Thursday, 26 February 2009

Joys of the simple life

A fellow VSO in Cameroon recently wrote on his blog about all the trials and tribulations he had because his fridge blew the fuses on one side of the house, his bathroom water heater blew on the fuses on the other side of the house, and he had huge hassle trying to renew his home internet subscription service. It made me think how lucky we are that we don’t have any (well really) electricity to blow any fuses and certainly no internet in wireless distance of Waterboard Road, Kagoro whose operation could irritate us.

My room and the kitchen by kerosene lamp

Nigeria has made me (even more) appreciate the simple things in life and the joy that they bring. Children jumping up and down on the street with huge smiles on their faces shouting ‘batauria’ every time you walk past is enough to brighten any day. Sitting out at the backyard, with no electric light to spoil the dazzling brightness of the moon or the increasing proliferation of stars as your eyes get accustomed to the dark when the moon is new. When the barman brings you a cold Star (or frankly anything cold).

I just happened to be listening to ‘The Interview’ with David Attenborough just before the 07:00am news one morning on the World Service, where he was being asked about the famous scene of him sitting amongst mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The interviewer asked him how it felt and he said: “It was strange... No, that’s not right, it was bliss.” And I could understand what he meant.

I don’t know the dictionary definition of ‘bliss’ (and I’m going to resist the urge to look it up, as I’m at home and we don’t have internet!). But it’s something very different to happiness, perhaps a little along the road from ‘joy’ but for me it has to be simple.

Let me try and get you somewhere close to what I think it feels like: for those of you living in London – the feeling when you opened the curtains a couple of weeks ago and your daily environment transformed by a nine inch blanket of snow (the feeling before you started thinking about the wahalla it would play with the transport system). You really don’t need the trappings of modern life to be happy. As one of my housemates astutely commented: those trappings are distractions to real honest pleasure. We don’t have any distractions here!

Some of these thoughts occurred to me as we visited the ancient site of Nok, about one hour south of Kafanchan, towards Abuja, with our good, motorised, friends, Sabine and Markus. Some claim that Nok’s original inhabitants were the descendants of Noah’s son Ham and that “it is second only to Egypt in terms of its culture and civilisation” (according to the former chief of Nok).

Nok landscape obscured by the harmattan haze

Unlike Egypt, you’re extremely hard pressed to find evidence of former civilisation. In fact you wouldn’t really notice that there had been any occupation there at all. We were privileged to have Fatima, who works for the Nok Museum, as our guide, as we stood amongst standing stones – said to be traditional courts, into caves with indistinct markings on the walls – said to be a hospital and its register. Across fields where the faintest of boundaries marked the compounds of the clans when they first descended from the caves.

Clearly it’s a hospital! Whilst Dori suggests to Sabine that perhaps this system of registration (black, red and white dots – dead, treated, born) would work at the College of Education in Gidan Waya?

As we walked through the (dry season allowing) lush landscape, amongst the Fulani herds, past the miners searching (illegally) for semi-precious stones and fully-precious terracotta artefacts, I remember thinking – this cave life doesn’t look too bad.

The caves were dry, secure and comfortable, there was invariably a source of water nearby and food either walked past or grew outside your front door. If I really had to choose between living and working in London for the rest of my life (no breaks allowed) and being a troglodyte 2,500 years ago... hmm I think I might choose the latter.

Ham’s descendants walked this way – probably more skilfully than us
Whilst we enjoyed a photo-opportunity in someone’s front room perhaps?

Being happy is about expectations. The children on our street are entertained by wheels on the ends of long sticks (the Kagoro equivalent of a remote controlled car), home-made bows and arrows, carefully cut-out leaves stuck on the ends of sticks that act as perfect pin-wheels when you run along with them in front of you. And not to forget every Kagoro child’s favourites: rolling a tyre along the road with a stick or being pulled along the road on a piece of cardboard.

Shopping is another simple pleasure: you don’t need to choose between the tree tomatoes, the cherry tomatoes, the beef tomatoes or indeed, all of the above loose or packaged.

To us the differentiators are the colour of the tomatoes, how long we think they have been sitting in the sun, how big the seller’s smile is (or how many extra we think they may throw into the bag at the end).

We buy peanuts out of a huge basin. A quick visual check allows you to see if they are healthy.. assessing the small stone content is somewhat more challenging..

Our local bar sells beer (Star, Harp or Gulder) or Maltina. More sophisticated places may have ‘minerals’ which is usually Coke or Fanta or Sprite. Very rarely more than one of them at a time. Because of this you rarely go with any expectations that might be dashed. Instead you find yourself unfeasibly happy when your hostelry has your beverage of choice..

That it should be cold as well really does come pretty close to bliss.


Anonymous said...

Well you don't seem to have been struck by the three month depression yet!! - b

Anonymous said...

O to the simple life I say!!!
Love J x