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Previously in Atlantic Abroad

  • The Courts of Pondicherry (Akash Kapur, India, February 4, 1998).

  • A Convent with a View (Katherine Guckenberger, France, January 22, 1998).

  • The Moscow Rave (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, December 24, 1997).

  • Waste Not, Want Not (Ryan Nally, Poland, December 10, 1997).

  • Sikkim and Ye Shall Find (Akash Kapur, India, November 26, 1997).

  • The Magistrates of Creektown (Jeffrey Tayler, Nigeria, November 5, 1997).

  • Brando's Birds (Marshall Jon Fisher, France, October 22, 1997).

  • Dinner at the Gostilna Novljan (Chris Berdik, Slovenia, October 8, 1997).

  • The Dacha Regime (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, September 25, 1997).

  • Blazing Telefonini (Tom Mueller, Italy, September 11, 1997).

  • French Games (John Robinson, Madagascar, August 27, 1997).

  • Heaven in a Ballotin (Gregg Easterbrook, Belgium, August 13, 1997).

  • The Tentative Tourist (C. Michael Curtis, Spain, July 30, 1997).

  • The Sausages of Wrath (Jeffrey Tayler, Russia, July 16, 1997).

    For more, see the complete Atlantic Abroad Index.

    Share your tales of life abroad in the Global Views forum of Post & Riposte.

  • The View from Awolowo Street
    February 19, 1998

    Awolowo Street, in the new quarter of the Sahelian city of Kano, in northern Nigeria, was slowly waking up. A sleepy-eyed teenage boy in sandals was sprinkling water on the dust in front of Body-N-Soul Nite Club; a man holding a long razor was raising the shutters on Peter Barbers Salon For Unisex; a heavy woman in a dashiki and flip-flops was opening up Mama Femi's Foods Centre.

    I waved hello to Mama Femi and entered the hotel across the way, a ramshackle four-story affair with an airy central courtyard. Like many hotels in West Africa, much of its income came from the prostitutes who permanently occupied about a quarter of its rooms. When I walked in, some of these women were pounding yams; others were peeling fruit for their babies; a couple were boiling rice. A few were lazing around in batik wraps as I ascended the stairs toward a room on the third floor to visit my friend Murad, a visiting businessman from a nearby town.

    I knocked on Murad's door. Patricia, his rented girlfriend of the previous night, let me in and smiled, her face covered in a mask of cold cream. She sauntered out. Murad sat up in his bed.

    "She's a nice girl," he said, taking a long drag on his cigarette. "I like to pay her, just so there's no misunderstanding. I gave her two dollars worth of Naira. She asked for three, of course..." He slipped into his shirt and we were off to tour the town.

    Murad and I walked all over Kano, returning to Awolowo Street when the fierce heat of midday set in. There we found porters asleep under their carts, beggars curled up in sparse patches of shade. Green-yellow geckos slithered over the cracked earth. Mopeds and jalopies rattled past, throwing up a choking cloud of bluish exhaust and red dust; sweat poured from temples and gave the face of every ambler a reflective sheen. When we entered an eatery at the corner, hoping to get a bowl of jollof rice (rice cooked in palm oil with spice added), we found the proprietress snoring on a straw mat, her nose twitching as a fly explored her nostrils. We decided it was too hot to eat anyway, and left.

    I said good-bye to Murad and walked back to my hotel. All morning I had imagined the feeling of hot water scouring away the grit that I had picked up during the day. I entered my room, took off my clothes, grabbed my soap and, getting in the tub, turned the faucet. It gasped and retched dryly. Just after this there was a rapping on my door and the voice of the manager's son: "Mr. Tayla, we no get wata now. I bring you wata fom well." The well water turned out to be cold, but pure. I washed up, set the air conditioning on high, and slept until six in the evening.

    At six-thirty Murad dropped by in his flowing Hausa robe. Famished, we set out onto Awolowo Street again. The sun angled low through the dust and disappeared. A crackly "Allahu Akbar" wailed from the neon-lit minaret beside the mosque; stars twinkled above the tenements. We sat down outside the Happy Life Tavern and ordered beers and rice.

    Soon the women from Murad's hotel began wandering over, nodding greetings to him as they took their seats. He had been staying there for a month and had developed relationships with several of them. I asked if he used condoms or worried about AIDS.

    "Of course not. I look at each girl carefully to make sure she's not sick."

    Beggars crisscrossed the street, going from bar to bar. Some were children leading blind men by the hand; they stopped by our table and chanted until we gave them something. The electricity failed, but a generator kept the Congo-pop music blaring. The waitress served us; we dug into our rice and washed it down with cold STAR beer.

    Awolowo Street partied until late. The hotel women came and left over and over with the men, some five or six times. To be sure, Nigeria's problems were huge -- the endless stream of prostitutes attested to that -- but the nighttime breezes offered a reprieve from the heat of the day, and for that we were thankful. We stretched out in our chairs, and the breezes and delicious cool that we could feel on our foreheads were, for the moment, all that mattered.

    Jeffrey Tayler is a freelance writer and traveler based in Moscow. He has recently written on Moscow, Transylvania, Siberia, and Zaire for The Atlantic Monthly. He contributes regularly to Atlantic Abroad.

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