Houseboy and Hausa housing

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Nuhu Katsina and a Hausa house by Andy Buhler, CUSO, 69-71

Sunday I came home and someone said, beaming, “Good afternoon, Sir!” as I got off my bike. This is quite common so I acknowledged the greeting and went inside. The fellow stayed outside looking ill at ease so I decided to find out what was wrong. The Nigerians tend to be a bit reticent about asserting themselves to a Baturi so you must approach them. Anyway, as I thought, he was seeking employment. I gave my usual answers about not needing a steward but, for a change, this fellow said he was not a cook-steward but only a houseboy. That’s what I’ve been looking for so I now have a houseboy, Nuhu Katsina. He is married but has no children yet and only has one wife.

I spent much of yesterday getting him transported from his former quarters to the ones here. He seems quite capable but speaks small-small English. I had to tell him to “Ka wanke kasa.” or “Ka wanke bongo.” but I still got the floors and the walls washed so I guess we’re communicating.

So today, I have pressed shirts for the first time in months. I can start wearing white shirts again instead of just the Terrylene or PermaPress. The only problem with having a houseboy is that I have to get up earlier now. I used to get up at 8:00 a.m. and go to work, now I have to get up at 7:30 a.m. to be up before he arrives and I’ve been getting to work by 8:00 a.m. or even 7:55 a.m. the last two days. Mr. Amoko, my coworker at City Hospital, says, “Here so soon?” Nice guy, just because I’m usually there by 8:15 a.m. or so. I’m spending much of my time in Bacteriology now, not working but luxuriating in the only room that’s air-conditioned. May as well be comfortable.

Incidentally, in moving Nuhu, I had my first opportunity to get inside a Hausa compound. He was staying with someone in a small village near Kano and so when I took him to get his stuff I got invited into the compound. There is a common room where I guess most guests are received just inside the first door. Through that is a tiny open courtyard about one sheep wide and three sheep long. There was a sheep and a goat tied up in it. Through another door and small room to a second, slightly larger courtyard. This one had doors from three or four small rooms leading into it and was the main living area. The small rooms were mainly bedrooms or storage rooms.

The only actual door was on the outermost entrance. Inner doorways had only hanging blankets or nothing. All the walls were of packed red mud. None of the rooms had windows outside and only one had a window into the courtyard. The whole complex is enclosed in an outer mud wall that connects on two sides to adjoining houses. When you get to a village all you see is a row of tin doors in a long mud wall. It’s once you get behind that’s interesting, but as you see it’s difficult to get invited in as the villagers are a bit wary of Baturis.

The uwargida (senior wife) had a wry neck which she was treating with a slurry of ashes and water. I brought her a couple of Aspirin one trip and told her if it was still sore tomorrow to go to the hospital. There is an epidemic of cerebrospinal meningitis here still so everything has to be treated as serious until proven otherwise. Hope she’s OK and follows my instructions -- they had to be in Hausa too as she speaks no English.

Last week I wrote a market list in Hausa -- Nuhu got everything I had listed. Not bad, eh? So now I’ve tasted fresh dates and fresh mangos. I wonder what I misspelled on my list that suggested dates? Next week maybe I’ll try to ask for a guava. Also I got Nuhu's wife to clean my rice -- no more quartz-chipped teeth.

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