Tuesday, 13 December 2011

On Coming Home

We have been back home in the UK for a few days now. Even as we were on the plane I was silently mulling over the past two years' journey with VSO (the TVscreen in front of me didn't work so I couldn't watch Return to the Planet of the Apes or Winnie the Pooh!).  And quite a journey it has been. It is hard to imagine going back to my old life - at least for the moment. Being jobless and homeless kind of focuses things for a while and will occupy our daily activities for the next few weeks and days - that and acquiring some warm clothing!
On the first night I lay in bed, engine noise still filling my head, and it was so quiet - it was as if everybody had got up and left - no traffic noise, no goats, no calls to prayer, no Radio Kwara. The following morning we had a lie in until 7am - the first time for many months that we had not been up before dawn.
I have a curious feeling that I have outgrown my former working life and have no desire to go back to it. What will replace it remains to be seen but I would not rule out other placements overseas provided they are short term.

Friday, 9 December 2011

….and 50 Things I won’t miss


       1. All the late starts to meetings and general buffoonery surrounding and during meetings

2. Missing the point and nit-picking over trivia

3. The busses!

4. The pot-holes, especially on the Ajase-Offa road  and the 'road' to Jebba!

5.   Rudeness and lack of consideration of drivers, to pedestrians especially.

6. Being hissed at to get attention! Hate this and completely ignore it.

7. Having ‘Oyinbo’ called after me and being expected to respond with smiles and waves.

8. The anger and frustration when you hear of incidences of gross corruption and ordinary people being ripped off.

9. Everything highly peppered with chilli – even some makes of biscuit!

10. Living behind bars – I long for a room with a view!

11. Generator hell! Noise from all directions well into the night – if not all night!

12. NEPA – or lack of, and the uncertainty over whether tonight’s meal will be cooked by candle light or not.

13. Cockroaches and micro-ants, but my aim with a spray can has improved greatly.

14. Picking weevils out of the beans.

15. Market traders and taxis ripping us off whenever the chance arises.

16. Having to stand on protocol at every meeting

17. Any contact with inefficient and pompous authority.

18. Roadside police extorting money and trying to look mean –usually succeeding till they spot me and then its wide grins and waves.

19. Slow/no pace of progress in simple matters

20. When people don’t keep your appointments with them – or prepare what they should have

21. Working in the office – not really what I came here for!

22. PSA forms – a bloody nightmare!

23. Trying to conduct business meetings while competing with the transistor radio or TV.

24. Jollof rice, pounded yam, egusi soup etc etc. Oh for a fried egg, bacon and mushroom butty!!

25. Not having music to listen to – since all mine was stolen on 16th June at about 2am!.

26. Celine Dion 24/7!

27. Huge trucks belching diesel.

28. As a passenger, feeling slightly worried, if not scared, at the lack of road discipline, especially at busy intersections .

29. Wondering if our flight will take off anytime today.

30. Powdered milk in tea.

31. Buying an Abba CD and finding a Celine Dion album inside.

32. Being in the right place at the right time with your camera to snap an amazing sight and finding your memory card is full.

33. Having to eat rice and soup with your fingers at meetings and trying to look as though you have been doing this all your life.

In conclusion, there are far more things I will miss than not miss, which goes to confirm my present feelings about Nigeria and the people of Kwara especially. Certainly it has had its frustrations and there have been times when I have longed to be home, but I now feel as though I have made progress in ways I had not anticipated and this realisation has come about through having had conversations with people I work with about just that – my impact, and in truth I am sad to be leaving . Funmi said to me many months ago: ‘Seriously, Mr Lea, when you come to the end of your time with us you will be so sad to leave that you will say you are not going back – your family can come out here to live instead’. At the time I thought ‘In your dreams!’ But although this is perhaps going a tad too far, I would love to work at Oro and see to completion the projects I have been involved with.

A pre-departure reflection:

Nigeria’s greatest asset is not its oil but its people and to them I would like to pay the following tribute by acknowledging what they have taught me:

· The importance of every day greetings and courtesies in forming and maintaining good personal relationships;

      · That if you do not have, don’t worry about it – improvise or just do without – you’ll live!

· Humility – the humility that believes that you will cope with life’s challenges – that God will provide, and if he does not, it will be for a reason;

· Not to winge and moan about your lot – there are people worse off especially here;

· That formal education is not the complete answer to your life chances – that there are many skilled people even amongst the illiterate poor who have remarkable talents that are under-appreciated.

· That traditional society lies just beneath the surface and will occasionally erupt through to reveal a completely different set of mores, beliefs and customs that may be at odds with ‘recognised’ practices and with one’s own perceptions of reality. This is a bit disconcerting to sat the least, as with ritualistic killings, but has made me think and reappraise my own position as a westerner coming here to introduce what we perceive to be ‘better ways’ .
      I still find it hard to believe that there are people here who believe that, if you pick up money dropped on the street, you will turn into a yam!

· That women in Africa work extremely hard – far harder than most men – and in our terms get a raw deal – they deserve our respect for their resilience.

· The extent to which corruption of all sorts impacts negatively on the poor who ultimately have to bear the load;

· Being depressed is something of a luxury that the poor can’t afford;

· The extent to which some of those with power and influence couldn’t give a damn about ordinary citizens , have no conscience about malpractice and will rip them off whenever possible, often pocketing obscene amounts of money in the process.

· That in spite of the above, people generally just get on with their lives as best they can and hope that better leaders will emerge eventually.

· That what truly matters is people and values – not possessions or power or status. I have tried in all the schools and colleges I have been to, to make students and teachers appreciate how important the job of a teacher is to the future of their country, always remembering the young girl who said to me that ‘I love Nigeria, but Nigeria does not love me!’

For me, I will take away many memories and I feel as though I have been changed as a person through my experiences and by my acquaintances – hopefully for the better. Returning to the UK at Christmas with all the excess and nonsense is going to be a mighty challenge - one I am not looking forward to but I guess I have got to confront – without offending family and friends in the process. How do I explain to them a position which is outside their terms of reference without coming across as moralising, patronising, a kill-joy, holier-than thou?

May be Funmi is right – perhaps I should just stay here – at least until its all over!!

50 Things I’ll miss about Nigeria

The end of my placement in Nigeria is looming large. I have of course, been reflecting on  the time I have spent here and what I will/will not miss.

So here it is……      50 Things I’ll miss about Nigeria

1.       Slow graceful herds of white cattle grazing the undergrowth under the casual gaze of their herdsman who may/may not be peeing by the roadside as you drive past.

2.       Careering down the road to Oro in the Kia with the crooning Don Williams on the CD player actually, this belongs in my next list, I think – after a few dozen such trips.

3.       The genuinely warm greetings and wide smiles wherever you go – something we have lost.

4.       The synchronised head-turning of okada driver and pillion(s) as they  speed  past us.

5.       The courtesy and greetings of school children and their desperate desire to carry my bag.

6.       Small children in Old Cemetry Road running to give us high/low 5’s – and then you realise your hand is a bit slimy!

7.       Abdullahi the gate man, always glad to see me and ask where I am going today – even though the answer is always the same.

8.       Gbenga washing his uncle’s car outside our bedroom window at 5.30 every morning – who needs an alarm clock!

9.       Goats – everywhere, sporting the bit of rag/plastic bag that indicates their owner.

10.   The fantastic wet season electric storms.

11.   Black kites circling overhead at the Kwara hotel, viewing the oyibos in the pool and wondering if they are edible.

12.   The girls of Pakata school in their lemon and lime uniforms, waving,  calling out ‘Mr Lea!’ and coming into my office for chats.

13.   My training sessions with the teachers – usually appreciative, if there is food .

14.   Rough bus journeys to Offa  on the second worst road in the world and the unexpected – always!

15.   My walk from Offa central mosque to Moremi  High School and the people I met.

16.   The okada ride back to the bus garage (a shack) with no helmet- reminder of my youth when I had hair to feel the wind in.

17.   The relief and delight when NEPA comes back on and the water pump works – however briefly!

18.   Watching Premier League football live on satellite TV at Sue’s, trying to fend off the kids.

19.   Playing with Meg and Myesha  - full of fun and creative games.

20.   The spectacular faded grandeur of the big houses in Oro, some with a tomb in the front.

21.   The rare beauty spot – Water View and Sobi Hill – nice relaxing places to visit.

22.   Sunday morning drums and choir from ‘Powerful Prayer’ church – actually, another for the next list!  But I will sort of miss it, painting my Sunday mornings.

23.   The deep faith and belief that any good that befalls people is down to God.

24.   The fresh breeze that precedes a storm and the sound of torrential rain flowing off the roof.

25.   Heavily armed roadside police in knitted tank tops, grinning widely as they greet us – never did manage to acquire one.

26.   Being in the classroom – a real privilege.

27.   The unsubtle and simple sense of humour – so easy to make people laugh.

28.   The kids at Hope orphanage playing with toys and just wanting to be picked up.

29.   Discovering wine in a supermarket – and having enough money to buy it!

30.   Brightly painted roofs in primary colours

31.   Old trucks from the UK still with the names of their previous owners on the doors.

32.   Udofia, Elijah, James, Emmanuel  and Francis, our ever-cheerful, friendly  guards, always grateful for their tea and toast/biscuits/jollof rice.

33.   The neighbours singing ‘hymn book’ at 5.00 every morning – just prior to the car washing ceremony.

34.   Anna and Elizabeth and their mum in the roadside shack, and baby Bridget staring at me with terror just beneath the surface!

35.   The vegetable boy who supports Chelsea - and always overcharges us –but with a smile.

36.   Baba’s handshakes – never sure where my thumb should be but glad when I realise it is still attached!

37.   Trying to work out if African Magic is a great spoof or just chronic script-writing and acting.

38.   Oro Campus on a hill overlooking the town and surrounding bush savanna – quite a view!

39.   The chilly, foggy mornings during harmatan – refreshing.

40.   The cricket match that never was – but the training was fun.

41.   Writing my Blog and composing poems of Nigeria  – it has kept me sane and my mind active.

42.   Delivering workshops and preparing presentations – tiring but rewarding.

43.   Sunlight bursting into our dark apartment when I unlock in the morning – like a release from prison.

44.   Akara  and  sweetcorn takeaways for mid-morning snacks.

45.   The neighbours in our street, so welcoming and cheerful.

46.   Funmi’s opinionated chats and interesting takes on life!

47.   The joy people show when they take to your sense of humour.

48.   The ramshackle, dilapidated state of things which is rather endearing somehow.

49.   The remarkable sights you see on an okada – six people is my record (two on the petrol tank and a baby strapped to the back of its mother;  goat, enamel bath, plate glass window, cow’s head complete with horns, threatening to disembowel any pedestrians .

50.    Having the time just to think about things – situations, priorities, values.

51.  (- OK Maths was never a strong point). The SSIT - never in the field of educational training has so much hilarity been enjoyed by so many so often. I will miss them all greatly.