Monday, 25 April 2011

Back in the UK

We have returned to the UK for Easter and as our time back in the motherland is drawing to a close, we have mixed feelings. Having spent a wonderful few days in the Lake District, enjoying spectacular views and  walking the fells in this gorgeous spring weather, and having also enjoyed the company of family and friends being looked after by many people now that we are homeless and jobless here, we realise fully what we have been missing and are so grateful to everybody concerned for their kindness and generosity. We have also been able to appreciate rather than take for granted, the order, cleanliness and systems that exist here to get things done in a proper and timely way, especially as we read news of the Nigerian elections and their aftermath. We will miss the calm and the quiet back in Nigeria. On the other hand it will be good to feel warm again, to meet the friends we have made out there and to get on with the jobs we were doing through VSO. It has been good to recharge batteries for a few weeks and to ensure that our family is doing OK.  Not looking forward to the presence of furry creatures in our home, though - deceased or otherwise!

Friday, 15 April 2011

A Flight of Fancy

After six months and 25% of our placement completed, we are off back to the UK to enjoy Easter with our family - and to cool off! It seemed strange packing bags and getting a lift to the airport to head back to a country where we belong but have no home of our own. And now that our journey is underway, I feel as though we are sort of leaving our home in Ilorin behind - which is comforting in a way, in as much as it will make the return more bearable in three weeks time. The emotional wrenches associated with our VSO jobs are difficult - on both sides, especially where the grandkids are concerned  and we have only been able to cope with this by thinking in terms of short 'phases' rather than the entire two year absence. Our next 'phase' is only twelve weeks long after which we will be back again for Katie's wedding. I don't mind the flying hours; in fact I'm one of those people who rather enjoy airports - once you have passed through all the scans, body searches and checks, boarding card in hand and having checked the departure board to verify that your flight is recognised and on time! This in spite of our near in-flight disaster on returning from Jerusalem a couple of years ago; those memories have thankfully faded though there is still a small tingle of anxiety somewhere in the background. But in essence you are embarking on another adventure - or may be returning from one - full of anticipation of the places, people and experiences that lie ahead., or reflecting on those you have enjoyed, now looking forward to being reunited with  loved ones.
Another check of the departure board shows your flight steadily moving up the list - still on time. Perhaps this is just me but I read the other destinations and imagine where else you could be going in the future and the images these places conjour - Quito, Katmandu, Buenos Aires, Cairns, Osaka, Havana, Yellowknife, work well for me. Then you refocus on your own destination and the reason for going. The excitement of anticipation rises as your flight time approaches, to the extent that you do not baulk at the exorbitant prices in the duty free shops and cafes. As you try to make your hot chocolate and blueberry muffin last, you do some people-watching -  all these people whose paths are crossing, the mingling of nationalities, languages, races, religions, fashions -  who, in a few hours time will be dispersed across the planet - wow!
Finally, your flight is called, the gate open and you join the final queue, walking confidently down the jetty into the body of your Boeing jet - quietly hoping you have not been seated next to that man with the streaming cold, or the screaming baby or the  hyperactive infant that has just stumbled over the rucksack containing your laptop. All in all you are feeling good as you settle into your window seat, watching the activity on the tarmac below, bustling on your behalf - trying to spot your own luggage on the baggage train as it trundles past, looking at the tail fin designs of the other aircraft and airlines - Lufthansa, Qantas, Malaysian Airlines, Amerisan -  and letting your mental map unfold, but there is also the stomach clenching feeling of regret for those you have just said goodbye to and who are even now heading back home after dropping you off outside the terminal building.
Your mind flits between euphoria and sadness so you try to stabilise emotions by flicking through the in-flight magazine, watching fellow passengers stuggling to cram their surely oversized hand luggage into the already full overhead locker. Then you take out your half-read novel set in the land or city that is your destination, that will become your own notebook or blank canvas on which to illustrate and record your new experiences.
And as the taxiing slows and the engines roar, your adventure has begun - magic!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Oro College - CoE

Thought I would record more about my job with ESSPIN at Oro Teacher Training College. Oro is just over an hour's travel by bus from Ilorin. I am supposed to be here three days a week with the specific task of redeveloping the Education Resource Centre (ERC).
Bearing in mind that this is a teacher training college, there seems very little concept of the need to use visual aids as a part of lecture/lesson delivery. A complex of about ten rooms has become available, formerly a library, but now destined to become the ERC for the College and surrounding schools. This is all part of the Honourable Commissioner's plan for Oro to become a Centre of Excellence for the State and an example for other States in Nigeria to emulate. The ERC will be a facility where lecturers and students can get instruction and advice on how to make their own visual aids for incorporation into their lecture plans and teaching practice. There is a slight problem with this from my point of view, as most of the lecture plans that I have seen  give little information as to how the lecture will be taught and indeed, what the objectives are, so I cannot see where a visual aid could be used - unless I rewrite the lecture plan according to what I think it will be about - which I cannot do for political reasons.
So, in order to make a start I have presented a cunning plan for the complete refurbishment of the ERC complex together with a wish-list of equipment and materials. I have been met with surprised but interested looks from those at the College to whom I have shared my draft proposals, with some suggesting " He'll be lucky!" Anyhow, the Director of Works seems to have accepted my plan wholesale and tells me the money for it will be released next week, which, if it happens, will surely go down as a momentous day in the annals of the College. I have told the management that I would like it to be up and running by September - I'm sure they think I am bonkers! They did look slightly perturbed at my deadline but didn't indicate it would be a particular problem. We shall have to wait and see.
Getting the centre set up is one thing; getting people to use it is quite another, so my next task is to set up a training programme for those who will be running the centre and another for the staff who will be using it.
Herein lies another challenge: Some staff regard the College as a facility for providing employment, not necessarily for training teachers. They are frequently less than enthusiastic over their job and, from what I have seen, some have very shaky subject knowledge and even shakier ideas on teaching methodologies. They are training teachers in the way they themselves were trained and I have been told that many of those being trained don't actually want to be teachers! Also, the lecturers have just called off a seven week strike action over pay - they would like some, and on time. Things have not been amicable on campus and I am not sure what mood they will be in when they eventually return to work. So - Centre of Excellence! - No pressure!!
Actually, I am looking forward to the challenge. It's nothing like anything I have ever done before and if I handle things the right way, it could be quite an exciting project. For the sake of the kids of Kwara I hope it all comes off.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Election Day – or not!

Election Day has dawned , the first of three. All VSOs have been advised to keep our heads down and our mouths shut – politically speaking, while the three week process unfolds. This makes good sense as election fever seems to lie smouldering just below the surface in some parts of the city.
One of the contending parties is quite a new party and has adopted the broom, not only as its moniker, but also it seems, its ’weapon of choice’.  The symbolism is clear, but as a mini-bus full of party 'devotees' swept past us as we were trekking the other day, I was caught by the bristles of an excited,  broom- waving youth. I choose to believe it was accidental even though the vehicle they were in passed alarmingly close to left ear-hole. The general shouting and whooping carried on far down the road and out of earshot.
Election fever  - or is it?  We have seen such bus-loads of ‘party faithful’ pull around a street corner, come to a sharp halt and the passengers climb out, each receiving some sort of payment for their enthusiastic display.  The ordinary man in the street does not seem to be unduly affected, excited or concerned by the election.  It is almost as if it is nothing to do with them as individuals, the outcome unlikely to make positive changes in their lives at all. For the vast majority they have put their faith in God, not their leaders, to get them out of the mess the country is in. Perhaps they think the  general corruption that goes on at all levels is so intractable that no leader is likely to emerge with anything like the ‘bottle’  needed to tackle it ‘root and branch’.  To my mind it needs a man of stature and integrity in the Nelson Mandela mold, revered by the people, someone who has known poverty but not forgotten their roots, someone who regards themself  as a true servant of the people with zero tolerance for any fiscal irregularity at any level. Where, oh where is such a figure?
It is quite windy today – perhaps the start of that wind of change this country desperately needs. 
P.S. Actually, the day has been completely calm - the election didn’t happen – postponed for a week – suspected irregularities in procedure with votes having been cast before the event! So we have been couped up all day in Sue’s house, forced to quaff lager and watch footy on TV – four entire matches!  How grim can life get?!



They grow only weeds
The sort that twist and writhe and suffocate
That  get down your throat
Tightening their grip on your words and thoughts
Squeezing out all that is good
The sort whose roots push underground
Till young shoots raise their heads
And start to grow – and turn into weeds -
The sort that twist and writhe and suffocate.