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April 25, 2013

Blog: The lost picture

Meandering through the milling crowd characteristic of Kano’s Kantin Kwari market is not an easy task more so on this extremely hot Thursday afternoon. One has to literally force one’s way through the crowd, no one waits for the other to pass, a sign of the market’s restlessness. The market prides itself as the largest textile market in sub-Saharan Africa and it was my main target for a trip to the ancient trading town of Kano on a China-Africa Reporting Grant from Wits University.

Tucked in my right sweaty palm, was my little pink camera, the strip around my wrist. My camera was in active mode, ready for action. I love good, creative pictures: photos that tell stories. I like any one that is worth more than the proverbial thousand words.  And I aspire to get such cute pictures. For my story on the Chinese merchants at Kwari market, or their influence on the trading pattern in the market, one picture I thought could be as valuable as the main story is to get a picture of Chinese national on the streets of the market. That would be good, I mused. I would have to get the picture. I would have to.

It was with this in mind that I trudged behind my warm contact, Dauda, himself a small scale trader at the market. Our destination was another part of the market, searching for the Chinese around here. Our target was actually to go and meet a major trader at the other end of the market who has strong ties with the Chinese entrepreneurs.

The scorching sun was biting hard and my black (foolish me!) t-shirt was past getting wet from the sweat gushing out from every pore on my skin. Dust rose with every step, coming back to settle on my oily feet that were clad in a pair of sandals.

As we came to the end of one long street and negotiated right to another choked allay, behold, a Chinese man in flowing robe, a jallabiya commonly used among the Hausa of Kano. I should get this picture. I stopped, thinking of what to do. I could not immediately snap because there were people all around him, all native traders, covering his substantial view. Just as I stood on the other side hoping that the other traders around would leave and let me have his appreciable prominence on the camera lens, he made his way into the stall. Gosh. I followed his steps instinctively. I had no inkling of what to do. But as stepped on the threshold of the shop, I realised that I could not get the picture neither his attention. With the security challenges facing Kano in the past months, there is growing suspicion among foreigners of any strange face.

A few meters from this stall, we sighted another Chinese man. Short and smallish, hastening in that quick pace characteristic of the Chinese nationals here. But by the time I cast my eyes on him he was too close to me to enable me get the shot. What do I do? I turned back and started moving briskly to have a substantial distance. Alas, the next thing was the voice of my guide from behind. The Chinese man had taken a narrow turn to a building. I stood there for about a minutes, looking at him like predator calculating of how to pounce on a prey. The expectation was he would come out in time. Dauda asked that we continue to our destination, there was still hope that we could meet someone.

True. Just as he was contemplating which one among two adjoining storey-buildings we are going to, a well built Chinese man emerged from a building and, like he was being pursued, headed hurriedly into a big mall that had turned the street into a close. I gave up.

Abdulaziz Abdulaziz is a Nigerian journalist and creative writer currently working on the Chinese presence in the commercial city of Kano, northern Nigeria, under the Wits University’s China-Africa Reporting Grant. He is on the editorial staff of Blueprint newspaper based in Abuja and had worked with LEADERSHIP newspapers.

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