Nigeria 2010 Blog

On October 17th 2010 I headed off to Nigeria for what I’d hoped would be a year (it wasn’t!) as a volunteer with VSO (Volunteer Services Overseas).

VSO is an international development charity that works through volunteers.  One of the main attractions of VSO, and part of the reason I applied, is that instead of sending food or money to countries in need, they provide skilled professionals to make an everlasting difference. You know the proverb about giving a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but give him a fishing rod and you feed him for life…

VSO volunteers work in partnership with local organisations and communities in the country they are posted, sharing skills and experiences in order to achieve positive change together.  It is not ‘us’ as experts and ‘they’ as recipients.

I was working as a capacity builder encouraging access and equity to the state education system in the Kano region (in the North) and empowering local communities to get involved with their education system to ensure it is more just and equitable.

One of the main aims of my work was to ensure more girls and children from poorer communities gain access to state education at all levels as part of the Millennium Development Goals. Nigeria is one of the world’s poorest countries and has a severe disparity between the rich and the poor rural sub-Saharan villages where even basic amenities are a struggle to access, let alone education. At least, that was the plan…

To see more about VSO go to www.vso.org.uk

 

And this was my blog while I was there. And while I wasn’t.

Off to Nigeria! (testing, testing) (originally published Feb 25, 2010)

This is the first time I have ever written a blog so I have no idea what I am doing!

On October 17th, I am going to work in Nigeria with VSO as a capacity builder encouraging access and equity to the state education system in the Northern state of Kano. I see this blog as a perfect way of me being able to a) keep a diary (although nothing too personal, I promise!), and b) to keep everyone else who is interested posted on everything that is going on.

I shall start this properly soon, to get into the swing of it before I go (and while I have a techno geek of a boyfriend at hand to help me out!) but just wanted to put something down!

:)

Painful Preparations (originally published September 2, 2010)

By way of experimenting…

I thought the last month or so before leaving would be full of excitement and fun – excuses to see people, stay out that extra bit later, lose myself in books about the country I’ll soon be living in, and dreaming of tropical weather! However, I am slowly being proved wrong and actually, preparations thus far are consisting mainly of PAIN!

Saturday brings INNOCULATIONS! Woo hoo! I have finally got around to organising my immunity for the various horrible diseases that I may encounter along the way, and Dan is tagging along too (that sounds like he is coming voluntarily… he’s not, I can assure you). I don’t think it will be too bad for me as I only need some boosters, but for Dan, however, it may be a horrid affair!

And then next week, I have an extended… HOUR AND A HALF… dentist appointment. Personally, I did not think my teeth were so bad but who am I to argue with a professional?!

No, this is fun really albeit in a kind of sadistic and weird sort of way. These are all things you would never normally do unless going away so they become synonymous with ‘adventure’. And I do so like a good adventure!

Now, where did I put…? (originally published September 12, 2010)

After a weekend of celebrations for my Gran’s 90th which I am very pleased to still be here for, I realised there is a lot back at my parents house that I need to sort out, especially as a lot of it will be very useful to take with me. As I realised this, it also dawned on me that I had no idea where amongst the piles, cupboard, drawers and bags of my stuff all these things would be. I took a deep breath and dived in… it was the only way forward.

A good couple of hours later and covered in dust, I had successfully dug out my water filter, my backpack, my previous medical records, some very cringeworthy photos from times gone by and hidden tonnes of other stuff I should really have sorted out. My mum was also very helpful in digging out some of her old clothes including long skirts, baggy tops and thin cardis that will all be very useful in a country where they “do not want to see the geography of your body”! Oh, and for my birthday (7th), my parents bought me the most amazing gizmos – a clock/alarm clock, and a desk calculator which both use water powered batteries. Mum did point out that perhaps buying me these when I’m about to go and live in the Sahara (ish) was perhaps a rooky error but I think a little pipette of bottled water won’t go a miss every now and again to recharge them!

I’m now sat with a lovely glass of bubbly from a bottle left over from the birthday party and waiting for the stars to come out before jumping into the hot tub. I wonder when I’ll have chance to indulge like this next?!

The Final Countdown (originally published October 14, 2010)

It’s T minus 3 and a bit days and I am starting to worry that I have missed something really important! I completed my last UK based training course on the last weekend in September, and left work on the 30th. That was a crazy week! Work gave me an amazing send off and were incredibly generous – I can’t wait to try out the incredible looking solar powered radio they got me (amongst loads of other great things)!

Since leaving work I seem to have been very busy doing not very much. When I was working, even the smallest to do list seemed like a massive chore but now that I have all day every day, things have been much easier… too much so perhaps! I have, however, massively failed to see all my friends before I go. I hope they realise that I really did want to see them but have just found it impossible to coordinate everything! I’m sorry and really appreciate the efforts everyone has made to try and meet up.

Jabs are done, finally. Well, I still need to have the third of the rabies jabs in order to prevent me coming back foaming at the mouth. I’ll be having it out in Abuja during the first two weeks of In Country Training! I have a years supply of anti-malarials (loopy-time, here I come!) and my motorbike helmet should be arriving today along with my passport back from the Embassy. After that, I just need to go and get some vacuum pack bags to try and get my two suitcases worth of stuff into one backpack, and then I am physically all set to go. Mentally, on the other hand, I’m not so sure where I am!

Saying goodbye to mine and Dan’s families has made it all the more real in the last couple of weeks. Before that it really did feel as though it was happening to someone else. And excitement is starting to settle in… Yesterday Dan got clearance from work to have over three weeks of annual leave for Christmas so we’ll be booking flights for his first visit this evening!! He’ll be out with me for a whopping 23 days over Christmas and New Year which has made us both a lot happier and much more accepting of the idea of being apart for a while!

Right now I’m going to make the most of the excuse of having to stay at home awaiting the postman and catch up on the sleep I lost watching the miners being rescued. I just couldn’t stop!

Whirlwind First Week (originally published October 25, 2010)

I can’t believe it has only been a week. It feels like I’ve been away for so much longer, but then they do say that about when you first go somewhere new?! Nigeria has been amazing so far and totally not the country I was expecting, not that I’m sure what that was. Perhaps that is naive of me to say so soon, but everyone has been so friendly from the moment we arrived at customs at the airport to taxi drivers and even beggars. Compared to India, it is as chaotic but no where near as pushy or in your face. People take no for an answer, and are more willing to give you a smile and only cheekily try their luck. I don’t feel anywhere near as threatened as I did there.

The first few days consisted of mainly sitting in the VSO Programme Office in

Abuja Church – taken out the back of a taxi!

Abuja Mosque – slightly blurry from a taxi window!

Abuja or in the conference room of our hotel sorting out papers and learning some of the local practices to help us get by. Abuja is pretty sterile and boring – purpose built as a capital in the 70s it’s pretty much one big construction site and roads. I could be anywhere. It’s lifeless in a way although there is an incredible mosque and church.

So, after three days of training I was gagging to get out of the city.  As part of  ”In Country Training (ICT)” we get placed with a serving volunteer to go and experience ‘real’ Nigeria and learn the tricks of the trade from someone who knows. I’m not sure how they allocate people but everyone was very excited to find out where they were going – so you can imagine my dismay when I am told I’m staying with a volunteer in Abuja! Thank fully, I managed to swap and headed off to a city called Kaduna for three days with a British couple.

Here I think I gained not only more of an insight into the real Nigeria and its culture – cold bucket showers, intermittent power supply, the food, language and markets – but also the real VSO experience of the above, plus the nice haven that was the Kaduna rugby club serving pizza and beer! We even got to see North Nigeria play South Nigeria for selections for the national team (the scout was Scottish, the ref was Welsh!). Last night we were invited to a Kaduna talent show which was incredible. As white people we were of course treated as VIPs and perhaps attracted more attention than the performers themselves! The star performance of the evening for me was Thriller performed Nigerian style. I will hopefully learn how to resize videos soon and upload it here.

To add to the excitement,  I got woken up at 3am by the most amazing thunderstorm. Actually no, the thunder was not the impressive thing about it – the rain was. I have never, ever heard rain so loud. It got progressively louder over a ten minute period and each minute I kept thinking to myself, “wow, it cant possibly get any louder” but it did to the point that if someone else had been next to me, we’d have had to properly shout as though we were in a club. It was astounding and would have been quite fun if I hadn’t have woken up with fright and taken ages to calm myself back down again! :)

I still cant pronounce let alone spell the name of the common Nigerian food but it basically consists of a spicy meat/fish soupy curry and then a blob of carb which is either ground beans or rice, mixed with water into a ball of mush which you then dunk into the curry. It’s all been pretty yummy so far. Ohhhhh and the best thing yet is breakfast… it’s this thing called Kosi or Kozi or Gozi or Cozi or something like that which is the same sort of carb thing but then deep fried in small balls. Mmmmm!!! Most of the food is deep fried or at least suffocated in oil so I think fresh veg is going to be something I will really miss. However, with our wages we cant eat out all the time so I will have to get inventive with what I cook at home on my little kerosene stove!

I am now back in Abuja after successfully completing my first independent public transport journey back which included a burst tyre. I reckon my driver used to work for Formula 1 because he managed to change it in less than 2 mins. Plus with roads like this, they have to drive like it anyway!

This evening, we all (the new volunteers) went for dinner to this place called Abacha Barracks (or something like that) which is to do with the army so I could only sneakily take some rather disappointing photos. It was amazing.

Sarah about to dig in!

It’s like a doughnut shaped market with stalls in the outer section facing each other and the inner section (the hole) is a secret restaurant/cafe rammed with tables and chairs around a circular bbq where women are cooking massive fish and chips covered with the local spicy sauce called ‘pepe’.

You eat with your hands, eating one side first then flipping over and eating the other until all you have left is the head and the spine. SO GOOD!!

We now have two more days of training before we all head off to our various different placements and start the work that we came here to do. I’m still not entirely sure what mine is and am still totally worried about what is expected of me, but only time will tell if those worries are justified!! However, so far I am loving this country and enjoying the adventure. For those of you who know them, Bit and Barry have also been settling in nicely and making the most of the hotel luxuries while they can…

Bit and Barry relaxing in Crystal Palace, Abuja

 

My House – It’s Really More Like Camping! (originally published November 4th, 2010)

Situated around a courtyard of mango trees and lime trees, is a U shape of various unconnected rooms. In front of the rooms are verandas sheltered by not-quite-complete mosquito nets that give the impression of keeping those pesky things out!

The Courtyard as seen from the ‘Front Door’

View from my room – yes, that’s the loo!

When we arrived, the house hadn’t been lived in for three weeks plus was just generally pretty mucky. So, as soon as we had a bit of time on the weekend, we cleaned, and scrubbed and bleached until the cows came home. We started with the kitchen and it feels so much nicer now that the only mess is our mess. There are still the BIGGEST cockroaches, and I’m sure I saw a mouse the other day, but at least they are less determined than before and with it being tidy we can see them from a distance!

Part of the kitchen

My Ugandan housemate ‘Abbe’ starting to clean the other side of the kitchen

While Abbe was inside scrubbing away, I was outside scrubbing away at the work-bench-come-work-surface upon which our three ring camping stove sits. It was in proper need of a 2 hour bleach and scrub! It’s been a week and I still haven’t got all the dirt out from under my nails. I’m just thankful that we had a pretty good supply of water last weekend!

I then started on my bedroom. Having been used as a guest room for a number of years it was in dire need of some TLC. These are the before photos… the after is yet to occur. It’s a work in progress!

My room from the trees in the courtyard!

Part of my room

The otherside of my room down the side of my BIG bed!

Once I have decorated with mats and rugs and paint and pictures and posters (!) I’ll have to show it off properly!

There are another two bedrooms that are not used in the perpendicular part of the U to my room, and in front of these in the veranda is the living room which is a really nice place to sit and eat and chill out… hmmm, let me phrase… melt out!

Living room

So yes, this is my house as it stands at the moment. The cleaning and sorting will continue for a while but even so, it’s a lovely little haven away from the madness that is Kano and it kind of feels like home already :)

 

The Beginnings of Kano Life (originally published November 3, 2010)

After struggling with malaria through the last couple of days of training, a workshop, a 5 hour drive to Kano, moving in and bleaching the house, I now feel much more human again – if feeling human involves being so sticky, dusty, dirty and sweaty!!!

Where to begin? Kano is quite indescribable. It’s huge – not in the way London or most other major cities are huge – but in vastness and chaoticness.

A typical Kano street

I think the tallest building is only 6 or 7 stories high so everything goes outwards. Initially it did not strike me as a typically sub-Saharan city (or should I say my expectation of one) but with time I am noticing it more and more. My house is just inside the southern part of the walled Old City and this are definitely has much more of a sandstone and desert feel to it. Especially now that the Harmattan has began (thus a fine layer of dust over everything, all the time)!

They say that Road Traffic Accidents are the main cause of harm to VSO Volunteers, and especially in Nigeria… and especially in Kano! This no longer surprises me. I cannot put into words or do any justice by trying to describe it. I’ve tried videoing it a number of times but keep failing. Put it this way – before arriving, I was sceptical about how much I would really need my helmet, and after my placement visit to Kaduna thought I could perhaps get away with not using it… Now I am here however, I carry it around with me as though it is an additional limb and try not to pay too much attention to what is going on when I’m in a moving vehicle!

I’ve yet to do much exploring in the city itself. I’ve taken a couple of walks through the area near the house, and have been driven around quite a bit in the first few days of work but none of it makes sense at the moment. Abbe – my Ugandan housemate – and I did venture out to one of the city’s largest markets on Sunday however. We needed food and I needed a fan… oh boy, I needed fan… so we put aside our worries and fears, and headed out. The market is a maze of stalls permanently erected and HUGE! I actually found the street outside the market more stressful that inside which had a kind of unspoken order and process to it. And despite our preconceptions and preparations, prices were reasonable even for me as a bature (white man)! It sold everything! Well… it sold every type of thing but perhaps not quite everything in each type. Vegetables, for example, are somewhat lacking and I’m still trying to think of inventive things to cook with only potatoes, cucumber, tomatoes, onion and cabbage. Meat, unless one is willing to slaughter it oneself, is a no go area. Suggestions most welcome!

My prize buy of the day was my fan! I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT MY FAN! You have no idea how revolutionary the fan is. Such a simple contraption, yet such an incredible outcome. Ohhhhh, praise be the fan that giveth me respite and comfort, and prevention from melting! Now Nigeria just needs to ensure that I have electricity 24/7 and I will be a happy girl. Having power in the evenings has already become a lucky luxury for us.

It’s hard to imagine that I’ve only been in Kano since Thursday. It feels so much longer but is a necessary realisation. I find myself getting annoyed that I dont know things yet like where to find things or how to get around, and stressed that I’m slightly trapped, so only by realising that it’s been just 5 days do I go with the flow a bit more! And just as I was getting into the swing of having no water, no electricity, bucket showers and perpetual heat that I am whisked away to the other side of the country to the luxuries of a hotel in Lagos for a 3 day workshop – air con, hot showers and someone cooking inventive food for me. Perhaps I’m being spoilt too soon… ?!

The Art of Spraying (originally published November 22, 2010)

When I went to Kaduna on my placement visit during my first week of In Country Training, I was introduced to a Nigerian friend of a couple of the volunteers who invited me to his wedding – which happened last weekend on the 13th November. I made it down to Kaduna on the Friday night feeling very proud of myself for managing to get from my office, to the motor park (bus stop?), to Kaduna 2 hours away, and then on buses and bikes to Heather’s house!

Kitari

The wedding was being held in a small village half way between Kaduna and Abuja in a place called Kitari and was starting quite early so we had to get up at the crack of dawn to meet one of the groom’s friends at another motor park and get to the village in time. We eventually found a car that would take us for a decent price – when I say car I mean a taxi but they are public and tend to squash about 5-6 people into the four seats. The village was really small and peaceful – very picturesque and African-esque I suppose!  When we found Innocent – the groom – he took us to the house his bride was getting ready in, and then left us while he went to get ready. It was the total opposite to what happens in the UK – the bride was ready and waiting, and the groom hadn’t even showered yet! So we got shoved into a house full of women who didn’t quite know who we were and what we were doing there so ended up quietly minding our own business – did you know America has a version of the Gladiators?!

Finally it was time to go to the church.

“About To Weds”

Heather and I got put into the car with the bride’s party, both of us in the front seat, but thankfully it was in only about 500m to the church. Even when we got there though, the groom still wasn’t ready and so the bride and her party were just waiting around outside trying not to get too hot! When the service did eventually start, Heather and I got slightly confused and ended up tagging along with the bride’s best friends down the aisle behind the bride, and then mistakenly sat on her side of the church rather than his! Oops.

The service lasted 2 hours (very short in comparison to most church services here which can last up to 6 hours) and involved a lot of singing, a lot of audience participation, a really cringeworthy moment where we were supposed to donate money but didn’t have any, and more singing…  and the church filled up to bursting. However, quite frequently it looked as though the couple just couldn’t be bothered. We found out later than they had already had the traditional Nigerian wedding and that the ‘white dress’ wedding was just more of a formality.

Signing the Register

After the service, we all went outside for photos. In the programme for the day there was a timetable of photos – including one with “European”. Good job we turned up or that could have been embarrassing!

For Mum – You would have fitted in perfectly!

“Photo with European”

The reception was held in the centre of the village outside whereby chairs formed a circle around what became the ‘stage’. Before the reception started, Heather and I were taken by the groom’s friends to try Palm Wine. We both wanted to try it (having heard mixed stories from other volunteers) so they took us to the grooms house where the guys were getting absolutely hammered. We could smell the wine from miles away and it stank like rotting vegetables with vinegar! It was freshly harvested the day before (which apparently makes it stronger) and was in a big plastic water container thing – bugs included. They explained that normally they would sieve it a few times to get rid of the leaves, bugs, sediment etc. but that they hadn’t had time so were drinking it bugs and all. We had a sip, it was disgusting! And I couldn’t imagine anything worse to get drunk/have a hangover from.

Trying out Palm Wine

Sieving the wine – kind of.

Heather’s reaction to the wine!

When we got back to the reception, the ‘spraying’ ritual began – and lasted for a rather long time! Spraying is where small notes of money are thrown at someone. I guess like a blessing.

The Groom Being Sprayed

So it began with the bride and groom, then with the bride, then the groom, then the groom with the two sets of parents, then the bride with two sets of parents, then the bridge and groom with the two sets of parents, then the ‘little bride’ and ‘little groom’ (their kids), then the bridesmaids and ‘men in suits’, then the bride and groom again. Each one lasts over 5 minutes and is just a brawl of people dancing and throwing money over each other! People have the job of going around and collecting the money from under people’s feet and by the end of it, there was a MASSIVE pot filled with notes. It’s such an organised thing that there is someone going around with loads of small change so that people can change their larger notes! They will have got A LOT of money out of their wedding (and is a ritual I will definitely keep in mind for my wedding)!

The next bizarre thing was the cake ritual. The cake maker is actually a formal role here and is called upon to make a speech and instigate some of the ‘games’.

Bride getting ready to lie in the mud

The games all included making the couple more money! For example, she asked the bride to come and stand in the middle of the circle and said that if people do not give her 5000 Naira (£20), she will have to lie down on the ground in her wedding dress. The ground was just dried mud so that would not have been pretty. And then the same happened for the groom but this time he would have to strip. They both obviously raised the money!

Throughout this, we were all given some food, a drink and a piece of cake. I was so hungry by this point. Heather and I had mistakenly only had a small breakfast and had been nibbling on biscuits throughout the church service. The food wasn’t served until about 4pm!

The next event was “the presentation of gifts” but we were getting a lift back with some of the groom’s friends and they needed to leave so we barged in and gave them our gift before anyone else, and got given a 2011 calendar of the couple too! And then, in true Nigerian style, had to wait around for about an hour in the car. But despite a broken clutch we all made it back in one piece just before dark, having had a really good day. Next on my list, a Muslim Nigerian Wedding please!

The Dutse Durbar (originally published November 22, 2010)

In Northern Nigeria where Islam is the main religion, each state has a religious leader as well as political.These leaders are called Emir’s and do still have some say in the running of their state and the country (but I’m still trying to figure out exactly what!). Twice a year at the end of Eid, there is a religious festival called Sallah and as part of this, the Durbar (again, I think!). Each area of the state parades it’s horse power and man power through the main town to the Emir’s palace to show the Emir how big and great his army is should he ever need to use it. They (and the horses) also dress up in the most amazing outfits to show their wealth. It’s a very musical and noisy parade with gun shots and shouting – not always when you are most expecting them!

Kano Durbar is supposed to be one of the biggest and best, but this time I went to a town called Dutse in the neighbouring state of Jigawa where a fellow UK volunteer Lucy lives (in what can only be described as a PALACE compared to mine – power, hot running water, air con, the lot)! I have the chance to stay in Kano next September and am really glad I went away as this was much more intimate and involved.

Important man in the middle flanked by his guards

I particularly liked the outfits that looked like a) pyjamas, b) rabbits and c) the Queen of Hearts (cant find the photo at the moment)!

a) Pyjamas!

b) rabbits

The parade lasted about an hour in the morning and then in the evening we decided to venture up the hill to the Emir’s palace – just to see it.

We didn’t expect anything to still be going on, but after we’d been there for about 5 minutes people started to arrive in full regalia. Apparently the Emir was hosting his advisors from each of the areas in the state, and each arrived with increasing pomp and ceremony. The Emir himself arrived in a blacked out 4×4 to the sound of trumpets. It was such a juxtaposition to see that vehicle in the middle of an ancient palace and someone in full traditional dress get out!

Juxtaposition

“One husband is not enough for you…”

I even got a marriage proposal from one of the guards, but the fact that he was missing his front few teeth and was probably older than my grandparents somewhat put me off. He didn’t agree with me that one man was quite enough!

Goats and cows are sacrificed as part of the Sallah celebrations and so for the days leading up to the festival the streets of Kano were overrun with impromptu markets. Everyone buys at least one or the other, and then has the tricky job of getting it home. I have now seen goats and cows transported in all sorts of ways – buses, rickshaws, being carried, and even on motorbikes. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It was all quite funny if I didn’t think about what was going to happen to them!

Bit and Barry thoroughly enjoyed the day!

At the parade

Bit at the palace

Barry at the palace

 

So, What Am I Doing Here? (originally published December 8, 2010)

Good question. I have come with the title of “Capacity Builder” although, as all volunteers are warned before they leave, this is liable to change and doesn’t really mean anything until you’ve been here for at least three months. Only then will you know whether you have managed to wiggle your way into some sort of worthwhile role! Vaguely – and here I must warn you of the pending acronym attack – I am working under a DFID funded and Cambridge Education Ltd run programme called Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN) on their work on Access and Equity in Kano state. This should involve, if I have interpreted it correctly, building the capacity of the civil society organisations (CSOs) that are partnered with ESSPIN in delivering, among other things, a year long Mentoring Programme to School Based Management Committees (SBMCs) (community level implementation of access and equity work) and their communication and relationship with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) who will be the ones that need to take control when ESSPIN leaves in a couple of years. It’s all about making it more sustainable! However, this is based on unclear deduction and really I have no idea what I am supposed to be doing!

On my third day in the office, I got whisked away to a workshop in Lagos where a consultant trained us (the state specialists in Access and Equity, and their support staff (me)) on the Mentoring Programme. It focuses on things like resource mobilisation (i.e. fundraising, School Development Plans – prioritising the work that needs to be done, other forms of support), child protection (the rights of kids, why corporal punishment is wrong, marginalisation of girls, helping kids get into and stay in school rather than hawking or begging), conflict resolution, transparency and accountability, communication and relationship management, right of women, inclusive education etc etc. and so it is really important.

We have since spent 4 days stepping this training down to the Civil Society Organisations and Government partners in a hotel in Zaria (unfortunately not as luxurious as Lagos!) and they are now going to step it down to the SBMCs over 9 six week cycles. Thankfully my state specialist (Nura) and I had a helping hand from the Kaduna state specialist and Jenny, the VSO there. I am now seriously indebted! And also thankful to Bit and Barry for their contributions.

The workshop was a massive learning curve for me both personally and professionally – I have rather been thrown into the deep end. Not only was I just beginning to grasp the programme itself, but I was trying to mentor a group of 30  Nigerian men (and a few women) on the art of mentoring having never mentored before (and there were times when it felt like a school classroom). I had to earn their respect as a white young female while trying not to shout! I think I did both (eventually)! I am hoping to wiggle my way into working with them more and get hands on in the communities rather than ‘interning’ for ESSPIN. So, it will be interesting to see the impact this training has actually had. Watch this space!

Hotels and luxury aside and while I have been trying to figure out exactly what I am doing here, I have been helping out on researching water facilities in schools and their capacity to have a better water supply.

The ultimate goal – water tank up top, running taps down low!

At the moment, we are surveying 40 schools to see what facilities they currently have and what type of water facility will be best suited to their needs. It was a great experience to get out of the city and into the schools (and gave me a taster of what celebrities must feel like when I was mobbed by no less than 200 kids – quite literally mobbed!!). But also quite heartbreaking. Many of these schools have 1,000-3,000 children enrolled, but only a few hundred show up. And when they do, there are very few classrooms, less teachers and no facilities. In one school, the water supply comes through one tap in the school grounds that apparently doesn’t come on very often. When it does, usually at night, they fill up a tank to use during the day. However, this ‘tank’ is actually just a metal barrel so a) not very much storage, and b) a little on the rusty side. As we were leaving there was a group of kids surrounding it stretching to reach to the bottom (it was only ¼ full) and scooping out glassfulls to drink.

The “Water Tank”

I don’t know what I had been expecting them to do with the water, but I guess I didn’t think they would drink it straight out of this rusty barrel. And there are over 500 kids at the school so it doesn’t go very far. In addition to this, they also don’t have toilets – in fact, only one school we went to had a toilet and even then it was only ONE! So, this is a very worthwhile project and I’m going to try and be involved as much as possible, even if it’s just dabbling in and out. Once they have sorted the water, they move onto toilets, and then onto setting up health clubs in the schools to provide education on hygiene etc. So I’d definitely like to get involved with those.

Angelina Jolie – eat your heart out!

 

Where Monkeys Steal Your Pants (originally published January 11, 2011)

During the week I spent in Dutse during the Durbar, the group I was with planned a weekend away to one of Nigeria’s few National Parks. On the first weekend of December, I headed to Dutse again to pick up Lucy, and the two of

Celtic Love

us (slightly delayed by a meeting I had to attend that massively overran in true Nigerian style) made our way to Bauchi to meet up with another bunch of VSOs. We were all staying with Father Leo, an Irish priest who has lived in Bauchi for over 20 years and always hosts VSOs when they come to the National Park. He appreciates the work that we do and so extends his hospitality, even to people he doesn’t know. He is famous amongst VSOs for the bar he houses in his living room, and in true Irish fashion, we partied late into the night.

The following day, ridiculously disproportionately hungover, we headed to Yankari National Park for a safari and a swim in the one tourist attraction Nigeria is really “famous” for – Wikki Warm Springs. The safari was a bit hit and miss, if still quite exciting. Unfortunately, we didnt see any elephants or lions but we did see a typically African antelope and some monkeys… oh and Elephant poo!

Actually, we saw more wildlife in the car park where the safari jeeps set off from… wild bore having a fight and monkeys stereotypically sitting on our cars.

As part of the safari we went on a little walk into a bit of jungle, where we found tens of small round caves built into the sandstone. They were handmade at the end of the 1800s/beginning of 1900s (I think) by slaves who had run away and needed place to hide out. It is hard to describe the feeling this place provoked and everyone definitely seemed in awe of the historical significance. So much so, we gave it a try ourselves.

Still feeling rather fuzzy around the edges, Wikki Warm Springs was a welcome relaxation. We swam around for a good few hours, enjoying the smooth silkiness of the water and being entertained by the bigOga (‘boss’ in Hausa) Baboon try to steal our clothes and bags. On one occasion, with a member of another party, he was successful. While I’m sure I would not have found it funny if it had been my underwear, this was actually quite hilarious!

The Big Oga who steals your pants

That evening, suitably relaxed and feeling in the holiday spirit, Father Leo put on a fantastic BBQ spread for us and his other guests and we enjoyed sitting outside under the stars, putting the world to rights. Well, everyone else did… I fell asleep while talking to Dan on the phone after dinner, and quite uncharacteristically didnt end up joining in the party. In hindsight, it was the prelude to another bout of illness but at the time I was petrified I was getting old! Phew. I think.

Our Mega 2600km Christmas Adventure Part I – Dan’s Introduction to Nigeria (originally published January 21, 2011)

A few weeks before Dan’s planned arrival (so basically when I first arrived in Kano), I started thinking of a few little things that we could do. Having been ill and busy since arriving, Kano needed some serious exploration so I scheduled the first week for us to venture around and discover the city I had been calling home for the last 2 months while I had a fellow adventurer. Then I heard another group of VSOs were planning a little sojourn to the South and two of Nigeria’s few tourist attractions. I asked politely if they would mind a disgusting couple tagging along. Little did we know that this little sojourn would turn into an adventure of quite epic proportions…

A few weeks before my planned arrival I had no idea what the plan was. To be honest though, I didnt really care -it was an adventure and my first chance to see Beth in a long time! Beth said something about going away over Christmas with some other volunteers which sounded fun but even though she did tell me where we were going my research consisted of a google image search and a smile at some trees. Who would have thought they would have been so far away!

Dan making a rare appearance from his mosquito haven for dinner in Kano

Dan making a rare appearance from his mosquito haven for dinner in Kano

My idea of exploring Kano soon went out the window when I came down with yet another bout of malaria just before he arrived that culminated in a few days of lovely injections into my bottom; and then Kano took its toll on Dan who also fell, almost immediately, sick. As a result, Dan’s first week consisted very much of the insides of the mosquito net and, bed.

I was doing so well! I ate new things and breathed in lots of dust and felt fine.. oh well. Perhaps it was in sympathy with Betha who wasnt doing too good herself. The Mosquito net was fun, but so was riding on the back of motorbikes, many many trips to the doctors, seeing where Beth worked, Fish and chips in Sabon Gari and generally having my first African experience :)

 

We pulled ourselves together and against all advice (and odds!) set

Clearly, bad Nigerian architecture is a fallacy? (yes, we know this is bad)

Clearly, bad Nigerian architecture is a fallacy? (yes, we know this is bad)

off on the first part of our journey to Abuja. I thought the 4 hour journey was horrible due to the heat and bumps but in hindsight it was rather luxurious compared to what we were going to do in the future! I expected the scenery to be amazing but it was actually a bit underwhelming although that didn’t stop me taking a million photos. Unfortunately they were all a bit rubbish except for a rather dubious looking wall…

Chilling out by the pool in the British Village

Yummy fish and chips at Abacha Barracks

Having met up with Heather and Lucy, two more of our holiday gang, we started the holiday in style by gatecrashing the British Village for the day where all the British Council folk live and VSOs are allowed to use the pool (probably out of pity!) – we smuggled Dan in. In the evening, I took Dan to one of my favourite Abuja haunts for dinner. Abacha Barracks cooks the most amazing freshly grilled fish and chips (you may remember my first trip there from one of my initial blogs) and so it was with great sadness that we learnt of it being bombed on New Years Eve (sadness because of the violence, not because I could no longer get good food there, just in case I confused anyone!).

In the relaxed holiday spirits that the British Village and Abacha Barracks had lulled us (somewhat falsely) into, we set out on the main part our Mega Christmas Adventure…

Distance travelled so far: 443km
View Map

Setting out spaz style!

Our Mega 2600km Christmas Adventure Part II – Sardine-ing Around (originally published Febuary 8, 2011)

When you do things cheaply in Nigeria, it generally means discomfort. At least it does when it comes to transport. Nigerians prefer to travel like sardines in a tin – squashed, horrendously, cheeks against windows, legs on bums, heads

There were 2 in the front as well – excluding the driver.

bumping against the floor, bags on feet – you get the picture – 6 people in a 4 seater car (excluding the driver), 14 people in a 9 seater… To prevent this from happening, one has to pay for the extra seats to allow you to travel in the space the specific car is designed for. When you are a VSO volunteer, you do not have the funds to be this bourgeois and so squashed we go! The good thing about travelling in such a large group, is that we could comendeer one car. To begin with, this was fine – from Abuja to Lafia only 3 hours away, there were 5 of us and with Dan and I being a couple, this just meant us having an almost intimate cuddle all the way there (and me losing feeling in one side of my bum). Even the next day, after a relaxing evening being looked after by Shreela and Teddy in Lafia, and collecting the 6th member of our group, 6 of us in a car was not so bad. This just meant Dan and I cuddling again (on the other side of the car to give my left bum cheek a rest) and two people enjoying the challenge of dodging the gear stick in the front.

The crew and Shreela, our lovely host in Lafia

Our little bit of paradise Obudu style

The next two of these cosy car journeys took us from Lafia to the Obudu Cattle Ranch – a hill station/resort on the top of a 1600m mountain (that’s 400m taller than Ben Nevis). As cheap skates, we didn’t indulge and treat ourselves to the £100 a night (plus) in the main resort, but through the grapevine we’d heard about a much cheaper, and in my personal opinion much nicer (or was I kidding myself?),  down market Abebe’s Lodge (telephone number for future backpacking budget visitors – 08036242192 – N5,500 per room per night). Perfectly comfortable, clean double rooms with a working toilet (gasp!), freezing showers but hot buckets on demand (ask for them with plenty of notice!) and the entertainment that comes with the staff being drunk from cheap Spanish wine in cartons (Baron de Madrid – imported from Spain to France, from France to Cameroon, and then taken over the boarder by Cameroonian tourists!) and generally getting all food orders totally wrong. But don’t let this put you off – the food was great, bush meat and bullets included and everyone was totally lovely! We even had a sing off one night – us 7 (since the final member of our group had met us there), a travel guitar and some cult classics versus the staff and their African Magic tv show which they refused to turn down – we were apparently that bad! I’d say we definitely kicked some ass (with a lot of help from our newly acquired friend, the legendary Small Pepe).

“Intestine Road” to get up to Obudu

Dinner time

“Hello” “Awite?”

Bush Meat of an indeterminable origin including bullets

We also got fresh honey, bees and all.

For the first time in Nigeria, we were all cold. Three of our group were heading off to Cameroon after Christmas and had come prepared with thermals to climb Mount Cameroon. The rest of us, layered up the best we could and fashioned the good old sock and sandal look! For example, on the second night there we were all shocked awake by the most piercing screams. We thought someone had gone into labour! She was screaming and throwing up and shouting for “someone to help me, I’m dying”. In the morning it turned out that she had just never experienced being that cold before and thought something was horribly wrong with her! It was about 10 degrees.

Sylvester, our tour guide, provided us with a morning escapade to some waterfalls “just a three hour round trip”. What he failed to tell us was that this “three hour round trip” was seriously vertically challenged. The views were pretty incredible, although slightly marred by the harmattan, but as we made our way down the mountain side almost on bottoms, it soon dawned on everyone that the downward slide meant an upward climb – right around the hottest part of the day. Oops. Sylvester’s rather quiet and totally ignored suggestion of a 6am departure was suddenly realised as having a little merit! However, the freezing swim in the waterfalls at the bottom was rather refreshing, even if the boys did scream a couple of octaves higher than is natural!

Down was not the problem

Girls

In our freezing bath at the top of the waterfalls

Dan admiring the views

We spent two lovely nights with Abebe and his crew, taking in the scenery at what looked like the edge of the Earth, nursing our aching muscles and sun burn, and chilling out to the sounds of Richard and Small Pepe giving a new twist to Marley – “no Jesus, no man”.

The edge of the Earth

On the morning of our departure, we took a much easier route down the mountain side than we had the previous day by catching the cable car to the Water Park at the bottom. We had a slight moment of panic half way down when we were informed that one of the mechanics who services the cable car (on Tuesdays FYI for future visitors) was in fact our dear friend “Smit” who I think had been perpetually drunk the whole time we’d been there and who had an enviable flare at being able to cook one fish every four hours! Our worries, however, were unfounded and we made it to the Park to spend the morning releasing our inner children and running wild. Oh yes!

The daring feat of Dan and his camera out the cable car window

On your marks…

The water park frolicks

Dan speeding down…

Me not speeding down because apparently knickers are not as slippery as bikinis!

So Dan gave me a lift!

Distance travelled: 460km View Map

Total distance travelled so far: 903km

The Real Nigeria (originally published February 18, 2011)

Unfortunately, I left Nigeria at the beginning of the year on sick leave (damn malaria!) and am yet to know when/if I will be returning. Being back and thinking about whether it is sensible for me to return, has given me time to think about Nigeria and the brief yet adventure filled experience I have had there so far.

The first thing I noticed was that I immediately became very defensive whenever anyone asked me how it was. Knowing how crazy most people thought I was for wanting to go there in the first place, I immediately assumed that people asking the question were waiting for me to corroborate their initial suspicions of how horrible it was, especially with the question was generally asked in the context of an “it is really corrupt” type comment.

Corruption is prevalent in many developing (and let’s be honest, developed) countries and Nigeria as a whole gets an unfair share of the negative press. I am not condoning the lack of government accountability and transparency, or the few bad apple scammers. Nor am I saying that corruption is good. But Nigeria is being labelled and categorised because of the doings of a minority of the population. I don’t think this is right.

I have previously compared Nigeria to India as “not as in your face” and I stick by this. I can walk through a market selling arts and crafts and not be accosted by every vendor I walk past, they know what I mean when I say “no thank you”, and they smile and wish you the best as you walk on. When I first went to the food market in Kano, I took with me a rough price list VSO had given me to use as a guide expecting to have to haggle my way from stall to stall just to get some fresh food. Instead, I was charged less than the price list, despite being white, despite being a girl. A small but refreshing example.

I arrived a little anxious about being a white girl living in a very Muslim old part of the city. I didn’t expect to go out at night nor really go anywhere on my own. But I actually felt safe, and safer than I did in India for sure. Everyone is willing to help and does so politely and friendly, wanting nothing from it. Add a smattering of Hausa to show that you’re trying to learn the language and culture and you have yourself a new best friend. Women that I had met once, briefly, brought cloth around to my house so that I wouldn’t have to wear trousers, and gave it to me as a gift. I am waved to by our neighbours as I come and go, and would be surrounded by kids 24/7 if I let myself. Unlike previous experiences like this, I don’t feel I owe them anything or uncomfortable with the situation, as I know that they are doing it purely out of kindness and curiosity.

Yes, I had a few arguments over the cost of a journey or two, and I’ve walked away from a few stalls because their prices were obviously ridiculous, but are there not always people like that, no matter where you are? Yes, there are scams that take place screwing people out of money but I have yet to see anything like it, and don’t things like that happen wherever you are? Yes, the government pays itself too much money and doesn’t do enough for the population, but doesn’t that happen everywhere to some degree too? (ahem, expenses, ahem, welfare cuts, ahem, school funding cuts…). The normal Nigerian population is aware, and ashamed, of the reputation their country has internationally and many people that I spoke to about this say that they are trying to undo it  ”one person at a time”. It certainly worked on me!

Nigeria is a great country. There’s not much to see or do, and life is very hard, but the people make it an amazing experience and one that I am really glad to have had. I’m not very good at writing about things like this, but I hope my message will make people think twice before judging a book by its cover – or its press coverage!

Our Mega 2600km Christmas Adventure Part III – Pablo and a Musical Toilet (originally published February 25, 2011)

Refreshed from our morning of fun in the Obudu water park, we sat in the sunshine awaiting our chariots to take us to our next destination – Afi Monkey Sanctuary. We had decided to travel there in style as Abebe and his friend both had cars and we didn’t fancy taking on our sardine alter egos again just yet. After a little bit of confusion when the cars turned up already full to bursting with Abebe’s friends (including the boot) we were under way to Obudu town. Here we did a mad market sweep (Dale Winton would have been proud) for all the provisions we might possibly need in Afi and got back on the road an hour and some serious weight later. I will never forget the next two hours… Dan and I in the back. Just Dan and I in the back. We even had a middle seat free to put our feet or food or whatever the hell we wanted seeing as we had so much space! It was fantastic.

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

Afi Monkey Sanctuary is located deep inside what is remaining of the tropical rainforest in Cross River State. It’s run as an eco-tourist

Dan and my “room”

enterprise to rebuild the population of various different monkey species, especially the Drills and Chimps. Here, everything was outside – we slept in cabins built on stilts with only mosquito nets as walls and were lulled to sleep by the sounds of the jungle; showered outside under a big tree; cooked under a wall-less log cabin type thing and went to the toilet long drop open aired stylee. The down part to all of this was needing the loo in the middle of the night and losing ones phone down said long drop with no real (or wanted) way of recovery. The up shot to this, however, was a lovely morning musical toilet as my alarm continued to go off at 6.45am for the two mornings we were there. For me, this just made the grief even more unbearable!

Doosh au natural

Enjoys a morning sing song

Base camp for relaxing and cooking

Chique de Jungle (aka Anti-Sand Bugs)

Doing what one does in the jungle

All guests are expected to do their own cooking and bring their own provisions to the camp. For volunteers, this usually means a few packets of Indomie (aka. Supernoodles) and some tea/gin. However, the seven of us, revelling in the delights of the Christmas Spirit had raided more than Obudu’s Indomie stock and successfully cooked a scrumptious veg curry on the first night, camping meals courtesy of Mr and Mrs Fincham on the second night and only resorted to Indomie for lunch! Yes, I am bragging!

On our first day, we arrived quite late on and so relaxed, meeting the monkeys

Making friends with Pablo

and falling in love with Pablo – the grey haired Chimp from Central African Republic  – who whilst the rest of the chimps ignored us and continued to eat their bananas in the distance threatening to throw stones in our direction, came to say hi. Did you know that Chimps could contract malaria just like us? Neither did we until we met Pablo who had done so as a baby and as a result is now paralysed down his left side. I suppose with them sharing 99.6% of our DNA, that’s not really surprising.

“Me big boss man”

Can’t call this one a Moonie

There are no words to describe

He really was a proper poser

The Three Stooges

The next day we ventured out with James, our local guide, to explore the famous Afi canopy walk and spent a while teetering perilously from springy unstable walkways in the tops of trees (I exaggerate, slightly). This led us to what could only be deemed as another perfect swimming spot and once again, we forgot our sanity and for the third time in as many days, dived into our ice bath.

Scary heights

A top the canopy

Pretending not to be cold

Group Hug

After an afternoon of relaxation and listening to the trials and tribulations of trying to reunite a baby chimp with its herd (is herd the right word?!), we cracked on with the gin and sprite, and cracked out the tunes. However, this time with the lack of backing that walls, Africa Magic tv and credulous looking Nigerians provided us, we sounded more like strangled cats than the super star rock band we had in Obudu!

Mastering (or not) an African drum

He had a thing for Sprite

Who needs plastic surgery when one can have pure water bags?

We’d arranged for one of our previous drivers – Jude –  to come and collect us at 8.30am the following day. Obviously, with our group consisting of six Brits and a Dutch, we meant… um… 8.30am and by 9.30am we’d given up all hope of making it to Sarah’s house for Christmas the next day and nominated Emily to go to the nearest village to get us all bikes upon which we could ride to the main road and hail ourselves to Ikom. With Jude being Nigerian, turning up at 10.30am with a shrug of his shoulders mumbling something about his brother having a drink driving accident was exactly what we meant. After a couple of comments of sympathy and making sure his brother was fine, I found myself saying “welllll, that’s why you shouldn’t drink and drive”! I probably normally wouldn’t have bothered except for the knowledge that he’d a) been drinking while driving during our previous journey with him and b) there were 7 of us, plus him, in the car. With my head and neck at a dodgy angle already, you can see why I may have blurted it out!!

Nevertheless, two hours of crude sexual innuendos about going “up and down” on each other in the back of the car (there were 5 of us, go figure!), we made it to Ikom, found ourselves a lovely little mini bus that actually took us no questions asked for a fair price all the way to Calabar. We thought we’d struck gold, until we experienced it’s suspension. Or lack of it. But in Calabar we did arrive and thus began the final leg of our “oh-so-long-and-drawn-out-by-this-blog” journey. Ish.

Our luxuriously bumpy mini bus

Distance travelled: 122km (the going was very tough) 
View Map

Distance travelled thus far: 1025km

Our Mega 2600km Christmas Adventure Part IV – We’ve Dragged It Out So Much That It Doesn’t Seem That Mega Anymore! (originally published March 3, 2011)

Our lovely lack-of-suspension bus driver had offered (or been coaxed) into dropping us off in Calabar for our supermarket sweep and re-picking us up an hour later to continue another 2 hours on back country roads to our very Thai sounding Christmas destination in the middle of absolutely nowhere where our fellow VSO and travel companion Sarah lives – Akpap Okoyong (try saying that when drunk… Actually, just try saying that) or as we now like to fondly call it, Akpapa Ping Pong.

As we watched a gorgeous stereotypical African sunset over the skyline of Calabar, our bus arrived in fully glory and off we tootled, Christmas provisions all shoved in too. Apart from travelling at dark which we are all advised not to do, by public transport which we are all advised not to do, and breaking down in the dark in the middle of nowhere next to a very busy road near the dangerous Delta states which we are all told definitely not to do (and my heart rate wishes we had not done) – we made it to Sarah’s place dripping with sweat and in desperate need of sustenance. A couple of gins and sprite, and some camping food later, we are all set for, well, bed.

Breaking down in the middle of the road in the dark with no working headlights next to a crater that everyone coming towards us had to swerve to miss… not so much fun!

Christmas day itself past in a blur of Nigerian style Bucks Fizz (my genius idea of gin, orange juice and sprite), pancakes and Nutella, scrabble and Secret Santa under the shade of banana trees and then a massively overambitious but definitely successful Christmas dinner of fresh fish and chips. How we even began the notion of cooking fish and chips for seven on a camping stove with intermittent electricity and a water supply that totally ran out just before cooking is beyond me? But rise to the challenge we did, and at 10pm with 7 fish gutted, de-scaled and Beth very much smelling of the sea side on a bad day, the miracle that was our Christmas dinner, was served. We even had crackers! So great were my fish gutting skills, that Rich has named me “Brave Beth The Heroic Fish Gutter of Akpapa Ping Pong”. Honest, you can check it out here (I’d also like to use this opportunity to point out that this entry of Rich’s is entry IV too so we’re not dragging this out more than anyone else)!

Bucks Fizz, Naija Style

Banana tree delight

Santa came!

Dutch Secret Santa where each Santa had to write their recipient a poem

It was all very exciting

Relaxing aka Forgetting About Dinner

Brave Beth the Heroic Fish Gutter of Akpapa Ping Pong

The Facilities

The Next Blockbuster – “Miracle in Akpapa Ping Pong”

Some vodka watermelon and silly games later, Rich and I had found out that we could both kiss the floor without using our hands and thus retired to bed in the knowledge of our greatness. Souring this little achievement, however, was the fact that we still had no water. I still smelt of fish. And all we had to shower with was a bag of pure water. Mind you, when you’re hot and sweaty, it’s surprising how cold and amazing a little bag of watery goodness can be!

Boxing day brought with it the Calabar carnival and with this in mind, we set off (minus Sarah – sob – who we left tending to her banana trees and revelling in the silence that was her own space again). A fellow VSO living in Calabar had offered to put us all up for the night but having been bumped and bashed around for over a week on the back of malaria and Dan’s whatever-he-had, Dan and I decided a hotel was muchly needed. Bad planning. Imagine trying to find a hotel in Central London when the Nottinghill Carnival is on? Ya-ha, fat chance. After an hour of being escorted from one place to another by two lovely Nigerian friends of Viola’s (think back to Abuja), we found one that, had I been properly backpacking, would have been considered pure luxury!

We celebrated carnival stylee – beer on the stadium steps (good vantage point), interviewed for national television (and subsequently recognised back in Abuja by a doctor taking my blood!), dancing around in silly brightly coloured masks, and then heading off for some suya. Suya is a Nigerian delight and is a much more classy version of a kebab. Chunks of goat and beef are roasted on sticks over an open fire and covered in pepe, a blend of spices, nuts and ginger and truly yummy. Usually with the meat you get a rice bread called masa(correct me if I am wrong anyone) and potentially even some chopped raw onions, cabbage and tomato. Lovely! This time however, even those of us who enjoy spice and hotness were overwhelmed. Those of us who struggled stupidly on almost fainted with heart palpitations from the spice. Even beer did not quell the fires that had started in our digestive tract. If I had not of been feeling quite so gross, I may have enjoyed the sensation of being a fire breathing dragon.

Not quite Nottinghill but still good fun

I think I prefer it

Nursing sore stomachs and still hungry we all ventured our separate ways to munch on some lovely looking bread (it tasted like petrol!) and some biscuits whilst being lulled to sleep by a horrifically loud thunderstorm. I felt about five again.

A day of luxurious lying around the hotel doing absolutely nothing later, Dan and I arose at the crack of dawn to catch our 5.15am taxi to the bus station for our return journey North bound. We had decided to go with a company called “Cross Country” which was more expensive than others but had a reputation to warrant it. Sarah joined us. The day was an absolute disaster. After waking with diarrhoea, we simultaneously almost missed the bus and then had to wait an age for the bus, were prayed for by a priest at the bus station (always reassuring), found out an hour into the journey when the real heat had not even begun that the air con was broken, were squashed in amongst everyones’ bags in one of which next to me someone had packed some fish (who does that?!!!), no one in the front wanted the windows very wide open because it might “mess up their hair styles”… Thus it was that we finished virtually the last leg of our mega adventure in Abuja bruised, dehydrated and thoroughly fed up FOURTEEN HOURS later.

Ha. Actually no, after a brief trip back to Viola’s flat and a shower, we treated ourselves to dinner at Dunes and spent the equivalent of about a 1/4 of our months wages on LOVELY, LOVELY food! That’s a better way to end our mega adventure. And in fact, it was not quite over. After a few days in Abuja, recuperating, buying Christmas presents and spending the last of our wealth, I decided to be proactive about my seemingly perpetual ill health and ventured out to two different doctors. On the back of this, we then decided to head back up to Kano for New Year rather than go to Abacha Barracks as planned (yes, the one that got bombed that night) and plan my return to the UK to recover. This sucked, and was a massively heart wrenching decision, but I am so glad I got to spend the last two weeks gallavanting around Nigeria with a bunch of amazing people having a fantastic time! So, thank you to you all and hopefully see you back out in Naija in the very near future.

Dan, on the other hand, is still in need of a holiday and although an enjoyable and amazing experience, has had pretty much enough of Nigeria thank you very much!!!

Dan bringing in the new year and celebrating his survival with a bit of sugar cane

Distance travelled this time: 1335km (View Map)

Total Distance travelled: 2360km (perhaps our initial calculations were wrong, or perhaps google maps isn’t working as well anymore)!

The Madness that is Malaria (originally published May 13, 2011)

I’ve learnt quite a few lessons from my little adventure will malaria and so thought I would share a few things I wish I’d known before I went away:

While it’s nothing to be sniffed at, malaria is like having the flu in countries where it is prevalent; everyone gets it once in a while, feels awful, takes the malaria-300x239medication and recovers (usually! and if they are lucky enough to have access to the medication) and so while it is something to be serious about, it’s not something to be scared about. It feels a little like the flu too – achy muscles, especially the neck, weakness, fever and shivering, bad stomach to varying degrees – basically, a multitude of symptoms of which any can show, or not show, and to varying degrees of severity. The trick is, when you feel like you are poorly and over-emotional and overly exhausted, get yourself to the doctor. Some people say to wait until you have the classic symptoms of sore neck and fever, but I only had a sore neck for one day and never had a fever, so I don’t believe that advice any more.

Anti-malarial tablets are not foolproof. Contrary to what most people think, they do not stop you from getting it. If you get bitten by a malarial mosquito, you will get malaria, but with the prophylaxis you will not feel as bad and will have more time to get to a doctor. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, you don’t feel as bad, and if you are away from a city with medical facilities, you have time to reach one before it properly sets in. On the negative side, you don’t feel as bad – you then think you just have a cold or had something a bit funny to eat, and don’t go to the doctor until you feel awful. The advice we are given once in country, and which is passed around from volunteer to volunteer – “if you feel at all funny, go get checked”.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I felt so stupid and irresponsible when I was diagnosed with it early on in Nigeria. I felt that everyone was judging me as if I had not put on my mosquito repellent or not worn long clothes at night or not slept under my mosquito net, but they weren’t. In Nigeria, as I am sure it is in many countries, malaria is a fact of life and no matter what you do to prevent it from happening, it is bound to win at some point.

Volunteers also have a theory but please be aware that this is not scientifically proven (as far as we are aware)… Blood type O (whether + or -) are more susceptible to malaria than other types (I’m O+). If any one else has evidence to prove or disprove this theory, then please let me know. I’m really intrigued!

A Sad Decision (originally published May 26, 2011)

To go back or not to go back? That has been the question.

About a month ago I wrote another blog post about how I had decided to return to Kano life and make the most of an amazing opportunity until the end of my placement in October. I didn’t post it because I had an interview elsewhere and didn’t want them to misunderstand the honesty and story behind my decision if they happened to read it. I sent my passport to the Embassy to get a re-entry visa and I reserved a seat on a flight. I started making a shopping/packing list of things I wanted to take back with me and taking orders from my friends still out there.

Then my visa got delayed and the trouble started in northern Nigeria. I was told not to go back until the end of May. Amidst all this I had my interview and to I think everyone’s surprise, I was successful and got offered a PhD at Leeds University starting this October. This put things into perspective a little and complicated my decision to go back… What would happen if I got sick again so badly? Will I have enough time, in 3 and a half months maximum, to achieve anything? Will I have enough money to support myself, help Dan and pay back some debts? What about Dan and I – I’d be moving up to Leeds for the working week and only see him on weekends? Would returning be worth it? Should I give up my now short placement so that someone else can start anew for a year or more?

My gut instinct went against my sense of adventure and pride, and I have decided not to go back. I think a small part of me will always regret this and feel as though I never closed this chapter of my life, never completed the challenge, but I think it is the right decision for now. It’s been particularly hard because I have always dreamt of becoming a VSO volunteer and yet this time things seem to have just not worked out. Hopefully, once I get started on the PhD and the next chapter of my life, the sadness of not going back will lessen and a new adventure will take over. I’m sure I will do another VSO placement in the future, hopefully with Dan, hopefully for longer and hopefully more successfully!

Thank you to everyone who has supported and encouraged me throughout the last year, in deciding to do VSO, in where to go for my placement, whilst there in Nigeria and especially during my down time of being ill. You’re all amazing and I hope all the new people I have met along the way will continue to stay in touch.

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