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African Journal #2: Home Sweet Home, Birnin-Kebbi

Posted Dec 12 2008 4:27pm

March 22, 2008

Second Week In Birnin Kebbi

Sanu, friends!

What an absolutely crazy week I had! Where do I start????

Last weekend, Erin, Zach and I traveled to Argungu, a small fishing village half an hour east of Birnin Kebbi in the principal’s car and endured the hot desert heat to attend the annual world-famous Kebbi State Fishing Festival. I had looked this up on the internet before I came to Nigeria, and seems the fishing festival attracted more than 500,000 visitors every year with some radical celebrations that got recognized in the National Geographic, media outlets, and its reputation was said to be extraordinary.
Indeed it was! On Friday, we went to the Processional Ceremony and got the luxury of sitting in a sheltered seating area in a row behind the emirs, wazhiris and the governors of Kebbi State. Their headresses and clothes were so exquisite, and they emitted very strong influence and respect towards the other distinguished visitors. In the rows behind us, we saw what was mainly men, not women, and a few speckles of Bature (white) people who came from all parts of the world to watch this legendary fishing sport event.
A large processional of camels from the desert, strong horses, and colorful costumed natives from different sectons of Kebbi State pranced around the track field, and all around the shelter were thousands of spectators (villagers). Billows of dust smoke continued to penerate the air, and often I found it difficult to breathe and had to clear out my air pipes. Yuck.
The next day, the big day, was just…. sectactular, extraordinary, inspiring…. I have never been so amazed at something like this before, and the best thing was - we got the best seats in the house!!! Erin, Zach and I got in the secured gate area quite so easily because we were foreign batures (more global recognition for Argungu, the better) and we were urprised to see so many Nigerian and worldwide media outlets (BBC, Nigerian National News, Lagos newspapers and National Geographic) strewn all over the grounds. We got seats in the nosebleed section which did not fare so well for me because I wanted to see up close the action we had so much heard about. Zach tried to talk to several event coordinators, trying to see if we could get seats in the front area but we were given the run around. There were a LOT of bature people sitting in front, we decided to go over the railing and sit right on the edge of the river bank!!!! In front of us was a journalist from Lagos and his staff, a cameraman, and one bature man. In Nigeria, time does not occur quickly or promptly, rather, it takes sooooo long to start anything… so the event, scheduled for 9am, started close to noon???? Dehydrated but excited, we saw thousands of fishermen lining up half a mile away across rice paddies with homemade fishing nets, special bowls to store fish. Their resolve was to run into the ice-cold muddy river and catch the BIGGEST fish and win the 1 Million Naira (dollar) and car prize. There was a weighing scale behind us, waiting for the biggest fish to come out of the Argungu river.
The men started running, and dust filled the air, it became a scene of madness! The gun hadn’t gone off, it was a flase start and despite the attempts of the local guards, the men kept on coming! The air was so thick of euphoria and desperation, as the fishermen started filling the 30-foot wide river almost instantly. Their bodies were strewn all over, with fishing nets dangerously tangled around their bodies and the ground began shaking with thunderous stomping from local villagers who came to watch the action from behind the fishermen. One by one, big fishes were thrust in the air, and the men’s faces looked around in jealousy and glee, hoping their fish would be the prize of the Argungu fishing village. In a camoe, one of the men hoisted upon a very large fish, which I’m assuming easilyy won the prize, crept up to the stairs leading to the weight scales. We stayed among the craziness for an hour under the hot sun, and decided to walk back to meet the principal. We had a man singing Hausa lead us to our car, for whatever reason that was for!!!!

On Monday, it was my first day at the Kebbi Dchool for the Handicapped, and boy, can I tell you it was rather overwhelming, exciting and eye opening?

The school has around 300 Deaf children, 50-something crippled and blind children, all split in different groups and into the Primary and Secondary levels. I met the vice Principal. Mustafa, and through our Principal. Umar, he introduced us to the schoolchildren in a 7 30am ceremony. The smiles on the children were so wide and beautiful, their eyes big with curiousity.
I met a Deaf Blind man, who SEEMS to have Usher’s. at the school. He was not much younger than me, and his tactile methods were so different than the method I use. I put my hand on the signing hand while they sign freely, while with the man the signers forced his hand to form the signs and clamped down his hands - I viewed him as a jailed bird wanting to be free. And I resolved to be the one to open the cage door and let him fly free.

The week went by quickly, with some things happening here and there, then on Friday we went to Sokoto, the nearest biggest city, 2 hours away for the day. I bought some beautiful fabrics to make a dress, and was the center of unwanted attention on the sde of the street with 200 children watching us all around, while we waited for our friend, Sadeet, to come pick us up, His car broke down on the way home but fortunately it wasn’t so far away from Sokoto, so we had to come back to the big city and wait for a tow truck and a saviour to come get us.. travelling during night is NOT recommended in Nigeria, but we took the roads anyway…… crazy.
Today we’re off to a military base, where sharia law does not apply, and finally have some alcohol to enjoy… and hopefully they have some good chop (food0.

My box is still missing and I am devastated. There was around 5,000 dollars’ worth of things in there, mostly from donors… many things I needed to survive up here. Most depressing especially, was the two photo books - one with my ORIGINAL childhood pictures - and the second with all of my friends’ pictures - is missing in action. I really wanted those books to remind me that I am not alone out in the desert, but to be reminded how far my life has come and how much my family and friends love me.

If you’d like to send a care package, please do… the address for mailing it is on the facebook group’s page.

I will have internet installed at my home pretty soon, so I’ll be able to update often! Yay!

It’s so nice to get supportive messages from you… please consider coming to visit!!! It’ll be a rich experience for you!

Tactile love and surely sweatin’ it out,
Coco xoxo

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