This has seemed the longest week of my life! Nothing could have prepared me for the experiences and sights ! I have had an overload of information and no time for blogs!
So Wednesday was gender training mostly and then we found out where we were going on our work experience. We also found out that although we would be collected and taken to our placement we would be expected to return alone. Fortunately Lea and I were placed together.- in Akwanga which is in Nasarawa state. This is the next state to Abuja so I thought okay should be fine-then I was told to take my helmet........
The next morning I gave the liver stew a miss and tried a bag of something that had a vague resemblance to Readibrek which was actually okay with powdered milk and hot water. There was even some pineapple and melon which I ate in the hope of keeping me going on my journey. While we were waiting to be picked up I went to the shop opposite the hotel which sells everything. You can buy shampoo and even Nivea-wish I had known-would have saved valuable suitcase space. Best of all they had Aero bars.
Lucy arrived to pick us up and we got in a taxi to Area 11 Filling Station where we needed to take a bus to the main motor park. We got out and followed Lucy across the main road-dodging speeding cars hooting furiously (suddenly realised I haven’t seen any traffic lights in Abuja). Suddenly Lucy was running and stopping a very dilapidated looking minibus. Next thing she was beckoning us to get in. First part of my steep learning curve-there are no bus stops-just areas where buses stop which might be going your way and you need to agree a price before you jump on. So we got on and I sat with 3 people on a seat made for 2-no mean feat when I was also carrying my helmet and flight travel bag which is on wheels. Lea sat somewhere behind me. Next lesson when you want to get off you bang the roof and shout “Drop”. Fortunately Lucy knew where we needed to drop. Ah now, I thought the motor park and pictured buses lined up with destination signs. How naive was I? We stumbled out of the bus into a mele of people selling food and every item under the sun-these are hawkers and no, Lucy patiently explained this is not a market. When I looked more closely I could see some minibuses amidst the chaos. We needed to find one for Akwanga and it had to be green-the others aren’t regulated. This was quickly accomplished and Lucy said the price was fine so our bags were pushed under the seats and we got on. Everyone had a seat but we didn’t move until everyone was completely squashed and we were all enjoying the benefits of this free sauna. Next lesson-the conductor and driver don’t wear uniforms! While we were waiting to see if anyone else would like to squash in with us we were offered phone cards, eggs (yes real eggs and not in a box), silk scarves, plantains and all manner of food. Finally feeling peckish we bought some doughnuts. They looked just like jam doughnuts. They tasted just like jam doughnuts except they had no jam in the middle instead they had a hard boiled egg and were actually very nice. We were also subjected to beggars and then a rather large man stepped on the bus and tried to lead us in prayer. Over his shoulder a woman was selling children’s clothes to another passenger. So when another man asked us for 300 naira I was a bit dubious-but apparently it was okay as he was the conductor. Just before we left a man pointed at us and shouted “ Baturi” which means white person and apparently is not meant as an insult in any way. At last we got going and I tried to be sociable with the woman in front who had a baby on her knee. She told me her name was Esther but Esther didn’t respond well to my smiling and silly face games-she just stared and stared.......Suddenly we stopped and a woman with a baby tied to her back got on and very cleverly managed to manoeuvre the baby onto her lap while having a heated debate with the conductor over the price of the fare. This continued for most of her journey. She finally got off telling him he was a cheat and a thief. We stayed on the bus for about two hours and finally arrived in Akwara. Again I thought I was in a market but they were just hawkers. Lucy was then very kind and decided we had had enough adventures for one day and phoned her colleague to come and pick us up. Another lesson parking as such does not exist-you just stop anywhere regardless of traffic or inconvenience. We drove to quieter parts. Lucy works in a college and has her accommodation there. The teachers were on strike so there were pickets at the entrance but when they saw Lucy we were able to drive through. Strikes are very common as teachers are often not paid on time and are very badly paid also.
The college grounds are quite well laid out but I was shocked at the state of the buildings. Lucy lives on the second floor of her block and her neighbours were outside the building drying some crops. There were also some very noisy turkeys, chickens and two dogs. Grandma welcomed us and we learnt “Sadu” (hi) and “Enakwana” (how are you) and “Lafia” (fine). Our first lesson in Hausa over we entered Lucy’s flat and were introduced to the water butt-which is filled from a tap in the yard-but this only comes on intermittently we found out later when there was a mad rush by her neighbours up and down the stairs. We also learnt how to scoop water into a bowl to wash our hands with and use to flush the toilet. Although she has a bathroom nothing works in it and you can’t let water go down the sink. Bathtime involves putting an electric element in a bucket of water, placing that in the bath and then using the scoop to throw water over your body. Lucy had got a cooker and a fridge and we had a comfortable bed complete with mosquito net. After a lovely “normal” lunch of beans on toast we walked around the college. The lecturers and teachers live here with their families and grow their vegetables which they also sell at the market. The Lecture rooms are very different as you can see and are full of rubble and very dusty. Students use the road as a toilet also. We also saw the primary and secondary schools, which again were full of rubble. Children aged 5 sit behind woode desks for hours every day. When we returned to Lucy’s the NEPPA (electricity) had gone off so our wind up torch came in handy!
Apart from the dogs howling we had a good night’s sleep and I decided it was time to feel the fear and go on an okada (motor bike). Another volunteer had warned me to choose a fatter driver so I would have something to hold onto in an emergency. However Lucy said it was not really the done thing to touch the driver so I just took the first driver. Putting my helmet on was not easy as it is such a snug fit and then trying to get my glasses on was almost impossible but somehow I ended up behind the driver! Off we sped and I hung on to the back of the bike for grim death until he shouted I was holding the indicator light! Lucy was in front with her okada but then she disappeared! Fortunately my driver knew where we were going and we arrived at the Provost’s house safely! We had an interesting time there and learnt about the nursery school they are setting up. After that the Provost’s driver took us to a restaurant where we were introduced to egusi soup which you eat by making a little ball with the yam and using that to scoop up the stew. The yam is fine but I had problems with the stew as despite being vegetables there were pieces of dried fish in it which I was warned not to eat! Another okada ride took us to the market where we bargained and got a mobile phone for 5000 naira-about £20 and Lucy showed us the food we could buy.
The following day we went for a walk and came to a Fulani tribe village but couldn’t stay long as the children were frightened of us-bad enough we were white but worse I had a big hat on! Then it was time for some cooking! Lucy’s neighbour had given her lots of bananas so we made banana cake which was lovely.
The next day we had to return to Abuja unaccompanied!!! Lucy, however gave us some excellent instructions so we felt fairly confident-at least Lea did but with my sense of direction I wondered if I would ever see Abuja again. This time I did choose the larger okada driver but couldn’t work out where to put my feet and ende up with them stuck out at the side, desperately trying not to touch the ground. My glasses had also slipped and were on diagonally which meant I had limited vision. However, I thought I would imagine I was on a horse and if I could stay on a horse then why not a bike? As we bumped along I remembered how I had never liked riding without holding the reins........ The driver was excellent though and took us straight to the Abuja bus and put our bags in. We sat at the front and were soon chatting to the Nigerian students behind us who kindly offered to share their food with us. I even relaxed enough to eat plantain crisps! There was a slight problem when someone started demanding money until I realised he was the conductor. As before people were selling and begging so it was confusing. As time wore on and our new friends got off the bus I started to worry about knowing where to get off but the driver was very good and let us know in plenty of time. I am very proud of the next part as when we got off we had to find a bus to Area 11. We were surrounded by hawkers, buses and lots of mud but someone asked where we were going and lead us to a the buses. After asking at several buses we found the correct one and I negotiated a price cheaper than the one Lucy had suggested! When we got on and I sat by the driver I realised why-the bus was ina very bad state-wires everywhere and the speedo was broken but hey so what? The driver was friendly and told us where to get off and Lea remembered which side of the road we needed to be on so then all we had to do was get a taxi back to Crystal Palace Hotel. We then enjoyed a snack in the cafe-well Lea did as everything was meat except the doughnut which didn’t have an egg in this time. We also discovered the supermarket sold fridges, kettles, in fact everything you needed.