Hi everyone! I realise if you're reading this you will most likely be my family and friends (and therefore obliged to) but just in case......I am a volunteer for VSO and this is a blog about my experiences of life in Nigeria, first I was briefly in Calabar and now I'm in Abuja the capital city. You may also find some random references to uses I find for the tools on my Swiss army knife as well as my reflections on my everyday life as a VSO volunteer, just go with it.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Next Adventure

So in theory I should be in Abuja right now and for various reasons I’m not, I’m actually in Thailand. In a short while I’ll be in Vietnam and then in various other locations in SE Asia. I had a lovely few weeks at home where for all of five minutes I enjoyed being cold then I dreamed of being warm again. I missed the heat, like REALLY REALLY missed the heat.  In my time back at home shivering and dreaming of being warm again a number of my friends and family said very nice things to me about this blog (I didn’t pay them I promise) and asked if I would carry on with it whilst I was having my jaunt around SE Asia and then later in the year when I head off to New Zealand. So the result is that I decided to start a new blog dedicated to recording the ramblings of my travels rather than continue my VSO blog and muddle the two. If you wish to follow said ramblings you can do so here link also at the side somewhere over there ----->
Finally I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has followed this blog and for all of the lovely comments both posted on the blog and received in person. VSO didn’t pan out quite like I imagined but I am so grateful for having had the chance to do it and for having the experience that I did because it taught me so much. That’s enough cheese for now.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Home again

Well I’ve been home for almost a week now and I’ve already forgotten how lovely it feels when you walk outside and the sunshine hits your skin. I am so over being cold already! Rain was interesting though, having not seen any in over two months it was rather novel to go outside and find myself getting wet from this stuff that was falling from the sky above.
The journey home itself is all a bit of a blur now, I left in such a hurry not knowing when I was going to be flying then suddenly late on the Wednesday afternoon finding out I was flying out of Abuja on the Friday morning. The one thing I will probably always remember about coming out of Abuja airport is having my umbrella confiscated. There are a ridiculous number of security checks you have go through at Abuja airport, I lost count of them all but the weirdest is having you and your hand luggage searched in the departure lounge. I had various (carefully wrapped) things pulled out of my hand luggage and each time I was told I should’ve checked this into my hold luggage. So I stated that their rules and regulations said nothing about not being able to take this kind of thing in your hand luggage and how could I possibly put it into in my hold baggage now as surely it was already on the plane? After managing to successfully keep hold of numerous items I was getting to the come on you’re taking the piss stage now, so when they asked me ‘What’s this?’ holding up my umbrella and I told them it was indeed an umbrella, I was not actually that surprised when I was told I wouldn’t be allowed to keep it. Why not? Well because it’s a potential weapon of course. We’re not talking great big golf umbrella with a metal spike on the end but a teeny tiny fold up light weight brolly. Anyway I gave up at that point told them fine, keep the umbrella and as I was walking away to repack my bag one of the other searchers tried to call me back because I’d forgotten something, so I told him I wasn’t allowed to keep my umbrella because it was a weapon and he looked at me like I was barking mad. I think I could’ve done more damage with my laptop but maybe they’d heard about the ‘Whitley Bay Umbrella Incident’ (just ask my mum).
Thankfully no more drama and although somewhat late I made it out of Abuja and back to Heathrow without further confiscations of potential weapons. It seemed to take ages to get out of the airport but my mum was waiting with a new umbrella (I’d text her the tale in departures!) and we were soon on the road home. I found it VERY odd that the other drivers were a) not constantly honking their horns, b) following the rules of the road by keeping to the lanes and such like and c) that none of the cars had cracked windscreens or multiple dints in them and generally looked roadworthy.
It has been a lovely few days since I’ve been back, seeing the family and catching up with friends. I’ve loved the small things like water straight from the tap, hot showers and just how brilliant my own bed is. I have revelled in my anonymity, it’s so nice not to be stared at everywhere you go and to enjoy the peace (!) of the passing traffic when out walking because you aren’t constantly being beeped at, but I have found things a bit bewildering as well I’m sure that will soon pass. I’m off to the supermarket with my mum shortly, I haven’t been in one yet since I’ve been back it was weird enough going to the shopping centre and having so much choice but I’m not sure how I’ll react faced with 8 different types of everything, I might make her buy one of each just because we can. I’d best put a few layers on though it looks bloody freezing out there!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The obligatory things I will/won’t miss post…

Things I will miss about Nigeria….
·         Undoubtedly the sunshine, whilst I’m pining for some cold at the moment I know I’m going to miss the blue skies, sunshine and feeling warm.
·         How happy people seem to be here. There’s plenty for people not to be happy about (and plenty they can be) but there is a general sense of happiness people have, even people with nothing and that is something we just don’t have, Nigeria is reportedly the happiest place on earth.
·         That feeling of joy when you experience the weird and wonderful that this country has to offer, even just driving along the roads and taking in all the sights that are so different to home.
·         Buying my veg from the Hausa dudes behind the fence at the bottom of our road. They always give you loads and there’s usually an exciting surprise in the bag like a massive bunch of green leaf (a bit like spinach) or free green beans.
·         Eddy Vics and of course Tiny Man (or his preferred/actual name Banaman). BRILLIANT live music venue where much fun has been had.
·         The British Village and its lovely pool, friendly staff and patrons, many, many, many lounging and sport watching opportunities and of course the chance to eat some home style food!
·         The vibrancy of Nigerian ladies clothing, even though my visit to the tailor was an epic fail I have loved seeing all the beautiful fabrics and fabulous outfits that they wear, maybe that’s part of why they’re so happy, they have happy clothes!
·         The greetings, everyone is very polite here and just about everyone greets you wherever you go, good morning/afternoon/evening, how was your night? My favourite is well done (when they see you working or generally doing something) as it always gives you a little boost.
·         The DVD dudes by the farmers market, whole TV series for less than a £1, brilliant.
·         That it has made me a braver person, a little bit more the longer I’m here.
·         The Nigeria Diet, man it’s been good for me! Want to lose weight without even trying? Move to Nigeria.
·         That it has given me and continues to give me a good perspective on things. I already appreciate everything I have back at home sooooooooo much more than I used to, I have realised just how important my family and friends are to me. It’s not that I didn’t know that before but I think living in a different culture where you crave people who know you makes you appreciate them even more. Living here has really made me realise just how lucky I have been in life and when I think on the things that I used to complain about before I feel a bit like going back in time and giving myself a good talking to. I just hope that this has changed me for good and I don’t forget how I feel about things right now.
·         Getting the chance to visit places like the Kaduna Demonstration School for Deaf Children (see blog post for that one).
·         Going to buy minerals (soft drinks) from the lovely lady in the community that live in a big sort of compound just next to our flats. It makes you feel like you’ve stepped out of Abuja and into real Nigeria. We only discovered you could just go in and buy stuff a few weeks back which is a shame, there’s also a lady selling fried yam and akara (the fried bean cake things) which is rather brilliant.
·         The cultural diversity, trying to learn (and failing dismally) hausa and pidgin. Well I can understand pidgin I just can’t seem to speak it. And as for hausa well I know that everything is generally ‘lafia’ when doing the greetings and I can say See you later and How is work? Thank you and well that’s about it which is pretty rubbish. But I’ve enjoyed hearing it and trying to learn even if I was pretty pap at it.
·         Teaching Sue my Canadian housemate ‘British’. It was mostly accidental i.e. I’d say something and she would question it by asking if I was being British again. She now proudly uses ‘faffing about’, ‘plonker’, ‘jesus wept’, ‘dogsbody’ (although I think that was from a book or on a film or something), ‘brilliant’ and ‘having a brew’ amongst others.
·         The varied and many mobile shops or hawkers as they are known. Granted they can be annoying when you are stopped in traffic and you’ve said no to at least ten of them already but it’s always interesting to see what’s for sale and you never know when you’re wondering down the street if you just might really be in need of some bananas, groundnuts or a mop.
·         Linked to above the enterprising spirit of people here. OK so for most of them it’s driven by a need to feed themselves and their families because there is no choice. I have such admiration for people who find a way to make money, whether it’s selling things by the side of a busy road, raking through trash to find things that can be sold for recycling, making food to sell on the street or the kids who push wheelbarrows around at the market hoping to carry your goods for some small change. It makes our layabout chavs seem even more worthless to me. I’d love to ship them all here and see how they coped when the benefits were taken away only that would be an unnecessary blight on Nigeria.
·         Having meetings in unusual places like under a mango tree.
·         The fact that having a meeting under a mango tree was not considered unusual.
·         Being outside so much, for example there are outdoor beer gardens everywhere in Abuja, even when it’s rainy season it’s not cold you just need to go under the canopy for the duration of the shower. The same at the British Village and sitting ‘outside’ but under the shade roof type thing to escape the heat. I find myself feeling cooped up when I’m indoors, my first winter (wherever that may be) is going to be fun!
·         The wind picking up just before a really good downpour. In the rainy season it was always a relief from the heat when the rains came and some of those storms were damned impressive.
·         Going out here, in the sense that no one cares what you’re wearing or what you look like or how you dance. It’s all about having a good time and it’s soooooooo liberating. Random strangers will dance with each other men included just because they are enjoying themselves and they want to dance. The first couple of times I went out in Nigeria I felt really self-conscious dancing because boy these people can move, but now I couldn’t give a monkeys and I just go for it. So much so on New Year’s Eve (or day as it was at that point) when the singer of the club we were in pulled me out of the audience to dance with him up on stage I didn’t even hesitate and I properly went for it. OK so there wasn’t a huge crowd at this point in time, but let me tell you that the dancers on stage were AMAZING and there was a dancing family who frankly should be on Nigeria’s Got Talent (if such a thing exists). I knew I would look like a numpty but I just didn’t care because I also knew they would enjoy the fact I was up there giving it some and enjoying myself. If the same thing had happened back home, I would’ve dug my heels in and refused to go for fear of the judgement. Sad I know but that’s just how it is.
·         Squirt, I’ve become very attached to the little demon cat who it turns out is actually a girl. She has entertained us all very much in the flat. She is in fact sat on my leg watching me type now and I will miss her very much indeed.
·         The randomness of Nigerian telly, you never know what you’re going to get and you never know if half way through it might just randomly cut off into something else. A strange thing to miss I know but it always added an element of excitement. That’s not to say I won’t appreciate a bit of scheduling when I get home, you’ve got to love digital telly  - it does exist here by the way just not for the likes of us poor VSOs.
·         Nigerian music, some of it is a little questionable but a lot of it I LOVE, I confess I didn’t at first but I’m coming home with a fair few naija tracks to keep me remembering those happy nights of dancing like nobody is watching (other than a crowd of happy Nigerians who couldn’t give a monkeys what you look like).
Things I won’t miss about Nigeria…
·         The beeping of the taxis and traffic in general. If I didn’t respond the first time what makes you think I will the 3rd, 4th, or 5th time?
·         The craziness of the traffic here, that feeling that every time you get into a car you might not live to tell tale, no exaggeration. Rules of the road? I’m sorry don’t be so stupid (or British).
·         Having to barter for just about everything. I can’t wait until the price of something is just what it appears to be.
·         People assuming because I’m white I’m rich and therefore game to be ripped off. I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had along the lines ‘Yes I might be an Oyibo but I’m a volunteer…..’ I even had one taxi driver accuse me of hiding my car, apparently this is common behaviour for us, I asked him why I would be putting myself through the pain of getting a taxi where I have to argue over the price (and the car might actually fall to pieces at any given moment) if I had a car with a driver. He still thought I was hiding my car.
·         Not being able to fill a glass straight from the tap and having to boil and then filter your drinking water. Effort!
·         Hand washing everything in a bucket, I never realised quite how much I would miss my washing machine. Noisy spin cycle interrupting my TV viewing all is forgiven.
·         Men using pretty much anywhere and everywhere as a toilet, it’s properly grim having to walk past someone with their own special kind of water feature on just about every street you walk along but I actually think some of Nigeria’s males might be interested the poop-a-scoop concept. Sense of decency anyone? No apparently not.
·         Not having a constant water supply, the power being erratic I could live with but having to fill huge water containers so that you had enough to use for washing and cooking when the water was off was a major pain and then having to use said water for the likes of flushing and washing was also not that fun.
·         Being hit on constantly because you can supposedly provide a visa to pastures new.  Really, really annoying. Also everyone wanting to be your friend after having literally just met you and asking things like, Can I stay with you when it’s the Olympics? Or I’m coming to your place next month I can stay with you yes? Er no random stranger you can’t.
·         Slightly linked to the above, random people demanding that you give your number and not understanding why you might not want to. It seems to be fairly normal practice here to just give your number out to any old person. The couple of times I have made that mistake I have then been constantly harassed and received phone calls day and night.
·         Not being able to pay bills by direct debit or over the phone and having to physically go to the NEPA building or go to the mobile phone place to top up my modem. Who knew I would miss such a thing from home, we really have no idea just how easy our lives have become! Annoying automated telephone system, I think not. Press 1 for the easy life.
·         That sense of being out of place. Ok so I’m only going to be home for a few weeks before I’m off again but even so I’m going to make the most of being anonymous, of knowing how things are/work and of just feeling comfortable in my surroundings. I’m not sure how it will actually feel to walk down the street and not have anyone stare at you or call Oyibo. Bliss I imagine.
·         Big Oga Syndrome. Oh boy do the men here have it bad, it’s like if you’re the big man (Oga) you must get respect and yikes the consequences if you don’t. We witnessed one man go and get a police officer because a barman had dared to move his carrier bag to a different table so he could seat some other people next to each other. It was frankly ridiculous but his ego had been bruised so the police must be called in!?!??!!? GET OVER YOURSELF.
·         Ants. The little buggers are EVERYWHERE. You clean the kitchen and walk out of the room, five minutes later it’s crawling again. I’m sure I’ve ingested a fair few in the last six months; I just told myself it was extra protein.
·         Corruption. I admit the reputation Nigeria has is probably worse than it deserves but it still exists in so many forms and it is so frustrating. From the roadside ‘checks’ where money is frequently handed over to police for no reason whatsoever, all the way up to government where money set aside for education and other programs somehow never ends up where it’s supposed to. This country could be great, it should be great. I’ve met and worked with some brilliant, passionate and driven people but I can’t help feeling like that is all for nothing unless there is some massive fundamental change at the heart of Nigeria. Mr Goodluck, well good luck.
I’m sure that there are plenty of things I have forgotten about, but then if I have forgotten them they can’t really be that annoying or noteworthy can they?

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Tis the season to be jolly

Well it’s supposed to be the season to be jolly and all that other Christmas related stuff but frankly it has felt anything other than Christmassy this December. It’s not for a want of people being lovely and sending Christmas things from home (thanks mum and Rachel and those of you that tried to send snow even though it’s potentially hazardous!) and I even had a lovely Christmas Day with some friends I met at the British Village but it just didn’t feel like Christmas this year. Was it because it was too hot? There was a major lack of family of friends to celebrate with? The decorations were weird/non-existent? There was no Christmas music on repeat driving you bonkers? There was no crazy busy high street to do battle with? There was no Christmas works do to go to and get totally trashed at? Or all of the above? I have to admit it has been nice not to have the stress of Christmas to deal with but I actually missed Christmas more than I thought, even the music on repeat, I mean where’s Noddy Holder when you need him?
Here in Nigeria they are obviously either not interested at all or big on the religious side of things. Bizarrely at midnight there were loads of fireworks going off just like there is at home for new years and everyone was stood outside watching, even the kids. Makes it hard for Father Christmas to come and deliver the presents I suspect and probably scares the reindeer, poor things.
It was incredibly sad to wake up on Christmas Day to news of more bombings in Nigeria, the people here are finding it increasingly hard to understand why this is happening and the tensions seem to be rising. Security is increasing around the city, but what can police in cars do against determined terrorists with explosives?  
The increased risk of living here makes me feel more relieved that in just a few days I will be returning home. It is not the reason that I have decided to come home early, my family and friends will already be aware of my reasons and of my impending return but I have to be honest and say I probably will feel more at ease once I’ve touched down at Heathrow. It’s not that I walk around in a constant state of fear, but there are the reminders that there is a very real threat, roadblocks, cars being searched in the city near important buildings and now churches, police and army vehicles outside the National Mosque. Armoured vehicles and armed men are a sight that I’ve just got used to. As I sit here on New Year’s Eve reflecting on what 2011 has brought for me in terms of lessons and changes to my life and thinking about what now lies ahead in 2012 I can’t help but wonder about what lies ahead for Nigeria, sadly I think it will be in the world news next year more frequently than it has been this year.
That seems like a very gloomy note to leave this blog post on, so I will finish by wishing everyone a Happy New Year, I hope that 2012 is good to you all.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Nigerians behind the lens

A rather amazing set of photos I found on the BBC website today

A very happy visit to the Kaduna Demonstration School for Deaf Children

On Tuesday of this week I found myself on the way to Kaduna, a city about three hours north of Abuja. I was visiting a school for Deaf Children carrying out a needs analysis for a placement on behalf of VSO before a new volunteer is due to arrive in February next year. I had been asked to do the visit by the Education Program Manager as the placement was very similar to mine and quite different to the normal placements in the Education Program area. A great way to utilise volunteers in country if you ask me.
To say that I enjoyed the day is somewhat of an understatement. The school was amazing, the principal Victoria was so motivated and inspiring and meeting those children in that environment was really lovely. I haven’t seen such happy and hardworking children since I’ve been here, the teachers were brilliant, it was all about child centred learning and you could see how much it has impacted these very lucky children. They were proud of their work, they wanted to show it to me and ask me if they were doing it right. Their work was on the walls along with affirmations and posters, it was a lovely environment for them to learn in.
The school however is run as a charity and it desperately needs funds to keep running and to become self-sustaining, hence a volunteer is now going to be placed there to help with fundraising. I can’t deny I was jealous of this new volunteer, theirs will be such a rewarding placement, getting to work in the school and learn sign language (I managed to learn good morning, how are you and thank you) so that you can communicate properly with the children and directly see the impact that your efforts are having in helping to keep the school running. Without this school these children would have nowhere to go, there isn’t the provision for disability like there is back home and it’s not taken into consideration in mainstream education meaning children like this are excluded. Here they can enter the school at nursery age where they can learn sign language so they can communicate from an early age and get an education like any other child. They even offer signing lessons to the parents at weekends so that they are able to communicate with their children.
I can only sum up by saying I loved, loved, loved my day there and that I wish all the schools here could implement teaching and learning like this.
Nursery 1: Half the class work the teacher

Whilst the other half read, then they swap!

Nursery 3: Half of the class doing some writing work

Some maths in the Primary classes

Here the teacher was asking the children to demonstrate different types of movement, they took it in turns to have a go.

A science lesson in Junior Secondary

Monday, 12 December 2011

The alarming incident of the cockroach in the night time

Cockroaches have made an appearance my blog before, in a slightly bizarre was I losing my mind in having a conversation with one fashion. This time I was not having a conversation with a cockroach, I was being rudely awoken by one on a night where I was not getting much sleep anyway. Normally my fan is on at night (power allowing) and as such I probably sleep on blissfully unaware of the beasties that prowl around in the dark but because it’s cold at night due to harmattan at the moment my fan is off so you can hear every little noise.
Anyway there I was finally drifting off to sleep somewhere around 4am when a nasty scuttling noise brought me back round like a flash, then it got a bit closer to my bed, then it sounded like it was actually in my bed!? No surely not, but I was sat up in a panic with my reading light in hand when I realised that a roach was climbing up my mosquito net, I made a funny sort of a ‘meeehhh’ noise and tried to bat it off from the inside with said light. Hardy little buggers though aren’t they and he took a few bashes before he fell between the bed and the wall and quick as a flash (or a Kash) I was out of the netting the other side and reaching for the can of raid. My lungs may not have thanked me but I was ever so relieved when he came to a sort of half dead stop, just close enough to the edge of the bed for me scoop it up with a hastily devised cockroach scooping device (Notebook and old plastic bowl for catching leaks in rainy season). Not bad for four in the morning eh?
I don’t think I have ever been so pleased for my mosquito net, apart from maybe that first night in Calabar. After disposing of the interloper I obsessively checked to make sure the net was tucked in very securely just in case there were any more lurking around waiting for me to turn the light off before striking and got myself back into bed. Weirdly I managed to sleep. Maybe it was the high concentration of Raid in the room?