Sunday, 28 November 2010

Meet the Chief

An unexpected day – well I sort of expected that Wednesday might follow on from Tuesday, but events did not go as planned – rather better, in fact!
With the offer of a free car ride – air-con, tinted windows, leather seats, seat belts, suspension, safe driver, no loose doors or dodgy wiring – it would have been churlish to refuse. S, not wanting to come across as a churl, I got in and accompanied Caroline on her excursion to primary schools in the Offa district where I also have two schools to visit.
Barely had we arrived at Moremi High School and been reintroduced to the staff, than we were off on an unscheduled visit to see/ pay homage/respects to the traditional Chief of Offa.
We drove a short distance into Ogidiri, turned into a rather dismal, narrow street lined with rusting tin shacks and then turned into an almost as grim courtyard. Along one side of this was a mint and cream coloured ‘palace’ which was the chief’s house. We went up a marble step on which was inlaid the words ‘welcome to Essa’s palace’, and were ushered into a large meeting room. A Huge couch occupied a dais on the opposite wall and carpets were laid out across the polished stone floor.
One by one, large men in flowing , embroidered gowns entered, each of whom I assumed was the Chief and so greeted each with what I considered to be due deference and respect. None of them was the chief but all seemed delighted at the degree of courtesy and subservience I displayed. And then the real chief came in – big man, big voice, commanding presence. He apologised for not having a present to give me, which was fine by me as I hadn’t got one for him either. While people stood bowing (in a way that has to be seen to be believed!), courtseying, or prostrating themselves , the chief came towards me and shook my hand.
Everybody except me had remembered to take their shoes off and I tried to conceal myself behind others so as not to be noticed. This cunning plan was fine until the chief  beckoned me over to sit next to him  in full view of a room full of corpers, head teachers, acolytes and a rather mediaevalesque dwarf who scampered round attending to his masters needs. If the chief noticed my dusty footgear, he certainly said nothing.  
We discussed the work of VSO, the concept of volunteering, why Nigeria? (again), and what I thought of the environment, by which is meant  the weather and the general appearance of the local area, to which the expected answer seems to be ‘fine!’ After I had developed a few comments more positively concerning the Offa environment and its people, the chief mentioned his eldest son, studying for a PhD in London. He seemed mildly disappointed that I had not met him and even pointing out that I came from Liverpool, not London, did not improve things as he said his son had been there too!
We moved on to discuss his state of health and how he had been advised to reduce his activity level – which is why he did not have a present for me, I had no such excuse, though it would be nice to be told to reduce my activity level sometimes.
There was an issue with the accommodation for the national volunteers over holiday periods –it is not funded and the head teacher has been paying for it from her own pocket. The chief  then put a curse on those employed by local government who sequestered funds that had been earmarked for education in order to build themselves houses and buy cars.  This sounded like a real curse, such was the venom with which he spoke. A former lecturer, he is clearly an intelligent man who has a passion for education- free education, and seems as angered by corrupt officials as many others are. He offered me his full support in helping to raise the standards of teaching in the schools I am assigned to and now have his personal number in my mobile – and his son’s!
Just put a note in my diary to ring the son when we go home – just in case; don’t want any undue curses falling on me, thank you!

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