Christmas 1970

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Christmas in Kano, 1970 by Andy Buhler, CUSO, 69-71

Tonight I’ve been trying to plan my Christmas itinerary. Sister generously said I could have two weeks off at Christmas if I wanted -- I want! The problem is whether to fly to Kano (£N60 return, plus expenses) and have a lot of time there, or to go by Honda via Jos (an area which I’ve never seen) and visit volunteers on the way, leaving only about a day or two in Kano to rest my aching back and buttocks. I’ll probably go via Jos as I’ll not get another chance to see that area before I leave Nigeria and it’s supposed to be quite nice.

Trip to Kano from Auchi.

I arrived safely and reasonably soundly in Kano on the evening of the 24th after driving all that day from Jos via Zaria to Kano.

What I hadn’t realized was that those nice red-line roads shown on highway maps from Auchi to Kano were mostly washboard laterite and often deep sand -- just a lovely trip!

I had put the bike in the Peugeot van after work on the 14th and drove Sister and myself to Auchi. Sister went on to Fr. Burke’s to buy turkeys. I stayed with a new CUSOite, Bob F. from Saskatchewan. We had antelope for supper. The next day I set out for Ayangba. Good pavement to Agenebode. The ferry there was out of commission so I had to hire a motorized, leaky, dugout canoe -- laden with oil drums.

Since they were the only way across they had a price monopoly. When I arrived they said £N4 to cross. After much palaver and annoyance I eventually paid £N1/10/- which is still a lot. Anyway, on the way over, a fish jumped out of the water and landed in the boat. It continued to swim in the bilge until I caught it and gave it to the oarsman. It was a sort of a perch but had very long sharp teeth and wasn’t afraid to show them when I caught it. Along the side of the river were the huts of fishermen, low shanty type structures with an occasional line of netting hung out to dry. From the boat all you could see were a few huts on an expanse of sand leading to a Harmattan-hazy horizon. They looked as desolate as though set on the moon. Quite an eerie feeling to see them.

The canoe itself was made up of many pieces of wood held together with strips of metal and square iron nails. It leaked a lot and the engine end was rotted, but apart from the continuous bailing it seemed to travel quite well. They had recently gone down to Onitsha and back with it.

We stopped on a sandbar and I took a picture of a lady with fish. She wanted a picture but we left before I got into too much discussion.

Beyond Ideh, I got stuck in some sand. I was cussing and trying to push the bike out when I saw my first real dung-beetle. He was working away rolling a ball of dung along the road with his hind feet. The ball was two or three times his size but he pushed away, every so often stopping to survey the terrain, then going behind and getting to work again. That’s how I got my bike out. Like the dung-beetle, I had to just keep trying and pushing.

From Ideh to Ayangba -- laterite. I got 16 miles from Ideh and went on reserve tank. I stopped in a village for petrol -- none. Only petrol was eight miles back. So I had to retrace my route there and back, then on to Ayangba. I stayed with the French Canadian nurses there. I set out next day, on laterite, for Otukpo. The bike was difficult to start but did go. I arrived at Otukpo to find the Twists had just left so I continued to Makurdi. Stayed there with the new CUSO dentists. I had hair all akimbo and every exposed part was filthy red with caked laterite dust -- I really looked a sight!

Next day I went to Akwanga -- very, very, rough, dusty, sandy road. I arrived at Akwanga and they had no petrol at all there, so I just stopped at Leslie's (CUSO nurse). We looked through the hospital -- mainly Fulani patients. They have very small boys, 13 years and up, acting as ward workers. Their hospital is also Misereor-sponsored but it is not as well laid out as ours. I don’t like the buildings as much but the countryside is nice -- rolling, rocky country, full of snakes and scorpions.

The hospital had to have a large autoclave (£N2000) and a couple of hot water distillers (£N500-£N800) before Misereor would approve the plans for the hospital. These were duly ordered but have sat many years unused because the generator is too small to run them. Many parts have spoiled from lack of use so even if they get power they couldn’t be used anyway. What a waste of good money! Now they must scrimp on drugs and other supplies.

Anyway the next morning I couldn’t start my bike. I spent an hour working on it and then got the hospital mechanic working on it. He got it going and set up the carburetor. I drove ten miles out of my way to Gudi for gas. When I stopped at the petrol station several people asked what the smoking was. They lifted up the canvas saddlebags I had borrowed from the CCN. The bottom of one was sitting on the exhaust pipe merrily burning away.

We got that put out and I latched up again. The burn ruined a pair of trousers, a brown turtleneck and my green sweater (all have large burns through them). I set out for Jos. It’s lovely country up there. It’s on a high plateau, lots of stones piled all over, cacti fences, small hill villages of rough mud huts with thatch roofs, lots of wild rocky streams, many birds on the way up, strong winds all the time. Twenty miles from Jos I went onto my reserve tank. I was a bit worried. Luckily there was petrol at Bukuru about ten miles from Jos.

I stayed at St. Marumba’s School. The next day I set out to go by 8:00 a.m. but took until 9:00 a.m. to get the bike going. Twenty miles from Jos the odometer/speedometer cable broke. I made it to Zaria, saw Hannes for 30 minutes to get a drink of water, then continued to Kano (265 miles in all that day). I saw the Merinuks, then went to stay at Ken’s. We went to a VSO party for a drink on the night of the 24th. I had to push the bike for 15 minutes everywhere we stopped.

Then on the way home the front wheel started to shudder like crazy. Christmas morning Ken and I stripped down the bike to find the trouble. The top of the front wheel forks, which hold the front wheel and the handlebars, was broken in five places. I had to get it all welded together today. We still haven’t reassembled the bike yet -- maybe tomorrow.

I had turkey supper at the Merinuk’s on Christmas Day. There were eight people there -- good food; turkey was lovely, moist and tender; stuffing; mashed potatoes; salad; pickles; carrots and beans. We had Mateus wine with supper. Chouie Jaffa, a Lebanese cloth merchant, was there and brought a bottle of Dry Monopole Champagne -- great! A very pleasant evening.

Today I decided that tomorrow I’ll put the bike back together and then I will leave it here. Ken can sell it for what he can get and I’ll give him 10-15% for his trouble. I’ll be bikeless until I leave. I might get a bit uptight without transport for the next six months but I’m tired of always having things break. The handlebars could have gone anywhere on my travels and that would have stranded me completely. I’ll use Sister’s car occasionally but will generally stay close to home. I may not see much more of Nigeria -- but I will get a lot of reading done. I’ll probably take a train to Enugu and from there by taxi to Asaba or Ogwashi-Uku.

NOTE: Remember all the pushing of my bike at Jos where the staff pushed me on my bike all around compound and down the road. The bike finally started and went a few feet when I realized that, all that time, I had the gas tank turned off. I had to get one other push, with the gas on, and then away I went.

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