Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Back to Basics

Having enjoyed three weeks in the UK recuperating and girding our loins for the next three months  of our stint out here, we arrived back in Sabo-Oke 24 hours after leaving the family, most of which time was spent hanging around Abuja airport. After admiring the artificial plants in the foyer of the domestic terminal, artificial cacti and palm trees amongst them – why bother, they are growing outside anyway!  there is not a lot else to do – an ATM, a souvenir shop, a currency exchange, four identical café bars and a toilet facility. The cafes were upstairs and the lifts would not take a luggage trolley so we could not avail ourselves of these until we had checked in our luggage – which we were not allowed to do until it was practically time to board the plane. Quel dommage!   What I wrote concerning airports in a recent blog ? Doesn’t apply to Abuja!
Anyway, first job on arriving back at the flat was to inspect it for furry creatures, dead or alive, that may have been enticed by the bait I put out for them before we left  - not a wise move, I feel, on retrospect.
Having spent £3.45 in the UK on a humane mouse trap, I was slightly peeved to find no evidence whatsoever of rodent activity – unless they had nibbled the blue peanut butter and all considerately gone off to die somewhere else!  There had been a lot of cockroach activity though. After crunching around through wing cases, dismembered legs and assorted other body parts, armed with dustpan and brush, we scooped up enough remains to supply an oriental soup kitchen for a month. We settled for a hot chocolate – one of our treats from home – and an early night. The Yoruba gods must have been smiling on us as we had NEPA all night to keep the fan going.
It was not long, however, before we awoke to the familiar sounds of the local dawn chorus – from all the surrounding churches, mosques, generators, the car repair facility, local radio afficionados and general domestic argument.
The following morning was spent sweeping dust from every corner of the flat. It is amazing how much accumulated in spite of the fact that all the windows and internal doors were shut!  We bought some essential foodstuffs and in the process met with our neighbours  who were delighted to welcome us back. “What have you brought me?” they usually say once the greetings are over. When we tell them we have only brought things for the orphanage, they are fine – and would have been anyway. Caroline’s stock answer is “We have brought ourselves and our friendship”, which I think gets lost on most people, but  does deflect the conversation onto other things.  We were immediately reminded of one of the main reasons we are doing this:  It is not about the place, the environment, the weather or even the culture, but totally about the people. If we were feeling rather down (to say the least!) on our arrival back here, the big smiles and greetings of everyone around us was most heart-warming and has kept us going through our 'rehabilitation'.
VSO does not really prepare you (how can it!) for the aftermath of the return, mid-placement visit home. On your initial encounter with Nigeria, everything is gobsmackingly different and new, and you find yourself almst overwhelmed by everything you need to take in and digest (including in  a culinary sense). There is so much you gradually get used to and you ease yourself, in a manner of speaking, into the daily rhythm of your life and work. Returning to the UK upset this delicate equilibrium big-style - at least for us. It brought home to us just how much we have missed and value our friends and family and how so much easier life is in the UK in just about every way possible. We thought going back to Nigeria would be easier this time as we knew what to expect, but the flip side of this is that you truly know what you are missing and this time round you are not engaging your reptilian brain, wondering how you are going to survive with restricted power, water and transport services on an unfamiliar diet, while fending off little creatures. Rather, you have the time to dwell on the loss you are feeling and the emotional side of things dominates.
So, having felt a bit sorry for ourselves for a while, its time to knuckle down and pick up the job where we left off - on which point there is some encouraging news: the College have accepted by refurbishment and training proposals for the new Education resource centre and have actually started stripping off the old roof and reconstructing the roof trusses.  'What has brought this about?' I cynically wonder to myself - I'm still waiting for the 'sting'! 

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