Wednesday, May 16, 2007

To Kano

On an assignment. We land at Aminu Kanu airport just as the lights go out. It is dark by the time we land, and almost cool. Two large jumbo jets stand on the runway, with Kabo in big letters on the side. Inside the terminal, the heat lies trapped. There are hundreds of people milling about in the stifled room, men in robes or bariga, women shrouded in cloth; many are pushing trollies piled high with what look like sacks of rice. Even so, there is little noise (Northerners lack the penchant for chaos often displayed by the Southern compatriots). The plane from Saudi landed just before us. There is no one stopping our way on our passage through the terminal.

My colleague tells me the power often cuts at the airport. A few weeks ago, he was in a plane that was just about to land when the runway lights blacked out. The plane had to go into a holding pattern for 20 minutes until someone thought to turn the generator on. This is Nigeria, after all. Where darkness can confuse the westerner in a city at night and send their human compass spinning, here, it makes no difference. Everyone knows the way, every pot hole, every kink in the road.

I spend the day with senior civil servants of the State Government. Here in Kano, the top functionaries are urbane, worldly and quicksilver clever. I discuss the Blair-Brown transition with one. His knowledge of British politics is impressive. He smokes continuously, his voice an oaky baritone with a hint of husk. English Al-Jazeera is on the tv in the corner.

The government secretariat is a fascinating catacomb of 1970's concete modernism: interlocking courtyards, with honeycomb-effect brise-soleil on wall ends - an effective natural ventilation system. There are mango trees ripe with fruit in many of the courtyards. A man with a pole and a hook goes round, pulling down the ripest fruit for the staff. The complex needs only a coat of paint to bring back the heady days of post-Independence West Africa. Someone tells me they used to paint all the buildings in Kano every year. Perhaps it is time they picked up the practice again.

After my work, I go to my favourite restaurant in the city, Spice Foods, run by a young Pakistani man called Siddiqi. He's lived in Nigeria all his life, speaks fluent Hausa etc. But most striking about Siddiqi is his passion for food. He always sits with me as I eat, and we talk about cooking and restaurant experiences. I love watching his face animate when it comes to describing culinary technique. There is a fiery spirit inside him, he likes to swear (in an expletive-starved environment like Nigeria, I'm drawn to those who resort to Saxony with their tongue). He's planning to open up in Abuja, and give Wakkis, Sitar and Thai Chi a run for the money. He will do well, i'shallah.

I have just finished eating a huge mango in the bathroom of my hotel room. The mango was the biggest I've ever eaten. It was the size of an ostrich egg. After washing it well, I ate it raw, prizing the flesh open with my teeth. The taste was bittersweet: mango meets tamarind. The pith was succulent and fleshy, with nearly two inches of fruit around the stone. I let the juice smack across my cheeks and dribble down into the bathtub. Eros was mine. Mangos are as nice as breasts to suck and chew.

Thanks to Tahir Hotel - the best hotel in Kano - for the fast and free wifi that allows me to write this. Their hummous is also boss.


Anonymous,  10:07 pm  

mangoes nice as breasts...

I like. Still, they (mangoes) are nasty.

Anonymous,  12:50 am  

they have no nipples which to me is the best part of the breast.

PS you just opened pandora's box, expect lots comments on fruits and breasts.

Jaja 8:17 am  

dmmmm juicy mangoes...

I would have said oranges. At least u could squeeze a lil bit.

Fred 3:42 pm  

Which woman allows you to chew her breasts, Jeremy?!

Jaja 10:32 pm  

wow.. was my comment so rude that it was not allowed, jeremy. Now i feel terrible rejection.

Jeremy 8:02 pm  

its not like that jaja - I didnt see your comment (must have been a technical glitch). Please re-send.

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