Sunday, 25 January 2009

"Waste not, want not"

I wish to take issue with whichever bright spark coined the phrase: ‘waste not, want not’. Whilst the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition may choose to define it more specifically as: “If we don’t waste what we have, we’ll still have it in the future and will not lack (want) it,” it is usually interpreted more widely i.e. that if you don’t waste things you won’t have need to want things.


In the over-developed world (my term for countries who can no longer manage their finances properly) the words ‘waste’ and ‘rubbish’ are close to becoming synonymous, since so much that we discard as rubbish actually is waste.

Visitors to “less developed” countries (is that the PC terminology these days?) like Nigeria will soon realise that a yawning gap that exists between ‘waste’ and ‘rubbish’. Whilst many visitors could be offended or concerned by the huge piles of rubbish which adorn the roadsides of many small towns and villages (imagine your street if you’d never had a rubbish collection service), I would challenge anyone to find any waste there. Why? Because if it was really ‘wasted’ someone else would have picked it up and used it. If it’s in that pile of rubbish it’s because its useful life is well and truly over.

The only things that I have seen consistently being wasted are grapefruits, time and lives. Let me get the grapefruits out of the way: Nigerians don’t like acidic citrus fruits like lemons and grapefruits – I believe it doesn’t agree with their digestion. These fruits grow on trees but you can’t buy them in the market. We noticed this one day when, having not even realised that grapefruits were on the local fruit list, we saw two big trees, their branches and the land around them aglow with bright yellow orbs. To cut a long story short, we now have a low-cost (well.... free) grapefruit supplier.

Everything else that can be eaten is eaten, if not by people, then by ubiquitous roaming farmyard animals, which themselves are then eaten. Every object that can be re-used is re-used. Not just once, but over and over again. Cars are one of the ultimate examples of cost-effective recycling (and see the earlier blog “The Crystal Palace and Cars” for the description of ‘belgian’ – to understand where Europe’s unwanted vehicles really go). Where Europe’s car manufacturers are struggling to economically dispose of vehicles according to the strictures of EU legislation, roadside mechanics around Nigeria (and probably Africa) are simply fixing cars with bits of other cars ad infinitum. The derelict cars littering every mechanic’s ‘forecourt’ is simply his spare parts department, and nothing will be discarded.

European packaging waste regulators should spend a little more time in African markets. Where virtually everything is (as I learnt today from an article on the ‘ethical living’ section of the Guardian’s website) ‘precycled’: excuse me whilst I quote from Tanis Taylor: “Recyling is good, but precycling - cutting out packaging in the first place and buying only what you need - is better.”
When we buy dried milk (or as we call it ‘milk’), we buy a ‘mudu’-worth (small bowl) that is extracted from a large sack into a very thin plastic bag (strangely known here as a ‘leather’), to be carefully (and not always successfully) transferred into an original dried milk tin when we get home. The same goes for rice, sugar, salt, beans, groundnuts - you get the point. Cooking oil is also, (and somewhat nervously in our case) poured from a large jerry can into a leather in the market and then decanted into an old whisky bottle (which we bought our groundnuts in – before you think we’re old soaks) if we manage to get it back to the Pink House intact. Our friend Sabine keeps her washing powder in plastic litre water bottles, and there’s no point showing up at a filling station without a jerry can for your kerosene or generator petrol.

The beauty is that ‘pre-cycling’ creates recycling opportunities for any form of packaging: our sugar is in an old Coffee Mate jar, peanuts are kept in (another) old whisky bottle and dried tomato pieces are in a Blue Band margarine tub. Our drinking water is boiled and filtered and stored in old water bottles out of which I have also made drinking cups (the base) and pouring funnels (the spout). Any other packaging we aren’t creative (or brave) enough to use is put aside for Victoria (our, ahem, maid) who I saw leaving today clutching two naked tuna cans from last night’s dinner.

The problem of consumer waste is an affliction of the rich: you can’t waste what is in scarce supply – whether it be packaging, water, electricity or indeed money (hence not wasting money on packaging...). It’s how we survive (happily) on less than £5 per day, something I’m sure that anyone who has lived during a war will recognise. Everything is needed. This point comes home to us brutally in our back yard most evenings. In the time between throwing our trash into its pit and burning it, the local children will come scampering over to pick through (and sometimes eat) what we thought was rubbish, but to them is sometimes just waste. Colourful plastic wrappers of dried drink powder, empty blister packs of malaria pills, and other, to them unidentifiable, sanitary objects.

However I don’t believe that abject poverty is the only reason that our neighbour’s children do this: sometimes I think it’s like an Easter Egg hunt or that our back yard is some sort of children’s discovery park. These kids are bored rigid. They can waste time. Hours of it. Going through a batuari’s rubbish is one way to fill the day, as is playing stick ball or simply hanging out in our back yard staring at batauri as we rest in our deckchairs in the cool evening breeze.
So back to my objection: this adage should be (somewhat less catchily, it’s true) “Want: waste not”.

It did also occur to me that this saying had been lost in translation over the years and was actually ‘Waste not, wont not’, ‘wont’ being “an established custom”. That could make sense: to quote Plato: ‘scarcity is the mother of invention’, which could suggest that scarcity drives creativity and innovation and therefore prevents the adoption of regular habits. Which is correct? According to Google, ‘want’ wins by a slim margin - 260,000 hits for “waste not, want not”, against 259,000 for “waste not, wont not”. You decide!

I don’t suppose that Leonard Cohen visited Nigeria however perhaps Nigerians took his words to heart, when realising that there is value in just about everything:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Thanks to Linda Jones of SEEP for my Leonard Cohen Education

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Hot hot hot

Last Tuesday one of my blog readers in the UK emailed me to profess a pang of envy as my blog showed pictures of hot sunny days just as England was moving from Arctic freeze into a mild, wet and miserable January. Well take heart – at the same time in Kafanchan we have begun experiencing in earnest the baking heat associated with clear blue skies and bone-dry air thick with dust blown from the Sahara by the hot blast of the harmattan wind. On that night the heat was temporarily broken by a fierce and unexpected thunderstorm that blackened the sky and rattled every corner of our house (particularly the tin roof), although thankfully did not blow any part of it down or expose any leaks or cracks.

The temperature built up again rapidly so that by our journey home to Kagoro on Friday afternoon, a long and tough week at work combined with heavy deadlines for budgets and business plans across the organisation, baked at gas mark 8 in the hot sun, led to some frustration and exhaustion. Not only was the weather hot, but so was the work, as we discovered they say in Hausa.

On Wednesday night we had our first Hausa lesson, delivered to us by one of our neighbours, Victoria, older sister of Marvellous, one of Laurie’s regular garden helpers and street footballers. The first lesson was on Greetings, an essential element of Hausa culture which can happily take the first 5 minutes of any conversation. Strangely though, there is typically only one answer to every question: Lafiya, meaning fine.

Sannu, ina kwana? (how was your night?) – lafiya
Ya ya gida? (how is your home?) – lafiya
Ya ya senyi? (how is the cold?) – lafiya
Ya ya aiki? (how is work?) – lafiya
Ya ya yara? (how is the family) – lafiya

Well – us ‘northerners’ (or westerners, or batauria – take your pick) like to be a bit more descriptive.

"How is work?" So we asked Victoria,. How could we say: “Work is pretty tough”?

Ayiki akwoi zafi yo” she replied after trying to encourage us to simply say ‘lafiya’. We asked her to translate word for word. “Work is hard” we thought she said, with the traditional Nigerian shortening of the ‘ar’ so that ‘heard’ resembles ‘hat’ or ‘cared’ as ’cat’.

Laurie then wanted to know how to dispute the existence of nocturnal cold: ‘ya ya senyi?’ – we will be asked on a Winter’s morning having passed ocada drivers wrapped in thick anoraks with woollen gloves and hats, and school children hugging their arms in thick cardigans, whilst some of us still awake in a sweat. “It’s not cold, it’s hot,” we requested for translation. “Ba senyi, akwoi zafi yo”. Then the penny dropped. “Ayiki akwoi zafi yo” doesn’t mean "work is hard", it means "work is hot.."

And boy is work hot at the moment. I always used to (probably unwisely) tell people (usually bosses) who would question my late nights at work, that my long hours made up for the fact that “if I tell you I’m working at the weekend or at home, I’m lying”. In London I just couldn’t work at home.

Here it’s different. Whether it is because we have an enforced office leaving time of 16:30 – 17:00 when our driver arrives to ferry us back to Kagoro, or whether the work is simply more inspiring; whether there’s simply too much to do at work or whether there’s just simply nothing else to do in the evenings - I have become far more accustomed to working at home, or at weekends.

Tomorrow all the residents of the Pink House will be going into work. With budget deadlines looming – OK let’s be perfectly honest – passed, and so many other things to do, there simply isn’t enough time in the day. Here’s an illustration of my current projects (and I’ll be copying this for tomorrow’s ‘To Do’ list – I’m not kidding!):

  • Create the Fantsuam Foundation marketing plan and budget
  • Finalise the microfinance department’s business objectives, bonus system and budget
  • Work with the Zittnet team to plan the implementation of USPF Community Communications Centre grant into the Zittnet budget and business plan
  • Proof-read the Gaiya training manual (all 50 pages – goody!)
  • Work with Child Parliamentarians to build a grant proposal from OSIWA to support FACC
  • Complete my VSO placement review Preliminary Report and discuss with John and Comfort
  • Build a concept description of Attachab – Fantsuam’s site for an EcoFarm
  • Research and if appropriate complete a submission for FF’s microfinance department to register with fund-raising website Kiva
  • Meet with local musician Boman to finalise his business plan for launch of a new album
  • Seek input from colleagues and suppliers to determine the plan and timing for the Fantsuam Foundation Progress and Prosperity Opportunity Showcase
  • Complete a 1pp overview of Fantsuam for the first Euro-Afro ICT Cooperation Event 2009 (EAICE), taking place in Uganda in May 2009
  • Work out how to back-up my laptop (OK it’s probably a bit late but I am thinking about it!)

And I would not like to give the impression that I am working alone on any of these projects. This list is typical of most of my colleagues – sometimes I wonder how anything gets done. However I have recently taken note of a wonderful quote by D.B.C. Pierre in the 2003 Man Booker Prize Winning Novel ‘Vernon God Little’:

“Once you plan to do something, and figure how long it'll take, that's exactly how long Fate gives you before the next thing comes along to do.” I now try to start doing everything when I think about it, which doesn’t always fit in with careful pre-planning. I do believe that it is this philosophy (which appears to come from the top at FF), rather than endless planning, which has made Fantsuam the successful organisation that it is today, particularly in the context of Nigeria.

One of FF’s UK partners, Marcus Simmons of Ecoshelter, who has been working with Fantsuam for a short time observed that this method of working is:
Ramshackle but happy and oddly effective..” That goes for pretty much everything here and could lie behind Nigeria’s top listing in the New Scientist’s ‘happiest people’ poll.

It can feel frustrating at times, particularly when you’re used to ‘western’ working practices however Marcus gave me another invaluable piece of advice: “Don’t worry about gap below the ideal, just that anything you can do above current status quo is progress”. And I only have to take visitors around the Bayan Loco site to remind myself what an effective NGO Fantsuam is. When you put the activities of Fantsuam into this context you feel positively exhilarated!

As many of you will know I travelled to Abuja on Wednesday to collect three short-term volunteers, all head teachers in the UK, who are working with the DFID-supported ESSPIN (Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria) who were visiting the volunteers in Kafanchan and Gidan Waya (College of Education). I know (because they emailed me to say so!) that they were genuinely impressed with Fantsuam as I showed them the class rooms full of Computer Certificate students, the Knowledge Resource Centre being used by research students of all ages, the busy microfinance office with its enthusiastic field officers, the Network Operations Centre with its server room and banks of batteries and power inverters capturing energy from unreliable NEPA and the more reliable sun, the HIV counselling centre with demonstrations of test kits and stories of home visits where counsellors try to convince affected mothers to keep their mosquito nets for themselves rather than for their healthy children, or the Health Centre that was busy with patients that we were unable to enter. And that’s just the parts of the organisation you can see.

When I first arrived I remember writing a blog about ‘The Wonderful World of Work’ which ended with the line:

“It is within this environment that I, the other VSOs and all the Fantsuam colleagues and volunteers come to work every day and believe me, it's a lot more inspirational than the short walk from Liverpool Street Station to Worship Street, London EC1.”

Well three months in to my VSO journey it’s still true, although sometimes I wish it wasn’t quite so ‘hot’.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


This Sunday last year, I and the rest of the congregation of St Magnus the Martyr was processing across London Bridge on a blustery winter’s day with full altar party to meet the congregation of Southwark Cathedral arriving from the south side, for the annual blessing of the Thames.

This year, whilst record congregations gathered on London Bridge to also celebrate the 800th birthday of London Bridge, I also celebrated the Baptism of our Lord at church and on the water but in slightly different circumstances.

For those who read the Kagoro Day entry, you will have met Vera, one of our lovely neighbours in Kagoro and friend of Marcus and Sabine’s, who happily welcomed and generously entertained six unexpected batauri at her home on New Year’s Day.

Vera is a professor at the College of Education in Gidan Waya. Much of her success has come thanks to Father John Haverty in Kachia who saw her potential when he unexpectedly caught her reading alone by lantern-light in the quiet of the church when she was a young girl, and supported her education when her mother, the family’s principal breadwinner, fell ill. Through Vera we were all invited to attend mass at St John’s Catholic Church in Kachia followed by lunch at the Reverend Father's.

Unfortunately Dori was still feeling the after affects of a bad bout of gastro-something or the other, so it was only I that accompanied Marcus and Sabine on the 70km drive up to Kachia. We arrived in good time for the 09:30 mass and snapped the church and a contingent of the choir before entering the Church, which quickly filled to the gunwhales amoungst a colourful mass of wrappers and headdresses.

Father Haverty quickly greeted us in our pew before rushing off to officiate the service. He has been in this part of Nigeria for 42 years and speaks Hausa fluently, such that the service was delivered bi-lingually. Like in London, the theme was baptism and specifically the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan.

Like at our previous experience in Christ the King in Kagoro the service was lively and musical. Although there were only two ‘thanksgivings’, most of the 900-strong congregation took communion, however the service seemed over in a flash by exactly 11:30.

Thanks to Sabine for the photos

Accompanied by Vera, we took the short walk to the [priest’s house] just behind the Church where we met our second hostess, heavily pregnant Gloria who was also the principal of the primary section of St John’s School, a very successful local school started by Father Haverty. As we had a cup of tea, visitors came and went until finally Father Haverty had completed his Sunday duties and suggested that it would be a good day to take a short trip to the river. Having got the impression that this was a quick 20 minute stroll we were slightly surprised to be getting back into the cars. I travelled with Father Haverty and Vera whilst Marcus, Sabine and Gloria followed.

Father Haverty explained that we were going to visit a dam which had been constructed two years earlier to water the rapidly expanding (and parched) population of Abuja. Whilst bringing badly needed water supplies to Nigeria’s young capital city, the effect on the local population had been far less positive. Whilst the populations of the eight or so villages that had been submerged by the growing lake had been compensated for their land, they had received only money, not advice. Many had not been aware of how the lake would actually consume their livelihoods and had found other uses for the cash before they realised that their homes and farmlands would be swallowed. When the days came to evacuate many found themselves without homes, land or money. Hopefully things will be handled differently next time.

We followed a new tarred road for about 20 km before it reverted to a sand track which ended abruptly in a very beautiful and somewhat unexpected lake where a couple of small, but surprisingly sea-worthy looking craft waited to take travellers to the other side, where the road continued to further villages.

Father Haverty negotiated fares with the owner of a smart looking fibre-glass boat, fully equipped with life jackets and we boarded. Vera is not confident on water as she can’t swim and quickly grabbed hold of a jacket, whilst the rest of us tried to persuade her that our combined aquatic skills would get her out of any trouble, whilst we ourselves were not keen to go for a dip in the water that was likely to be infested with bilharzia and other interesting tropical diseases. However at least we knew that our immediate lives would not be in danger...

As we sped across the glassy water we passed palm trees disappearing beneath the waterline, flying fish (well –I saw one) and huge rock inselbergs, characteristic of the area, emerging straight from the water.

After an uneventful 20 minute trip we arrived at the other side where a large crowd was waiting, made up of passengers waiting to return, fishermen and their families and competing ferrymen. We took on three new passengers, including a young women and her small boy, Destiny.

We appeared to manoeuvre gingerly back from the beach through the recently submerged trees and shrubs but clearly not carefully enough as the outboard made a grumpy sound and the propellor was lifted carefully out of the water as the pilot used a small oar to pass between the small saplings that were still dotted about in the shallows. A request was hollered to the waiting craft at the jetty, one of which started a short journey out, however it soon transpired that they were not so much interested in lending us a screw-driver as nicking the passengers and their return fare money. This was not our captain’s plan which soon became obvious to the approaching boat which then about-turned and headed back to shore.

Although I am familiar with the skills of Nigerian mechanics on dry land, this was my first encounter with such a situation on water. However after much discussion (and nervousness from Vera who, as you will remember, was not confident on water in the first place) we managed to get going. Apparently the problem was with the wiring of the throttle from the pilot’s control deck to the outboard engine. This was resolved by the captain steering and the first mate hold down the throttle on the outboard manually, with a nice big smile on his face.

Before long, and to Vera’s great relief, we reached the opposite shore and quickly returned to the cars, with a few extra passengers including Destiny and his mother, as we were by now all getting rather peckish. On the return journey we stopped a couple of times to ensure the Marcus was keeping up in his less Nigerian-road-worthy Golf, where any local people would come up to the car and warmly greet the priest who had been active in that or neighbouring parishes for over 40 years. For once the VSOs were not the main attraction in the vehicle (until I pulled my camera out!).

We arrived back at the rectory where a wonderful feast, prepared by Vera and Gloria and Father Haverty’s steward, awaited us along with ice cold drinks. Not only had NEPA been kind, but St John’s rectory is blessed with a solar-powered fridge. Following a starter of an unexpectedly delicious stew of unidentified pieces of animal intestines, we were treated to jollof rice, wonderful tomato sauce, fried chicken and delight of delights – Irish potato cakes made from... well Irish potatoes (how what we would call normal potatoes are distinguished from sweet potatoes – known colloquially merely as ‘irish’).

Delight because we have not been able to find ‘irish’ in Kagoro or Kafanchan markets recently with the harvest now being more or less confined to the plateau and Jos.

The six of us sat in Father Haverty’s sitting room, surrounded by Christmas decorations, cards, numerous awards and signs of gratitude from the local community, newspapers from Galway and the Catholic Church in Ireland and a young and playful kitten that had been employed for rat catching. It is difficult to really explain the enjoyment of the setting as we chatted about many things including the Father’s tireless work with education in the community, the weather in Connemara, our Kagoro neighbour Justice Aka’ahs who had been the Father’s pupil in Kaduna in 1968, the desperate shortage of science teachers in St John’s secondary school (any aspiring science teachers out there with wanderlust?) and how to spot which of the infinite number of candidates to give direct support to in the State’s poverty-stricken communities.

Thanks again to Sabine for the pictures at Father Haverty's

By the time the fruit salad and sangria had arrived, and Vera had finally persuaded Father Haverty that Johnny Cash’s particular strain of country music was more suitable for a funeral that a Sunday lunch, it was time for us visitors to take our leave in order to ensure we avoided a repeat of Nigerian Night Drive. We were genuinely all extremely sorry to leave, however not even the unbeatable mix of Nigerian and Irish hospitality could allay our fears of the combination of darkness and Nigerian driving.

With only a short and uneventful stop at a military roadblock just outside Samaru to delay our journey, we returned back whilst there was still light – both in the sky, and more surprisingly in the electricity wires.

Despite being 1,000s of miles away in Africa, our celebrations of church, water, lunch and good company was very similar to those being had by friends and colleagues at St Magnus' in the City of London at the same time.

Saturday, 10 January 2009


At 3am this morning I awoke needing to ‘ease myself’ (as they say here). I fumbled around beside my pillow for the wind-up head torch I always keep there and removed one of my earplugs to help my consciousness before untucking a small exit through the mosquito net and walking across the dark room towards the en suite bathroom, taking care to watch out for any night visitors scurrying across the floor. Luckily, there were none. I deftly removed the large nail which serves as a padlock to keep the bathroom door shut so that I don’t have to listen to the wheezing and dripping of the loose faucet (six days and the plumber still hasn’t returned) and shone the torch quickly across the small bathroom and shower tray to see if anyone else would be sharing my private moment.

Once back in bed, I re-tucked the mosquito net under the mattress to avoid creepy crawlies coming up from the floor, re-inserted the remaining earplug, and laid back awaiting sleep.

This usually comes to me after about 10 seconds but after what seemed to be at least 20 minutes lying awake I decided to turn on the TV and watch a Mel Gibson movie. The light from the TV, wall mounted in a corner of the room, caught the attention of Peter our guard, who is on night duty at the moment, and I could hear him shuffling by the window in the narrow passageway that runs between the side of the house and a neighbour’s wall. I went up to the window, which is the only one in the house that has a gap in the mosquito netting for accessing the shutters, and clearly saw Peter’s face peering through. “I’m just watching TV”, I said. “OK, OK” he said in his usual manner, as other people, including a big black man I didn’t recognise, squeezed past in the passageway behind him, taking in the opportunity to gawp at the batauri in her night clothes.

As I returned back to bed I noticed a small movement from under a pile of clothes I had (uncharacteristically) left lying on the torn linoleum floor. I pushed it a bit and it twitched again so I picked up my wind-up hand torch to use as a club and beat the floor where I thought the critter would be. Just then our maid Victoria walked into the room so I asked for her help and we clubbed away as a small rat and various lizards ran across the room.

Before we could assess the extent of our rodent massacre I heard noises from the neighbouring sitting room where I found an unexpected crowd of batauri. These included members from a touring UK women’s rugby team and a comedienne, who bore a striking resemblance to supposed 9/11 victim’s Paul’s 2nd American wife in the BBC series Mistresses, and who was promoting her personalised merchandise from a nicely printed catalogue. More people arrived from the narrow passageway which I had ascertained was the main route to the house from the large sloping field of closely mown lush green grass that stretched out beyond the house to the horizon.

Just then the ‘toot toot’ of our Peugeot was heard from outside the front door so we (and I can’t remember exactly who ‘we’ were) piled in. Marcus then revved up the engine and drove off at top speed across and down the verdant field as his passengers bounced around in the back..

You will by now have realised that this was a dream – in fact if you hadn’t realised by the line ‘I turned on the TV’, it’s time for you to re-read the rest of the CicelyinNigeria blog, particularly the references to electricity and the facilities of the Pink House.
But this was not a normal dream but what I would specifically describe as a Lariam dream, which those of you who have followed my blog from the beginning would have come across on my pre-departure entry “Blame the Lariam”.
Lariam is an anti-malaria drug. There are three, supposedly effective, options for anti-malarials in Nigeria: Doxycycline, an antibiotic which you need to take daily; Malarone, another daily tablet which costs ten times as much as the alternatives and is not licensed for continuous use over six months (and is therefore a last resort for VSO); and Lariam which is the most tried and tested drug but does have a reputation for some fruity side-effects including dizziness, nervousness, vivid dreams/nightmares and daytime hallucinations.

Some VSOs had to switch from Lariam to the alternatives after being unable to balance on a bicycle at a traffic light (whilst completely sober), shaking uncontrollably for no reason or waking up to find huge maggots crawling amongst their legs in bed. Luckily for me, it has just given me more vivid, and to be honest more interesting, dreams. The most scary moment (to date) was dreaming that I’d woken up with a small French girl sleeping head to toe in bed with me... that and having a small rat and lizards running across the room.. Even that wasn’t really scary.

Anyway, the next thing I remembered after driving into the sunset across the green fields in the battered Peugeot, was being woken by a muffled noise from nearby that penetrated the candy-coloured foam of my earplugs from the British Snoring and Sleep Apnoiea Association. Whilst earplugs (and particularly these earplugs) are a marvellous aid to peaceful and uninterrupted sleep through the nocturnal Kagoro menagerie that includes dogs, crickets, cockerels, and the Imam of the nearby mosque who gets going at 04:30, it can be difficult to interpret the sounds that do come through which leads to a degree of anxiety (particularly if you’re on Lariam). Is the sound you hear of a person or small animal walking around outside or inside (your house, room, mosquito net)? I removed the earplugs and realised Laurie was up and at her computer in the sitting room. She’d also woken up at about 3.00am however hadn’t had the benefit of Lariam to tease her waking hours with sleep.

Laurie and Dori are on Doxycycline.
Or was I dreaming...?
END NOTE: I’ll be going to Abuja on Wednesday to pick up new three VSOs who will be joining us for a placement visit before going to their final destinations. I will also be picking up new anti-malaria tablets for the Pink House. That means our first three months is almost over!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

The 10 Days of Christmas - Part II

Monday 29 December
It was on this day that I learnt, from an HRH himself, that the reason Kagoro celebrates New Year’s in favour of Christmas is all down to a Scot called Archibald.

Getting to know Nigeria is all about who you know – and luckily our guard Yashen knows Gideon Agwamma, son of the former Chief of Kagoro Mallam Gwamna Awan, the longest serving chief in Africa with 63 years in office. Gideon lives next door to the Chief’s Palace and he knows the new chief Ufuwai Bonet... and thus the ladies of the Pink House were granted an audience on Monday morning with the new Chief,. Having assembled at Gideon’s house, we stopped briefly to snap Gideon in front of his father’s statue (not yet painted – but you can still see the resemblance) before waiting in the simple antechamber.

We entered the large reception room, its lower walls lined with sofas occupied by dignitaries and council members, its upper walls with portraits of earlier chiefs, other national and state leaders and our own Queen Elizabeth (in her very much younger days). Chief Bonet greeted us warmly and for almost 20 minutes we chatted about railways, the British Council in Kaduna (which he had frequented in his youth), his international travels and Kagoro – or Afan Day.

HRH explained that when the missionaries first came to Kagoro the hill tribes traditionally celebrated a non-Christian harvest thanksgiving celebration on New Year – the Afan Festival. A particular Scottish missionary called Archibald who was very close to the Christian chief of Kagoro at the time, recalled the traditions of his homeland, where the previously dominant Presbyterians had discouraged the celebration of Christmas with the gift-giving, public and feasting associated with mid-winter held between the 31 December and 2 January. By integrating the two holidays Archibald hoped that the Christians would achieve a higher degree of influence with their heathen neighbours and from that day Kagoro has celebrated Afan Day in favour of Christmas, accompanied by the traditional burning of the hill bush, so that for a short time, Kagoro Mountain resembles a small volcano with burning lava running down its flanks.
Our next engagement was the Vincent Kawai Memorial Foundation Talent Show to be held at the nearby Town Hall – an event held to combat the problems of alcoholism and substance abuse amongst the Kagoro Youth and all acts had to incorporate this theme into their performance. Posters around the town had the start time of 2pm (as appeared on our own personal invitation) crossed out and replaced by 1pm. With this in mind, we thought that 2pm would be a good time to arrive, and entered the large and almost completely empty Town Hall sharp at 2pm to be warmly greeted by our host and neighbour, Mrs Aka’ahs who apologised for the late start and ushered us to the front row of sofas, reserved for VIPs.

At 4pm – sharp – the first entertainers came on. A cultural band opened the show and were followed by a performance by the children of St Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Then came the speeches and finally at about 5.30pm the first of the 10 acts came on. As 6pm approached and dusk was falling Laurie and Dori took their leave, whilst I enjoyed the remaining five acts and chatted with Mrs Aka’ahs and her husband Justice Kumai Bayang Aka’ahs before being invited to the stage to present 4th and 5th prizes following the extended deliberations of the judges.

4th, 3rd and 2nd prizes being awarded

As the winner was presented with his TV (an extremely generous prize – perhaps the Pink Ladies should try entering next time?) he was asked to reprise his song (sung in the local Kagoro language( which got the whole hall, young and old on their feet in celebration. Not relishing a walk home along the dirt tracks of Kagoro in the pitch black, Justice Aka’ahs kindly offered me a lift home and as we left the hall, we came face to face with the flaming mountainside a Kagoro Mountain, a fitting conclusion to a long but eventful day.

Tuesday 30 December – Blog Day
.... And preparations for the 10 VSO guests we were expecting - 7 from Abuja, 1 from Kaduna and 2 from Gidan Waya.

Wednesday 31st December – New Year’s Eve
Having prepared a bottle of home-made citrus squash, ordered joloffe rice for 14, bought 24 minerals and 12 bottles of Star and, with Fantsuam Marcus’ help, restocked on kerosene and petrol and had 4 large mattresses transported from various locations across Bayan Loco, our celebrations were sobered by the news that one of our expected 7 guests arriving from Abuja had been attacked and robbed on her taxi ride home in Abuja the previous night. As a result, all of the group, who had spent Christmas together in Calabar, decided to stay with the victim in Abuja, making our party a little smaller (and probably a bit more manageable) than previously expected.

Shortly after 2.00 our first visitor from Kaduna arrived – VSO Monique, who works in a school for the deaf and a seasoned Naija expert with over two years already in the country. At 5.15 Victoria brought us the hug hot-pot of joloffe rice (for 14) and at 6.00 (armed with a bottle of vodka) Markus and Sabine turned up from Gidan Waya to help us eat it.

As we whiled away the hours with Star, vodka and citrus squash, joloffe rice, good company and Laurie’s grill fired up in the background, we set the alarm for midnight (I’d completely forgotten I had a shortwave radio) and duly celebrated. However, we took note of the following morning’s 08:00am start and retired soon afterwards.

Thursday1 January 2009 – Kagoro Day

Our experience with Nigerian time at the Talent Show robbed the urgency from our preparations to reach the main Kagoro parade ground for 08:00 as we admired and snapped one another’s African outfits and greeted everyone on our walk into the centre of the village.

How wrong we were! Kagoro time does not operate on Nigerian time, but something more akin to Swiss time. When we arrived at 08:30 the parade was long gone on its tour around the village only being due to return at 10:00. We stared at the near empty parade field and vacant seats before Sabine suggested we visited a friend of theirs Vera, who lived close by. As the six of us descended completely unannounced on the small house in a traditional compound, Vera and her friend from Abuja Ozi, greeted us warmly with malt drinks, beer and Baileys. Just under 40 minutes later, we heard the parade returning and, having made use of Vera’s western bathroom, we made our way back to the parade ground just as the Boy’s Brigade was leading the procession back onto the main field.

Gideon had promised us reserved seats, but knowing that he was a part of the procession, we did our best attempt to wander around to gain the attention of whoever had been told where the seats for the local batauri were. Sure enough, within 10 minutes we were ushered across to one of the front marquees, where we were given seats in the second row of sofas, the exclusive preserve of the VIPs. Over the next 30 minutes (and again, spot on time) the emirs and dignitaries started arriving with their retinues of dogaris whilst the MC announced each one in turn (all protocols duly observed) and appealed to the ‘security’ to start doing their jobs keeping the field clear of the rapidly arriving convoys of smart (and not so smart) vehicles, attendants and chancers.

Right - Gideon arrives on his horse

Us on the sofas and the emirs (plus British diplomat) in front

Dogari faithfully guarding their emirs (only one per emir officially permitted)

As 10.30 approached, the arrival of Architect Mohammed Namadi Sambo (governor of Kaduna State) and Nigeria's former military President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida were announced, before taking their seats for the speeches and the handing of staff of office to the new Chief. At this stage I would like to point out that at many, if not all, of the events I have attended in Nigeria (including the prestigious Abuja Carnival) Sambo or his deputy have been advertised as chief guests and have never actually turned up in person. For both Sambo and Babangida to make an appearance really did emphasise the importance of Kagoro and its Chief to Kaduna State and, given Babangida’s appearance, Nigeria (although that could have had something to do with the fact that his wife was the new chief’s late wife’s sister...).
My thanks for Sabine for these pictures of (L-R) Sambo, Babangida and Chief Ufuwai Bonet

Time keeping was rigorous –and even more impressive when it became apparent that every one of the six speakers was going to give his thanks individually to all the dignitaries here present (no ‘all protocols duly observed' summary when Sambo and Babangida are there to notice who doesn’t acknowledge them), taking at least 10 minutes each time. The handing over of the Staff of Office occurred just when scheduled and the formalities were over at exactly 1:27pm (scheduled for 1.30pm) after which there was a 90 minute break before ‘cultural dances’ began.
Once again all six of us repaired to Vera’s house where, within 30 minutes she had rustled up rice, beautiful salad and stew for us and her other guests.

Whilst we were waiting Ozi rearranged my headscarf from the ‘washerwoman’ look to a more elaborate Nigerian style. A great improvement!

At three we returned to the field where the cultural dances were in full swing, and having lost our prestigious seats on the sofas, seated ourselves on the ground to watch the displays from all over Kaduna State.

Due to the somewhat obscured view that we had of much of the entertainment, we started planning our round of visits to the friends and neighbours across the village who had invited us to visit them on Kagoro Day. It soon became apparent that we had to start quickly and got up to leave as quickly as possible to avoid the wrath of seated spectators behind us.

Kagoro only sees crowds like this once a year!

Our first visit was Gideon, just a stone’s throw from the field. His apologetic wife informed us he had not yet returned so we made our way across the thick crowds back to our neighbourhood to visit John the Grinder who had insisted that we stop by in thanks for the picture that we had given him, via Jared and Network Rail’s printer and laminator, showing him proudly at his machine.

When we turned up at about 6 he was delighted to see us and it became clear that he hadn’t attended the celebrations as he had wanted to be sure to greet us and did not know what time we would have been arriving. We all squeezed into his tiny front room and drank minerals and ate small pieces of meat clearly specially reserved for us. He told us about his international travels with the Nigerian army and introduced us to his family that were present including wife Esther and grandson Godwin.

The next visit was to Dennis and Colletta Shelley, ECWA missionaries at the other side of town. On our way back to the Pink House to collect Markus and Sabine’s car, we came across a New Year’s street band which tour the village. As you can see – a very diverse bunch all celebrating the occasion together, and in their own special ways!

Getting the six of us into the Golf was no challenge compared to trying to get onto the main Kagoro Road to visit the Shelley’s large compound. As we exited the market to turn left onto the main road, gridlock ensued with Sabine leaving the car to stop the traffic so that we had a hope of making our manoeuvre within the next hour. Her effectiveness and nerve in the face of congested vehicular adversity would be the envy of a Lagos (or indeed Roman) traffic cop and we were soon on our way.

Once at the Shelley’s we toasted the New Year with cold minerals (NEPA was kind) and took photos in front of the only Christmas tree we had seen that year, whilst Dennis and Colleta’s charming children, who had been born and brought up in Nigeria, told us of their experiences at school in Jos during the recent riots.

Luckily the traffic through the village had subsided considerably when we took our leave and made our way up to our final destination, the Aka’ahs, three doors down from the Pink House. We knew that Rebecca and Justice Aka’ahs would have been busy during the day as the Justice had been mentioned several times during the day’s proceedings as being at the head of 19 other judges who had been invited to the event, and who I had guessed would have been at the Aka’ahs eating the cow that I had seen Rebecca ‘dressing’ the previous day. When we arrived there at about 8.00pm the whole family were clearly relaxing after a very hard day but that didn’t stop them inviting us in for drinks and the most delicious spice cake that I have tasted, (on a par with my sister’s fruit cake) prepared by their senior daughter Joyce, who was practising as a lawyer in Kaduna. Both Rebecca, her husband and their four present children, were wonderfully hospitable and allowed us to have a very relaxing end to a very busy day.