Life of an African Travel Photographer – Nigeria

14th of May, 2015, was a day filled with skepticism on my mind, I had wondered what the journey I was about to embark on held for me. I was going to an unknown land, a place where I barely knew anyone except a friend in whose place I’d planned to spend the night. Even my supposed tour guide’s phone number wasn’t going through. There I was, stuck in the middle. Do I go back home or forge ahead?  The question was unnecessary. Going back was not an option of course! Besides, I love adventure.

I got to the popular Natarko junction in Lokoja with my duffle bag and my girlfriend; I mean my camera and all I had in mind was to locate my friend with whom I’d be with for the night so that I could get a place to clear my head and decide what to do next.

This is the life of an African, local, travel photographer.

The adventure officially began when Mohammed Iliyasu, an Okada rider who stopped to answer my numerous questions.  I asked about how to reach out to the locals who are into rice farming and he was kind enough to introduce me to a few. But with the enthusiasm he used to answer all my questions and interest he showed, I knew what he was saying even though he didn’t use words. So I decided to book him for the three days I spent in Lokoja. He seemed happy to be my tour guide. I liked him, first because it didn’t cost much to hire him, and because he was the classic son of the soil, and most importantly, he understood the language.

But still, my camera and I were skeptical. We were concerned about whether we would get the photos I came all the way for. I wondered often if total strangers would give me the permission to take photos of them while they were working.  But to my greatest surprise, first thing on Saturday morning, when I hit the road with my tour guide, the first person we met took us to Bami, a rice farmer and he was willing, able and ready to show us everything there is to know about rice farming. It was surprising because it was so easy. That in itself was quite motivating for me, you know, how people can help and show love to complete strangers.

You know, it is true what the wise man said; there are no strangers in this world, there are only friends we haven’t met yet.

This first welcoming encounter encouraged me to go from house to house in Kabawa with the hope of capturing a few natural photos and to ask a few questions from the rice farmers and it was fun, every step of the way.  I had this feeling, you know, I felt alive and fulfilled. And I think it was because of that glorious thought that crossed my mind while the smile remained on my face. The thought was simple: this is the way I want to spend my life; and it is doing what makes me happy.

I got back into ‘my’ room with the same smile still on my face, and hoping for an even greater day ahead. In anxiety I woke up, I realized how happy one feels to get out of bed when living is much more fun than sleeping. Sleep becomes merely a necessity, not a hobby.  Early in preparation for another day’s tour, my guide

came to pick me up and we were on our way to Kabba junction in Lokoja.  I had thought it was just about a minute away but dude, I was on that bike for atleast 30minutes! But still, that smile came to my face because I felt the breeze of freedom.

We got to a Military checkpoint and due to the security problem in the country, we had to walk through that point on foot while my bike guy had to push his bike across.

I met an army officer who saw me all ‘gadgeted’ up like a military man going to war and he asked me, ‘are you a photographer or…. ‘, I said I was a photographer and humorously I said and I can “shoot” anything on my way. The soldier smiled and said “yes, I want you to shoot me now”. “Sure I told him promise me you wouldn’t shoot me in return” I said . We both smiled, Then he told me to give him a snap shot which I already had in mind before but I was too scared to ask because these days, anything can be termed a terrorist threat. But since the opportunity came to me in a platter of gold, I was happy to do it and of course I had to have a snap shot with him while he was in this awesome mood.

I went round the Kabba junction area, from their market place where they sell Garri to the cassava farms, it was nice to see the local women peeling cassava in their houses which were their offices as well. Then I was taken to a place that seemed like the middle of nowhere. It was a vast portion of land. I mean it was mighty big!

I had heard about a beautiful Mountain and so I insisted that I must visit Mount Patti in Lokoja. The hill is said to have once served as the place of refuge for the earliest inhabitants of Lokoja, Kogi state.

The Niger and Benue confluence and much more of Lokoja could be viewed from this hill. The word ‘Patti’ is a Nupe word for HILL. The famous mountain towers at about 458.3mtres or 1500 feet above sea level. It was referred to as Mount Patti by the early European visitors, (I always wondered why a lot of these must be named by oyinbo people). At the top of the mountain, you have the popular rest place of Sir Lord Lugard.

As I finished from there, I went on again on my bike.  We went down the hill and headed straight for the popular market place. I saw some beautiful ladies selling fufu. Just looking at them was very entertaining. Again, they let me and so I took a few snap shots of them as they sold. I enjoyed every bit of the experience. After the photo shoot, I asked them some questions about how fufu is produced. They were kind enough to give me a few hints. I decided there and then to stick to photography instead of making fufu. I will stick to photography and eating fufu, not making it.

Later in the day, I was directed to   “KARARA VILLAGE” which was another 30minutes from  Lokoja, the Capital. By this time, my mind was filled with how much I wanted to share my experience with the world. But I wanted more adventure still. I told my tour guide to take me to the most hinter of this village, I was tired of reading about places like these, I wanted to experience things for myself at least this time. My camera agreed.

Karara is a small village. Their main source of income comes from cassava. So they invariably spend their time producing Garri, fufu, Starch or the likes which is a byproduct of Cassava. Basically, I spent this day going through the whole village seeing how they lived and all they did, I even had to join Mrs. Alhassan in making Garri. Their life evolves around cassava. However, some of the men sold meat. I guess the place of protein is still considered important, even in Karara.

My third and final day in Lokoja was even more fun.  I got souvenirs. I bought a quarter bag of unprocessed riced just so that I could watch it being processed just for me. I wanted to see my own scratch-to-finish rice.

I saw how rice is done. They soaked the grain on the first day, parboiled and dried it the second day and then pounded it on the third day so as to remove the chaff.

But for me, the height of the whole journey wasn’t the taking of a unique photograph. No. Even though, that is usually the high light of my day. This time, it was about the pair of shoes I bought for a little boy and his sister. It barely cost a thousand naira, but the way this little boy appreciated it is what made my day somewhat glorious. You would think I bought him a car. I don’t even remember or know why I bought the shoes for them.

I just know there was an argument about who damaged whose already damaged shoes and stuff.

This little boy, who was about 6years old, on hearing that I gave money to their mum for a new pair of shoes almost lifted me up in appreciation and I could see the sincerity in his face. (Yes, fufu gives that kind of strength).

I had these sudden goose bumps all over me, because I felt good. It refreshed my memories about my dreams and aspirations in life again. This is because I really want to impact the life of people around me, especially people who cannot give anything back in return. I just want to see this sincere joy and happiness in their faces, like that which this little boy gave.

I ended my journey with a swim in the Niger River.  When I told my tour guide that I was feeling hot and I wanted take a swim, he gave me this response …

“Don’t worry I would take you to a pool” .

This made me laugh, he must have thought to much of me as an ajebutter. I told him no, and that I want to have a swim in the River. After much persuasion, he agreed and took me there.

For the first time ever, I had a swim in a river and I enjoyed every bit of it. Like the rest of the experience, this too was natural for me. Real. African. Local. Unphotoshopped life.

If I could, I would do it again. And again. And again. And again. And….ok, I’ll stop now.

But this Tour wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Bode Longe and Co (BL & C Limited). They gave me the opportunity to see the world in another perspective and I would like to say a BIG THANK YOU to them for letting me serve them.


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