Exotic Cities, Part Nineteen: Maiduguri, Nigeria
December 9, 2009
Close your eyes and sit back. Allow yourself to be borne aloft by fairies. (The flight crew is gay.) You’re floating now, as if in a dream, traveling across time and space. Soon you will land in the Shangri-la of Africa. The fairies are setting you down gently. Now you can open your eyes. A big sign reads: “Welcome to Maiduguri, Nigeria.”
This is a land where the past meets the present. Both get drunk and stagger out, looking for the future. The imperfect is found dead by the side of the road, and the subjunctive gets accused. A dangling participle and sentence fragment are held as evidence. A conjunction is held to parse the sentence, and the subjunctive is represented by the future perfect and the conditional, but the active voice is exclamatory and demands an interjection. Eventually, an adverbial clause is arrived at, the solecism is ruled ungrammatical, and the subject is thrown into a parenthesis until the dative, ablative, and gerundive cases shall be resurrected from their graves and illiterates playing video games shall perish in hell.
Look for the bright yellow school bus marked “Ritz-Carlton Maiduguri.” It will whisk you away at a good twenty miles an hour along the airport road, allowing you to take in the color and fragrance of the endless fields of rafflesia on either side. You’ll recognize the hotel by its lime-green exterior and faux Corinthian columns. We’re expected. General Manager Francois Cnockaert is waiting to greet us personally. The man is ageless. He has a portrait in his attic that ages for him while he remains young. I told you this was Shangri-la, didn’t I?
Nigeria has been made wealthy by its vast oil resources, so you will not find the sort of nasty, horrible things that exist in the “not nice” countries of the Third World. And it’s not just your ordinary crude oil; it’s Nigerian Sweet Crude. Ask any refiner. A tanker full of Nigerian Sweet Crude is worth killing my sister for. (Come to think of it, a gallon or two would suffice.) And Maiduguri has its own refinery, so that gasoline can be made fresh on the spot. It is, in fact, the only refinery of halal gasoline in the world. An imam stands beside the pipeline chanting “Allah…Allah…Allah…” all day long as the gasoline flows through.
Francois was frantically busy with a crowd of visitors attending the Shadfly Festival (more on that in a moment) and promised to meet up with me later. In the meantime, he introduced me to my host who would show me around — Prof. Hani (“Call me Hank”) Rabe, Head of the Canadian Studies Dept. at the Maiduguri branch of the University of Nigeria.
“You are my hero,” Hank confessed with a blush. “I have several of your books. I have told my class that you are the greatest Canadian writer of all time.” The Canadian Studies Dept. was made possible by an administrative error on the part of the Canadian International Development Agency. They sent a large sum of money to the wrong account to pay for a hockey rink. The university simply kept it, and CIDA never caught their mistake. So Hank got his longed-for Canadian Studies Dept., of which he is the only faculty member. There is one course, and four students are enrolled, although two rarely show up.
“The Maiduguri region was the home of an ancient civilization called the Snake People,” Hank told me, as we rode along in his classic ’72 Plymouth Duster, whose Slant-6 engine still purrs smoothly after all these years. “Almost nothing is known about them, except that they must have been very advanced.” Why is that? I ask. “The fact that they left nothing behind means that they cleaned up after themselves. That proves how advanced they were, you see.”
“I get it.”
Although the Snake People are considered extinct, there is, in fact, one of them alive today — Shirley Brown, City Councillor of Bristol, England. One of my neighbors, Ghrugnanasampa Thavakugathasalingam of 61 Town Centre Court, Scarborough, has called the Snake People “a bunch of ugly nigger monkeys.” But, hey, look who’s talking!
The Ngadda River, which flows through Maiduguri, lends a special charm to the city, owing to its pristine nature. And every November the shadflies come out of the river to fill the air by the millions for several weeks. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles, and it provides the occasion for the world’s only Shadfly Festival. Although harmless, the shadflies can be frightening to those experiencing them for the first time. Local people show off their courage by allowing themselves to be covered with them from head to foot. The shadfly is celebrated with good humor and creativity, and the festival adds a boost to the economy. The Shadfly Queen is crowned to cap it off. The current Queen is Basaratu Mojisola Bakare-Giles, a nude volleyball player who has been linked romantically with Tiger Woods. The shadfly phenomenon also occurs in North Bay, Ontario, in June and July. No one knows why these insects come out when they do, but they’re only around for a short time, so everyone tries to enjoy them. All shadflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera. They are mentioned in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as well as The Book of Mormon.
Another insect of importance to Maiduguri is the wasp. The city boasts the world’s only wasp apiary, where scientists have used the “royal jelly” of the queen wasp to make an anti-aging skin cream (not yet available in North America). The 1960 movie The Wasp Woman offers a dramatic look at the possibilities held out by wasp “royal jelly.” (Omarosa recently ordered a huge shipment by courier, so let’s keep an eye on her!)
Also of importance to Maiduguri are the famous Nigerian green sheep, also known as Gewad Greens, or just “Gewads.” The green color is a genetic trait and not related to what they eat. The sheep are raised on a ranch owned by the benevolent society Boko Haram, which sells wool caps and sweaters to tourists and to stores in many countries. They also sponsor a fashion school famous for its daring lingerie and swimwear.
Get up early for a day trip to Lake Chad, which is shared by Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon. Lake Chad is home to the African carp (Carpio terribilus), a huge, aggressive fish known to jump out of the water and attack people — even pursuing them onto land in some cases! It is a favorite among experienced fishermen, who like to stuff this inedible fish for display. (Eminem landed a 100-pounder after a two-hour battle!)
The only good beach at Lake Chad is known as Koos Beach, which is a topless beach on the Nigerian side. Fergie likes it a lot. Elsewhere, the lake is bordered by marshes and desert shrublands, which are the habitat of several rare species of gerbils, including the horned gerbil, the cyclops gerbil, and the elephant gerbil, whose rough, crinkled skin makes it an ideal pet for Kanapathipillai Suvannavisayagamoorthy of 35 Valleywoods Road, North York, who has two retarded children and a mother who never bathes (see “Dung People of Sri Lanka,” Canadian Wonder Magazine For Children, July, 2002).
Lake Chad, by the way, was first explored by the Vikings, and fragments of their settlement can be seen on the south side of the lake, just across the Chad border, on the Lake Road, about 100 meters from Nianaiebi’s Lemonade Stand, which is owned by Nianaiebi Diorra, boyfriend of Kayla Kleevage. Kayla has become a very popular performer in Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic since she became too old for American club audiences.
There’s “old” shopping and “new” shopping in Maiduguri. The old shopping is found in the city’s central plaza, which is bordered on all sides by quaint little shops and outdoor stalls, most with no names. There are a few noteworthy ones. There’s a store where traditional Muslim women go to buy their unmentionables. There’s a shop that sells all sorts of live birds, lizards, and snakes (some poisonous). There’s an herbal shop run by Madame Folashade Ahiata Price, whose specialty is poisonous plants. (The CIA has relied on her expertise in bumping people off in such a way that nobody can prove it was murder.) And there is a large shop that sells ammunition in bulk. There are dozens of barrels full of bullets of all calibres and types. You take a scoop and fill a bag, just like a bulk candy shop. Every round is guaranteed to fire or you can return it for a replacement.
I mustn’t forget the Walking Stone in the middle of the plaza. This is a plain stone spire about fifteen feet high, with a plot of grass and a little fence around it. You will find people walking slowly around this stone any hour of the day or night, and in any weather — and always counter-clockwise. They could be “walking the stone” for a variety of reasons — to express their piety, atone for sins, search for inner peace, or contemplate a problem; or they could just be lunatics or bums with nothing better to do. One merchant warned me, however, that a tourist — especially a Westerner — must never walk the stone, or people will think he’s poking fun at them. One tourist not only walked the stone but walked it clockwise and was beaten to within an inch of his life for such insolence!
The “new” shopping is located in the Maiduguri Mall, on the outskirts of town. It’s modern, air-conditioned, and full of happy, prosperous Nigerian consumers. The flagship store is Mighty Maidi, a department store. All the sales clerks are young Muslim women, but not like any you’ve ever seen. They wear a kerchief over their hair, which is normal for Muslim women, but from the neck down they’re dressed like sluts — big tits pushing out of their bras, micro-skirts, black fishnet stockings, and high heels. (You’ll find this throughout the mall, in fact.) You’ll be in there browsing for a long time, and you won’t leave without buying something. These babes know how to be persuasive.
The mannequins in the clothing stores are dressed the same way, but since they’re not real, they don’t have to wear a kerchief. They’re molded with absurdly huge tits and asses. There’s even a store that just sells life-size foam rubber sex dolls, with tits as big as you want and any combination of features, and with fuckable, washable holes.
I bought a ton of pipe tobacco at Big M Smoke Shop, and it was so stupidly cheap I couldn’t believe it. Almost everyone in Maiduguri smokes, by the way, and there are no laws whatever regarding smoking. And tobacco taxes are minimal. (If that doesn’t qualify as Shangri-la, I don’t know what does!)
The Maiduguri Mall is 50%-owned by Mack-Cali Realty. The other 50% is owned by a Nigerian syndicate known as Manuke Khara.
Hank Rabe and I had dinner at the Old Sawmill, the most elegant restaurant in town. It used to be a slaughterhouse, and some of the old fixtures were left in during the conversion to give it a funky atmosphere. Head Chef Abdoulkadir Ali Musse serves up a mighty fine monkey stew. Here’s the recipe:
Hack off arms, legs, and head of monkey, and rip out internal organs. Trim remaining meat away from bones and chop into one-inch pieces. Season with black pepper and brown in a skillet with palm oil and a splash of rum. Transfer to stew pot, add three cups of fish stock, a chopped turnip, a cup of chopped celery, a dozen radishes, two chopped sweet potatoes, a half cup of corn starch, a tablespoon of basil, a tablespoon of marjoram, a tablespoon of sea salt, two or three chopped cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of dry mustard, an ounce of Angostura bitters, and a half cup of mayonnaise. Simmer over a low-to-moderate heat for 1 1/2 hours. Jessica Simpson and her date, soccer player Giovanni Tegano, who plays for Juventus, appeared to love it. They sat at the table next to us.
Later we went to Neek Hallak, the most popular nightclub. There we caught a wonderful performance by musician Mbuke Jumgwuthka, the world’s foremost player of the kuntigi, a small, single-stringed lute made out of a sardine can covered with goatskin. I recognized Madonna and her boyfriend, Jesus Luz, in the audience. (She was disguised with a wig, but I still picked her out.) They were clearly enthralled.
Hank and I went back to the Ritz-Carlton for a nightcap with Manager Francois Cnockaert, who gave me the straight dope on Nigerian e-mails. The Maiduguri branch of the Bank of Nigeria is the one that has all those secret bank accounts that people who e-mail you want you to help them move out of the country. However, the money is all in the local currency, the naira, not U.S. dollars, and if you offer to help the frantic person who is praying to God for your benevolent assistance, you will be asked to pay for the rental of the cargo plane needed to transport all those banknotes to Switzerland.
Francois had a copy of one of my books, Blood-Sucking Monkeys From North Tonawanda, and asked me to autograph it, which I was happy to do. (You can try searching for this collector’s item, as well as my other books, at www.abebooks.com, but I have no control over prices on the collector’s market.)
Francois had heard that I was an expert at arranging “sister city” relationships and asked if I could find a sister city for Maiduguri. He was close to the Mayor, who couldn’t speak English, and was acting on his behalf. I told him I would do it before I left. And I did.
Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that Slough (rhymes with “cow”), Berkshire, England, is now the sister city of Maiduguri, Nigeria. The Chief Executive of Slough Council, Ruth Bagley, is “thrilled beyond belief” and calls the new relationship the best thing to happen to Slough during her tenure. She plans to visit Maiduguri sometime in 2010 and is very keen to get her hands on some of that wasp jelly anti-aging cream.
Recommended vaccinations: Chikungunya virus, Rosai-Dorfman Disease, epidermolytic hyperkeratosis.
Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: email@example.com