Kenneth Johnson - my service

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Agriculture PCV in Northern Nigeria

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On December 14th, 1966 Bob MacGregor, Mike Malaghan, and I left Marshall White (Staff) in a Land Rover. We rode to Jos Plateau where the next morning I took pictures of Jeffrey Gerlach, Jim Sheridan, Mike Hicks, Richard Duhamel, and Peter Blank III outside the Jos Rest House.

Outside of Jos, Nigerian peasants saw us and said, “Bature, Bature!” – Hausa meaning European. They said this with respect. We were welcomed warmly by the Nigerians. We were treated royally. Later in Katsina after a Rugby accident, the nurse at the First Aid Station ripped off my bandage. I yelled. The kids acted surprised. I asked my friend, “What’s up?” “You’re like God and feel no pain.” At the time in Jos area, I didn’t realize I was being elevated.

Carrying a 55 gallon barrel of petrol in the back of our Land Rover, that morning we continued to the banks of the Benue River, ferried across, and left Bob at Yola (beef breeding project) and then turned north to Maiduguri. The granite or schist hills with a dark cast between Nigeria and West Cameroons were quite scenic.

Mike Malaghan met Isabella Sharpe (PCV teacher). Six Nigerian women teachers walked over to our G.R.A. house. Isabella demonstrated to the teachers how to use local products (acqua – local red flower, and groundnuts) by making them into acqua jam and groundnut brittle. They had lots of enthusiasm for cottage industries. They should've known a See's Candy rep from California. Perhaps, they could've started a candy industry.

Later I learned how to make mango sherbet from an anthropology doctoral student’s wife of Northwestern University.

In the spring, I met a German sociology professor at Maiduguri Rest House. He was dubious about staying with me because of how the German volunteers lived in Kano or Kaduna. I offered a bed for him since the Rest House had no vacancies. He worked with a fish cooperative and planned a trip to Basso on Lake Chad, southern shoreline, northeast of Maiduguri. I rode in this professor’s Land Rover through the bush desert to Lake Chad. We passed a camel caravan carrying large bags of dried fish. We followed tracks in the sand, no visible road. Once at the lake, we met John Thurston (fish cooperative volunteer; Group XXVII) who had settled into work with the Fish Co-Op. We toured his unique home; neatest grass hut especially made for him – twisted straw tied tightly to give an impression of inside of a log house. I took color slides of the lake and the reed boats. The place smelled fishy with fish drying on sticks and they used the Co-Op ovens too.

In our Lake Chad Club, I had heard stories about a New Zealand hunter and his elephant hunts at the lake. I was intrigued to find a long shallow lake in the desert. Tall green grass masses extended out into the lake. The reed boats were the size of a canoe with the front end curved upwards and pointed. This was quite a contrast from the desert.

The Lake Chad cattle had wide horns at the base of their skull (around 7 inches in diameter – inside they were honey-combed to keep the cattle’s head afloat in the lake while feeding on grass on the bottom of the lake. The horns weren’t as long as a Texas Longhorn though.).

The VSOs and our volunteers spent time together exchanging ideas and entertaining each other. A great support group. Don Heider and Tom Martin drove their Mini-Moke up from Bama to visit us. Jack Lyons visited us while conducting a survey of tractor hire units. When I traveled to Kano or Kaduna, I stopped at Potiskum to visit or stay with Bob McDonald. We always had lots of news about our Group XXV from Kaduna.

My Provincial Veterinary Officer left on vacation to Denmark and a Dutch veterinarian took over his post. We didn’t agree on anything and I resigned my position in July 1967. I rode to Kaduna and a ministry official transferred me to Katsina Livestock Investigation & Breeding Centre (LIBC). I had friends in high places; probably because I knew how to shear sheep.

The LIBC was mainly a sheep ranch, two miles north of Katsina. One road sign near the LIBC, “Gusau 124 M, Sokoto 221 M, Niamey 497 M, Timbuctoo 1030 M, Algiers 2743 M, ...”

The LIBC was a good fit since I had lived on a sheep ranch for eight years. Months later, I was asked to additionally work at Kukar Aljanna at Dutsin Ma, a goat breeding project. Dr. Earl Moore of Kansas State University Project at Shika Research Centre, west of Zaria, had imported Nubian billies from Egypt and he wanted them bred to the local Sokota Red nannies. I helped supervised building fences to contain the goats. This was a savanna area with baobab trees.

If goats are contained on pastures or compounds (corrals), then they can certainly help with meat and milk production in Northern Nigeria. The troubles are that western dairymen or professors won’t go for this idea and if the goats are let outside on the range, they devastate the environment.

While at Shika, I saw them do everything except move their dairy enterprise to higher elevation and temperate climate like Jos Plateau. They imported black and white (Europe’s version of our Holstein) semen kept in liquid nitrogen containers (artificial insemination program), raised maize and soybean for hay and silage, pasture management, etc. This was a very impressive research center helped by Lucien Maurer (agricultural mechanic volunteer), Adrian West Stadler (VSO – installed milking machines), and Stan Scharf (agriculture volunteer at Samaru & Ahmadu Bello University; he analyzed protein content of our gamma grass at Katsina LIBC). Heat is a limiting factor for dairy cows.

At Katsina LIBC, I made sheep skins from a New Zealand concept - solution of using baking soda and kerosene paste to rub into the flesh side of the skins and cured in a screened area. A senior ministry official drove his two sheepskins to us for curing. He used one during his prayers.

One of my most memorable experience was helping my co-worker and friend at Katsina LIBC. Our workers said, “Mai gida, M...... has malaria.” He was a junior ministry staff. He dressed well – short sleeve suit jacket, slacks, and dress shoes. He drove a large Honda motorcycle. I drove my Honda 90 over to his room – built with concrete blocks, one door, and probably one window with metal shutter. He was sitting on the cement floor in the fetal position next to a black smoked wall. I got him up and on my Honda. I told him to hang on tight. He wrapped his arms around my waist. We drove over five miles to the First Aid Station. The nurse gave him a shot for malaria. We drove home and he stayed in my British house in my extra single bed with a mosquito net out at the 600 acre ranch. I remember buying copious amounts of delicious Nigerian canned orange juice produced in southern Nigeria to nurse him back to health. He recovered to later be known as “Ringo Risky” on his large Honda motorcycle.

After one year in-country, I got hungry for tamale pie. The English store didn’t sell cornmeal. In the market, the grain dealers sold corn kernels. I brought a pound of corn home, separated the good kernels, and washed them. After drying, I took the corn back to the market and a man ground my corn in his electric grinder into cornmeal. I told my cook how to make tamale pie. He didn’t read Hausa or English. Each time he’d make one of my recipes, it was different. After several months, he said something like, “Mai gida, can I take the cornmeal home?” Of course. He also took imported whole dry milk home to his two wives and family.

Minjinyawa started an Extension Program working with sheepmen in the Katsina area. This was a great idea and we needed more support here.

In the dry season, cattlemen burned grass to sprout green grass shoots. This short-term gain eventually killed the grass roots. Range management was a key issue and never resolved during my tour.

My last three months was at Shika Research Centre. I lived with Lucien and Adrian in a new three bedroom home built by Italian contractors. I supervised the building of a suspension fence for dairy cattle that extended 2,500 feet. The idea originated in Colorado, but used extensively in Australia. The concrete strainer posts were 1/4 miles apart with smaller concrete posts spaced every 100 feet.

Musa Maiduguri, others, and I stretched the barb wire, three strands. At one point, the barb wire broke and cut our fingers. The British doctor wouldn't deadened my finger before he put in the stitches. One of the laborers got infection in his fingers and he wasn't treated.

I shared my ranch hands-on skills with my Nigerian junior staff and laborers. They also gave me the time to relax, speak slower and to enjoy life. The sharing went both ways which I'm tremendously thankful for.

After flying home, I wrote letters to some friends and mailed books about NASA. I received many aerogrammes and letters from my friends.



-- RPCV Reflections --

At J.F.K. International Airport before our Pan Am departure to Senegal, Owen Bair was surprised to see me. I knew I had hands-on ranch skills and thought the Nigerian ministry officials could use them. I was right.

Maiduguri -- Indian lady teacher with a Masters Degree - said it's healthier to eat with clean fingers than eat with silverware. I learned to eat with my fingers with my Ceylonese friends.

When I sat in a circle with Nigerians eating tuwo, I was quite comfortable eating with my fingers.

My cross cultural experiences - Ex-pats - British, Europeans, Asians, S. Africans; Lebanese, Greek, etc. - most worked in ministries or some had private businesses. It was much more than just Nigerian senior and junior staff and laborers.

Cultural differences with Nigerian range men - market animals - size of goats or sheep was more important than weight and fat.

From living on a sheep ranch, I knew about some hands-on practices/skills that helped us at Katsina LIBC. I imported foot rot shears and knives to trim hooves. I had our carpenter drill three equally spaced holes in two 2x4s; placed them to woven wire fence intersections. Fastened them with bolts and nuts and added chain at top/bottom to pull the fence as one unit. I showed the laborers to put the gate in the corner to use the two fences as a funnel. At the sheep dip, they had installed a ladder. Some sheep broke their lower legs on the rungs. I was able to have the laborers make concrete steps to solve this problem. Instead of three men shearing sheep, I taught them how one man can shear sheep. In over one year at Katsina LIBC, we never did order a sharpening disc, emery-like paper and glue to sharpen our combs and cutters. They changed to a Mutton Improvement Centre after my tour.

Ministry officials followed a British professor's advice. They didn't have experience to decline - raise wool sheep; Katsina Super Fine Wool (using Merino rams).

Near end of my tour, our Kaduna ministry hired a Middle Eastern senior official who had experience with goats and sheep. Then things changed at Katsina LIBC.

I wasn't politically correct - I quit my Maiduguri job. Peace Corps Kaduna staff said I missed a few steps. I mailed a policy letter to Kaduna ministry and didn't go through my Katsina boss. I got a reprimand letter for this. I was humble and said I was sorry. I was lucky to have friends at high ministry positions to keep me in my jobs and in Nigeria.

Living within two cultures wasn't easy. Knowing more about Hausa culture certainly would've helped. But, I wasn't ready to learn at PC training. After three months in Northern Nigeria, I would've been more receptive.

I made good Nigerian friends that I still treasure. 12 February 2017.

Kenneth Johnson, RPCV Group XXV Maiduguri (Muna LIBC, Biu LIBC, Jerre & Maiduguri Rice Bowl Schemes), Katsina LIBC & Shika Research Station 1966 to 1968

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