Lunch in the King’s Courtroom

Real lunch, real royalty, totally unexpected but hugely enjoyable but first the boring stuff then the fairytale.

We are at the Cameroon embassy gates way too early and have to wait, the embassy is on Victoria Island and we are living on the main land so have to leave by 6:30 to avoid traffic. So there sit the four of us on a bench outside the embassy, eating bread that you buy in small loaves. We hand our applications in then give Sean a ring, he is Rotimi’s brother and is driving us round for the day in-between working. Fortunately he is in marketing sales and moves around so can pick us up and drop us. Then we go to the SA embassy to collect my passport, there is a queue outside but being South African we get to go straight in. No passport…

There is a problem at Jo’burg airport and the diplomatic pouches have not arrived and since it’s a diplomatic pouch they cannot open it to get my passport out. The people that can help are in meetings so we have to wait. So Sean takes us to his girlfriend’s house and that is where it gets interesting, she is a princess. Her grandfather was the King of Lagos Island and we were at the royal palace. So she sits us down and tells us her family history…

The first king of Lagos Island was very unwell and going to die, he called on the services of a medicine man that cured him. The grateful king asked what he could do to repay the medicine man, he asked for the hand of one of his daughters and so the king agreed. He called all his daughters to him and told them of his promise and asked them to marry the medicine man. Each one refused in turn and now the king did not know what to do. Then his sister came to him and said he was not to be concerned, she would marry the medicine man and help the king fulfill his promise. After the birth of the sister’s first son the king called the family together, he then decreed that the newborn boy would succeed him and that the royal line should follow that bloodline. Never would his daughter rule because they did not love him and were not willing to make a sacrifice for him. Since that day the royal line has been kept. There are now four royal families from the sister’s four children, succession is different too. After the death of the king each family puts forward one person from their family as their choice for the next king. Then six men known as the king makers choose the next king. These men are chosen from the advisors (identified by their white hats) of the king. How do I know all this, well the king died in March this year and they have 3 months to choose the new king, he must be a educated professional with good vision, no physical defects and he gets to have as many wives as he wants.

The other twist to the story is that the king, to thank his sister, named her as his mother and decreed that she will be in charge after his death until the new king is appointed. This tradition still carries on an each king chooses someone for this role, she must be related to him and the present mother of the kingdom and rules for these intervening months. When the new king is chosen then the family of the old king have to move out of the royal palace to make way for the new.

Now I have set the scene and we are shown around the palace and invited to sit in the throne room as it is cool there. Here we get to meet the kings ‘mother’ and children, some just in from England. When the enter the room everyone falls to their knees, once they are in the room any new visitors do the same and will remain kneeling until they have finished talking to a member of the immediate royal family. It must be strange to come from England where you are just another face to a place where people have to kneel the minute you walk into the room. The day is spent watching the comings and goings of the queens, the royal children who all turn out to be friendly and nice to talk to.

The throne is at the one end of the room turned to the wall as the king is dead, lined down either side are couches to sit on and this is where we are. Then Sean arrives at lunch time with our lunch which is delicious chicken, rice and vegetable salad takeaways. So there the four of us sat, eating lunch in the king’s court room! We had a lovely time and the people we met make you wonder why the country is in such a mess.

Later we return to the SA embassy to find out that they definitely do not have my passport, so I have to apply for another emergency one just in case it does not come in time. They send me home to wait.

Tuesday we collect our visas from Cameroon and still no passport now emergency planning is needed. This coming weekend is Easter that means Friday is a public holiday so we need to think about what is best. Wednesday was spent getting ready and at 6am Friday morning we set off after saying goodbye to the family. Rotimi leads the way and after making sure we are on the right road waves goodbye as he heads off to work.

Entering Lagos was hard but the stay there was a pleasure and a special thank you to all those who looked after us so well and fed us. We got to sample the local way of life and food and get to see a side of Lagos I imagine very few visitors get to see.

The road to Abuja, the capital, takes 9 hours and we are hopeful about getting there maybe in time to visit an embassy or at least orientate ourselves. This is not to be, at the first big town Ibadan we hit serious traffic, a T-junction with a kilometre of backed up trucks waiting their turn. You have to drive round and try squeeze through, the police controlling it use sticks as crowd control. JW quickly rolled up his window when he saw the traffic guys hitting the drivers through their windows to get them to cooperate. It took some time but we got through and the going was okay. We cross the Niger River and 15km out of Mokwa we hit a truck standstill.

Well what now? Just follow the other car drivers around the side off the road and see what happens. We find out from the truck drivers that there has been an accident and the road is closed. But since more cars are going in that direction than are returning we are going to investigate. The queue of trucks is amazing and indicate the heavy traffic that road must take, after some time we get to the front; I have never seen such a massive accident before. It rivalled a train smash, with 4 or 5 burnt out tankers smashed into each other or lying on their sides and a few that had not burnt. There were people everywhere shouting, directing and cars and trucks weaving their way through the wreckage. The accident was not surprising since the roads are bad, dark and these trucks fly down them, it happened in a dip and I figure one toppled and the rest followed. The most amazing thing was that this accident happened last night, it was now 2pm and there were no police present, there was however a police block further up the road with them lounging under a tree.

We do not make it to Abuja that night and have to bush camp just passed Bida, it is a good night to camp with a full moon. Ludwig makes us all a potjie as they have vegetables that they need to use up, so dinner is made for us and it is delicious. We retire early as everyone is tired from the driving. Friday morning and we continue to see the queues at the petrol stations we saw yesterday, there is a fuel shortage in Nigeria at the moment which is unfortunate as it is the country with the cheapest diesel and it would be good to fill up. By the time we reach Abuja the queues are even longer and the stations we stop at are all out of diesel but two of the stations direct us to the same one in town that has diesel and so we go into town.

Abuja is like driving into another country, good roads, obviously planned, clean and well organised, not much traffic although here the fuel shortage is even worse. We manage to find the garage we have been directed to and yes they have diesel but the boss is not here and they need his permission. So there we sit and wait JW strikes up a conversation with a guy that works at the Protea Hotel here in Abuja, he tells us that the management are all South African and we should drop by. Now we are waiting in the sun for diesel and we meet an American named Chuck who likes our car, while Simon is talking I am praying that we get diesel. Then the manager turns up and helps us giving us as much diesel as we want for the bargain price of 26 Naira a litre, the black market guys wanted to charge us 120 Naira. Then to top it all off the manager gives us bottles of ice water for free, boy did they go down well. So off we go to the hotel to say hi, there we meet Frazer a fellow countryman. The hotel is newly built and everything is new and clean and cool from the heat outside. We talk about what we are doing and that we will need to stay in Abuja next week for visas, Frazer has a word with the manager and they offer us accommodation for next week, so now thanks to Protea Hotel we have somewhere central to stay. I will tell you more about them later but for now we have to rush as it is 2pm and we have 700km more to do before we get to our destination. We are staying in the Yankari Game Reserve that are well known for the Wikki warm springs. As it is Easter and then the second part of the election on Saturday (no movement allowed) we are going there for a rest.

10:30 finds us finally at the game reserve and after a quick beer we all crash; it is dark so hard to judge the place but I have already seen a waterbuck walking through the park. Saturday morning and Simon is sleeping in, the boys and I go for a swim, it is amazing. The water is lukewarm 31 degrees and crystal clear, the sand on the bottom is white and when you float you move down stream. So swimming one way is easy but much harder going the other way, it varies from very deep to ankle depth for the kids. The rest of the camp is run down but you can see it was once great, now there are rooms in various states of dilapidation, broken windows and graffiti. But the springs themselves are amazing and we spend over 3 hours there. Later we go get Simon and see to some housekeeping. The boys have decided to make a potjie and invite us for dinner. So we make a fire and the whole slow process starts, making a real potjie takes a long time and you should not rush it. So starts the discussion about potjies and where they come from, what the secret to their success is. Now we have been trying to teach Simon Afrikaans with not much success so you can imagine the humour when Simon declares, ‘So the secret is in the souse’. Souse being the Afrikaans word for sauce; we will make a boere out of him yet.

The chicken potjie was delicious and I would like to compliment Ludwig on his potjie making skills, he does very well. After that back to the springs for a late afternoon swim till evening, it is just so nice to sit there and have that water flow past you while you talk about stuff. Sunday was much of the same, we tried to do the game drive in the morning but there were not enough people that afternoon however there were loads and they put over 60 of us in the game viewing truck. So we had to stand up to see over the kids heads, not the best way to do it, especially when the concept of being silent so a not to scare the animals away, is a foreign one. But it was not all bad and we saw kingfishers, water buck, crocodile, bush pig and a few others. So things are looking up, on our first game viewing in the Gambia we saw no animals, now we saw some, so by the time we get to east Africa the game viewing should be great.

Well that night after supper we were all sitting around the fire talking, we were all enjoying the last of out time here as tomorrow we have to head back to Abuja so that we can be at the embassies first thing. While we are sitting there JW says he can hear lions, now I think he is kidding but a little while later you can hear them clearly. It was at this point that the weekend ended for me, the camp is open and there are lions nearby, sound like a good time to go to bed. The boys try to assure me that they will not come into the camp because of the lights and noise but it does not help, I make Simon walk me to the loo and then not much later I go to bed. Once again I am grateful for the rooftop tent.

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