My visit to Nigeria: A travelogue

I often wonder if going back to places one has lived in and loved might be an anticlimax.  But no, it was really good to see it all again. It was hard work travelling and staying in strange places, I realised I wasn’t 30 any more, but well worth the fare.

Initially Mike went for a planning conference and to do a master plan for land where 35 years ago we built a small restaurant and pottery in south Kaduna. New owners wanted some input and it combined well with the conference, possible future job possibilities and a reunite with Mike’s one time firm Max Lock Group Nigeria and the current directors who are still in Kaduna – Mike Theis, Saadu Dahiru, Sam Adenekan and Bill Gregory.

We flew into Abuja, the new modern capital, with six lane highways and tall office and state buildings. It is the diplomatic and government base for a thriving country. The modern Hilton hotel is buzzing with beautiful people! The biggest surprise was the great roads, well built and maintained, linking all the major towns. Even Maiduguri has a highway joining it in 6 hours with Kano. In our days it was a whole day trip with potholes and washed out riverbeds!

Everyone in town and country has at least two mobile phones and the newspapers are vibrant and scathing. Like many countries nowadays, they have a terrorist problem and there are plenty road checks. In the last years there have been some sad inter-tribal killings but locals say it might be politically supported. Youth unemployment does not help, a familiar problem for all of us.

We stayed at Jakaranda, now an Anglican Retreat, and ate in our restaurant. We borrowed wellington boots as it was rain season and walked the site, the dam, fadama and orchards and farmland. We ate fruit from the trees and looked at the grapes swelling and the passion fruits.

Saadu, who we knew from the old days, drove and looked after us during our trip and we met his wife, his daughter and one of his two sons – all have careers planned. On our trip up to the far north to Katsina, there are so many new roads that we had to keep asking the way. We stayed in an updated government guesthouse, ate suya, a type of open fired BBQ meat on sticks, in the evenings and met Abdu Usman’s whole family – his four wives and some of his 16 children. They are all studying: computers, business studies or midwifery and teaching.

Being in Katsina made me smile from ear to ear. 35-40 years ago I started a collection of locally made pots from three areas in Northern Nigeria. Hausa pots from around Katsina, Kanuri pots from Maiduguri and Nupe pots from around Bida. In UK I was asked to write a children’s schoolbook about these communities but soon after the Commonwealth Institute closed and my project went on hold. While looking after my parents and bringing the children up I planned to resurrect all my notes and slides and carry on.

Usman, also ex Max Lock, lent me his car and driver Lawal who also used to be with us and I made journeys into the villages. We went to Mani and onto a village where the men make the beautiful round tulu pots for fetching water from well or tap. With the rain season they don’t pot, it can get too damp to dry the pots before firing and they have to work in the fields. They showed us their tools and some in-use tulu that were well mended. For the rural households they are cheaper to buy than the plastic jerry cans, bowls and basins brought in from China.

Generally, town households prefer plastic and metal ware, although everyone says food cooked in pottery always tastes better! Low-fired large water holding pots act like fridges – the evaporating water cools. The potters make ablution vessels, incense burners, children’s toys, snack cookers, bridal pots and different pots for preparing all the various foods. All the villages have weekly markets and in Jibiya there is a Sunday market where thousands of pots used to be made and exported north into Niger Republic. I found some men making large water flasks for firing the night before market day. I think that potting still counts as a vibrant livelihood for the rural households, but things are changing. Ajiwa has a large dam and one evening we went for a walk along the bund and I remembered bringing my father here 40 years ago.

We went up to Daura and out to Maiadua, which had a market next day. The potters had not brought in their pots, we had little time to wait but ate fresh hot bean cakes and left for Katsina before it got dark. Early next day Chiranchi market was bustling but again, we had to get to Kaduna. Jakaranda pottery is still working but with only one potter and we bought a large flower vase with beautiful glazes that now has flowers on the kitchen table. I nursed it in my lap on the BA flight back home!

Nigeria has many cultural attractions, beautiful untouched landscapes in the north and east and dynamic human populations with traditions and clothes that sparkle and jostle in lively markets and old urban city centres. It doesn’t have a wildlife tourist industry because of the conflicting needs between a large human population and wild animals and birds. And so I am back in Bath, I’ve got all my old notes out, started refreshing my Hausa language, and will enjoy writing about Nigeria and its pots and people again.

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