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A day in my life

Source: Adults

Author: Rhona Aitken

Title: A little story of a big and beautiful night under an African sky

In 1961 my boss, Professor Thomas Lambo, held the first medical conference that Africa had ever had.
He had recently, and at an unusually young age, taken over the running of a small Psychiatric Hospital in the Nigerian town of Abeokuta. It was a mad, adventurous idea that none of us thought a very old-fashioned, bustling, ramshackle town like Abeokuta would be able to cope with. It was to be an important and prestigious event with an influx of the World’s finest Professors of Psychiatry.
But Thomas was not to be thwarted, and his enthusiasm won the day. Many of us - in fact most of us - in the area were recruited to act as hosts to this erudite company. Abeokuta had no Hotels.
They all came, some singly, some with wives. We met them at Lagos Airport and deposited all fifty-five of them in the various homes awaiting them in Abeokuta.
With our Scottish connections we were hosts to the Scottish Proffessor and his quiet, reserved wife. A lady with a definite air of disapproval. That night we had a quiet supper, after their long flight they were understandably tired. The next day was spent at the Psychiatric Clinic, then a special African lunch, followed by a large assembly of all Nigeria’s great and good; followed by Yoruba dancing and drumming. Thomas had pulled out all the stops and it really was aYoruba spectacular.
The next day when we were sitting in the lounge after breakfast, Professor Munro was telling us about his interests in Psychiatry, and proving to be a most charming guest. His wife had not appeared, and we presumed she was simply tired. However, just before lunch she joined us - wrapped in her bath-towel, cheerfully pink, and full of happy smiles. She had found her way onto our little roof-top verandah and spent the morning lying stripped to completely nothing, loving every minute of it. Its surprising what an African sun can do to a person! She said she had never felt ‘so alive’ (nor so pink) The Star Beers and G and T’s went down very well after that.
Our house was conveniently large, and I like to cook; we were living conveniently close to many of the delegates, so decided to have a little dinner party that night - for about twelve or fourteen.
It was one of those wonderful African evenings, the sort you dream about. A light, warm breeze; the scent of moon-flowers from their great white silken trumpets; gentle chatter from the cicadas in the trees, and a cloudless blue sky that enfolded us in a hypnotic cocoon of silhouetted palms. There was a brilliant moon peering from behind the palm trees, and heaven’s most spectacular galaxies shone upon us from the whole sphere of the sky’s deep, velvet beauty. It was utterly breath-taking, engulfing our little world. Our guests stood on the lawn spell-bound. Never had any of them seen the heavens so close.
The Doctor from Denmark was the first to move. “I will lie on the grass and admire” he said -and did, to be rapidly followed by everyone else. Soon - all in our evening finery - we were all lying, in wonderful silence on the grass, just gazing at that sky. The only sound were cicadas in the trees, distant laughter from a party down in the town, and, far-away African drumming.
That evening we had Scots, Danes, Russians, Americans, Moroccans and Iraquis lying on our lawn, marvelling at the beauty of the Universe. I have never forgotten it and I am sure that they haven’t either.
When we can all feel so humble at the strength of such beauty why - in God’s name - do we wage war.


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