Wet warrior women

8th April 2019

Most of today was spent in a pick-up truck driving from Jalingo to Gembu, a town perched high on the Mambilla plateau. The drive was stunning and I actually took some photos of the landscape. I cannot bring myself to take pictures of people I do not know as it seems so very rude, like I think they are just part of a tableaux of ‘typical African life’. I feel like I am stealing their agency. But my deep and perhaps excessive concern for consent and boundaries does not yet apply to hills and cows, so I have some photographs to prove I was here, at least. We also drove through a big nature reserve (no elephants sighted or I would have texted you all to babble with joy – they are my favourite creatures) then up a windy switchback road onto the most magical landscape of hills and what we would think of as moors.

Just before we arrived it wuthered, then it blattered and then the rain moved up into its full voice and the air was water. I had idiotically left my little holdall containing my clothing in the open back of the truck (we were in the cab) and now all my clothes are scattered round my room to dry. As if after an explosion in a lingerie seamstress’s boudoir.

Muhammad’s mum pulled a classic Nonna and sent an unspecified grandchild to intercept the convoy just as we left Jalingo and deliver a big bag of home cooked food. There were these blackbean puffy ball cakes which were delicious and peanut drink in flasks. We had a very jovial police guard, sent by the Department of State Security, for the trip as the road we were taking is apparently notorious for mercenary kidnappings. We are now safely through and in a little town called Gembu, where Muhammad’s family are from. Gembu is a beautiful place, a town built of brightly coloured slate, patterned tile and shades of aluminium, nestled high in the hills in its own little bifurcated valley.

On the drive, Mukhtar and Muhammad told me stories of Nigeria. Real stories such as the traditional nomadic pastoralists increasingly armed and violent conflict with the farmers. The nomads resent the homogenous and barren looking farms that have severed their traditional and spiritual migratory routes, along which they chase the rains to fatten their beautiful cattle. The farmers resent the smelly cows who pop up once a year and eat all their lush crops, watched sardonically by the teenagers who should be herding them. Vendettas have turned to feuds and feuds have turned to murder. Mukhtar also told me stories of the heroic Nigerian women of mythology. Stories of Amina the warrior queen of Zaria who led thousands of men into battle and claimed a large swath of Nigeria for her tribe, the Hausa. Of the ruler Daura who promised her hand to the man who could rid her of the snake in the town’s main well (symbolism being not so thinly veiled in this myth). A Moorish scholar rode in and slayed the snake and she bowed, and married him.

The team are doing a medical outreach tomorrow, partly as an awareness raiser for the health centre, partly for its own sake. The team are fantastic, us three from the UK and half a dozen nurses, strategists and other health workers from a teaching hospital in Gombe. I am in a bit of a bind as I am not yet licensed to practice here (I came to give training on birth and support to the health centre set up, which I am entitled to do without registration) so I will endeavour to help the others rather than to give any care. Never do in another country what you would not do in your own, after all. Although I do seem to be eating twice the amount of food I normally do (yum yum yum). So perhaps I should be more reflexive in the application of the famous golden rule of moral philosophy, before I become weighted to the floor with tuwo (pounded starchy staples eaten with stew – delicious and extremely filling).

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