Wednesday 27th October
Travelled by Overland Airways from Abuja to Ilorin, having paid a stack for all our excess baggage. Overland only allow 10kg per person plus a small item if hand luggage and as we had 86 kilos between us, plus motor cycle helmet, water filter, mosquito nets, personal alarms and hefty ring binders, it all came to something approaching a king’s ransom.
As we flew into Ilorin, over the mass of corrugated iron roofs that give the city the appearance of rusting away, we suddenly felt that we had arrived in a place desperate for any sort of investment.
From the airport we drove through the traffic past wood and iron shacks more dilapidated than any we had seen so far. The roadside was, as usual, teeming with life but with the addition of hundreds of goats, scavenging in the debris.
Eventually we turned into a very poor street called Old Cemetry Rd (their spelling, not mine!) and the driver was slowing down as though he were looking out for the right house. Those we were passing seemed barely habitable so we were not feeling good.
At last we pulled up outside a huge metal gate behind which was a block of low-rise flats, a gated property which was to be our home for the next two years. Jayne, our fellow volunteer, came out to greet us and warmly welcomed us into a comfortable and reasonably well decorated ground floor flat in which Caroline and I had a double room with its own ensuite! I think Caroline almost wept with relief.
These two pictures fail to convey the yellowness of the walls – which are very yellow! They also fail to convey the frequent blackouts and water cut-offs which are just part of life here.
The kitchen is basic and bijoux but the grey-brown and Everton- blue walls would not have been my colours of choice. Our bedroom also has blue walls and is quite bare of decoration – probably quite resembles the Everton trophy room really! We have been promised a new mosquito net on Monday. Been here nearly two weeks and not had malaria yet –so far so good!
We tried to unpack and to erect a mosquito net - unsuccessfully, then enjoyed a wonderful lentil and rice meal - cooked by Jayne and Rosalind – all without electricity (called NEPA, out here). We chatted till about 8pm, then realising it was Late (!) made the best of a rock hard mattress and equally unyielding pillow to be ready for our 6am wake-up and the start of our new working life.
Thursday 28th October
Walked into the ESSPIN office where Caroline will be working. Eventually contacted my employer, NYSC and, when I was collected (“picked”), was driven to the school in Pakata where I will have my shared office. The scene on route was one of unremitting squalour and poverty. It almost matched what we had witnessed in Delhi, and yet people generally were making a go of it.
I was introduced to the head teacher of GSS Girl’s School, Pakata ,who showed me round the school. Most pupils were on holiday _ I say most because two classes were taking place – their teacher had had time off through illness during the preceding half term and now had to make up lost time at work. Try getting that one past the NUT!!
Most classes are 40 to 50 in number, which I was told were the small classes. Several have 80 to 90 pupils. The poor teacher I mentioned in the previous paragraph had had to combine three classes in one room – and she was coping! I addressed the classes and said how pleased I was to be in Nigeria and especially in Kwara and in their school, and how everybody we had met was very welcoming and friendly – which is almost entirely true.
I have been told that the national volunteers are off on some sort of boot camp and I think one discussion was being engaged in proposing to link me up with them in the field; there’s no way I’m joining in any yomping activities in the bush, thank you!
Then I was whisked off to meet local dignitaries whose names and titles became a blur in the end, but I did have some brief conversations with a few “ordinary” people with whom it was good to have a bit of a joke. I must have looked all done in by early afternoon, so they took me home and told me to rest – for tomorrow I meet the Commissioner!
Friday 30th October
Getting used to waking up with a stiff neck. For the second night running we were treated to the vocal accomplishments of the local church choir – started about 11pm and went on till around 2am. They must have an arrangement with the nearest mosque, as when the choir had finished it was not long before the Imam was delivering his prayers to the faithful. It gives a slightly different take on the phrase “24 hour society”.
I didn’t meet the Commissioner after all, which is just as well as when I unclicked my seat belt I had a dust-brown streak from right shoulder to left trouser pocket across my new, crisp, pristine white shirt – one of a set of three from ASDA! If any washing powder company happens to read this, come to Nigeria to make your adverts – anything white is dazzling in the hot sun, and against the dusty backdrop of life in general it appears whiter than white.
I did meet the head of NYSC though, and thanks to Mrs Comfort at the Ministry of Education, I now have a plan for next week at least. So it was another early finish!