In this edition of my blog, I thought I would describe Sabo-Oke – the district we live in not far from the centre of Ilorin. Most of my colleagues in schools are surprised if not shocked that we have been given accommodation in this district, clearly regarding it as not a place where respectable professional people should be living. Nevertheless, in our block of four flats there is a chap who works for the local TV station as editor, who has an old Austrian car, a bank manager who has a newish car – Volvo I think, the landlord who has a bigger, newer car, and us – with no car! I had a lift home last night by a school deputy who drives a Passat with over 300,000 on the clock – don’t be fooled by the cars in the photos! Having said that, you see lots of nice Hummers, Audis, Mercedes on the roads, but I suspect not many of them live in this locality.
We would classify Sabo-Oke as an old inner city area, but it’s difficult to put an actual age on it as most of the buildings look dilapidated, though have not necessarily been
VIEWS ALONG OLD CEMETRY ROAD
there a long time – I’m guessing that the oldest solid buildings probably date from the early to mid 20th century.
There are very few ‘nice’ buildings here – this was communicated to me by a local person who used to live here but has moved out. Most of the main roadsides have deep, wide gutters to cope with the extreme levels of surface water in the wet season, but it means you have to be eternally vigilant as you walk down the road in case you end up in one. There is no kerb and vehicles could easily fall in – or nudge you in! The traffic swerves wildly to avoid potholes, pedestrians or each other. There is a crossroads where you take your life in your hands when trying to cross over. If you are lucky there may be a traffic policeman conducting affairs but he, or she, is more like a conductor whose orchestra is going to do their own thing anyway. Away from the noisy, smelly hectic main roads there are dusty tracks that lead in to the poorest housing areas where everything you have heard or seen about shantytowns is suddenly there in front of you. At one end of our road is a long abandoned cemetery which has become a dumping ground for domestic rubbish. Some of it has been there for so long there are trees growing through it.
Goats pick through the plastic bags to find odd scraps of anything they consider edible. Needless to say there is no proper refuse disposal, though a truck calls once a fortnight to collect door to door, mainly looking for recyclables. There must be an effective sewerage system or the area would smell a lot worse than it does – though there is a stinking alley round the corner from us with rather unpleasant green/blue/ grey liquid running down it, so clearly not all properties are connected up. Most of the more substantial buildings are made of concrete blocks and have corrugated iron roofs; the less salubrious have been patched up with rough timbers and have battered and rusting iron roofs. The best kept are the churches which are fine looking buildings. This is predominantly a Christian area and there are many churches. Not all are elegant and fine though; some are little more than large sheds with some sort of plaque indicating that it is the’ Kingdom of God’ church or the ‘Divine Grace’ chapel. I saw a car with a ‘Jesus Saves’ transfer across the back window, and underneath it ‘Chelsea’. Well if Chelsea has the power of the Lord directing their goalkeeper, there can be no hope for the rest of the Premier League!
They are fervent believers here – to the extent that choir practice seems to happen 24/7. The largest church, a Baptist church, delivers rousing sermons/admonitions in the early hours of the morning, inciting the congregation by microphone to loud commotion which does not always sound joyful – often riotous, in fact – though I’m sure it isn’t - though between 1am and 4am it is a most unwelcome disturbance – night after night, when most god-fearing people should be asleep, in my opinion!
At the opposite end of our road from the cemetery is a small restaurant which we haven’t tried yet – I don’t think we have felt THAT hungry! The proprietress always calls ‘good morning’ to us, possibly in the hope that one day we will pop in for a bite to eat. The chips do smell good though! There are always goats, hens, cockerels and the odd sheep wandering about. Lord knows what they find to eat! – maybe chips!
On one corner there is a woman who seems to spend all day either making charcoal from huge logs heaped up outside her house, or cooking something up in a great cauldron. Every so often you come across small fires where they are burning rubbish – in the gutters or on the road. A few days ago they were burning a great pile of rubber tyres and the whole area was treated to dense acrid smoke clouds for most of the morning.
Some of the activities are fascinating to watch, especially the furniture makers who seem to produce quite ornate bed frames, chairs, settees etc from planks hewn straight from tree trunks. You often see piles of ‘scrap’ timber just waiting to be put to better use, often recycled .
Car mechanics abound, as you would expect in a place where the majority of vehicles were probably destined for scrap in their country of origin – often Germany or Switzerland - before being rescued by enterprising people who saw a market for them on the streets of Nigerian towns.
Opposite the charcoal maker/cook is a small family kiosk- style shop, very common everywhere, where we buy basic vegetables and things we have forgotten to buy elsewhere.
People here are most friendly and welcoming, always passing the time of day – especially the children. I think it will be some time though before I get used to ‘OYbo’ ( white person) being called after me every day, even if it is usually accompanied by extravagant waving and big grins. We are told it is a mark of their respect for us, but I am not always convinced!
Physically, this is a hard area to live in – hot, noisy, dusty, dirty and at times, smelly. It is all hard-edged – no parks or outdoor locations where you can just be at peace, no pleasant green spaces, very few trees even. Little or no attention is paid to the outside of buildings – it is all functional , raw, crumbling or unfinished. And yet it is vibrant – people are making a go of things and the community seems close- knit and friendly which makes it bearable.