A Slow Train or Three Across Nigeria (6 of 9)


Another night in Bauchi. More whimperings and screamings, definitely from the carriage ahead of me, and none from the one behind so in the morning I enquire at the 2nd class carriage ahead. Some fellows say that yes, it is a dog, but I don’t sight the wretched beast, so I can’t report on what might have occasioned such noises. The goat has however been removed: it is an animal of some monetary value.

Away to the leaking standpipe’s pool for a wash in peace and quiet, then I entertain the locals by washing my trousers and sheet at the tap in front of the station. By the time my trousers are done, the sheet is dry. This is arid country. After breakfast, I ask the railway fellows about a visit to the museum. I’m told to wait while they enquire, then one comes to my compartment to say “Plenty of time, back by noon is OK.” So out to find a motorcycle taxi, and away we zoom, to what proves to be the west edge of town out past the (closed) Levantis superstore. Surely not a good site for visitors!

A few people are sitting around the ticket booth, and one conducts me around the exhibits in the circular museum building. No electricity, again! The few exhibits are good, but each topic has just a few items. Good detail, but no breadth. One display shows an exchange of letters between an Emir and the British Governor, who was vexed by raids from people supposedly controlled by the Emir. “Peace to those who are peaceful, trouble for those who cause trouble”, offering him assistance in ‘controlling’ his unruly subjects. The Emir replied “I have not asked your help, nor want it.” But too late, an expedition was sent and order was established. In the guest book, aside from Nigerians there are only a few Germans and some Chinese to represent the outside world.

On the way back, I stop at the city’s other P.O., which also has no postcards, so away to the first, where a wider search nearby is rewarded by finding a shop that has a few cards.

Back at the station at noon, to find no urgency, so off for lunch. Someone has chalked up “We eat to live”, so I can’t resist adding “I live to eat“.

The day continues. I’m sitting in my compartment, darning some socks, when I’m again invaded by a turmoil of kids of about eight years of age and under whose curiosity has been steadily escalating these last few days. This morning they’d insisted on combing my hair, and even though dust means that it could do with a wash, exclaimed over its fineness. Also, my skin is white all over, the palms of my hands not paler than the rest. Now they crowd about, fascinated by everything I’m doing. Why have I placed some spring onions in my cup with some water? Unlike other adults, I don’t shoo them away. Seeing that I’ve started to sweat in the now crowded compartment (even though the door is open), they compete to fan me, while I dream idly of slave girls.

When I’ve finished with my socks, I stare glumly at the rent in my B-trousers. A patch is needed, as the material is weak. The girls say that it could be fixed locally for N2, so I commission a boy to have a try at the Nigerian price. He scampers out, returning with an estimate of N25 if the lesser tears are also to be dealt with. I didn’t really expect to get away with Nigerian prices, so agree and away he goes, returning in half an hour. N30 was the final price. His shorts are torn also, but “No money”, not even for Nigerian prices so he gets a N3 fee. And immediately shares it out: his sister demands N1, and passes on N1/2 to her younger sister. Almost a geometric progression. Trickle down in action!

Kassim calls around for a chat, during which I grump about goats. He had no particular dislike, but I hate the animals. They kill trees (even climbing them to get at the foliage), and ruin pasture thanks to their habit of ripping plants out with the roots. “It’s true! It’s true!” exclaims Kassim; even as we spoke a goat wandered past, ripping weeds out from the trackside ballast and devouring them roots and all, indifferent to my scowls. Yes, goats can survive on land that wouldn’t support sheep or cattle, but they also ensure that the land wouldn’t be able to support them, still less crops.

Around six, Kassim gives up on reading Fortunes of War, and I go for some dinner at the restaurant. As there is plenty of time, I wander over to the nearby shop and stall area for some snacks as well. Fried plantain is not much to my taste, so the kids (who’ve wandered up) get a slice each while I concentrate on the deep-fried blobs of paste. By the caf�, the grinder machine is still chugging through batches of peanuts, or vegetables, on and on. Saheen says hello; he’s back from working on the derailment, or rather, the second derailment. And back for an early night.

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