I spent the summer of 1976 in Ibadan, Nigeria. I made a few friends and we went on day trips exploring the surrounding countryside. I lived on an agricultural research farm so the guys I went exploring with were mostly scientists. On our trip to Ado Rock there was me, Simon who was a British summer intern in the farming systems section, Francis, also British, who had three children and loved to collect orchids, and Ed, an American scientist who loved to party.
The day we went to Ado we stopped for some fruit along the way and pulled up to some stalls by the side of the road. Ed and I stayed in the car in the back seat. I was smoking a cigarette and a group Nigerian women gathered around my window and started pointing and laughing. Ed and I were feeling a little paranoid at this point, and we could not figure out what was so intriguing about us. By the time Francis and Simon returned, we had seen some of the women mimicking me and we had figured out that it must be a rarity to see a woman smoking. Of course, once we figured it out, we started giggling and could not stop.
We had heard of this village not too far from Ibadan that had a huge rock sticking out of the plains and once you had climbed up it, you could see for miles and miles. We decided it would be a good day’s outing. Of course we didn’t have a map and only had sketchy directions, so we kind of had to feel our way there, stopping to ask people who invariably had no idea what we were talking about and made up whatever they thought we wanted to hear. But we did finally did find Ado village and right next to it was Ado Rock. It must have lodged there when the glacier receded, because landscape-wise it was very out of place. The village was on just one side of the road and not very big. We walked through it and watched women weaving cloth and saw a group of children studying the Koran. As we got closer to the rock, we started to look for a path up. By this time all the children of the village had latched on to us, and started following us around. We asked them the way up but they didn’t speak English and would just point in different directions. Finally, they led us to the Chief’s hut and we figured out that we had to ask permission to climb the rock. The Chief was building a new house and would welcome any contribution that we could give him since he was generous enough to allow us to climb his rock. We told him that we were just poor students and could only afford five Naira (he wanted 20). He said that was not enough so we turned and started to leave at which point, of course, he accepted the money. After some more discussion, he agreed to let us go alone without the children in tow. They showed us the path and left us to it.
View of Ado Village, Nigeria
The rock was flat on top but slanted up at one end. We climbed up at the lower end and worked our way to the higher side. It was about a mile from one end of the rock to the other and about two thirds of the way down, here was a small gully where trees and long grass grew. We could see vultures circling above this area and we were a little leery of crossing it. We also thought there might be snakes in the grass so Ed went first making a lot of noise and clapping and I was last in line listening to Ed shout back at me “It’s usually the last person in line who gets bit, you know, Kathy”. Very funny, Ed.
As we came up the other side, we saw a small cave with animal droppings in it. But it wasn’t until we got to the highest part that we realized what lived there. We just caught a glimpse of a hyrax jumping from the rock onto the ground. The hyrax is a distant relative of the elephant that is about as big as a large rodent. They make a shrill screeching noise.
The view from the top of the rock was really spectacular. You could see miles of green trees, bush and flat land. It was so quiet and peaceful up there, I wanted to stay forever. We sat in silence and admired the view for a long time.
Two years later Ed and I returned to Ado. I couldn’t believe how much it had changed. The village had doubled in size and was now on both sides of the road. The Chief had a big new house on the other side of town and the going rate for climbing the rock was 40 Naira – non-negotiable. We climbed up and had a picnic but didn’t go all the way to the other end. Ed told me that he had taken a girl we knew up there not too long after we had gone up the first time because she wanted to do some hang-gliding. He said she almost got killed. She fell and fell before she caught any wind and there wasn’t that far to fall. After that, she took her glider to Mount Cameroon, and jumped off of there. She landed in some small village, and all the people thought she was an angel, fallen from the sky. They practically worshipped her for days.
When we came down from the rock, we had to go across a stream and through some bushes before coming out into the village. I was first in line and as I was going through the bushes I came upon a child alone on the path who must have been about two years old. When the child saw me she started to scream – it was as if she had seen the scariest site possible; she was terrified. Her mother came running up from the stream and picked up the child and started to laugh. Ed came up behind me and was laughing. I was confused. Finally Ed caught his breath and said “you are the first white person she has ever seen”. And I realized he was right; she probably thought I was a ghost.
Years later, I was traveling with my two year old on an airplane from Moscow to the USA. We lived a pretty “Russian” life in Moscow, not coming across many foreigners and virtually no Africans. My son and I came out of the toilet and a beautiful African American woman was standing in the aisle. All of a sudden my son exploded into screams of terror. I immediately thought of that day in Nigeria.