Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Vernon Mooers writes

chapter 7 (1)

Alex opened the motorcycle to over a hundred kilometres an hour on the straight endless highway, stretching like a tight ribbon toward the mountains. The schools had finally closed for April break and it was scorching, the middle of the hot season. He'd partied in Bama with Jeannie and her VSO friend Diedre from Gashua, at the two newly posted Americans' house-brothers, Cyril and Bill Davidson.

Cyril, Alex suspected was gay -- he'd danced with the boys at the Horizontal Hotel bar, though local males always did that, but his wife never joined him in Africa. Cyril'd said something about his friend getting free tickets all over the world. That crew was all heading for Cameroon by taxi. Alex had seen them off at the motorpark. Anyway, he'd felt like a fifth wheel and he had the motorcycle and wanted to see the north. He had no plans, just to head through the northern states, make a circle back to Kano and up along the railway tracks home. Ten days was a long time to be on the road, but he'd spent two in comfort with them in Bama.

Alex saw the highway sign pointing down toward the Yanguari Game Reserve. It crossed his mind to head there since everyone had talked about it. It was one of the places you had to go so he took the turn off and sped out of the gravel road into the Reserve. 

At the office, he rented accommodation, a tiny mud hut with a thatched roof, village style for the tourists, but they had cement floors and doors and taps and beds in them, for only fifteen naira a night. He parked the machine beside it, took his pack in and got out of the sun. There was no water in the faucet but it was cool inside and he brought in the small plastic jug, washed his face, and drank what was left.

In the evening he ate at the restaurant. An expat was travelling with the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, probably Yoruba. She had muscled thighs and arms, long hair in dread-locks and wore cut-off blue jean shorts. Life was not so bad here for some people. Alex went into the small museum in an adjacent building and drank juice on the patio, watching a family of baboons, down over the bank, their antics entertaining a small crowd of tourists.

He got up at daybreak, bought a ticket for one of the sight-seeing trucks and when the one-tons pulled in, Alex scrambled up over the side into one and managed to wedge into a place at the front overlooking the cab. He had been told you had to run for them if you wanted a good place on the sides to take pictures from. The truck bounced over the dirt roads, along a river where crocodiles lay like logs in the water, passing water buffalo, and came upon a herd of elephants.


They stopped the truck then. Alex became jittery, worried they'd charge the truck, so he rushed, snapping several quick photos in succession, just before they stampeded into the bush across the road.


Then there were wart-hogs, wild boar, ugly dangerous creatures, and rhinos in the swampy bog. Alex thought it strange to see all these animals in one area, like the old Africa, and it was good they had a large game reserve. There was too high a population for animals to survive outside and there was still some poaching going on the                     fringe, he was told.

They returned to base camp. Alex followed the signs down to the swimming place where a sulfur spring came out of the rocks. Trees canopied overhead like umbrellas, enclosing this bit of paradise. They'd built cement walls along the deepest part of the spring, so it was just like a swimming pool. Baboons kept their distance from the thirty or so people, over half expatriates, who had gathered there.

Alex was swimming upstream when he saw her on the cement ledge, giggling with her friends. He felt his hormones automatically signal the attraction. She had the most beautiful smile. The four girls were Asian. They got in the water and swam to a rock. They were having a good time and Alex talked with them, all teachers from Bauchi State. The one he liked, Lita, swam with him downstream until branches blocked the way and he became afraid of snakes there and so they swam back to the deep pool together. He took a picture of the girls, all sitting on the rock, and said he'd send it to them. When they went to go up the bank, to leave for Kano they said, Lita lingered, gathering her things. She did not want to go immediately, she said, but her sister was driving.

Alex knew he could get nowhere with her while they were in a group. The Filipinoa were like that. They were hard to separate.    


The Indians had chaperones, their brothers usually. The Filipinas, he'd been told by Zak who'd been in Maiduguri ten years now, gave 10 percent and wanted you to marry them. Alex threw caution to the wind. He'd been stuck in Ngami and he was in paradise, head over heels in love with this young Asian beauty.

Alex suggested he might see her in Kano, or even come to their town. She told him they were at the school there and wouldn't mind one of the pictures. She finally broke away from the magnet drawing them together.

Alex watched her catch up to her companions walking up the bank. He would check their town on the map and definitely travel there. He knew where she lived. Now, he had somewhere to go.

He waited a day. Then he drove three hundred kilometres to Lita's town in Bauchi State. He went straight to the school, which looked abandoned, and asked one staff member where the Filipinas lived. Alex swung into their driveway and knocked at to the house, where one middle-aged Filipina teacher, talking from the other side of the front barred glass door, informed him Lita and the others were not expected back from Kano yet.

He got back on the bike and drove on out of the school, got a room at "The One Great Shakespeare Hotel." He ate a peppered bowl of joloff rice and had to put up with loud music from cracked speakers all night. Girls worked the neon-lit dance floor, from which the rooms led off, but he declined. Alex did not feel very safe and was surprised the Honda was still outside in the morning.

On the horizon, Alex could make out the purplish hills where the highway would lead into Gongola State. A full day’s drive, more than four hundred kilometres, would put him into Mubi. Once, he had to stop while cattle were being driven across the highway. "Just like Nevada two hundred years ago," he thought.  The sound of the machine going flat out and the wind in his ears, were the only sounds he heard across the flat deserted landscape. By eleven o'clock, it was so hot he had to stop and let his tires cool down, find a smidgen of shade under a baobab tree.

It was past two o'clock by the time he finally reached Mubi, near the market. Flies sought the moisture in the corners of children's eyes.  People lounged in the shade of neem trees back of kiosks. In the heat of the afternoon, movement had been sapped from the town. He parked by a store and stood under an overhanging galvanized tin shade, thankful to get in off the deadly inferno of the barren road.

His face was hot, wind-burned, and his whole body felt degrees warmer than normal. He was burning up. He should have known better, should have sought some shade in the afternoon, even a bush or rock to keep out of the sun.

Alex stood outside the kiosk, repeatedly gulping packets of juice. His skin was hot, dehydrated, and the sun squelched his fluids. He had to keep pouring anything down, semi-cold cokes and juice which made his stomach churn but his body sucked the liquids in like a sponge. And it was better than drinking the water they sold. He didn't need dysentery to top it off. He'd looked down the well. It was nearly dry and murky. He had been on the road all day and it would definitely be very last time he ever travelled past noon.

A young man, who'd just purchased a tin of NIDO milk powder at the kiosk, struck up a conversation. He had gone to a Teacher's College where a Canadian had taught him. "Don't mind my people calling you Bature," he said. "You Canadians helped us out a lot." The man, Hussein, said he was now teaching in a primary school in a small village not far away and had come in to try to cash his voucher. "Kano State is in a bad way. Civil servants have not been paid in four months. Allah was with me today for I was able to get one month's salary advance from the Local Government. If you will drive me to my home on your machine, I will like to invite you to stay in my house tonight."

Alex agreed. He did not know where any Government Rest Houses were and the last night in that cheap hotel had been a nightmare. There had been no fan, just a mosquito net full of holes a plane could have flown through. Then he'd had to worry all night about the bike. And there'd been no toilet, just a hole in the floor. But what had he expected for ten naira? Hussein's offer sounded inviting.      

Hussein asked him to drop at the market while he bought maize and rice and some fresh greens and peppers which his family hadn't had since the end of rainy season.

Hussein's home was not far from the central mosque, past an outdoor cinema, beyond the market in a section of town comprised of mud-brick compounds and narrow lanes. He parked the Honda under a tree. It would be safe in this community.

All the children gathered while Hussein slaughtered a goat, repeating the sacred verses and bleeding it from the throat. His wives set to work preparing the stew of rice and various vegetables to form the peppery sauce, to simmering the meat for the next few hours. Hussein sliced some thin strips and sprinkled them with pepper and put them on sharpened sticks to charcoal-bake like shishkabob.

There was a festive mood in the compound that night. Hussein was called out of the greeting room at the entrance of the enclosed clay wall of the compound to welcome one of his neighbours. Then he'd send for one of his meat sticks and stand outside and share the delicacy, along with friendly conversation with the person. According to custom, males weren't allowed in the compound and we sat there on a mat. Adamu and Musa, his two sons, listened to Hussein's entire repertoire of Kanuri riddles and legends. One elderly man came and played a talking drum, beating it with a curved stick and his fingers. Up and down the street people walked or bicycled with firewood on their heads. Some stopped for a greeting. Several gathered on wooden tables with soap as things for sale were lit by bush lamps, Arabic songs rhythmically drifted from cassette decks. The street came alive like Champs d'Elysee in the cool of the night.

Vernon Mooers writes

chapter 7 (2)

The next morning, he was riding the machine bike like a dirt-bike up a washed out road into the hills. Hussein had told him about a bush tribe up there, the Daode, who had probably never seen a white man. "They just started to wear cloth a couple of years ago when they'd come down into the market here," Hussein had said and told him of the track past the town's water tower which led up into the mountains. "Not more than 10k in," he'd said. "They might hide from you."

He'd driven over an hour, once taken a fork on the trail but stayed right as Hussein had advised. There were truck tire tracks but he had met no one. He came to a clearing where it looked like a village had once been, but the tracks led on and he continued. He convinced himself he was on a National Geographic expedition. He would take photos, write an article. The idea drove him on without fear.

He kept climbing the high ground and spun around a turn in the trail past, around a large boulder and stopped. A village with two large avenues flanked by huts spread out before him nestled among the mountains. He shut the bike off and stood before kiosks stocked with minerals, omo and tinned milk. Women drew water in a rubber-tire-tube buckets from a community well and beyond that he could see a Toyota truck and the green and white colours of a primary school. A tattered Nigerian flag hung from a flagpole. 

There was a small building, cement block and wood had a large cross affixed to it. Nobody seemed it strange him being there.

"You are in on the trail from Kano," a young boy about 14 came up.

"Is this the Daode tribe? Where did you learn English?"

"Secondary school. I am a student home from Easter vacation. I can show you around."

"Thank you. I thought the Daode tribe lived here."

"This is the main village. My people live all over these hills."

"Is that a church?" Andrew queried.

"We are Christians. The missionaries came here many years ago. My sister is in Denmark studying with them now. See, there is the house they built there over the hill. There is a white woman staying there now. We have our own minister."

Jesus. He couldn't believe it. Here was a pocket of Christianised tribes way up in the hills of Islanir state. He guessed they could stay that way too. No jihad would carry up into the mountains.

They walked around the village. On the outskirts, weaved cane huts nestled right into the boulders like beehives. Paths led from the village over the hills in all directions.                      

"The England woman will be back later," the student, whose name was Gabriel, said. "You will sleep in the medicine hut. We have no sick here now." He was shown to the hut and looked inside.


The boy started a fire in the pit and smoke rose up to the intricate roof and out a hole. It was bigger than he thought. 

There was a mat to sleep on. He just hoped there weren't scorpions. They liked the rocks. He lay there on the mat, half-afraid to walk around the village for fear of scaring someone who hadn't seen him in the daytime. He put two sticks on the petrified wood on the fire. The wood would at least keep the mosquitos away.

In the morning the boy came around to tell him his friend was back. He did not bother to explain that he had never even met the person. They assumed you always wanted to see your own tribe’s people, your brothers and sisters. They didn't realize that you might have come to Africa to get away from them. Still, he had been travelling for a few days and hadn't talked to any white people.

He walked up to the missionaries’ house. It was run-down but it had a long porch, glass in the windows. A fireplace had been built for the cold nights during Harmattan. There was no electricity up in the village and an empty propane tank for cooking sat outside the door. A mosquito net was hung on the porch as if someone had been sleeping outside. It would have been warm enough.

He knocked on the door and a voice said, "Zo," so he went in. Inside a woman was working at a table amongst trays of clay jugs and artifacts.

"Oh," she looked startled. "I thought you were Zack, my steward. What are you doing here?"

"Andrew. Canadian teacher from Borne State. Just travelling. We're on Easter break. I came up here on motorcycle and slept here in the village last night."

She looked him up and down, reserving judgement. "Elizabeth Davis, from Britain, doing my anthropology doctorate this last year. Art history if you hadn't gathered." She smiled slowly. It kind of grew on her, warming the shadowy room. "I live here. Daode art is what I'm working on. Say, forgive me for being so impolite. Would you like some Nescafe?"  She headed for the kitchen area and he followed.

There she set out two cups, poured some hot water from a thermos in them and brought out a box of sugar cubes and a tin of milk. He watched her. She was young, not all that bad. Her hair was tied back. She wore a halter, which bulged fully, a wrapper around her waist. Maybe he had been in the sun too long.

“Would you like it white?" she asked, studying his face.

"Yeah, I haven't had a cup of coffee in 3 days. You can't trust the roadside kiosks," he said.

"It looks like you're fairly well set up here... I mean you have everything."

"I'm not here all the time. I was just into Kano, to the museum. Tomorrow, I have to go across to another village quite far away where I'm doing some work."

They chatted over coffee. Then he felt it coming on and made a dash for her latrine. He'd had diarrhoea. His ass burned and his stomach was filled with gas.

"Take two of these now," she said. "Mexaform. It will help you. I know. I've had dysentery many times. In a day you'll be alright. Say, you had better rest. You can sleep here tonight."

"Thanks." He didn't know if it was an invitation or not. 

Surely, she would be lonely up there by herself. She looked more

attractive by the minute or maybe because he felt so sick and he

was hot and tired and needed some mothering. She was quite hospitable and kept feeding him Mexaform. "Stay away from the minerals," she said.  So he drank tea all day and she worked some and he wandered around.  She took him over for a small walk over to the next hill towards evening and it was quite beautiful as the mountains turned purplish at sunset.  He had wanted to kiss her when they sat on a rock there, just for a taste of a woman's soft lips again. But he didn't. He was afraid she'd think it was crazy. She'd been so civilized. Perhaps she had a boyfriend in Kano or somewhere anyway. They were close, friendly but it was a platonic relationship, very polite.

Back at the missionary house she said they should sleep on the veranda as it was too hot inside and dug out an extra mosquito net and blankets. She asked if he wanted to have a bath and said to go ahead and he did and changed, put a fresh pair of shorts on and a clean T-shirt. He felt better, refreshed. She wanted to have a wash to cool down and went to the bathroom to bathe. He thought about her there naked, so close, water licking her body not 10 feet away. Then she came out, her hair long and wet, skin glistening, only the wrapper tucked around her waist. Her breasts were full and he stared at them. "I never wear too much clothes here," she said, "You can't in the heat. The natives have the right idea."

"Yeah, they do," he laughed. Why did white people have such uptight morals? They were only breasts. He saw a hundred bare breasts in the market in the run of a day.

“Oh, that's refreshing," she said. "I can hardly take the heat this time of year. How do you feel?"

"Better," he answered. She was standing over his chair, her breasts looked monstrous. He wanted to take them in his hands, hug them, kiss and caress them, then he did not feel sick at all. It was as if she placed them there for him like grapefruits to be sucked sweetly, the moisture quenching his thirst. She combed her hair and her breasts heaved with every breath. He was conscious of them and tried to look away but couldn't get the vision of her naked from the waist up out of his mind. He tried to be nonchalant but the heat and her wet body melted his inhibitions, in a second she was closer, he was holding her, her wet hair with some strange scent in against his face. They were kissing then and he was holding those luscious breasts, nipples hardening, their bodies caressing.

They slept under the mosquito nets under the blanket of African sky. She snuggled up to him. He clung to her like she was a goddess.

But in the morning, Elizabeth had to leave. Why, he didn't know. She had to go somewhere, some place far over the hills. Her projects. Something for herself she had to do. There were schedules up there so far from the world where there were no schedules.

The motorcycle spun faint through the sand down into ditches and around logs on the trail. He felt good. He drove more quickly out then, where he went in, and constantly feeling for the passport pouch stuck down inside the waist of his jeans, her address back in England securely tucked inside.