Thursday, March 09, 2006

Our compound

As anyone that has ever lived in Nigeria will tell you, each compound will, under close exploration, reveal a multitude of microdramas unfolding before the eye, day after day. It's something I don't write about on my blog but does deserve some attention, for it reveals more of the marvel of West African living than a year of Big Brother. Nigeria is such a truly dramatic place that I agree with a friend who says that Hollywood blows up American reality, whereas Nollywood calms it down. The trouble is, the repository of such stories lies with the cleaners, drivers and gatekeepers of this world. They know who lives where, who is doing what, who is sleeping with who. Meanwhile, the elite don't know who their neighbours are most of the time. Anyway, here's a timeslice of stories from today in our compound:

The lock to the gate of our flat goes walkies. We mention to Fidelis and Tanko, our two guards, that if the lock doesn't reappear, the money for the lock will be taken out of our share of their wages (each of the four flats contributes to the gatemen's wages). Surprise surprise if an hour later the lock appears, discreetly half-hidden behind a bush nearby. My size 14 wellingtons disappeared recently (they were by the gate downstairs). Quite how many Nigerians would benefit from such large rubber appendages I have no idea. A few weeks ago, some builders were doing work in the house, and my prize hammer disappeared. I kicked up a noise and the errant object magicked its way back into the flat by being placed at the bottom of the stairs.

Now, water. We haven't had regular water (ie flowing from the tap) in about 6 weeks. So Alhaji in the flat downstairs across the compound orders in a water tanker once a week. Alhaji's upstairs neighbour is not benefiting however. Why? Because Alhaji has blocked access to the water tank's water for the upstairs flat. Alhaji and wife (who have an 18 yr old daughter) consider that their water consumption is far less than the family in the flat upstairs (an Igbo family with four kids). The whole problem (and others) revolve around the fact that the compound has no central authority or means of negotiating these issues. So it falls to Bibi to go to each flat and see if we can all chip in for the water. Finally, our driver. It is our friend's party tonight so we made a big bowl of salad for the guests. We told Yemi our driver to take the salad round to our friend's house. Yemi made a booboo and took the salad round to the wrong friend's house, only for the wrong friend to ring us up and thank us for the lovely surprise. Her daughter, who doesn't like salads, is tucking in and enjoying it. So of course we have to carefully extricate the salad from the wrong table, by getting Yemi to pick it up and redeliver it. Yemi can be a real pillock some times.

Anyway, these are little apercus of demotic activity in our compound. I'm sure there are a hundred other stories worth gisting each day on our street alone, but not having a gossipy cook (we used to), we are not privy.


Anonymous,  2:15 am  

i lived in nigeria , port harcourt for a number of years on a compound of 5 houses(we moved after the 5 robbery) it was owned by a gin guzzling mad man named cheif awumi whos best friend was the 12bore that never left his side, he would shoot his gun through the night, he also had a pet monkey that would jump down from the trees and swipe the back of your legs every time you came out the house, after numerous bitings he lived out the rest of his days in a parrot cage just big enough to fit him. oh and he used to slaughter a cow once a month on his drive way, nice! now im back in the uk i can look back at my experiences i had there and im glad to have been there ,it was dangerous sometimes but it was also exciting,some thing i will never forget. ben

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