You would have thought, wouldn’t you, that for my fiftieth Pangolin I would have made a bit more effort than to post a picture of my washing. What’s more, I have smashed my record for late delivery and this Pangolin, which should have been a golden edition, is five days late. Let me explain.
I am in Nigeria and it wasn’t possible to get online with sufficient ‘bandwidth’ until today. When I come here, and this photo was taken in Umuahia, I undergo a transformation. After stepping off the plane in Lagos and losing a few layers of clothing, I lead a (very) small group of doctors, nurses and midwives who are here to support and encourage the training of health care workers in rural areas. Having spent most of the first six years of my life in this vibrant and noisy country, a small part of me feels that I am coming home. I eat egusi soup, pounded yam and fried plantain, drink malt and copious amounts of bottled water and try out my smidgens of Yoruba, Igbo, Pidgin and Igede (in order of diminishing competence). I fraternise with Methodist bishops and the odd archbishop, bump along dusty roads to rural hospitals and renew friendships with outstanding local staff who do a lot with very little. When I get back in the evening, I wash my own clothes in the shower, if it works. If it doesn’t, there are few things more refreshing than a bucket of water.
Nigeria, for all its charms, is one of the worst places in the world for trafficking the real pangolins – not that I have ever seen one here, alive or dead. Regular readers will remember that one of their superpowers, when threatened, is to roll up in a ball. There are videos online of lions batting pangolins around with their paws with a ‘How do I open this thing?’ expression on their faces. Trouble is, human beings find it very easy to pick up a pangolin and drop it in a sack for onward transit to the restaurants and traditional healers of East Asia.
My readers back in the UK are currently being bombarded with lies, half-truths and fake news by a fragile and corrupt government intent on preserving their hold on power at all costs. I have just left Abia State. I couldn’t possibly comment on Nigerian politics, but I can recount a tale from a few years ago. Returning to Lagos from Abia, there was a full-page newspaper story about a woman who gave birth to a baby and a tortoise, complete with photos of the baby, the tortoise and the placenta. When I got back online I read that the then governor of Abia State had been to Washington DC to give a talk about good governance. I emailed family and friends to say that I knew which story I found harder to believe.
I am glad that, all being well, I will be back home on 12th December to vote for the fine, honest, hard-working MP for Leeds North-East. I would not normally use my writing blog for political purposes, but these are desperate times. Let’s hope that enough people do not curl up and hope it will all go away. Let’s hope that enough people vote for the environment, the NHS and an end to the Brexit delusion. I know which story of our nation’s future I prefer.