Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A Game of Two Halves

Caught an early morning bus to town X to support corpers in their community Environmental Sanitization project. They had organised this event at their own expense - the concept being to invite the local community to volunteer to clean up their own neighbourhood – meaning on this occasion the central market area which had accumulated many years-worth of debris. All the corpers in the area turned up and together with scores of school children and local people, they raked the area and filled a large lorry to overflowing with garbage. To me the end result, though not actually clean, was a great improvement on what it had been and there is every chance that future outbreaks of salmonella and other food-related complaints may be averted. The link between public health and rubbish has, I think been made and I hope the community resolves to maintain and even improve things for the future. My role was to basically stand on a platform as the representative 'from Abuja', meet several VIPs and take part briefly in an interview for Kwara Sate TV.
When all was done and those ‘volunteers’ who had expected payment for turning up had been fobbed off with peaked caps bearing our logo, we headed for the palace to meet the local King. I remembered to take my shoes off before entering the large greeting room but completely failed to note where the king was and walked straight past him. Everyone was dressed in more or less equal degrees of finery and there was no crown in evidence, and no corgies, so what was I supposed to do. We met instead a sort of business secretary, whose title escapes me – very pleasant guy, once he came off his mobile, and very supportive of the morning’s action – even prepared to wear the t-shirt and cap – definitely not court apparel.
We then all trooped out again, and again I missed the king. I had noticed a level of deep bowing taking place but this was going on to all and sundry – nobody seemed to have been singled out for extra deep genuflecting. Well at least I did not have any holes in my socks!
That was the good part of the day. We then went off, guided by a local councillor, to meet other dignitaries and I was just being guided by the corpers. Our final meeting was with a smartly suited man who turned out to be the head of Security Services and he was not best pleased with us because we had not registered our presence with him in ‘his country’ – meaning town X. We were kept for about an hour while I had to justify being in Kwara, in town X and what was VSO all about anyway – neither had he heard of ESSPIN. My photocopied passport was grudgingly accepted once I had explained that the original was still going through Immigration procedure in Abuja – even he was surprised it had not been completed six months after arriving in the country! Apparently, I could be perceived as a security risk and may be targeted by hoodlums in which case it would be his responsibility to protect me, as a foreigner. I fully appreciated his concern and so in future I have to inform him whenever I come to his town, state where I am going and why – even though I had just told him where I go and why! He said he might want to check up on what I was doing – probably hoping a snack will come his way. No way Ade!
The meeting was not what I had expected. I was quite stunned at the heavy atmosphere and implied irresponsibility on our part – by now I was perceived to be the leader of our group, even though we tried to explain that we do not have leaders. This was a concept he could not get his head round at all. The main feeling of anger that was welling within me, was over the way the corpers were being addressed who, after all, had just performed a great public service in his town. He told them their preparations had ignored public safety when in reality his own internal communication system was at fault – nobody had told him of the event, though the police department knew about it weeks ago and had even turned up to maintain a level of supervision and security - and very pleasant they were too. My main issue was over his insults to the corpers’ intelligence. This was a most unfortunate, heavy-handed incident  which has implications, it seems, for any outsider who visits this place, especially if you are white and work for an NGO! As you may detect, I am still a tad annoyed about it all!!  To be fair, he did say my work in schools was laudable and he appreciated the aims of our organisation in his schools, but by now the damage had been done as far as we were concerned – and he never commented on the contribution the corpers had made to the community over which he has jurisdiction. He will not be getting an Easter egg from me!    

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