Saturday, January 26, 2013

Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro-Wiwa

Obodu cable car

Noo Saro-Wiwa
Noo (pronounced "gnaw", p. 289) Saro-Wiwa is the expat daughter, living in Jand (slang for overseas, p. 73), of famous dissident Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was imprisoned in the 1990s for campaigning against Government corruption and environmental degradation by Shell Oil.  Noo and siblings were in prep school in London, when she got the call in November 1995 that her father had been murdered (p. 7).  Trained as a travel writer, Noo meanders around Nigeria as a tourist, ending up at her family homestead in Bane, near Port Harcourt.  Noo's family was Ogoni, "bit players in the drama of Nigerian history in which the Binis, Yorubas, Hausas and Igbos played a leading role" (p. 256).  After  reading the book, we realize Nigeria is much more than a base for launching "419" scams (p. 79).

In the Prologue, she opines that Nigeria "has perhaps received fewer voluntary visitors than outer space" (p. 8).  All trips to Nigeria begin and end with Lagos, a chaotic city of nearly 20 million.  Appropriately her first task is to negotiate the traffic with the minibuses or danfos (p. 19) and also the 100cc motorcycles (Chinese Jinchengs) or okadas (p. 34), which buzz around the streets in their thousands, like a plague of giant flies."  She recounts a visit to the beach at Tarkwa Bay overwhelmed by the proximity of the oil tanker traffic (p. 42).

The arc of her storytelling follows Ibadan (Ibadan Univ., the Harvard of Nigeria; the dilapidated Transwonderland amusement park; Osogbo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Ajuba (the sterile modern capital like Brasilia; Zuma Rock, the Ayers Rock of Nigeria), Kano (Islamic area under Sharia law, the city supposedly had hand amputation machines from Saudi Arabia - p. 147; Gidan Makama, a museum), Nguru (most northerly town in Nigeria), Yankari Game Reserve (safari park), Jos (Wild West scenery on high plateau, museum has terracotta figurines), Maiduguri (Islamic City near Lake Chad), Sukur (Stone Age mountain kingdom), Calabar (site where slaves were sent on Cross River 500 years ago), Alok (stone monolith site), Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary (drill monkey site, jungle canopy walks), Obodu Cattle Ranch (jewel of Nigeria's tourist resorts near Cameroonian border, longest cable car in Africa), Benin (home of ancient Benin Empire), Esie (soapstone sculptures), Port Harcourt (gang driven, Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Icelanders, oil bunkering) and Bane (family home).

Noo poignantly describes effort to recover her father's bones in 2005 from a public field after being murdered by Sani Abacha's regime.  The bones were identified through forensic tests (p. 290).