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!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Adventures in Baruten

The MLA took over our lives of two weeks. MLA means moderating leaning achievement. Before the lesson plans an MLA was carries out and the results were dire. Children were in school but learning virtually nothing. Only 4% could read a few words and spoken English was very poor too. The quality of the lessons was very poor and teachers themselves had very poor literacy and numeracy skills. So two years on DFID wanted to do another NLA to see what impact the introduction of the lesson plans and the teacher training was having. I went to schools to monitor the MLA which was carried out by the SSIT. On the whole they did it very well but there were some problems in one LGEA and it was not completed there so someone had to go back with them to ensure it was completed. Unfortunately the LGEA was in Baruten which is in the far west of Kwara and difficult to reach. Even worse the school selected was a good journey into the interior ff Baruten in a village called Taberu. I had heard lots of things about the journey-terrible roads, the need to stay overnight in rat-infested accommodation and the difficulty of getting food so when I was asked to go I was anxious to say the least. However it would be an adventure, I thought, a story to tell......
So armed with insect spray,  my bottle of lavender (to scare any rodents),  peanut butter sandwiches, tinned fruit, wet wipes and my mozzie net I got into the Hillux and off we went! Dare camw with me and Alartise drove us. They were both great and really looked out for me. It was a horrendous journey-the ‘roads’ were almost impossible and I have the greates admiration for Alartise whose arms ached badly after the struggle to get over all the potholes and negotiate ways through huge pools of water and didn’t complain once just took a couple of paracetemol so he could drive us back the next day!

The big hill in Oluwa
We saw some very heavy loads!
After leaving Kwara behind, we drove through Oyo state and Oluwa which is famous for its big hill. There is also a national park where monkeys are allowed to roam in safety-as opposed to being hunted and eaten. We then drove back into Kwara to enter Baruten. We were now only a few miles from Benin and were stopped by immigration. My passport was demanded. The fact that it was a photocopy didn’t go down well but then the official’s face changesd. “Ah British! Our colonial master. Go through!” he shouted.
The road got very ugly then! Dare had been down the road to Taberu the previous week on motor bike and came very close to falling off-I could see why. It was basically a dirt track but made almost impassable after the heavy rains. We drove past villages and I was stared at but as soon as I waved I was greeted with big smiles and children were very excited to see a white person.
When we got to the school Dare and Sahud, another SSIT who joined us at Baruten, started to get ready to test eight children. I asked the head teacher to show me around. This school is very rural, has no water and yet the progress was amazing. The pupils were all doing lessons. The teachers were using the lesson plans and I saw number lines in the children’s exercise books! There was also evidence of phonics on the chalkboards and flash cards. I was really impressed. Of course there were problems-one class had 100 pupils in it because they were a teacher short but they were really trying. The head teacher said the children had never seen a white person before so they were very interested in me! He said the school began in 1963 and I was the first white visitor. The Mla took a long time and it was very hot in the classroom but the children chosen willingly stayed behind long after school had finished so we could complete the testing. We were trying to do this in a very professional manner but it was a bit difficult as people kept coming in to greet me.  A lot of children also stayed behind and were constantly trying to peep at me. One teacher from the nearby secondary school brought his family of five into the room because they had never seen a white person before so it was distracting at times. They do not speak Yoruba here but have their own local language-Baruba. Fortunately Sahud live locally and also speaks Baruba so was able to translate the instructions for the numeracy tests. They did better in numeracy but attempted more questions in the literacy than the previous MLA showed. They could greet in English, knew a lot of the letters and could say some words and one child could read a few sentences . This may not seem much but the in the last MLA  most children couldn’t even do this. We gave all the children we tested pencils, rubbers, biscuits and a lolly. I think they quite liked the attention.
The children were squashed but doinf some wonderful work in their books.

This boy showed me his number line!

There are 100 in this class!

By now my bladder was fit to burst and we had to go back down the bumpy road back to the centre of Baruten  where we were spending the night so I had to find a private place. This was very difficult as everywhere I went the children followed me so I asked Dare to tell them to leave me for a few minutes. The head teacher overheard and insisted I take the key and use the staff latrine of which they were obviously quite proud. So I trecked across the field to a small tin buiding and unlocked the padlock on the wooden door and so wanted to just go behind the building to ‘ease’ myself but they were watching.. and I just could not bring myself to close the dood completely....  Need I say more... It was a dark smelly place full of huge shiny beetles!!
After photos with the teachers and signing the visitor’s book it was time to leave. I thought they were doing wonders there and it was a very rewarding experience. I will always remember those exercise books with number lines in!
With the teachers and the SSIT
So now we had to drive down the awful road again and go our accommodation! We stayed at a Baptist Mission House. When we arrived I was shown a room with three beds for all of us. It took a moment for me to I realise the owner meant I was to share it with Dare and Alartise ! I quickly asked to see another room. I paid extra fo the rooms to be cleaned and the generator switched on. Basically he but a grubby sheet on the stained mattress, hung a curtain at the window and said we could have the generator for two hours. However he did assure me there were no mosquitoes or rats and provided me with a bucket of water. So I ate my sandwiches in the ‘dining room’ and took a kerosene lamp to my bedroom. I think when the missionaries were here it was probably an okay place but it had obviously not been maintained for years and was very dirty. There was no neppa at all or running water. However. I survived. I had my torch and the lamp and was not disturbed by any creatures.
The next morning we drove to Sahud’s house which was very interesting. He said we should have stayed with him instead of at the guest house. I would like to think I would have coped but think I would have had problems with the outdoor living and especially the food but it was very kind of him. I met his wife and his twins and watched the women busy preparing the food for the men. They were keen to show me how to pound the yam! One woman was doing it with a baby fast asleep on her back.
We also went to one of the ‘canteens’ by the roadside where I have often seen men eating. I felt privileged to be allowed to sit here. I could not eat the goat’s head soup  so they very kindly sent someone to get me some akara which was actually the best I have tasted here. Everyone was so friendly and as soon as I smiled they did too. It is quite strange having celebrity status but humbling
Sahad's wife and his twins.

Pounding and the baby stayed asleep!

Going over the rickety colonial bridge was a bit scary!

VSO in Nigeria

Being aa VSO  in Nigeria
The Balancing Act
Lonely                                  Self-reliant
Scared                                   Excited
Frustrated                              Patient
No NEPPA                            Romantic candles
No running water                  Friendly neighbours with jerry cans
Long bumpy journeys           Warm welcome in isolated villages
Falling in ditches                Helped up, given a clean handkerchief
Walking in dusty                Greeted by everyone
smelly streets
No supermarkets           No processed fruit, haggling in markets
Strange language            Locals delight at attempts at basic phrases
Mozzie bites                  Under the net safe from all flying creatures
Long hours preparing    Children's faces playing matching games
What tips the balance?
Nigerian people:
Children in our street, ‘Auntie Caroline! Auntie Caroline! Just hold my hand!’
The waving, the smiling,
The drivers who takes me to amazing places and keep me safe,
The State team who always ask about my family,
Funmi, who makes me laugh and invited me to his house,
The babies and children in the orphanage who want a hug more than any toys I take,
Buki, the young girl, who teaches me a new phrase of Yoruba every week,
Uzzar, my neighbour, who talks to me and gets me good deals,
Gbenga, who checks we have Neppa,
Taybah who gives us an extra egg,
Our guards who look after us without a grumble,
Ayo who got my watch fixed
The people in the office who always greet-
Sharing food with them, ‘washing’ new items,
The teachers who only need a word of praise to beam with delight,
The pupils in the dark dismal rooms smiling as I shake their hand,
Singing, dancing, praying, laughing that touches the soul.


Osogbo is the home of artists. Sadly it was raining when we visited and we were not able to see all the different crafts they do at the Nike workshop. We did get to see the Batik and the amazing designs.In Nigeria they don't use the little spoon like we have instead they use a tool made of foam. Some artists use cassava paste and produce a very distincive indigo design which does not show on the inderside of the cloth as in traditional batik.
The workshop where artists serve their apprenticeship.

Beautiful designs.

Students first spend a long time drawing patterns in their sketch books.

These are the pots with the dye. They also had a fire outside for melting the wax.

Baba is one of the artists. He does beautiful wood carving.
He keeps his tools in this beautiful chest! Daniel, another artist and Baba showed us round the workshop and then took us to the gallery owned by the artist, Nike. There were many beautiful fabrics here. The beaded pictures were beautiful and must take hours of patience as they are glued to give very subtle hues. I bought a batik tee-shirt but the prices of the other things were above my VSO allowance! The rain finally stopped and we got into a taxi and drove to the Sacred Forest-home of the Goddess of Love.

The forest is surrounde by walls and this is the entrance gate. It has lots of carvings of the Yoruba gods and goddesses on it but this is the important one-the mermaid goddess of love for which Osogbo is famous. Many people claim to have seen her at the ceremony held every August. They calim to have seen her rising out of the river. So we went in, having paid for the privilege of using my camera and a guide. The guide was quite hard to understand but it was an amazing place. Suzanne Wenger came to Osogbo in her twenties and really absorbed herself into the culture. She learned the languauge, married a Nigerian chief and adopted many Nigerian children. She was responsible for restoring the sacred forest which is now a UNESCO site. She died last year and highly respected here and almost treated as a goddess. She was an artist too and renovated the monuments in the forest as wellas adding new ones.

This is one of the new buildings which made me think of the Hobbit.

These statues are Yoruba gods and Suzanne is included. There are a lot of these statues scattered around the forest.

This is quite a spectacular statue-the goddess of fertility. People still come here to make offereings to the gods as could be seen from the rotting fruit on many of the statues. Two women-sort of priestesses I suppose stay here all the time to just pray to the goddess. We were suppposed to bring them aghift but were told that money would instead!!!!
The statue in the river was quite unusual too. Apparently former Yoruba kings would prostrate themselves on the banks of the river. They also had to go through certain gates backwards-all part of the ritual. The guide was particularly proud of the bridge which they called the Hanging bridge. The idea of a suspension bridge
was amazing to them and still is today. Health and safety is out of the window though as parts of the rail are missing and I was careful not to fall into the murky waters! It was quite atmospheric walking around as it was still misty after the rain. It was also nice to be surrounded by trees. There were quite a lot of monkeys as they are protected in the forest.

The hanging bridge

Happy to receive our gift-hope she prays for us!
The goddess in the water. This is where the mermaid has been seen. The bank is where the kings prostrated themselves.
The first palace.

After this we took another taxi to see Suzanne Wenger's house. It is very elaborately decorated. The stone carvings are very unusual as are the drawings on the wall-they have a real aboriginal feel to them. We met one of her adopted daughters in the 'shop' and it soon became clear that I was meant to buy something. Fortunately there was a jumble of beads on a table as the works of art were not priced and I am sure way out of our league. I am not sure how wew ould have got the stone sculptures back on the bus either! I chose a green and brown necklace. I was told green and brown are spiritual colours so it was a good choice.
Back at the hotel I enjoyed the vegetarian special-a plate of chips with ketchup! the hotel was actually very nice-it was basic but clean and there was a telly. The next morning Lea made the mistake of ordering an 'English' breakfast which consisted of cornflakes served with hot powdered milk, toast, bright pink sausages, beans and an omelette so peppery it left him gasping! Daniel kindly took us back to the bus to make sure we got the correct price. The journey back was very hot but the driver wasn't in such a hurry as the one coming so I could relax a bit more. We were lucky as we had a seat each which is unusual.

Thursday, 27 October 2011


After over a year here I finally realised that you can get most things here as long as you know where to look! On our way back from visiting rural schools there are many shops along the road where food can be bought much more cheaply than in the towns and cities. My colleagues are always keen to buy yams and I usually get fruit like paw paw, oranges, pineapples and bananas. I draw the line at bush meat!
They take great care in displaying the fruit. I love the towers!
On one of my travels we had a burst tyre. We pulled  up on the side of the road and immediately a bench was brought out for me to sit on. I was next to a ‘shoe shop’! I started to look at the ‘slippers’ (flip-flops) but they were too small. The woman asked what size I was. She shouted to her friend who disappeared for a few minutes. She returned with my size! I didn’t really like them but they were only  £1 so I felt I had to buy them after her efforts!
The Plastics factory is an amazing place. It is run on the lines of Argos! They have shelves full of samples. You select the one you want and take it to the counter. When the girl wakes up she writes it in a ledger and gives you a slip of paper. Then the fun starts! You take this paper to a dark corner of the shop behind some tall shelves. There is a closed metal door with a small square cut out at eye level ( if you are a small person!). You then have to squint through this hole and give in your slip of paper and the payment. You are then given a number. You take the number to another girl who gives you a receipt which you then have to take to someone else. This person then gives it to a boy who goes to the store to get your purchase!!!! It does , of course, go hopelessly wrong when people like me go in and buy things in bulk! I spent ages choosing containers to test capacity only to get to the stage of waiting for the boy to return and then be told they had not got all the ones I wanted. I chose different ones and had to go through the whole procedure again plus another step to get a refund as the new ones were cheaper!!!!! Once you get your goods you have to check every item as there are no returns. I had to pull apart every chair I bought for the orphans under the beady eye of the ‘boy’!


I have been very busy recently doing a lot of travelling. DFID wanted to do a MLA-monitoring learning achievement-so we have been visiting various LGEAs to monitor the SSIT as they conducted this. They also had to do lesson observations against set criteria. Some of the schools were quite remote. This school was far from the main road and down a very bumpy track. As you can see it is in a very bad state. The roof is falling in and there is little furniture.
The classrooms are very depressing and the blackboard is full of holes making it difficult to write on. Most of the desks are broken.
Children still use this room which I thought was a very dangerous place to be. The beams are very loose and fall out frequently.
This is the kindergarten classroom! Most of the little desks are broken and there are no chairs.
An amazing teacher with kindergarten and Primary 1 children encouraging them to take part.
The SSIT did the pupil interviews outside under the tree. The environment outside was actually pleasant as there were several trees and everywhere was green. However when it rains there are big problems. The rain gets in the big holes in the roof and everyone has to huddle into the few dry spaces. There is also no bore hole here so they have no water and the children have to go into the bush when they need the toilet. However, when I walked around the school I met an amazing teacher. The kindergarten teacher was on a course so as she was taking her class as well as her own-Primary 1. The little children had to sit on the floor and her own class were on a variety of broken benches but she was using the lesson plans and teaching numeracy in a lively way! She had made a poster of the shapes and had oblects for each shape. She was lovely with the children and was getting them to come out and demonstrate. I felt really moved to see her teaching so well against all the odds. These teachers get so little praise and even less salary. I only hope that she doesn’t get transferred. This system of transferring teachers makes me so angry. If a teacher’s husband doesn’t like where his wife is working he can do  a ‘deal’ with the powers that be and get her moved. As aresult other teachers have to move so well trained teachers, who are perfectly happy where they are, are suddenly told that they have to teach somewhere else. They have no say in the matter and may then have to travel great distances to their new school with no extra money provided. Often they are sent to secondary schools. It is such a waste of our training and very bad for the children. In one school they only had one teacher left who had had our lesson plan training.

In another school I visited most of the classrooms were unusable. I went into a very small room-almost a cupboard and there was another wonderful woman. She had twenty pupils crammed in the room but what a room! She had covered the walls with posters made from the backs of old calendars, pictures and flash cards. These women are truly inspiring. They are really trying to do their best for the children. They are appreciative of even the slightest thing. I soon realised that if I shake their hand they are thrilled. Such a small thing and so easy to do! The children love it too. At first I felt a bit guilty-who did I think I was to go round shaking hands and waving to everyone???-but the pleasure it gives (the teachers say the children will go home and talk about the day they shook a white person’s hand) outweighs any delusions of grandeur I may acquire!!!!
They have so little yet are desperate to give me gifts of food and drink. I try to make them give it to their own teachers but some schools say I have to take it as it is given with love.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Playing. Thank you St Mary's Eastham!

On Saturday we took the raminder of the toys to Hope Orphanage. They were very pleased to see us as usual and there was bit of a struggle as they all wanted to sit on my lap at once! Thank you to all the kind people who enabled me to buy toys and food.
Here baby Peace is sitting on one of the little chairs my neighbour helped me to buy. He is looking in wonder at the hopper we bought from England!
Lea taught Segun how to kick the ball in the net!
Here they are playing with the plastic bricks, thick crayons and drawing books which again, I bought here.
They loved the books too especially 'How much do I love you'.
They like playing at the little tables which Funmi helped me to buy.  
These photos show them learning how to crawl through the tunnels! Lea and I are trying to show the helpers how to play with them as this is something, sadly they are not used to. I also used the money raised to buy Pampers nappies and Nan 1 milk. See previous blog for photos of the babies. I still have some money left and will use that for food on my next visit. One little boy asked me where the cake was in such a lovely way I just have to take some more. As babies are appearing all the time I think they rerally need the milk and nappies. I hope everyone who contributed is happy with the way I have spent the money. I hope to go back a few more times to continue to model 'playing' and hopefully the staff will see how it can make their job more easy!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Visit to the orphanage!

I finally managed to get out to the orphanage on Sunday. On Saturday Funmi took me to a big plastics factory (another story!) and I got 5 little tables and 12 children,s chairs. We took these with us and also a big birthday cake! It was Sharon's birthday so we had a little party at the orphanage and all the children sang 'Happy Birthday' to her. Things are improving rapidly at the orphanage as the photos show.
The children enjoyed playing with the toys on the tables. I asked the staff to let them keep the toys out all the time. They were worried that wewaould be cross if the toys got dirty or broken! We told them we didn't mind if they were we just wanted the children to play with them and be happy!The children love playing with the bricks.
Grace was very proud of her tower.
David wanted lots of hugs and loved the toy car. There was a lot of fighting over the cars but we are taking more cars and a track later in the week.
They enjoyed Lea's puppet skills.
As soon as we put the cake on the table the children sat and just stared at it!
Lea was a big hit with Peter.
Gideon loved the back pack the bricks were in!
Sharon did Taiwo's hair!

Grace proudly showed me her completed alphabet.
Baby Gift had grown and is so beautiful.
Patience has been ill but is recovering well and was smiling a lot!
Baby Abigail had really grown!
Love is the administrator and showed us the new rooms for the babies. The babies have now got their own room but a new nursery is being built for them. When they move into the new nursery they will all have a cot each. At the moment there is not enough room to do this.
Baby Daniel was fast asleep.

Hannah was found abandoned in a village. Her mother had left a note with her saying she could not look after her. Hannah is the only 'real' orphan as the others have  parents who have brought them here.
The babies were crawling around the bed but they liked the toys too!
Baby Ayo is the youngest here.