Wednesday, March 3, 2010
We left early on a Saturday morning to drive 3 hours to the Pandam Game Reserve on the Lafia-Shenden road, about 60 km east of Lafia. It was the usual outside of the city excursion with me, Gordon, Bryan, Lana, and Lulu (the dog). We packed a cooler of food for lunch somewhere along the way and had a easy driving experience roundtrip, despite going through at least 5 potential altercations with 'nail boys' and uniformed Vehicle Inspection Officers. The dry season is coming to an end in Nigeria, within a month it should begin raining again. In the mean time, it is incredibly hot, at least 40 degrees Celsius each day and very very dry. Most grass and bushes are brown and dead while the trees begin to shed fruit and produce beautiful flowers. And, most important of all- it is MANGO SEASON! At the Pandam Game Reserve we went in a nice canoe ride in an old dugout. We paddled around for about 3 hours, saw a hippopotamus, and many birds and ducks. There were also these fresh water jelly fish, of which we thought only existed in salt water. They were tiny little things and the locals did not even have a name for them. It is amazing the people we run into here with Red Sox gear. At least Gordon did not buy the shirt off this fisherman's back like he did to the wheel barrel boy at Utako Market a few months back. A picture was simply good enough for evidence of international fans. These people are harvesting yams, which grow for about 1 year in these large dirt mounds. We stopped at this quarry that we have passed by several times on previous trips, just to observe what goes on there. It was interesting watching the process of production. All work is done by hand. To create the thin slivers of granite, they build a hot fire on top of the rock and then it breaks off in thin slices, which is very valuable.
We took an overnight trip to Zaria during Eid El Mawlid, a celebration of Muhammad's birthday. Zaria is a mostly Muslim town about 4 hours north of Abuja, with very ancient traditions. Tourism is such an underdeveloped business in Nigeria that it was difficult to try to find the places we wanted to see. However, we did find the Emir's Palace, old leather dying pits, the old city's mud walls where people from over 400 years ago have been laid to rest, and hung out with a chief and observed his business of caftan (the long Muslim traditional clothing) pounding. On our way through Kaduna we stopped for a stroll around the Magistrate's House. There were fruit bats swarming around the grounds. Once we approached one of their main roosting trees found that they were so active because there were men hunting them with sling shots. The people eat them and also use their parts for traditional medicine. Lulu collected a crowd near the Emir's Palace. The children were frightened of her and awstruck at the same time. We walked through the crowd during a parade, and accidentally became part of the event, as it was a parade to celebrate different cultures. Here the men are pounding the caftans, to make them ironed and shiny. We passed the Kaduna River on our way home and stopped to hang out with some locals who were harvesting the sand from the river for construction. A few were digging and building piles on the shore while others were loading the sand into metal buckets of which they carried on their heads up to the roadside, about 300 meters over and up. It was hard physical labor.