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.


Anonymous said...

Morning Cecil,
Jared here (still unable to log in but I have now become accustomed to the ways of life on your blog site).... :o)
So you are finally feeling like a local after 5 months (yesterday in fact). Fantastic!! My treat when you get back to London next year will be a trip to your favourite curry house in City Road....the good old Curry Leaf. I have not ventured that way for a couple of months but I am sure the boys in there will remember us both....oh and by the way - I'll be ordering you a Jalfrezi to see just how accustomed you are to spicy curries.....so keep chewing those pepe's!!! Oh and not to forget a good old margarita or two!! Seriously great to hear that you are fitting in exceptionally well....I never doubted you would for a minute. I hope Lizzy enjoys her trip down and I look forward to more photos in due course. I too look forward to taking William to see you in November should he definitely be persuaded that it is a fantastic idea. Take care. Much love.
Jared xxx

Cicely Nigeria said...

Can't wait for the jalfrezi and margarita at the Curry Leaf - that was exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote the blog!