The thing about the Mambilla plateau is that it is gorgeously, gloriously beautiful. Not in fact that dissimilar to the country around Sheffield. Wild peaks, rocks, verdant and lush moors, but never gentle. Livestock ambling around as if they own the place (they do) and smallholdings dotted along the one major road bisecting the pass at the top of the world.
The second day of medical outreach in Gembu itself (the county seat of the Mambilla) has gone well. We were earlier and more orderly this time. I did some very fun training on current thinking about birth techniques; including care of the newborn; shoulder dystocia; breech birth and some emergencies. The dozen or so participants were aged 16-80 years of age. Some were nurses and midwives of huge experience, others were CHWs (community health workers) newly minted in their local roles. The fashion for either valorising or abhorring CHWs drifts back and fourth within the international health community. There is no regulation or standardisation of either the breadth or definition of the CH[E]W role. Many are wise and skilled but many more are very scantily trained. All 1.3 million are necessary. From Chairman Mao’s barefoot doctors of the 1940s to Liberia’s current progressive policy of training and coordinating their community health lynchpins of wellbeing. I brought a training manikin (the middle third of a lady) and a baby which now looked like a tatty prop from a Ridley Scott film after it had been through three flights, a rain sodden pick up truck and being accidentally packed under a hundred weight of medical kit. The moral of this story being that you should never, under any circumstances, let Phoebe babysit for you.
After the training and clinic, I considered walking back to the hotel (I miss walking, I’ve been driven everywhere and I’m feeling very Tuwo shaped myself) but the kindness of the policeman, who I have just realised is following me around, deterred me. I didn’t want to add to his workload by ambling off. There are a few, extremely professional but very sweet, state security men assigned to the project – the kit we have brought alone is very valuable. I have only just understood that the heavily beweponed yet adorable Baku is detailed to me personally though.
Getting back to the hotel and seeing the newspaper I realise why – there is a massive rise in kidnappings at the moment and a subsequent political call to arms. I have friends in much more dangerous situations (Hannah ‘duck and cover’ Thompson) but it is kind that Muhammads sponsors are being so considerate. But don’t worry anyway, the politicians are promising ‘swift and decisive action with a zero-tolerance approach’. Which means about as much as your best mate assuring you at 2am while thoroughly ‘tired and emotional’ that she’s definitely, absolutely, giving up smoking in the morning. To be fair, the current incumbent has won a few military coups before his current democratic mandate so this is kind of his speciality. Whereas our premus inter pares cannot take down the last can of UK spam from the shelf in Waitrose, let alone take down armed millitia. I am also writing this safe in the knowledge that I will be home before this blog is published and my mum will not therefore, explode in a shower of Italian baked goods when she reads this.
So, with the scent of eucalyptus on the humid but actually very reasonably temperate air up here 2000ft above sea level, we started the long journey home. Jalingo by tomorrow, then an internal flight back to Abuja, then home to Manchester Airport. At which site I once climbed a tree in a (failed) attempt to prevent the building of a second runway. I did meet Swampy though. He was a bit of a git.
On the drive back, Mukhtar told me more about Nigeria’s history – he really should write a book. He also related it to the wider history of this prominent corner of Africa. Some of the absurd things he had seen he also included, knowing about my love of the bizarre. One story was about a professional visit he had taken to Tripoli, many years ago. Gadaffi wanted to bring the radical and nomadic Bedouin people to heel so he enforced their move out of tents, which appear by night and are gone again the next morning, and into high-rise tenements. The people gathered their possessions and, by and large agreed. We all know that he was not a man who dealt with the word ‘no’ very well…. Thus, Mukhtar (or maybe his friend, I forget, carried away by the imagery) stood there in the lobby of one such sky scraper, awaiting a lift to ascend to an apartment. Only to have the door slide slowly open to display a small herd of goats and kids, waiting patiently to reach the ground floor and pop out for a quick graze in the communal gardens.
One of the interesting histories he related was about the British attempts to impose colonial rule on what was then a very diverse map of people. The early British empire protectorates of North and South Niger, were merged to form a whole during the second world war. The country was named Nigeria by a tipsy wife of a colonial general, posted to govern this fierce and magical country. Most of the tribes, the Hausa, the Yoruba and many more, fell to the colonial rule when the British forces killed or seduced both the local and state level kings (chiefs). But the Igbo (pronounced eebo) were defiant against this. Their structure of rule had been a collective, collaborative one. With a local person, skilled at hunting; farming; shamanism; or general wise sense, voted in by the community of which they were a part. So, what then, could the armed forces of the pallid tea drinkers, do to seize control of the Igbos land? They essentially had to create a kingship in order to topple it. They had to create power to depose it. There is probably an important lesson to be learned about the foolishness of the concentration of power when there are important decisions to be made. Can’t think what brought that to mind…..
Thank you all for following me textually around Nigeria, it’s been an amazing trip and I am exceptionally lucky to have had the opportunity. I’ll blog again next time I go somewhere more exciting than Manchester!