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Eighties Overland: Part 12


Words & Images Peter Middleton

I awoke in the oven-heat of the tin-roofed room within a shroud of soaking sheets. Mandi sat on the bed with a cup of warm water, which I gulped while trying to nod my thanks, and motioned for another. Bloody malaria, dysentery…

“How’re you feeling?” she asked.

“Thanks. Hey, a little fuzzy but I feel a bit better.”

“You should; you’ve slept for twenty hours.”

“Oh. Sorry. And how’re you doing?”

“Much better, too; but still taking the antibiotics. I moved into the next room as you were swimming… Backstroke, I think.”

It was the first time in months that we were both feeling almost normal. A bit weak; but, for us, normal. After more water, a lot more, and some food, I was on my feet; so we escaped the prison walls of the Kano State Tourist Centre.

Within the day, we were exploring Kano, and looking for a Niger visa for Mandi. (Brits don’t need one.)

This town was a fascinating bedlam of noise, heat (the temperature now in the fifties), dust and colour, and we quite liked it. There was none of the aggression of Bangui, for example.

We met an old man sitting on the shady pavement writing with a homemade reed pen onto a wooden tablet. He wrote beautiful verses from the Qur’an, only to wash the masterpiece of calligraphy off and pour the water into a cup. He then drank the holy teachings after sunset. I wish that what we drank gave us such wisdom.

The visa was eventually ready, but there was a mix-up and it was valid for only two weeks, which was a major problem and we would have to apply for an extension in Niger. Oh, well; nothing we could do about it at that stage, so we headed off to the camel market to see how many camels the wife was worth. Camels are traded here, but this is also the place where crocodiles are slaughtered and gutted for their skins.

The indigo Tuareg cloths are prepared in dye pits full of urine. It stinks.

I choked: “Gawd, this place smells.”

“I didn’t notice; I have been travelling with you for eighteen months…”

“What?!” Then I shouted: “I will take five − special, for today only − five camels only for this untouched virgin!”

After I’d rubbed a few wife-inflicted bruises, we bought some calabashes and returned to Dartmoor for me to prep and service the Landy for the desert – which included completely draining the system of antifreeze and repeatedly re-filling it to give us clean (if not fresh) water in an emergency. In that heat, neither we nor the little truck needed antifreeze.

It was 28 May and the end of Ramadan. There would be a two-day holiday and a huge ‘Salah’ festival, the highlight of which was the arrival of the local Emir. We’d been told that there would be about 500 000 people there, so we left at dawn and found a spot to park about a mile from the open space where it was all happening. (Unlike when we’d lived down south, we felt confident leaving our home alone; the last time we’d done that was in Kenya, when we’d found a note under a wiper telling us that it was being broken into: the thieves had been chased off by two nuns
and their driver.)

On the hot walk, we negotiated with the very polite beggars to find a vantage point. I must have been feeling better, because I couldn’t help recalling the Life of Brian sketch: “…spare a few shekels for a poor ex-leper…?”