Today we got up, went to the office, and chose our personal ACD. I chose to keep woman in education as mine, as living in a household with two wives and fourteen children I wanted to do family planning for my Active Citizen Day. However, I feel this would have been too direct, and my family could be offended. Instead by choosing “Keeping women in education” it is a lot broader and would also cover family planning. You might be wondering what the hell an ACD is well here you go: it is a day where we chose an issue within the community we are in, and plan a day where we can try and tackle this problem or bring awareness to the problem. For example, to try and keep girls in education we could go around local houses and speak to the mothers about the importance of educating both their male and female children, or go to the market and speak to the fathers. An idea that I wanted to do was create a mural of powerful and respected Nigerian women across the world on the school wall.
On our break, I went to the market with the tailor and bought some fabric. I left them with her as I needed a bag and she agreed to make me one. Unlike in England where you go to a shop and buy an item of clothing, here you must go to the market and buy the materials and then take it to the tailors to be made. You cannot buy clothing from the tailor, so it is a longer process than one would think to get clothes or bags.
After this, we went back to the office, and luckily Cosmas had brought me food from the host family so that I could eat my lunch in the office and didn’t have just biscuits to fill me up until dinner again.
We finished the training after lunch, today we were trying to learn the local language. After this, we all went back to Jamal and his counterparts house which was very nice, also it has an orange tree in the middle. He had an actual toilet which I was jealous of. We were all given an orange and even though, to my surprise, they were green, the oranges were ripe and tasted delicious. I asked Cosmas, and he told me that in Nigeria they don’t have orange Oranges they are all green which I found amusing, so from then on I called them Greenages. After this I went to jacks and his host family gave us Coca-Cola, Jack had one of the better homes with sofa’s, a toilet and working tv/ generator, again the green-eyed monster comes out when I compare it to my house. His family were lovely, and the children were well educated as there are only three of them.
We couldn't stay long as the curfew was 7pm, so I left. Unfortunately, I didn't know the way back from the market, so I got on a motorcycle to the office as I thought I knew the way from there... I didn't. From the office I knew I had to get to the market but got lost on the way there, I was also nearly run over by a cow bolting from a house, and these cows have massive horns so would have been messy if I was slower. Finally, I found the market and thought I was safe from here but no… I got lost again. While lost I passed a massive crowd mourning the death of the local leader who had just died. I felt very out of place, and everyone was very tense making me feel the same as everyone stared at me as I passed the house of the deceased man. I eventually made it home just before it got dark.
Today was a big stepping stone for me as I finally gave in and used a squat toilet (Hole in the ground). I won't go into detail on this. But not as relaxing as a normal one.
In the last blog I spoke too soon about the quiet night, in fact, I was woken up throughout the night by what sounded like a call to prayer at 1am and 4am and was finally waken up by one of the 14 kids knocking on the window saying “Alex” at 6am. Fair to say it wasn't the best night, as the 30-degree heat made it hard enough to sleep.
Once awake I had a bucket shower that was pleasantly cooling and then got ready to go to the office. While doing this, we were brought breakfast, which consisted of a loaf of bread and hot chocolate. As someone who has never been a breakfast person, I decided to give it a miss and look forward to lunch. On the way to the office we met up with the volunteers that lived closest to us (Samiria and Ayan), when we entered their compound I noticed that they had kittens that were around the same age as the kittens I had left back at home, this made me pretty excited and knew I would be coming back to their house often now. Ayan’s host home was a lot like ours. However, she wasn’t having to share it with 14 kids, the children that still lived at home were all grown up, meaning her house was a little more peaceful. She may not have been living with any young children, but she was sharing her house with about six chickens and over fifty chicks running around everywhere.
After being introduced to her family who spoke pretty good English we made our way to the office, through the dusty streets and finally somehow, we made our way through the maze of Gwada. The “Office” is a small carpeted empty room that we all sit in listening to each other and the team leaders. We first spoke about our host homes, and what we thought of them, it turns out that not all of the volunteers were living in the same primitive homes that I was. Cosmas and I were the only ones to be living in a house with more than ten children and two wives, and some of the houses had both electricity and toilets, this seemed unfair and a lesson to be learnt, life isn’t fair. We then went on to speak about world issues and the effect that these issues have on a community and country. We then had an hour break to have lunch… unfortunately for Cosmas and me, our house was one of the furthest houses from the office, and we couldn’t hack the walk all the way back (around 30 mins) to our host home, so we went to the local shop (best way to describe the shop is a shack at the side of the street), and bought the only thing edible without cooking: Biscuits. One thing that I miss most about England is the range of snacks available, the options in Gwada is bread or biscuits.
After the lunch break, the team leaders sent us out to do a treasure hunt and acquaint ourselves with the village we will be living in for the next few months. The list consisted of buildings such as the mosque, church, police station, school and the only bar (TVS) in Gwada that we were informed we were not permitted to go to. The scavenger hunt started well, but after around thirty minutes the Nigerian heat started to become too much, so I persuaded my team around an hour into walking around the town, that it was not worth getting heat stroke for a game and we made our way back to the office, taking us to around an hour and a half walking in the midday sun. I was very glad to get back and my hands on the pouches of water.
Around four is when we finished at the office, Cosmas and I went back to our host home and interacted as much as we could with the host family and children, as only one of the mother spoke very little English it was hard to communicate with them. The electricity was still out in Gwada meaning that as soon as the sun went down around 7pm, we are plunged into a world of darkness with not much to do. Luckily for tonight, Cosmas had enough power on his laptop for us to watch a film, but I know when all our electricals die, which will be soon, we will defiantly have a lack of activities to occupy our time in the evening. Especially as curfew is at 7pm.
Below is a video of one of the teams during the treasure hunt, visiting host homes and looking for some of the other locations. If you were wondering what the town looks like this is a great insight into the life in Gwada.
Today my roommate and I woke up late, so we missed breakfast, but for me, that wasn't much as I only really have two spoonfuls of oats anyway. We said goodbye to the other group that left for the airport, flying to another part of Nigeria. After we said goodbye I went back to the room to finish off packing.
Once packed we all got on the minibus and left for Gwada, we were told it would take around four hours. About ten minutes after leaving the convent we stopped off at a shopping centre. To get into the shopping centre, the bus had to pass through armed guards, and then when parked up we walked through metal detectors again to get into the mall. The security was very high in this mall, and it was actually pretty empty, I'm guessing this was because not many can actually shop there due to the price.
Once in the mall, I bought a basket full of items some that I don't need and others that I will. I bought lollies for the children, pineapples for my host family and salt and vinegar pringles for myself among other things. We also got to buy ourselves lunch in the mall. I got myself jollof rice and fried beef. The beef was really good, taking the texture of beef jerky just with a little more moisture. After this, we got back on the minibus and started towards Gwada once again!
The next set of photo's are from the journey, they are pretty self explanatory.
After a three hour drive through Nigeria’s beautiful countryside and small villages we arrived in Minnia, once here we stopped at the chairman of AFAN’s office, which stands for All Farmers Association of Nigeria. He then welcomed us to Niger (the state of Nigeria Minna is located, not the neighbouring country). I thought it would be appropriate to give him one of the pineapples that I had bought in the mall to him and he seemed to like this gift.
After a team photo with the chairman, we carried on to the small village of Gwada. The children defiantly knew we were coming, as we got into the village the minibus was swarmed by kids following us to VSO "Office" which was actually just an empty room. As I mentioned previously, I thought it would be amusing to draw my host home with lots of children as that's what I was told it could be like. What I hadn't realised was that I was meant to draw what I wanted my host home to be like. Subsequently, this meant the team leaders paired me with a family with 13 children the oldest being 16. When told this I thought the team leader was joking. However, they weren't, Cosmas and me had joined a family with 13 children. As we walked through and met our host family we were once again swarmed by children, and presented a newly born baby. In fact, the little girl had been born yesterday meaning we are living with 14 children.
This was pretty overwhelming, so I asked the oldest son of 16 to show us around the village, which he did, we walked for around thirty minutes until we made it to the VSO "office". On the way back we walked through a market selling anything from sugar Kane to Cows. When we got back to our host home, we started to unpack our bags as we were quickly losing light. Halfway through this, we were presented dinner which consisted of rice and vegetables. Which was actually very filling. I then had a go at getting the water out the well, which was a lot deeper than I thought. And went back to unpacking. By this time it was dark, and I had to find my head torch to make my bed (mattress on the floor) and put up the Mosquito net. To finish the night off, I had my first bucket shower... in the dark, the cold water being very refreshing, the experience was a lot better than I expected. I retreated to my room with Cosmas shatter from the heat and day's travels. Interrupted occasionally by any one of the fourteen children calling "Alex", "Ander" through the window. The two-day year old baby kept surprisingly quiet through the night.
Like I mentioned previously when on the road from Abuja to Gwada we went past a lot of fuel tankers parked up on the side of the road. I asked for the reason for this but didn't get a definitive answer if you know then comment below the answer. In addition the second video is our welcoming to Gwada from the local children.
Today was very much like yesterday, we had breakfast at 8am and after started training. Today training was focused more on what we would be doing in the community and how we will be helping. We did this training until lunch time where I had one of the best meals so far on this trip. It was a sausage vegetable pasta and was pretty amazing. We had free time after this as our team leaders decided who our counterpart for the rest of our time here would be.
Our counterpart is basically a Nigerian version of yourself. He will be living in the same house as me and helping with the same projects. Basically a shadow but a shadow that your good mates with. They also have never been to the community that we are going and are called "foreigners" just like us. This will be the person you will become closest to over the next few months.
While training we had to come up with rules that we all must follow during our lessons and discussions. We then had to come up with punishments for breaking these rule. My idea from the start was to have a "HAT OF SHAME" that the rule breakers would have to wear, however, this was overruled at first the team picking standing up for five minutes as a punishment instead. When however this didn't work, I campaigned for the HAT OF SHAME and this time the punishment was passed. Enjoy some pictures of the culprits and the hat.
While we had this time off, I asked our project officer Hassan if we could leave the commune as we hadn't been allowed to up to then and thankfully he said we could but only with him. We left and looked around the local area and saw the small marketplace selling anything from fruit to haircuts. It was an excellent little escape from the nunnery.
In returning, we got to find out who our counterpart is. And I found out mine was a man called Cosmas, a really nice guy that I was previously buddied up with. For dinner, I tried plantain, and for me, it should have been a dessert, but I guess I'm pretty set in my ways. The highlight of the meal was the mangos that were bought in the market. About half the size of the mangos we have in England but twice as sweet.
To finish the night off, we had another training session. Along with games (energisers).
Today we woke up around 7:15 as breakfast was at 7:30. It was a pretty good breakfast with porridge, bread and omelette, I added the coco powder from the hot chocolate to my porridge to make give it a better taste. The most interesting part for me is that, as we are staying in a convent the breakfast was served to us by a nun. First time in my life for that one.
For the rest of the day we did training, it was a lot like the pre-placement training I spoke about earlier in the blog and I found it just as interesting.
In the training we spoke about the host families, these are the people we are going to be living with over the next few months and our expectations of the trip again getting to know our Nigerian counterparts better.
Today was the first time I tried swallow, and this was for lunch. This is a traditional Nigerian food, and looks like suet and doesn't taste of much, I guess this is for the better as the sauces that come with it make up for the lack in flavour and were delicious.
The highlight for most of the British team was reviving our Nigerian SIM cards. Instead of going to a store on the high street like you would do in England, two men turned up dressed casually with a bag full of sims and asked for our passport and thumb prints. I ended up needing to borrow an earring off one of the girls to get the original sims out. It wasn’t the most legitimate thing but my 3G now works so who cares.
We continued training for the rest of the day, having to draw what we thought our host homes would look like, after learning that the area we are staying is polygamous, I drew my house with four wives and twenty-one children... apparently this isn't as rare as I thought.
Before dinner me and a few of the guys played a little rugby teaching my roommate Tochukwu the basics of rugby. While doing this over one hundred massive fruit bats flew into the air. Honestly these things look like black foxes with leather wings. When I went to dinner I tried yam for the first time, and to be honest it just tasted like potato just a little bit more dry, again this is covered by the sauce and spices. We had fish alongside this, I was a little sceptical of the fish as we are awhile away from the sea but again I was pleasantly surprised it tasted really good! Just to top the night, one of the Nigerian counterparts, Semirah, plated my hair, I liked it, but I'll let you make your own decision on that one.
After the days training these two decided to do a dance for us all, enjoy.