Culture and Lifestyle

Going Up North

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By Ennie Sophie Oluwa

With the outbreak of COVID-19 and the lockdown rules in most nations of the world, Nigeria inclusive, the tourism industry has been one of the most affected. Many in the travel and hospitality business did not include the restriction on travels in their 2020 vision boards. They wished COVID-19 away when Nigeria’s first case was reported in February. Unfortunately, the number of positive cases in Nigeria now hovers above thirty thousand. Unfortunately, too, travels can only be physical and it is obvious that going back to normal will take some time. I am a travel lover and writer known in the travel industry circles as Nomadic Natinee. I am one of the teeming number of people trying also to cope with the COVID-19 reality. At the moment, COVID-19 has disrupted behaviours and the activities we once took for granted. For me, reliving those moments is one of the coping mechanisms in the new normal.

Never mind the simplicity and lucid nature of my language. I love that my readers get to experience, as much as graphically possible, the very same things that I got myself into while my travels lasted. I am a dromomania , always  looking for every excuse to hit the road. I infuse in my role as a youth ‘champion for the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs’, with my love for travel. As I travel, I make sure I reflect the potent power of cultural consideration or integration at promoting peace and understanding.

This is my own way of embracing the ‘New Normal’. I am reliving my trip up north. Sequel to the 4th National Family Planning Conference in December 2018, I decided to visit Kano and spend time with my sister. I departed Abuja very early on the 7th of December for Kano. As a frequent traveler, I knew that relying on the ATM in transit was a risky venture, as every attempt at withdrawal would most likely be met with looking queues. Lagos is about the only place in Nigeria where you can move about cashless. We left Utako Park at 10:15am and didn’t get to Kano till about 4pm.  There were stopovers everywhere drivers heard the “Adhan”.

I enjoy stopovers on long road trips especially in the North because this presents the opportunity to stretch my legs, and to take in my environment. Most times, I look forward to “Adhan” and get excited when it comes up. One other important thing l do when I travel is to dress the part. I like to look like the people and places I will be visiting. When I knew I was going to the North, I decided to adopt the (Muslim woman) ‘Hajiya’ look. On this trip, I had my scarf and my Abaya-like clothes on.

After two stopovers for salats , we got to Kano some minutes past 5pm  At this time, I was drained but the mosquitoes would have none of it. You run away from traffic in Lagos only to get to Kano and find yourself in an infested zone. Even the Air Conditioner did not help the situation. I left Abuja on the 7th of December. The National Family Planning Conference had ended quite late on the 6th of December. My sister’s birthday was December 8, so I thought we should visit the mall and just hangout. It wasn’t my first time in Kano so I knew where to visit.

While in Kano, I uploaded pictures of fun times with my sisters and my niece with our location on Facebook, and that was when the Direct Messages started coming.  ‘Come to Sokoto now, you will love the experience; you know you like to travel.’  Sokoto is not far from Kano. It’s like Lagos to Ibadan’. I spent another night under the mosquito net and decided that I could no longer bear being assaulted by mosquitoes.  It helped me decide to visit Sokoto fast. I just wanted to get away.

You’re probably wondering,  mosquitoes in Kano? There are mosquitoes almost everywhere in Kano, but these ones are insecticide resistant. Before I visited, I used to hear the joke that when you go to  Kano for the first time, the people don’t ask how you’re enjoying Kano. They ask how you’re enjoying the mosquitoes.

I was excited and ready for my ‘Lagos to Ibadan’ kind of trip’ by December 9, I woke up early to leave with the first bus till my sister assured me that Northerners are never in haste like Lagos people. I quietly screened my invitations again, checked for tourists and fun places to visit in Sokoto. I was pulled in immediately I heard Goronyo Dam. It helped me decide to visit Sokoto, since ‘a Lagos to Ibadan distance kind of trip’ is almost no trip for a traveler like me. I travel on budget, so accommodation is a big deal for me. I found two hosts in Sokoto:  the Corper’s lodge in Goronyo and Gidan Dare in Sokoto. I settled for Gidan Dare because it was a town.

North

I got to the park at about 10:00am  and heard that the cost of transportation from Kano to Sokoto was N2,500. The Lagos girl; the ‘Okada’ friendly nomad was further convinced it wasn’t a long journey. Through this journey, my co-passengers struck me like people that were unperturbed. They couldn’t communicate in the official language of their country. lf you ever plan relocating to the North or you have something to do there, please learn Hausa. Unlike my brothers from the East who codemix, making their words decipherable, the Northerners are not ready to meet you half way. I tried making conversations with the persons beside me to no avail.

During  the stopover at Zamfara at about 4pm  was when I knew I had been misinformed. I realized we still had Birnin Kebbi before Sokoto. This trip had me seated for over seven hours with about two stopovers for prayers on a traffic free road. We kept going, tarred roads, arid land, camels, horses, almajiris, mud houses, and thatched roofs. We finally got to Sokoto at 6pm  and I was traumatised. I knew I wouldn’t make it back by road. I started plotting how to go back to Lagos from Sokoto by air.

Sokoto welcomed me to the harmattan and I snuggled under the duvet for another 24 hours trying to recover from the stress of the road, while I consulted the gods of the trip for places to see in  ‘Sakwatto’ . Many times, I tried having interactions with people or do things unassisted; I got frustrated and went back home. I could not even buy groceries in the market without making phone calls to my host to speak to the person. All I knew was ‘Naira Deri’, ‘Naira Hamsi’ for the bikes that I took almost everywhere.

One of the many shocks I got in Sokoto was that about forty-eighty years after the civil war, like almost everywhere I have visited in North, the average Igbo person is still being referred to as  ‘Nyamiri’ .  I found a Nyamiri restaurant where I could eat food my taste buds were familiar with. De Favourite Restaurant on Ahmadu Bello Way, Sokoto.  ‘Nyamiri’  is a corrupted Igbo phrase “Nyem Miri”, which literally means ‘give me water’.

I was told that during the war, many Igbos were famished, the first thing they asked for on encountering  soldiers, who were mostly Northerners was water.  ‘Nyamiri’  is a condescending way of reminding them of how vulnerable they were those days. I am appalled that this phrase has and is still being passed on from generation to generation. My host is ‘Wazobia’, an Igbo by origin who has lived most of his childhood and his life in the North. He has both linguistic and communicative competence in the Hausa and Yoruba languages.

Meanwhile, I finally made it to Goronyo Dam in Sokoto. It was really another distance; maybe that was the Lagos to Ibadan trip I was expecting. Sokoto to Goronyo took me about  one hour thirty minutes from the Sokoto Central Park. My host at Goronyo was a Corps member or ‘ corper’ as popularly called, so, the Corpers lodge in Goronyo was my first place of call. It was an abandoned local government secretariat without light, and water. I was extremely happy that I chose Gidan Dare over the place. In fairness to the local government, my corper friend told me they had other provisions for corpers, but they chose the current place over the other places, because of the location. The new lodge was close to the highway, away from the community. The corpers there would rather stay there than expose themselves to areas where they could easily be whisked away without being noticed by the villagers.

After the basic introductions and exchange of pleasantries, we made to visit the Goronyo Dam. About five corpers decided to come to the Dam with me. It wasn’t surprising to hear that some of the corpers at the lodge didn’t know there was a Dam in the community, talk less of visiting the place. That they were willing to join us meant company for me. It was a beautiful walk through the community and I must give it to the youths of Goronyo, those folks are soccer loving people. They seem unperturbed by the lack of access to the basic amenities, as they simply focused on community football. Every available space was made a football pitch.

We got to the Dam and met its reclining water as it was dry season. It was breathtaking watching the sunset in December as I ticked Goronyo Dam off the list of places to visit in Sokoto. Goronyo is one of the places which have  placed Sokoto on the  map for tours and economic development, thanks to the reservoir created  by the Dam.  Constructed and completed in May 1984, the dam is the second largest man-made lake in Nigeria and it is used for water supply, irrigation, recharging of aquifer, flood regulation, fisheries and tourisms in Sokoto and Kebbi states. It was built across the Rima River and located near Keta village. As I did learn, it was constructed and completed in May 1984.

Kano

My trip to Sokoto got me falling in love with minarets, structures and trying to understand the dynamism of the Almajiri,  a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the social fabric of Northern Nigeria. I left Goronyo at 7:00pm  and got to town quite late. I went to bed charting the course for my next tour. For me, any visit to Sokoto as a tourist is incomplete without a stop at popular Sultan of Sokoto’s Palace which was my next point to explore. I look forward to visiting the Sultan of Sokoto’s Palace in a more organised fashion. Prior to Sokoto, I had visited Kano on another trip where I went to the Gidan Makama – the Museum, adjacent the Museum was the Emir’s of Kano’s palace. My friends and I tried to get into the Emir of Kano’s palace and was barred at the gate. The men at the gate told us we couldn’t  get into the Emir’s palace without an invitation. Getting to Sokoto, I had the Kano mindset and I took pictures at the arcade right in front of the palace, but I didn’t attempt to make my way into it. At the Sultan’s Palace, even the courtiers could communicate in English. When I got to the Museum, the Mallam at the Museum asked me if I made it to the palace and I replied him in the negative. He told me I should have visited, and explained that people there liked to show people around and share a bit of story about the throne with their guests.

North

Did you know that the Uthman Dan Fodiyo Hubbaren is like a Royal Burial site? The place is the final resting place of many Royal and powerful persons in Sokoto. It would interest you to know that many locals go to the tombs to offer prayers. I saw many of them keeping the sand on the tombs as a souvenir or as religious persons would do who go to sacred sites. My tour guides explained that many of them believe that those trailblazers buried there would act as intercessors to their requests and make them prosper.

I also noticed that the people are very big on oral history. Everyone had to take off their shoes to access the Hubbaren. I couldn’t access some important places especially inside the room housing the Uthman Danfodio tomb because I was a lady. However, my curiosity won’t let me be, so I asked my tour guides whom I had taught how to use my camera to get pictures of the place for me. I still encountered the language barrier as a challenge while touring this historical site. Perhaps because it was a spontaneous visit. Initially, I couldn’t find local interpreters to conduct me round the tombs which were not labeled.

I eventually found a guide within the Hubbaren who took me round the royal resting place of past Sultans of Sokoto and many we could consider ‘the who is who’ in the Royal circle in Sokoto. From Dasuki to Wamakko, many big names and Royalties from Sokoto have their ancestors buried there. My tour guides took me round even though we had the language barrier to contend with; one of them understood the English language to an extent, but didn’t have much knowledge on the “Royal Burial Sites”, while the other one who had more knowledge couldn’t communicate with me in English. I couldn’t ascertain if the information was accurate since we had our conversations through an interpreter.

North

My custom of visiting the Museum wherever I landed saw me at the Waziri Jinadu History and Culture Museum amongst other places in Sokoto. I visited the museum late, till date, I regret not visiting the place before seeing other places in the state. I discovered the place should have been a compass to guide me round Sokoto. The curator of the museum was really friendly and he took his time to explain many things to me, especially about Jihads and other cultural beliefs of the People.

Another significant lesson from this trip is how inaccurate google maps could be, especially up North. Don’t Follow google map without first confirming from the locals; they reside there and know the place more than an App. Get an interpreter if need be. This app almost got me missing in Sokoto on my quest to locate the museum.

Kano

This Sokoto experience won’t be complete till I tell you about another local meal experience. One thing I try to do whenever I travel is to avoid eating local meals to avoid triggers. The Northerners are a people who love spicy meals. I wasn’t too confident that I could endure the spice, so I tried to stay away.  I always want to try local meals wherever I go. My best option in Sokoto was  ‘Nyamiri’  kitchen. That morning, I walked past this woman and the urges were stronger, I finally got the courage to try local meals. The Massa was awesome and the Kunu was really good on my taste buds.

I had to leave Sokoto on the 14th of December, I would have loved to stay a bit longer and explore more, especially the Sultan’s Palace. My attention was urgently needed in Lagos. I was disappointed when I couldn’t find affordable flights, few airlines ply this route and most times you would have to book on time, because they get sold out on time. Sokoto gets more flight for weekends. Many times, just one or two planes in one weekend. I tried all I could to book a flight from Sokoto to no avail. I knew I couldn’t wait till the following weekend, so I had to fly to Kebbi. It was an emergency flight and it could have been cheaper if I had booked earlier. Christmas was fast approaching. More people would be traveling. I lost the entire zeal to travel. I could not wait to get to Lagos.

I started searching online for flights. Then I found a seat on Azman. I just booked it quickly and had to connect Lagos through Kebbi. I told you how I enjoyed the stopovers , these same stopovers almost cost me my flight.

My experience in Kebbi shows that Northerners are very hospitable people contrary to what the media projects. They’re very welcoming and won’t disturb you so long as you do not tamper with their religious beliefs. The only fear for migrants is that during any religious crisis, the same person that you were laughing with may no longer be your friend.

For travel lovers at this time, exploring nostalgia seems to be the only open and inexpensive option. No wonder many backpackers and corporate tourists are taking their time to relish the days where freedom of movement across Nigeria was based on safety and funds. Stakeholders of the travel industry are hoping that the huge losses are nipped in the bud by the innate drive to live temporarily in other worlds.

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