Chapter 16
Adventurous journeys

16.1 My pulpit was a leopard

Our church/school buildings had no doors and no windows. We designed them so that their oval shape was a continuous series of arches, a wide arch at either end and narrower arches along the sides. The purpose of this was that in Moslem areas, people would be afraid to enter the building but, if they wanted to, they could see and hear all that was going on as they paused on the nearby bush path. The roof was well thatched by a professional thatcher, on properly chosen, sawn timbers. The seats were rows of low yangi walls with a smooth plank on top.

We had left the new catechist, Philip Jaiyesimi in Bussa. I was anxious however to impress on him the vastness of his field. We travelled north again and when we reached Bussa we were glad to find he had made friends and had been welcomed. He had no band of traders from the south, such as young Abe had at Kaiama. There was no one to call to worship on Sundays, yet. We drew up a timetable and programme for a journey up river which would take us beyond where we had gone with his predecessor. We set out in a reliable looking canoe and reached Ojiji, the village of the blind. We were made welcome and our journey had become possible because Philip had made friends with a man who was able to act as interpreter. He had gladly agreed to travel with us in the canoe. We can only guess how much the people of Ojiji were able to hear of what we said for all had to pass through two languages before it reached their ears.

Our canoe team had no objections to occasional stops in our journey, they enjoyed a rest. Some of the villages at which we stopped were very small, but we were glad to tell the people who and what we are doing and that Philip was now living in Bussa and would be visiting them as often as he could. Sick people were treated and friendships begun.

Camping overnight at any village at which we called towards evening was a cause for much excitement and chatter. Our loads, mosquito nets, camp beds and feeding arrangements were so different, all helped to impress the villagers with our friendship.

One morning we set out earlier than usual, we tried to avoid travel through the heat of the day, but also because we wanted to reach a village on the other side of the river. Behind this village was a cone-shaped hill on the top of which was one solitary tree. We always spoke of the place as “one tree hill” its proper name was Yimo. As we approached we could see many excited people dancing round the tree. Men were waving sticks and shouting. When they saw our white faces and arms, the men started to run down the hill, still shouting and waving their sticks. We wondered whether we were in for trouble. As we touched land, the leader of the excited men spoke through an interpreter. He welcomed the strangers and invited them to come and rejoice with them. We were not anxious to be drawn into any fetish act of worship and obviously sought more information. It was immediately given, as follows:-

For some days Yimo has been very sad and troubled. Every night a large animal has visited us and always carried away a cock or even one of our goats. Yesterday, we decided to set men who would stay awake and attack this animal. Last night they were all ready to stop anything entering Yimo. For a long time they stood and listened. Then one man heard a noise but it came not from the bush in front of them but from the village behind. With a heavy log of wood poised above his head, he saw a leopard passing him, it had a cloth bundle hanging from its teeth. He brought the log smashing down on the animal’s head, the cloth bundle was immediately dropped. Fellow watchers rushed to help, they battered the animal until it was dead. Come and rejoice with us.

We did. Climbing one tree hill we sat on the roots of the tree which had been washed clear of earth by erosion, while the villagers resumed their dance. There lay the dead animal, its mouth open, showing the large teeth which would have taken the life and flesh of a little baby inside the cloth bundle.

As the dancers tired, I told them they should rest a while. I have used a variety of strange pulpits during my life, but this was the first time I stood between the legs of a dead leopard while I spoke. I told them “ We are delighted to rejoice with you about the baby saved from the leopard, this indeed is good news. We also have good news and we ask you to rejoice with us. It is also about an animal, not ferocious like your leopard, in fact it is about a sheep. The owner had 100 sheep but one poor little animal had strayed from the others and now it as lost.” And as I told that very well known story Jesus told, and simply pointed out its message, the villagers of Yimom listened. They heard for the very first time of a God who loved and cared, and still does.

16.2 Animals at home

I have left our young Anthony out of this record since his arrival back in Nigeria after his long wait for a sailing. Then through kindness of the Jackson family, fellow missionaries in Eastern Nigeria, whose daughter Ruth was about the same age, he travelled in their care on a troopship. We met him in Lagos and motored up country to our now completed new house in the Northern Provinces. Naturally he journeyed with us wherever we went but, back in our compound in Afon, he had his own little kingdom. From early days he had shown great interest in bird life and animals. Like Noah’s Ark, he always kept the door wide open for pairs of any species. Like us he was sad to see birds or animals in cages. Monkeys were free to come and go wherever they wanted to. Our doors and windows were all wide open by day and through the night. We suffered some losses through the differing values we and the monkeys had for vases and ornaments. We still left them completely free. We could not teach them but they taught us to keep delicate items in cupboards.

The District Head of Balah was a good friend. He had many peacocks and peahens. On one visit to him he presented us with a beautiful peacock with a wonderful spreading fantail. Not long afterwards he gave us a peahen in the hopes that we could raise a family. Their loud calls rang out from our hilltop. We named the pair Percy and Priscilla. I learned to imitate the clicking sound they made when they talked to each other. Either Percy had a musical ear or he associated my clicking with food, soon he plucked up courage and responded by coming up the steps of the verandah and he would eat corn out of my hand. I felt rather like many fathers at home who take such an interest in their Billy’s train set that they only occasionally allowed Billy to play with it. I greatly enjoyed Percy’s friendship but did remember that Percy belonged to Anthony and allowed him to look after the bird and peahen sometimes.

The pair of pigeons, Paul and Penina, in Anthony’s Zoo were independent, they did not require board but appeared to welcome our lodging. Next came ‘Tolu tolu’ the turkeys. The name was not our invention but is Yoruba onomatopoeia. It served for either Mr or Mrs Turkey. They were a noisy couple and despite their free range training, were always glad to get any spare corn, on or off the cob. Still on the feathered species come Donald and his several ducky wives, also Gertie the Guineau fowl and her family.

I have written of our objection to making any of our birds a prisoner in a cage. Anthony approved of giving all of them their freedom. This applied equally to animals but, we made two exceptions because of predators. So Nibble, Nobble and Bobtail, the rabbits had a large wired enclosure for protection.

We were sometimes approached by a hunter who had trapped a mother animal. He wanted to sell the orphaned offspring which was too tiny to be of any culinary value. One such hunter came, carrying a little furry bundle. We had to do something about it, this is how a beautiful little Bambi joined us in Anthony’s Zoo. Regular feeds with bottles of milk were gladly undertaken by the young keeper. Bambi gave us all great pleasure. He had a large enclosed area but every evening, while we were about he had complete freedom. His speed around the compound was good to see. He wandered where he chose but always returned home, that is, until one evening this graceful, glossy animal, now growing quite big, must have scented a mate and made his own arrangements for the future. We explained to a disappointed Anthony how lovely it would now be for Bambi to be able to play his own sort of games and be able to talk his own language to his new friends.

16.3 There’s a donkey in the canoe

On one of our visits to Bussa I wanted to go up river as far as Agwara. This would be our furthest river trip yet. Joyce and Anthony remained in Bussa whilst Philip, the catechist, his friend the interpreter and I undertook the journey. We had told Anthony that we heard there were some donkeys up river and that I would buy one if possible.

Our visit and welcome were satisfactory and the Chief and people invited us to come again. The rumour was true about the donkeys and advised by the Chief, I bought one for one pound. There was of course the problem of getting him to Bussa, a very real problem. My plan was to journey back on foot, but I was assured that with tributaries of the Niger in full flow, I could not get through. Then I proposed striking inland to a point where the water would be narrow enough to get across. We had to abandon that course. Finally, I decided to risk tethering the donkey and have him laid in our canoe. The animal held his own very definite view that this was not a good idea for any self respecting donkey and, true to reputation he refused. One alternative alone remained. We would let him stand in the canoe, with a good supply of fodder. As an advocate of freedom for the animal kingdom, I decided to overlook the danger of being called an ass in attempting such a thing. With a wave of goodbyes we pushed out into the great river, having warned our crew that there must be no crossing to cut time and that the canoe was to be steered as near the bank as possible. There was no need for paddles nor poles, the flowing river carried us along. The donkey remained remarkably quiet and I was amazed to find we were passing the place where I had thought we would spend the night.

A huge cloud bank was building up down river and anxiety grew. Our crew evidently felt they could make Bussa in time before the tropical storm would break. The donkey hardly moved. If he had become restive he could have overturned the canoe. As we approached Bussa, we could see that many other small craft were travelling as quickly as possible to safety. We were very thankful to pull in to the spot where canoes off loaded. Joyce and Anthony were there on the riverbank. Joyce had been worried with the approach of the storm. I am sure Anthony was glad to see me, but the greatest delight was seen as he saw the object in the canoe which had ears larger than mine.

At this season of the year one can count on the time the usual evening storm will break and there was the usual rush hour for canoes crossing the Niger. We had a tragic reminder of this fact the very next evening when one team of paddlers left it too late to complete their crossing, the gale force winds swept down the river and rain came so heavily that visibility was nil. The canoe capsized and one woman passenger was drowned.

The return journey of 200 miles south by car, with a donkey on board, continued to cause much excitement. We would have to travel for some thirty miles through a tetse belt. No living creatures wandered here without the risk of being bitten by the dreaded tetse fly. In human beings such bites are the cause of sleeping sickness.

We always drove quickly through this danger area and, this time did not stop even though we might have to do more cleaning up after the donkey’s occupation of the inside of the mobile unit.

Dinky, as the donkey was called, settled down in our home at Afon. He gave Anthony a lot of fun, but like most of his kind he could be very stubborn. He tolerated a child’s weight but when I tried to ride him he sought means of showing his disapproval. As soon as I was astride, Dinky fought hard against my directing pull on the reins. He usually won even though it meant proceeding with his neck and head to right angles from his body. He would edge up to the house and then walk so close to the wall that he not only squeezed my leg but then would advance so that the wall would scratch my leg unpleasantly. No one taught him this bit of evil but it made me wonder whether there is, perhaps, something of truth in the transmigration of souls. It could account for a lot of the behaviour of this animal if he had a former life in some other and lower form of creation.

Our verandah doors and all windows were wide open, day and night, except during storms. Dinky, usually during our siesta, started slinking indoors to emerge with a mat or a cushion. He revelled in shaking a cushion from side to side until, aided by his teeth, feathers and cotton stuffing came out. This game unfortunately led to the early demise of Dinky. It happened like this:-

Our leave was due. Just at that time, Government had a scheme to help villages by digging deep wells which would last through the long dry season. They appointed well-digging supervisors. Afon was chosen as one of the districts and a European supervisor set up camp in the outskirts of the town and his team got down to work. Now, a job of supervising his teams in lonely places provided a little of outside interest for a leader and, our man thought it would be fun to look after our donkey during our absence. We were surprised at his choice, however, Dinky agreed to a change of address and was moved to the encampment and we left on our journey to England.

Incidentally, it was on that journey that Anthony revealed the simple, isolated life we led. Our table steward on board ship was taking orders at breakfast. We asked Anthony which cereal he would like. He looked round the table and, pointing to a plate in front of a fellow traveller, said “I would like some of that grass over there”. This was announced in a loud and clear tone and was the cause of many smiles. (Apologies to the makers of Shredded Wheat!)

During our leave we received a letter from Afon telling of an unfortunate development back home. In his new surroundings, Dinky was unable to find cushions nor other inanimate objects which he could shake to pieces and help release his surplus energy. There were however a number of goats around with kids following them about. Dinky switched his interest to the animate and caught and violently shook these small moving objects. The goats, and more particularly the kids did not like it, some did not recover from the exercise. Reproof of a verbal nature was useless. Dinky kept up the game too long so, after several fatal encounters, the District Head and the well supervisor decided that enough was enough and poor old Dinky was shot.

The story of Anthony’s Zoo ends here. In relating same I have had to ignore months and years so the following bears no relationship in point of time.

16.4 A setback in the north

We had a serious setback in our plans for advance in the north when returning from a business trip to Lagos. I wanted to save transport cost on a variety of school and other purchases. I estimated that we could fit all the loads into our vehicle and got busy packing same. Foolishly, I tried to lift a large basket hamper of books and immediately felt such a pain in my back that I had to drop the load. On examination, the diagnosis was a slipped disc.

Obviously I fought hard against hospitalisation so, as we had a doctor in the house I could be treated at home. Joyce turned our small lounge into a ward. I was given no pillow and with the aid of a large towel stretched across my tummy, weighted on either end with heavy books, I was kept in one position.

Daodu, the District head, the Emir’s representative and many others became regular visitors. The medical attention I was given was wonderful. I must have been a trying patient and irritable; there was no radio of course and holding up a book with no pillow to aid the angle became wearisome. The dry season meant that any breeze crossing the room was a very hot breeze, a fan would have been very pleasant if we had had a fan. The dry season also brought danger. Elephant grass grew to six or eight feet in height and was a serious hazard. Farmers enriched their land by burning their patch bare, where there are no farms, just wide areas of elephant grass, fire can spread very quickly. One day this happened. We had no farmers near us and therefore no protection. We could do nothing about it. By using a hand mirror I could watch the inferno as it came nearer and nearer. Word quickly reached the Daodu and he acted immediately. Leading a number of men he had managed to call, he came up the hill and there was no need for him to instruct his helpers. They did all they could to beat out the flames and to cut a track across which the advancing fire might not sweep on. They were successful and, when any obvious danger had passed, several men were left on guard, watching for signs of any tiny flames finding a way through. They stayed on into the night.

My six weeks of inactivity and the slow return to limited mobility was a setback. For Joyce, however, despite all the extra attention and help I needed from her, they were also weeks of planning as well as the unusually long continuous period she was able to give to our new dispensary and ward. There was more.

16.5 Starting the Homecraft Centre

The almost complete absence of girls from the few schools then open in the north, was pathetic. All our teenagers were illiterate. That generation would just become like their mothers. They would marry the men they were told to marry, possibly an old man who had two or three wives already. They would sit in the market, tend their babies and be satisfied to live in dark, often dirty accommodation. With twenty or thirty other people they would live with the extended family under the same roof. No privacy whatsoever, no sanitation other than the nearest bush and no place where conversation would not be heard by anyone living under the same roof. To tackle this need, Joyce determined that a homecraft centre should be offered to this generation of teenagers. We would teach domestic subjects, simple Religious Knowledge and the three Rs. But of greatest importance, the whole scheme would be based on making friends and sharing a sense of humour.

We were helped during the period of my convalescence. The United Missionary College, run jointly by the Church Missionary Society and our own Methodist Church had just reached the end of their college year. Among the newly qualified trained teachers was one of our own girls, Ebun Jaiyesimi, who was to be allocated to her first appointment. We were very pleased to have her appointed to the Ilorin circuit. She was the daughter of our catechist, Philip Jaiyesimi, now working at Bussa. Ebun duly arrived at Afon and lived in our compound. She did not have any language problem for we were in Yoruba speaking country. Her father in Bussa was valiantly struggling with both Hausa and Busanchi. She entered wholeheartedly into her new job which was to become an Iyawo Home: a home of preparation for marriage.

Our good friend and chief, the Daodu was pleased with the plan and gave his support. Unfortunately we did not get many girls, they were already set in the pattern of their mothers and grandmothers and saw no particular reward for being different. We, of course did not complain but we did say that we were disappointed that our well qualified teacher did not have enough to do.

Doubtless he reported our disappointment to the Emir of Ilorin and a few days later we were very surprised to see a long line of sixteen teenage girls marching up the hill in single file, followed by a local policeman. They turned into our compound and over to the new Homecraft Centre. We later heard that the Emir decreed that the headman of each compound in Afon was to provide one girl for us. A few days later, Daodu came and begged us to take more girls of the same age group who had been away at farm on the first day of the ’volunteers’ round up.

So our roll now stood at 32 completely illiterate and undisciplined hefty wenches who walked around during lessons or would try to take a nap on the tables if the lesson was boring. One, who had never looked into a mirror in her life, was drawn to such an object hanging in the classroom. She stared into it and on seeing a girl’s face, immediately stepped behind the mirror to talk to the girl. She came forward again and smiled at the girl who now smiled back at her. Very quickly she tumbled to the purpose of a mirror and, still smiling, started preening her hair. Ebun, our teacher shared our delight and with great effort restored calm and got on with the lesson.

Our hilltop became busier with the daily arrival of the girls as well as the growing popularity of the dispensary. At first we had only out-patients but, as confidence grew those requiring in-patient care became less fearful and the usefulnes of our small ward proved itself. There were also women responding to the availability of ante natal and welfare clinics. In addition, teachers and catechists came frequently for supplies and each quarter, we had the full circuit staff in for refresher courses lasting a full week. We encouraged the married men to bring their wives with them for this quarterly get together, some came from isolated stations and the companionship was appreciated. We ordered 20 Teak trees and a quantity of citrus plants through the Agricultural Department. Preparation of the area where these were to be planted and all the holes to be dug, kept Salimanu, our senior compound labourer and Suberu, the boy whose eyes had been very nearly closed, quite busy. Bribery was not up our street but we did offer extra rewards. During our leave we had lost nearly all of our citrus trees of a previous planting because Salimanu had taken a long rest, although on the pay roll during that leave. He had not only failed to water them but also had failed to keep grass and weeds from choking them, also several got burns from the surrounding grass when fires broke out. So this time we determined our forest would grow. We left all in the care of the labourers, each tree with a price on its head. They would receive sixpence on our return from England for every strong and healthy tree. There was not a single casualty and we gladly paid up. I think we might call it productivity.

To get back to Ebun Jaiyesimi and the Homecraft Centre. We decided to introduce weaving on wide looms as we had done in our Ilesha Homecraft Centre. I have already described this type of loom fully. Joseph, our carpenter had no difficulty in producing the looms and we were in the business of teaching weaving within a few months and looked forward in the hope that parents would want to copy the idea in their own homes.

One other reference to the Homecraft Centre. It was good to see the interest the girls took in simple needlework and other crafts. They also enjoyed repeating sentences read by Ebun, learning to pronounce words as she did. One day as we drove into our compound we were surprised to hear their voices reverently repeating:- “Baba wa ti mbe li orun. Kia bowo fun oruko Re” ”Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name”).

16.6 More schools: Joseph Aremu

On completion of the building of our own house and of establishing ourselves as residents in the north, we turned our attention to the need for schools. Our plan was to try out the idea amongst the people. Sometimes with their aid, if they had shown any enthusiasm, a mud wall some eighteen inches high was built and a rectangular roof of grass or leaves was erected on bamboo poles to give the much needed shade and protection from rain. Sometimes, although the local chief had approved, no volunteers came forward to undertake this simple construction work. We then had to employ labour but this amounted to very little expense for the building was very simple and the materials were available all around. Later, if the little school became a success, we would embark on a more satisfactory building.

Our first effort was in Afon itself. The Daodu had co-operated right from the start and had given us a piece of land at the entrance to Afon, a very attractive site on which we erected our first little trial school. To our surprise, one of the first pupils was Aremu, a son of Moslem parents who lived in a small village about three miles away. Equally surprising was the fact that Aremu was deformed and had great difficulty in walking. He had Polio as a young child and his body, from the waist upwards was fairly well normal, but his legs had not grown and bore the weight of his body with difficulty. Still, Aremu was very keen. He left home very early each morning to reach school in time and slowly returned home each afternoon. Further proof on his desire to learn was the fact that on Sundays, he regularly faced the journey again so that he could attend our church service and learn more.

For two years Aremu persevered and, if we had been able to afford a second teacher and thus keep within the rule of the Education Department that no teacher shall teach more than two classes, he would have stayed on at Afon school. I must include two important facts here. Aremu was much older than he looked and, despite his smallness in height was probably a teenager when he started school. During his second year at school he had prepared for baptism and, with his parents permission, I baptised him. His own choice of name was Joseph.

With his two years of schooling complete Aremu decided to leave home and go to Lagos. I do not know how he managed to walk over 200 miles, it is probable that this was his only hope of getting there. It was the general practice of youth, to seek employment in Lagos. Many of them undertook menial tasks or acted as carriers at the docks or railway or lorry stations until they could find some more permanent work. Those who failed to find work either sponged on employed people who had come from their own neighbourhood, possibly remote family connections, or, disillusioned with high hopes of becoming wealthy in Lagos they would return home where, they believed they could at least be fed. There was another section of the jobless, the ones who early in their search had got into trouble with the police. Once this happened, they would be unwise to stay in Lagos. The police circle had long memories.

Two years of Joseph Aremu’s absence passed. We often thought of him but heard nothing from or about him. Then, one Sunday morning in Afon, as I was conducting the service, I noticed a youth sitting in the back row whose face was familiar. I was sure it was Aremu, but concluded that if I was right, there would be proof when the congregation would stand for the opening hymn, he would be no taller standing than sitting. I was right Joseph Aremu was back home again. At the close of the service I went and greeted him and enquired how he had got on in Lagos. He had done well in getting a job although the work was hard for him. He also had linked up with one of our many churches in the city and had attended regularly. Now he was going to stay back home in Odo-ode.

Not long after his return Aremu came to my office. His was a strange request. He wanted me to allow him to build a little school in Odo-ode. I pointed out that even if he was able to complete a building and I provided a blackboard, chalk, table and stood, he had forgotten the most important item. Who would pay the teacher? He had his answer ready “the teacher will not need any payment; I will be the teacher”. I laughed at this and reminded him that he had only had two years at school, how could he fill that post? His reply is the whole point in including the story of Joseph Aremu here. “True” he said “but I do know two years more than the children in my village”. What could I do? I certainly could not register a school like that but, neither had I the heart to refuse his sincere request, so I ’lent’ him a blackboard, table, stool and even a handbell.

16.7 Visit from the Medical Secretary

We were glad to welcome the Missionary Society’s Medical Secretary, Dr Ralph Bolton, accompanied by a very enthusiastic honorary worker, Vernon Booth, an expert photographer. They spent three days with us and we filled the time in taking them to as much as we could of just ordinary days programmes no window dressing.

I have been reading again the pages of our monthly magazine “The Kingdom Overseas” in which Dr Bolton published an article under the descriptive title by which we were known: “Partners in Pioneering”. He gives his impression of the value of our joint medical, evangelistic and educational work; of the tremendous value of the Mobile Unit; of the Mass Literacy work started by Dr Frank Laubach; of meeting two chiefs who came to have lunch in our house and of their departure after lunch on their gaily caparisioned horses followed by their staff, on foot. He concludes with an account of our visit to pay our respects to the Emir of Ilorin in his lordly palace and of an evening open-air meeting and film show.

Vernon Booth took a lot of photographs and one, showing the Mobile Unit where Joyce was seeing patients while I was teaching reading from the Laubach chart, became a label on the Missionary Society’s collecting box used in hundreds of homes throughout the United Kingdom.