Showing posts from November, 2007

I'm becoming a patron of the arts!!!

This looks like it is going to be a rather quiet weak, at least research-wise. The campus is still closed because of the incident on Friday … or in fact, security has even been reinforced o the effect that I was unable to go onto the campus on Monday. I had spoken to my host mum in the morning, checking whether she’d consider it safe to go to uni and she had indicated that there shouldn’t be any reason to worry as things were likely to have calmed down over the weekend. However, when I arrived I found that they had increased security measures and only allowed people in who were carrying their student ID. Of course, I still haven’t got any and the security guys didn’t really look like they were up for a discussion. What had happened? Well, on Sunday eve a young woman was attacked on campus. According to different sources she was either on her way to an evening event at the Chapel of Grace, which is on the campus, or worshipping in the open field. But the really scary thing were/are the rumours that the guy who attacked her was actually not just a robber but a member of some cult trying to suck her blood!!! Apparently there was still blood coming out of his mouth when they caught him. I don’t know while nobody seems to consider the possibility that this was actually his blood, that he bit his tongue or something of this kind – a version I prefer in any case. In fact, the rest of the version I was given at the motor park did sound like he might have been on drugs which would make it likely that he bit his tongue, wouldn’t it. – Please, no comments on this that question my version of the story. It’s scary enough without considering the possibility of some blood-suckers or cannibals running around! And I anyway don’t really know what to make of these rumours about all these cults … apart from that I just keep away from any discussions surrounding that topic.

However, apart from spreading horror stories, why am I putting that here, well, because I was meant to meet a local artist, Alh Mai Gana, at the campus on Monday. I had commissioned a painting from him as a means of establishing contact and we had agreed to meet up at the Creative Arts Department for him to hand it over to me. But as I wasn’t allowed into campus I had to return back home and without any telephone number I didn’t even know how to let him know! In fact, it seems he somehow made it onto the campus (I really don’t know how as he’s not a student or member of staff) and was waiting for me. So, hours after our agreed meeting time I received a call from him but we were disconnected before we agreed a new time and place to meet. And when I rang the number he had called from to be told that this was a payphone and he had already gone. So, panicking as I was – I neither didn’t want to loose the painting nor the contact – I made one of these stupid quick decisions: He had given me his ‘address’ at our first meeting. Well, address is a bit exaggerated, he told me in which quarter of the town he lives. Nevertheless I just got onto a bike, hoping that the driver knew the quarter and Alh Mai Gana would locally be well known enough for people in the area to guide me to his place. Well, turned out the driver didn’t know the quarter. So after first driving into the wrong direction he finally asked somebody who sent us all the way back. The next obstacle was that the neighbourhood is called Deribe Palace quarters; Deribe Palace being the locally rather famous house of the later Mai Deribe, formerly the richest man in town. So, now the driver insisted on getting me to the house itself, telling everybody I apparently was expected there on some business. Accordingly it took me shouting at him to get him to stop before we actually went into the compound of some people who don’t even know me. However, fortunately – and I’m proud I managed to do this in Hausa – the guy just outside the gate actually knew Alh Mai Gana and was able to give us directions to his place. He wasn’t around and it took me another half an hour to make somebody understand that I in this case I wanted to leave a message for him. Anyway, when I returned the next morning he was actually expecting me having received my message. And, in fact, something good came out of the whole chaos: I saw his house/studio. It’s beautifully painted with imitations of Moroccan style tiles, but very tastefully. On hearing me comment upon it he suggested that when I buy a house in Maiduguri he will paint it for me. Well, don’t yet have any plans of this kind. And, he showed me some of his paintings in progress. And turns out that – rather curiously – he produces a black and white sketch indicating all shapes, light and shades and his son actually colours the paintings. While Alh Mai Gana himself is, to my current understanding, an alumni of the Creative Arts Department here in Maiduguri and also studied painting at some school in Oxford in the 1980s, I assume that his son does not have any training of this kind but is the apprentice of his father. On a side-note: Something similar, i.e. a university graduate passing on his knowledge of painting to others outside the university context appears to go on with Abakura, whom I think I mentioned in an earlier entry. Anyway, I finally got my painting and now I’m curious for comments:

Comparing with the photo I gave him: Is it just me or did the portrait of Tobi to the right really work out the best of all of them? Part of me would love to commission him two more paintings, one of a European friend of mine and one of an African friend. Just to see whether this has to do with the fact that he perfected technique and colour palette for painting Nigerians but that portraits of light skinned people challenge him, or rather his son who does the colouring? It shouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that he worked from a photograph because this appears to be his usual mode of work. He chooses a good photo of some rather famous or well-off person, paints it and then offers it to them rather than to wait for commissions. And, usually, people seem to be either flattered or impressed enough by his work to actually buy it off him. I’d love to know to which extent this has actually to do with the fact that he works a bit like a praise-singer who starts to come after you with his band of drums to praise your virtues and whom you are expected to pay for this service – even if you didn’t request his service.
Some more life-time firsts – let’s start with the more profane: After home-grown bananas and oranges I yesterday had the less enjoyable pleasure of trying my first cashew fruit. Yes, the fruit from the tree that produces cashew nuts. And, in fact, this particular tree even has a name – Erik, after the friend of Andrew and the family who planted it years ago. I can’t really say which fruit I haven eaten before the taste of cashew reminded me, but it must be something of a mixture between really bitter grapefruits and unripe apples, you know, those of the small and hard kind that fall from the tree long before they are ready. Only that the texture is of a kind that you cannot bite but have to swallow it. Weird but still worth a try if you ever come across it. Maybe then you can tell me what it tastes of.

The other life-time first is even less pleasant and, in fact, really annoying with regard to my research: There was some incident at campus yesterday. I still haven’t found out what actually happened, its just somehow related to some religious disagreement between some students. But just before I was about to leave – slightly delayed thanks to some morning diarrhoea – we received a call from my current host mum, who works at the uni and went in very early in the morning, not to go in but wait at home until further notice from her. Further notice came about one and a half hours later: Students were asked to leave the campus within two hours, including those residing at the hostels on campus. And from what I have heard so far it appears the uni will be closed for the next two weeks. Great! Just as they got used to my presence at the department … Well, instead now the house is full of students from the hostels, some family, some ‘only’ friends, I think. I really love the calm, practical approach to the situation they have here: Made breakfast for everybody and then moved me from the bedroom with the king-size bed to Naomi’s smaller room. I guess that’s what they meant when I arrived and they hadn’t yet got my messages that I was on the way: You arrived like an African they said and simply prepared the guest room for me. I was feeling a bit guilty but was reassured that this was quite acceptable. Guess, now I know why. Things like this uni closure keep on happening unannounced and you just have to do what you can to minimise everybody’s inconvenience. Not like at home, where a surprise visit leaves my mum stressed out because the house might not look as spotless as she’d like it for such occasion.

This, however, leaves open the question of what I will do with my time for the next two weeks if it will really take that long (and not longer) for the university to reopen. I was planning to do a survey of art shops and wall paintings (politicians, shop advertisements) in the city anyway. But even including interviews with artists and shop owners this will not keep me occupied for the whole time. So, I guess it’s high time I get going with my Hausa and find some local craftsmen. And possibly Muslim scholars, though, with regard to that I’d prefer to have a look into the BA dissertation on local scholars views on sculpture that is with the department first. Unfortunately I didn’t arrange for that during my first week here and last week Chris Mtaku, the head of art history, has been travelling. … And, yes, I know, no need to remind me, I could also get in contact with the guys from the museum again but … it was such a frustrating experience last time around. I don’t want to!!!

Oh, and last but not least some pics from a brief trip to Lake Allo, the result of a dam built by the World Bank. Not sure about whether this particular project achieved its objectives (there must be a huge amount of evaporation during the hot season of water that could otherwise have fed into Lake Chad) but it’s a beautiful spot and apparently quite a lot of birds come here to while away the European winter. I definitely have to come back earlier in the day at one point!

Theatre at Unimaid

I wanted to say a word or two about the theatre performances I have attended at the department. Basically, the arts programme here is organised in a way that students have to attend classes in all arts disciplines during the first and second year of their studies, only during the third and fourth are they allowed to specialise in the practical areas. Hence, there are students attending drama classes in all years and every one of them has to present a performance as part of their practical examination. Only the fourth year’s students do not act anymore but are expected to direct the plays of the years below them. Hence, they were three performances on three different evenings. And, I have to confess that I enjoyed the one of the third year students the best, which probably had as much to do with the plays – yes, they chose to rather short ones instead of one long one, Kwesi Kay’s ‘Maama’ and ‘The Game’ by Femi Euba – as with the performances. I guess third year students simply have more acting experience than those in the years below. Also because the course is not compulsory anymore there is a smaller group which, I assume, results in greater attention being paid to individual performers during the preparations. One thing I noticed, however, was that none of the plays was located in a northern Nigerian, let local (Borno State) context. Mr. Ododo, a guest lecturer currently on sabbatical from the University of Ilorin, explained that there are only very few plays situated in or by authors from the north and of these he considers none really worth performing. He diplomatically suggested that this is set to change with the expansion of university education, including the establishment of further drama departments. However, I am wondering what kind of plays there are and whether I would agree with him that they are not worth tackling. Also, can it really be so hard to establish a co-operation with the English department at the beginning of the year and try to put something together, just from student’s experience of their immediate environment? I mean, they have performed plays written by students of the university before.
And, finally some photos, each from a different play. Notice the white man in the photos in the middle. Weird, is that how Afro-Brits or Afro-Germans feel when they see whites dressing up as blacks? Funny feeling.

African Academic Conferences for Beginners

Alright, the first week at campus is over ... and I have to confess I didn't spend as much time at campus as I had hoped to. Basically, because when I went to the department on wednesday I ran into Achedu Ogboli, one of the lecturers there, who told me about this conference and on hearing I hadn't heard about it whisked me off to the venue together with some of his own students. So, I ended up spending the day there, all kept fresh and freezing by airconditioning and lots of fans - a penguin would have been happy to change place with me!
Anyway, was a good thing to go as quite a few researchers concerned with the area were around and it was surely useful to be introduced to them. Never mind getting shown a place where to get some mediteranean style food ... oh, and one where to get beer but I already don't like German beer and Nigerian one, I have to say, has the same annoying taste of ... well, beer. So, that was less useful. Anyway, I guess to a certain extent this also holds true for the conference itself as no paper was exactly concerned with art but most in one way or the other with the history of Islam in the Borno-Kanem empire. But they had this craft and art exhibition outside the conference hall and there actually were some painters there as well. One of them is even a former graduate of the Arts Department at the Uni here and I will meet up with him on monday. Lets see what will come out of this ... and urgently search for a good picture to commission from him. There were two more painters who run an art business in Adamawa and one quite reowned painter from Yobe. The latter had shown works in an exhition of contemporary Nigerian Islamic art in Abuja in September and did her PhD in Turkey, studying Islamic art. I got her email address and the number of the business she's running and hope to get hold of her. Should be really worthwhile to talk to her!!!
Oh, and on another note: They currently also have quite a big going on at campus as the theatre students have to give performances as part of their examination. That's my nights outs currently! Though, more about this another time when I got the pics down from the camera and a bit more information on the plays! And then I'll also add some pictures of works by the artist mentioned above.

First day at Campus, Maiduguri

Alright, there I am now in Maidguri and yesterday even made it to university for the first time. I had secured an appointment with the head of the department of creative arts. And, actually he took about an hour or two time for me. Very nice, very kind. So far. Problem is, I was hoping to learn from him whether and where there might be some documentation about the history of the department. But, because he is only in his post for two years, he doesn't know, is not aware of any documentation. That's a huge disappointment as I was hoping to be able to trace the development of student numbers and staff through these documents as well as any possible changes or discussions about changes of curriculum. But, no, he doesn't know about any. The other problem I'm currently facing is that its examination period - yes, they are still about a few months behind schedule due to the strike in the summer. A bit shit for all finalists who because of that finish end of this month and can only start their National Youth Service next year. In way they are almost "loosing" a year. I mean, it is also to late to join most postgraduate courses, especially, if like Naomi, Andrew's daughter, you were thinking about going abroad for this. Anyway, for me it means that currently students are busy with their exams and not really having a head for requests like mine. And then, they are off for three months. And lecturers are only at the department if they are invigilating, i.e. slightly harder to get hold of. Grrrh. Now the HoD of the department suggested I prepare a questionnaire for his staff. It's not really what I intended as I was hoping for discussions in which some aspects might come up I hadn't previously thought about. But, hey, I prepared the questionnaire and included my contact details. Let's hope some of them find time for me for further discussions. On the other hand, I have been quite lucky yesterday having this graduate of the department and aspiring artists seeking me out yesterday. And he seems quite nice, although he has quite flowry expectations of what it means to be an artist in Europe or the US. Not sure he really believed me that not everybody is making shit loads of money. Sorry, for the expression. And, I also spend some time with a friend of Naomi who will graduate as from the department in a months time. He's a painter and got recognition as the best in his class. And he's quite keen on talking to me. Oh, and did I mention, his mom and sisters are great fun to talk to - he deposited me with them while he did his prayers. I'll hopefully learn more about both of them in the next few weeks. Anyway, let's see whether I get that pics of the three of us uploaded.

A little sightseeing in Kano

Okay, finally I safely arrived in Maiduguri – with my bag, nothing missing, nothing broken. And what do I have to report: Lazy me could not resist to take a day off after the long journey - roughly six or seven hours squashed into an old-ish van without air conditioning, four where three were originally meant to sit. But, this is my first chance to look at my notes from the last trip (they were in the bag) and everything I have read since, and I really thought that was a good idea before I run off to the university and make a fool of myself by confusing names and asking the same old questions I already got answered again. And, in any case, I think I used the time productively putting together a questionnaire I attend to distribute among the department’s students and began to put together the materials for the group interviews I want to follow the survey. Not sure, maybe I’ll post some of this at a later date … For now, as this is also kind of a travel diary meant for those who can’t follow my every move on facebook here a short anecdote to give you an idea of my last week in Kano, because, I wasn’t completely lazy:
I did some sight-seeing. Including climbing Dala Hill another time.

Dala Hill, I might need to explain, is generally regarded as the original site of the settlement that eventually developed into the town Kano. Unfortunately, nobody so far has actually carried out some proper archaeological survey and excavation, at least not that I know. – So, if some archaeologist not really knowing what to do next reads this: that might be a worthwhile thing to do!!! But I actually wanted to tell the story of my little trip there and I have to confess I rather went for the beautiful views over Kano then the history of Dala Hill.

Anyway, I was fortunate to secure a ride right to the foot of the hill with a nice Lebanese based in Kano, who, on a side-note, apparently also has some interest in local history and arts, and thus entered the site from the official entrance. On the left there was a little round hut but as I couldn’t see anyone I just made my way towards the staircase uphill. I passed through another gate and followed the pathway until the bottom of the stairs. Suddenly an elderly man turned up, shouting excitedly in Hausa and gesturing towards me. I know some Hausa, but this guy was just talking far to quickly for anybody to understand anything. And, anyway, upon me looking what’s going on he exclaimed: “Go ahead!!!” So, I shrugged and carried on upwards. But he continued running into my directing and shouting at me – so much now became clear. So I stopped again, looked at him, told him “I’m sorry, I don’t understand!?!” He answered: “Go Ahead!!!” So I did. And he got ever more excited. I had almost reached half-way up the hill. There on the stairs a young boy was sitting. He told me: “He’s talking to you.” So, I stopped again, looked towards the old man who was still running after me and yelling an ever quicker succession of Hausa sentences at me. And, I told him another time: “I don’t understand you!” Again he answered “Go Ahead!!!” But by that time he had already reached me and as he went off into another of his tirades as I turned to move on I decided to stay were I was. Turned out, or rather that’s what he claimed, he was the security guards of the site. Supposedly, I figured out from his talk, there are young boys on the top of the hill who just wait around to snatch the bags and cameras of innocent tourists and this probably 70 year old fellow was here to protect me against them! Now let’s not get distracted by the fact that I had been up there before and found the local kids to be rather charming then threatening, but that was probably just the stupid tourist I am not noticing the danger I was in. Anyway, thanks to him I made it safely up to the top where he proceeded to give me a tour, meaning, quickly stopping in every of the four main cardinal directions, shouting “Gidan Sarki”, “Kasuwar” etc. at me and off he was towards the staircase to get back down after not even five minutes. Well, that’s what I call a proper tour guide! That’s ironic. Had I followed him immediately I wouldn’t even had time to take one picture. So, I stayed and took my time. Which must have greatly annoyed him judging from the continuous “Madam, Madam, go down!” Well, mean as I was I also took my time on the way down and shot some more photos – Its not a big hill, but its from sandstone and has some rather picturesque formations with trees sprouting here and there. Anyway, in doing so I quite clearly endangered myself. My bodyguard even had to throw some stones after some ten year olds to demonstrate how important his presence was. Yeah, couldn’t have dealt with that on my own! But the best was still to come. Once, down he requested in no unclear tone I pay him 200 Naira for his services. Let’s be clear, that’s less than a pound but a quite a chunk of money in the local context. You can quite well eat out for this, some pounded yam, sauce with meat and vegetables and some drink. Apart from that, I had neither asked for nor required his services. So I offered him 50 Naira. Which he refused to accept. Then 100 Naira. Again, not enough. Instead he started into another of his tirades, explaining to some young Hausa fellow who had come along. Apparently, he told him what a wicked ungrateful person I was, having spent over an hour on the hill and now not being willing to reward him for his services. At the translation of which I almost exploded. I had spent a maximum of ten minutes up there, just the time it took to take five or six pictures and all the time had him harassing me to hurry up, not having asked of his services in the first place! And now I was wicked and ungrateful! Well, he was annoying me, about to spoil what had started as such a nice day, so I just threw the hundred Naira at him and left, no thanks, no greetings, nothing. Was that stingy and arrogant? Of course, 200 Naira is not much money in the British context. But am I really meant to encourage him to harass other tourists who come after me? There was no sign indicating a fee when I entered the site, he wasn’t even visible at this point and instead of being helpful in any way he just shouted and, I’m sure, insulted me, and even lied in order to get a third party’s sympathy when I wasn’t willing to pay the requested amount. No, I still hold that me being a tourist from the, I admit as much, far richer West does not justify his behaviour.

However, why do I put this here … well, on the one hand, the last few sentences, that’s my constant headache. Yes, compared to London its not expensive but does that mean I have to allow people to charge me double and triple of what locals pay?! On the other hand, Malam Ibrahim had a big laugh when I told him this little anecdote, so maybe you also find it amusing.

P.S. Finally, a few days belated: Here are some pics of Dala Hill.

Stranded in Kano

Alright, now I'm in Nigeria for almost a week and have achieved next to nothing. Why? Great British Airways has lost my bag along the way from Berlin to Abuja. And, now after almost a week there is still now sight of it, not even a call-back from the guys in Abuja ... Are they taking the mick? Instead I should already have gone to Maiduguri to meet my former Hausa lecturer but without the bag? So, anybody out there: cross youre fingers my bag will turn up soon! My jeans are slowly getting smelly, I fear, after a week sweating in them. ... Apart from that though, Kano is still a nice place, its just that I have already seen the major sites and as I'm not planning to stay longer for the moment, can't really start with my actual research ... Ach, Great British Airways, are going to pay my university fees if I need an extra year because of the delay?!