Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Foolhardy or Courageous?

In my intrepid days, when I strode the world like a Colossus, (as Mark Anthony said of Caesar), a trip to Nigeria would have been a minor matter. Like catching a bus to the Whitgift Centre. After all I had lived in Nigeria for five years, what could surprise me? 

   But now, I dread to think I have to travel to Nigeria. I have unfinished business there. The last time I went that way was in 1994, returning from a Gender in Maths (Numbers with little spokes straight or sideways at an angle?) conference in Quebec City. I had been full of vim and professional certainties. But the experience at Lagos airport was unpleasant.

   The queues, if you could call them that, were long and untidy. Near the check-in counters the anxious travellers were milling around without direction. Nobody could find the forms to be filled before you were released out of that airport Babel. The man at the counter had several stacks of A4 size forms next to him and he doled them to each passenger when they reached him. They then filled them up laboriously and he processed it. Each person took a good ten minutes to be waved through. I was in transit, I had forty minutes to catch my connection to Entebbe and nothing was happening my end.

   Between the passengers and the forms to be filled there was a low two-foot-wide wooden bench, about knee high. I climbed the surface to the other side when the man was not looking, grabbed a sheaf of forms and distributed it to all the men and women in the queue. Then I helped the passengers who were struggling with the form. At least they would now be ready for the officer when they reached the front of the queue.

   There was a Canadian lady in front of me and we both came to an unspoken decision almost simultaneously. She stood aside and shouted to the queue in a school marm voice. 'Right. Line up properly.' She made sure there was no pushing and shoving and no bunching up. When she reached the front, (the queue was moving forward fast now) she turned to me and said, 'Now you take over.' So there I was managing traffic in the middle of Lagos airport.

   In the eighteen years since I did some sillier things in my ignorance. On my first morning in Kampala I drove on the right side of the road, out of the College in Kyambogo.; I had just come from Sierra Leone, where you did just that. Three armed guards with machine guns came slowly towards me and stopped my vehicle. Prayers time, I thought; Idi Amin was not long gone from that lovely country and AK 47s always make me feel sub-human. I squirmed, explained myself and was let off with a warning.

   When I went to Makeni from England in 1983 I drove round the little roundabout in the town the wrong way round too. I should have been going right. A little Sierra Leonean urchin came up to me with a scrap of paper. 'You will die if you drive like this; maybe you come in for  some coffee,'  was scribbled on that paper.Who can resist such an interesting invitation? 'Who gave you this note?' I asked. He pointed to the hardware store opposite the roundabout . Thus began a life-long friendship with the Abihanna family. Their home became a place I drove to when I was alone or tired or merely wanted to eat food cooked by someone else.

   I haven't seen them for twenty-six years, my friend Marie, her husband, Simon, or her father and brother. But next year I shall travel to Journieh to meet them all again. Some friends are very special. 

   Marie's son Susu owes me for all the times he peed in my lap. And for the many command performances of 'Hello, is it me you are looking for?'  Marie danced in their sitting room while I sang and little Susu, now definitely Joseph would go to sleep in her arms. 

   

   Fireflies: Foolhardy or Courageous?Fireflies: Foolhardy or Courageous?

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