We have been here three weeks!
I still have to pinch myself at times to convince myself this is not a dream. Time has gone so fast this week and I have had some amazing experiences!
It is still an adventure just walking to the office in the morning. I am roused at 5am by church singing; get up at 6am; bang on the bathroom door to let Graham, the gecko know I am coming in and don’t want to see him; have a quick splash under the shower; search for clothes-usually by torchlight; eat porridge and cassava bread-tastes very sweet and has butter in it; put laptop in rucksack; lock front door; put on sandals which are in verandah and lock outside door (turning key three times); go into main yard; give door in the metal gate a mighty shove and step out into Cemetery Road. There is indeed a cemetery here but it is completely overgrown and only the tops of the graves are visible. The “road” part is debatable as it is really a sandy, litter-strewn path with huge pot-holes which Ahmed, the ESSPIN driver navigates with great sklil when he has to give me a lift. The raod, like all roads in Nigeria, is home to chickens and countless goats-smaller and cuter than British goats.Yesterday there were some gorgeous baby chicks following their mum in the ditch. People are everywhere-walking, on motorbikes, in cars, opening their shops, cooking plantains, shouting, singing..... Children in immaculate brightly coloured uniforms-the green one is my favourite- are heading off to school. School starts at 8, breakfast at 10.30 and finishes at 1.30. I still cause a stir and am greeted every few metres. I get a very enthusiastic welcome from the owner of the first “pub” who wants me to go and sit there one evening. It si nothing like Wetherspoons in case you were wondering! At the end of Cemetery road I turn onto the main road and there the adventure really begins. Traffic is horrendous! A ditch runs alongside the road with planks placed here and there so you can cross over them. Crossing the road is not for the faint hearted! Dodging okadas, cars and taxis which often suddenly turn and go down the wrong side of the road, I eventually leap the ditch and make it to the other side! As I get nearer to the office it gets busier and noisier. I am constantly amazed at what people can carry on their heads-huge baskets of plantains, oranges, boxes of cooked food, wood........ Other people hurry past with chickens under their arms........ The sights, sounds and smells are amazing!
After the heat the ESSPIN office is a welcome retreat with air conditioning, cool water machine and coffee. Everyone is really friendly and I get a warm welcome. I really am trying to learn names but it is not easy especially when I discovered some of the men had three names and the name Alhaja means they have been to Mecca so quite a few are called this.
I also need to learn the names of the SSIT team-State School Improvement Team as I will be working closely with them. On Friday I got the chance to really get to know Tunji and Abiyao (know these must be wrong spellings but it is how the names sound to me). I went out with them to two schools to attend the headteacher cluster group meetings where they were discussing school self evaluation. As we drove through Ilorin I saw more sights and sounds-everywhere is so busy! We could learn a lot from cluster meetings Nigerian style-I love the way everyone repeated the conclusions or things that were important and there is often an inspiring prayer. I don’t know how teachers would feel about sitting on broken desks and phones going off with very loud ring tones!The meetings were very efficiently run and I was made very welcome and allowed to sit in during group work. The second meeting was in Sunga, Edu which was a very long drive over bumpy roads. They had actually finished the meeting and gone to pray but came back especially to talk to us which I thought was amazing. The school they met in was very rural and some children were looking after the goats-it was half term. I was quite shocked at the state of the school which had desks only in class 6. It was good to meet the heads and find out their thoughts on the lesson plans. There is a photo of me with them somewhere in this blog!
Another day I went to the SSIT office to meet everyone and got a wonderful welcome. There are about 20 members and they all stood up and introduced themselves and then I had to make an impromptu speech-years of impromptu assemblies finally paid off! At the end there was even a prayer for me and a roll. This is where they roll their hand and then do a loud clap. I did my bit of Yoruba and they were very kind about my attempts! Hopefully I can help with the editing of the literacy and numeracy plans and have an input into the Letters and Sounds. The day after this I went to visit schools with three SSIT members-Dari, Amosa and Ibrahim (again sure these are wrong spellings but will learn them soon I hope). This was great day. We drove past the Emir’s Palace and the mosque. Men lined the road waiting to be picked for building work and the market was packed-although I was told it was much busier later! We went to two schools in Ilorin West where some great work was taking place and it was just so good to be in a classroom again! Although it was a far cry from the classrooms we have in the UK. In the first school there were 20 children in class 1 with 3 teachers and the teacher was clearly following the lesson plan. The children were learning to sing “The Wheels on the Bus” and the teacher had made a model bus out of a box and tin cans. She had also got literacy and numeracy areas. In another school children were learning tens and units with straws and twigs and counting using bottle tops. There was a homemade hundred square stuck on the wall with tape. It sounds familiar but set in a room with concrete floor and bare walls with little wooden desks from the Victorian era. The children had no shoes, stubby pencils and sat so quietly even when the teacher was talking to us. The teacher also had to endure being watched by the three of us and the head! The second school had lost a classroom due to subsidence which is a common problem. The head showed us the bore hole they had recently got so they could have water. The school based management committee had provided a “toilet” which was two pieces of corrugated metal. The last school was a rural one and very different from the first. Getting teachers to rural areas is difficult and two classes were without teachers which is quite a common situation. I watched class 3 this time and the teacher stopped the lesson she was doing so she could show me a literacy lesson. She repeated the one she had done earlier and the children just got on with it without a word! The head was a lovely man and keen to use the lesson plans but said he had problems with lack of staff, workbooks and infra structure-he had more derelict classrooms, again due to subsidence.
The following day I went with Sue, Abolowu and Philip to visit an amazing school in Oyun. Although the desks were broken and dilapidated the children were in circles or groups and encouraged to participate. The children had little bags with the letters written on scraps of paper which they used in the phonics lesson and in class one the teacher had a little pile of sand for the children to draw the numbers in. Most of the children had little bags with their exercise books in (they have to buy these themselves) and a pencil. The “blackboard” is a painted section of the concrete wall and displays are usually hand drawn on odd scraps of paper or card and attached with masking tape. It was amazing to see 5 year olds all sitting and doing the same thing and being quiet! They are moving toward more participation and it was encouraging to see teachers, working with so little resources embracing and trying out new ideas. I really enjoyed sitting and talking with the children. Class 3 were working on pronouns and worked so hard!
Philip took us to meet his friend who lived nearby who is some sort of minister, I think, in his church. He had a nice house and gave us a cool drink and Jacobs cream crackers which people seem to be very fond of. I was also introduced to a malt drink that is popular in another school but have learned fast not to drink too much as there are no toilet facilities and as I am often out for hours........
Life here is certainly not going to be dull!!!