On the recognition of goats
Sunday 7th April
We took an internal flight from Abuja to Jalingo today, a little fixed wing 45 seater plane from an airline confusingly called ‘Overland’, but the plane did not just taxi all the way there as the nomenclature suggests. I’m not scared of flying particularly, though the ascent and descent always make me feel a little nauseated. But these little planes really do emphasise quite how laughably ludicrous a concept flying really is. So little fuselage and a few stubby wings between you and two miles of empty air. We only went up to about 10,000 feet, so you could see the ground clearly all the way through the hour-long flight. A flight fortified with a tepid glass of water and what my mum calls ‘worthy’ biscuits, in that you hope they are doing you good because there is literally no other reason to eat them. The savannah seen from the air was mostly scrubby bushes and the meanders of what I initially thought were roads but then realised as we came in to land, were actually dried up rivers. Though conveniently now used as tracks by people and goats. Now we are in a more rural place, I’ve also started playing a game which Muhammad has called, affectionately mocking, ‘Phoebe’s goatsheep game’. In which I try to guess if the quadruped wandering idly into the road, as our seatbeltless pick-up truck screeches to an emergency stop, is a goat or a sheep. I have a 50%-win rate – so no better than blind luck thus far. It is harder than you would think.
I’m getting to know Muhammad better than I did when we were students together as we have a lot more time to talk. We have had some fascinating conversations and he really helps me think. His training was medical school then public health – a career path usually light on philosophy and ideology. So, by trying to explain ideological and anthropological concepts to his supremely intelligent mind, I see the flaws in my own patterns of understanding. The discussion about anarchism today was particularly telling. I explained the basic concepts and he said; “Yes of course that is right. But how do you get a community there, given the existing structures?” – the particularly uncomfortable anarchist question and one which has led many down the path of ‘smash it all to pieces to start again’. I have no answers to this.
He’s also the only person who has ever made me feel less self-hatred about my medical colonialist tendencies. His gentle way of explaining the detail of Nigeria’s history; of the complex machinations of the warring ethnic groups, the incompetent oversight of the bungling British and the effect of the civil war has made me see things in a much less linear way. It has helped me to understand that accountability for one’s privilege is not the same as guilt for a past that one had no control over. Nor guilt for a global state of affairs in which one is only a tiny lizard in a vast jungle, for that matter.
Mukhtar, and indeed everyone else, are treating me like a princess – carrying bags, opening car doors and being very concerned for my comfort. I’m fine I insist, swaying in the 38-degree heat of a dusty road today, after a terrible bout of cramping diarrhea then a three-hour truck journey over roads like lunar craters. I am going to have to burn all my feminist literature and start taking an interest in self-help books entitled Men are from Croydon Women are from Slough or whatever they’re called, because I’m loving being so tended to. I have always really enjoyed gallantry and chivalry, though I would not expect it nor invite it. I don’t know why, it just makes me feel cared about and graceful. I may need to examine this rather reprehensible little tendency I seem to have developed a bit further….
Our first endeavour when we arrived in Jalingo was to drive to the warehouse complex where the enormous amount of medical kit promised to us by Dr Sidi was being stored. This equipment – everything from bedpans to x-ray machines – was purchased at least several years ago as part of the vote winning plan to develop the North-Eastern health provision. It has remained in these warehouses; rows and rows of symmetrical one story sheds that look like a historical detention camp which is now a monument to the evil of man. But with more goats. Muhammad has enlisted Jamil to help wrangle; a retired eminent business man and the secretary of the Dechi Trust. No one knew in which of the baking hot dozens of storage lockers each bit of kit was kept and thus everything had to be opened and sorted before loading it onto a massive truck to follow us to Gembu. Muhammad is quietly angry that all of this much needed, lifesaving equipment is mouldering in a forgotten warehouse outside a provincial city seat. The purpose of buying it seems to have been forgotten in the all-important power (and contract) winning endeavour to buy it at all. PPI in the UK can answer to the same charge.
We went to Muhammad’s sisters for lunchtea (everyone seems to eat early in the morning then about 4pm). She is a pathologist in the local hospital and has an adorable small son who was literally transfixed with shyness in front of me. I also met Muhammad’s mum who looks just like him only older, smaller and femaler. I brought her some Duchy shortbread – that being the only internationally nice food to come out of Britain. We sat on rugs in the yard to eat, with poultry and rabbits ambling around and a beautiful herb garden. It was truly lovely. Muhammad and his sister then took me to the pen behind the house and said “these are sheep” and laughed a lot.
Then, for reasons completely beyond me, we went to see the local Sharia Justice in his traditional house built around a courtyard with mango trees and bitter leaf bushes growing in the sandy rectangle. Women’s rooms on one side, men’s on the other. The Justice was very small and talkative to me, but in Fulfulde, so I maybe missed some key points on religion-based parallel justice systems on that visit. I’m now back at a little hotel trying to Will the gastrointestinal hell away with rehydration salts and lying down. We have a seven-hour truck journey tomorrow so I need to be a little less co-dependent with the bathroom facilities.