A taste of Kano

By Lande Abudu

 “Make sure you don’t get kidnapped.”

That was one advice I received when I told friends and family I would be travelling to Kano.  And another: “Be careful of the Sharia Police. Don’t leave your head bare at any time and wear something down to the ankles.”

Sadly, there was only one positive comment and that came from a native of Kano. It was therefore with not a little trepidation that I planned for the trip. I don’t yet qualify as a seasoned traveller. You could say that I am a fantasy traveller: I love the idea of travelling but have still not done plenty of it. I like meeting new people, making new friends, visiting historical sites and learning about other cultures.

And where better to start than in my country? There is so much of Nigeria to explore that I have promised myself that I will visit as many states as possible in a bid to cover all 36 of them. I have clocked about 12 states already, and I have plans to include at least five more in the months ahead.

Typical Lagos dweller that I was, my previous forays into Abuja have been business visits normally to a conference hall and back to Lagos the same day or the next morning, at a stretch. Now resident in Abuja for the duration of a project, Kano is a five-hour drive away. Not a huge fan of local road travel, I was nonetheless looking forward to what I believed would be a scenic drive into the ancient city of Kano. After a few team consultations, the decision was made to fly to Kano.

A different world

So here I was, turban neatly wrapped around my head and wearing a long, modest wrap dress; was this sharia police and kidnapper-compliant, I wondered? Unsurprisingly, the flight was delayed. This recurrent theme on our local flights does so much to tarnish the image of the country, I cannot understand why there hasn’t been much more focus on sorting the issue out.

Finally, on board and ready to move, a quick glance at other female passengers told me that they were all wearing headscarves of one form or the other. Thank goodness, I didn’t decide to rebel on the suggested dress code. Despite this, there was a distinct feel that I was in a foreign land. I heard mostly Hausa and Arabic and the flight was quite unlike the very cosmopolitan Abuja to Lagos flights. I felt completely out of place.

With the fervent national debates about restructuring (a thoroughly overused word) currently dominating print and other media, I couldn’t help asking myself: who is a Nigerian? I like to believe that I’m forward-thinking, but why is it that I felt what could almost be described as discomfort among my own people?

My thoughts on the complexities of ethnic biases and stereotypes were interrupted by the distress of the lady sitting next to me. She was weeping and rocking back and forth on her seat. Fear of flying turns the best of us into weaklings; I have been on a flight with an adult male, well over 6ft in height, built like an American footballer who clutched his seat hard, had his eyes squeezed shut and was calling on Jesus from take-off to landing.

Not so for this lady of Lebanese descent – she had just lost her brother and wanted to get to Kano before his burial according to Islamic rites. However, the delay meant that she might yet miss it despite her pleas to her family. I wonder if she made it. This will remain yet another unfinished story among the many in the journey of life.

A tourist in my own country

Again, that feeling of being in a foreign country at Mallam Aminu Kano airport; the airport attendant who brought the trolley spoke neither pidgin nor English, and I speak no Hausa. We spent a strange few minutes communicating using sign language before I was safely in the car. I am beginning to better appreciate the diversity of Nigeria.

The ‘karota’ or Kano’s nearest equivalent to LASTMA, in their bright yellow shirts and the ubiquitous ‘keke marwas’ we passed in a blur as we sped along the road toward the hotel. I am taking photos on the go and the driver is amused that another Nigerian would be fascinated enough about his state to want to take pictures.

The truth is that I really am a tourist, albeit in my own country. I am enjoying the new sounds. Much of the city is of course similar to any other Nigerian capital but there is something about the smell of a place that distinguishes it from even its closest neighbour. Kano city’s hot, muggy air hugs the nostrils in a scent I haven’t yet identified.

Google maps estimated a journey time of just under two hours to get to Kausani (in Wudil LGA). I finally got my scenic drive. The cityscape gave way to verdant forests as we drove; traffic got less and less until we were the only ones left on an unpaved road.

Cattle grazed freely on either side of us. Technology failed us and we resorted to the time-tested method of asking the locals for directions.

They were all helpful and we made our way deeper into rural Kano. It was quite an experience journeying from the city to communities far removed from the metropolitan area. I saw two girls, one a teenager, run as though chased by demons. The older of the two took a glance back after she had given us some distance and it was then that I realised that they were petrified of us and of the moving vehicle.

A system that works

We take such everyday things for granted. It had not crossed my mind that there could still be people apprehensive of the sounds coming from a car engine. Once they got over their initial terror, curiosity overcame them and more children surrounded the car, stroking the bumper, tapping the windows and looking at their reflections in the side mirrors.

I honestly cannot say who was more fascinated, them or me. More was to come. As I raised my phone camera to capture these images, all the children fled. The interpreter explained that they feared the lens causing them harm of some form.

With permission from the elders of the community, we went into one of the compounds. A warm and welcoming people, I was struck by the simplicity of their existence. Electricity was non-existent and cooking was done in huge pots in a main area outside. Most of the men were out on the farm, the main sustenance for these communities. It is a different way of life from gated compounds and neighbours in the cities, who are more or less strangers to one another; theirs is a genuine communal life. They all looked content.

The only things that I was glad to escape from were the bold flies. Despite my discreet swatting, I caught more than a few laughs at my expense.

Yada community in Takai LGA, about a three-hour drive from town was much of the same. Huge parcels of land were devoted to rice farming and other parts to maize and beans. There were few surprises this time — I was again impressed by how warmly we were received.

International agencies cite statistics showing how many people live under two dollars a day, have low literacy or no access to electricity but if we look at it a little differently, we can ask ourselves whether we are right to want something for them that they don’t necessarily hanker after. They do not see themselves as lacking anything; if they are healthy and happy, who are we to want them to aspire to a similar lifestyle to ours?

Apart from encouraging the practice of good hygiene where they are lacking, perhaps it is not for us to interfere with a system that works – and has worked for centuries, I dare to add.

Centuries’ old architecture

Back to the ancient city of Kano, the last stop was the emir’s palace. At the entrance to the Gidan Rumfa, one of the palace guards stopped me from taking photos. After a short conversation with an interpreter, I was allowed to take a few and to go into a courtyard leading to the palace itself. I wasn’t about to argue with them.

If Nigerians share anything, it is a healthy respect for our traditional monarchs and their institutions.

There was a mix of the old and the new in the vast courtyard – saloon cars were parked in grounds housing beautiful centuries-old architecture. The guide told me that there is a girls’ secondary school within the palace walls. There was only time to take a few shots before heading out to the airport. The palace is certainly on my list for further exploring. To be surrounded by such history is a feeling difficult to put into words.

There was no time to visit the Gidan Makama museum, a building over 400 years old, or to learn more about the history of the Kano emirate. I left with a renewed sense of humility, that the privileges of a western education do not automatically permit us to make choices for others.

I left Kano with a deep appreciation of the way of a life of people that I knew little of their existence except as GPS coordinates on colourful charts in the office. I left there with a sense of unfinished business.

More importantly, I have an increased thirst to see the sights that my country has to offer.

Lande Abudu is the Executive Secretary of the Renewable Energy Association of Nigeria. Aside from the day job, she is the Chief Football Writer Arbiterz magazine. She made this trip in 2017.

PS: Display image of Kano Gate/ Old City Walls, courtesy of Bauchi Friends (Instagram: @bauchifriends)

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