Wednesday morning. As usual, the intense heat and humidity in the morning air was almost unbearable for Peter Dengler as he slowly walked into the muddy, yet bustling Nigerian riverside market situated on the banks of the river Benue near the old town of Makurdi. He paid the four boys at the car park 10 Naira to guard his VW beetle while he was shopping; it was possible he would be minus all four wheels along with the engine if it was parked unattended.
‘We will guard your machine well Boss, you will be sure no harm comes to it’ the leader of the group, a young boy of about twelve years old informed Peter as he stuffed the 10 Naira he had charged for its security into his trouser pocket.
‘If you wash and clean my machine before I return I will pay you another10 Naira and possible a little more if it is shines as bright as your eyes.’
‘We will shine it well for you boss; we are here to make money to buy food for our family so you can fill your baskets with fruit and be happy on your return.’
Peter entered the market with knowledge his vehicle was in good hands and he could shop as long as he wanted without the worry of the loss of many parts from the VW.
The deep red coloured, rich smelling Nigerian soil was still wet from the early morning rain fall and it stuck readily to Peter’s shoes like glue. His feet and legs felt heavy after only a few paces from the tarmac car parking area where he had parked his car. His leg muscles started aching; his feet were slipping and sliding uncontrollably as he trundled his way through the muddy market. The extra weight of the heavy red mud that had attached its self to the bottom of his shoes made the normal and simple task of walking in a straight line very difficult indeed.
‘You ok there white fellah’ a woman called from her seat at one of the food stalls while drinking her tea.
Peter stopped in his tracks glanced in the direction he heard the call and saw the old woman who had called to him with her pipe hanging from the corner of her mouth.
‘Yes I am OK mamma, thank you for your kind words; hopefully I will do my shopping and not get myself stuck in this mud forever.’
‘You grow old quick white fellah if you stuck here and come easy for the crocodile for he always hungry for white fellahs, Ha! Ha! Ha!’
Peter dislodges his buried shoe from the mud and walked slowly onward.
The river was about 30 metres wide at this point and almost crystal clear today, in a few hours time it would be a raging muddy river due to the heavy rain fall that would travel downward from the northern mountain range. There was a dense copt of bushes and trees on the other side of the river, a number of small children could be seen playing beneath them with neither concern nor worry about the potential crocodile problems of the past years.
Last month a narrow dug out canoe was almost half way across this expanse of water with several people sitting in the bottom of the small vessel and one man standing holding his bicycle firmly with both hands. The boatman was a young boy of perhaps 12 years of age; he seemed to be struggling in keeping the vessel both moving forward and in the right direction. It was obvious that each of his passengers had visited the market that day as each one had a number of plastic carrier bags planted firmly on their laps clasped securely in their hands to prevent them falling into the river. A Hippo suddenly appeared with open mouth, it crashed down onto the boat biting it in half, the man with the bicycle lost both of his legs and his most precious possession, the bicycle, was lost forever in the depths of the river.
Suddenly, there were two angry men in front of him, each man was carrying a long pole and they took it in turns wielding the pole in the air above their heads and then suddenly crashing it down onto the opponent.
‘Take that you miserable monkey man, I will beat you hard and your tail will be cut off.’
‘I do not have a tail you ugly son of a gorilla, get away and find your other gorilla friends.’
‘Your mamma was a tea pot and she poured you from her spout.’
‘Your mamma was a toad; she should have squashed you with your fathers boot.’
Whack” Whack! The poles fell hard on legs, arms and torso’s of the fighting men.
Two women appeared on the scene and both stepped in to secure their man from further injury. One woman took the pole from her man and started beating him with it
‘What are you doing, is this the way of the men that they should fight over a silly bottle of beer. Where did you get the money from to buy the beer you no good husband, it is the money I gave you to buy food for your children.’ Whack! The pole she wielded struck him hard on his backside and he ran away from her as fast as he could.
The second woman had also caught her man by the scruff of his neck and then proceeded to choke him to death with her hands.
‘Are you a man or a rat, I think you are a rat, a big fat juicy useless rat who does not know what is best for him.’
The man’s face was turning purple by now but she kept the strangle hold on him and it looked like he was going to pass out any second.
‘I warned you, did I warn you, yes I warned you not to go drinking you foolish man, what are you, you are a foolish man, did you take notice of what I told you, no you did not take any notice of what I told you, foolish man that you are you will suffer, yes you will suffer like you have never suffered before.’
The man was almost dead, his eyes were bulging, and his tongue was hanging limply from between his lips and the corner of his mouth, suddenly she released him, he fell unconscious onto the muddy ground. She never turned to see if he was still alive as she walked away into the crowd that had gathered to watch and no one dared to check on him to see if he was alive or dead. Last time Peter looked back at him he was sitting up in the mud gasping for breath.
The humidity in the morning air hung over the market in the form of a bluish swirling mist as the sun rose ever higher in the morning sky, the smells contained within this mist almost made Peter’s stomach turn in retaliation. The natural cause of this phenomena rose from the earth in front of Peter, the bluish haze that lay covering the ground was the moisture being sucked out of the soil by the early morning sun. Peter walked onward along the mud caked market paths, slipping and sliding with every footstep he made.
The annual fall of the torrential Mango rains started yesterday morning, it rained heavily for nearly two whole hours in the early morning, then again for another hour in the late afternoon. The raindrops that fell were large heavy drops that bounced off the tarmac roads and pathways to a height of almost two feet for the full duration of each of the downpours. The sound of the rain drops bouncing off the corrugated tin roof of Peter’s house had almost deafened him so he stood in the open doorway while drinking his morning cup of coffee; this position actually alleviated some of the continuous drumming sound from his painful ears.
Chris & Sarah’s house stood directly in front of his doorway about twenty yards away, but the intensity of the downpour blotted out their house completely.
Thunder rolled noisily across the heavens and it sounded as though a dozen freight trains were travelling through the heavy black clouds, continually colliding with one another as they sped across the unseen sky. The thunder always started stealthily in the Northern Mountains of Chad, each roll sped across the skies with what seemed the speed of light, increasing in intensity until it died reluctantly into silence on the Western plains, then started all over once again. As quickly the rains started, they stopped, as if someone had turned on, and then turned off a gigantic water tap in the sky.
For some unexplained reason, the coming of the rains each year brought to life swarms of irritable flies and no amount of arm waving or swatting on Peters part seemed to disperse them from the area around his head. It seemed ironical to him that the natives of this captivating land never seemed to take any notice of this damned Nigerian air force, they totally ignored these insects as they crawled around their eyes, mouths and noses with total abandonment and there was never any reaction whatsoever from the recipient in swatting them. The sun had risen as usual at 6.30am this Wednesday morning; it came suddenly, out of the intense blackness of the African night as though a light switch had suddenly been switched on. The new day had entered into a mystical world of falling water, then, was reborn again out of the rainfall with what seemed to be a more intense warmth and brightness than usual. This sudden warming of the land caused the saturating humidity than now had Peter’s body running with sweat, the heat haze rising from the mother earth in front of him almost blinded him with its deflection of bright coloured diffusion of light.
Angry words could be heard coming from the beer hall at the North end of the market. A number of wild dogs had gathered together on the far side of the river about 20 yards from the playing children. They were obviously looking for their morning meal but were kept at bay by a large man with a machete in his hand. ‘Shuwa, Shuwa!’ he continually shouted at the animals while waving his machete wildly in the air. The wild dogs didn’t actually run away from him, they just sat looking at him possibly wondering what he was up too.
On this side of the river there were several rough cut wooden tables and bench seats situated by open fires, some of the fires had large pots suspended above the flames that were obviously holding the makings of a meal to be sold to the customers of today’s market. A few of the fires were cooking small animals suspended above the flames by pieces of wire or on wooden stakes, most of them were either fat rats or snakes, some animals, that Peter couldn’t actually identify, were also roasting on the home made spits that were continually basted by the owners of the stalls. Nearly all of the tables owned by these food cooking women were occupied by customers who were either enjoying their breakfasts or just sitting talking and drinking cups of hot tea and smoking the evil smelling Nigerian made cigarettes.
A number of the Fulani tribe were present at the market today, these people were quite tall and the males looked extremely fit displaying their muscled torsos with their heads held high wearing only a waist wrap that hung down to the knees to cover their lower extremities. Each male carried a gourd that hung from his left waist on his hip, his short fighting spear in his right hand at the ready for use if needed. The gourd he carried was filled with the blood of the cows they tended and mixed with their milk to form thick syrup and was continuously shaken when they were walking with their herds or just standing talking with friends. The contents of the gourds would congeal into a milky cheese like substance; this was drunk by the male when thirsty or hungry. At times, when they were far away from their temporary settlements with their herds of cows, the contents of the gourd was their only source of nourishment for months at a time.
It seemed the dispute was over a woman two men had been visiting each was claiming he was the woman’s rightful lover, the conflict was ended when the wife of one of these men arrived on the scene, she physically dragged her man from the beer hall by his left ear and shouting at him.
‘You go out of here, I give you hell for all your life if I catch you here again, go feed the children they hungry you good for nothing.’
The market was crowded as usual; it seemed there was someone from just about every nation of the world here today. The morning’s heavy rainfall it seemed had not deterred anyone from their Wednesday morning visit to this unique yet fascinating market place in the Nigerian bush. German, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, British, American and of course Africans from many of the varied tribes throughout the country, were all busy negotiating with the market stall owners for the day’s best market prices. Mangoes, banana, potatoes, yams, rice and every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable were usually on sale here ready to be bargained for by anyone with the will to spend some time in the Nigerian bargaining etiquette. Even the local Nigerian children were here as usual at the entrance to the market, dangling their ‘freshly caught this morning boss’dead rats, tied securely by their tails onto long sticks which they flaunted disregardingly at every one that passed before them. These kids were at every opportune point in the country from northern Inugu down to the southern city of Lagos plying their wares disregardingly at every passer by irrespective of colour or creed. Every traffic light, every road junction and anywhere a car might have to slow down or stop, or, where there were people gathered, these kids would be plying their freshly caught rodents on their sticks and making a goodly profit out of their brisk sales. It was amazing how many people actually bought these vermin from the kids then took them home to be grilled or barbecued ready for their evening meal. Peter was pleased there were no restaurants in this area that he might succumb to visit and possibly end up eating one of these freshly caught rodents unknowingly. He was also sure the sticks the kids carried were handed down from father to son, just as a gold watch might be handed down in European countries. He ignored the numerous half naked kids that ran in front of him shaking their sticks at him shouting in all sincerity ‘fresh caught this morninBoss’ as he plied his muddy way towards the market stalls and a possible good bargain of the day.
More to follow ………
Written by: Terry Forster Bsc. Mech, Ele. (Hon)