Lovely day in Africa

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View of Ado Awaye Village

Between my sophomore and junior year in college I spent the summer in Ibadan, Nigeria, where my father was working at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. I started hanging around a group of young American and British scientists. Francis was a Brit in his 30’s with a wife and five children. He was thin, pale and jittery and very focused on his work. His weakness was orchids and he loved to go out into the forests and find orchids he had not seen before and bring them back with him. He also loved children and wanted even more than he already had, but he would get lost in his work or whatever he was doing at the time, and his wife was forever calling people looking for him.  He was the typical “absent minded professor.”

David was also British and an entomologist who loved to argue with Francis about the names of plants. He was in charge of gathering plants from all over Africa and putting samples of them into a living-plant library. His father had been Ambassador to the U.S.A at one time so David had lived in Washington, DC. He had climbed the Matterhorn in Switzerland and travelled the world. He was very handsome and charming and the most eligible bachelor on the compound. He took full advantage of this and flirted with abandon.

Ed was an American biochemist who spent his college days protesting the Viet Nam war. He had been in the Peace Corps in Colombia and was a radical revolutionary at heart. He walked with a limp from a motorcycle accident. Raised in a poor coal-mining town in southern Illinois, he was the only one in his family who had finished high school. His grammar was not always correct and his accent was thick but he was smart, and fun and he accepted me – “the kid” – into the group.

And then there was Simon. He was another Brit but he was still a university student. He just showed up one day. I had been playing tennis and I went up to the bar to have a drink. He was sitting at one of the tables with some other people. He had long, dark, curly hair, blue eyes and a gorgeous smile. It turned out he had written to the Farming Systems Director to ask for an internship and the Director had told him that if he could get himself to Nigeria, he could have an internship. And there he was. We became good friends and had some great times together.

I think it was Francis who had read or heard about some “tourist attraction” called Ado Rock. There was a village not too far from Ibadan that had a huge rock sticking out of the plains and once you had climbed up it, you could see for miles and miles. We decided it would be a good day’s outing. The village was actually called Ado Awaye and the rock had several different names but we always called it Ado Rock.

The day we went to Ado we stopped for some fruit along the way and pulled up to some stalls by the side of the road. Ed and I stayed in the car in the back seat. I was smoking a cigarette and a group of Nigerian women gathered around my window and started pointing and laughing. Ed and I were feeling a little paranoid at this point, and we could not figure out what was so intriguing about us. By the time Francis and Simon returned, we had seen some of the women mimicking me and we decided it must have been weird for them to see a woman smoking. Of course, once we figured it out, we started giggling and could not stop.

We didn’t have a map, of course, and only had sketchy directions, so we kind of had to feel our way there, stopping to ask people who invariably had no idea what we were talking about and made up whatever they thought we wanted to hear. But we did finally did find Ado village and right next to it was Ado Rock. It looked very odd sitting there alone surrounded by flat land.

The village was on just one side of the road and not very big. We walked through it and watched women weaving cloth and saw a group of children studying the Koran. As we got closer to the rock, we started to look for a path up. By this time all the children of the village had latched on to us, and started following us around. We asked them the way up but they didn’t speak English and would just point in different directions. Finally, they led us to the Chief’s hut and we figured out that we had to ask permission to climb the rock. The Chief was building a new house and would welcome any contribution that we could give him since he was generous enough to allow us to climb his rock. We told him we were just poor students and could only afford five Naira (he wanted 20). He said that was not enough so we turned and started to leave but, of course, he accepted the money. After some more discussion, he agreed to let us go alone without the children in tow. They showed us the path and left us to it.

Footprint
Footprint

When we reached the top one of the first things we noticed were oval indentations in the rock. According to local lore these are the “footprints of their forefathers”.

The rock was flat on top but slanted up at one end. We worked our way up to the higher side. It was about a mile from one end of the rock to the other and about two thirds of the way down, here was a small gully where trees and long grass grew. We could see vultures circling above this area and we were a little leery of crossing it. We also thought there might be snakes in the grass so Ed went first making a lot of noise and clapping and I was last in line listening to Ed shout back at me “It’s usually the last person in line who gets bit, you know, Kathy”. Very funny, Ed.

As we came up the other side, we saw a small cave with animal droppings in it. But it wasn’t until we got to the highest part that we realized what lived there. We just caught a glimpse of a hyrax jumping from the rock onto the ground. The hyrax is a distant relative of the elephant that looks like a large rodent. They make a shrill screeching noise.

Peaceful view.
Peaceful view.

The view from the top of the rock was really spectacular. You could see miles of green trees, bush and flat land. It was so quiet and peaceful up there, I wanted to stay forever. We sat in silence and admired the view for a long time.

Pond
Pond

On the way back we stopped at a large pond surrounded by foliage (it is called the Suspended Lake). Simon decided to take a quick swim.  It really ticked off Francis because he knew it would make us late getting home. I found out later that according to the people of Ado Awaye, the lake is bottomless and people who venture in do not come out. They say it leads to heaven. It is also supposed to have healing powers. Luckily Simon got out okay. But we were late getting home.

Ado Rock
Ado Rock

Two years later Ed and I returned to Ado. I couldn’t believe how much it had changed. The village had doubled in size and was now on both sides of the road. The Chief had a big new house on the other side of town and the going rate for climbing the rock was 40 Naira – non-negotiable. We climbed up and had a picnic, but didn’t go all the way to the other end. Ed told me that he had taken a girl we knew up there not too long after we had gone up the first time because she wanted to do some hang-gliding. He said she almost got killed. She fell and fell before she caught any wind and there wasn’t that far to fall. After that, she took her glider to Mount Cameroon, and jumped off of there.  She landed in some small village, and all the people thought she was an angel, fallen from the sky. They practically worshipped her for days.

When we came down from the rock, we had to cross a stream and go through some bushes before coming out into the village.  was first in line and as I was going through the bushes I came upon a child alone on the path who must have been about two years old. When the child saw me she started to scream — it was as if she had seen the scariest site possible; she was terrified. Her mother came running up from the stream and picked up the child and started to laugh. Ed came up behind me and was laughing. I was confused. Finally Ed caught his breath and said “you are the first white person she has ever seen.” And I realized he was right; she probably thought I was a ghost.

 

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