Me at Lucy's Wedding. The sun does shine in England!

Me at Lucy's Wedding. The sun does shine in England!
Me still in England!

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Story books

I should have posted this ages ago so ignore the date! Just four weeks before I left Nigeria I got a grant of 100,000 naira from VSO. It was a bit of a mad scramble but I managed to buy 500 story books from Macmillan at a special rate of 200 naira per book and out of my allowance I bought plastic crates to  pack the books in. The best part was taking the books to the schools! I had already funded schools in Ilorin, Asa and Oro so decided to take books to another LGEA called Moro which does not do as well as other areas. The schools are also linked to a university there where David, our Canadian friend works. He is trying to help the communities and got some children into schools by finding funds to buy school uniforms and pay the PTA levy. Despite the claim that all children have acces to education lots of children still don't attend school because of having to pay the levy and have a uniform which is compulsory.So I went with the SSIT to deliver the books. At each school a child came to collect them and take them to the teachers. All the teachers in Kwara have now been trained in the new reading methods so it was good to observe them in practice.

At the start of each literacy lesson pupils in these schools can now enjoy reading real story books with Nigerian themes.

Some of the children had never seen a book apart from a text book and we had to tell them that they were allowed to open them. The teachers did a good job of introducing the books to the children-this was part of the training. It was very rewarding to see the children so absorbed. Even the children who couldn't read much were able to take part as the books are graded to include books for beginners with lots of pictures.

The children are in groups. At a training one teacher asked what to do about children who couldn't read at all. My response would have been to ability group them but Philip had a much better solution-he said the ones who could read would help the ones who couldn't. It is so much better to let them come up with their own solutions. Their solutions are based on experience in teaching in Nigeria where 'ofsted' ideals have to be greatly modified-this has been a real learning curve for me!

I wish all children could have access to these books. I am hoping to continue raising money for this. Less than £1 would buy a book for a child. My dream is to provide books for every child in public schools in Kwara state.

Reading is the key to so many things and should be the right of every child.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Struggling on

Times have been very tough recently. Ilorin is no longer the peaceful city it was a year ago. There have been several killings inour area. One was a young girl on her way home from the night vigil at her church. We were also stopped by the police and warned not to walk down the road in the dark as a sixty year old woman had been attaked by men with machetes, raped and killed. We cannot go out at all now after dark so are virtually trapped in our house once we return from work. Also some thieves have taken parts form the local transformer so we have had long periods with no NEPPA at all. As a result we also have very little water! There are also a lot of traffic jams as filling stations are not releasing fuel in an effort to increase the price of fuel!
The photo shows Lea washing up by candle light! We are both very tired now. Sleep is a problem as we have a new neighbour with a very noisy generator so the choice is shut the window and sleep in the heat or listen to the generator!
Our wonderful tailor made Lea and I the matching tops!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Saying goodbye

First there was a party for the SSIT to celebrate their first two years. They had these outfits made for me and Lea. They also said some very nice things about us and were really appreciative of all we had done.
At our last meeting they sang 'Jolly Good Fellow'!
Bello, I will never forget your jokes-especially the eating game!
Lea with Adeoye
Then the woman by the office who helped me with my Yoruba as well as selling us scotch eggs!
Funmi, my office colleague and true friend. He kept me going through difficult times with his humour and chat.
Oozar, my neighbour became a great friend and I will never forget her and will really miss our chats.

Nancy and Dave, our Canadian friends. We enjoyed Dave's birthday party and it was good to meet some other expats!

Monday, 28 November 2011

Searching for God in Nigeria

Last Sunday a truly wonderful person died. Gill Edwards was my friend and mentor and I loved her dearly. She was an ‘earth angel’ and inspired many people. She wrote books such as ‘Living Magically’, ‘Life is a Gift’, ‘Conscious Medicine’ and more. She kept me going in dark troubled times. Without her support I would never have come to Nigeria. Gill taught me to ‘Follow my dreams and live with joy’. She taught me to look for the positive and find something to be grateful for every day. She showed me that  without doubt  life is eternal  and the only reality is Love. Thank you,  Gill. I know you are still with me and your love will stay with me forever.  I believe that life is part of a much larger journey and so death cannot be a tragedy. Gill has moved on and I miss her earthly being but her spirit will continue to guide me.
So I will try to explain my ‘journey’ in Nigeria.......
My beliefs were sorely tested when I first came to Ilorin. My impressions of Ilorin were not good. Sabo-Oke, where we live, was often described as a ‘ghetto’-rather a rough area. Indeed it is not a picturesque place-rubbish is thrown everywhere and the cemetery is strewn with plastic bags, rotting food and excrement-human and animal. The ditches are little better than open sewers in places, lorries belch out thick black acrid smoke, generators whir and there is noise, noise, noise... My eyes are often sore with the dust and pollution and fresh air is a luxury. Poverty abounds. Polio victims beg, young children risk their lives begging at busy roundabouts. I saw children sitting for hours in dark dismal classrooms waiting for a teacher who never arrived. I saw children cower in fear of the kaboko (the strap) and Lea witnessed floggings in secondary schools. I saw children taking tiny tots to school down busy roads, five year olds looking after  babies. I could not see God in these scenes.
Everywhere people go to the mosque or the Christian church. Religion has a powerful influence here. How else would people put up with their wretched lives? Religion offers the chance of a better life. Religion says just ‘trust’, put everything in God’s control. Missionaries build fine churches and offer salvation from hell. They tell people to repent and pray, cast out their devils and tell their converts God is in charge. All they have to do is pray-no action is required.  So people remain helpless victims in the face of corruption and the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I know this is a very simplistic view and I am sure not all churches are like this but this is how it first seemed to me.
So how could God be here?  How could ‘Life be a gift’? How could anyone ‘live magically here? What have these people got to show gratitude for and where is the joy in their lives?
But....... when I got past all my pre-conceived notions and looked beyond the squalor, of course, you are right Gill. God is in Nigeria. Life is a gift-yes, even and especially, in Nigeria.
I couldn’t find God in the churches but I did find him in the people. Nigerians have something we, in the west, have lost-joy, spontaneity, the ability to live in and truly appreciate the moment! The State School Improvement Team I work with face many difficulties and frustrations but I will carry their joy and laughter with me always. They have not forgotten how to sing and dance in celebration of life. At first I found the banter infuriating when I was training them but once I shed my British ‘stiff upper lip’ I found I too could be joyful!  And the fun we had pretending to be chickens, a yam in a bag, five little ducks..... Oh how we repress our joy as adults in the West! Yes, training here is very noisy and can be frustrating but everyone joins in, shows appreciation and has fun!
Then I look at the children. They don’t want my pity! They run to greet me, laughing and tumbling in the sand, shouting, ‘Auntie Caroline!’  Some of them have to be tough to survive but the pleasure in their faces as they play with bits of wood and home-made toys. I have seen groups of them looking out for one another with a tough love but a love none the less. Yesterday, at the orphanage, the little boys were playing ball with Lea and they were so happy-it was moment I will always treasure. All they want is love. I still so desperately want the children to be able to play and want the carers to hug them more but Mrs Omolehin has love in her heart and is drawing in more and more support. Last year she was in two rooms with a few part-time helpers now she has a nursery room, a building for the older children, thirteen helpers and a bus. She, truly sees the positive. Her love attracts more love and I know that very soon the other buildings will be up and the children will be housed in family style accommodation.
Yes the classrooms are dark and dismal but times are changing. Thanks to the SSIT teachers are releasing and sharing their joy with the children. They are learning that teaching does not have to be a chore but can be fun. They are singing the phonic songs, pretending to be ducks......
God is here in the people. Love is in the families. Mothers with babies bound to their backs, work day and night to improve their lives.  The poorest people here have given me the most-an extra egg, a bag of tomatoes from my neighbours, drinks at schools. There is much that is wrong and sad here but the day after Gill died I looked into the sky above Sabo-Oke and knew God was here. God/Love  is what keeps Nigeria going.
I will miss you!

Yes, sadly Lea and I are returning home on December 17th as our family need us. It was a very hard decision and one we made in September. It had nothing to do with the trials we have faced recently although they have saddened me greatly.

The children playing with some of the toys Andrea sent. The rest of the money I raised I used to buy disposable nappies. Thank you everyone who helped me do this!
A moment to treasure. Lea playing catch with the children.

Friday, 25 November 2011

At Lucy's

We had such a nice time at Lucy’s. It was so nice to be with other volunteers. We enjoyed great meals in the garden. Vonnie and I made the best salad and Irish garlic bread of course but we also had pounded yam with okra soup which we pounded ourselves. Lucy and Laurence had been keeping a goat so I stayed well away from the slaughter area but Lea said it tasted good. She has got another one for Christmas. The guards were very pleased to be given the head to eat!
In the garden the hammock was in much demand. There were lots of nice shady places to sit which was good as it was much hotter there than it is here. Harmattan has started there so it was cooler at night.
We also got to meet two German students who have done a lot of work with the Almajirai children and showed us a dvd the children had made themselves. These are Muslim children who beg on the streets. After seeing the dvd I understood a lot more and realised they didn’t need my pity but wanted respect for what they were doing. They are sent to the Koranic schools  by their parents and have to beg to provide money for their food. They are treated very badly but are proud that they support themselves. They spend many hours learning and reciting the Koran. If they get it wrong they get beaten by the Mallam (teacher of the Koran) who believes the more beatings he gives the more rewards he will get.
It is much quieter in Dutse and it was nice to walk about without being shouted at! We went to the market and got some really pretty cloth. Things are cheaper there too. The rocks were very interesting and good to walk to and up, although I didn’t get very far-my shoes were too slippy!

Sitting in the secret garden. It was so quiet here after the noise of Ilorin!
Lea enjoying a well earned snooze!
I even got a free drumming lesson!
Thank you Lucy for sharing your house with us all.

Seen in Dutse along with bicycles and a lovely slower pace of life!

Adventures in Jigawa:

The Durbar festival dates back hundreds of years to the time when the Emirate (state) in the north of N igeria used horses in warfare. During this period, each town, district, and nobility household was expected to contribute a regiment to the defense of the Emirate. Once or twice a year, the Emirate military chiefs invited the var­ious regiments for a Durbar (military parade) for the Emir and his chiefs.

During the parade, regiments would showcase their horsemanship, their preparedness for war, and their loyalty to the Emirate – but sadly not their poo-picking skills. Today, Durbar has become a festival celebrated in honour of vis­iting Heads of State and at the culmination of the two great Muslim festivals, Id-el Fitri (commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan) and Ide-el Kabir.
Eid al-Adha  or "Festival of Sacrifice" or "Greater Eid" is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isma'il) as an act of obedience to God, before God intervened to provide him with a sheep— to sacrifice instead.[1]
Salah - the second pillar of Islam is prayer; a prescribed liturgy performed five times a day (preferably in a mosque) and oriented toward Mecca.
Barka da sallah meand Happy Sallah and is said during the celebrations.
Lesson over!
Lea and I decided to got to Dutse, the capital of Jigawa, to celebrate Sallah which was on November 6th, 7th and 8th. We went to an education meeting for VSO in Abuja the week before so decided to travel from there. It was good to be in Abuja with other volunteers and we even got to go to the cinema again. We saw 'Johnny English Reborn' which was really funny and stuffed ourselves with popcorn!
This is the bar where we all met up. Sadly this is the place where you choose a catfish. It is killed in a very horrible way.

I was enjoying a 'chapman' here-a lovely fruit cocktail at a very expensive Abuja price! It was good to be in the Chrystal palace hotel again. We had a very strange room with a sort of large entrance with an additional telly in it. We even had a warm shower-the food was not too good but we got good vegetable shwarma nearby.

So the long journey north began! Eight of us crammed into a car meant for seven at the filling station. However it meant no-one else was with us so we didn't have to contend with goats, etc. This is a photo showing a face in the rock which looks like ET. A hotel was being built but then the face appeared as they carved the rock out. It was taken as a bad omen and no-one has ever stayed in the hotel.

Everyone was heading north to celebrate Salah. The north is predominantly Muslim so it was very busy on the roads. The lorry in front is loaded with yams and the lorry behind has an unsuspecting ram enjoying a breezy ride. Rams were everywhere taking drinks on the roadside or crammed into trucks.

We drove through Kaduna which is a very busy city.

Kano was very dusty but the scenery was changing. As we entered Jigawa there were more open spaces, flat roofs and it was good to see the harvest of Guinea corn. In fact it was good just to see fields' people on bikes and a slower pace of life. We arrived at Lucy's house where we were all staying. Her garden is truly lovely and relaxing. She also has electricity, running water, a hot shower and a TV! Netty, from Kano was already there and had a meal ready! The next day we were up early to see the start of the Dhurba. The first day the Emir goes from the Governor's house
 to the mosque. He is part of a very long colourful procession of people on horse back. There are four emirates in Jigawa and representatives from all the villages and towns are represented in the procession. Everyone has new clothes. The first day there were no women or girls in sight. The next morning the Emir goes from the mosque to the Governor's house and on the third day everyone is allowed to attend and the Emir goes to the Mosque. I was amazed at the splendour and the hundreds of men taking part in the procession.
Here children dressed in their new clothes wait excitedly under a tree.
Some of the horsemen were as interested in us as we were in them. As I took photos of them they took photos of us!!!! The horses were very well-behaved too despite the noise and flapping clothes! They were all stallions too and no horse shoes but sadly very thin although they were all beautifully groomed.

Every village had its own costume. Some walked but most were on horseback. Note-not a woman in sight!

Each village was led by someone carrying a banner with the name of the village.

There were even camels. This camel was leading the procession with the Emir.

There was a lot of entertainment too. 'Hard' men were demonstrating their skills of eating knives and cutting their throats with sharp knives!!

The Emir is under the umbrella!

On the last day the children were allowed to join in!

The police were out in force on the last day! We had to take a step back as the Emir passed as his arrival was celebrated by firing guns!

So I retreated to the shade of this tree! Suddenly I felt something crawling up my bag with very sharp claws. A gecko popped out of my sleeve and ran down my arm! You can imagine the laughter this caused. Fortunately it was quick so I didn't have time to scream!!!
On the second night we walked to the Emir's palace. We saw him getting into his car. We were then invited to go inside his palace. We were given a guided tour and presented with three books written by the Emir. The palace is beautifully decorated and the patterns were amazing.
Lea, Lucy and Vonnie.

There was an old part too. This is where the Emirs used to pray,

We were also shown the museum where some of the darts still had poison on them and we were warned not to touch them!

It was a great experience and I felt really privileged to have been invited in.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Road to Lagos

Last week I had to go and do more training in Enugu. This was very pleasant as the SSIT and Eos are very receptive and friendly and I also get to stay in a really nice hotel. Last time I went by road and it took 12 hours so this time I was driven to Lagos where I stayed the night and then flew to Enugu the next day and came home the same way. The training was very successful and they are now going to use some of the lesson plans in Enugu. The only ‘adventure’ I had was when I developed an eye infection and had to go to a pharmacy. I was amazed to be taken into the ‘consulting, room to find he was still treating someone else. As they speak Igbo here I couldn’t understand a word but all the same.... It was very dark in the room-no Neppa -so I wasn’t too confident when he looked at me from a distance and said, ‘Eye infection’ but he prescribed some drops and ointment. The ointment was fine but I didn’t risk the drops. It is gradually getting better fortunately. The driver in Enugu was really kind helping me find a pharmacy. I also went to Shoprite, a big supermarket and was thrilled to find soya mince and cheese!
I was disappointed that I got to see very little of Lagos. The traffic here is horrendous. On the way I could see some of the flooding and the homes that have been destroyed. There is an express road into Lagos-a dual carriageway but it is very congested. Huge trucks use the road, vehicles go down the wrong side of the road to speed up their journey and we constantly drove off the tarmac part of the road to overtake the lorries. There were a lot of accidents and abandoned overturned lorries lined the road.
On the way back it was quieter to begin with. There were a lot of hige wagons taking sheep and yams north ready for the Sallah celebrations next week. People are crammed in with the goods and often sway precariously on the top and side of the wagons. We drove out of Lagos into Ogun state and then into Oyo. In Oyo we reached Ibadan which is the largest city in Western Africa. As I looke out of the window I could see tin roves that went on and on. It is so crowded-an amazing place. We were still on the express road but had to leave it several times where it was not completed or in need of repair. Roads wear out really quickly. The tarmac layer they put down is very thin-false economy of course. So we were trying to rejoin the road and there was a long queue all doing the same thing. The police stopped us and told us to turn back. He said there was a bomb exploding ahead. My wonderful driver, Samson, said he was just tricking us. ‘If there was a bomb would he be standing there?’ He said there was no other way to get back to Kwara. We needed to go on the roaod as it would take ages to find other routes and they would be difficult. So we drove past the police. Up ahead we could see a barrier and the road construction vehicles. They were obviously trying to repair the road. They were turning people back and also stopping people from coming off the road the other way so there was a big queue on the express road too. Trouble was there was nowhere for anyone to turn round to. On the other side of the barrier a young girl in her bridal gown was pleading to be let through or she would miss her wedding. A policeman said we could try talking to the white construction man who was standing by the barrier. We drove towards him and unfortunately bumped into the back of him by accident. Well he was mad then! He called Sanson a ‘small man’ and threatened to arrest him. He had a strong Irish accent and we were treated to some choice swear words. He also accused Samson of thinking he could do what he liked just because he had a white with him. He then went off to shout at someone else. I could see how frustrating it was for him with all the traffic on the road he was trying to repair but the whole situation was ridiculous as there was nowhere else for anyone to go! Eventually he came back and Samson begged him to let us through. I apologised for the accident but was completely ignored. Suddenly he directed us through and we were on the express road!
The rest of the journey was uneventful but the roads are a major issue here. The express road is so busy and a major link. The trucks wear it out quickly and a road is supposed to be being built for just trucks. The railway is still under repair. The roads are not built to last which is another issue. Money set aside for roads is too often siphoned off to buy cars and holidays for people who should know better and as a result cheap inadequate material is used to repair them.
I am now home and there has been no Neppa for three days. My neighbour has to empty and cook the food she has stored in her freezer and Lea and I will have to eat our cheese quickly! It is very hard being a Nigerian.

The journey began peacefully
But the traffic in Lagos was mad!

There were lots of accidents. We also saw two women having a fight!
Lgos from my aeroplane window!
The lorries are very colourful and have interesting slogans!


The lorries carrying the rams, yams and goats for Sallah.