The time had finally come: the end-of-the-season West Africa International Middle School Football (soccer) Championship Tournament to be held in Dakar, Senegal. Our boys’ team, representing the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria is a collection of eleven 6th and 8th graders, of a range of sizes and abilities that is typical of this age group. These 11 boys will be accompanied by myself (the coach), and AISL school official (Donald), and two 6th grade moms. Our trip starts with a Wednesday overnight flight from Murtala Mohamed International Airport in Lagos to Dakar, Senegal, via a stop in Cotonou, Benin. We are joining a plane already full of 2 boys and 2 girls’ teams from Accura representing Ghana. After arriving in Dakar at 2:30am, and settling the players down on mats on the host school’s gym floor, the players fell asleep by 4am.
After a brief breakfast that Thursday morning, we board buses and head to Gorée Island. Dakar is clean and modern, hugging the coastline with resorts, beaches and perfect waves (remember “The Endless Summer”).
We take the passenger ferry to Gorée Island where our guide takes us on a tour of the infamous place. The island was originally settled by the Portuguese and later turned into the key transportation hub of the West African slave trade. Slaves captured up and down the West African Coast were brought here to be shipped to the New World. As an island, escape was nearly impossible, since the regular supply of infirmed and deceased captives kept the local waters teeming with sharks. We visited a slave transport house, of which ~15 operated on the island, where the cells for men, women, and children were preserved, and then the players got an opportunity to stand at “the Door of No Return” from which 10’s of 1000’s never set foot on African soil again.
After the tour of the water’s edge, we climbed a steep hill to the highest point in the island where we ordered lunch at a restaurant, and while waiting for lunch, visited a set of ~6-inch guns on a turret built into the hilltop (e.g. “The Guns of Naverone”). These were emplaced by the French but were only actually fired once before they were disabled by strategic torching of the barrels. Today, the encampment, tunnels and trenches are home to a vibrant art and crafts community. The boys watched with interest as a sand artist plied his trade with nothing but glue and colored sand. Then we returned to the restaurant for lunch.
After the ferry ride back to the mainland and buses back to the host school, every player met their host parents and dispersed with them for their home-stays, under instructions to arrive early tomorrow for the start of the tournament. The school administrator and I stayed at the Principal’s tri-level flat, where we were splendidly hosted and delighted in a home-cooked Ziti meal.
The next morning, Friday, began the Football Tournament at the school where the full-sized field was divided in half, and we played 8-a-side across the field with smaller goals. There were 8 boys’ teams and 4 girls’ teams and every game was 2 x 20-minute halves. Today, we would play 3 bracket games against Dakar’s second team (a 5-0 win), a strong Ghana Team (a 2-0 loss), and Burkina Faso (a 5-1 win), which was enough to advance us as the 2nd place team in the bracket. In the other bracket, Abuja, Nigeria advanced as the 1st place team and Dakar’s 1st team advanced as the bracket runners-up, setting us up for all Nigerian semi-finals on tomorrow.
That night, the adults’ walked to a Teacher’s birthday party, where a local teachers’ Rock Band played live “oldies” and everyone talked, ate pizza and danced.
On Saturday morning, after a morning jog along the oceanfront, I met the Team at school, where the Lagos boys subsequently played an excellent game and beat their Abuja rivals 5-2, while the other semi-final went to penalty kicks, which the host Dakar won. The finals were a tense affair with ~200 spectators and great crowd noise. Our Lagos team scored ~15 minutes in on a penalty kick, for a player fouled in the box and we held that 1-0 lead throughout the half. The host school was strong defensively, and other balls put into their net by the Lagos boys were called back in the second half. However, the 1-0 lead held up and we were crowned “West African Champions”.
From the field, the boys went back to their host family’s houses, showered and packed, and returned to the school for a Middle School Dance in the gym. While the kids socialized, Donald and I walked to local Italian restaurant where we ate caprese and spaghetti. We returned to school in time to shut down the party at 10:00pm, organize the boys, and transport them to the airport for a 2:00am flight back to Lagos.
Unfortunately, our plane was delayed in arriving in Senegal, and we didn’t leave Dakar until after 4:00am. With a stop on Cotonou on the way back, the team arrived back in Lagos at 11:00am, tired, but with their trophy in hand.
Monday, after breakfast, we boarded the buses for a short 20 kilometer trip to Dawakin Tofa, a local pot making village. An “old woman” demonstrated the pot making techniques as she collected clay, water, and sand and kneaded it into a dense ball, and then beat it into a pot shape with a mortar and pestle, using her hands and feet to maintain its shape. She marked the pot with her symbolic design, and it was ready for firing in the ovens. Her 10 year old granddaughter apprentice watched, knowing that she would inherit the responsibility some day. The firing pits are simple enclosures where fire embers and ashes are pilled upon the pots to harden them.
After observing the local pot making, we traveled to Aleku, a rural village of traditional weavers and cloth makers. There we watched men spin thread by rolling a stick on their legs and weavers working hand looms that were little more than twigs and sticks, creating beautiful cloth runners that are then hand sewed into larger pieces of fabric.
We returned to the hotel for lunch and then split into 2 groups, as the women who wished to visit the Emir of Kano’s wife and Harem went off early, while the rest of the group made their way to the Emir’s palace grounds in Kano. These palace grounds enclose the parade field and the crowd was already beginning to gather along the surrounding roads and along the Palace fences. We entered the grounds and were similarly escorted to the Official Viewing Stands, again sharing the area with officials and dignitaries. In a while, the women showed up from their tour with one of the Emir’s wives. She was his second wife, Hajiyya Abba, a trained teacher who has been married to him for 49 years, with 6 children (3boys and 3 girls) and 27 grandchildren. The Emir of Katsina was actually her nephew and she was raised in the Royal House of Katsina. As such, she was good personal friends with Paulette and her graciousness and hospitality were appreciated by all. As a female member of the Emir’s family, she is not allowed outside the Harem in daylight, unless she is traveling abroad. She bid farewell to her quests as they make their way to the Durbar viewing stand.
The Kano Durbar was a more scripted and controlled environment, with more elaborate costumes and decorations, and more formal proceedings. As in Katsina, the different regiments parade in a counter clockwise direction past the viewing area and take up areas on either side of the parade grounds. The crowds pressed into the fences, and every available tree limb, sign or vantage point became quickly occupied to watch the spectacle. In Kano, the newly elected governor with us in the viewing-stands, is well liked by the present Emir, Ado Bayero and the crowds were even larger than usual to support the respectful meeting of these two leaders. After ~2000 horsemen and 5000 men had filed past, the arrival of the Emir is announced by ancient musket fire from the Emir’s guards, and the procession of his family, wives vacant horses, guards, and the Emir himself proceeded down the center. After the usual pleasantries, the ceremonial charging of the horses with swords flashing was re-enacted, before the Emir returned to his Palace, and we traverse the crowd to our buses and returned to the Prince Hotel.
That night dinner by the pool was a Lebanese BBQ while we shopped with venders from the dye pits and were entertained by native Koroso dancers for nearly 90 minutes. An old woman was there decorating the limbs of all visitors with henna for 500 naira per extremity. The owner of the hotel set up a Karaoke system, and we spent the evening embarrassing ourselves, only to find videos of us would later appear on You-Tube.
Tuesday was started with a bus trip to Kura Village (Kura meaning “hyena”). Here we made a brief stop at the local dye pits, and proceeded to watch the turban makers create the turban cloth. We watched as men hand stitched ½ inch wide strips of cloth into 1 foot wide turban material, and after dying, visited Bata, where the turban cloth is beat to create its shine.
After departing Kura, we went to the Rock Castle Hotel at Tiga for lunch. This hotel oversees a large dammed reservoir lake (30 kilometer radius) which provides local recreation and irrigation to the residents of the area.
The hotel was originally built in the 1970’s by the fondly remembered Governor Audubako, for a planned visit by Queen Elizabeth to the area. However, a military coup in Nigeria ended the possibility of the visit. The hotel has 28 guest rooms, is 4-5 stories high, and sits on a bluff overlooking the lake. There are 2 Her Majesty suites which are rentable today. In 1992, the State Government put the Hospitality and Tourism Board, NIHOTOU, in charge of the complex. After lunch and the tour, we took a stroll to the lakefront where local tourists and maruchi, suya, and sugar cane venders marketed their treats. Finally we boarded the bus for one last stop before returning to Kano.
In the area of Rano, we stopped at one the large, outcropping, granite rocks that populate the landscape. Apparently, picnicking in this area was one of Paulette’s favorite pastimes in former years. At the top of the rock, the surrounding view was spectacular, and at the base we talked and shared greetings with the local cow herders who were watching after 2 small calves that were less than one week old.
That night after returning to the Prince Hotel, 16 of us went out to an Indian curry restaurant where we ate well and drank both bottles of wine and all the Heineken beer that the restaurant had.
On Wednesday morning, it was time to check-out and to travel to the airport for the airplane trip back to Lagos, again via Abuja. The flight was uneventful, and the adventure was over, but it is kept alive by the wonderful memories of the sights we saw and the people we met.
A special thanks by all to Paulette Van Trier for making this possible!
In the northern reaches of Nigeria, near the southern entrance to the great Sahara desert, lies the ancient city of Kano. Kano lies within the state of the same name, and is bordered to the northwest by the state of Katsina. Kano was first settled in the 7th century by the Hausa people, is the oldest city in West Africa, today is the 2nd largest city in Nigeria, (populated by ~7 million people), and is predominantly Islamic.
Kano’s “old city” is surrounded by a massive 11th century mud and brick wall (sarlsi-gujmasu) which still stands tall in many areas, and must be navigated by a series of gates (“kofar”) that are now freely open.
Our trip to the Nigerian north is to see the people and land there and to attend the Katsina and Kano Durbars. These multi-day Durbar Festivals date back hundreds of years to a time when the local Emirates (states) defended themselves and their Emir with a fierce military Calvary. The Calvary was made up of regiments from different nobility and local chiefs. During this time, once or twice a year, the many regiments would gather and parade for the Emir, colorfully demonstrating their horsemanship, bravery and loyalty.
Our trip has been organized by Paulette Van Trier, a Belgium National attached professionally and long term in Nigeria, previously in Kano, and now in Lagos. During her stay in the country, she has developed personal contacts in the Kano and Katsina region that allow her to organize this cultural trip for 42 people, as part of the Nigerian Field Society’s annual program.
Today, Durbars have become a festival welcoming dignitaries and heads of state, coinciding with the two great Muslim festivals, Eid-el Fitri and Eid-el Kabir. We are attending the festivals with Eid-el Kabir, which commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim sacrificing a ram instead of his son.
We start our adventure by flying on Friday evening from Lagos to Kano via Abuja on Air Nigeria. The runways at each airport all hold large jumbo jets this time of year: they are prepared to move people for the Hajj, their annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Our travel is smooth, as we are met at the airport by two large coaches and are shuttled a short distance to our base of stay – The Prince Hotel. The hotel is lush and beautiful with excellent service, as we grab a late snack and prepare for Saturday’s sightseeing and cultural tours.
Our group is a diverse collection of Nigerians and Expats for all across the world. We include not only residents of Abuja, Port Harcourt and Lagos, but others who have flown in from London and the USA to participate in this trip. We also have a strong collection of industry and embassy staff representing various countries.
Saturday starts with a buffet breakfast poolside before we board our buses and meet our “guides”, Abu and Friday. Friday has been a guide for these groups for over 14 years. We are driven into the old city through one of the 14 gates that allow entrance through the 25 kilometer-long walled circumference. In the “old days” the cities gates were kept closed between 6pm and 8am and people would wait for their opening. However today, all gates are open all the time. It is clear that although Kano is an old city, it is clean and well maintained. The roads are in good shape as we make our way past the local Football Stadium (home of the Caterpillars) to a family “Dye Pit” operation located at the “Kofar Mata”, the “women’s gate”. This particular site has been used to dye cloth in the traditional ways for nearly 800 years. The pits are full of a “dye” which is made from indigo, potassium, ash, and water (~1500 liters water, 100 kilograms indigo, 40 buckets ash and 5 buckets potassium). The mixture is left in the pit for ~4 weeks where it “ferments” and causes the indigo to turn dark blue. The cloth is then hand-dipped in the pit and then held out over the pit to drip dry in the wind before repeating. This process ensures that the dye is adhered to the cloth. The process is repeated hundreds of times over 4-6 hours depending on the darkness of the color desired. In order to create designs on the materials, the cloth is banded, tied, bundled, etc. to create areas where the dye cannot permeate. The dye itself can be used in that pit for nearly 1 year, and then a new batch is needed to be mixed.
Once the cloth is dyed and dried, it is taken to the “pounding shed” where it can be made shinny by pounding the cloth between a smooth mahogany paddle and a long, smooth mahogany log. The impact on the material, coupled with the ash from the dye process, creates a beautiful sheen to the fabric.
Our next stop is the Gidan Makama National Museum. It is made up of 9 galleries through which we are guided in groups of 10. Gidan means “house” and this museum was originally the guest house of Makama who became King of the region in 1442, and used it as a temporary palace. The new palace, Gidan Rumfa, was built across the street and was completed in 1478 for King Rumfi and is the site of the Emir’s Palace today. Gidan Makama today operates in 3 sections: The Primary School, the Makama Guest House for the Emir’s guests, and the Museum with its 9 galleries.
Mohammed Rumfi was King of Kano from 1463-1499. Kano was ruled by Hausa Kings from that point but suffered bloody internecine wars that saw the city finally fall to Fulani raiders during the jihad Othman Dan Fodio in 1803. In 1804, the 1st Emir was emplaced, and the ruling Fulani’s used the Durbar to demonstrate their strength and allegiance. Today, the Hausa or “common people” make up about 60% of the population with the Fulani accounting for the other 40%. In 1903, the British invaded and conquered Kano. The Gidan Makama Museum opened in 1985.
Next on the agenda was to actually visit the wall at one of the city gates. The wall is made of mud brick stacked and mud-plastered over, and is arranged 10-12 feet thick and 20-25 feet high.
From here we returned to the hotel for lunch, and prepare to shop in the afternoon at the five-hundred year-old Kurmi Market.
The afternoon market trip was very much like the typical “markets in Nigeria”. Rows of narrow corridors lined with vendors making and marketing nearly anything that one might think of. Everything is negotiable, but the items of interest to our group were principally fabric, blankets, beads and clothes. It was clear that the locals were also shopping today for the pending great holiday festival.
After the market, we relaxed with a Lebanese buffet dinner at the hotel by the pool.
Sunday morning we made an early start to travel by bus to Katsina, a city 170 kilometers to the northwest of Kano which historically served as a crossroads of trade on the trans-Sahara route from Timbuktu. The area around Katsina today is dominated by rolling hills, dry climate but quite a bit of agriculture using simple forms of irrigation. The region exports grains (wheat, sorghum, tomatoes, peppers & cotton) principally to Chad, and to southern Nigeria. The landscape is punctuated by the honored Bilibab tree, with which the locals have a symbiotic relationship. The land is littered by wadi scars and is covered elsewhere by small scrubs, grasses and the occasional tree that reminds one of typical East African landscapes. But, there are no “roaming” animals, and no wildlife is to be seen anywhere. Housing is principally built from the ever-present red clay bricks, and the landscape is dotted by granite boulders hills. Before we arrive in Katsina, we are surprised to see a massive modern ‘Windfarm” under construction, the first of 10 planned in Nigeria! However, we are informed later that the construction has been halted, the engineer is nowhere to be found, and that the engineering parts are disappearing over time. The State hopes to get work back underway in 2012.
The Katsina Durbar is a 3-day Festival where the first day is spent in prayer (Eid Durbar), the second in homage to the Emir (Hawan Daushe Durbar) and the third day as a “picnic” celebration where animals are slaughtered and food is shared (Hawan Nassarawa). We are here for day #2! Our buses make their way through the gates and onto the Palace grounds where we are escorted up to the covered reviewing stands, 2-3 levels high, into front row seats looking out over a large dirt parade field which is surrounded by throngs of people, vendors, and various security forces. Next to us are the Waziri of Katsina and his entourage and delegations from the embassies of Italy and Belgium, as well as the Governor of the State of Katsina.
The current Emir of Katsina is 53 years old and has been in office ~3 years. He has 4 wives and ~25 children. When it comes time to choose a new Emir, the “King Makers”, 4 trusted leaders, meet to choose someone of royal lineage, who is politically acceptable and meets their criteria. The Emir will be the last to enter the Festival procession.
The event begins with the Nigerian National Anthem, and the regiments of horse groups representing noble families and villages circle the grounds counter clockwise, passing to pay respect to the governor and viewing stands.
Once they have shown respect and the sign of “no weapon in my hand”, they proceed to line the sides of the Parade ground, until others join them.
Groups are strictly only men, young and old, and include traditional drums and flutes, acrobats, and the spectacularly colorful costumes for riders and horses. Even the famous drummer Ettatisay parades in this event.
Finally, after ~ 70 minutes of precession and when ~2000 horsemen are assembled on the parade grounds, the Emir’s procession begins down the middle of the grounds, including his guards, riderless horses for his wives, and his sons. Finally, the Emir himself comes, easily identifiable by the huge umbrella which is pogo-ed, up and down, manually, over him. After he pays respect to the governor and the reviewing stand, the horse regiments sequentially mock-charge to him at a gallop to demonstrate their prowess. Finally, the Emir addresses the crowd who wildly approve. Then the Emir exits into the Palace, the riders disperse, the crowd mills about, and we exit the stands to visit the Emir in his Palace.
Initially we enter the palace through a walkway lined with cages of exotic birds. We are allowed to keep our shoes on as we enter a small sitting-welcome room where small-chop and drinks are served. Then, we are guided to one of the Emir’s small palace rooms (in fact, the trophy room) where the Emir, his Waziri and entourage enter. The Waziri welcomes us, as he tells us a little about the proud history of Katsina as a hub in the trans-Sahara trade route. He is clearly a very well educated man, passionate in his love of his city and of his Emir. At the end of his welcome, we are surprised when the Emir personally welcomes each of us with a handshake, before he moves on with his duties.
We exit the palace to our bus, where we transported a short distance to the local Liyafa Hotel to have lunch. After lunch, we enjoy the crystal blue skies and explore the local ground, remarking on the exotic “Calabash” tree, where calabash gourds over 1 foot in diameter hang from the branches like freakish giant tomatoes. Then, it’s back to the bus to make the long trip back to the Prince Hotel in Kano, and dinner at the Palace Chinese Restaurant. Later that evening after a long and busy day, about half of the group played iPod music and danced at the pool while the pool bar kept us supplied. For some, it wasn’t bedtime until after 1am.