We have been back three weeks now and England seems very far away. I miss everyone very much but have to keep telling myself that they are still there and I am so lucky to have such a wonderful family and friends. I am also grateful-much more so now-to have been born in a first world country with all the benefits of free education, health care, etc.
So it was with very mixed feelings that I returned. Again ESSPIN really looked after us and put us up in a hotel to rest before we flew from Abuja to Ilorin. It was very quiet in Abuja when we arrived-the curfew is in place so no-one is allowed on the streets until 6am. A lot of my friends were concerned for our safety as we were all sad to hear of the bombing in Abuja which killed people in the UN building. The fact that ‘Boko Haram’ who claimed responsibility for it means ‘Western education is sinful’ does worry me but they are a minority group and mustn’t put agencies off. Education is the key to everything. I have always been passionate about reading-highlights of my career have been when I have helped children with ‘special needs’ to read. I always remember two children who had very sad lives-they had been abused, fostered and seen more than any child should. Their behaviour was a cause for concern as their emotional turmoil often manifested itself in violence to other children and members of staff. However, with the help of a wonderful teaching assistant I taught them to read. The girl was eventually sent to a residential home but is an avid reader. Sometimes when she had been sent out of class she was reading in a corner. Reading was a means of escape and a release for these children from their troubles. Reading also opens up new worlds and ideas so I really hope that one day all children in Nigeria will be able to read. In order to do this teachers need to be trained how to teach reading. At the moment all children have in the public schools is a text book. They are made to read sections of it every day, often just chanting it a few words at a time. A few children manage to read with help at home but for most reading is still a mystery. Reading training for teachers must go on! So I am back to play my small part in achieving this goal.
We had such a warm welcome when we arrived. ESSPIN drivers are great. I feel well looked after and safe when I am out with them. Tajudin (or Baba as he is called) loves Don Williams and has a liitle baby son. Samuel likes Celine Dione and always takes time to answer my questions about Nigeria. Gabriel is also very patient with us-he has a little boy called Emmanuel. Wahid sometimes drives us too and went out of his way yesterday to show us the Basin area of Ilorin as I said I had never been there. Tunde Alatise is the SSIT driver and the one I have the most. He is well known here and we are greeted a lot. He introduced me to a great place that sells moin moin. I was shocked to hear how many hours some of them work. I was talking to one of the drivers in Abuja. He cannot afford to live near the ESSPIN office and has to leave his home at 5am because the traffic is so bad. He doesn’t get home until 8pm and sometimes midnight. They also have to work at the weekends picking people up from the airport yet they are always very helpful and cheerful.
So after a great welcome from Samuel we went into our flat. Julie had done a good job of looking after it. There were a few dead cockroaches but that was all. I soon got to work with the lavender oil which my research leads me to believe will keep furry creatures away as they cannot stand the smell. I also installed the sonic deterrent which is supposed to emit a noise only they can hear which they hate. The flat reeks of lavender but it is quite soothing. Emma sent round some bread, moin moin, eggs and water which was great as I didn’t feel up to shopping at 5pm. Julie came round for a last drink with us as she had decided to return home. I felt very sad as she was a good friend and ally. It is very unsettling when someone leaves but hopefully we can still stay in touch.
Our neighbours were delighted to have us back. Uzar. from upstairs liked the clothes we had brought for her family from the sales in Tesco and Asda. It was her birthday yesterday and she liked the Body Shop stuff and the chocolate cake with her name on-finally learnt how to spell it properly. The kids liked the sticker books too. I also gave the motor oil woman’s children sticker books. When I saw them again they showed me the books but didn’t know what to do with them. They go to the laocal public school and have never seen sticker books and very few books at all. On my way home I spotted children playing ‘table tennis’. They called me over to play with them. They had made ‘bats’ out of stiff card and constructed a ‘net’ out of a piece of wood and two blocks of cement! Such a far cry from the materialism in the UK and how wonderfully creative!
The next day we walked into work. It took us ages as everyone wanted to greet us and ask us about Katie’s wedding. We were literally dragged into the Bush Restaurant to have a drink. We were also taken inside to witness the yam being pounded by three women which involved a lot of sweat, flour and laughter! We made a new friend who said he worked for immigration. He said he could help us get our residents permit which we are still waiting for despite being told it would be ready after four months! We also met our friend Elizabeth who said she was very proud that we were still here-she used to be a nurse in London a long time ago but has now fallen on hard times.
It was good to see everyone in the ESSPIN office. More story books have arrived for the Challenge fund schools and the Big Books I brought back from England will also be used.
Later that week I went to the SSIT office and had another warm welcome. They were all keen to hear about the wedding. Bola’s daughter had also got married so we shared photos! Here the engagement is on the first day, followed by meeting the relatives the next day and then the wedding takes place on the third day. At the engagement party the couple wear clothes made from the same fabric and the man wears a special pointy Yoruba hat. The groom has to prostrate himself before the bride’s parents and beg for her hand. He should give presents such as a goat, yams and a chest of clothes. Hundreds come to the wedding ceremony and they were surprised that all the seats in the church were not full at Katie’s wedding. The two mothers also have the same cloth for their outfits which I quite like the idea of. I think I will have to wait a long time for my goat from James though! At the weekend there was a wedding party in our compound. It was amazing how many tables, chairs and gazebos they could cram in such a small space! We greatly benefitted from the three day supply of Neppa that ensued as a result. At every event the singing and music has to be as loud as possible and involves microphones and speakers so NEPPA is vital. Wonder how much ‘dash’ it involved?
We were invited to another loud but enjoyable event-the naming ceremony for Seyi’s new baby, Alexandria. This was a Redeeming church which involves a service in the church as a thanksgiving, then 40 days after the birth the pastor visits the home at 5am to name the baby and then later in the day there is a party. We went to the party! It was good to chat to our colleagues and friends and cuddle the baby!
Since coming back I have also been to a Muslim Funeral which was very interesting and not sad. Muslims have to bury the dead within 48 hours so the burial had already taken place. This ceremony was to thank Allah for his death. The deceased was the father of a Bello, an SSIT member. As we were white and part of the SSIT we were allowed to sit with the men at the front. This is very unusual. We also received a special welcome in English. There were a lot of Mallams (Arabic teachers) there. A very important Mallam arrived who is fourth in line to the Emir. We were not only allowed to take photos of him but also taken to greet him. Everyone else was falling on their knees in front of him but as I was worried I might not be able to get up again I did a sort of courtesy which seemed to be okay. I was told he is a professor at a university so I could speak freely to him! We just thanked him! As usual there were microphones and speakers which we were privileged to sit next to! We were also given food and I felt privileged to be so welcomed.
As there has been further burglaries in our area the landlords got together and now employ vigilantes. This is good and should make us feel safer but in fact it is quite scary to be woken at 11.30 and again at 3am by gun shots or screaming-tactics they employ to scare rogues! Sometimes they blow whistles and this is okay but the screaming is horrible and sets the dogs off barking. There was also trouble one night when there was a fight with the vigilante and a policeman which resulted in a gun being broken in half and a nose broken!
The weather is slightly cooler and we have had some great storms as it is still the rainy season. Despite this our neighbour still has his generator on all night!
The other problem is there is very little fresh fruit and vegetables available. The price of potatoes and pineapples has doubled and the quality of the bananas is very poor. Yesterday I got a grapefruit which, although surrounded by thick skin was very good. I was amazed to find a lettuce too but it was quite bitter and I think I will have to cook it like cabbage. The trader said both these things had come from Zaria.
Generally prices seem to have gone up and everywhere feel a bit tense. There was a taxi strike too. I don’t think the atmosphere is to do with terrorism just that people are finding it hard to manage.
To finish on a happy note. Lea, an ardent Liverpool supporter, made the ultimate sacrifice and decorated a cake for Sue with the Everton badge!