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African Journal #5: The Curse of Sokoto

Posted Dec 12 2008 4:32pm

April 8, 2008

Go To Sokoto, Toto

What a long, adventurous weekend that came and went like a summer desert wind. It comes so suddenly, a pleasure to have during the evenings to bring the heat down, but the wind is also short-lived and sometimes messy from sandstorms. The similarities between the summer winds here out in the Sahara and my weekend sounded fitting.
On Friday, Liz left to go back to Abuja on the scorching roads to get to the daily grind at VSO, as I was recuperating from a dislocated shoulder. Saturday’s hazy afternoon had some helpings of friendship from my neighbours, who came to visit while Zach hit the keyboards at an internet café. It was a bit of a struggle to try to communicate with my watchman, who lies on his Islamic mat outside my door during the days and sleeps in the garage with the doors open. He speaks very little English, he taught me some of his native tongue, the language of North Nigeria, Hausa. Right now, I proudly say 10 things in Hausa and aim for private lessons. I currently sign/read/write seven languages, and desire to add more to that list. Perhaps self-taught Japanese, Hausa, Spanish and improved French. Their native signs while I’m at it. After all, I have two years to kill time.

Sunday came, Zach and I were up so late, because it was a Sunday and laziness set in. We ate a great breakfast, packed and closed the house up for an out of town journey to the next state’s capital: the city of Sokoto, Sokoto State. Kebbi State separated from Sokoto in 1991 and created its own Islamic sharia state and proclaimed Birnin-Kebbi as its new capital.
My journey into Sokoto was eventful. Zach and I trudged with our bags to a motor park, 5 minutes walk from my home and paid 750 N ($6 USD) for a seat in a minivan and waited one hour for it to fill its capacity (13 passengers with one driver) and we were off to Sokoto by 3pm. Into town, we met up with Anup and Amit, a couple who emigrated to Nigeria from India last year after their wedding. We met them through Tushar, another émigré from India whom I have come to respect and befriend when I arrived in Birnin Kebbi. Anup sells generators for earn-keep while Amit is a housewife minding their own apartment in the wholesale area of Sokoto. I had come to Sokoto to buy a generator for the house which VSO donated funds for; and to visit the local Deaf/Special School where a VSO buddy is headmistress of.
Last time we were in this hustle and bustle of this city populated with 100,000 Northerners, we experienced some car trouble on the highway out of Sokoto and had to endure night transportation which was, to say, a stomach-churning one. Never one I wanted to repeat. So, coming to Sokoto prompted me to hope for the best, that this trip would end better than last time.
Amit and Anup were great hosts, we had quiet conversations in which Zach interpreted, and the couple showed us CDs of their arranged marriage, which took place the year before. Anup’s parents found Amit and made an agreement between families for them to marry, and they first laid eyes on each other when Amit walked down the aisle. Never have I in my life witnessed an arranged marriage take place so this was a pleasure to watch but a long view. The wedding was so elaborate, with golden headdress, overflowing satin fabrics off their bodies and excessive dancing into the break of dawn!
Monday morning, Zach and I made our way to the A,A, Jasi Special School in central Sokoto and met up with Beverly, a rambunctious, wild, cheerful over-the-hill woman that worked for the school through VSO. She was appointed headmistress her first day of school, the position gave her the honor of being assistant vice principal for the school. Beverly has told me so many stories of her volunteer stints in Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania and how she came to live with the Maasai Tribe in Tanzania. During tea, we agreed that I would try to find funding for myself, an intervenor and Bev to travel to Nairobi, Kenya where we would visit a couple of our Peace Corps friends then take the 4-hour journey by bus across the Tanzanian border and live with the Maasai for two weeks. We agreed this would happen in 2009 during our vacations from school.
The tour of the school was good, the principal introduced me to several classes with what he called: mentally retarded, visually impaired, hearing impaired and the cripples. Politically correct I know. The buildings were new. I gave an impromptu speech to 30-40 teachers in the auditorium about my life as a Deaf Blind person and why Nigeria needs to develop curriculums for all schools for the Deaf to provide good education to DeafBlind children.
We all went to the market afterwards where I bought an element for boiling filtered water, fabric for Zach’s shirt, stabilizers for the generator and several ex-pat goodies.
We were set to leave Sokoto in the school van when dawn set, and the driver drove a while out of Sokoto before he spoke in broken English: No gas. He had forgotten to fill up before we left Sokoto! As night set in, his driving became more erratic, and he kept missing oncoming traffic. Bev was fretting and barking orders in the front seat, Zach to my right all calm, all cool while I was gripping my pillow and screaming profanities and swear words at every jolt of the vehicle. It turns out that the driver cannot see well at night and I ordered the driver to go back to Sokoto. I wasn’t about to risk my life or arrive home after 2 hours on Hell Highway and lose my hair while at it.
We went to Bev’s small quarters at the school and slept in the H-O-T room – the electricity went out and Bev wasn’t in the mood to go turn it back on after a 20 minute electricity hiatus so Zach and I were sweating like PIGS and Bev was sleeping soundly. I could not sleep, I felt sick and suffocated, so I went outside for fresh air. It was much cooler outside??? I went inside, not wanting to wake them up and suffered some more water loss from my sweat-soaked experience.

In the morning, Bev, Zach and I rode in the same van with the same driver??? He claimed he could see better in the daytime but I was unsure. He went to a gas station and there were over 750 cars in line!!!! I’m not kidding or hallucinating. Fuel supply is so low here in Nigeria so when the gas tanks come to the gas station, cars start lining up at 4am and the gas is supplied at 10-11am. We got to the end of the loooooong line at 8am – we were sure as hell not willing to wait until 11am then wait another 4 hours for gas. So we bought some black-market gas and set off. Slept most of the way while Zach listened to two hours of loud Original Beverly the Aussie stories. Yup, she’s an firecracker Outbacker, from Down Under.

I am home safe and sound. While Zach and I were busy hosting Bev before she left back to Sokoto, the electricity came on! We thought: Nap time with the AC blaring on. But after lunch, it went out again. Oy vey. Generator up soon so more electricity soon!

I’m off to rest in my dark, less-hot room and tend to my sore shoulder and hope for electricity soon so I can post this entry up on the Internet.

Every time, it seems, when we try to leave Sokoto, it holds us back with a tight leash as if it doesn’t want us to leave. But I desire to be back home, in Birnin-Kebbi, where it is so much more quieter and safer – and where I’m familiar. The Curse of Sokoto has let me go once again, but I’m afraid it might come back with a vengeance if I dare to tread then try to depart again. I have come to worry for Bev, as there is so much more to this Curse of Sokoto. Perhaps I shall go out in the Saharan bush right out of town and seek out a shaman, a witch doctor of the desert and ward off the Curse of Sokoto for the safety and calm for all of us who feel the burden of it.

Tactile love

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