Friday, November 14, 2008

Jos - the City White People Like

Well, I really hate living up to stereo-types, but I liked Jos a lot.  It reminded me of Mansa, in Zambia.  Everyone that has mentioned Jos to me has said, "you'll like it; all the white people like it because it's cold."  I didn't like it because it's cold.  In fact, it wasn't cold yet, just a nice cool breeze during the day and a bit chilly at night.  I liked it because it wasn't Abuja; it was Africa, finally.  Jos made me like Nigeria.

Jos is the capital of Plateau state, about 3 hours north of Abuja.  It's so different from the capital.  The roads are still good and full of traffic.  It's a bustling, busy place.  There's several universities, including the national film and television schools.  There's a zoo, one of the countries best museums, and lots of houses and shops.  But, the city doesn't have that fake, concrete feel of Abuja. 

Abuja: I can't figure out if it's Africa masquerading as Europe, or Europe masquerading as Africa.  Everything is so contrived.  Being the capital, the city is full of bureaucracy, politicians, protocol and money.  It's all about who you know and where you can afford to go.  The streets are lined with planted trees and carefully sculpted bushes (usually in the shape of letters).  Sure, even the busy streets have chickens running along the sidewalk, but somehow, it feels like even they were put there.

Welcome to Africa

Jos is different; it looks different, it feels different.  The market area is composed of long lines of tin-roofed buildings, with all the wares proudly displayed out front.  Across the sidewalk, which is really just cement planks over the sewer, cobblers sit working at their stands under umbrellas proclaiming that smoking causes early death but you should still buy Pall Mall cigarettes.  Colorful wrappers hang down from ropes under the roofs.  Bright woven plastic bags dangle in the sun along the walls.  Everywhere you turn, children and women carry bowls of bagged beverages, plates of nuts, and boxes with an assortment of household goodies, on their heads.  Standing under the overhang of one store, a large white cow.  Running through a display of dresses in an open lot, a brown goat.  Picking at the dirt outside a carpenter's shop, one lone rooster.

The roads are paved, but there's still that fine dirt in the air.  Unpaved shoulders, trees and plants that have sprung up randomly where only nature has planned.  Cabs pick up as many strangers as the car can hold, and we  get all the way into town for about thirty cents a person.  Green mini busses with a fat yellow stripe down the side carry crowds around the town.  Motorbikes zoom everywhere with passengers holding tight to the bike or the pieces of cut glass in their hands or the long wooden planks balanced on their heads.  In and out of traffic, around cars, cutting and dodging, it's as though the city has been over-run by a Shriners brigade!

The people are friendly and say hello as they pass, and then call out all sorts of enquiries in their local language, "white, what are you doing here?"  "yes, white have you found what you want?"  "ah, where did she find this white?"  My friend who accompanied me to the market was shocked. "Is this really how we act around white people?" she asked.  I just laughed, I'm so used to it.

Excuse Me, Can You Tell Me Where to Find a White Person?

My friend's family had asked her that same question: where did she find me.  Kyura is definitely one of my favorite people at the office, so when she offered to take me to Jos with her for a few days, I was super excited.   She phoned her parents and let them know I'd be coming home with her.  And her father asked her, "where did you find a white friend?"  Her sister came home from work very late at night (she works at a bank) and asked the same thing.  Her aunties, her brothers, every time she introduced me to someone, they asked her where she found me.  She just started laughing.  "Why did I have to find her?  Why couldn't she have found me?"  She began asking them back.

Family Time

The power was hardly on the entire time I was there.  Kyura was so worried it might bother me.  I hardly noticed.  I like candles.  The kerosene lamp smell was a bit much sometime, but those were only in the large parts of the house anyway.  And the best part of the power being out, we all sat in the parlor talking.  Kyura said that's something she's noticed; when the power's out, the family spends more time together just sitting in there and talking, and she likes that.  I think that's really neat, too.  Maybe we should have the power go out a bit more often at home, too.

Kyura's house is large and full of people.  Her parents, her grandmother, her father's eldest sister.  I met more aunties and cousins than I can count and have no idea how many of them live there and how many were visiting.  Her sister and two of her three brothers were also home.  Everyone was so nice, so welcoming, so relaxed and free.  None of the stuffiness and formalities of the people in Abuja.  Kyura mentioned that her family is different than most Nigerian families in this way.  The way they are so free and open with each other; her friends have described it as "acting like white people."  Well, I don't know about that, but she likes it, and it certainly made me feel more comfortable.


It was a wonderful trip, although far too short, and with a bit of a downside (upcoming post....).  The beautiful night sky with no light pollution.  The smell of burning grass.  The pleasant greetings of people just going on about their business.  The buzz of a lively market.  Strong sun and a cool breeze.  Tall cactus trees.  High grass waving in the wind.  Maize stalks, sugar cane.  Diesel fumes, car horns.  Dust.  Sweet smell of wildflowers.  Children laughing, babies crying.  Fluffy clouds, a bright blue sky.  A barbershop, an outdoor bar.  Flat topped trees in front of a glowing red sunset.  Large jutting rocks, long red roads.  Africa..... Africa....

heart in africa africa in heart


MaryRuth said...

Until I started reading your blog, Africa wasn't on my radar for places I'd like to visit. I mainly thought (wrongly, of course) of safaris and such. After reading your interesting posts and since I've discovered West African music, visiting Africa has made "the list". Right after I go back to France and/or win the Lotto. =)

goldenrail said...

Hooray! That's wonderful! Now if we can just get it moved up the list a bit, at least before winning the lotto...
At least you thought of safaris and not starving, fly-covered children. My mom, grandma and best friend came to visit in Zambia a few years ago and had a wonderful time. And we did include a lil safari. Visiting the continent is definitely worth all the shots and stuff.
What West African music do you like?

MaryRuth said...

I have this compilation "Nigeria 70--Lagos Jump", which is a re-release of old stuff. I really like that one.
And this website has tons of interesting stuff, from all over Africa.