Fun and Revelations in West Africa—Part II

After visiting Lagos, Nigeria, it was time to continue my trip in Nigeria.  My next destination was north to Ibadan.  I tried to hitchhike there.   A young man gave me a ride to Shagamu, a town about forty-two miles from Lagos.  There, I joined a Volkswagen transport that carried me into Ibadan.  Soon after I arrived, it started to rain.  I managed to get to the train station where I was able to get some schedule and rate information.   Then a young Nigerian offered me a ride and took me all the way to the Peace Corps hostel.  He even wanted very much to give me a tour of the University of Ibadan.  Unfortunately, he was only available in the afternoon after 4:00 p.m.  I could see he was very sorry I wanted to visit the campus in the morning.

Ibadan, the capital of the Western Region, had an estimated population of nearly 700,000 in 1966 and has grown to more than 3.5 million today.  Historically, it developed into one of the more recent Yoruba kingdoms.  It grew into the intellectual center of Nigeria with help from the University of Ibadan.  When I visited the university, I saw a modern campus with modern architecture and beautiful lawns and trees.  I did not sense a crowded or cluttered atmosphere.  The religious aspect of the university was impressive to me.  They had the Chapel of the Resurrection (Anglican, i.e. Church of England), a Roman Catholic Church, plus an Islamic Mosque with a domed roof with a pulpit (if that is the proper word for it) and a wooden backdrop as the only furnishings.  The Anglican chapel was modern and simply designed as opposed to ostentatious.  The Catholic Church building was simple with a pretty wall behind the altar.  Also on campus, I saw the faculty building, Kuti (residence) Hall, and the bookstore.


The bookstore contained numerous good books, both paperback and hardbound.  I observed several good American history books in its collection such as Arthur S. Link’s Woodrow Wilson, William Leuchtenburg’s Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, Basil Rauch’s History of the New Deal, Frederick Jackson Turner’s The Frontier in American History, Vernon Parrington’s series on American thought, and Theodore H. White’s The Making of a President, 1960.  This interested me because as a history major, I read both Link’s and Leuchtenburg’s books for my history classes at Cal.  I also noticed another book by Krech, my psychology professor at Cal.   Since I was in the bookstore, I took advantage of the opportunity and bought three books and had them sent to my address in the Ivory Coast.  The books were The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria by Victor C. Uchendu, Art of the World:  Africa by Elsy Leuzinger, and The Yoruba-speaking peoples of southwestern Nigeria by Daryll Forde.

Afterwards, I toured a very small university museum, but I discovered some interesting revelations.  Twins were highly prized among the Yoruba.  As a result, they received special protection and care.  Whatever disease or calamity befell one affected the other one, in their eyes.  Another startling fact involved the decline of traditional art.  Because of the increasing influence of Islam and Christianity, the chiefs and important people in the village lost respect for eres (images).  Consequently, the skilled wood carvers became carpenters and reaped a double reward.  While the newly turned carpenters earned more money, they also gained more respect in their communities.  Thus, carving became a “losing” art.

After leaving the campus, I toured more of Ibadan and finally the market place.  One thing that struck me the most when I visited  the market place.  In the Ivory Coast, I ate snails  both in the French style and in the Ivorian style.  In Ibadan, I was shocked to see snails that were huge, as big as a softball in baseball or larger.  That stunned me.  I didn’t realize that they grew that big.

Following a late lunch, I boarded a train for Kaduna in Northern Nigeria and departed  about 5:40 p.m.  The train arrived in Kaduna about 12:35 p.m., the next day, Thursday, July 14.  It was a pretty long but pleasant train ride with only about six or seven stops along the way which allowed me to get some sleep.  The dinner and breakfast were small, but balanced and adequate.  The Peace Corps hostel was a beautiful, modern place.

Founded by Lord Lugard as a pleasant place for a Northern capital, Kaduna offered the tourist a modern location instead of the traditional points of interest.  Public buildings reflected a modern architectural style.  After renting a bicycle for a couple of hours, I rode around the city that afternoon.  The House of Chiefs, in Islamic style, seated the northern regional government, including the parliament.  The Sultan of Sokota (a nearby large city) built the Lugard Memorial Council Chamber in 1947 and decorated it with a lawn, trees, and two cannons.  Lugard Hall in modern architecture was located on the diametrical opposite side of the Coronation Crescent.  The high court was responsible for handling the appeals from people, but it was subject to appeals to the Nigerian Supreme Court.  While I was glad to see Kaduna, I was eager to go to Kano, north of Kaduna.

On Friday, July 15, I made a serious mistake.  I failed to follow the advice of the steward in the Peace Corps hostel.   That meant I had to wait for four hours after 9:00 a.m. for a bus to go straight to Kano.  Of course, even that bus stopped numerous times along the way.  I took advantage of the stops to take pictures.  After all that, I finally arrived in Kano about 6:30 p.m.  At that point, the only thing I saw were huge pyramids of groundnuts and the ancient city wall.

Kano was the famous city of mud that served as the historic center of the trans-Saharian trade.  As I traveled further and further north, up through Kaduna to Kano, I noticed the striking Islamic influence along the way:  white gowns and hats, domed roofs, spired corners on the roofs, and walls around the cities and towns.  It surprised me to see donkeys serving as an important means of transportation alongside of the twentieth century bicycles, motorcycles, and cars.  It occurred to me that, besides the human, the donkey has proven to be about the most reliable means of transportation for at least 2,000 years.

Like many northern cities, Kano had three sections:  the Old City, the Sabon Gari (i.e. the “New” City for the Europeans and other “strangers”), and the Nassarawa section that housed the government and commercial elite.  The tourist attractions in the Old City were the market, mosque, and dye pits.  To reach the markets, visitors usually entered either of two gates.  Those gates were Kofar Waombai and Kofar Mata, two of the twelve gates in the old city wall.

At the dye pits, it was easy to see various people dip their cloths into the blue dye pits.  Over-looking the dye pits stood the mosque, the largest mosque in West Africa.  A dash was required to enter the mosque.  Everywhere you go, people seemed to know only one word—dash.  They all appeared to beg for money, a dash.  I hated this practice and their frequent use of “master.”  It made me think of colonial times.

While I wandered around the market, I found and bought sixteen yards of a blue flowery-designed material for six pounds to make a full Nigerian garment called a Riga.  It was enough material to make me the gown, jumper, and pants.  I also purchased a number of souvenirs, including calabashes, Kano jacket, and hat. I found these Nigerians difficult to bargain with, probably because I was more in a hurry than I normally was in the Ivory Coast. For the same brocade material in the Sabon Gari (Igbo) market, they refused to accept less than eight pounds.  So I was happy that I bought the material where I did.  I asked them to make my Riga as quickly as possible because I needed to leave Kano in a couple of days.  They appeared willing to make it as quickly as they could.

Sunday morning, I happened to meet Sue, an English girl who had just completed her ten-month service as an international service volunteer, whatever that was.  We got along and easily agreed on where to go.  First, we passed by the ruins of the Sabon Gari market that had been destroyed two weeks earlier by the Kano riots that were reported in the newspapers and on the radio.  Having read about these riots, I felt leery about going to Kano but was so intrigued by the place that I couldn’t resist going or at least making the attempt.  In those riots, the local Hausas attacked the Igbos living in several northern cities such as Kano, Katsina, and Sokota.  In the Kano “massacres,” journalists reported the Hausas murdered several hundred Igbos and burned some buildings.  When I talked to people, it revealed a possible reason.  After the new Nigerian military government announced the reorganization of the nation into a federation, fearing domination by the minority but increasingly powerful (especially economically) Igbos, the Hausas revolted to preserve their integrity and dominance.  Hundreds and even thousands of Igbos fled south to escape the wrath of the Hausas.  When I saw the physical ruins, I only saw the affected outer fringes of the Sabon Gari.

Sue and I continued to the cattle and camel market.  It was a tremendous disappointment to me because it only had four camels.  I had expected more camels.  Nevertheless, I photographed them.  I wasn’t going to let that deter me from capturing a memory.  We continued on to the groundnut pyramids. It had a fantastic view of numerous rows of groundnuts stacked in high pyramids with a polyethylene covering to protect them during the rains.

From this point, Sue and I decided to cycle out to the NASA Tracking Station that was situated about five miles away.  At the site, we fortunately found the director who most willingly and politely toured with us around  the telemetry and control building.  This Kano station ranked in secondary importance since no astronauts were present during manned space flights.  Interestingly, on the day of our visit, Gemini 10 was scheduled to be launched, which made our visit to the NASA station timely.  This station had three purposes.  First, it provided the last link in telephone communications between astronauts and Goddard Space Center in Washington, D.C.  Second, it watched the satellite and manned flight patterns.  Finally, it could correct any difficulties that might develop with its array of computers, oscilloscopes, and other apparatuses.  This station had two receiving antennae for receiving data on Gemini missions and one sending antenna for transmitting messages to the space capsule.  It also had several other antennae to track scientific satellites launched by the United States.

As we cycled back to town, the director caught up with us in a jeep and gave us a lift into town.  That was highly welcome relief from the blistering hot sun.  The ensuing conversation proved very interesting.  He complained the difficulties posed by the Nigerian government and how the government was failing to honor its commitment (He didn’t explain that further).  His frustration at what he considered being inefficiency and lack of sincerity was understandable.  It appeared from his comments that scientists expect everything to operate quickly, efficiently, and with no deviations.  My impression was that it was unfortunate that he refused to consider the fact that he worked in a different culture with all its different ramifications, but I could sympathize with him.

Leaving Sue, I was able to go back to the marketplace and pick up my completed Riga.  I was so impatient that I couldn’t wait any longer without finding out if it was ready.  Then I went to the Central Hotel, where I found some more souvenirs, including ebony-carved heads and two Fulani knives.  [Note: The Fulani knives would take on some significance a week or so later.

After this, I went back to the Old City to see the Emir’s Palace.  A high eight-foot mud wall surrounded the palace that made it look exceedingly forbidding.  At the entrance, guards denied me entrance even to enter the forecourt.  So I had to content myself with taking a picture  looking in.  According to some people at a coke concession stand, within the previous several years, the government ousted the emir for corrupt practices.  In his place, the government installed his brother as the new emir.  With amazing accuracy, I found my way to the Old City Market, looked for some hats, found them, and discovered a direct way out of the market and from the walled city.  The reason I went there was to find a blue hat to match my Riga because one of the Peace Corps stewards informed me that my white hat with blue designs did not match well with it.  When the steward saw my new blue hat, he assured me that people would call me Allah haji, which he said meant “chief.”  Of course, that pleased me even if it was an exaggeration.

On Monday, July 18, since I arrived back in Kaduna about 6:00 p.m., it was too late to catch the train on my way south to Enugu, the big city in the east.  I had to wait until the next day before I could catch another train.  In the morning of the next day, I saw some important figure in a long procession sitting in a green, late-model Pontiac with guards on motorcycles completely encircling his car.  It could have been a trial run for Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, the new supreme commander of the Nigerian government.  He was scheduled to visit Kaduna soon on his national tour. 

Nevertheless, it was about 4:00 p.m. before I boarded the train for Enugu in Southeastern Nigeria.  It was a long trip, and I arrived about 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 20, 1966.  Having two delicious hamburgers at Enugu’s Presidential Hotel highlighted my day.  Later, I decided to go to the movies and saw Quo Vadis with Robert Taylor, Peter Ustinov, and Deborah Kerr.  It was such a moving story that it made me want to read the book.

From Enugu, I traveled by Peugeot taxis about 400 miles back to Lagos, leaving at about 9:00 a.m. and arriving at nearly 6:30 p.m.  The road was winding, but paved the entire way.  The taxi driver drove fast, as I recall, even upwards of eighty miles per hour.  And people say I drive fast!  No comparison!  I felt uncomfortable on the unusually hard seats.  Friday, I accomplished nothing doe to the day-long rain.  In the evening, I accompanied some other PCVs to the airport to wait for our charter plane to Nairobi.

Following an hour’s delay after our scheduled departure time, our flight departed to our adventure in East Africa.  More about our fun and gripping adventures in my nest blog.