Monday, 4 July 2011

Sobi Hill

Sobi Hill is a smooth, steep-sided, dome-shaped outcrop, the highest of a group of such hills that rise about 200 metres above the gently undulating savanna to the north of Ilorin. It was Sunday morning and we were offered a lift there by Sue and her family.
The climb to the top was not particularly difficult, at least not for us 'oyibo' - we kept our shoes on, but local people climb to the summit of this revered site barefoot, if not on their knees, many of them in their Sunday best.
By  the time we started our ascent the sun had been on the bare rock for at least three hours and would certainly have caused us blistered feet if we had attempted to follow local custom. We followed the course of the white painted line which acted as a guide to the safest route up.
On the way we passed individuals and small groups praying, discussing devoutly, chanting and singing as they sat in the sparse shade or made their way to the top. At one point we veered away from the white line - to the consternation of a group of women who were most anxious to guide us back to the right path; perhaps we had commited a 'faux pas' or maybe they were just concerned for our safety. There were several other people at the top when we arrived on its flat bare dome. Circles of boulders enclosed emblems and mottoes of religious significance. There was a simple metal cross about three metres high set in concrete and a lone gatepost, with no obvious reason why a gateway would have ever been necessary up here as there were no walls, fences or hedges of any sort. There was also a derelict building that may once have been linked to a communications tower, the concrete base of which was still visible.
This was a good place for quiet reflection and contemplation. An African woman was singing and chanting whilst shaking a large gourd-shaped thing that made the sound of a rain-maker. Her lone voice in the otherwise still air of midday was almost bewitching as I gazed out southwards across the sprawling iron roofs of Ilorin and north over fields of cassava and yam starting to appear in the rich red earth, and on, across a rolling green landscape of small-holdings that has come alive since the start of the rainy season.
I think for the first time since our arrival in Nigeria I honestly felt 'this is Africa', which may seem ridiculous as we are in our ninth month, but nearly all that time I have been city-bound. Ilorin does nothing for me and Abuja is 'Anywhere-land'. I need to feel the roots of the landscape, its geology and its basement rock, its rivers and vegetation, its backdrop of ordinary life, before I can feel that I have 'connected'.
I remember similar feelings on our arrival in the Northern Territory of Australia in 2000 - seeing an aboriginal family running out of a golden red dawn right across our path was something timeless, amazing, unforgettable- I could be nowhere else on Earth. In Japan it was rumbling slowly upwards into the heart of the Mt Koya massif, the local train winding its way around hillsides clothed in cherry, almond and peach blossom with occasional glimpses of village life and an old man practising tai-chi  in the early morning dew; in the Dordogne it was waking one sunny morning to the sound of a cockerel and a chuch bell summoning people from nearby farms and vineyards to Mass; and in Egypt, it was not Cairo, and not so much the Pyramids as the camels sitting beneath them, sheltering their masters from the sandstorm that whirled around us. For me such moments have a 'kick-in'effect and help me immerse myself in the surroundings and the experience. A 'natural base' allows other layers to grow on top like strata - architecture, people, costumes, customs, language etc.
But for now, its Sobi Hill which is helping to put behind me events of the recent past and remember and appreciate that there is beauty in the small things around us, in the minutiae of places as well as in panoramic grandeur.

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