Monday, 19 September 2011

Where the Heart is?

We have just returned from Abuja where we have participated in a workshop devoted largely to the enhancement of skills of the School Support Improvement Teams in ‘ESSPIN’ states within Nigeria.

The course was most useful and it has been  nice to meet with other VSOs and educationalists whose names had become familiar through emails but  to which  I can now place a personality and a face.  It has also been a relief to spend some time out of the spotlight. Westerners are not quite the novelty or source of comment and attention there that they are in Kwara.    

We were accommodated in the grandest hotel I have yet to experience in Nigeria – though I have only experienced two. Our room could have accommodated the entire population of a small African state; an Olympic event could have been staged within its walls. The bed if fitted with a sail, could almost have been used to sail single-handedly around the world – I say almost,  the mattress being  so dense I doubt  it would have floated. So, it was a big room. Unfortunate then, that the size of the TV was not to the same scale. Viewing its screen, trying to follow the progress of the Barcelona v AC Milan match from the comfort of the bed was impossible without the use of field glasses.   

Our first morning excursion to the restaurant threw up (unfortunate phrase) an unexpected problem: We were required to sign against our room number to indicate we had taken breakfast, but while Caroline’s name appeared on the register, mine did not – though I was required to sign too. It seemed difficult for the girl or the system to cater for the fact that we were a married couple sharing a room though actually taking part in the same course and had successfully registered with reception the evening before. Apparently the system could only cope with a single occupancy concept: one room = one occupant =  one breakfast; any deviation from this caused consternation and a ‘scam’ was suspected!

Anyhow, after several anxious minutes during which I refused to pay for my breakfast, I was left alone to my three thousand naira hard-boiled egg while investigations proceeded. On subsequent  mornings there was no such problem – clearly they gone into emergency mode, flown in IT boffins  from Microsoft HQ with their sonic screwdrivers  and rectified  the situation!

Flying back to Ilorin was hassle-free. I used the phrase ‘going home’ , almost choked on the phrase and then reflected on what led me to say it. Obviously it is not my real home and yet in some strange way it felt as though it was. In spite of the manic roads and environmental degradation, as we drove into Old Cemetery Road, now even worse having had its sandy surface scoured by recent torrential rains, I felt that comfort of being back where I sort of belong. Yes, it is physically grim, but we have nice neighbours  who are used to us being here and  we have made our house our home as far as we can.

It is now Sunday morning; the gospel choir is in full voice – a Ginger Bakeresque drum solo combined with Aretha  Franklin-style vocals that could penetrate  Earth’s mantle ; the children upstairs  calling out in those tones that suggest they are completely pissed off with each other  - and their mother’s voice suggesting the same only more-so; the occasional cockerel feeling the need to belatedly comment on the morning’s weather; the cheery ‘ekaaros’ of the guards; even the whistling vigilantes out in force last night - it all seemed to slot back into place in my emotional jigsaw and appear normal –  a picture of  simply what it’s like – not too scary somehow, lively, industrious, friendly -  home, albeit temporary.
I think perhaps in a small way Nigeria is starting to get to me – ooooer!  I won’t be applying for citizenship just yet, however! No doubt my next trip on a bus or an okada will restore my sense of reality!!

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