I sat on the low wall of our shady verandah and watched curiously as an open pickup truck arrived. Once the clouds of sand and dust had settled I could see the new delivery more clearly. The bright, white porcelain W.C. faced imperiously out to the rear of the pickup, as if reluctant to take a look it its new home. So I went out to inspect it more closely.
‘’Put on your hat if you’re going into the sun, remember last time.’’ The ‘hat’ was a pith helmet, adult sized. I could just about peer out from under the wide brim after the hat was padded up with an old shirt. The previous week I had been hatless under the sun for only twenty minutes and the hot blistering sunburn on my face and arms had kept me awake crying for two nights.
The people, the Nigerians, love to nurture their children, white children too, just as they do their own. But the place, Sokoto with its sub Saharan climate, the dust and flies, was a different proposition. It was pitiless. By my fifth birthday I was old enough to know the truth and why I should always take care. It wasn’t just the sunburn. ‘’The missionaries’ children both died of dysentery,’’ my mother told me in her own matter of fact way. “They were the first European children to come here.’’
Before the arrival of this new water closet, things toilet-wise had been pretty basic…a privy at the back of the house, a plank with a hole and, several feet below, resting on the ground, a metal bucket. Some sand and a shovel were provided to cover the contents after each use. But the flies always buzzed around it anyway. And the flies spread the dysentery. A truck called each morning for the metal bucket. Any of the precious water was set aside as a spray to control the clouds of dust raised by cars and lorries on the laterite roads. The rest was kept for nearby farms, to fertilise the corn and yams.
The new WC and its big pipes and drains could do all this too. But most importantly, once it was working, there were no more flies.
Nigeria is an extraordinarily diverse and vibrant country. There are around 500 ethnic groups and many of these differ from each other culturally and linguistically to a much greater extent than equivalent European groups such as, say, Germans and Russians. On the comment that Nigerians love their children…I think that most visitors to Nigeria have the same experience and Nigerians would welcome the sentiment…however much it is a generalisation.