Tag Archives: Goethe Institut

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

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.”