Day 5 - The Chairman’s Throne
February 17th, 2012 7:55am – I’m sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for the driver. It’s just a short drive to the training, which is supposed to start at eight but I’d have liked to be there at least ten to fifteen minutes early. I’ve heard about “Africa time,” in fact, the first day one of the organizers had admonished the group “we won’t be running on ‘Africa Time,’ be here on time!” what kind of example would I be setting, arriving late myself? I fidget neurotically. 8:00 rolls by, and 8:05 .... I pick up a paper to try to distract myself.
“Boko Haram Jailbreak in Kogi” reads a headline. Wait, that’s where Doug is. I anxiously read on. It seems the previous evening around 7pm about 20 Boko Haram gunmen stormed the jail in Kogi, spraying the buildings with gunfire and killing one guard. They released seven Boko Haram members whom they went away with, but also released 112 other inmates into the surrounding community, leaving only one. I sit there and wonder about the one inmate that wasn’t sprung, did the Boko Haram dislike him, was he in a solitary cell they couldn’t quickly find a key for? Or perhaps he was near the end of a sentence and didn’t fancy complicating it with an escape? Moreover, I picture Doug with escaped criminals running around and possibly trigger-happy authorities trying to chase them down. I picture… wait … Blessing is in jail there! I picture Blessing, sitting cross-armed in the back of a jail cell, having nothing to do with the jailbreak around him.
I hear a car on the gravel. It’s the driver, and Hattrick hops out to greet me, seeming unhurried. I greet him with a smile, and try to suppress my frustrations -- if he isn’t worried about it then it’s presumably not a problem.
I greet the driver, a middle-aged man with three parallel scars on each cheek. He doesn’t speak English but smiles warmly and greets me back in Yoruba. As I get in the landcruiser I note a long thin wood wand laying on the dashboard.
“What is that?” I ask, indicating the wand. The driver himself doesn’t speak English but Hattrick exchanges some words with him in Yoruba and answers
“It’s a horsewhip”
“Oh, is this a traditional sign of drivers?” I ask, delighted that a profession that once drove buggies might hold on to this archaic tool out of professional pride. Hattrick translates my question to him and he laughs and responds with a grin.
“No it’s because military officers carry it”
“Is he a military officer?” I ask
“No but he hopes people will assume he is when they see it and treat him with more respect.”
As we make the short drive through the streets teaming with pedestrians, I note that about every fifth person has a simple pattern of scarification on their cheeks.
“What’s the cheek scarification mean?” I ask Hattrick
“Oh, it’s a tribal thing. In older times it was the higher class that had them. But during the British administration, people who worked with the British didn’t have it done, and so now it’s principally illiterate indigenes who do it..” he says. It seems to me a bit “savage” and exotic but then again, I immediately recall black and white photos of my great grand-uncle Ludwig and his mates at military academy in old Prussia with similar scars on their cheeks. In their case “fencing scars” were the fashion.
The trainees are just gathering in our meeting place when we arrive. We continue with the question-and-answer lecture, and a functional rhythm has developed. Initial awkwardness has melted away. I’ve been worried that maybe they will just be bored with my basic overview of beekeeping, they seem to know the basics, but they seem interested. Questions keep coming up in notes about the numerous irregular situations that can come up that aren’t covered in basic beekeeping manuals, and I find I can usually comprehensively answer them, though as I rule I am never afraid to say “I don’t know, actually.” When this happens I make a note to ask someone more knowledgeable. For example later when we’re talking about hives I email regular American Bee Journal columnist Dr Wyatt Mangum, who literally “wrote the book” about topbar hives a very specific topbar hive question, and had an answer in a few hours (he doesn’t recommend trying to make a double-decker topbar hive via putting a “super” on top).
During the lunch break I’m feeling an uncomfortable strain on my lower intestines and ask a support volunteer if there happens to be a bathroom around.
“Yes, certainly, just a minute!” they say and hurry off. A few minutes go by and I begin to squirm, wondering what happened with them. They finally return and beckon me to follow them. We proceed across the courtyard past the decrepit construction grader to what I gather is the local government chairman’s office. His office is a large room in the middle of which are several overstuffed leather couches upon which overstuffed men in suits are lounging importantly, wearing designer sunglasses and generally looking like an extravagant entourage. At the far end, facing the rest of the room and the door I’ve just entered from, his big impressive desk is flanked by flags, and there is a door behind it. I’m told to sit again while the volunteer disappears somewhere for another few minutes to return jangling a pair of keys with which they unlock the door behind the chairman’s desk and indicate I am to go in there and to the right. And sure enough there is a bathroom there with a toilet. I do my business, chuckling a bit to myself that of course the chairman’s office has the only “western toilet.” Then I go to flush the toilet and... nothing happens. My bemusement turns to horror, how utterly mortifying to leave my leavings there in the chairman’s toilet!
I lift the lid of the toilet tank and see that the float arm has become unhooked from the flush lever, so I hook it up and try again --success and relief! It is only later that I discover the usual method of flushing a flush toilet in Nigeria would have been to fill the bucket by the sink and pour it into the toilet bowl causing it to flush. I had actually unnecessarily fixed the chairman’s toilet!
As we’re winding up the day’s training, around 3pm, Hattrick tells me they’ve decided to organize field visits after all. This is a great relief, not only to “fill some time” but more importantly because beekeeping is something you really need to teach hands-on.
Abuja had seemed a safe and non-threatening place but Ibadan, with a population of over a million, and teaming crowds on every street who wouldn’t hesitate to stare at me, is still very intimidating and I don’t go out on my own.
In the evening I decide to call Doug to see how things are going there.
“Goll!” he exclaims, “I was lecturing to my class, we were under an awning by the road, when suddenly there was an extremely loud bang by the road! I dove under the table thinking it was a bomb! It turns out there was a passing military convoy and a car tried to pass them so one of the military vehicles ran it off the road!”
I both really wanted to tell this toilet-fixing story, but also really don't want to portray it on a demeaning manner like Nigerians can't figure out basic plumbing. It's just a cultural practice that where flush toilets are installed, for whatever reason, they are generally flushed by dumping a bucket of water in it. I hope it came across in a suitably cultural sensitive manner here?
Also I don't believe Blessing was in the jail in which the jailbreak occurred, I think he was at the actual police station. As currently written I don't revisit this after teasing that he may have been the one person not to escape the jailbreak (there was indeed one non-escapee). Also, just last week that same prison was overrun by criminals for a third time!
Anyway, like I said I hope this isn't sinking into a humdrm "journal" (no longer having the necessary narrative tension or interest levels to pull the reader forward). Any other thoughts on how it's shaping definitely welcome. (: