I have already mentioned the name of Stephen. His full name is Stephen Oshibuje and it will appear again many times in this story. If I tell of his early days now, it will not be necessary to refer back when he comes in.
Stephen was a Kukuruku, a tribe dwelling near the lower reaches of the river Niger. As a boy, his education was only for two years in a Roman Catholic School. He was baptised in their church. In his later teens he came to Ilesha in search of employment and got a job as a compound labourer in our Wesley Guild Hospital. He was an honest, hard worker in whom Sister Stela Liony took a special interest. When the young Doctor Joyce Woods arrived in 1931, there was an opening for a bright, clean youth as houseboy for the doctor. A cook was already selected and that completed the domestic staff. Stephen was a good leaner. In addition to his native tongue Kururuku he had acquired a knowledge of Yoruba as spoken in Ilesha and by some four million Yorubas. Now he tackled English and was often observed as he made notes and later asked the doctor to explain the meaning of words he had written down phonetically. He did well in his job, seemed very happy to attend services in the Methodist Church and became a real friend.
When we were planning for our marriage, Joyce and I agreed that my cook was better than hers, he would be offered the job. But, as to steward, there was no hesitation in engaging Stephen. He quickly adjusted to the new roving type of life and was excellent not only in preparing for our many journeys but in his contact with our people in the wide area we covered. He also became very useful as an interpreter. Naturally we were each able to cope with our own working vocabulary: Joyce knew the medical jargon which was like a foreign language to me. I could leave her behind in my ‘church’ vocabulary. Stephen learned them both and became efficient more quickly than either of us.
Back in Kukuruku land, there was a girl selected and ready for marriage with Stephen as soon as he had established himself. We gave him leave gladly, so that he could go home. He returned and proudly presented his wife. She had an unpronounceable name. She also set herself to learn Yoruba and, in due time, Stephen taught her the requirements of baptism. As the great day arrived, I was greatly relieved to know that she had chosen the name Comfort, no pronunciation problem.
As well as translation ability, Stephen showed that he had a great interest in the medical cases being discussed in the doctor’s surgery. He often helped in dressing very nasty ulcers and sores. It soon became obvious that he wanted to add to his already wide knowledge. One evening he spoke to Joyce. He wanted to keep on his work as steward in the house but, could she also teach him the medical work? On being asked why he wanted this, he said “One day the doctor will return to her homeland and not come back again. If I knew more about medical work I could be more useful”. He did not say useful as we say it, he put it in three syllables u-se-ful. And as the name Stephen comes again and again in this record, each time it is an illustration of the use-ful man he became.
It is fitting that the introduction of Deborah Ajayi should follow the above paragraphs on Stephen.
Deborah Ajayi comes from Ilare, the village to which Nurse Bernice took that midnight walk through the forest with the strange man who appealed for her help. Deborah could not walk, her arms and both legs were like the letter ‘S’ as the result of Ricketse. When we saw her she was sitting outside her house, playing with lumps of mud and was filthy with little mud stains all over her naked body. We contacted her parents. Their names were both on the Church Roll but the father had not attended worship for some time and, indeed had a bad name in the town because of drink. Joyce examined the child carefully and recommended that she should come to our compound in Ilesha to give opportunity for observation if there were any improvement with proper feeding as well as medicine. Finally, but reluctantly, the parents agreed to let her come to Ilesha.
It did not take long to prove that all we could do was not going to be enough. Deborah needed thorough X-Ray examination and we had no such facility in our, nor any other up country hospital. Joyce decided it would be worthwhile getting the child to an English hospital but, we could not afford the fare and, in any case, it would mean a big fight to get the parents permission. Joyce wrote to Elder Dempsters, (E.Ds) the shipping company and put the whole case before them. We made up our minds that if the reply was favourable and did not cost more than 20 pounds, we would take her when we next went on leave. Meanwhile we began talks with the parents and eventually talked them into accepting the opportunity, if E.Ds reply was helpful.
Our prayers were answered. The reply from Lagos came. In view of the nature of our request they would carry the girl free of charge. Greatly relieved, we went back to the parents and in the presence of the Chief, our African Minister and the Headmaster of the Imesi-ile school, they put their marks to a document we had already drawn up. So we had permission to take her to England, and were exonerated from any blame if through surgical operation or other cause the worst should happen.
E.Ds included in their offer, provision of a cot-bed but required Joyce to give any attention the child might need. It occurred to use that as we had been ready to spend even up to 20 pounds for Deborah’s fare, if he were willing we would also take Stephen with us. He was now a married man with children of his own and would be a great help in looking after the child. Stephen jumped at the idea of seeing England. Since his start as a steward in Joyce’s household he had become used to our varied life and in serving the type of food we enjoyed and doubtless the cook and he had often shared what was left over after a meal. So there was no hidden horror of strange food. Rice was a great favourite, but he would miss his gari. This was a very useful cereal, which did not require cooking. When thrown into the water, it swelled and when swallowed, it continued to swell and gave that great comfort of making one feel full. He would also miss the warmth of his red peppers. We told him to take a quantity of each. He did so, and we all prepared for the long journey.
The advantage of having Stephen was fully realised from the start of the voyage. We were able to fix Deborah’s cot by his third class bunk enabling him to tend to her needs through the night if required. I omitted to mention that E.Ds had a special rate for members of domestic staff accompanying European travellers. This included a third class bunk plus food and cost 10 pounds for the return journey.
Our first day out was spent loading cocoa at a Gold Coast port. We went for a walk ashore and on our return to the boat Stephen found that his bag of gari had been stolen. We were very troubled but, with all the coming and going of passengers and carriers, there was no hope of finding it and no good whatsoever in reporting the loss. Stephen took it all philosophically. The food served for African passengers was very suitable, a lot of kedgeree type (fish or minced meat in rice). It was not usual in up country meals to have more than one course. E.Ds provided a cup of tea with each meal. At home, the basic food was boiled yam and, according to financial ability, the soup into which the family would all dip their yam pieces, would vary from a vegetable preparation to one in which pieces of meat were to be found.
Stephen never replaced his gari. He so enjoyed joining round the family table and sharing our food that when he returned to Nigeria, his load included the bag of peppers, which he had not opened.
Our plans for this furlough were changed a lot by the sad news we received at the end of the journey, of the death of Joyce’s father. We got home only in time for the funeral. Deborah did get into hospital and Stephen, through the kindness of Roy and Nellie Gooding, went to stay with them in their branch of the National Children’s Home at Congleton. He happily applied himself to learning a lot about handicrafts.
But, back to Deborah. A surgeon who was her chief when Joyce got her Fellowship, took great interest in the twisted limbs of the little African girl. She was admitted to the Paddington Green Hospital. Before admission, while Stephen was still with us, Joyce took the pair of them for one of the pre-admission visits to the hospital. I was not present as I was somewhere on deputation, so Joyce braved the Underground, carrying Deborah while Stephen, bewildered by all he was seeing, followed behind. They arrived at a ticket machine and Joyce put her money in. Out shot the ticket. Stephen was amazed and in a typically African expression of wonderment asked “Ah, is there a man inside?” Then came the descent on his first escalator. Joyce told Stephen how to walk on to the moving stairway. He hesitated, then to the obvious amusement of passengers ascending the next escalator, in his floppy overcoat, he took a high jump and landed safely on the steps.
The work on Deborah’s legs and arms was very successful. Each leg had to be broken in several places and re-set in the nearest to a straight line. Then followed the long wait until the plaster could be removed. When we were due to sail back to West Africa, Deborah was ready and for the first time, could use her limbs for their natural mobility and use.
On the ship, one of the outstanding passengers was a very important northern chief, the Emir of Katsina. This was a very large Emirate close to the Sahara Desert. He took great interest in Deborah and in what had been done and why we had bothered to do so much of the little one. He frequently pocketed an extra apple after his meal in the Dining Saloon and would present it to Deborah as she carefully manoeuvred her legs to cope with the ship’s sway. Deborah became passionately fond of apples.
Deborah did not understand anything the Emir said to her for he spoke Hausa, indeed while she did pick up some English while in hospital and Joyce’s old home, very easily she seemed to forget a lot of her own native Yoruba. When she got back to Nigeria there was the ridiculous situation where we had to help her by translating some of the questions put to her in her own native tongue.
I still have the official passenger list in its glossy cover and, the very first name in First Class is Miss Deborah Ajayi. Now, advance lists are available in E.Ds Lagos office, and in those days the Nigerian Times made a lot of news of any Nigerians returning home. Details of who they were, what they had been doing in England, in studies or on business used up spare columns in issues following the fortnightly arrival of mail boats. So, a journalist sought out this Miss Deborah Ajayi, of very special interest for up to that time, single young ladies very rarely appeared in the First Class list. She must be of wealthy parentage and well worth an interview. He got details but Deborah declined an interview!
Like our friend Stephen, the name of Deborah Ajayi does not disappear from these memoirs. We will meet her again. In fact, one more recent reference has already got in as I was anxious to wind up the story of our famous kit-car and told of her part at its demise.
There was no written rule but generally the women in the church tended to sit together. Punctuality was not a strong point and a small congregation at the beginning of a Service could well increase into a completely full church before the sermon. In our area, families rarely came together and certainly did not sit together, yet there was great loyalty to the Church by all the family. On arrival, the men would lay their slippers, or flippers on the wide plastered area between the entrance doors. A couple of hundred pairs of footwear took up a lot of room and called for quick spotting of the right pair as the owners left. Many of the women carried a baby on their back. This resulted in a lot of coming and going during the service but added to the comfort of the babies and doubtless to their mothers also. Strangely, one got so used to the fairly constant movement that it ceased to be a worry. Perhaps it was because of this process that the men segregated themselves.
Where umbrellas were used as protection from the sun, it was always father’s privilege to carry and use this article while mother, perhaps many minutes later, complete with baby on back, bore a load of hymnbooks and Bibles on her head. These would be distributed to the fathers concerned. Well-known hymns were usually chosen. This gave the illiterates a chance to join in singing from memory. I cannot remember an up-country church, which had a stock of hymnbooks “For the use of visitors”. In Lagos, of course, better organisation and larger collections allowed more generous provision to be made.
Singing generally was very hearty, particularly when a lyric was introduced. This usually called for clapping. In prayers, corporate approval of requests was indicated by loud “Amin”. Our people believed in prayer and in their homes, family prayers were common. In Church, folk showed their attention in participation.
There was great interest in the Notices or Announcements, probably because there was no other means of giving publicity to coming events or the need for prayer in individual sickness or bereavement. There was natural regret shown when news of a death was given. Very rarely could notice of time of a funeral be announced for, in tropical countries it is usually the practice to have the funeral on the very day of death.
All stood for the Benediction, closing the service. In Ilesha, our church at Oko-ese was smaller than at our main-town church and was about a mile away. As the service would be much shorter, we have often seen men leave quickly after the Benediction and rush to Otapete so that they could be in time for the Benediction there also. A kind of double blessing.
During the week, church doors were left open, sometimes because the church was needed to house additional classes not accommodated in the school, sometimes because there was no separate school room and sometimes so that passers could enter for quiet and prayer.
In the villages where the church floor was still of mud, women would attend to the weekly dunging of the floor. The preparation used was a watery mixture of animal dung. It was a deterrent to nasty little insects, which could and did literally bore their way into the human foot. The smell of the dung was so common in house and church that no one noticed it.
On Sunday mornings the many ‘house classes’ began at about 6.00am, led by one of the full members of the church appointed to that position. They marked the Class book in which the status of each person was shown opposite their name. F.M. is Full Member, B.A. is Baptised Adherent referring to those who have become polygamists and C is for Catechumen, preparing for baptism. In the course of each week there would be at least one early morning Prayer Meeting. This is in the church and usually led by the minister or catechist himself. It begins around 5.30am, still allowing for an early start for the farmers who, naturally, liked to get the bulk of their work done before the great heat of the day.
There was increasing evidence of the election of Christian men, and much later, women to become chiefs or consultants. Sometimes certain practices, associated with heathen beliefs, made it impossible for Christians to accept such appointments. Happily this cause for rejecting appointment is dying out and, in general, there is a much greater reliance by the chiefs on the churches for their support. Now, all this would suggest a live church and the cause for much encouragement. While this is true in many places, there are disappointing reports from other places. Churches which too obviously have ceased to maintain the faith and vision which was dear to their founders.
Iyemogun was not a large village but, years before I was appointed to the Ilesha Circuit, well-meaning Christians had decided that they needed a bigger and better church building. Enthusiasm caused them to build far too big a place of worship, it could seat every single person who had a home there. The excitement decreased as the amount of labour in erecting the walls increased and, when it was time to buy enough iron sheets for the corrugated roofing, the spirit of Christian adventure was nearly killed. A door had been screwed on but no windows covered the apertures. Cattle could not get in but determined goats could and did jump through the spaces. They left much universally recognised evidence of their successful entry.
In one corner of the church was a large bell, intended for suspension in the belfry. Iyemogen belfry had never been built and now the really large, once costly bell was badly cracked and pathetically was balanced upside down on some stones in the corner. Every Sunday a faithful member banged its clapper against the bell and made a loud noise, unpleasing to the musical ear. I had fears of the ringer’s hearing as he must have damaged his eardrums. In response a handful of people came for worship.
I tried my best to encourage the village to renew its interest and gave some aid in sand plastering the walls. The village children helped us in laying out a little garden and fenced it with bamboo strips to keep out hungry animals. But all efforts brought little improvement in the lethargy, until an extraordinary new chapter opened in Iyemogun.
Gold was discovered in the small river nearby. A god rush started. Syrian and Lebanese traders from Ibadan and a few English men marked out claims and set about digging and panning. Labourers from far and wide flocked to the new goldfield.
One day a ‘Prophet’ came. He declared that the whole population were sinners, and urged them to repent while there was still time for, in one month, Iyemogun would be struck by God and fire would consume every house. The people listened to this message and the following Sunday the church was packed to the doors. Repentance was the theme and the catechist did his best. The weeks passed and the people waited anxiously. Fire did not come. Gradually Sunday congregation dwindled and the prophet, concerned that his prophecy had gone wrong, quietly removed from the village. The bell ringer continued to call the people to worship but only the original handful came. The Sunday collection returned to a few pence.
It is a sad story. We did try to help the people but failed. The goldrush ended soon after and Iyemogun has once more become the quiet lethargic village as of yore, and the goats once more scale the mud window sill and use the church as their overnight sleeping place. The people’s newly stirred interest obviously, was in fire insurance rather than repentance.
The overseas work of the Methodist Church is organised and supervised by the Methodist Missionary Society in London. Each division is the responsibility of a secretary (Africa and the West Indies, India and Ceylon, Burma and China, Europe and a secretary for Home Organisation) the Women’s Department and medical work were each attended to by their own secretaries. For interest, I have quoted the official divisions of the 1920-1930 period. Our headquarters at this time were in Bishopsgate, London. In 1939 the fine new premises in Marylebone Road were opened and in 1985 the Women’s Department was joined with the General Department work. The areas then were grouped into Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Caribbean, the Americas and Europe. It is encouraging to see progress in that two of the three groups are now in the hands of nationals of their area. So many of our hospitals are now run by the Governments of the countries concerned, that our medical work is in the care of a part-time Medical officer.
In our early days, wives did not count in any official lists or appointments and, if a woman worker had the misfortune to marry a missionary, she was removed from the official list. The Society of course continued to arrange and pay for her ship’s transit. Many of us married males would gladly claim that our life partner did as much and often more than we did for the Kingdom of God, but Bishopsgate would have none of these things.
To carry matters further, each overseas District Synod had its own Missionary’s Meeting. This was one which, amongst other properly minuted business, included a report on the condition of each residence, its repairs, furnishings and need for improvements. But the missionary’s wife was not a member and was not permitted to attend. This was very sad and frustrating. Happily, however, according to our Prayer Manual, enlightenment touched Bishopsgate and Marylebone Road and the emancipation of women became fact, at least in the inclusion of distinct qualification of the wife (doctor or nurse etc) with her husband’s qualification (pastoral, agricultural etc). I have not followed the progress made in the personnel of the Missionary’s meeting, and can only hope that a wife is permitted to attend when discussion on residences takes place.
The Mission House Secretaries had very responsible jobs which they held for longer or shorter periods depending on health, suitability, transfer to another department or retirement. Each would endeavour, as often as possible, to visit his or her ‘field’, get to know the missionaries and the very varied types of work in which they were engaged. As with government ministers they would be responsible for dealing with all matters relating to their field and be the spokesperson for some at the Officers’ Meeting and the General Committee which controlled the total work of the MMS subject only to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Great Britain.
This visiting secretary was held in awe by the young missionary who breathed a great sigh of relief when the visitor went to the next circuit. Older men did not suffer from any sense of awe but were glad to discuss and share matters of concern and probably underline the need for a grant for this or that worthy cause.
It was a pleasure to entertain most of these visitors. Their district itinerary was arranged by the chairman of the district. The visitor usually started on the Coast and worked steadily inland. This meant that my circuit was usually last. Each superintendent would be responsible for all arrangements within his own area. The secretary would make copious notes, perhaps illustrations for his own addresses back home. We hoped they were for his report and action in increased concern, if not increased grant in aid.
I used to get fed up with the window dressing that went on in some circuits, prior to a secretarial visit. Every minute was planned in advance, full churches were guaranteed for that day, all school uniforms must be washed the day before and woe betide any girl who failed to have her hair freshly done in the pattern for the week. An assured result, of course, was a big write up in the secretarial report.
I rebelled against this kind of carry on and determined that the next official visit would enable the visitor to see things exactly as they were. Consequently, when we were to have a lady secretary as well as the ministerial secretary for Africa, no one knew of their visit in advance. So, Joyce and I welcomed Alice Walton and George Ayre. We gave them a good meal, probably ground nut stew, and enjoyed a good chat with them. Before going to bed I told them that we would be going to the 5.30am Prayer Meeting. They would be very welcome if they felt it was not too early. We arranged a cup of tea at 5.00am. We walked to the church and into a well attended meeting. There was no welcome addresses but, before the meeting closed, I told the folk who our visitors were. Then breakfast and a series of school visits and in the afternoon again a well attended Women’s Meeting. Saturday was the opportunity for the visitors to see the hospital, and be entertained by the staff. We had told the staff, of course, of the visitors and they had made their preparations.
I outlined our plans for Sunday. We would attend morning service in a little country church. We travelled there in our kit-car and left it on the roadside at the nearest bush path into the village. On our walk we came to a wide flooded area. There was no alternative to at least one of us wading through the water. Now, I knew this and had dressed in khaki shirt and shorts, which may have surprised my respectably palm beach suited companion and of course the ladies always looked so suitably garbed. There was a man by the waters edge having a bath but he would have been rather slippery even if I had decided to invite his aid and he had agreed. So with shoes and stockings removed and shorts rolled up to their shortest, I gave Alice Walton a piggyback in safety to the other side. Then it was George Ayres turn. I got him up safely but in the deepest part I stopped and, pretending to drop him in asked; “Now, what about increasing that grant we asked for by, shall we say 100 pounds?” He agreed: anything so long as I landed him safe on Canaan’s side. I forget whether I gave Joyce a piggy back, probably not, she was enjoying the spectacle so much that she probably endured getting wet. It has a cooling effect anyhow.
We laboured up the hill to Iyere and were probably spotted, or perhaps the gentleman had finished his bath and while I did multiple crossing he had nipped home and spread the news. Anyhow, before we got there, the first bell had been rung. The bell, incidentally, was a two foot long piece of railway line, hung on the branch of a tree and it was struck by the long iron bolt. Women rushed to sweep in front of the church where we were glad to sit down in the shade of its leaf roof. The second bell was rung in about ten minutes instead of the usual half hour warning and the congregation began to arrive.
We all enjoyed that morning worship in Iyere, both our visitors gave short addresses and the members, regarding it as an honour to be selected for such a visit obviously completely overlooked the fact that they had had no notice in advance. After service, we all called at several houses and visits were enjoyed by all. Back home at lunch, the kindly secretaries spoke appreciatively of the novelty in our arrangement for Sunday. They had never been so close to the people in any other visit. We had only been too anxious to produce facts, without starch or spit and polish.
When a copy of their official report came through, it included countries on the West Coast and in Central and Southern Africa and said; “In all the circuits it has been our privilege to visit, conditions in Ilesha were the most rural we have seen on our African Tour”. This report was ‘Confidential’, contents were not known by anyone and therefore gave no offence to anyone. With the passage of more than thirty years, I am able to include their comment here.
A year or two later, George Ayre was the principal speaker at the Irish Conference in Cork. I was sent over to the same missionary session. He told the story of the piggy back I had given in our visit to Iyere and of the treat I had uttered when in mid stream. He then turned towards me and asked, “By the way, did you get that grant yet”? I shook my head. “Ah well, the wheels at Marylebone Road grind very slowly”!
I will be writing later of another secretary who made an excellent impression. But, as already illustrated, relations with the Mission House can go down as well as up! When Joyce and I were enthusiastically thrusting into our new development in the Northern Provinces, we greatly appreciated the help given by the Emir of Ilorin. He made us welcome in our plans to reside there. He honoured us when he came to our little mission house in Afon for lunch. When the Secretary for Africa came to visit our pioneer area, we took him to see the Emir. He kindly told the Secretary of the good work we were doing for his people. On our next furlough, while we were living in London, the Emir of Ilorin also visited London. I wanted to show him over our fine Mission House in Marylebone Road and asked my cousin Sir Richard Ludlow if Lady Katherine and he would arrange a reception for the Emir at their Surrey home. They gladly agreed. I telephoned the Mission House to arrange the tour and was flattened to hear that they themselves invited and yesterday had received the Emir there. Obviously it had not occurred to them that I was solely responsible for the extension of our work into the north and that Joyce and I had built on our friendship with the Emir and had been allowed to proceed with several schemes because of that friendship. But, we had not been told nor invited to the party. With regret I telephoned Sir Richard and told him we had had to call off the proposed reception. Suitably humbled, I had to learn the hard way the great difference there can be in people even in the small matter of courtesy.
Often since that long ago incident, I have heartily laughed at how silly I was to feel so much hurt to my pride.
I went to end this chapter in dealings with the Mission House and Secretaries on a happy note in commenting on the kindness and help in many of the extensive travel we have undertaken since our retirement. Thank you Sidney Groves for your help as we planned the most recent of our visits to South Africa and our first to Zimbabwe since it became independent. Thank you Graeme Jackson (Asia) as we prepared for India, Nepal and Burma. The last time we met was on the road to Mandalay, actually the rail-road at Rangoon. Thank you Eric Birtles (Personnel Officer) for going the second mile and obtaining a quantity of visas for us in our World Tour.
As mentioned above, since our retirement it has been possible to visit many countries and to see the Church at work. This has been made easier in this age of flight. It was a very different matter years ago, for, much as people may have longed to see the work overseas, it was just impossible to take long periods off work to do so. Even a one day visit to Nigeria, if such an absurd plan had been in anyone’s mind, would have meant over a month at sea in addition to the visit. Consequently, apart from the above mentioned secretarial visits from the Missionary officials, in nearly a quarter of a century, we had the pleasure of receiving visitors form the Homelands on four occasions only.
When we were told that a Mr and Mrs Lavender from the Midlands would like to include Ilesha in their tour, we were very glad and set to making tour plans for the days they would be with us. We decided to take them on trek, knowing this would be a new experience for them.
The Government and the Native Authority were responsible for trunk and main roads. For any spokes of the wheel to stretch out from a conurbation fortunate to be on a maintained road, the work must be undertaken by the people living in the area covered. I refer to this fact in other places but demand for routes to link villages with the main road grew. Farmers wanted to be able to convey their produce to market by lorry. They, or more correctly their wives, were weary of carrying heavy head-loads. Inevitably road construction all over the world has required the felling of valuable timber. But then, even the clearance for a farm extension has also meant timber loss. In burning or cutting down the trees, unwittingly, the urge for road or farm has all too often, in tropical countries, given rise to dust bowls and even desert encroachment. Another factor emerges. Chiefs and often Native Authority officials had amongst their numbers, men who were not averse to having their palms oiled (bribes or, shall we say ‘gifts’) as to where permission, or grant should be given.
This is where our Imesi-ile comes in again. Permission was obtained to cut twenty miles of new road to join the Ilesha road six miles out. Several villages en route joined in the scheme and made fairer the division of labour but, so far as is known no grant in aid was given. The work burden must be borne by the promoters. It was a major task for the tropical forest was dense and cutting and filling employed the long days of hundreds of men and women. Countless headloads of earth had to be carried and deposited to reduce a steep rise or to build up an embankment. After a long time and a non-stop flow of labour, the huge task was complete. Culverts of cement had to replace the temporary tree trunk bridges covering water ways and then the filling process so that no gaps remained.
Now we come back to our visitors. The Lavenders duly arrived and were thrilled with all they saw and did. They were astonished to see what the cook could do on our wood fire between two (empty) petrol tins turned on their sides, with a piece of expanded metal forming a bridge on top and giving the base for pots and pans. They were fascinated with the big mission house with its mud walls, two feet thick, and the fact that there was no glass whatsoever in our large windows. We simply had louvre hinged covers held out on a stick. They were greatly loved as they attended service in our very big mud church, packed with people: men on both sides and women and children in the much longer middle seats. Of course they did not understand a word of our language but sang heartily when the recognised the tune.
The height of the visit was to come: the trek. How they watched the packing up and the cook’s experienced inclusion of what he would need. Then the packing of beds, boxes and tins into our kit-car.
For us too, this was to be a special trek. We hoped to get right to Imesi-ile the whole twenty six miles by road, if the last of the culverts had been bridged with tree trunks covered with laterite. The timing was perfect, the last culvert could be coped with and, amidst cheering crowds we drove the very first vehicle into Imesi. I suitably obliged with prolonged blowing of the horn and we pulled up right in front of the Chief’s house. He gave a great welcome to us all, presented Mrs Lavender with a chicken, not over ready, but very much alive. The cook came hastily to the rescue.
Normally we pitched our camp in one of the school rooms. We intended putting our visitors in another class room. The chief, however, would not hear of it. He had prepared the Courthouse for the visitors all clean and the floor newly washed with the usual dung mixture. We got the camp beds erected, complete with mosquito nets. We were a bit worried that in each of the two cells at the end of the one roomed courthouse there was a prisoner. We mentioned the matter to the chief who immediately put matters right. He released the prisoners and told them to go home but to return next morning.
Bathing in our own home was rather primitive. We did, however, at least have ‘private facilities’ including a hip-type bath which often figured in old time advertisements for Pears Soap. Our house boy would leave a half filled four gallon tin of water, which smelled of smoke as it had been heated on an open wood fire. Beside this would be a similar Kerosene tin of cold water. In a hip-type bath, the amount of water poured in has to be gauged by the displacement of the bather if of slender girth, one would require a generous amount but if of ample proportions one had to go gently with the water or else, on sitting down there could be a flooding problem. For any reader slow to visualise this type of bath it may help to know that whilst the bather sat, his or her feet remained on the ground.
Things were different on trek.
On one trek accompanied by a young missionary who fortunately had a sense of humour, we had no alternative to sleeping in the same little rectangular mud church. With the complete absence of privacy of this building we had to solve the problem of cleanliness by letting her bath in the pulpit. There is an oft quoted proverb, which closely links cleanliness with godliness. This situation became hilarious but was 100% respectable. Joyce and I took our own bath standing in the darkness of the surrounding bush. Despite the increased snake and insect hazard our hurriedly arranged ablutions were carried through without incident.
This was the bathing arrangement we provided for our visitors, the Lavenders. At least they had been spared the anxiety of ring side observers with the temporary release of the prisoners. We could guess the cause of their smiles and good humour when, after baths, we assembled for evening meal in the classroom we had selected for our dining room.
Our second visitor came from Ireland. Richard White was a well known layman who had a prosperous business in his Dublin Printing Works. We were still living in Ilesha when he came and, whilst we shared his time with the hospital, we did not have time enough to undertake very much outside the town. In his wisdom and knowledge of printing he advised me against proceeding with one of my projects. I had invested in an ‘Adana’, a small hand operated press capable of producing postcard size notices and had the intention to expand the idea into instruction classes for promising young men. Mr White felt that the cost of expanding this idea would be greater than I then realised. I took his advice and sold my ‘Adana’ for the same price (25 pounds), which I had paid originally. Before many years there emerged numerous small private printers. Although they gave a proof reader a gigantic task in correcting spelling and punctuation errors, competition became widespread. My advisor was right, even though I felt capable of producing a higher standard of workmanship than the local small trader in his craft.
By the time our third visitors had arrived, we had already handed over our work in the South to our successors and were now living at Afon, in the Northern Provinces and working the whole time in this pioneer field. Mr and Mrs Bowden hailed from Bristol. He was a self made businessman who had started as a door to door sales man. He had decided to start his own business and imported sugar bags. This was a big success. He became very well known in the church, principally for his work in the Methodist Bookroom in Bristol. We have since had the pleasure of visiting them in their residence, Chew Magna Castle. I should have mentioned above that we had also had the pleasure of visiting our other visitors in their own homes, Mr and Mrs Lavender in their Health Centre in the Midlands.
The timing of the Bowden’s visit found us in much more primitive surroundings and accordingly, the standard of our entertainment was simpler. They did not have the thrill of big, well filled churches, but rather, sat on backless benches, or low mud walls serving the same purpose. Still here they found the two or three gathered together. No hospital tour to undertake, but they saw our little dispensary with its one-nurse staff, and watched whatever operations were on the programme. At one end worked the skilled surgeon with the simplest of equipment while at the head end I administered the anaesthetic and fervently prayed that the patient would wake up at the right time.
All this was great stuff to our visitors. We benefited from their visit in an unexpected way, Mrs Bowden went down with malarial fever and they had to delay their departure for a few days. Now it happened that we had of course, built our house near to a spring, but although we had constructed a large concrete storage tank and laid in a quantity of pipes and a semi-rotary pump, we were still having to carry all our water from the spring in four gallon petrol tins. This made an easy head load for our compound labourer. So, while Mrs Bowden lay ill in bed, Mr B. gladly became my pipe-laying assistant.
I had previously got as far as erecting the semi-rotary pump on a wooden tripod. The next stage involved us in laying a pipe from the pump, across the motor road to the tank. We must sink the pipe so that traffic would pass safely over it. This operation of digging into a road, required the permission of the Native Authority or even engaging them to undertake the work. I had not done anything about this and decided to finish the job and ask permission later. Mr B. and I were thus busy, with our compound labourer, in ripping a trench across the road when the impossible happened. An African Native Authority inspector, in the very infrequent inspections of the condition of the road surface and drainage, arrived on his motorbike. Naturally he was very surprised to find the road closed. He was very nice about it and quite understood that we needed water in that tank and that we must lay a pipe across the road. We offered him no ’present’ and waved him goodbye as he set off down the hill to see the Daodu of Afon, the Emir’s representative. On his return journey, we had already sunk our pipes, replaced the laterite top dressing and he expressed himself as quite satisfied with the job. No one ever mentioned the matter of my irregularity so I presume the inspector, wise man, had decided on silence.
Before the Bowden’s left, we actually got the twenty five gallon galvanised tank into the roof. Thus encouraged and with the helpful advice and co-operation of our five year old Anthony, I pressed on with the fitting of a wash basin in our tiny bathroom and a tap in the kitchen with all the connections involved. We now had a luxury in our little house away on the hill, which we never had in our nineteen room mud house in the south. True, we had to be very careful of water for, in the long dry season the spring dried up. Our precautions included a stout padlock on the tank. For drinking water, we still had to go through the whole process of boiling and filtering. This included teeth washing and any water which would touch or enter the mouth.
The last of our four visits from overseas to be recorded here was, actually, the first in order of time. When we went on leave in 1937 our arrival was a very sad occasion. Joyce’s father had just died before we reached Plymouth so we got to her home in the midst of funeral arrangements. Amidst a great sense of loss, but of triumph for her father, we begin our leave. Before returning to Nigeria again, Joyce repeated her hopes that her mother would think seriously of visiting us out there. The rest of the family advised against such a silly suggestion. They felt that their mother would never stand up to the heat and the kind of living to which we were accustomed. Finally, despite fears that she would never be home again, the family gave in and, in company of one of our Nigerian friends, she sailed for Lagos.
Travelling was no worry. She had done a lot of Northern Europe and also in the United States and Canada. She did enjoy the journey out to West Africa. Through letters and all our chatter while on leave, she already knew a lot about Nigeria, but there is no teaching so good as first hand experience. For two happy months she gained that experience, walking miles along bush paths, climbing rocky hills and meeting so many people who seemed never to have thought that we too had parents. “Iya Dokita” (doctor’s mother) was always repeated with respect.
One thing I fear she did not learn was to overcome her real fear of creepy crawlies and all sorts of the many varieties of flying insects which were drawn by our lamp each evening. Flying ants by the thousand, fat sausage flies, praying mantids and stick beetles were of course accompanied by the sharp pinging sound of the dreaded mosquito. Perhaps her worst moments were when, inadvertently she stood in a trail of driver ants. She learned of their speedy inspection of every part of the body and that the only remedy is immediate seeking of privacy and shelter where the invaders can be dealt with separately. This, and any moving object, which got into her hair, caused anxiety but, blessed with a keen sense of humour, most experiences brought forth loud laughter. Her greatest safety was when under her mosquito net at night, provided no mosquito had got there first. She had great joy as she saw the work that her daughter had started and was busily continuing among children, girls and women, as well as our partnership in the widespread general tasks for the welfare of our people. Her two months with us increased her full enjoyment of life, instead of taking years off, as the family had feared. Anyhow, she lived for another twenty four years after her safe return to England. The observations and material gathered during her visit enabled her to speak at many meetings with the authority of one who had been there and seen it all.
So ends my record of our four visitors in nearly a quarter of a century. There were visits, of course from Chairmen of the District (three of them European and the first African appointed to that office). As our station was furthest inland from the coast, it was a popular centre for visitors from the Colony who knew little of pioneering. Missionaries and many traders, especially workers in the commercial branch of the Lutheran Church’s Basle Mission, stayed with us as often as possible. We have happy memories of our Swiss holidays when we continued friendship with these pleasant people. Christmas was our busy time with visitors from mission boarding schools especially, who welcomed the opportunity given by the school holidays, to see some up-country activities. With the guaranteed dry weather of December, picnics could be enjoyed and the cooler nights of harmattan and the added value of our piano, made a welcome change for our visitors from the South.