This northern Nigerian city, a metropolis of over six million people, is close to my heart. It's overcrowded. It's hot. It's dusty. It's ugly. It's a city of mostly Hausa people, a strong and widespread tribe of farmers and traders whose origins go back to the 13th century. An Islamic jihad around l800 brought a very conservative form of Islam to northern Nigeria and later, the British colonialists agreed to keep Christian missionaries out. This caused the Hausa people to fall "behind" some of the western-educated southern tribes as its schools continued to teach students mostly to memorize the Koran in Arabic. The trade-off was that Islamic practices and traditional rulers managed to keep the Hausa people safe. Until Boko Haram formed in Nigeria's northeast, Kano was remarkably free of crime.
I spent a lot of time in Kano in the 1990s when writing a book about marriage (in Kano it is patriarchal and polygamous). Despite my feminist concerns I found my interactions with both men and women so rewarding that I returned to the city three times. I loved the people; loved their laughter, sweetness and hospitality. I was in awe of their effortless social graces. I began to understand why women agreed to polygamy and why men felt they had to keep women "safe."
When I went back to Kano with my camera in 2010, Boko Haram had started creating havoc and no one wanted to talk about it. When I pressed people, they said it was because Boko Haram was not really an offshoot of Islam but probably something dreamed up by the CIA. By then the US was no longer Nigeria's friend because we had just bombed Libya, a Muslim North African country run by a leader who favored black Africans over Arabs. The questions I had asked people in the l990s were now considered proof of my ulterior motives.