used to the idea of how a queue is supposed to work. That’s not to be unkind, many a road journey is made twice as long as it need be due to the selfish behaviour of many drivers. No lane discipline. That and the potholes of course.

Alongside the reliable yet slow ‘desk to desk’ method of completing paperwork, some aspects of modern life are being tested out in countries like this, such as biometric data gathering for setting up an account, either in a bank or with a cell phone company, for instance. I’m wondering how a cashless society would work here, as cash is very much part of the day-to-day culture, and long shall it remain so. In established businesses such as banks, there is a delightful mix of old but serviceable wooden furniture, ceiling fans and modern office chairs, with slightly grubby looking computers, and piles of paper files sit alongside the teller’s smartphone. It’s as if the ultra modern world is being shoe-horned into a hot, dusty climate almost against its will. It has its own charm. Modern electronics companies, such as cellphone company retail premises, are very polished, with pull-up banner stands supplied by the marketing people at HQ, smart well-trained staff and keen and helpful doormen, usually wearing eye wateringly bright coloured shirts with epaulettes and black trousers and boots, all topped off with a beret.

Oscar has spent a couple of days getting a feel for the place and its people, and is ready to design his batik covers. He has been commissioned to produce something with a flavour of Baba’s home town, and has teamed up with some local artists to use their facilities. We go along to see the work in progress.

By now Suraju has all but commandeered Toyin’s walking stick, which seems to suit him, gesturing with it while chatting to acquaintances when we are queuing at the ATMs. He buys a bottle of roasted peanuts from across the street, as we’re all a bit peckish.

Batik is a traditional craft for this area, and so is the use of indigo dye, though Oscar’s work is going to be black and white. The guys are working on tables that are half in, and half outside of the studio. I notice two infants asleep on a blanket on the floor inside, so we carefully avoid waking them. All is smiles as we take photos. Oscar larks around showing off the fabric, and sings a (long) song. I’m invited back to try out the technique for myself, which I’d like to do, but that’ll have to be some other time.

batik set

We were also checking the progress on work to improve the drainage and generally tidy up the old family house in Isale Osun. A local civil engineer was brought in to advise, and some boys had been set to work. The young foreman even contracted malaria at one point so we obtained the ‘one fix’ solution from a nearby pharmacy for him. He carried on working. Never let a spot of malaria slow you down eh?.

engineer surajuditch
Local civil engineer advising the young builder foreman and Suraju on raising levels over the open drain. On the right, a toddler carries her plate on her head.

Baba’s Last Journey: Part 2, Over the blue hills

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.

road_trip
Ditti drives us to Osogbo from Lagos. The two trucks in front are painted by the same artist. The nearest has an eagle and snake motif, and both are heavily laden with vegetables

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.

Arriving

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.

lightning
Orange lightning under heavy clouds as the day draws to an end

Roller wire

Keeping the West African theme going, here is a Broad-billed roller that conveniently perched
on a wire opposite the garden wall just long enough for a quick scribble in my sketchbook.
There is a three year gap between that observation and this painting. I kept the rendering lose and simple,
giving the flat blue sky some interest with vertical brush strokes, and showing off the subtle mauve and
maroon colours of the plumage. A fairly common site along roadsides in Nigeria, this species has the
brightest yellow bill that stands out against any background.

Broad-billed roller acrylic
Broad-billed roller, acrylic on canvas 16×20 inches, 2017

Recycling parts of a failed watercolour painting into collage

Sketches from three years ago used as reference for this paper collage. Agamas, though absolutely
everywhere in Nigeria, never let you get close, and these two females looked down on me with
confidence, verging on smugness, knowing they could dash away at lightning speed.

agamas
Agamas on top of the wall. Drawn from life in the garden, Osogbo, Nigeria
agamas watercolour
Taking the sketches a bit further with some colour.
“Has he seen us? Yeah I think he’s seen us…”

I’ve recycled pieces of what was a ‘failed’ watercolour painting (we’ve all got them…), in this case
a landscape of a wheat field and evening sky, to hint at the texture and colour of the lizards atop
the garden wall in Osogbo. I omitted the actual wall, as I wanted to concentrate the viewer’s
attention on the lizards under the huge banana leaf. It may have been interesting to include
some shards of glass for a spot of urban realism, but I decided against it. For the impression
of bright sunlight bouncing off of every surface, it seemed ‘less is more’ was the way to go.

Agamas, collage 2017
Agamas, paper collage, 530 x 350mm approx. 2017 Placing the minimum of elements still seemed to take nearly all day until I was happy with it.

 

Sunbird on the porch

I’m producing some small African bird paintings seen on recent trips
to Nigeria. Choosing as a subject the Variable Sunbird that came into
the yard at the house in Abuja, visiting the flowers (sometimes quite
noisily for such a small bird). As a starting point, I looked back through
my sketchbook notes and used some photos of the porch wall, heavily
textured and stained with algae.

sketchbook_spread

flowersDSC_0024
I was keen to use the texture on the wall in the image

To try and keep it fresh and lively and not overwork things, I decided to
mock up a version in paper collage. This way I could work out the pose,
and placing of elements, but also my limited stock of coloured paper
forces me to simplify. Male variable sunbirds have iridescent plumage
that reflects brilliant metallic turquoise and green turning to purple,
but can appear plain black or even dull olive in certain light. I was after
nailing this early on, so when getting around to a painted version
using the collage as the main reference, I won’t get distracted with
unnecessary detail and ‘realism’. Hopefully I may even end up with
something I had in my mind’s eye to begin with…just for a change!

sunbird_work_in_progress
Trying out the basic shapes. I hadn’t decided very much at this early stage, although keeping it simple was important
sunbird on the porch
The texture of the wall was achieved by tearing off a layer of paper stuck over another. The effect is pretty random but works just fine.

The two-tone leaves, and diagonal cuts in the clay pot recall
some African textile style, and the whole composition ended
up being about colours and shapes, and quite poster-like.
I’m quite happy with it just now, but never one hundred
percent certain anything is finished, maybe that’s a good
thing though?


 

Ant’s eye view

The flash of yellowish green, black, and a bit of red as you disturb a Green Woodpecker up ahead, flying directly away from you in that classic, undulating flapping flight. Probing for ants, a favourite food, this one was on my front lawn, seen from indoors. The bill is remarkably large and dagger-like, and if I was an ant, I might feel quite intimidated.
I was aiming to capture, from an ant’s eye view, that intense look in the woodpecker’s eye as it concentrates on what can be had below.

The finished image continues the paper collage series.

ant'seyeview_collage

 

 

To Lagos and beyond

The first business of the day is to buy air 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.banknote-wraps-sm1

Friday August 7th. Today we are leaving for Lagos, our flight stopping over briefly in Abuja. We have already met Babangida, a handsome and tall quiet man smartly dressed Hausa style, who has offered to take us to the airport as his wife Amal and young son Muhammed are also on the same flight. We leave on time in his new silver Toyota pick up and head off to the Sir Ahmadu Bello International, where ours is the only flight leaving today. There are many hands to make light work of helping you through the check-in process. They seem to be sharing one pen. The double height hall is light and modern with polished flooring reflecting the officials looking on from a balcony.

The check-in instructions are hand written on a large yellow card taped to the side of the desk, and I assume they haven’t finished implementing the signage program. As usual there are men wearing combinations of paramilitary uniforms with epilettes, berets and desert boots, and nearly everyone else, whether staff or passenger, is dressed in native style. Even me. I’m wearing a new smock style kaftan and matching trousers (one size fits all) in subtley patterned lavender grey waxed cotton with intricate embroidery around the neck and collar, finished off with my black velvet fila hat and suede loafers. I opted for this garb instead of western clothing as it’s going to be a long hot day. I was right. Through the security checks and sat in the empty departure lounge, I see the agama lizards outside casually owning the rock landscaping that line the path to the concrete apron. The plane will be a while yet. I don’t think the lizards are at all bothered.

We duly arrived in Abuja, but our plane was then diverted to Calabar (with our luggage still on board) to bring stranded passengers back to the capital, as the sister aircraft had mechanical problems. This made our one hour stop-over more like five hours. Amal decided it might be best to pray while we waited, and left Muhammed and her luggage with us. After an hour she hadn’t returned, and I began getting a little anxious. We decided to go on up to the domestic departures lounge anyway, as she would presumably just follow on in her own good time. The young security guard at baggage check signalled me over, and as I began to raise my arms for the inevitable frisk down, he said “No, no… I like your attire”  “Oh, right..” I said in relief, as I had fully expected “Have you packed this bag yourself sir?” which of course I hadn’t, and might have been slightly awkward to say the least.
airport-passengers-e1446751122597

Several people commented on my garb, and curiously they all said exactly the same words as the security guy. I even posed for photos once. When we finally discovered our plane was boarding (it wasn’t at all obvious, a flaw that needs sorting out, airport management please note..), much fuss was created on the tarmac while we identified our luggage. The trick is to physically point at it and make sure the staff notice you, stating your destination at the same time. For the paranoid, watching them actually take it across to the luggage doors on the aircraft is a useful extra measure. If not shepherded in this way it will not be stowed, the assumption being it’s destined for another plane altogether, and could then be as good as lost.

One of Amal’s bags was coming apart, it was a large carrier bag with handles, the type issued by superstores, and taped up. There were fresh moringa leaves spilling, holding up the flight a further ten minutes while tape was sent for. Eventually the bag was repaired to the satisfaction of the staff and we were on our way. Forty-five minutes later and as dusk approached, we landed at the cosmopolitan sprawl that is Lagos, now dubbed the Dubai of Africa. Outside, moths fly around the bright lights and in the noticeably humid night air a small scrum of boys are more than willing to help you with your luggage (if you let go of it, someone will literally take it from you and head on to the taxi rank, such is the urgency to earn some dash). Arrangements had been made for us to be collected and driven to our accommodation for the night with Rita, a relative, and we said goodbye to Amal and her son as her father-in-law loaded the trunk of his car with her moringa leaves. Tomorrow we will return to Osogbo but first, starving as I am, I will have to negotiate some Egusi soup.

Forty Orphans

Bala is a round, jolly young man with a very dark complexion and always smiling. Today he is showing us the nearby Zainab Saidu Usman D/Gari Orphanage, where he spent most of his childhood, but still was motivated enough to educate himself and avoid falling into the begging trap as so many disadvantaged do. Also with us is Mariam, a very tall twenty three year old wearing a cerise pink hijab. She also grew up in the orphanage. In a moment of madness and for reasons known only to herself, her mother decided to literally burn her infant feet, and so Mariam now lives life as a double amputee with scarred stumps, managing day to day using hand made leather shoes, which in reality are more like cups, and of slightly different sizes. She would benefit greatly from bespoke orthapaedic shoes that only specialists can provide.
I can’t help wondering how she’s managed all this time.

Set in several hundred square metres of ground large enough for a few trees and for growing some crops, the main building is raised above ground level by a few steps and consists of a single story square layout with a central open air courtyard. One of the dorms serves as a dayroom, with children from toddlers to teens watching tv or sleeping, sitting or lying on the bunk beds or on the bare tiled stone floor. There are forty children here, the older ones go out for the day but there is little to occupy the younger ones. One baby, asleep in a cot cleverly fashioned from steel bars and tubes and softened with two colour basketry contained a baby that had just recovered from malnutrition, looking a little thin in the arms and legs but we were assured she was out of danger.
orphan girl

 

Another room was for babies, mostly sleeping in their cots. There are only two full time staff looking after all these youngsters, and they do their best. The roof leaks in places producing large stains and bowed ceiling tiles, and the air is stale and thick. Replacing all the bedding and redecorating throughout would be a good thing, followed perhaps by a rota of chores for the older kids which would help out the staff while giving them some routine and a sense of responsibility, certainly better than sitting around all day watching western tv.

Outside in the sandy yard washing is hanging on the line strung between two trees and cooking takes place over an open fire, pots large and small and the traditional wooden pestle and mortar for pounding yams (called an Odo) are strewn about. Most of the grounds look a little neglected, and the children could be actively involved in projects that could improve their environment, such as a kitchen garden or safe play area, or decorate the dorms and dark corridors with their artwork. Some of the grounds are used to cultivate crops, but the children receive no benefits from this. At the moment at least, it appears that nobody cares that much, at least they are all off the streets.
We come away with plenty to think about.

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.