Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Plus ça change?

One of the nicest things about Jeffrey’s - apart from the almost always cold Star beer, is being able to sit outside under a mango tree and watch village life go past. Being situated right next door to the local brugutu joint (‘local tea’ which is an alcoholic brew made from guinea corn), we are greeted by a steady stream of locals, who prefer to pay N20 rather than N160 (Star beer) for a litre of their favourite tipple.

In various stages of intoxication, these happy individuals may do a little dance for us (Madaleine on her first visit), attempt to converse with us in a mixture of Kagoro, Hausa or Pidgin (none of which we speak with any degree of proficiency), try to sell us whatever product they have left over from the day’s market (Linda – the chicken man’s wife with her pepe) or invite us to visit their houses on the mountain (Lami –whose house we still haven’t located on the last three trips up the hill) – to name but a few.

Markus is greeted by a passing villager
Our vantage point on the front porch of what (if you didn’t know) would appear to be a perfectly normal village compound, allows us to watch the small children chasing tyres down the slightly sloping road with sticks in the fading light of dusk with alarming speed, and to observe the various forms of wildlife chasing each other around.
Well usually the dogs are chasing everything else around – scaring chickens into flying up into trees, encouraging fully grown goats or pigs (usually unsuccessfully) to move on, or, as last week, causing mayhem amongst the litter of tiny piglets that were taking a break from their mother who was tethered to a tree about 100m further up the street.
A couple of regulars soak up the atmosphere on Jeffrey's front porch.
(Thanks again to Sabine for the pictures taken a few weeks ago when our VSO friends from Akwanga were visiting)

What struck me from the situation was not the piglets themselves, or the more surprising fact that another, less aggressive bitch who had six young puppies of her own happily allowed the runt of the (pig) litter to suckle her without complaint (when her own offspring were not around). I suddenly realised when watching this incredible (at least to me) scene, that not one of us had a camera on us. In fact, nowadays we rarely have a camera with us. Regular readers will be accustomed to seeing lots of pictures to accompany just about any blog (except perhaps the ones about dreaming which present a particular photographic challenge), but recently we don’t feel the urge to snap away at every new scene. Because they aren’t new. After five months, we’ve truly settled in.

Whilst I still groaned this evening as a teasing NEPA took the light as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had brought it as I had just tipped the first ladle of water over me for my bucket bath, I was perfectly able to negotiate my way down the step of my bathroom and across my bedroom to pick up the torch that I always leave in the same place without so much as a second thought.

I didn’t feel an ounce of embarrassment asking one of the orange sellers at Kagoro’s Saturday market to cut open one of her oranges so I could taste it before buying it, or as the case turned out, not buying it because frankly it wasn’t quite juicy enough.

The last week or so I haven’t even properly wakened when the imam’s started up his prayers at 4.45am.

I no longer have to brace myself for the first dousing of the cold bucket shower in the morning. In fact it didn’t occur to me to turn on the hot tap of the shower at the fancy expat flat we stayed in last weekend in Abuja..
[Aside: we were in Abuja for a great St Patrick’s Day party by the way – but so ‘expat’ – air conditioning, endless free cold drinks, wonderful food without a hint of yam, egussi soup or jolof rice in sight, and fewer Nigerians present than would be bature in Kafanchan market – that I don't need to describe it: you can just imagine a St Patrick’s day party thrown by a large construction company at home!]

The final straw is that spice-phobics Laurie and myself, cannot enjoyably eat a meal without at least one red hot pepe in there (I am SO looking forward to enjoying a proper curry when I get home!).

However I did have one of those ‘this is just great’ moments last week as we were driving into work, and I couldn’t work out why? The night before it had rained and, unlike previous mornings after the rain, the sky remained leaden and heavy with clouds. The wind was still strong. And I realised what it was. The weather is changing.

I’ve always maintained that the reason the Brits talk about the weather the whole time is because is one of the most variable aspects of life back home. And I miss the changing weather. One day has been very much like the rest. Hot and dry with only the density of the airborne dust to really differentiate the view or the intensity of the sun.

For the first time this week I have woken up at night with sweat running down the back of my neck. Unlike my roommates who were previously accustomed to round the clock air-conditioning, I’ve had no problems with the night time heat. Until now. Even as I write, I can hear the wind – a constant companion now – rustling the palm trees outside (though frustratingly not finding its way into my room). And – oh no – sitting on my bed with my laptop with the mosquito net hanging like the drapes on a young girl's fancy 'princess' bed, I just heard the whine of a mosquito – I hope outside the net!

The rainy season is coming and with it, I’m sure will be a whole host of exciting new experiences. A chance to wear those very special wellington boots I brought all the way from the UK, which I've heard will be invaluable to help push the car out of the bogs in the already terrible dirt tracks of Kagoro and Bayan Loco that will only get worse when the rains come.
Ubiquitous mangoes (or so I have heard) and a general scarcity of just about everything else (May to July are known as ‘the hunger months’). The landscape turning green again. The deafening sound of rain battering wafer thin zinc roofs and even, just possibly, feeling cool again.

I’m very excited because just when I’m getting used to things, they’re going to change again. Perhaps I need to start carrying my camera around with me again?

For those who I know just look at the pictures - here are some from a visit a couple of weeks ago to Hope for the Village Child in Jacaranda just outside Kaduna.

Hope for the Village Child runs 24 Community Grain Banks where villagers can store their grain safely to see them through the high prices of the wet 'hunger months'. This is the committee that runs the grains bank.

The village also has its traditional storage huts or rumbus. Out here land is not at a premium and the farms are bigger. Around Kafanchan most compounds only have a single rumbu.

The main activity of the small village we visited seems to be smithing. As we walked through we passed almost a dozen small huts with the sound of clanging metal coming from within. Each with one or two black smiths fashioning axes from the motel metal, and accompanied by a small child (or as in this case) older man to pump the bellow continuously.

The elderly Muslim village head was proud of the religious freedom of his village where Christians and Muslims lived happily side by side and where all villagers were welcomed to benefit from the services that an agency like HVC brought to them.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Saturday in Kagoro

The sound of my lavatory cistern filling woke me up bright and early and caused me to leap out of bed, buckets at the ready to make the most of running water. In the last week or so, our usually reliable water supply (always in the mornings and evenings, at least) has become a little more erratic which makes us nervous. Some neighbours have no water for days so that queues build up quickly at the standpipes outside our house and in the next compound. We hear rumours that big water trucks are coming and taking our water to Kafanchan...

So started a typical Saturday in Kagoro – particularly well given Sabine and Markus’s generous leaving party in Gidan Waya the previous night.. Maybe one day I will upload the video of me reciting the whole of Rappers’ Delight.. Perhaps one day...

NB don't try double-clicking the image - it's only a still....

Anyway – back to Saturday.

Once the bucket-filling chore was over and done with, Laurie, Dori and I reclined in the deck chairs on our ‘patio’ in the relative cool with our cups of tea and coffee and prepared for the day ahead which promised Kagoro market shopping with Mallama Victoria (our Hausa teacher) followed by a master class in preparing yam porridge.

Victoria was due around 10:00 so we bathed and prepared for her (always prompt) arrival. Laurie stayed home to clean up the backyard (a.k.a. entertaining the local kids) whilst Dori and I made our way to the market.

Laurie clears and burns the trash before the kids, animals and wind can get to it and distribute it round the yard once again.

Dori and I set off towards the market, greeting everyone we meet and ‘snapping’ anyone that asks.

Our young friend Mary practices braiding on the porch of the not yet open hairdresser across the road from the Pink House (left)

Dori and I try to work out if we know these particular local kids? (below)
Dori tries (unsuccessfully) to get me to throw myself in front of the lorries taking our scarce water to Kafanchan

We arrived at the market relatively early when the buying and selling between wholesalers and retailers was still underway, and vegetables were being assembled for display (right).

We pass our good friend Linda (below) who sells pepe (chilli). We buy the chickens for the grill from her husband.

Whilst Dori and I are accomplished Kagoro market shoppers (negotiaters), Victoria knew what was on her list so we left her to the negotiations:

Victoria buys frozen fish, red palm oil in a ‘leather’ (plastic bag) and yams, which along with pepe, spinach, tomatoes, onions and the ubiquitous Maggi were the ingredients for our lovely dinner.

On the way out we pass Jumai, one of Fantsuam's microfinance clients from Zankan

We returned to rescue Laurie from ‘children of the corn’ who were surrounding her in the front yard, and Victoria and her sous-chefs Laurie and Dori started the chopping and boiling. I can’t give you the exact instructions – you know what they say about too many cooks.... I know the fish went in head, tail and all and that the palm oil had to be really smoking hot before you started cooking with it.. I squeezed fruit for fresh lemon juice and gave moral support....

Once all the ingredients were in the pot we took a short break to have a mineral and play ‘Bowling for Nuns’ (as Ronseal says: 'does what it says on the tin'). Having established on round two that there is quite a significant slope to our sitting room floor, I began to get into my stride and swept the floor with four strikes and some odd numbers, with Victoria coming in second.

Laurie and Dori tried to convince us that they were just ‘hustling’ and that money would be involved next time.. Vicki and I were not convinced. The girls then put it down to the fact that, as Catholics, they found it very difficult to knock down any nuns. We’ll see.... Unfortunately the four of us were so engrossed in the competition that we forgot to take any snaps – but I’ll put some in next time we play. I’ll also let you know if the results change.

Then it was time to chow down on our delicious fare which was very tasty although we could have done without the fish bones/head/tail.. I think we’ll be leaving those out next time.

After lunch/dinner we were so full we needed to relax, bathe and take some short siestas following which it was back to the chores: I was doing some video editing (more of that later) whilst the others pan-baked groundnuts prior to individually peeling them. A bottle of peeled peanuts costs 250 naira at Evans, our local Kafanchan ‘supermarket’. However we can buy one mudu’s worth at the market and fill over two bottles for 180 naira. We haven’t factored in the labour cost of individually peeling... yet.

We all thought we deserved a beer after that hectic activity so a quick trip to Jeffrey’s yielded three almost-cool Stars (it was a busy night at the bar) which we consumed, once again on our patio. Shortly after we spotted our good neighbour Mrs Aka’ahs in the adjacent compound and went over to greet her. We discovered that our neighbour and her husband were brothers. We never cease to be amazed at how everyone is related to someone else in Kagoro (and still all so healthy!).

OK - so the picture's from Christmas - I don't usually dress up for a drink in the back yard...

As the full moon rose over the mountain, we contemplated our peaceful night and retired before the children struck up their rendition of the Nigerian National Anthem: full moons mean a bright night which (all over the State) is an opportunity for the children to play and sing.

Arise O compatriots – Nigeria’s call obey!
Sunday gets better: cleaning the stone candles on the water filter, jogging and going to work – all before 09:30. On second thoughts let’s leave the Sunday blog for a more interesting Sunday. Abuja next weekend – who knows?