Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The 10 Days of Christmas - Part I

One year in the 90s, I anticipated getting so bored in the days between Christmas and New Year that on 26 December I loaded up my car with skis, warm clothes and a sleeping bag (just in case) and headed out of SE18 to catch the 06:00 train across to France and my final destination, somewhere in the French Alps. After a straight and trouble free 11 hour drive I arrived in Tignes and then proceeded to spend the next four hours travelling to Val d’Isere, Moutiers and finally Les Arcs in search of a place to stay for one night. Not a successful ski holiday, however it certainly filled the hours.

There has been no such boredom anticipated in Kagoro with the twelve days of Christmas promising a packed itinerary – which so far – has on the whole actually come to pass.
My 12 days of Christmas started on December 23, the day after sending in the final draft of the Zittnet business plan to the Wireless Africa Project, so the holidays could finally begin.

For those that prefer bullet points – let me summarise:
  • Tuesday 23 December – shopping trip to Abuja for Christmas goodies
  • Wednesday 24 December – German Christmas dinner with Markus and Sabine in Gidan Waya
  • Thursday 25 December – US Christmas dinner on the new Pink House grill
  • Friday 26 December – visit to Fantsuam’s Attachab site to welcome the Chief and Council of Attachab/Angwan Rimi
  • Saturday 27 December – Golden Jubilee celebration of Batadon Day in Madakiya
  • Sunday 28 December – Thanksgiving at Christ the King Catholic Church
  • Monday 29 December – audience with the new Chief of Kagoro and attend the Vincent Kawai Memorial Foundation Talent Show
  • Tuesday 30 December – Blog Day
  • Wednesday 31 December – prepare for Kagoro Day and our 9 VSO visitors from around he country
  • Thursday 1 December – Kagoro Day!
Kagorians (people of Kagoro not a species inhabiting Deep Space 9) don’t really celebrate Christmas and I think there are two main reasons for this.
Christmas as we know it is a very expensive affair and if you don’t have money – any money – there’s not really a great deal you can do except go to church and visit your friends. There are no Christmas decorations, a small child will be delighted to receive a gift of a lollipop, and when a neighbour announces that he will come round to visit to collect his/her ‘Happy Christmas’ a ‘Happy Christmas’ and a few other well chosen greetings will usually do.

The second reason is that in Kagoro, January 1, Kagoro Day is far more important and limited energies and resources are focused on that. Wait for the full report on Part II!

December 23 - Christmas Shopping
When our plans for going away fell through because of cost (probably close to a month’s salary for three nights) and slight concerns about security on the roads, we decided to take what we might have spent if we could have afforded it, and have an almighty blow-out in an Abuja ex-pat supermarket. These havens of air-conditioning, non-negotiable prices with scanning checkouts and credit cards – are simultaneously heaven and hell for a village-living VSO who marvels at the endless goodies around them which, at prices often considerably higher than the equivalent back at home, are simply devilish extravagance on our monthly stipend.
Being privileged to have friends with a car (Markus and Sabine) Dori and I made an early start with Markus and after only three, completely uneventful road road blocks/vehicle inspections, arrived just under three hours later at the Grand Market store.
Shopping was a cathartic experience. Once you have decided that you can’t afford (and frankly don’t really need) one particular thing – for example, tasty jam - everything seems to fall into this category including sweet biscuits, exotic vegetables wrapped in cellophane, Heinz tomato soup, Oxo cubes (Maggi will do) or real glasses (for drinking out of).
However Dori and I still managed to blow a full month’s wage between us with luxuries such as cheese, crackers and red wine (to be eaten that evening at home), Harpic toilet cleaner and (at just over £5) a box of 24 Weetabix or, in her case a box of Special K. There were clearly many other items in the trolley including hair conditioner, a bottle of Baileys, four tins of John West tuna and two tins of Green Giant sweet corn but I still have difficulty understanding how it came to £150.

After that we needed to find solace in a beer and a chicken shwarma at the British Council where Markus had agreed to meet a fellow German who was leaving that evening for Frankfurt and had offered to carry some cards back home with her, and Dori and I took the opportunity to use Nigeria’s cleanest public toilet (in our experience).

We arrived home to discover that between them Laurie and Yashen had fully constructed the Pink House grill from Attachab’s red blocks, and cement and metal grids from the market put together with assistance of Chief Dominic’s shovel and a random (but useful) piece of iron scavenged (and later to be returned) to the Fantsuam compound.

Laurie’s labours (and our own – shopping and being a passenger in a car on Nigerian roads is hard work!) were rewarded with real Gouda, cheddar, cream crackers and red wine. This picture does not do justice to the pleasure!

December 24 – German Christmas
Getting public transport into Kafanchan on Christmas Eve was not as easy as usual with numerous half-empty vehicles passing my ‘drop’ signal (low hand waving downwards as though you were patting a small dog on the head) without a care for the N50 (25p) it would earn them.
However eventually a crowded microbus decided that it wasn’t yet full (and frankly I was grateful) and carried me into town.
On my short walk into Bayan Loco I had an experience which is unlikely to be repeated: a half-cut policeman ‘dashed’ ME (i.e. tipped me) N20 and then offered me a lift the last 100m to the Foundation on his ocada. Now – whilst needs dictate that we need to get into cars and onto ocadas with strange men every day of the week (like every Nigerian woman), I wouldn’t necessarily recommend taking this favour from a strange Nigerian policeman, especially not one that’s already been on the palm wine by 11:00 in the morning. However this particular policeman was known to me: as our old Peugeot makes its way from Kagoro every morning, we occasionally slow down for a police road block but always (to date) get waved through with a joyful shout of ‘Fantsuam!’ to send us on our way. This same happy policeman is the same that offered me the N20 and the ride, and how could I refuse?
Once arrived at the Foundation I had a couple of hours to kill before collecting my African outfit from local Bayan Loco tailor Seth. During this time I attempted (unsuccessfully) to create and send an eChristmas card, and re-designed a logo for our local bookshop owner Reuben who stopped by to apologise for not being in his shop when I had visited on Wednesday. The wonderful thing about being here is that your ideas and skills are actually really appreciated. Where a ten minute play with the ‘shapes’ feature on Microsoft Word might earn you a few derogatory comments from a colleague in London, Reuben was positively ecstatic with his new identity.

Glowing from Reuben's appreciation, I then visited Seth to collect my dress sharp on the promised hour of 2:00 where it was complete and just being ironed (Seth and one of his two apprentices was taking advantage of there being NEPA to iron whatever they could). Then I was lucky enough to get a lift back with our Fantsuam Marcus to Kagoro in time to try on the dress and get ready for our journey to Gidan Waya for our first Christmas dinner.

Dinner at Gidan Waya was delicious and entirely cooked by Markus as Sabine was still recovering from a dodgy piece of fish or suya (like kebab) from the New World on Friday. We drank cold beer, red wine and, joy of joys - Baileys, and ate wonderful Viennese goulash, pasta and fresh cucumber and tomato salad followed by German chocolate pudding with fresh pineapple. Thoroughly delicious.

December 25 – Christmas Day
Trying to get public transport from Gidan Waya to the Kagoro roundabout on Christmas morning reminded me a trying to get a mini-cab from Dulwich to Woolwich on Christmas Day: we had to wait about 20 minutes (in London it would have been two hours), were picked up by a Muslim taxi owner (no change there) and were happy to be charged 20% above the normal rate (try more like triple in London).
After having a short rest at home, we began preparations for the afternoon/evening ahead. Most importantly visiting Yashen and the two plumpy chickens that had been selected for the grill. No-one takes the risk of buying dead chicken in Nigeria so, having appreciated the good health of the two white birds, we left Yashen to ‘dress’ them.
Laurie then martialled the troops in the back yard of the Pink House to start clearing and burning the rubbish that was liberated from our ‘landfill’ every day by goats, pigs, chickens and the wind, and began chopping wood up for the grill.

Shortly after, Yashen returned with the chicken pieces in a bucket which were then liberally marinaded with goodies brought back from Abuja. I squeezed oranges, grapefruits and lime/lemons (I’ll let you know one day what the tree actually is) into a delicious cordial for later (hoping that someone would bring the vodka) and started preparing the side dishes of rice and cabbage before leaving to change into my new (and I think rather lovely) Nigerian outfit.

Sabine and Markus were the first to arrive and sample the first products of Laurie’s amazing grill following which visitors came and went including the Bodem, son of our neighbour Chief Dominic, Marcus from Fantsuam and his friend, and Bala Dada and his Lagosian cousin, hot-footing it from Jos to beat the 6pm curfew in place since the recent riots.
With our neighbour John Kizza away, we stashed the generator round his side of the house so we could enjoy cold beers on our terrace without too much disturbance.

December 26 – Boxing Day
Regular readers will be familiar with Fantsuam Foundation’s Attachab site. What I may have failed to mention is that much of the land was donated by the local district under district head (hakimi) HRH Daniel, who asked if he could bring his council, many visiting from further afield, to visit the site on Boxing Day.
Marcus collected us from the Pink House bang on 09:00am as scheduled and delivered us to the site via a quick detour through Kafanchan’s narrow market streets to buy minerals for the dignitaries. Comfort and John were waiting when we arrived at the site promptly at the designated time of 10:00.
Unfortunately the chief arrived two hours later.
Our time was not entirely wasted though. Marcus spotted a tapper atop a nearby palm tree and requisitioned any available containers to get some of the cloudy white nectar for us batauris to try for the first time. Hmmm.. despite it being straight from the tree (reportedly the best way to drink it) I found the taste highly reminiscent of teenage attempts to produce cider in the dormitories of Walthamstow Hall from the many apple trees that lined the playing fields. Whilst you may not know this taste, let me discourage you from trying to replicate it. Enough said?

Finally the ocadas and jeeps began arriving and a highly apologetic Chief Daniel, heralded by drummers and traditional horn players, took his place amongst his councillors and the speeches began.

Often a tedious part of the proceedings I must congratulate both the Chief and his second in command, the Baju, for their delivery, which told much about the history of the site and the hopes that the local Attachab clan had for its development.
In particular we learnt about the Scottish railway builder, James Elliott Smith, who had lost his life in the early 1900s whilst surveying for the railway route through Attachab/Agwan Rimi. As a result of his death the railway’s course was diverted through Kafanchan, indeed Bayan Loco.
Chief Daniel commented how it was fate that the fortunes of Bayan Loco should now be returning to Attachab and hoped that perhaps the young surveyor’s death had not be entirely in vain.
John Dada takes Chief Daniel and his Council to visit the ecodome

December 27 – Batadon Day Golden Jubilee, Madakiya
The Christmas break is a good time for celebrations (and countless weddings) in rural Nigeria as it’s the time that families leave the cities and congregate in their ancestral villages. The Batadon district of Madakiya in Zango Kataf first held a Chritsmas party for the local youth in 1958 in order to recognise and give thanks for the achievements of the previous year, and to plan for the coming year. The event grew in stature and, by its Golden Jubilee in 2008, it was celebrated as a full three-day festival of which I attended the gala celebration in the grounds of Madakiya Secondary School. Accompanying Markus and Sabine, we were given VIP seats for the proceedings and watched the choirs, cultural dancers and various dignitaries including the Kaduna State Governor Namadi Sambo, ably represented by the State Minister of Culture... I forget his name.

The District Head and his wife greet the distinguished guests, their royal highnesses, the honourable members of the state assemblies, ladies and gentlement (all protocols duly observed)

Choirs and dancers entertain the gathered throngs whilst the more generous guests wander into the midst of the performers and stick Naira to their heads

We had to take our leave from Sabine and Marcus' host Sebastian early and we left still wondering what the significance of the design on the event organiser's hat was?

December 28 – Thanksgiving at Christ the King
On Sunday we were invited by Yashen to attend the thanksgiving service at his church, Christ the King Catholic Church, to give thanks for his sister and niece’s full recovery from a serious road accident. Laurie and Dori had attended St Joseph’s Catholic Church on the other side of Kagoro the previous week and could therefore compare and contrast the more upmarket St Joseph’s – with its own batauri priest, carved altar crucifix and affluent congregation, to Christ the King, with its cardboard cut-out crucifix, intermittent electricity supply and no priest (but some highly enthusiastic stand-ins).

As I sat on my make-shift bench in the midst of an exclusively African congregation, I tried to ignore the unswerving stares of surrounding children to make my own comparisons with St Magnus’ Church by London Bridge, London E1.

The large (and I suspect liturgically complete) altar party progressing down the aisle at the start of the service was reminiscent of St Magnus although the vestments were somewhat less ornate being roughly fashioned from a shiny yellow nylon fabric as opposed to the lace and brocade in London. Despite being in Hausa, the initial part of the ceremony seemed similar in tone and standing-up and sitting-down with interspersed readings by members of the congregation.
However it was when the acting priest broke into song and started clapping his hands halfway through his sermon that it was clear this was very different. St Magnus’ own Father Philip has an excellent voice (and is an accomplished organist to boot) however I think he would be challenged, socially if not vocally, by the reggae beat and rap style our own minister adopted.
The congregation was word, and tone-perfect on all the songs (hymns?) despite the absence of any written instructions whatsoever and gently swayed in perfect time and synchronicity to the African beats.
The theme of the sermon was Family: and before you start thinking that we’ve got awfully good at Hausa in a very short time, the minister kindly gave a short 10 minute prĂ©cis of his sermon in English, I am assuming for the tiny white-skinned minority in the midst (i.e...us), for which we were extremely grateful (it did help move the 2.5 hour service along a little more quickly).
The offering is taken in two big baskets in the middle of the church as members of the congregation dance down the aisles to make their contributions whilst the choir (and everyone else) sings. After the offering, this was repeated with greater or lesser degrees of participation for each one of the four thanksgivings.. Luckily Yashen was sitting next to us to tell us which one was for his sister as we simply didn’t have enough Naira on us to contribute each time.
The service ended more abruptly than expected as Communion was omitted due to the lack of a priest and we filed out into the burning midday sun, anxious to get home.
Although we only met Yashen’s sister briefly as we were leaving, she – had her three children Miracle, Cynthia and Joy – visited us later that evening from 20 minutes across Kagoro – just to thank us for attending. Although we know we don’t deserve it, it is lovely to be so appreciated, that such a small gesture can mean such a lot.
Time to leave this instalment - so hold your breath for Part II: did the Vincent Kawai Memorial Foundation Talent Contest start on time, how did the Pink House cope with ELEVEN visitors, and the low down on the now - world famous Kagoro Day.
Happy New Year or as they say in these parts - Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas and New Year Cicely! I enjoy reading your stories very much. Cannot wait for Part II!