Avenue, San Francisco 18, California - 8

f our students knew little of the world beyond, the elementary students in the local, isolated areas they were being trained to teach knew even less. For example, these six and seven year old boys and girls knew what a boat was like – a dugout log that one paddled to move – but, other than in a book, they were not likely to have seen one propelled by sail or motor, and were hard pressed to understand what made them move. To expand there knowledge, one of my more creative students made a small sail boat, put it in a large tub of water and blew it from side to side to show how it was done. Another student visited my home, scraped some ice from the refrigerator and quickly took it to his class, so his students could understand what snow looked like. Teaching our students to teach under these circumstances was a challenge, but most of the time we were quite impressed with how well they did.

Few if any of our students ever misbehaved, or, for that matter, did any of our students’ students. The strict and traditional nature of the societies from which they came, particularly the Moslem society where Sharia law was used to control deviant behaviors would not allow to be otherwise. Disrespect for a Malam (a teacher), especially a male one, was very rare. There was no disrespectful backtalk, no nasty looks, no smirking, pouting and no inappropriate name-calling nor bullying in any of classes I taught or observed. Respect for each other and especially the teacher was the rule, not the exception. When Jan and I walked into our classrooms at the beginning of the day, we could knew that our students would all rise, stand by their desks with their hands at their sides and recite together: “Good Morning, Sir, or Madam!” I was amused, but, admittedly, impressed each time they did this. One afternoon I stumbled a bit stepping up to the platform in the front of the room and the entire class rose in unison and let go with a: “Sorry, Sir!” This never happened to me in any class I taught in the U.S. When a student in Toro addressed me, he always took off his hat, nodded his head downward, and placed his right hand over his heart.

Stealing, cheating, fighting, challenging, or insulting others did not occur, at least not in the classroom. If it did, and it was serious, the student would be sent home. In a Sharia-based society, a Moslem student who was sent home for “breaking the rules” faced considerable social disgrace and might be publicly beaten. It concerned me a good deal when one of my teaching interns decided that the best way to discipline his six and seven years old students was to emulate that practice and beat them with a stick in front of the class if they did not pay attention or sit quietly when he was lecturing to them. He had a hard time accepting my Dr. Spock-based suggestion that it was not good to embarrass students in front of their peers and that one had a better chance of changing negative behavior with reason and understanding rather than by fear.

The College enrolled about one hundred and fifty boys in four grade levels, or forms as they were commonly referred to in the English school setting. The physical, educational and religious needs of the student’s enrolled in our school were addressed by a multicultural staff of eighteen, all men except for Jan. While there, we served for one period of time or another with staff members from many different countries and other sections of Nigeria, teachers from England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and India, and from Southern and Eastern Nigeria.

Eight of the twelve member teaching staff members had degrees. They were referred to as the “senior” teaching staff; In recognition of this, they had greater status, taught most if not all of the advanced academic classes, were paid more and provided better quarters. For the most part, they were expatriate, non-Nigerians. Teaching staff members without degrees were called the “junior teaching staff.” They were exclusively Nigerian and with a few exceptions taught non-academic classes like physical education, craft, shop. One was an Imam and taught Islamic studies. Clerical, maintenance and security responsibilities were carried out by locals, all Hausa, Moslem men who lived on the campus or nearby.

The school’s curriculum emphasized the basics, English, history and math. But it also included courses in the fine and industrial arts and in physical education. Since the school was located in an area where Islam predominated, all Moslem students were required to take an daily hour-long class on religious instruction, during which time, it seemed, they studied (memorized?) passages from the Koran by chanting them over and over again; the one semester I taught next door in an enjoined room was challenging to say the least, considering the lack of sound-proofing. Though they made up half the student population, no similar religious course of study was officially required of our Christian students. There was a small church on the campus that seemed to be visited from time to time by a local missionary like Mary.

The School Staff and Administration

There was a considerable turnover of staff during the two years we were at the school, not unusual in a nation that was once a colonial possession and had recently become independent. Administratively, the educational system in Nigeria, much like other parts of the government, was still in transition. Slowly but surely, government colonial staffs all over the country were being replaced by nationals. The English, Scots, and Welsh were going home and being replaced by Fulanis, Yorubas and Ibos, and what have you. When we completed our two years of service, we were the most senior members of the expatriate staff, having been there the longest of any of the others. As one might expect, the constant change of staff had a serious negative effect on the quality of the education we were providing.

If the turnover of staff was a problem, the turnover of principals was even worse. We had three “headmasters” in two years. As the consequence, for the most part the school was deprived of any strong and effective leadership.

None of the three principals we served with were very good administrators or had the appropriate skills needed to deal with their students or staffs. The first, Malam Musa, was a traditionally educated, reserved, elderly Nigerian who was ignored for the most part by most of the staff -- during his tenure the school was administered primarily by its “lead teacher”, a very able administrator and math teacher from England. However, though aloof, given his kindly and warmhearted disposition, he was well-liked and respected. Living as he did in the traditional Moslem manner in a compound on the edge of the campus that housed and supported a good number of family members and friends he was considered by many to be a good role model for our students. We recall that he often appeared on campus in full Hausa regalia (white galabia) riding a beautiful, white stallion. The students were impressed, and so were we.
He was however more a symbol of a Nigeria that had passed into history rather than a symbol of what others hope it might become in its new era. He retired and was replaced at the end of our first semester at the school.

Our next principal, Mr. Jones, was from Wales and the fourth,
Mr. Onimole, was a Yoruba from Southern Nigeria. In there own way, each was eccentric, domineering and insensitive. Neither gained the respect of the boys, the staff or the community, or lasted in their position for more than a year. They were in constant conflict with everyone, giving rise to a number of “we/them” situations that created a good deal of disharmony

Shortly after Mr. Jones appeared on the scene he quickly let everyone know he didn’t like anyone raising questions about some of the decisions he was making. He “fired” me and other teacher and asked us to leave the school when he decided we were having dinner together without him and “conspiring” there at to undermine his authority to the favor of our lead teacher. To deal with his paranoia, my colleague and I found it necessary to respond to his dismissal on separate occasions by driving to the region’s educational department in Kaduna during the rainy season, a hundred and fifty miles away, to discuss our respective situations. Officials there found what we had to report somewhat disturbing, particularly when we pointed out, among a number of other things, that he had used some of the school’s very limited funds to repaint a fair number of rooms on the campus a different color at the request of his wife who found the color green the source of much bad luck. His tenure at the school ended abruptly when the wife of my colleague called her husband on the phone while he was meeting with them to notify him that Mr. Jones would not allow her and the children to use the toilet in the unoccupied home next door when the toilet in their home stopped functioning, insisting, instead, that his wife and children walk to the main campus some distance away and use the one in his office.

The case of Mr. Onimole was a different matter all together. He was a Yoruba from the south working in a Northern Nigeria school controlled by Moslems in a seriously divided nation wracked by tribal and religious discord. He probably didn’t have a chance at Toro from day one. His tenure at the school was destined to be very short under any circumstances, regardless of his abilities or behavior. However, he too lacked administrative skills and was asked to leave when he ran afoul of our older Moslem students and they took their reasonable complaints to others outside the school who, it seemed, had some political influence; certainly more than he did. It seemed he didn’t have a prayer.

Our students liked the English school practice of starting each day with an assembly in front of the office dressed in their white Kaftan-like uniforms. It was a chance for them to gather together as a body, listen to important announcements, receive honors and hear the daily prayer recited by the Principal or a fellow student. Understandably, the Moslem students resented the fact that Mr. Onimole, a good Christian, always started the day with a prayer from the Bible. After hearing the prayer introduced constantly with “As Jesus, or Mark or Matthew said, etc, they said that it might be nice if he made sure from time to time that something quoted from Koran or the Hadith. They requested that he do so. He seemed to feel their request was reasonable and he did changed his practice; he began to occasionally quote from other sources. Unfortunately, when he did so, apparently he found it impossible give credit where credit was due. If he quoted from any source other than the Bible, he would always preface his words by saying: “As a wise man once said.” He seemed incapable of giving any credit to, or even mentioning the name, Allah, Mohammed or any other Moslem notable.

But that wasn’t all. He once drove our Moslem students to despair when, in the manner of Captain Queeg, he made a full class of twenty-five students stand outside his office in the hot noon day sun for hours until an assumed thief amongst them confessed to stealing some of the school’s kerosene supply for use in his own lamp. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, when no one stepped forward to do so, he wiped out what little confidence the students and staff had left in his leadership when he directed the custodian to remove all desks and chairs from the classrooms in the afternoon so the students would have no choice but to on the bare concrete floor when the came for their study session in the evening. And then later tried to take away prayer rugs the Moslem students’ brought to class in defiance to provide some comfort when they sat down on the floor to read and review notes. He was replaced a few days after making this decision.

Personal Health and Safety at Toro

Except for the good number of very dangerous snakes and scorpions that wandered the campus and sometimes in and out of our house and for the dangers we faced whenever we left campus and made a trip on our Vespa motor scooter, we faced few health risks. Generally, life went on routinely without much worry about getting sick or injured. Our health held up well, mine better than Jan’s. Given her fair complexion, Jan did not handle the sun well and had to make sure she covered up whenever she went outside at midday. If she didn’t do so, she would quickly become nauseated. Along with that, she came down with a fever a couple of times while she was teaching high enough to require hospitalization. We were told that she had contacted dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, and if it were not treated it might do some serious damage to the body.

Except for a cold or two, I don’t recall getting anything that laid me out quite as much. Thankfully, we both managed to avoid suffering any serious intestinal problems. We managed to avoid getting malaria. Some of our volunteer friends were not so fortunate. Though, during our last physical examination before leaving Africa, the results of tests indicated we had a higher than usual number of plasmodium parasites in our blood requiring us to increase the preventative medication we were taking at the time for an expended period. The disease never materialized, but we were prevented from donating blood at home for a number of years.

No doubt the training we received at Columbia helped to keep us fit while we were in Nigeria. Our good health was primarily a matter of carefully following the advice we were given in training. We avoided being infected with malaria and other such diseases by always remembering to take the “Sunday-Sunday” pills, Aralen, we were provided, by using the netting we were supplied and making sure it stayed in good condition, and by staying out of polluted streams and rivers. We lessened the chances of getting intestinal problems by keeping clean, by filtering all our water, by rinsing all our fruits and vegetables in potassium permanganate and by making sure that everything was thoroughly cooked. We could afford to do no less; the closest medical practitioner and decent “hospital” was 20 and 30 miles away, respectively; the closest Peace Corps doctor was more than 150 miles away.

Despite what Jan’s mother once thought, the snakes that shared the campus with us didn’t pose much of a threat, if one was observant. We learned to proceed cautiously when stepping off the beaten path, picking up wood from the woodpile for the stove or turning over anything innocently lying on the ground. Snakes were found on the campus, but not often. Maybe three or four the whole time we were there. We once found a carpet viper in our home (yes, in our living room, and, yes, on the carpet) and a Green Momba slithering up a bush in our yard. A Spiting Cobra feasting on pigeons sprayed and temporarily blinded a Nigerian colleague a short distance from our home when he went into his their coop to retrieve his evening meal. And, sadly, very shortly after we left to return home, a Puff Adder was found nesting in one of the boys’ outdoor privies, likely the one on which we built our basketball court. Sadly this one bit a young child who entered it to go to the bathroom.

However, the threat of being bitten was sufficient enough to require us to keep on hand in our freezer at all times a sufficient amount of anti-snake venom in case we were bitten. Only once was a student bitten. This time on the foot by a Carpet Viper when he was helping his roommate replace the thatch on their hut. The venom injected killed some of the tissue but did little other damage. This was hardly a situation that caused alarm and did not require an anti-venom injection. Sadly, this was not the case with the young girl mentioned above. She died quickly. There was no anti-venom to inject her with. It was transferred to another volunteer in another area when we left.

One reason so few people were ever bitten by snakes on the campus may have had something do with the way people in the community reacted when they found one. When a snake was spotted all hell would brake out. Students, staff and passer-bys chaotically shouted out its location as it slithered about and tried to escape. Some grabbed sticks and poked at it to keep contained, while others rendered it harmless by beating it to death with anything they could quickly get their hands on. Then, in victory, held up its battered carcass in the air and paraded it around like a battle trophy, obviously to warn others lurking nearby that it might be a good idea to leave and leave quickly. The practice seemed to produce results.

“Chaotic Snake bashing” on campus however was done only by those who were not aware that they might make a few shillings instead by selling the live snakes they captured to Dr. Dunger, my climbing partner in Jos, He was inclined pay a good price for them. Those he managed to purchase were passed on to laboratories in England where they were milked for the venom that would be used to make the kind of anti-venom we kept in our fridge. Because of this, a live snake or two, in or out of a jar, was brought to me every so often by one of our students or staff members in the hope that I would take it to Jos and act as middleman in a sales transaction that would make them a few shillings. It was a close-encounter favor I didn’t particularly want to be a part of – but, if the practice also helped keep the snake population under control, I was glad to oblige.

The fact that there were serious health risks for volunteers working in the Northern Nigeria, more so, it seemed, in other areas than ours, occasionally we received information from our regional doctors providing suggestions about how to remain safe and sound. The following suggestions offered to us by Dr. Van Reehnen on how to handle snake bites appeared as an article in the “Tilly Lamp,” a quarterly news bulletin published by the volunteers shortly after we arrived.

PCV Rupert Baldash rode his Honda into his yard, stopped, and reached into his saddle-bag to grab his mileage record book. Suddenly he felt a sharp stabbing pain in his right foot. Looking down, he saw a long fat brown and beige snake with a triangular head wiggling lazily away into the tall grass.

Aw shucks”, he said, wetting his pants, “a puff adder”. He was not panicky because he vaguely remembered his Peace Corps first aid lectures on snakebites. Running into the house, he poured a large glass of beer, took a sip, and then made two long incisions over the fang marks with his gardener’s machete. Feeling satisfied with himself, he sat back and finished the beer. Soon he began to feel dizzy and his foot began to swell alarmingly. A disquieting thought occurred to him: “could I have forgotten some of the first aid procedure?” He went over to the local hospital with some difficulty and received a large dose of anti-venom before passing out cold.

Fortunately, the patient survived, as did the puff adder. However, this was with no thanks to the first aid instruction Rupert received in Peace Corps training. Perhaps a brief review is in order.
In Nigeria, there are two basic types of snakes as far as their venom is concerned.

1. Cobras and mambas have a potent toxin that has its effect on the nervous system, particularly on the heart and breathing. The venom acts quickly, and death, if it occurs, is generally due to heart failure. Recovery is quick and complete.

2. Vipers (Puff Adders, Gibbons and Rhinoceros Vipers) secrete venom of which the chief effect is to destroy blood cells and certain body tissues, especially small blood vessels. This may cause severe internal and tissue destruction and death may take place several days after the bite.

Two things should be done as soon as possible when a serious snake has occurred:

1. Remove from the tissues as much as possible of the poison that has been injected. This should be done on the spot and immediately, for it can mean the difference between life and death. This can be done by applying a tourniquet around the limb above the place bitten to stop the blood from flowing toward the body. This should be released for a few minutes every 15 minutes or so to prevent gangrene from developing. Then make small incisions with a clean sharp instrument over the fang marks and apply suction.

2. Neutralize the poison already in the system by injecting a serum, called anti-venom, prepared from the blood of horses that have been given a succession of snake bites artificially. This will sometimes be available in hospitals but your Peace Corps physicians have distributed anti-venom to AMA-approved Peace Corps Volunteers throughout the country. A list of these will soon be sent to you. Suggested reading and sourcebook for some of the foregoing is G.S. Carsdales West African Snakes (or Raising Snakes for Fun, Profit, and Survival).

Student Health and Safety at Toro

Though our health was good, the health of our boys and others connected to the college was another matter. Some boy or adult on the campus or near by, was sick and in need of medical attention each day we were at Toro with malaria, intestinal disorders, open sores, eye problems, leprosy, or worms. It was our responsibility to be somewhat of a “first-responder diagnostician” and make sure students and others connected with the college got the treatment they needed when they needed it.

Sick call for our students was held each morning before classes began. The “duty teacher” had the responsibility of doing triage at this time, sorting out the really sick from the slackers and arranging for transport to the government hospital in Jos if anyone needed professional medical attention; the hospital was assigned the responsibility of taking care of our students’ medical and dental needs.

The number of boys who showed up for medical-call each morning varied with the season and with what was going on at school at the time. Respiratory difficulties increased considerably in December when the dusty northeasterly winds, the Harmattan, from the Sahara Desert to the north began to blow down and over the school. The number of students with malaria symptoms increased considerably when the rains began in April. Standing water and the hot weather accompanying the change of season provided ideal breeding and egg laying conditions for the thousands of mosquitoes that appeared early every evening when the boys were at play or studying in their classrooms; few classrooms and none of the student huts had windows. The soccer and field hockey season also took its toll; after a hard afternoon of all-out competition, invariably someone showed up the next morning complaining of a bruise, a sprain or a fracture.

Morning triage was an interesting process. Some illnesses were obviously feigned to get out of the work details students were required to do. When such was determined to be so, students were asked to go back to class; they did, often with a sigh and, sometimes, a smile.

Feigning an illness did not occur too often however. Students did not like to miss class for it could cause them to do poorly on end of the year school exams. Often, as a result, they might just grin and bear the discomfort or seek “medical” assistance from a local tribal healer in nearby Toro. For good reasons, others simply did not want to be treated at the government hospital. It wasn’t the cleanest place in the world and the quality of its professional staff was questionable. A visit to the hospital one afternoon told me why. The protective sanitary conditions that we took for granted in the US did not exist in the hospital in Jos. Wards were overcrowded, lacked air-conditioning and were not very clean. Individuals from outside entered the hospital at will any time, making it difficult to tell who was patient and who was a family member, or, for that matter, who was healthy and who was sick and contagious.

Patients’ families took up residence on the hospital grounds and established kitchens in the courtyard so they could provide the family member company and insure he or she ate well. One boy’s injury, a knee abrasion he suffered when he fell off his bike, was quickly, matter-of-factly, and quite painfully treated by simply cleaning the open wound with an iodine soaked Q-tip, bandaging it, and sending him on his way.

It was not uncommon for our students to suffer a general feeling of discomfort, illness or malaise, the exact cause of which was difficult to identify. Illnesses of these kinds could be related to a poor diet, to the unsanitary conditions they lived in, to intestinal parasites, or to the debilitating hot and humid weather. During Ramadan, any thing a devoted Moslem student had was made worse when the he attempted to comply with his religious expectations. During this period of time (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) Moslem students prayed for long periods of time at night and fasted during the day for an entire month, eating or drinking nothing but a pre-dawn snack at 7 a.m. until the sun set at 7 pm. Despite this obligation, they were cut no slack. Like his non-devoted or Christian friends, they were expected to continue to study and work hard, to participate in physical education activities and after school sports, and do their chores, even when temperatures reached 85 to 90 degrees. Often, this was an arduous and physically strenuous undertaking and it took its toll.

Students had little meat to eat during the week (one to two times a week at most). Sometimes, fresh vegetables were limited. The water they drank was seldom if ever filtered or boiled and they had little access to over-the-counter medications of any kind, forcing them to rely upon questionable herbal potions obtained from a local tribal healer that sometimes exacerbated their conditions.

During our two years at Toro, we arranged to have many boys treated for a number of difficult medical problems, asthma-like breathing difficulties, malarial fevers, and intestinal infestations of one kind or another. One of my favorite students was found to have had a large number of worms in his small intestines each of which was eight to 10 inches long -- they filled up a small mason jar when removed. He was a Moslem student with a strong faith who followed the Ramadam practices quite rigorously. How he did so with parasites robbing him daily of a good share of the nutrition he needed was astonishing. It was not unusual during our nightly inspections to find a student with malaria spread out on his cot and semi-conscious with a temperature of 104 degree or higher, sweating profusely and shaking like a leaf.

Dental problems were also quite common but not as severe, likely because our students kept their teeth in fairly good condition by constantly chewing on sugar cane or a piece of fibrous, hard wood or reed. Kids in general do not like to visit the dentist. Our kids were no exception – except once, for a short period of time when the number of boys requesting help for dental problems increased dramatically. The sudden increase in patients was substantial and baffling and we could not determine why. A quick visit to the dentist’s office that served the hospital ended the mystery. It turned out that the hospital had hired a new, very good looking blond, female Scandinavian aide who possessed a rather large set of all too well shaped breasts. It didn’t take our boys long to size up the situation and discover that they had too long neglected having their teeth cleaned or a cavity filled that might require, of course, a trip to the dentist. The news quickly spread around the campus that her chest was a warm, friendly and quite comfortable place to rest a weary head while their oral needs were being taken care of.

Traveling around Toro and beyond

Katharyn Saltonstall pointed out in her book that the most difficult things Volunteers had to adjust to was the lack of good transportation facilities and the curtailment of their freedom and resulting loss of independence. She noted that many of Volunteers were located in remote schools or villages and were cut off for days, weeks and months at a time. Because of this, she reported, Volunteers were encouraged to get involved in community activities or to work with others who were studying, teaching or assisting others nearby. We certainly wanted to do this; indeed, the isolation was difficult to deal with at times.

It didn’t take long after we arrived at Toro to determine that we were quite isolated and would need some kind of transport, not only to participate not only to get away occasionally but to get the food we needed to stay alive. We pointed this out to Peace Corps headquarters in Lagos. Optimistically, we thought they might recognize our plight and provide us with a jeep.
Alas, they couldn’t do that; they had more Volunteers in need than they had jeeps on hand. They recognized the legitimacy of our concern but all they could do to help out was provide us with a very small, much underpowered 55 cc, Honda motorbike.

Our Honda
Unfortunately, the Honda was only a bit more powerful than a bicycle, powered by a fairly well muscled individual. It had enough horsepower to take us down the plateau to Jos, but lacked what was needed to climb back up. In order to get back to the school after shopping we had to stop a number of times coming back up the plateau to the school, dismount and push the bike along; it was either do that or leave Jan out in “the bush” and hope that the “natives” would take her in and treat her kindly until I could get someone to come back for her. Besides being underpowered, the bike also lacked a rack we could tie our groceries to when we bought them in Jos. When we were both riding, there little room for anything else. The seat wasn’t quite big enough to accompany Jan, me, and a large box of weekly rations, to say nothing of the dog who took great pleasure in accompanying us anytime we left the school. We managed to put up with the inconvenience for a while, but only by greatly disappointing the dog and only with the help of our colleagues who took pity on us and offered to provide us with a ride whenever they went to Jos to shop for their supplies. Thus, considering that we did not want to take too much advantage of our friends’ offers to help out, we remained somewhat “Toro-bound” for the first few months of our stay.

Our Vespa

Realizing our difficulty, the PC staff in Lagos eventually replaced the Honda with a Vespa motor scooter. It wasn’t as new as the Honda and didn’t look as nice, but, surprisingly, it was much, much more powerful. It easily took Jan and me, and the dog, wherever we wanted or had to go. But, it too had its drawbacks. As long as we stayed on paved roads, it was fine. But its smaller wheels made it difficult and dangerous to drive when the place we were headed could only be reached on roads that were unpaved, deeply rutted and/or sandy, to say nothing about muddy.

It was because of this instability that Jan was laid for ten days with water on the knee while we were on a school holiday break. We had a rather serious fall in the middle of nowhere on our way to helping out at an Outward Bound Training camp for students in the region. Just short of the came, we came to a turn a sharp turn in the road, probably a bit too fast. Jan leaned one way and I leaned the other and over we went. The road was unpaved, deeply rutted and covered with sand. Considering the small tires beneath us, we didn’t have a chance. We slipped, hit the raised ridge and toppled off. I managed to stay with the scooter and side unhurt to the side of the road. Unfortunately, Jan flew off landed hard on one knee. Luckily, the dog (Rana) had stayed home.

Also, the Vespa may have been powerful but, considering it age, it was not always reliable. The dusty and muddy roads took their toll. The electrical parts of the engine frequently became dirty and clogged and stopped functioning, requiring they be disassembled and cleaned before the scooter would run properly. Until they were, we were without wheels. We had continuous transport only because I learned to become somewhat of “Vespa expert”.

Considering how quickly we met and got married, it would be fair to say that when we got to Nigeria we hardly knew each other. It was during the two years in the Corps, particularly when we traveled about, that we really learned what kind of person the other was. We learned that we both liked to travel, meet new people in new cultures and experience different things. I learned that Jan was very game and flexible, and somewhat uncoordinated. She learned that I somewhat mechanically talented, tight-fisted, and very stubborn.

In our first few months at the school we learned there was much beyond the entrance to the campus that was worth exploring. We traveled whenever we had the time to do so, by any means -- by scooter, lorry, mammy wagon, train or plane, “Culture shock” be damned! We wanted to learn as much about Nigeria and Africa as we could. It was, after all, a chance of a lifetime.

Despite the hardships, and often the “shock” that came with traveling in Nigeria in the early ‘60s, the opportunity to do so helped us endure the changes in lifestyle that inevitably occurred. Life at Toro was confining. We missed our family and our friends, and, in our loneliness and frustration, occasionally wished we were back in the good old USA. Escaping Toro was good for us. After a day or two, or even an hour or so, away from the college, we returned less depressed and less drained ready to take up our challenge again with the renewed enthusiasm and energy we had had earlier.

The Plateau

We didn’t have to go too far from home to enjoy the wonderfully exotic environment that surrounded us however. Our favorite trip after a hard day or week was a short five-mile Vespa ride north to a pass called Panshanu at the very edge of the plateau’s escarpment. The area below the rise was a marvelous mixture of verdant, flat lands surrounded by great outcroppings of gray granite. We sat many an afternoon and evening on one of the large, smooth exfoliating boulders nature provided gazing out upon a marvelous panoramic view beneath us while small children from the local area nearby sitting on smaller highly polished stones slid pass us screaming with joy, seemingly as much for our amusement as for their own.

While at the pass, or on the way there, we could always count on seeing something new and wonderful – a new animal, a strange bird, a stunning display of brilliant flowers on a leafless tree, an unexpected and startling strike of lightening on the horizon, for example. We enjoyed sitting in the silence that surrounded us and just listen and observe. We saw marvelous formations of clouds gather and dramatically creep across the sky, baboons playfully climb in and out of trees, hyrax dart from one rock to another in between cautious, fleeting glances to right and then to the left. We watched farmers with shadows elongated by the setting sun move along well-worn paths linking their fields to their homes. We watched smoke from the cooking fires in the many family compounds scatter about spiraling straight up into the evening sky as if coming from the wicks of many candles. The sights we were presented with changed with the seasons but always left us awestruck and full of reverence.

Trips across and around the plateau also presented us with a kaleidoscope of images that for the most part took our breath away, However, at times what we saw could be quite disturbing. We saw Fulani farmers in bright white gowns preparing the fields for the banana stalks, guinea corn and millet they would soon plant working among brightly feathered white, egret sentinels wandering purposely between large white cows culling bits of grain here and there from recently deposited dung. We were stunned by the imposing image of bare breasted, scarified women with children strapped to their backs returning home from the bush with precariously-balanced, heavily loaded baskets of ripe grain or large clay pots of water on their heads, dressed in nothing at all but clumps of leaves tied to their waists.

But more than anything else, we were overawed by the grandeur of the constantly changing physical surroundings we had become a part of, by the wide rivers of rushing, thunderous torrents of water too dangerous to cross during the rainy season that became absolutely barren, dry cattle trails during the rainy season, by the trees without a single leaf on them vividly blossoming in striking cascading colors of red, white, yellow and pink flowers, and by the large, six foot high, laterite-red mounds of mud put together by hundred of thousands of tiny termites that mimicked the shape of the outcroppings of rock they were built next to. I am not a very “spiritual” person, but I must admit a visit to this “Eden” at any time always seemed to move me.

Sadly, though, there was haunting side to our “paradise,” a that is hard to forget, a side that presented impressions that depressed rather than elated, troubled rather than awed, and made you want to cry rather than shout for joy. It is difficult to forget the pitiful old man who suffered from leprosy who sat at the entrance to the school and begged for alms. He was unable to ask for alms because he could not speak and unable to grasp the ones he’d been given because he had no fingers. He couldn’t walk without a stick because he had totally or partially lost the use his legs. And we still despairingly ache when we think about some of the handicapped children we frequently came upon; severely malnourished children dressed in rags that hardly covered their abnormally distended bellies; children with eyes so badly swollen and contaminated that they were quickly going blind as egg-laying, fly-borne parasites distorted and destroyed their corneas; children with open wounds so polluted with infected they continuously oozed and bled; babies just starting to walk crippled with terribly deformed legs sporting umbilical hernias that stuck out four or five inches beyond their stomachs. The appearance of such ugliness in such a beautiful place just didn’t seem fair, or right, or appropriate at all.

The Fulani

Of all the many diverse groups of people we met in this beautiful place perhaps the most interesting were the Fulani. They were an intelligent, aloof and proud group that apparently migrated to and taken up residence in the area during the seventeenth century. Some historians believed that they were distantly related to the tribes of Israel; others thought they might have descended from the Egyptians. If you asked them you would have been told they were related to Arabs who came from the Middle East a long time ago.

The Fulani we met on the plateau were mostly nomadic herders. The men attended to, protected and moved the cattle. Along with preparing and maintaining any small farms that they might happen to own, this was their primary responsibility. The women did the milking, took care of small livestock and poultry, cared for gardens, and carried containers of milk and cheese to the local market, often miles away, for sale or trade. They also nurtured and raised the small children. The size of a family’s herd determined where and how well they lived. They were continuously on the move about the region, how much so depended upon where it rained and how much grass was available. Some Fulani become sedentary over the years and engaged primarily in farming. They grew rice, millet, peanuts and vegetables where the conditions allowed.

By arrangement with local farmers, The Fulani cattle herders often brought their stock to the land immediately surrounding the school to graze. The Hausa and Fulani farmers near by found it was a cheap and convenient way to fertilize and revitalize the land - fodder for dung, so to speak. We were always a bit leery when this occurred too close to our home. The fly feeding population always seemed to increase a lot when large numbers of cattle were near by; consequently, when one entered the house we were never quite sure just where it had been resting in the few minutes before it did.

Over the years, the Fulani managed to retain their distinctive characteristics and ways. They were easy to identify and seemed somewhat aloof. They intermarried little after they came to the area. Collectively, they had a stately character and evidenced a sense of nobility and self-assurance, if not haughtiness. Whenever I was in their presence, I had the feeling that this was a group I would not want to “mess” around with. Their skin was lightly pigmented, almost coffee-colored. Both the men and the women had slight builds and tended to tall. They had thin lips, narrow noses and soft, straight hair. The men grew their hair long and plaited it into a number of pigtails into which they wove beads and brass; they applied butter to it to make it smooth and shiny. The women also let their hair grow long, but they piled it into a bun on top of the head and let some plaits hang down over their ears. Both styles were attractive.

The clothing they wore was just as interesting as their hair. Both men and boys wore unique headgear. Young boys wore a white, cotton hat with earflaps -- older men, a large woven, round and conical straw one with a broad wavy brim. If you met a young boy or teen, no doubt he would be wearing a loose gown over a pair of red, tight shorts that ended just below the knees, peddle-pusher style. The cuffs of the finest pair of these shorts – worn to the market on Fridays -- were embroidered along the lower edge with beads and bits of shiny metal. If he was a cattle herded, invariably he would be proudly standing erect and holding a thin stick across his back over which he splayed both arms, or perhaps leaning on it with one leg off the ground while the other rested. The Fulani were a photographer’s dream subject.

The “Hill Tribes”

Most frequently, Janet and I came into contact with individuals from one of the many polygamous hill tribes that lived closest to us, the Jarawa and Ribinawa people. While we were in Nigeria these tribes were under constant pressure from Christian and Moslem missionaries to convert. There was a good deal of resistance from these tribe to so, thus, most of their tribal members remained “pagan.”

The hill tribes were a collection of unique and separate groups that shared neither a common language or common religion; their settlement in the hills allowed them to remain much as the were when they were first driven into the area years ago by the more organized and developed Hausa and Fulani armies.

The Jarawa people were easy to identify. It was their custom to scarify their faces. Some simply cut a few strips on each side of the mouth. Others used the face as a canvas and cut more elaborate and intricate designs all over the face from brow down to the chin.

To one degree or another, all the tribes on the plateau scarified the body. In some tribes hardly at all; in other tribes the entire body was cut or extensively disfigured. In most situations, the body was scared to enhance its beauty, to make more attraction. Sometimes it was done to honor an event like reaching puberty, or at the time of the first menstrual cycle or childbirth. Scaring was also sometimes carried out as a test of endurance and courage.
The process could be considerably painful and often took a great deal of strength to avoid humiliatingly crying out. Hence, it was not surprising that the number of scars on the body was often tied into the status a person held within the community. The young Fulani we ran into near our home were very proud of the numerous deep scars displayed on their lower backs, placed there by the strokes of a switch when they were young boys were twelve or thirteen to ensure they had what it would take to carry out the difficult and dangerous responsibilities involved in taking carry of part of the family’s herd when it was divided up and put out to forage. In situation like these, scarring was also a matter of individual identity and tribal pride that brought honor to the entire family.
Scarification often had a sexual side to it as well. It was common it some tribes to scar the abdomen of young women of marriageable age to promote an indication of their willingness to bear and raise children, a very desirable quality for a future wife. Scars on other parts of their body, the thighs and breasts for example, were put there for erogenous purposes. They tended to be more sensitive than normal skin and were believed to make a partner more receptive to sexual arousal.
Finally, spirituality also played an important role in the process. By making the body less beautiful, some scars were created in all their awfulness as protection, to ward off the evil eye and make a person less desirable to the spirit of death. Scars were created in various ways. Some cuts were made with crudely sharpened metal blades, rods or nails; some were created by pulling the skin up with hooks and slicing the flesh with a sharpened blade and others were created by applying hot coals or burning wood to the skin. Too modify and shape the effect desired, open and raw wounds were often purposely inflamed by rubbing them with ashes and other substances. This process prolonged the healing time and left a heavier and more distinctive mark. The ability to scarify artistically with little risk of infection took a lot of skill and was usually done only by well-trained tribal specialists.

Though the various hill tribes maintained separate political and religious identities, their customs and social practices were quite similar. They “dressed” alike. They were easily identified as “pagan” similarities displayed in how they dressed and adorned their bodies. The dress of women in these groups was usually nothing more than two brunches of leaves, for and aft, covering the genitals and held in place by a band of leather about the waist. Their bodies were adorned most often with corn stalks and pieces of brass placed in the lips and ears. Many, both men and women, painted their bodies with “koya” which made their skin shine a rich rusty red. And, unlike the Fulani, they often shaved off all their bodily hair. The men in these groups more often than not wore little more than a leather apron over their genitals, though that style of dress was quickly disappearing when we were there in favor of warm blankets and traditional Hausa gowns -- some had even taken to wearing the European clothes that had become more accessible in local markets.

The “hill tribes” took farming into the hills with them when the fled the fertile lowlands. Luckily the hills were equally if not more fertile than the land they once lived on. They grew a seed grass called acea, yams, millet and guinea corn. The fields and attendant villages that dotted the plateau hills were easily recognized by the euphorbia hedges placed about them to protect crops and people from wild animals and thieves. The rolling land was intricately terraced and maintained by both the men and women. Working with simple metal hoes, the women prepared the heavy soil and did the planting at the beginning of the rainy season. Collectively the males in the village moved from one farm to another gathering in each farm’s crop when they were ready to harvest. The women carried the bounty from the fields on their heads to the family’s mud storage granaries or to the market for sale.

The villages in which the “hill tribes” lived were differed from group to group but seem to share a number of similar characteristics. Hill people tended to live in fairly large extended family-centered, compound clusters of small, round, grass-thatched, mud huts far off the beaten path. The compounds served as sleeping rooms, kitchens, grain “silos”, and animal shelters. Everything within was surrounded by euphoria plants and arranged around a number of shared and similarly built structures where they ate, and perhaps a shrine house where the headman or ritual shaman lived, both of which may have been built above a central chamber beneath which the bodies of their dead ancestors were buried.

The following vignette by Katharyn Saltonstall’s book, Small Bridges To One World, describes the contact she and Bill (“Salty”) had while traveling across the plateau area on one of their tour of the Northern Region in 1964. The words in bold are mine and were added for clarification. Her description of one of our close “neighbors”, known as the “duckbilled people”, is quite accurate and well done. Thank you Katharyn.

As we moved south into pagan country, the hills were covered with rugged black rocks, boulders piled crazily on top of one another so precariously that it looked as though a small shove would dislodge one and the whole pile would tumbling down. Against this backdrop the clusters of round native huts with thatched roofs looked like clumps of toadstools. Soon we began to see the pagan women 1 ... 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ... 14