You will not get a photograph to seal the moment. But the memory will linger like a distinct yet fading daguerreotype, sealed into your heart long after the old white-and-black has ceased to be fashionable. You will come to know the name of the season in different languages—hausa babban sallah (big sallah), Arabic eid-el-kabir(the big holiday)—is apt to a point. It will be a time when you will discover so many things that may not be true to type.
If you reside in bigger cities like Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto, the Sallah will be more public in those parts of the city populated by Muslims and people of northern descent. Don’t expect the same populous celebration in the backblocks like Kontagora. In fact, the opposite. Especially if you live on the outskirts of the town. You will find that your neighbours who’d never seemed to know that most people closed shop on Sunday s will toe the line. Their shops, even those ubiquitous automobile repair shops that ever stay open till the late of night, sometimes all through the night, will be firmly shut and deserted.
So will the roads be. And you would think a war had broken out and everyone had fled and left you behind. Only motorbike operators and their flashily dressed pillion passengers will note to you that you are still safe.
You will walk for minutes without seeing a singly soul. Otherwise the only souls will be a pair of lovers, the guy holding the girl seated on his thighs, billing and cooing and so busy whispering sweet nothings on one of the broken concrete park benches. They won’t even notice your coming. If you applied more stealth than a roaring caterpillar you could catch them doing the deed flagrante delecto.
You will ask yourself whether you are sure this is the Niger that was supposed to be Shari’a compliant and Kontagora was supposed to be one of its backwoods where conservatism runs high. But the hormones running amok will tell you otherwise.
You will understand that wearing a hijab doesn’t mean a girl hasn’t got hormones that run wild at the thought of sharing a park bench under trees in the heart of a deserted park with a guy she imagines looks somewhat like Ramsey Noah. And that donning a scholarly-looking jalabiya doesn’t mean a guy can’t eye the sweet-looking girl in another guy’s arms in the middle of the kasuwa (market).
That’s for the indigenes. The non-indigenes, especially the non-Muslim Yoruba and Igbo will positively knock your socks off. Islam and Shari’a only place restrictions on people’s hormones not bleed them of their juices.
It’s a grab-what-you-can-while-you-can thing, for exactly eleven minutes later you will see the park lovebirds, a vision of sky blue blouse and skirt and fishnet hijab, flying past you on the pillion seat of a motorcycle.
Deeper into the heart of the town you will find life, all of it, crowded around gidan sarki, the emir’s palace or quite literally the house of the king. It will look like a trade fair and amusement park rolled into one. There will be boys and girls innocently screaming gleefully while gulping yoghurt and kunun, older boys strategically positioned as to catch sight of the cutest sweeties strolling around pirouetting birds flaunting themselves before the niggers, as the admirers are routinely addressed. And there will be men without the women. The roads will be chock-a-block. Everyone will have an innate sense that the killing power of vehicles has been taken out and neutralised. They—man and beast alike—will throng the road and even edge vehicle out.
Stand back and you will see a sea of beings—all similarly dressed in the same style of jalabiya: all new, all sparkling, big shoulder-to-ankle gowns over string-waisted trousers and new sandals or shoes. The only difference among the clothes will be their colours—the brighter the shades of colours you can identify in the multitude, the newer the robe.
The air will be thick with dust pounded upward by thousands of feet (two-and four-footed0 and the smell of cooking food and frying meat, especially the raw kind. That will be a common recurring decimal. In every block there will be a man using a sharp blade slightly curved near its tip to snip the last traces of muscles off sheepskin and bundling them into piles for transport and processing later. By counting how many white sheepskins—one for each slaughtered sheep—you will know how many livestock gave up their lives so that everyone could be happy at Sallah. You only are able to count because the skin is taken off for tanning and leather making. With Christians, you can’t figure that because the Christians consume everything—flesh, skin and bone sometimes.
But there will be things to take your mind off the scene even if for a second. A lonely curtain dealer will tell you you should try attending his church even once, as though it would change his life. He’ll tell you about an aboki, a friend, of his, a corper indigene of Kontagora and serving in Oshogbo, who forced him to converse in hausa because English was like cruising the Mediterranean and the Red Sea at the same time. He’ll wonder aloud how the English-challenged corper every understood his courses at university, how he manages to teach students during his service posting at Osogbo and how he’ll cope with working life. He’ll conveniently forget that this guy, despite his deficiency at Turanci—Hausa for that excruciatingly difficult language English—will end up a local government chairman sooner, if he’s about the only male to attend university in his hometown, than later.
You will meet people who have no reason to be inebriated, Shari’a being ever present and all.
People who will feel too big-boy to gather at the fair at gidan sarki; who would rather organise—binge? drinking?—parties at Safara and the barracks, one of the two places plus the Prison staff club where alcohol is available.
An aunt who doesn’t live in her marital home, whose son is so sex-crazed he’d sleep with anything in hijab and his cousin describes as so uneducated he wouldn’t heed the advice to use a condom during some of his Shari’a-frowns-upon-this-but-I-just-can’t-help-but-do-it escapades. Yet the cousin doesn’t know how he prevents the easy lays from getting knocked up; he only knows none has ever got pregnant.
You will question further and he’ll start to say something like avoiding getting girls in the family way by noting their menstrual period. (And you thought only enlightened city couples and singles knew about Billing’s Way.) He’ll tell you he can identify that period because there is a perceptible foul smell—a pollution, he’ll call it—around girls during that period, and it is so strong he can tell a girl with the curse simply by sniffing the air when one’s just walked past.
The day will fly by, fast and furious. Darkness will fall, punctured in several places by yellow light bulbs. Night will bustle until 8 or 9 and you will find six persons on a bike—three on pillion and two before the rider. The night air will be chilly as you walk through the dark, and you will feel even a sense of safety, as though Kontagora hasn’t yet discovered crime yet. You’ll feel safer in a Kontagora that in Benin City where you’ll always fear being jumped walking along a dark empty road. As you approach base in the dark, through neighbourhoods that resemble rabbit warrens, your steps will become brisk, jaunty, enlivened by the cold biting your hands and feet. You will want to disappear off the road and materialise on your warm bed or mat. You will wonder whether this is all there is to babban sallah and how really different it is from normal days.
Causes Dili San Jules Supports
antismoking, alcoholics anonymous, child labour, animal cruelty, environment