Friday, May 18, 2007

Sabon Giri

I get to Sabon Giri, the foreigners quarter of Kano, by 9pm. The taxi drops me outside the Independence Hotel on Enugu Road. Across the street, a line of open air bars, with televisions turned to the customers near the shacks that store the drinks. A little further away, there is the noise of arabic-hausa pop music blaring out from behind a compound. A metal door to the compound opens and closes. To begin, I assume it is an Islamic club for youngsters, NASFAT or northern equivalent, and hold my distance. But from those entering and leaving, something tells me it is otherwise. I step forward.

Entering the compound, I find myself in a space full of men (most look like hausa guys), with women in blue lace and gele's walking langorously about. They weave between the men, stopping a while. Hands touch hands lightly. The women smoke cigarettes casually, fingers light against the rolled stick. I ask the man at the gate what is taking place here. He says it is 'hausa gramma'. It doesn't look like a language class to me, so I ask him again. 'It is hausa gramma, you know, dancing. Please, take a seat, they have only just started.'

I sit down at the back, on a bench, behind a row of men who are chatting excitedly in hausa. One of the women at the front starts dancing, facing the crowd. Her hips undulate; she does Egyptian-style movements with her hands. A man gets up and starts spraying her. Then another man gets up and starts dancing close to her, but not too close. An invisible pressure seems to stop things becoming too bodily. One of the blue-lace women strolls near me. Although dressed in Yoruba atire, she doesn't look Yoruba at all - she looks northern.

I try to understand what I see before me. The space is complex: from where I am sitting, I cannot see the full extent of the courtyard, it opens out to the left. Perhaps there are rooms leading off that are available? The evening is young: where will it end? Most of the men here are hausa, coming to stare at Yoruba-dressed women, and play the Yoruba game of spraying money. It is as if the Yoruba woman has become the totem for a repressed sexuality, and Yoruba owambe behaviour the code for entering the world of desire. Dressed in lace and gele, she becomes the figure of the courtesan; just out of reach, yet just within reach, the elegantly folded geisha of West Africa.

Sabon Giri is home to a million people. There is no electricity at night. The quarter is pure shadow, lit by the thousands of flickering kerosene lamps of the street sellers. The roads are craterous. People from place to place on achamba (motorbike taxi). Women walk around with bare arms and in jeans - something you don't see in central Kano at all. Sabon Giri is the unrepressed shadow within the Shariah State of Kano: all Muslim cultures have such a space. It is the space where desire is let loose. It is where Nigeria mixes itself up and spits itself out in a variety of transgressions.

I leave the courtyard, and take a seat at one of the open air bars. Prostitutes lurk in the shadows; men come to talk to them, the usual arrangements are made. After my beer, I go to talk to one of them. She says she is from Port Harcourt and is renting a room in a nearby hotel. I ask her how much for the night. She says the whole night is not possible, it can only be for a short while. I ask how much for a short while. She looks at me, then looks at her friend, her mind testing the limits of retail price inflation. After ten seconds, she blurts out four thousand naira (around sixteen UK pounds or 30 dollars). I walk away to find a taxi and my hotel, alone.



I like your description using the Yourba woman to reflect or represent a geisha of sorts. Very effective description for someone who has not seen what you are talking about. Very interesting ....

Good to know you went home alone.

Anonymous,  8:05 pm  

Jeremy, are you sure u walked away alone???

in my head 8:14 pm  

How long is a "short while" exactly?

St Antonym,  9:04 pm  

Fantastic writing. Moody and atmospheric.

Anonymous,  9:58 pm  

Very interesting.Prostitution is as old as the world.Even sharia cannot eradicate it.

Chxta 10:15 pm  

Now this was excellent writing.

azuka 11:00 pm  

Were you really planning on a night? ;-)

catwalq 3:38 am  

U walked away?
U did not have 16 pounds for an authentic Hausa Fire Crotch?
JEREMY!!! U lie.

Anonymous,  5:56 am  

was that part of a research jeremy or were you gonna spend the night?

Eminie 11:38 am  

the chic didn't know u had only pounds with u oo.silly gal she would have said 50BP!

The Pseudo-Independent 12:54 pm  

Jeremy you were drunk and I was with you and saw all that happened. I think you may be feeling guilty and this is your plea for any reader who I may have mentioned it to.

Let me remind you of the sequence of events.

After your beer, you are correct in saying you did walk up to talk to the one from Port Harcourt and renting a room in your hotel.

However, what you agreed to was for her meeting with you back at the hotel. You then told me you were walking away to find a 2nd lady who would meet you both (you rummbled something like one not being enough!#) at the hotel.

Jaja 1:25 pm  

May this peripatetic spirit lead you to Port Harcourt. Or have those egg heads advised you against embarking on any journey leading South-South? (With our recent reputation for making light-skinned expatriates disappear and then reappear at a ransom).

In PH, (a breed of sweet but direct people here), she would look away and tell you she’s a struggling student from a Uni in Abia State or any of the near-by states. you will have to take her somewhere.

And yes, for you Jeremy, it would be 7,000 naira. She would be looking you in the eyes then.

“7 thousand”

“One Round”

Jaja 2:34 pm  

May this peripatetic spirit lead you to Port Harcourt. Or have those egg heads advised you against embarkin on any journey leading South-South? (With our recent reputation for making light-skinned expatriates disappear and reappear at a ransom).

In PH (a breed of sweet but direct people here), she would look away and tell you she’s a struggling student from a Uni in Abia State or any of the near-by states.
And yes, for you Jeremy, it would be 7,000 naira. She would be looking you in the eyes.

“7 thousand”

“One Round”

internationalhome 4:31 pm  

Jeremy, Ogadinma!

Dami 6:13 pm  

good writing J.I lived in kano js1-ss1.
why didnt just 'price it' 4000 is too much lol

יושה (Yosh) 8:27 pm  

lmao @ d climax

Anonymous,  11:53 pm  

I've always wondered, do all men fantasize about paying for it, or is just the last 13 guys I've dated?

Anonymous,  12:09 am  


This is what happens within different communities, one will impose all kinds of rules on its women and children and then go out and behave lecherously with women folk from another community. It's sadly a common phenomenon around the world.

Regarding the prostitute and you asking her “I ask her how much for the night?"
That was a real rib cracker.

Did you think she operates a charity? I mean she can have 6 men in a night. Why settle for one? Is she your wife or girlfriend? You need to get with the programme. LOL

d,  8:57 pm  

hmmm... so all of you pay for sex and have no qualms about it.

men will never cease to disgust me.

MsMak,  5:33 pm  

Question: I went to secondary school up North, and i always saw it spelt as 'Sabon Gari'. So which is correct, Sabon Giri or Sabon gari? the former just doesnt sound right.

Kevin 6:44 pm  

I'm pretty sure it's Sabon Gari not Sabon Giri (means something like 'New Town', I think).

Also achaba not achamba.

Hausa spelling can be a bit flexible though, I've seen at least three different ways of spelling the name of the village up the road from me.

Jeremy 6:49 pm  

I think it might be phonetic difference at work. In the South, it is pronounced Sabon Gari and most often spelt that way. In the North (at least in Kano), it is pronounced Sabon Giri and also spelt that way in Latin script.

kazey 12:18 am  

Its actually Sabon Gari, spelling wise it is correct too.

Sabo -> New
Gari -> Town

Except Giri means something else, which could be Girigi as in a plane or something of respect.

TRAE 9:52 am  

and play the Yoruba game of spraying money

who told you that was an exclusively Yoruba thing...or Yoruba originated?

Kevin 3:57 pm  

The correct spelling according to my Hausa books is Sabon Gari. They mostly follow the Kano dialect as that's regarded as being "standard" Hausa. I'm in Kaduna (also in the North), where it's always written Sabon Gari.

The southern pronounciation might come from how it's written. Pronounciation and spelling are only vaguely related anyway. You often see signs that have been spelled phonetically. For example, a village near me is called Barkallahu but it's often written as Barikalau.

Your site is only real Google result for Sabon Giri and Google even asks if I meant Sabon Gari.

Anonymous,  10:42 pm  

yeah i went to school in the north and took hausa for six years, its sabon town

not sure why sabon giri would be the spelling. and it is pronounced GAYRI lol

hausa spelling is as pronounced usually, u just have to be aware of the hooks and whatnot

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