Kande goes Kaduna Polo
It was just after 7pm when Kande and I walked into the Kaduna Polo Club. Practice chukkers over, the players sat about on bar stools overlooking the playing field or slouched in armchairs chatting over a cold drink. It was Thursday, and therefore 'Small Chop Night' - the evening when one club member was responsible for providing finger food (small chop) for everyone - a sort of casual cocktail party, a popular club tradition. I hadn't played chukkers, unusual for me, and it had been noticed. "Sanu Jan. Ba ki da lafiya ba?" was the greeting I got, but no, I wasn't ill. I just had something even better to do - a chance to make pots under the tutelage of an internationally appreciated potter, Kande Ushafa.
A Passion for Pots
I had done some basic pottery training under Kofi Athey at the Jos Pottery Museum, and, after a few bumpy false starts, had helped to set up Maraba Pottery, a large pottery on the outskirts of Kaduna, at Maraban Jos. The pottery was a huge undertaking - a cluster of traditionally constructed buildings housing workshop, storage and accommodation. The kick-wheels were made on site, and did away with the constant need for electricity.
The kiln was wood fired and 100% local materials were used to provide attractive ash glazed stoneware. A kiln opening was an exciting event, full of surprises. In time, Maraba Pottery helped me set up a smaller workshop at home. We worked in tandem, benefiting and learning form each other. I seemed to slip naturally into the role of PR for our pottery and this is where the Kaduna Polo Club came in. Somehow everything in my life in Kaduna was connected to the polo club. It was, quite literally, a second home. We met up with friends, networked, held social events and public holidays there. Useful contacts for pottery exhibitions in other Nigerian cities came through the polo club and, of course, so did many of our customers. The club itself even commissioned a series of pottery mugs as tournament prizes.
Kaduna Polo Club provided players with polo tuition and tips from high goal players and visiting professionals. Tuition in pottery was more difficult to find. However, about an hour's drive south of Kaduna was the Abuja Pottery Training Centre, a government project set up by the charismatic Michael Cardew in1951. He was able to attract Ladi Kwali to join his otherwise all male team, and her international success encouraged other women to join. One of these was Kande Ushafa.
I met Kande on one of my visits to the Abuja Pottery and we connected immediately. Communication was no problem. When you're passionate about something it's easy. We managed well with my stilted Hausa and her steady potter's hands. I could watch her for hours at the kick-wheel, turning out one perfect bowl after another. Finally Kande agreed to come back with me to Kaduna and stay a few days giving me instruction. She packed what she needed, making sure she had her tools of sliced bamboo and smooth stones to scrape and burnish the pots. We had a week together.
Kande was generous with her knowledge, showing me how to make the large casserole bowls and thin necked water containers with their delicately incised designs of stylized lizards or chameleons. Her pots were stunning. Mine? Let's just say there was room for improvement.
Kande's husband once maintained that Kande and I were very similar - short, slim (read skinny) and chatty. But Kande was much more - generous, gracious and kind. She also had a sort of panache, something subtle, understated and just a touch glamorous. In the workshop she would wear a casually elaborate head-tie, embroidered blouse, one wrapper worn as a narrow skirt the other ruffed up and slung around her hips, never getting a spot of clay on any of this. I'm more of a messy worker in jeans and T-shirt, but I wore a wrapper when working with Kande. It just got stiff with clay.
Kande's ability gave her a deep self-assurance and sense of worth, enabling her to walk into the Kaduna Polo Club and chat with ease to players, government officials, businessmen. She enjoyed the social atmosphere, colored lights, meat kebabs sizzling, watching the horses, homeward bound, trotting past in a swirl of dust as the sun slipped behind the trees on the far side of the polo field. The temperature drops quickly, and, after a hard day's work it's great to just sit and "drink the breeze" as Kande said.
My time with Kande was worth going up a week of polo. A learning experience, a lasting memory.