Tag Archives: Kano

Ramadan pieces from Last year: “Why, as a Christian, I Fast during Ramadan” and “Under the Mango Tree”

I have been reading back recently over several of the articles I wrote last Ramadan, when I was fasting alongside my Muslim friends in Kano. It was the third year I was fasting, and I had settled into the rhythm of the month. I did not fast this year, though, at points throughout the month I have wished I were. I think it may have made me feel a little bit more in tune with what is happening around me. As I never posted my articles last year, in part because I was never able to find a hard copies of them to include online, I figured, in honour of Ramadan, before it ends in the next few days, I would put up at least two of them right now. “Why, as a Christian, I Fast during Ramadan” published 20 August 2011 and “Under the Mango Tree” published 27 August 2011.

Breaking fast on the set of Jani-Jani, Kaduna, 29 August 2010. (c) Carmen McCain

“Why, as a Christian, I Fast During Ramadan”

20 August 2011

Recently, my blog was accessed six times with the search phrase “Is Carmen McCain a Muslim.” I’m not. I’m a devout Christian, but I can understand how some people might be confused. Most of my friends in Kano are Muslim, the people I write about are often Muslims, and this is the third Ramadan have fasted alongside my Muslim friends. When I brought up the issue on Facebook, several Christian friends told me they also had been confused about my religious identity because I had mentioned fasting, and in Christianity, one is not supposed to advertise one’s fast. Although there are also Christian traditions of public fasting, I tried to explain that ultimately I AM fasting with Muslims, but that does not mean I am any less a Christian. I won’t necessarily fast for Ramadan for the rest of my life, neither do I expect other Christians to do the same, though Christians in Bethlehem and other parts of the Arab world have done so for centuries. It is a personal decision I have made for the time being to participate in my community.

Last week, I walked into a Zoo Road studio a few minutes before maghriba with a bag of sliced watermelon. “Are you fasting?” novelist and scriptwriter Nazir Adam Salih asked me. “I am,” I said. “Kina taya mana azumi.” he said. “You are helping us with the fast.” I had not heard it put that way before but his expression felt exactly right. I am not as strict with my fast as a Muslim would be. When I am sick, as I was for the first week of Ramadan this year, I eat without any plans to later “make up” the missed days. But the experience of Ramadan and fasting out of love for my community has been one of the most powerful things in helping me empathize with my Muslim neighbors. This week, I share a piece I wrote three years ago in 2008, during my first Ramadan fast.

Ever since I knew I was going to be in Kano for a year, I thought that I would try to fast during Ramadan. First, I thought it would not be appropriate to eat in front of other people who are fasting, even if it’s just sneaking a meatpie and sachet of water from the canteen to my office at Bayero University; second, I thought it would be good to experience what millions of people, and specifically those around me, experience every year. As I told one of my friends on the first day of Ramadan, “If you are hungry, I will be hungry. If you are thirsty, I too will be thirsty.” The day before the fast began, I bought a book on fasting from an Islamic book seller to better understand fasting from an Islamic perspective—what my friends believe. But ultimately, what I hope to gain out of this is spiritual discipline practiced from the perspective of my own faith. Although not compulsory, fasting is a spiritual discipline in Christianity as well (Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert in preparation for his three years of ministry). I thought that, though I am Christian, I live among Muslims, so I will fast when they fast and pray when they pray. And I will hopefully grow in my own spiritual life.

Today, on the second day of Ramadan, walking wearily across campus to wait for the bus at around 5pm, I thought, maybe I should stop this. It’s not a requirement for me, and I’m finding myself dull, forgetful, distracted, irritable, impatient, on edge. It’s not easy to manifest the Christian “fruits of the spirit,” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control), when I have not eaten or drunk all day. On further thought, as I was walking from the bus stop to my house clutching two packets of dates and a sliver of watermelon I had bought to break my fast with, I realized that perhaps that is the point of fasting, at least for me. It forces me to realize, humbly, how much of my good spirits, my mostly cheerful demeanor are chemically-based, physical attributes. I have been blessed with good health, with chemical balance, with a fairly even and laid back temper (though my good friends know the exceptions). Peeling back those layers of the physical, one comes closer to the core of one’s being, what is underneath the surface pleasantness—what comes out when there is no protective politeness—and it’s not always very attractive. I have thought often over the past few years of what Christian writer and thinker C.S. Lewis says in his book Mere Christianity, about the difference between human perspective and God’s perspective:

 “Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of [Nazi war criminal] Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man’s psychological make-up is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us: all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first tune, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.”

I meditate on this in relation to fasting. When fasting, those base human characteristics, the instincts, the first reactions, come out more dramatically, and you have to deal with them. You are impatient but you force yourself to speak patiently. You don’t feel gracious but you make yourself be gracious anyway. It becomes a discipline, training and subduing those initial reactions that surface more clearly when you are hungry and tired, and it encourages humility. You don’t have that easy excuse—oh sorry, I haven’t eaten yet today, and I can’t think clearly—because no one else has either. You become weaker and more vulnerable to your community while stronger in your individual will. This is spiritual growth—going beyond one’s personality to something deeper.

At the same time, you also become more aware of the joys of the physical. The pleasure that comes at the end of the day, especially when you are breaking the fast with other people. The lilting greeting “A sha ruwa lafiya,” “Enjoy quenching your thirst”—the sweetness of the crystallized sugar in a dry date when it is the first thing that has touched your tongue all day; the fresh wetness of a tangy orange or sweet watermelon or solid banana; the way the spicy flavours of Hausa shayi detach themselves and come one by one: cardamom, ginger, other flavours that I cannot yet identify. The first burst of energy after the sugar enters your blood stream and the pleasant stuffed feeling when your stomach is extended with tuwon shinkafa and miyan taushe or fried yam and potatoes, peppered tofu and kosai. Denied for 13 or 14 hours a day, the senses are heightened. Listening to the Ramadan service on the radio, the chanted Arabic, the call and response, it reminds me of listening to a mass—Gregorian chants in Latin—or a BBC broadcast of the Nine Lessons in Carols on Christmas eve.

These common elements of our faiths are what I am reminded of at Ramadan. Though Christians and Muslims have many differing religious beliefs we will never be able to agree on, at core, all three Abrahamic religions are linked by what Jesus identified as the “greatest commandments”: First, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I believe that, beyond our differences, if we encourage each other in love to seek this truth, we will find peace. A sha ruwa lafiya.

–FIN

“Under the Mango Tree”

27 August 2011

One of my main joys of Ramadan this year, whenever it is not raining in the evening, has been to take a mat outside and sit under the mango tree that grows outside my window. I read or write or just lie staring up at the leaves above me, mind at rest, until the maghriba prayer is called and I reach for my packet of dates. I am close to the dirt there and the strands of grass that find enough sun to poke up under the trees. One evening I moved around the mat for an hour trying to move out of the path of a slow but persistent little snail who seemed to want to follow me wherever I went. Eventually, I placed a leaf into his path and then carried the leaf to a muddy patch far from my mat. A neem tree arches over the wall of my house, branches mingling with those of the mango tree and when I lie under them, I look up through layers and layers of leaves, watch them sway in the breeze, hear them rustling together, merging with the sound of the neighbor children outside the wall and the distant honk of horns on the main road. If I gaze up long enough, I feel like I am floating.

This week, when I spread the mat out under the tree I could see dark clouds billowing in the East and thought I might not make it to maghriba before the rain came. All the same, I piled up fruit in a basket, and took out newspapers, a pen and a notebook. The leaves were mostly silent that evening. The air was still, in anticipation of rain. I lay on the straw mat under the tree, and thought, as the thunder began to break and the first fine droplets filtered through the trees, about the motion of the universe. This flat soil I lie on, this surface of the planet that seems so solid and still, is actually spinning through star studded space. This sun I am waiting to set on my face of the planet, my little patch of ground under the mango tree, is only one star in one galaxy out of a million. The sun does not, in fact, move down towards the horizon. We are the ones, clinging to this fragile planet, who are spinning past fire.

There is a peace in these moments, an awareness of my own smallness, as I listen to the rhythms of the earth. I am both as still as I will ever be and hurtling through space.  I am reminded that when we fast we acknowledge our own desires are ephemeral in the vastness of God’s design. We give up pleasures, which we may at times over-indulge, joys, not always necessary for life. This year, I have realized how weighted down we become with loves, which are not ours to own, the heaviness of commitments to unnecessary habits. It is sometimes in the pain of giving up that which we think nourishes us, gives us life, that we float free. In this time of discipline, it is only when the sun passes that we realize the sweetness of its fruit.

One of my favourite music videos is “Patience” by reggae artist Damian Marley and rapper Nas. The musicians quietly ask piercing questions about life, challenging the arrogant presumptions of the privileged about “modern development,” sound-byte answers in the face of eternal mystery. The musicians emerge out of a backdrop with the perspective of a Renaissance painting, camera sweeping through layers of images, through clouds past pyramids, into a mythic African past:

We born not knowing, are we born knowing all?

We growing wiser, are we just growing tall?

Can you read thoughts? can you read palms?

Can you predict the future? can you see storms, coming?

The Earth was flat if you went too far you would fall off

Now the Earth is round, if the shape change again everybody woulda start laugh

The average man can’t prove of most of the things that he chooses to speak of

And still won’t research and find out the root of the truth that you seek of

Scholars teach in universities and claim that they’re smart and cunning

Tell them find a cure when we sneeze and that’s when their nose start running

And the rich get stitched up, when we get cut

Man a heal dem broken bones in the bush with the wet mud

Can you read signs? can you read stars?

Can you make peace? can you fight war?

Can you milk cows, even though you drive cars? huh

Can you survive against all odds, now?

Marley and Nas pace through a shallow river to where it spills over the edge of the world. Galaxies and planets stretch out above them: “Who made up words? who made up numbers?” Nas asks. “And what kind of spell is mankind under?”

I hear the song echo under the mango tree as dusk moves in, and hunger moves towards its end. The first time I broke fast for Ramadan in 2008, a friend took me home for dinner. We walked under the sunset, past the ancient sloping Kano wall grown over with grass, down winding paths through the old city, spitting out date seeds. I sat on a mat under the cloudy sky eating oranges, fried yam, drinking tea, tucking my skirt firmly around my ankles and mayafi around my neck as mosquitos began to bite. I answered in fumbling Hausa, those questions my friend’s mother asked, but I mostly sat quietly under the sky and listened to the chatter of teenage girls, the banter of young men, the good natured laughter of their parents. Above us the clouds scudded past in a darkening sky. After that first evening, I mostly broke fast with musicians and editors and actors on Zoo Road, sharing out quartered oranges and slices of watermelon, crispy kosai and fried potatoes served on a newspaper transparent with oil, hot thick koko sweet with sugar in plastic cups. As my Hausa began to improve, we’d have long conversations in the studios, about film and politics, music and religion.  At night, I’d speed home on an achaba,  moon rising overhead, as stars began to peak out from beyond the clouds.

Well into my fourth year in Kano, my days have grown busier. This week, as Ramadan draws to a close, I break the fast by myself on this straw mat, waiting for the sun to set or the rain to come, wondering which will come first. It’s good to be under the mango tree, under the leaves, under the clouds, beyond which stretch the stars. I am glad I am not inside with my laptop open to the insistent demands of the internet, emails that must be answered and people on Facebook demanding responses, the guilt-inducing cursor blinking on the blank white page of articles long overdue.

I let my mind sway with the trees. The rain comes before the sun sets. The ink on my page blurs into little wet patches. I slowly stand up and carry the straw mat, my basket of fruit, newspapers and books to shelter. Dark clouds are piled up in the east, blowing in with the approaching night, but in the west where the sun hovers on the horizon, the rain falls through light, glimmering and sparkling to the earth, watering the grass which thrives today and dies tomorrow. So many things we love are fleeting, the raindrops that fall from sky to soil, bushes that grow green and lush now, and fade to brown later, the light which rises with promise each day only to fall into dark. But it’s all beautiful while it lasts.

–FIN

[Please NOTE that the video "Patience" has been embedded into this blog post under Fair Use laws for review purposes.]

Duniya Juyi Juyi: Life through the eyes of the almajirai

Much has happened over the past few months, and I haven’t had the time I’d like to chronicle it on this blog, though I would like to catch up in the next few weeks.  Bear with me. More will come soon.

Today, though, I did want to quickly post a link to a film that is worth watching, Duniya Juyi Juyi.  I just heard from my friend and colleague Hannah Hoechner, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford who is doing research in Kano on the almajirai, Qur’anic students who often leave rural areas to study with urban teachers. Because so many of the boys end up begging on the streets with little oversight from their teachers, the almajiri system is often blamed on much of the violence in the north. Hannah, who interacted with many almajirai and their teachers, has a different perspective. She was able to source funds from the Goethe Institut in Kano to help several of the almajiri boys she knows produce a film to tell their stories from their own perspective. Kannywood filmmaker Nasiru B. Muhammad helped them develop their stories about their experiences into a ‘docudrama’ script, and then the boys directed, acted in, and shot the film themselves. Kannywood editor Auwal Kabir Indabawa edited the film and seemed to provide a lot of support to the boys during the process of making the film. The film provides a unique look at the life of an almajiri through the eyes of the almajirai.

Before the screening of Duniya Juyi Juyi at the Goethe Institut on 27 October 2011, (left to right) Hannah Hoechner, Kabiru Idris, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad, Muhammad Naziru Usman, Buhari Murtala, and Auwal Kabir Indabawa. (c) Carmen McCain

The film has now been uploaded and is available for watching on flash here, with this introduction by Hannah. For those in Nigeria, it’s best to pause it and let it download for about 5 minutes before starting to watch. I have had my bitmeter tracking how much bandwidth it takes up, and I didn’t think it had taken up that much (then I checked my MTN credit–and it has used more than I thought… though I do think MTN is actually eating up more credit than it should be recently.)

Below is the column I wrote about the premier of the film at the end of October:

Duniya Juyi Juyi: Life from the eyes of the almajirai

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 05 November 2011 05:00

“I don’t give to them,” a friend told me one of the first times I came to Kano and saw the young children begging with their small plastic bowls in traffic, in front of restaurants, hanging around offices. “I don’t like to encourage the system.”  This was one of the first times I heard an explanation of the almajiri (disciple) system, in which young boys travel from mostly rural areas to attend Qur’anic schools in town, usually depending on contributions from the community or compensation for labour for food and clothing. The seeming incompatibility of the almajiri system and the “modern life” has meant there has been much public denunciation of the system.  The almajirai are seen as the source of urban crime and ready recruits for sectarian violence.  Little attention is paid to the voices of the almajirai themselves.

On Set of Duniya Juyi Juyi (left to right) Ikira Mukhtar, Muhammad Naziru Usman, and Ismail Abdullahi (c) Hannah Hoechner

This lack of representation has been addressed by a new docudrama Duniya Juyi Juyi (How Life Goes), which was directed, shot, and acted in by almajirai themselves. At the beginning the almajiri system is explained in the voice of one of the boys as we see the streets of Kano from their perspective. At the end the nine boys from the three different schools involved in the project, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa’ad (director), Buhari Murtala (assistant director),  Auwalu Mahamud (location manager), Isma’il Abdullahi (welfare), Sadisu Salisu (camera),  Muhammad Naziru Usman (assistant camera), Ikira Mukhtar (lead actor), Kabiru Idris (lighting), and Anas Ali (actor), introduce themselves and speak their messages directly to the audience.

The almajirai crew with Kannywood's Nasir B. Mohammad and Lubabatu Mudaki (c) Hannah Hoechner

The drama enclosed within this documentary frame is a simple linear story about a young boy Aminu’s (Ikira Mukhtar) life from his father’s (Sani Garba S.K.) decision in the village to send him to the city for school because “it is difficult for a boy to study in front of his parents” to his introduction to the malam (Husaini Sule Koki) who will teach him the Qu’ran.

Aminu leaves the village with his father to go to school. (c) Hannah Hoechner

Aminu learns how to survive without the comforts of family, from finding a place to sleep, water for ablutions, the ever-present search for food, and the struggle to study while hungry, to settling into the life at school, being given domestic work by a housewife (Lubabatu Mudaki) and work in a shop by a shopkeeper (Mustapha Musty), and finally the happy completion of his studies. Although their hardships are highlighted here, this is a fairly positive portrayal of the life of an almajiri, presenting arguments about their own worth made by the boys themselves, all of whom are now in their teens but many of whom started their Qur’anic studies as young boys.

Aminu (Ikira Mukhtar) with his malam (Husseini Sule Koki) (c) Hannah Hoechner

The malam is rarely critiqued here. Though he threatens Aminu with a beating should he run away, he is a reasonable and kind man who puts up patiently with the many young boys in his care. The critique the boys make and the message they have are instead for the communities in which they live, to the people who assume they are thieves and rascals, those who sneeringly tell them their parents don’t love them, or those households who think of them only as nearly free labour and not as people.

A housewife (Lubabatu Mudaki) hires Aminu but places more priority on the work he does in her house than on his studies. (c) Hannah Hoechner

What I found most remarkable about the film was that although the boys were trained in filmmaking by Hausa film professionals and several Kannywood actors helped add polish to the film, the preproduction and production of the film was carried out by the almajirai themselves.  The film medium becomes a powerful way to communicate their experiences to a larger audience.

I attended the premier of the film on Thursday, 27 October, held at the Goethe Institut in Kano, the sponsor of the film. Arriving at the Institut around 3pm, I was given food by the almajirai and spoke with producer Hannah Hoechner, a German PhD candidate at Oxford University whose research on almajirai had inspired her to make a film in which almajirai could speak for themselves. The nine boys who worked on the project came from schools in Sharada, Sabuwar Kofa and Albasu. In Albasu, the malam chose from the oldest ones to participate in the project. In Sabuwar Kofa, Hoechner chose those she knew best, and the boys from Sharada were those almajirai she taught English through the NGO, Child Almajiri Empowerment and Support Initiative. She approached Frank Roger of the Goethe Institut to fund the film and spoke warmly of his untiring encouragement. Although there were some fears from parents about the boys appearing in films, the malams were fully supportive of the project, not as a way for the boys to make money (the film was distributed for free rather than sold), but for them to tell their own stories.  In the evening before the film was shown, a bus arrived from Albasu with several malams and dozens of their students. The malams sat on the front row of the crowded outdoor theatre and seemed to fully enjoy the show, laughing and nodding in appreciation as they saw their lives re-enacted on screen.

I was also struck by the presence of Kannywood professionals, who interacted kindly and easily with the almajirai. Nasiru B. Mohammad who had trained the boys in scriptwriting and directing, did not make the screening, but when I arrived at the Goethe Institut, Auwal Kabir Indabawa, the Kannywood cinematographer and editor who taught the boys how to use the camera and had edited the film, was already there. He seemed to have become something of a mentor to the boys, guiding them as they prepared for the screening, listening to their ideas and making suggestions about how to present themselves to the crowd. He stayed with them until the end of the show. He described to me how he would leave their mistakes in and then teach them during the corrective editing process how they could improve next time they make a film.

Director of Duniya Juyi Juyi, Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad, and editor, Auwal Kabir Indabawa, share a laugh before the premiere of the film at the Goethe Institut, 27 October 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

Beyond a project for the almajirai to tell their own stories, the training the boys received opened up a potential career in film to them, a possibility the boys I spoke to expressed an interest in.  During the time for feedback after the screening, Mustapha Musty called on the government to support these students for further education in filmmaking.  Among other Kannywood practitioners who came to show their support were Bala Anas Babinlata, Hafizu Bello, Mustapha Indabawa, Lubabatu Mudaki, Maryam Sulaiman, Hajara Usman, and others. Also in attendance was the Commissioner for Information of Kano State and members of the Department of Mass Communication at Bayero University who had done initial training sessions with the boys.

The almajirai with Mustapha Musty. (c) Hannah Hoechner

While this film is groundbreaking in the presentation of the stories of almajirai as told by themselves, there are still voices that are not completely heard in this story. As male-centred as the almajiri system is, almost all of the women in the film were shown in a negative light. The selfish housewives who employ the boys were contrasted with the kind and fair-minded male shopowner who takes Aminu under his wings. In the making of the film itself, the boys most featured were teenagers, rather than the youngest and smallest boys who are often the most vulnerable. However, the representation of women might be explained by the fact that this film actually is from the eyes of these boys and that in work as domestic servants they likely interact with women most often. Similarly, the boys stage a conversation, where they critique the way the littlest boys are sent away from their parents, saying that parents who send small children should come and regularly check on them to make sure of their conditions. The film illustrates that the almajirai can both appreciate the benefits of and be critical of the problems of their system of education.

Little boys in the village draw water from a well under the eyes of politicians in the early part of the film. (c) Hannah Hoechner

Ultimately, the film reminded me of what drew me to the study of Hausa films in the first place, the way the industry gave ordinary people the power to tell their own stories. While Kannywood is a professional industry with a thriving star system, in projects of this sort, you can catch a glimpse of its roots and the exciting potential that a low budget film technology offers to the smallest and most often maligned members of society to tell their own stories and make their voices heard.

At the screening for Duniya Juyi Juyi, (left to right) Kabir Idris (lightner, in yellow), Abdullahi Yahaya Sa'ad (director, in gray), and Buhari Murtala (Assistant Director, in yellow) with supporters (c) Carmen McCain

“Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time”: a review of the documentary by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and Bala Anas Babinlata

A little late, but Barka da Sallah! Eid Mubarak. Da fatan an yi sallah lafiya.

In today’s column in Weekly Trust, I reviewed the documentary Equestrian Elegance, written, narrated, and produced by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. To read the column on the Trust website, click on the link, to read the hard copy, click on the photo, or if you have slow internet, just read the piece below:

Equestrian Elegance at Sallah-time

 Written by Carmen McCain Saturday, 12 November 2011 05:00

Before I moved to Kano in 2008, I had heard much about the Sallah celebrations as a “tourist attraction.” Expatriate acquaintances both in Nigeria and outside the country told me of travels to Kano to experience the colour and pageantry of the annual event. In 2008, I attended my first “Hawan Sallah” at the emir’s palace and two days later stood with a friend as the parade of horses and riders, hunters on foot and men on stilts, processed past her Fagge house on the outskirts of the old city. At the centre of it all was the magnificent emir Alhaji (Dr) Ado Bayero, who rode under a twirling silk umbrella. He was greeted with cries of blessing from the crowd, their fists upraised in salute. [For photos of the the "Hawan Nassarawa" during Eid el-Fitr I attended in 2010, click to my flickr album here or for the blog post about it, click here]

What most struck me as I stood with crowd on both days was the community feel of the festivities: onlookers calling out the names of the riders, riders shouting down greetings to friends, the genuine affection in the salutes to the emir. This sense of familiarity is captured beautifully in the 2009 documentary film, Equestrian Elegance: the Kano Sallah Pageantry Festival written, produced and narrated by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu and directed by Bala Anas Babinlata. Professor Abdalla of Bayero University is one of the most grounded and prolific scholars of Hausa popular culture, with dozens of books and articles published both locally and internationally. His most important contributions, however, go beyond academic scholarship to actual interventions into popular culture: among which was his founding and moderation of the Finafinan Hausa and marubuta yahoogroups, important critical forums for dialogue about Hausa popular literature and film;  the organizing of concerts and award shows for Hausa musicians, and his innovative creation of what he calls “Hausa classical music” by recording Hausa traditional instruments being played without singing. Professor Abdalla also spans the world of scholarship and art with the films put out by his production company Visually Ethnographic Productions.

The documentary Equestrian Elegance (1 hour 28 mins), which was shot in 2008 but has not yet been released for commercial distribution, covers the four days of parades through Kano city during Eid al-Fitr: “Hawan Sallah,” “Hawan Daushe,” “Hawan Nassarawa,” and “Hawan Dorayi,” and the additional day of pageantry “Hawan Fanisau” during Eid al-Adha. A narrative voiceover by Professor Abdalla, explains the events and an innovative animation traces along a map the parade route taken each day, but the film mostly celebrates the details of the festivities from the sunrise on the first day of Sallah to the sunset on the last day. Within this symbolic frame, the rhythm of Sallah is measured out by each procession out of and back towards the palace.

While I admittedly grew a bit weary about an hour into the film, I think the attention to detail here is important. Professor Abdalla told me that the unhurried pacing was intentional: he wanted the film to “unfold in very slow motion, so you can absorb the details.” The focus here was on capturing “the pageantry. Every horse is different. Every rider is different. People stay out there three hours watching and don’t get tired.” His goal was to show the “high level of refinement” in the Sallah parades and the “structural elegance of pageantry.”

Such elegance is captured in the beauty of the cinematography: the close-ups of the courtier crouching to perform the morning gun salute and his graceful almost balletic twirl through the gun smoke; the rich texture of both horse and rider being robed in layer after layer of damask in preparation for the parade; the hazy glow of Kano swathed in harmattan during the final day of “Hawan Fanisau.”

But beyond presenting the elegance of the event, Professor Abdalla told me that another goal was to present to a global audience that sense of community surrounding Sallah. Although Kano’s Sallah festivities are probably some of the most photographed annual events in Nigeria, the photographs taken by tourists are often formally beautiful but distancing. There is little knowledge or intimacy in them.  Here, however, as Professor Abdalla points out you “can see the sense of community. It’s like carnival, a street party, with mom and dad and kids.” And it is this sense of community and lived tradition that I like most about the film. Kano is often either romanticized by the national and international media as a place of “timeless tradition,” an ancient exotic city of fairy tale, or denigrated as, what one foreign blogger termed, “an overgrown village,” a backwards northern outpost with a medieval mentality. Equestrian Elegance explodes both stereotypes, presenting the richness of tradition from insider’s perspective. One of the moments that best captures this delightful mix of light-heartedness and ceremony is in a shot where the dignified male space of the emir’s speech at the government house is playfully undermined by the little girl playing with a balloon directly behind him. As opposed to stereotypes about Kano under shari’a, women are not excluded from the celebration. While they may not be a part of the main spectacle, they take part in the larger community event. Girls and women hang off of balconies and push into the crowds to catch a glimpse of the horses and riders. As Professor Abdalla points out, Sallah is a family affair.

Part of what contributes to this “insider’s perspective” comes from the camera operators’ ability to get up close to their subjects, not the flattened close-up of a zoom camera but the intimate close-up of someone who is a part of the celebration. The subjects of the camera’s gaze sometimes seem to recognize the person behind the camera, and the film is often self-referential. While tourist photographs often attempt to capture the “timelessness” of the event, avoiding shots of other photographers or signs that situate their subjects in a particular modern moment, this film cheerfully revels in contemporary local knowledge of the event. The parade, as Professor Abdalla points out in his narrative commentary, is located in a very specific and recent history, including a route which began as part of the current emir’s Sallah visit to his mother.

There are multiple references to the way in which the event is viewed both through foreign and homegrown eyes.  The tourists become part of the spectacle. They are depicted laughing on the palace balcony or lining up in front of the crowd with their zoom lenses. But more significant are the frequent moments of easy familiarity when local photographers and videographers enter the camera’s view. The camera repeatedly captures the parade processing past photography and video shops, a subtle tribute to the many Kano residents who use the camera to tell their own stories. Professor Abdalla himself makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film.

The cosmopolitan mix that makes up Kano is also found in the soundtrack of the documentary. The most striking piece of music is Babangida Kakadawo’s praise song “Sarkin Kano Ado Bayero” to the accompaniment of the kuntigi, used to great effect in the moments where the emir appears. However, the soundtrack is also sprinkled with Malian musician Ali Farka Toure’s guitar pieces and another song featuring Egyptian musician Hassan Ramzy. (Professor Abdalla argues the inclusion of these tracks follows international standards of fair usage since the looped excerpts are less than one minute.) While I initially thought the use of non-Nigerian music detracted from the “authenticity” of the film, I find convincing Professor Abdalla’s argument that he wanted to expose people to music from other parts of Africa, a goal in keeping with Kano’s history as a cosmopolitan trade centre.

The borrowed music, along with the slow pace, could be an attraction or flaw depending on the taste of the viewer. I was not a fan of the digital effects in the transitions, which I thought distracted more than they added to the film.  But these moments of imperfection are far outweighed by the strength in the completeness of the film, which moved beyond the picturesque palace durbar to cover the entire procession and its connection to the people of the city. Equestrian Elegance is an important historical resource that is valuable to outsiders trying to learn about the culture and traditions of Kano but perhaps even more so to those from Kano, who want to remember the richness of a lived tradition, Sallah as performed in the first decade of the 21st century.

 

Lecture and Exhibition on Alternative Energy today at Goethe Institut, Kano, the first place in Kano to go “off grid” with a solar-tracking system

The topic of renewable energy, as an environmentally friendly option, has always interested me, even as a young child, but I think growing up in Nigeria, where the power supply is unstable, made me even more passionate about the topic. Renewable energy is more than just a way to be “green;” it is a way to survive, and I am shamelessly evangelistic in my promotion of renewable energy as the best option for Nigeria. We have some of the best sun in the world, as well as excellent wind and hydro resources. We could also do very well with (my current favourite option) gasification of organic waste products. In fact, a family friend who works in renewable energy told me that agricultural factories could basically run themselves and staff housing on the energy produced from waste materials such as husks and corn stalks. Estates could potentially go grid-free as well as enjoying a tidy environment by gasifying their trash or sewer systems.

After spending nearly two and a half years suffering the vagaries of NEPA and refusing, out of principle (and also, I admit, fear) to get a generator, I finally invested in an inverter and battery system. Until a few minutes ago when NEPA came back on, I was working on a power supply from my battery system, without which I would not be able to do my work. The battery charges when I have electricity and supplies me with power to run my laptop, inkjet printer, tv, dvd player, and DSTV device, as well as recharge phones and recharge a battery lamp and phone (You would need a much larger battery and inverter system to run a refrigerator, heating element, or airconditioner). My battery needs about three hours of electricity for a full charge, and when fully charged can provide up to 10 hours of electricity. I use mine very lightly, unplugging printer and TV when not in use, and turning it off when I sleep or go out, and since I purchased it in around February, I have not had my battery run out even once. Although the initial investment is pricier than a generator, it is completely worth it to me. There is very little noise (just a light hum), no unpleasant fumes, and no having to go out and waste time in queues for petrol or having to handle petrol. I bought my system from the Indian company Su-Kam on Ibrahim Taiwo Road, but there are also other suppliers in Kano, such as Dahiru Solar Technical Services Ltd (which built the solar-tracking system for the German cultural liason, Goethe Institut, Kano office) on Zaria Road. My goal, once I am done with my PhD and actually earning a reasonable income (!) is to someday invest in solar and be free of NEPA altogether.

Therefore, I am particularly excited about a lecture and exhibition on renewable energy that is opening today at the Goethe Institut-Nigeria, Kano liason office, co-sponsored by the General-Consulate of Germany in Lagos and the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Nigeria. I wanted to get this up a bit sooner, but have been insane with writing deadlines. For those in Kano, seeing this before 2pm, Thursday, there will be  a lecture at that time on renewable energy, given by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Palz, the Chairman of the World Council Renewable Energy.

Venue: Goethe Institut Nigeria, Kano Liason Office, 21 Sokoto Road, Nassarawa GRA, Kano.

Time: 2pm, Thursday, 30 June 2011

The lecture will open a one week exhibition at the Goethe Institut, Kano on “Renewables-Made in Germany” on “renewable energy sources, technologies and systems,” which has recently been on display at the Goethe, Institut, Lagos. On July 11-15 it will move to Abuja and be displayed at the Hilton Hotel. The exhibition is open from 30 July to 7 July, 10am to 5pm and entrance is free.

The exhibition features German renewable energy technology and “answers questions such as:

What are the advantages of the different renewable energy sources and technologies?

How do the different type of renewable energy technologies work?

Under what conditions can these technologies be used?

The Goethe Institut, Kano, is a particularly appropriate venue to hold the exhibition since the Goethe Institut, which is housed in the old Gidan bi Minsta, parts of which were built back in the 16th century, is the first building in Kano state, and the third in the nation, to be powered by a solar tracking system, a mechanized system which follows the sun for optimum solar power absorption. Although I am generally a bit suspicious of agendas of cultural agencies, I have been very impressed with the Goethe Institut’s programming and support of Kannywood, and have written about it elsewhere in my column.

A few weeks ago I interviewed Frank Roger, the director of the Kano liason office for Goethe-Institut, Nigeria, about the solar energy project he initiated. Click on the photo below to read in hard copy, or scroll below the photo for the text.

In Kano, Goethe Institut goes off-grid with solar power

Saturday, 18 June 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

When I visited Germany a few years ago, one of the things that most impressed me was that nation’s visible commitment to renewable energy sources. Driving through the countryside, I saw windmills to capture and convert the wind into energy; neighborhoods full of “passive houses”  built and insulated to need very little energy for heating during the cold winter season; and solar panels for conversion of sunlight into electricity on many houses. Why aren’t we doing more of this in Nigeria? I thought. Nigeria is much more blessed with sun than Germany and much more in need of alternate electricity sources. I was particularly excited when I heard that the Goethe-Institut, the German cultural centre established in Kano in 2008, had gone “off-grid” and was now run completely on solar power. In April when the Goethe-Institut hosted the one-day Kannywood FESPACO symposium, the lights were on, the computers were running in the offices. The sound speakers and the digital projector worked without a blink. There was no noisy generator filling the compound with fumes, just a large mechanized frame of solar panels to capture the sun.

I asked Frank Roger, the director of the Goethe-Institute, Kano, about their energy supply, and I’ve included parts of our conversation below. He gave me a little background about German energy politics, the Goethe-Institut, and their solar energy project, highlighting the wisdom of traditional architecture and the great possibilities of solar power to transform the way electricity is experienced in Nigeria and the world. The Goethe-Institut, which has been in Lagos since 1962, focuses on “intercultural exchange and the promotion of various fields of the arts.” When they established a liason office in Kano in 2008, they were invited by the Kano State History and Culture Bureau to move into the old adobe Gidan bi Minista building, the upper floor of which was constructed in 1909. The History and Culture Bureau believes that “the basic structure of the ground floor has been around since the 16th century. It was [first] used by title holders of the emir. In 1903 when the British came to Kano, the first British minister, who was called Frederick bi Minista, resided here. He established the first arts and crafts school in Kano here, so this building has a real history of cultural activities. Later on MOPPAN [Motion Picture Practitioners Association of Nigeria] offices were here, then the copyright commission. When I came in 2008, the house was basically not used.”

“The Goethe-Institut does not pay rent but maintains the building. We renovated the whole building, the plastering, you have to do quite often, checking it after rainy season.  We reconnected water supply and put on a new roof, but there was still the problem of energy supply. Even though this is not far from the government house, still the [electric] supply was very unreliable.

“The easiest way would be to buy a generator and just do it that way. But then the idea [of solar power] came up. There’s one thing about this building and the architecture. It has natural ventilation. It’s quite cool inside so you don’t really need air conditioning. Even though it’s April, it’s very comfortable inside. If you have these modern concrete buildings, you definitely need air conditioning for an office, and then it’s a bit costly when it comes to solar power. If you want to invest in solar, you first have to do a power load survey. You have to know how much you need for consumption, and according to that, then solar company will design you the system you need. That’s why you cannot just say in general what is the size or cost of a solar power system. It is individually designed according to your needs. So the idea was instead of following this generator mainstream that we look for an alternative, and since solar has a big boom in Germany, we said ‘why not?’ Kano is much more exposed to the sun than our belt in Germany with its bad weather and short days in winter. In Kano you have hours of daily sunlight. In August in the rainy season, you can expect 5-6 hours. And in March-April, up to 11 hours of sunlight, so it’s really obvious to use it.  The system we have was installed by Baba Dahiru [of Dahiru Solar Technical Services Ltd], a Kano businessman. And what he always says is that solar is free, and it is true. The energy from the sun comes for free, everyday newly. Of course, first you have quite high investment costs. If you want light at night, you also have to invest in batteries, which are not so cheap. But normally it pays off after about three years.

“We cancelled our NEPA account. Basically with our solar system, we run everything in this office now. We are off grid [disconnected from PHCN], and we have a fridge, our computers, the sound system, printer, copy machine, lights, lighting for exhibition, security lights at night that all run without any problem. We did the official opening in December, but had the test run since August, and it has run [from that time] without problems. You don’t really have maintenance costs. They come from time to time to make sure the screws are still tight. The lifespan of batteries is comparable to that of a generator, so after 6-7 years they have to be renewed. But the PV, photovoltaic panels [which capture the energy from the sun] run with 90% guarantee for 10-15 years, and at 80% rate of performance from 20-25 years, which is a really long term investment.

In addition to reliable electricity, using solar energy has other benefits. “There is no pollution. We don’t contribute to global warming now. There is no noise, which is important for our programmes.  Here you feel it’s a little paradise because it’s so quiet and peaceful. We have installed solar panels not only as our energy supply system but also looked at it as an educational project to spread the idea of alternatives to the oil, coal gas, fossil fuels. Even though Nigeria is at an oil peak now, there will be a time when the oil worldwide will be finished. So, it is a good idea now while you have a lot of revenue from the oil industry to look ahead and invest in future technologies.”

“There’s a lot of investment in renewable energy in Germany now. Wind power is the first, also offshore wind power stations on the North Sea, even solar, though we have bad sunlight, also hydro power, some geotherm, and biological waste.”

After the Fukushima nuclear tragedy following the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, “it was quite a big debate in Germany. We have something like 17 nuclear power plants in Germany. The majority want to get rid of this risky technology. The people in the renewable energy industry said by 2020 they will completely replace nuclear power in Germany with renewable resources, solar, hydropower. That is like nine years from now.”

The Danger of a Single Story and the Good Samaritans of Arewa

I don’t think I’ve ever been so behind on this blog as I have been this time, going for nearly two months without posting anything. Forgive me. I have been overwhelmed by several other writing projects and much too much travel. I’ll try to catch up on links to a few of my pieces in Weekly Trust in the next few days, but I thought that last post should be followed by the column that came right after it.

To read the hard copy, click on this link to be taken to a flickr page where you can read it online. Otherwise, scroll below the photo and read the text as copied below (I’ve made a few small edits and added links for this blog).

The danger of a single story and the Good Samaritans of Arewa

Saturday, 30 April 2011 00:00 Carmen McCain

In a crisis such as we had last week, one comes out of it shell-shocked, horrified by the acts of inhumanity human beings are capable of. How can a human being cut another human being’s throat, send them hurtling into flames? What reason is there behind the destruction of property, the burning of churches, and mosques, the killing of youth corpers, the massacre of villagers? The killing of youth corpers in Bauchi has understandably led to rage around the country. Facebook pages have been created in their honour and linked back in particular to the page of Ukeoma Ikechukwu, whose last status update as was how he was nearly killed forresisting election malpractice was tragically prescient.  The murder of these young people on the cusp of their lives is horrifying and must be appropriately responded to by reforms to a system which too often leaves corpers insufficiently protected. Yet, I am also appalled by the irrational mob-mentality, the backlash of hatred I’ve seen on the internet, directed not just against the murderers of the youth corpers but against the entire ambiguous region of the north, lashing out often as much against other victims of violence as against the perpetrators of it. As I wrote this article, I got into a surreal and sickening online argument with someone passionately calling for innocent people from the north to be murdered in retaliation for the deaths of her fellow youth corpers.

Much of this rhetoric comes from people who have never been further north than Abuja and who stereotype an entire region the way Africa is stereotyped by ignorant outsiders, but some of it is furthered by those who have lived briefly in the “north” and have had traumatic experiences. One woman, who schooled in Jos, recounted how her own neighbors turned against her in a crisis and would have, she presumed, killed her “had not a good Samaritan intervened.” What is glaring to me in this story is that she focuses on the betrayal and treachery of those who attacked her to denounce the entire “north”, while mentioning the acts of the “good Samaritan” as only a postscript. While this is certainly an understandable response to a terrible experience, it is also only one side of the story. In “The Danger of A Single Story,” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spoken of how the insistence on “only negative stories” creates “stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

In these times of crisis, it is the horrifying stories that make the headlines, the betrayal, the treachery, the youth corpers murdered, the children trampled by mobs, the places of worship burned. Far less heard are the stories of ordinary human beings behaving with decency, treating their neighbors as they themselves would want to be treated, yet I argue that these people are far more numerous than the extremists and rogues who pillage and kill. It is not that there are not many stories of violence, abuse, and injustice against minorities in the north, for there are, and they must be addressed, but it is that these experiences are only a small part of the larger story. Adichie asserts that “I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”

Last week I told the story of Pastor Habila Sunday, who was defended in Kano by a Muslim man who told his attacker “before you kill him, you’ll have to kill me.” An article in NEXT of 24 April, recounts the story of Adamu Bologi, a Muslim librarian in Minna, who risked his life multiple times to help several Christian families to safety. There are many other stories of this sort, less heard because they are less dramatic, but which illustrate people acting out true neighborliness. Last week, I thought I had lost a close friend of mine–a Christian–to the violence in Kano. I called her dozens of times but both of her phones were switched off for days. When I finally heard from her, she recounted a harrowing story. As the tension mounted that Monday, April 18, her manager at work suggested she leave her car in the office. He thought she would be safer if he gave her a ride home. However, around Unguwa Uku, they ran into a roadblock of burning tires manned by rioters. “There was no way we could pass, so we slowed down.” Hoodlums began beating the car and breaking the glass of the windows. One of them reached through the window and snatched her handbag which held her phones and her keys. “When they saw me with my hair open, they said, ‘She’s a pagan, bring her out.’” Her manager protested “I’m a Muslim, I’m a Muslim,” but as he saw that these thugs, who appeared drugged up and high, wanted to injure her anyway, he accelerated and sped through the block, driving through fire, to get to the other side. Seeing that it would be too risky to continue on to her house, he dropped her at a police station. She eventually was able to call a friend, who came with her husband a few hours later to take her home with them. She stayed with this Muslim family for another week until she felt safe enough to go to her own home.

Another young man, Suleiman Garba Sule who teaches part time at a school while waiting for NYSC to place him, told me how when the news of the violence in Kaduna and Kano reached them, two Christian members of the staff, originally from Kaduna, were terrified. Their Muslim colleagues advised that they stay on the school premises until the roads became safe, and they ended up staying overnight in the school management house, until Suleiman called and told them it would be safe to leave. Dangiwa Onisemus wrote me that his aunties and cousins were protected by the “Muslim community in Malali technical school, Kaduna. Even as I speak, the Christian faithfuls are still staying there…. The Muslim community stood firm to see that the Christians are not touched.”

My friend, Dr. K. Korb  in Jos wrote me of a family friend, a Fulani Muslim, who had only recently finished building his house on a plot of land that happened to be in a majority Christian neighborhood. “During the post-election violence, the Christian youths came to attack his brand new home. His Christian neighbors, including a number of youths and old men, confronted the angry crowd. Pointing in the direction of his own home, a Christian neighbor told the youths, “See over there? That is my house. If you are going to burn down this house, you must burn my house down first.” The angry youths relented and moved on.” Our friend “was thankful … but he feared for his family’s safety so he moved them back into his brother’s house in the Muslim part of town. Shortly thereafter, the Muslim youths came to attack the house next to our friend’s brother that happened to belong to a Christian. Our friend and his brother quickly moved the Christian family into the brother’s house to protect them. Once the family was safely inside, our friend and his brother confronted the angry crowd and told the youths that they would not burn down that Christian house. The angry youths relented and moved on.”

These stories do not all contain  great heroic feats, just accounts of human decency, of neighborliness and friendship that show how interconnected communities actually are. These are the stories that are not often heard but which are the most common in times of crisis. And it is these stories that are the most helpful in pursuing justice, for it is only when we see those who are different from us as our neighbors and our brothers that we will be able to work together to change corrupt systems which perpetuate such violence.

Nigeria Votes for President Today: NN24, twitter, and the role played by new technologies

Kannywood actor Jameel Ibrahim shows off his 9 April 2011 National Assembly vote, while on location for the Aisha Halilu movie, Armala, Sunday 10 April 2011. (c) Carmen McCain

(I wrote this post between 11:30am and 1:00pm on Saturday, 16 April 2011. My internet went out shortly before I planned to post illustrating the difficulties in celebrating too unreservedly the ability of ‘new technologies’ to bring about revolutionary change–fortunately it came back in about an hour….)

As, not being a Nigerian ‘citizen’, I am not allowed to vote today, I am hunkered down in my house, doing housework and planning to do some reading and writing later in the day. But for now, NN24, Nigeria’s challenge to CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera hosted on DSTV and one of my new favourite channels, is constantly on in the background, with analysis of the accreditation process so far and i-reports from people from around the country who are texting and sending photos and videos from their polling stations.  I love NN24. I love their energy and their youth focus, and their attention to the role new technology can play in encouraging the political process to be more transparent. For example, as with CNN, they have an application on their homepage, where ‘ordinary’ citizens (albeit those who can afford an internet-navigable phone or a laptop with a modem) can upload an i-report. They were the ones who organized the first debate between the presidential candidates, which I discussed in an earlier post. The only problem with NN24, as blogger Saratu Abiola noted in a powerfully written article posted to Nigerians Talk  ‘On Debating Nigeria’, regarding the NN24 hosted presidential debates,  is that it provides excellent content that is nevertheless limited to the viewership of those who can afford at least N2800 a month for the DSTV family subscription. Despite its idealistic goals, it limits itself, through its subscription status, to a wealthy elite. Yesterday, for example, there were three short ‘development’ films, ‘Vote Wisely’, an uplifting film where villagers drive away a corrupt politician trying to bribe them with rice for their votes, another ‘Too Young’ warning of the dangers of ‘unsafe pregnancies’ by showing a young girl attempting an abortion on herself, and another with a ‘northern couple’ (speaking English), where the husband refuses to let his wife, who has been in labour for two days be seen by a male doctor. The Ford-foundation sponsored Communicating for Change films shown as part of NN24’s ‘commitment to social responsibility’ were all targeted to ‘the masses’ (other than perhaps the one about the girl with the unwanted pregnancy),  yet who among the masses are going to be watching NN24? How effective will English be in the North? Will someone who can pay at least N2800 a month to access NN24 and DSTV really be tempted to sell their vote for a mudu of rice or refuse to bring their wife into the hospital until she has already been in labour for two days? These ‘public service announcements’ are interspersed with ads for exclusive hotels in Lagos and Abuja and tourist ads for ‘Incredible India’ (featuring white tourists), revealing the wealthy, upper class audience who will actually be seeing these development films. (Convicting myself as I write this, I switch over to the publicly accessible NTA for a few minutes, where they are interviewing women about the lack of female politicians and cases of double voting. The tone here is much less exuberant and encouraging than NN24. I become so irritated by the stereotypical way the men on a discussion panel are discussing women politicians that I switch back to NN24 after about 5 minutes). Much more potentially powerful, I argue, are Nollywood/Kannywood films, especially those done in local languages, which incorporate political content into popular storylines. And perhaps even more powerful than those, radio content and music…

The conflict I have about NN24 is similar to the conflict I feel about celebrating how new technologies are making politics more transparent. It is commonly repeated in the media that tweeting and facebook played a large role in the Egyptian revolution and the social media also seem to be a large part of a ‘youth consciousness’ here in Nigeria. Yet, facebook and twitter and blogs are still very much limited to an upwardly mobile urban population who have the means to buy internet-accessible phones or at least browse at an internet cafe. And, passion and commitment to transparency, still cannot completely stop those who are determined to cause havoc, as we see in the increasingly worrisome trend of political terrorism throughout the country. (Two bombs have gone off in Maiduguri, one at an INEC office, and another at a police station, the latest in a series of bombs to go off around the country, including one in Suleja and Kaduna last week.)

That said, I’m an optimistic person, and I do love to see how passionate those I know are about the elections. I love how last week as I visited the set of the Aisha Halilu movie Armala, Kannywood actors engaged in good natured political debates, and how actor Jameel Ibrahim showed me the photos he had taken with his phone of his vote. ‘This is my record,’ he told me. ‘This is my vote. I want everyone to know how I voted.’ I love how friends on twitter re-tweet instructions from INEC about the rules for accreditation and voting, and how others campaign for their chosen candidates on facebook. I love to see the i-reports sent to NN24 by young people from their phones and the democratizing role these new technologies seem to be playing in these elections–the tweet, for example, sent in by a voter just reported by NN24 on how voters pounced on thugs sent by a politician and sent them running (a seeming replay of the ‘Vote Wisely’ skit aired on NN24) .

And beyond the technology available to those of means, I love how the young man I saw interviewed on Al Jazeera last week, said he was staying around for the rest of the day to make sure his vote was counted. I love that the elections (so far) seem to be one of the ‘free-est and fairest’ Nigeria has ever had, the determination of those I know to get out and vote, the civic-mindedness of those standing outside in the sun all day to make sure their voices are heard.  Last week a young Kano-based musician Osama bin Music told me how in the last vote, he and his friends went to be accredited and then helped organize the crowds, trying to push through the small door of the school where the elections were taking place, into lines for men and women.

Osama bin Music (c) Carmen McCain

There may be young thugs hired by politicians, a trope that has become a stereotypical part of the Nigerian political landscape, but there are far more youth who want the voting process to work. They are there queuing in the sun. They want to make a difference. They want their votes to count. And it is in these youth that the hope for Nigeria lies.

The question, of course, is will the politicians who will be voted into power respect the faith the youth are placing in their votes? Or will they, despite the ‘free and fair’ vote, continue on with business as usual? And if that case, will new technologies make any difference in encouraging the youth to challenge the political culture in Nigeria in a more radical way or will it just comfort an elite that ‘their voices are being heard’?

Daula Hotel Workers Report Not Being Paid for Four Months

(c) Carmen McCain

[NOTE: This blog post my own follow-up to a Daily Trust article by Abdullahi Yahaya Bello published on 11 December 2010. I report what I have been told by the striking staff of Daula Hotel. I have not interviewed the Kano State government. Where I quote, I am reconstructing conversations I had in Hausa and jotted down as notes in my notebook. I did not tape record the conversations, so they are not exact quotes]

[UPDATE: 18 March 2011. When I stopped by Daula Hotel this morning, the sign on the gate had been taken down, and people were working. When I asked them if they had been paid, they told me they had been paid for two months, and had stopped striking but were still waiting to be paid for three more months]

Daula Hotel, the Kano State owned hotel built in 1974/5, was once one of the nicest hotels in Kano. You can see it in the lines, in the airy covered walkways lined with trees and flowering bushes.

(c) Carmen McCain

It is no longer. I took these photos exactly a month ago 13 January 2011, after a growing curiosity about the closed gates and the handwritten banner flapping outside I saw every time I passed. The hotel lies in ruins, as if in an abandoned city, after a war.

(c) Carmen McCain

Daula Hotel has 140 staff. The few that were standing around in the hotel compound when I visited told me that they had not been paid since October 2010. In addition, they said they haven’t been getting their annual leave, and for ten years haven’t recieved their NSITF trust fund or retirement benefits. The families of those who have died, they said, receive no pension.

(c) Carmen McCain

The 11 December 2011 Trust article reports:

Weekly Trust findings show that since Daula Hotel, owned by the Kano state government was commissioned in 1975, there have been no major capital injection or rehabilitation work carried out apart from the cosmetic facelift given to the hotel in 1999 when Nigeria hosted the Under  17 World cup.  Mismanagement by successive governments and appointed managers of the hotel, Weekly Trust learnt, also led to the present state the hotel found itself.

According to Comrade Sadeeq Suleiman, branch chairman of the National Union of Hotel and Personal Services, the workers and the hotel are dying gradually. “To say that Daula Hotel has collapsed is an understatement as you have seen after going round the place. We think that there is a deliberate attempt by government to kill this hotel. If not, how can the Kano state government allow this hotel to decay while they have retainership in other hotels in town where they pay bills of nothing less than N350 million for accommodation, feeding and other sundry matters monthly? Yet when they send their guest here, they don’t pay.  It will baffle you to know that it takes more than six months for the government to settle just N2 million they owe Daula. If they give us half the amount they spend in other hotels, we won’t be where we are today.  They say we are a parastatal but they don’t treat us like a parastatal. Every month we have to go on strike before we can get our salaries. We don’t have service charge and above all, our pension contribution for 10 years was not remitted to the NSTIF. We are suffering. Those who retired have died without pension. We are hounded by landlords all the time and even children school fees are a problem”, he lamented.

For Comrade Dickson Aya, Assistant- General Secretary, National Union of Hotel and Personal Services, one of the pioneer staff of Daula Hotel, it beggars believe that Daula could be so ruined. “I was one of the pioneer staff of Daula Hotel in 1975. This hotel was not just the best hotel in Kano, it was the pride of the north. At its peak up to the late 1990s, we operated at full capacity. If you don’t book in advance, you can’t be sure of getting a room. We had about 300 staff strength then; we generated nothing less than N10 million monthly. Salaries were paid on the 20th of every month and service charge was 15th of every month.  We had the best laundry in town. Other hotels liaised with us to send them guests when our hotel is filled up. Weekends were something else. I cannot imagine that the same Daula today can’t operate 30 rooms successfully. It will shock you that we now generate sometimes about N40, 000 in a month.”

(c) Carmen McCain

He said the Shekarau administration is the worst thing to happen to Daula Hotel. “Seven years ago, things were not this terrible. At least, we were still patching things. But today, we are at a standstill. Governor Ibrahim Shekarau came here two years ago and saw the condition of the place. He met everywhere leaking and promised to address the problem in two weeks. Up till now, we have not seen anything from him.  We know that those in government have connived with other hotels in town where they inflate hotel bill to get their share. We are aware that if government bill is N5 million, they add another N5 million as their own share. I am a seasoned hotel administrator and I know what I am saying. What we are saying is that we are tired. If they don’t do something fast our frustration has gotten to a level where we can burn down this hotel. The cheating is too much,” he threatened.

Isa Umar, another staff of Daula Hotel said government has politicized Daula Hotel. That most of the people they post as managers to the hotel don’t know anything about hotel management. “Over the years, most of the managers they brought just came and connived with people in the Ministry of Commerce, the supervising Ministry to run the place down. The so called senior managers who are there don’t help matters either. On a monthly basis, they write all kinds of requisition that they never buy. Requisition for food, diesel, drinks, beddings and so on. Why can’t the government come and check all these things they claim to be buying. Today, it is Mai-ruwa (water vendors) that supplies the hotel with water. No borehole. Do you know that rats and snakes have chased guests out of their rooms in this hotel? Those in the laundry now use their leg and soda to wash clothes because the machines are bad. Look even those who have turned Daula into short service centre no longer patronize us because things have worsened. We are appealing to the government to come to the rescue of the staff and the hotel”

(c) Carmen McCain

A source who prefers anonymity, told Weekly Trust that the government has retainership with Tahir Guest Palace, Hotel Horizon, Royal Tropicana, Kano Guest Inn, Niima Guest Palace, among others. None of these hotels, according to him, is up to Daula but yet government neglected the place and prefers spending millions with these hotels. He said if government can give Daula N50 million every year, it will save huge resources they are expending on hotels and Daula too will generate profit for the government.

I delayed writing this blog post right away because they told me they hoped to be paid in the next few days. I did not want to post all these photos if they were about to be paid. Several told me that the governor had approved for them to be paid, but the ministry of commerce was delaying the payment. Today, when I visited Daula again, several asked me, “What happened to those photos? What happened to the piece you were going to write?” It has now been four months since they have been paid, three months since they’ve gone on strike.

(c) Carmen Mccain

 

Striking staff took me around the hotel, through the lobby, footprints marked in the deep dust and then layered over again. We walked through the overgrown gardens, and up the stairs into rooms where the doors hung off their hinges. Insulation dripped from smashed ceilings, and spider’s webs screened broken windows.

(c) Carmen McCain

Of the 192 rooms in the hotel, only thirty-five are functioning, they tell me. I ask them to take me to a functioning room. Dirty mattresses hang off of old bedframes, the walls are stained. A light bulb dangles from a wire in the bathroom. “How much would this room be if I want to stay?” I asked. “N5000,” they tell me.

The habitable room. (c) Carmen McCain

“How are you surviving?” I ask, “not having been paid for so long? How do you eat?”

“We try to manage,” they smile, grimly. “We ask relatives for help. We live on what little bit we’ve been able to save.”

“I have five children,” one man told me. “They have kicked them out of school. I haven’t been able to pay their school fees.”

“We’ve gone to the Public Complaints Commission, but they didn’t do anything. Daily Trust, Freedom Radio, NTA has reported it but nothing has come out of it. We are fighting for our rights, but the ministry of commerce says we don’t want to work. We want to work but how can we when we are not being paid? There are old people who have been working at the hotel from the beginning who are dying without seeing their pensions?”

“How long has the hotel been like this,” I ask?

“We’ve been needing renovations for a while,” they told me, “but we were managing. For the past seven years it has been worse. For the past five years, we have had to strike in order to be paid our salaries, but this time it has been three months. The governor came to inspect the place around 3-5 years ago, but nothing changed.”

(c) Carmen McCain

As they took me around the hotel, I could see that the place could be beautiful. The bones are all there. The garden is overgrown but alive. The fixtures, though broken, are attractive. I could imagine it a pleasant place to stroll on a cool Kano evening. But, for now, with its layered over footprints and shattered glass and dusty lion fixtures, it reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s description in his fantasy novel The Magician’s Nephew of an abandoned planet where everyone has died.

(c) Carmen McCain

The pool at Daula has an apocalyptic feel about it, drained of water, lawnchairs scattered haphazardly, a random couch, backless with the stuffing coming out.

(c) Carmen McCain

Once they had taken me around to the pool, the workers thanked me and left me to make my way back out.

The light had nearly gone by then, and the photos came out dull and gray.

(c) Carmen McCain