There’s no need for the AA, RAC or even emergency ‘phones because every town, village or even hamlet has a car mechanic, his (always his in this part of the world) shack distinguishable from the other roadside businesses by the old tyres assembled on the tin roof; that and the vehicles in various states of disrepair (or is it perhaps repair?) littering the area in front of the workshop. As one of four VSOs having to travel in the old Peugeot to work every week day, we’re quite familiar with these local tradesmen on the road between Kagoro and Kafanchan. The only problem they couldn’t fix on our old, locally made Peugeot was when the drive shaft snapped however on that occasion, our considerate car waited until Kagoro roundabout to announce that particular failure, at which point we were able to pick up a ‘drop’ very easily up the road into the village and our driver Marcus could roll the car into the nearby mechanic’s yard.
Let me tell you about Kono: the area around there is extremely fertile, full of fields boasting all manner of grains, beans, yams and many other staple crops. However whilst popular with farmers, it’s clearly not a principal residence of politicians as the 20km (my guess) road has never been tarred. So along this road, in all seasons wet and dry, large lorries travel ferrying their heavy loads of crops to be taken to the markets in Marabar and beyond. We didn’t actually see any of these lorries along the road (thank goodness) however the numerous 12 inch gouges (or should I say, gorges?) in the unexpectedly wide sandy track were testimony enough to their frequent presence.
I estimate that we travelled at an average speed of 15kph to reach our final destination of Kono, nestled under a hill in a way extremely reminiscent of my own home village of Kagoro.
The head of the family is
(a) The father
(b) The mother?
Finally Sophia led the last group of women into the classroom to sign for their loans and Mack and the Field Officers totted up the numbers and we all piled back into the old Peugeot for the long drive home.
It was clear that the incoming journey on the yellow sand track had not helped the starter motor but after a couple of false starts and Shinggu’s foot down hard on the accelerator we eventually pulled away from the dry field in front of the school and back down the track.
As we bumped along, passing the Fulani herds making their way across the fields, or whole Fulani families moving camp, field officer Grace told us the story of a former neighbour of theirs who had suddenly quit the local compound in Kafanchan, with the savings of quite a few residents in hand, to make his fortune in Lagos. She was laughing because the day after the young man had called her husband professing excellent business prospects in Lagos, she and her husband had seen him selling yams by the side of the road in Marabar (at least a 15 hour trip from Lagos) as they passed on their way to attend a family funeral. Grace, unwilling to let this oddity go unnoticed, challenged the man who said he’d just that day driven up from Lagos and was going back down soon to resume his great business venture. Funnily enough, she’d seen him again as we’d driven through the village on our way into Kono, less than two weeks after the initial meeting.
We reached Kagoro at about 4pm in time for me to make it to the market to buy some ‘wrapper’ fabric that I needed to take to the Bayan Loco tailor to be made up for my outfit in time for the Kagoro New Year’s party. Although I did feel extremely guilty asking my fellow travellers to stop to let me off, knowing that this would again necessitate a stall followed by a frantic high-rev racing start to get the car moving again. However it was either that, bailing out at 50kph or driving 20km past my destination to Kafanchan and taking public transport home to Kagoro as dusk was falling, and missing the market. I’m afraid my guilt didn’t last too long.