Cross River State

Clean & Green Calabar

so much world, so little time has been busy since we last checked in with you around the end-of-year holidays. Thus, without our noticing it, more than two months have passed. Our day job — you know, that trauma center/hospital because of which we’re all here — takes up at least six days out of seven, and on the seventh day…well, we tend to do yoga, read and sleep. Though lately I’ve taken to making dhal on Sundays as well, and can I tell you: I learned how to make pretty darn fine dhal during those seven+ months of … work … in Sri Lanka. 🙂 Anyhoo: I took an R&R weekend to Nigeria’s cleanest and greenest town, lovely Calabar on the Cross River not far from the border with Cameroon. Photos of said weekend are appended below. For those who don’t already know, I’ve extended my stay here since I love the job so much, and will now leave in May…I hope to post at least once or twice more before I leave, but let’s face it: I’ve only got about nine more free Sundays between now and my expected departure date…and one does want to enjoy the company of one’s (fabulous) colleagues, the ambience of a smoggy, humid, disgustingly hot Port Harcourt Sunday, and so on and so forth. So be patient. And read the archives, if you’re just s t a r v i n g for more smw, slt. Love and kisses. Vote Obama. Please. Let’s start focusing on beating McCain, shall we?

Colonial buildings abound in Calabar — most built in Liverpool, brought over by ship, and then reassembled piece by piece here. They housed colonial officials and their families, and also those Africans wealthy and powerful enough to buy one as a status symbol. After taking this shot, I discovered I’m not relaly allowed to take pictures in this zone…it’s a government building…but I had a friendly chat with the nice officer and he ended up wanting to pose for a picture with me instead. Kinda classic, that one. I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting this shot…I just thought the building was lovely, and I’d like for y’all to see some of the many things that make Nigeria fabulous, rather than just beset by myriad problems.




Me at Cercopan: more about Cercopan and primates in Calabar below.


Calabar really does public sculpture and other demonstratoins of public pride — the huge flag at the top is part of an independence monument in the center of town, and these hands are on a gorgeous bluff in the old district of town, overlooking the Cross River. It was delightful to wander and enjoy the green and relatively smog-free streets.

I sat at this little table by the river for a loonnng time enjoying the peace & quiet and writing in my journal. The walflower is hiding a lizard, but even I can’t really see him, I only know he’s there…and the wallflower is pretty on its own, isn’t it?

Colonial Calabar



Colonial buildings are another highlight
of Calabar — from the lovely house above (palace in fact, as noted in the sign to your right) — to the stone church across the street from it. Or the museum below, housed in one of the finest colonial buildings in town.


The Calabar Museum is praised by Lonely Planet as far and away the best museum in Calabar. It really is an excellent and interesting place full of documents and stories from the days when Europeans first decided this was a great place to buy slaves; then, as noted in the sign at right, when the British abolished the slave trade and started actively policing the high seas against slavers, the chiefs and businessmen of Calabar shifted to the palm-oil trade, from which the whole Niger Delta region thrived for many, many long decades. The whole museum is housed in the old British colonial governor’s house high on a bluff above the Cross River, and it’s very easy to imagine the governor and his staff or family sitting up here watching the boats ply their trade on the river below. LP recommends taking a torch (flashlight) since the power’s usually not running; I got a good half-hour in the darkened museum, reading by torchlight, until someone figure out I wasn’t supposed to be there without power and kicked me out. Oh well.


Primates in Calabar

A fantastic highlight of Calabar is the two small primate-related NGOs based there. Pandrillus, aka the Drill Ranch, was the first to start up – founded in the early 80s by an American woman named Liza with whom I had the pleasure of watching the drill monkeys (above) and chimpanzees (below) pace their compounds and – in the case of the chimps – frolic in the water. (Shortly after I wandered into the compound, which is tucked away on a back street in a residential part of town, Liza decided the heat was getting to the chimps, and out came the hose; and yes, I did get to hold it and spray this girl above for a while — for all the world it felt just like holding the hose on a hot summer day for a frontyard full of kids in the midwest — they’d take turns running into and out of the water and screeching happily. I ask you: where else would one get to spray a chimp with water on a hot summer…well, February…day?)

Anyhoo: long story short: Cross River State, of which Calabar is the capital, is home to some of Nigeria’s little remaining forest and wild habitat in which monkeys and other wildlife can pursue their lives as they always have. Sadly, many of them get shot for the bush-meat trade; Pandrillus and Cercopan, the other NGO, take in the monkeys orphaned by the bush-meat trade, and sometimes reclaim monkeys who’ve been shipped around the country or the world as pets. Pandrillus specializes in Drills, a pretty large monkey and close relative of the better-known Mandrill, which live only in a narrow band of Nigeria and Cameroon, and on a nearby island in Equatorial Guinea. Cercopan focuses on a few species of smaller monkeys, several of which I’ve captured in action below. Both have offices and small enclosures for newly-received primates in town, and a larger facility north in the forests, where they run larger groups and, I think, try to prepare some to return to the wild — though having been orphaned at a young age, and/or chained to a perch in a hotel lobby here or a barbershop there, many of these primates wouldn’t really thrive in the wilds any more, and so stay indefinitely — and breed. Both organizations have had success at captive breeding, which is great since the Drills and at least one of the species at Cercopan are quite endangered and live in habitat that is under constant threat. (The most endangerd at Cercopan, I believe, is limited to a narrow band of habitat between the Cross and Niger rivers in Nigeria. I’m here to tell you there’s not a ton of undisturbed habitat left in this particular zone!)



Not sure if this is a mom and her kid, or just two friends; one thing I saw very frequently during the hour or so I spent just staring at these fabulously un-stressed-out looking creatures was the frequetly with which one of them will collapse in front of another for a grooming session. The other will then quite obligingly start picking through fur and – one assumes – removing grubs and burrs and other debris acquired while roaming the…cage.

Power Holding Company of Nigeria is also known by two other titles I know of: Please Hold Candles Now, or Power Has Collapsed in Nigeria. I couldn’t pass up the chance to capture its logo for my scrapbook.

This flag, as you’ve noticed, quite captivated me — it’s visible from so many parts of town, and provides a unifying central image as one wanders the streets and paths of Calabar, something I was so delighted to be able to do that I ignored the sweat drenching my shirt and walked endlessly. Herewith a few more shots of contemporary Calabar.


The first time I saw — in Port Harcourt — a book vendor balancing a stack of books nearly as tall as himself on his own head, I was most impressed. Now I’ve become as accustomed to that as I am to the traffic here. The tree, above, is a bus stop — desintaitons all indicated on the sign to the left of the tree.




Just north of Calabar along the Cross River, surrounded by rubber plantations, is a development called Tinapa – which is trying hard to be “Africa’s premiere business resort and destination,” or something of the sort. It was hypothetically opened a year ago or so, but it seems the shops still aren’t selling anything because, according to one article I’ve read, they haven’t settled the import and selling permits yet. This may be code for “they haven’t bribed the right people yet,” but it’s hard to know. Tinapa also wants to become an important site for Nollywood — Africa’s largest film industry is based in Nigeria. Hence the gorilla on the round dome.


The Road to Calabar

One of the joys of spending a weekend in Calabar is the chance to actually see a little bit of the rest of Nigeria. Working six days in the hospital, and being pretty limited in terms of social and outing options on the seventh day, we tend to wear grooves in the road between the house, the hospital, and the one or two restaurants and bars where we spend almost all our time. Heading toward Calabar, after about two hours you get into a gorgeous green stretch of road in a state called Akwa Ibom, and from that point right down into Calabar the road really gave my eyes some much-needed relief from the hardscapes of Port Harcourt.