Monday, 25 May 2009

Two weddings, two storms and a nightclub

This Easter weekend my sisters from the Pink House travelled to Kaduna. I remained in Kafanchan preserving my finances for the big ‘travel’ next week when my friend Lizzy arrives from London for her Nigerian adventure! Laurie and Dori very much enjoyed their weekend, that started with the six hour train journey from Kafanchan (public transport by vehicle takes two hours, but the First Class train ticket was still N20 (10p) cheaper), however I also had an unexpectedly busy weekend at home with two weddings planned.
On Friday morning I caught a lift into town with Laurie and Dori and took the opportunity to use the day to catch up on my blog at the Foundation. So later in the day, when a couple of colleagues from work suggested a cold beer by another part of Kagoro mountain that I have as yet undiscovered, I accepted quickly.

A small group of us walked down the steep path (with a crate of beers and stouts) from behind the Chief’s Palace to a wonderful little pool where we kept the full bottles cool and relaxed, hoping that the moon would come up to light up the treacherous path back up. Luckily, no casualties were recorded!

The steep path to the tranquil pool, and a view of the small valley at the bottom... in the dry season

We stopped by at Auntie Pam’s restaurant at the nearby Palm Garden hotel for some rice and stew before the Kafanchan party headed back.

Having got my wedding dates wrong, I woke on Saturday with a full, and empty day before me which started at 7am by hand-washing six sets of the curtains in our main room and making sure all the water buckets were filled.

Once those chores were out of the way, I made a quick trip to Kagoro’s Saturday market before visiting our neighbour Mrs Aka’ahs to help her outline the strategic plan for her local NGO which aims to motivate and empower local youths to fulfil their potential, rather than wallowing in what could be considered to be a somewhat hopeless cycle of poverty and disadvantage.
Returning home after spending a delightful afternoon with Mrs Aka’ahs and her husband, I wrote down my recommendations whilst they were still fresh in my head and finished off the evening with ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ - which is a tremendous film although the story-line is at times slightly implausible.

So approached Sunday. I had arranged to visit one of Fantsuam’s field officers in her local village Zakwa at 13:00 to be followed by a wedding, close by in Garaje, of the son of the senior brother of our friend Pele who is developing the nearby Fantsuam Resort.

I spent the morning with another regular chore - scrubbing the six stone candles which filter our boiled water, ready for drinking. If you saw the sludge that congeals on the porous stone candles, you would understand why we bother with the filtering. I left to pick up transport to Kafanchan, where I had instructions to stop at ‘The White House’ (a local watering hole) where my colleague Sarah would collect me to trek to her village.

After a 20 minute walk in the blistering sun a friend of Sarah’s passed on an okada and offered to take us the remaining 500m which, given the steadily building heat, we were happy to accept and we soon dropped off at a simple compound where we were very warmly greeted by all the neighbours, Sarah’s six children and her dog Hina, who had escaped the barbecue, unlike its rigid brother that I saw roasting on one piece over an open fire in a neighbouring compound. I was offered a wonderful lunch of rice, beans and tomato stew complemented by some roasted ‘pig meat’ – the first I had eaten since being in Nigeria – and jolly good it tasted too.

Sarah and her husband, Michael Thomas; children in the Michael’s compound,

Hina – the one that got away, the five junior Michael children (L – R Comfort, Salvation, Jothan, Mordecai and Patience).

With the very generous lunch out of the way (I managed to eat about ¼ of the bowl they had provided for me) Sarah took me to visit her mother-in-law in a neighbouring compound. The heat inside her own small house had become oppressive and as we stepped outside the skies clouded over and shortly after greeting the aged kaka (grandmother) under the compound’s shady mango tree, the heavens opened and Sarah, her mother-in-law, I, and 10 small children crowded into the kaka’s tiny mud room to escape what appeared to be the closest I have come to a hurricane.

With mud floors, simple shutters and a plastic bag across the window, and no ceiling, the sound of the driving rain on the tin roof was deafening. I was just hoping the roof was not actually going to fly-off which had been the fate of many of the houses in the neighbouring village in the previous storm.

Child runs into the room for shelter from the storm whilst Sarah and her mother in law are already sheltering in the small dark room, being deafened by the rain

A self-taken picture (no-one else in the room knew how to handle a camera) capturing just a few of the children that were squeezed into the tiny room with us

As the wind blew the rain through all available crevices, the kaka placed a large plank of wood against the door to keep it shut and the 13 of us huddled on the single chair, her unmade bed, and a rickety wooden bench along the wall. The time was approaching for me to leave for my 3pm wedding so, as the storm lulled, Sarah and I said our goodbyes only to be turned back three steps later by another onset of rain. We were luckier 10 minutes later and we made our way back across the sodden fields with piles of fallen mangoes and other tree debris brought down by the storm littering our path.

Our single-shoed hostess greets us all farewell as the storm subsides

When we returned to Sarah’s house, her friend the okada driver was there again to take me to my next appointment – the wedding about 1 mile away in Garaje. The rain had made me about an hour late however it appeared that nuptial proceedings generally had been delayed and not long after I arrived and was offered a plastic chair, I was ushered across the compound to a sofa next to Pele who had invited me, one chair away from the bride and groom, whom I had never met before.

Such can be the attraction of a bature, particularly one that has arrived with one of the principal guests, however this reverence does not preclude the MCs from announcing that we would be leading the next (traditional) dance. I was delighted that my performance elicited not only cheers from the crowd but contributions of at least N500-worth of N20 notes stuck to my forehead (before quickly descending to the ground), the traditional way of recognising performances at events as well as contributing to the cause, in this case the married couple.

Although the compound had taken quite a serious battering in the preceding storm (the marquees erected earlier had been destroyed and taken down) action was lively and it wasn’t long before the 25 litre jerry can of palm wine arrived (or the bottles of Star for the bature, thankfully).

Taken from my seat on the sofa to the right of the couple I was in prime position to see all the proceedings including the guests...

The couple's first dance (to which guests are invited to spray the couple with naira), and the wedding cake on its special stand: the cake is iontroduced by the cake maker who explained that the blue colour was for Chelsea... I hope she agreed that first with the couple!

As it began to rain again, Pele took a small party back to his new venture, the Fantsuam Resort, built on a small hill overlooking the River Wonderful waterfalls. Although we arrived during darkness (and it was Pele’s arrival that prompted the ‘on-ing of the gen’) here are a couple of dy time shots of the resort during dry season.

After a couple of hours enjoying cold beer and grilled fish, with Pele and friends, he announced that he wanted to dance and took us to a location I could not have believe existed in Kafanchan. About 50 metres passed the NEPA roundabout which we pass every day, we turned down a bumpy dirt and arrived at a large steel gate in a high wall. A car in front of us was trying to enter but was turning back due to lack of parking space so we parked the car outside and went into the modern hotel compound with a spacious covered bar on one side and a dance hall on the other from which emerged thudding Naija beats.

However all of the party (two other friends of Pele’s also from Kagoro) were beginning to tire and and not long afterwards we all piled into Pele’s car for the trip back to Kagoro, and welcome rest.

And so the relentless social whirl continued on Monday, for I had yet another wedding to attend. My room-mates have dubbed me the professional wedding guest (or crasher - depending on whether knowing either of the happy couple is required to qualify you as a guest). I think I’ve notched up five so far.

Although it may be unbelievable to some who have attended regular (in particular) Nigerian weddings though a sense of duty rather than pleasure, I actually enjoy these celebrations, particularly where the happy couple really are really happy! Nigerian weddings are all about singing and dancing and a far better opportunity to express joy and happiness of both the couple, and their guests than most I have attended elsewhere.

Monday’s wedding was of a family member of our guard Yashen and I made my way down to Christ the King Catholic church, just in time for the marriage ceremony.

The band lead the bride and groom and the bridal party, dancing down the aisle.

The congregation joins in with the dancing

Once the service is over, the wedding party dances into the formal reception outside the church with more dancing as well as the traditional greetings, cake ceremony and other formal protocols.

As my host Yashen was busy with ushering duties, I had to make my own way to the reception and though not offered a place on the sofas on this occasion, I was quickly given a seat next to family of the groom who had travelled from Kaduna.

I attempted to leave half way through the proceedings as I had forgotten to bring any water with me and my mouth was parched. Although drinks (usually minerals) are served, this is left to the end of the occasion as the huge majority of the guests (and this goes for any event, be it wedding, send-forth, chief’s turbanning, or cultural festival) just pack up and go once the refreshments are served. Forget about what’s on the programme or who’s speaking – they will just up and leave.

I went to find Yashen for his invitation however he persuaded me to stay, luring me with food and drink. And I (as an almost native Nigerian) could of course not refuse! The ceremony itself continued for about another 30 minutes during which the atmosphere once again started heating up like an oven and the skies quickly blackened.
Just in time Yashen found me and escorted me to a house across the road where other women had met, again just as the storm broke. And once again we sat inside a (larger than last time) mud room, with a tin roof, this time with a group of 15-20 women, jollof rice and (in my case only) a few pieces of meat and a bottle of cold Star. Worth the wait!

By the time I had made it back to the Pink House – in need of a well earned rest and perhaps even another holiday – the girls were back from their adventure to Kaduna. A trip that I hope to be making before too long.


Anonymous said...

Hi Cecil,
It sounds like you had a wonderful weekend of weddings as the professional party baturai (guest). I can just imagine all the wonderful singing and dancing etc. I wish I had seen you perform Wrapper's Delight though at the wedding - that woudl have been fun to watch. I am guessing however that you danced in another way.
The cold Star Beer sounds divine and that steep walk up and down looks like fun.
Hmmn...maybe William, Tomek and I can come and stay at Pele's resort - that looks really nice. What are his rates?
Bye for now.
Jared xxx

geo said...

It is so nice to read about kafanchan and your adventures there. I left kafanchan in 1991 and still remember the NEPA roundabout with the railway crossing. I worked at the general Hospital and would spend evenings at the railway club playing tennis and eating pepper soup. good luck . The most beautiful people in the world.