Yesterday I attended the most interesting meeting of my life, if you’re of the opinion that meetings can be interesting that is. It took place under the welcome shade of a large mango tree by the school in Gaski and Cheta, you may remember I blogged about my visit there a few weeks ago. Well we had returned to meet with the community leaders and various members of the PTA to discuss the work that was to be carried out to renovate the buildings thanks to grant from Friends of Nigeria that had been secured by the previous VSO volunteer at my organisation.
I’m not sure why the tree was chosen as the meeting venue, perhaps it was decided it was too dangerous to sit in the school itself given it might collapse at any moment but there we were, five of us from USI and just one representative from the community perched on large rocks under the tree. Then the ‘others’ came (don’t worry not like in lost where they were kidnapped and made to drag cuddly toys around on bits of string), people turned up on motorbikes, in cars and on foot and soon there was nearly twenty of us sat under the tree.
I was informed that the meeting would take place in the local community language so I would be briefed at intervals as to what was happening. It was actually quite interesting not being able to understand what was being said, especially when the second chief turned up and threw a spanner in the works. I could tell things had gone a bit off course when he arrived late and waited for chairs to be brought especially for him and his assistant (?) instead of sitting on a bench like everyone else (or a rock like me) and he then proceeded to gesture to another building way off in the distance and everyone else looked really annoyed. Watching body language because you haven’t a clue what’s going on is fascinating. I did understand when the ‘Bature’ was suddenly being referred to and indeed pointed at, that’s me by the way. Bature is the Hausa word for white person. I wondered how the first chief felt (the one I’d met on my previous visit) as he was only sat on a bench, was this a bit of deliberate one-upmanship on the part of the other dude? Isn’t there a saying about too many chiefs? Or is that too many chefs? Well the same analogy just might apply here.
Apparently he wanted money to be spent on another building that was half finished but everyone else wanted the school to be renovated (what the grant was intended for) and so after some convincing everything was fine we managed to return to the original purpose of the discussion. I’m still not sure why I was involved in the conversation, just nod and smile Kasia, nod and smile. My only contribution was to point out that the grant was approved for the school buildings and that any change of plan even if they intended to use it for a school would need to be approved by the donor.
After it was agreed which buildings we were working on, thankfully the school, some of the men started disappearing on their motorbikes apparently to go and get quotes for the materials needed. In return for providing the blocks, cement etc. the community had agreed they would do the work on the school themselves as most of them are labourers. So back came the men with prices it was all written down if it was agreed to be a fair price and then the first instalment of money was handed over, signed for and they went off to purchase the materials to start work straight away. There was apparently a joke about the treasurer of the PTA now having enough money for a second wife, which everyone else laughed at and he just looked mightily cross. We took a photo to commemorate the occasion and that was that.
For a country where supposedly it takes forever to get things done, corruption is rife and funds never reach the communities they are intended for it was really quite amazing to witness such a lot achieved in such a short space of time. The meeting did get a tiny bit heated at one point and it did also seem like we were going round in circles as well but we got there in the end, in under two hours in fact. Can you imagine trying to achieve anything like that back home in the UK? Think of the hoops you’d have to jump through, the procurement guidelines, the quotes, the tenders the sheer amount of time you would waste with paperwork and getting everyone’s approval. I know there’s something to be said for our system but I have to say I much prefer holding my meetings under a mango tree with an outcome like this where work starts before you’ve even driven away.