Sunday, 1 February 2009

Feeling appreciated

“Ladies and gentlemen – the new President of the United States of America – Barack Obama!” Imagine the noise and excitement of the crowd, the sheer energy that being in the same room – or arena – as such a famous person generates in a group of people.

Well - I'm not trying to suggest I'm Barack Obama, however it was the only way I could think of to give readers an idea of the reception that I received as I stepped from dusty Zaria Street in Kafanchan across the open sewer/drain, under the rows of corn cobs drying suspended from the eaves of the veranda and into our microfinance client Ladi’s small compound, for the Muslim wedding celebration of her junior son. The cheers and applause that spontaneously broke out took me completely by surprise – despite having had three months of being one of three local celebrities.

I don't know if it was because they were so surprised to see a batauri, or that they had not believed that I would turn up or maybe it had something to do with the fact that this particular batauri was also wearing the official wedding uniform, the fabric gifted to me by Ladi the previous Monday. The fabric and the invitation in thanks for me (OK, Jared) getting a picture I had taken of Ladi at her business printed; a picture she has put into a glass fronted frame in pride of place in her sitting room.

After regaining my senses – I started greeting everyone – and was quickly shown to a chair (hastily vacated by someone else) under a small gazebo that had been temporarily assembled in the family compound. My hostess, Ladi introduced me to the guests and I shook their hands warmly, genuinely delighted by the huge smiles that my mere presence was eliciting. I don’t think hand shaking is a Muslim custom and soon, the children were twittering away and copying me shaking each others’ hands and laughing. So I put my hand out to shake a couple more and was deluged by hands of all sizes wanting to touch the soft batauri skin.

Shortly my Fantsuam colleague Grace arrived. Grace is Fantsuam's microfinance Field Officer responsible for Ladi’s group: Fantsuam operates the Grameen model for its microfinance activities - where groups of women (from 10 - 50) support and underwrite each others' loans. She too was warmly greeted by clients from both Ladi's group and other local groups that have benefited from loans from Fantsuam.

Ladi (left) and Grace

The compound was filled exclusively with women and children, who were not invited to the ceremony itself. I later learned that that sometimes even the bride is not invited to the ceremony, proceedings being conducted by the men. The fact that there were no men in the compound allowed the women to show off their best wedding finery rather than cover their heads and upper bodies with a large hijab. I pulled out my camera and started snapping – every time I raised it 20 small children would come pressing around me for their picture however I managed to be quick enough to get some shots of the events.

Party time!

A selection of the children - possibly too many but they're all so cute!

Pensive twins, Husseina and Hassana – and happy twins!

The groom and his best man (although he was introduced to me as the second groom, so I’m not quite sure....) and the official photographer arrived and began to set up the family group shots, just like at home. Whilst the photographer was only wielding an old, ‘box brownie’ type film camera – he was happy to use mine to take some pictures for me as well, and he did a good job as you'll see below.
L - R, Ladi and her husband, Grace and the two grooms

Grace with Ladi and her aunt (Ladi's mother is 'late'), Ladi with the groom, her junior son

Then I was taken over the view the trousseau or dowry that had been supplied for the bride (or possibly two) proudly laid out on one side of the compound in three sturdy suitcases. Over fifteen high quality wrappers (6 yds of fabric) each, a small case full of undies and cosmetics, and lavish slippers that I was informed had been brought from Arabia by a returning Alhaji.

The groom then came up to me and said something in Hausa which Grace translated. He was thanking me for coming and was certain that his marriage would now be blessed by God through the presence of a white person. I hope so too, but if only it were that easy...

Shortly after Ladi invited Grace and me into one of the compound’s small rooms where, seated on small sofas adjacent to an unmade bed, we were privately served rice and stew, egussi soup with semovita and a Coke. As we were not going to be able to visit the bride, (that ceremony happened after dark), Grace and I took this opportunity to make a contribution to the bride fund which Ladi graciously accepted. Pity – I was rather looking forward to pinning a couple of crisp N200 notes onto the bride... maybe next time.

As the time had passed 5pm, and Grace still had to visit the market to buy some trousers for her junior son, we took our leave of the party and popped next door to visit another one of Grace’s clients from the group who had given birth less than a week ago. I had asked about the young woman as, when I attended the business development services training of the group a couple of months before, I had noticed that she only had one leg, although she moved around nimbly with the aid of a sturdy pole.

Grace led me through a maze of passages to a small compound where we passed a stable housing a large bull and three sheep (or ‘shoats’ as my father used to call them – it’s really difficult to tell if they are sheep or goats) into the next room adjoined to which was a bedroom, dominated by a large family bed on which sat the young mother. I asked Grace if this was her first child. First?
No, it was her eighth.. As I returned through the cramped compound I wondered where everyone fitted and how this young mother (I later learned was 30) tended to all those little children and ran her business. No wonder she and her pole were so nimble. She needed to be.

Grace and I parted company at the market and I tottered (in my ‘wedding shoes’ complete with heel) along the road to the Kudnax garage to pick up my ride back to Kagoro. Once loaded onto the first awaiting vehicle, a young man sitting next to me (one of four on the narrow bench seat) greeted me and I returned the greeting in Hausa to the unbridled joy of the whole bus who then asked me what I had been doing ‘Aurea – Kafanchan’ (wedding) I got out about three times before someone understood my strange accent – again drawing smiles and laughter from the passengers.

I dropped earlier than my usual stop as I had discovered that my sisters were enjoying a cold Star at a new bar we had discovered two streets down from our regular supplier who (as readers will know) only has warm beer. I hitched up my skirt and hopped onto an ocada to join them.

As we sat under the tree relaxing an old gentleman came up to admire my Nigerian dress and asked if I would marry him. I was somewhat concerned at my sisters’ readiness to bargain: “no less than 10 cows”, said Dori to which I hastily added “and only as the senior wife”. He turned out to be the barmaid’s uncle, on his way back home up the mountain, so the negotiations stopped there.

As I arrived home and checked my text messages, my day of appreciation (for doing next to nothing) was complete when I received an SMS from an admirer.

Hi ‘CECILY: I mis sein ur luvung n chami beautyfl FACE, mstly! Dis preety eyes ball of urs”. I luv u. Frm ???


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed that! It sounds like you may have introduced a new custom there with the handshaking..I don't think though that their custom of providing all the guests with fabric for the wedding costumes is going to spread very fast!love b

Greg said...

Great post. I really enjoy the pictures. I will publicize your blog in the next Friends of Nigeria newsletter. Your dress looks gorgeous!

Greg Jones

Anonymous said...

Hey Cecil,
I love the looks on all the women and children's faces in this blog. Everyone looks so happy...including you. A real warming feeling that you are doing so well over there.
Love Jared
P.S. great wedding stuff!

Cicely Brown said...

I was devastated to hear that Ladi died this morning. I don't know whether it was the result of the recent violence in Kafanchan but knowing where she lived, I suspect so. My prayers are with her family - may she rest in peace.