Saturday, 20 November 2010

Off to Offa

12th November
Visited another two schools on my list, one secondary and one primary, both in rural locations in the Offa district. The road to Offa makes the surface of the moon seem as smooth as a fairway. Some of the potholes stretch right across the road and in the rainy season must surely  fill with water and pose an added hazard to the unwary driver.
When I almost fell out of the bus on arrival in Offa – no step! – two sheep were being unloaded from the back. They had been bound and gagged and stowed away under the back seat for the entire length of the journey , presumably destined to be active ingredients in a barbecue at some point during the forthcoming religious holiday. There were sheep everywhere, being guarded by boys and men with sticks who would occasionally prod some poor animal into life of drag it off by the horns.
As usual, the staff at the schools were very welcoming and delighted that I was there to offer whatever support I could over the coming months. The previous VSO has done a fantastic job – I only hope I can live up to expectations!
The journey home again was not without incident. A Fulani herder, walking casually along the roadside was nearly killed by a huge construction site style wheelbarrow as it burst from the rear compartment of the bus – one pot hole too many. The retaining strap, which appeared to have been holding up someone’s trousers in a previous existence, snapped and the barrow went spinning through the air, crashing and somersaulting onto the tarmac and missing the poor guy by inches. It was fortunate there was no following vehicle or there could have been a nasty mess. Anyway, our driver screeched to a halt – well the bus did, the driver uttered what sounded as though it was an obscenity  and ran back to get the barrow. Meanwhile the herder chap had walked on.  Our driver yelled at him to come back, not to apologise, but to get him to help reload the wheelbarrow into the bus! The actual owner of the barrow who could not get out to inspect any damage, being wedged into the third row of seats by people who clearly were in no mind to budge, did not seem best pleased – much grumbling and sucking of teeth!
I have now visited most of the ten schools allocated to me in Kwara, and spoken to many priccipals, teachers, corpers and children. The more I hear about the politics surrounding – infecting – the education system here, the more intractable the situation seems to be. Whether you look at the system from the bottom (pupils) up or from the top (politicians) down, there is an equal depth of bleakness. That is not to say that things aren’t changing, albeit very slowly. Many teachers, in spite of their condemnation of those in authority who control the purse strings and basically dictate their and the pupils’ working conditions, are dedicated and have a professional outlook which is not only encouraging but really quite heroic under the circumstances. I have met two corpers who have delivered, resourced and paid for workshops in the school community out of their meagre allowances. They are an inspiration and it is people like them who, when things get you down and you feel like jacking it in, keep you on track.
It is on the domestic front that things tend to get to you:  intermittent and unpredictable electricity supply is a big factor, but the fact that I had three electric shocks last weekend did not help my take on things. Also, with no TV or radio, cooking by candle-light, no hot water, dodgy plumbing, inadequate mosquito nets, pathetically weak internet connections, lack of green vegetables and not a cold Guinness in prospect, we experience great frustration on a daily basis.  And don’t get me started on the traffic!!
Anyway, hey-ho – tomorrow’s another day – a holiday in fact, though we’ll still get woken up early by the 4am gospel choir and the bloody cockerel outside our gate!! Splashed out on chicken and chips at ‘Royals’ yesterday. Chips were fab but the fried chicken was the scrawniest excuse for poultry I have ever seen – barely enough meat on it to confirm it actually was chicken!  They spend most of their life dodging traffic, I think, so I suppose it’s not surprising  they have muscles and tendons of the road-runner – bleep, bleep! Snails had been on the menu but I’m not – and probably never will be – brave enough to give them a go.  You’ve got to draw the line somewhere!!

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