Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"If you haven't been to Lagos, then you haven't been to Nigeria!"

I have had this phrase said to me so many times that I have been desperate to visit the largest and most talked about city in Nigeria – Lagos.

And finally. . . I am here in Lagos! I have arrived in ‘Nigeria.’

Now I know what everyone is talking about. The ‘go slows,’ friendly people, delicious fish, females in the workplace - a huge contrast from the north. Just like at home in the UK, the majority of teachers and head teachers in Lagos are female.

I even managed to get hair made in what they call Bob Marley style!

Below shows the Lagos SSIT trying out some of the games and learning activities that we shared with them in the recent Maths workshop in Abuja.

Maths Team Relay

Jigsaw Puzzle

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


You may remember my post back in October when I briefly mentioned the security situation in Nigeria. Since then, tension in the north of Nigeria has heightened. Therefore, for the past month, I have been evacuated from Dutse to Abuja and I will continue to remain here for the meantime.

So I am making the most of the opportunity to get to know Abuja better and it is actually really refreshing to have the huge contrast from my rural placement in Dutse. I love to say that ‘I love Abuja.’ Here are some of the reasons why;

1. The numerous swimming pools available.
2. Different shopping experiences to tempt you: markets, bazaars, craft fairs, western supermarkets, restaurants.
3. Plenty of volunteer friends to hang out with as all northern VSOs are also evacuated to Aubja, in addition to the Abuja based VSOs.
4. A wide variety of gardens to relax in, from sitting in beautiful valleys under grass canopy’s to a dark, dingy car park at the end of the road.
5. Lots of invites to parties.
6. You are free to wear whatever you like. It makes me smile when I see my colleagues from the north experimenting with the traditional dress from the south.
7. Joining a running club and being free to run on the streets.

In addition to the Abuja lifestyle I was also given the opportunity to design and deliver a maths workshop for the SSIT. We were given skeleton objectives to work with: to improve understanding and skill in teaching maths and to promote interest and excitement in maths. So together with another VSO and an ESSPIN colleague, we really had fun Bringing Maths to Life.

For me, the highlights of the workshop were making play dough, playing connect four, investigating water, singing 10 Green Bottles and then ‘dashing’ (giving) green bottles of sprite to the participants, the same for the song 5 Long Yams, playing maths computer games and floor sized snakes and ladders. Best of all was the last day of the workshop when the participants shared their local, traditional songs and games with us and we discussed how they could be used for teaching and learning in the classroom.
The participants enjoy teaching Vonnie a local song and dance.
I was also very lucky to be taken to Usuma Dam, which is a short drive from Abuja city centre. The unexpected beauty took my breath away and we enjoyed a relaxing boat ride, scenic walk and refreshing swim.
Fisherman on Usuma Dam
So, I continue to enjoy my VSO placement in Nigeria, rising to the new work challenges presented to me, learning how to live and survive in Abuja and exploring a different part of the country.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Lucy's International Garden

Back in early November we hosted the best sallah party in our house. And I am happy to report that many of the 12 guests said it was their number one and best time they have had in Nigeria.

That made me so happy.
The Muslim festival lasted for 3 days with a huge colourful parade of horses, music and dancing on each day. We had a full tour of the beautiful Emir’s palace, climbed up the rocks and walked along the sandy desert paths. It was easy for us to host as everyone chipped in with the food and drinks, cooking and cleaning.

We even sacrificed our goat that we had bought several months ago in preparation. It was a fun and interesting experience, although I never want to slaughter, wash or cook another goat again!!! A good, one time experience!

Lea, the first guest to be invited (alongside his wife) wrote a wonderful poem called Lucy’s International Garden. Please click on the link to read it.

If you want to hear further adventures of the sallah holiday, you can click on the links below to read Paul's story and Kasia's story.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

World Food Day

To celebrate World Food Day, VSO have encouraged us to blog about our experiences with food in our placements. Food is a favourite topic of Nigerians and they always like to hear which local foods I have tried. Often people are surprised to hear that I am eating local foods, but to be honest is there access to English foods in Jigawa State? What choice do I have?

When I am lucky enough to be in female company outside of the workplace the conversation is usually centred around food and how to cook certain dishes. But these dishes take hours to prepare and cook. Here is one example of when I once tried to cook cosai (a local bean cake which is actually very delicious: Mum’s favourite Nigerian food). First you are supposed to check every bean for a black spot which means there is a weevil inside the bean. Then they need to be soaked for about an hour. Next you somehow have to get the skin of EVERY bean (the beans are about the same size as green peas). Then hop on a motorbike to the nearest grinding machine. Wait in line for your turn. Return home, and begin cooking. I got too bored preparing the beans that I only had enough to make me about 8 cosai and the first 4 I actually burnt! Often my Ugandan housemate is surprised when I cook a pasta dish or something similar in about 30 minutes!

The custom is to eat the food from the floor with only your right hand. So far, I have never seen a dining table and if a table is available, such as when we eat at workshops, the participants still take their food to eat on the floor. All chop houses (local cafes/restaurants) have an area where customers can choose to eat from the floor if they wish.

Whenever you pay a visit to someone’s home, you are automatically given something to eat and drink. To eat and drink the food they give you is an honour to them. If you don’t eat enough then they truly feel very upset.

It is funny when you go to the local chop houses because you tell them what you want to eat and then they tell you if it is on the menu or not! The ‘food’ generally available in chop houses is ‘white rice, jollof rice, fried rice, pounded yam, semovita, gari.’ After you have chosen the starch first (the bit that will fill you up) you then get to choose the tasty bit of soup that goes with it.

Pepe is hot! Really hot. It burns your fingers when you chop it and it accompanies every Nigerian dish.

Tea drinking is a big thing before a meal, especially with/before eating breakfast. The interesting thing is, I have never drunk tea in my life. Until now. I love Nigerian tea. Tea without at least 4 sugars is not an option here. And more often than not, coffee is also added to the tea!

Nigerians love their meat. Meat with lots of pepe. But meat can include any part of the animal, and usually isn’t the ‘meat’ that we know in our country. Most of the time I have no idea which part of the animal I am eating (or not eating)! An Igbo (one of the 3 major Nigerian Tribes) speciality is goats head pepper soup. I managed to nibble an ear!

Buying food in the market is really interesting. I am beginning to learn what is in season and when the season for a particular fruit or veg is coming. The market was really bare for the couple of months leading up to the rainy season, so bare that it was even difficult to buy tomatoes and the price of onions quadrupled.. Then suddenly it bloomed again. You buy things by the bowl, e.g. a bowl of rice, half a bowl of flour, a large bowl of pepe! Then you are supposed to bargain for a good price.

Another interesting thing is that is it very common to share a plate of food with others. Often all the children in the family will sit around one large plate and share the food together. When arriving at an LGEA at lunchtime the men were sharing a large plate of potatoes, they did offer me to join them but then ended up giving me a separate plate (I have mentioned before that men and women don’t eat together).

Friar da nono is the local milk drink mixed with millet and spices. Often when I visit the villages they give me a bowl of the milk to drink (from the bowl, no spoon or mug). Now I am used to the taste I really enjoy it. It is more like yoghurt than milk. They are always surprised to hear that we don’t drink friar da nono in England. Don’t we drink the milk from the cows? I guess so much has been done to ‘our’ milk that it is nothing like the natural source. And usually it is cold from the fridge.

"Would you like to see our kitchen?" Not exactly what I was expecting!
3 large pots of bean porridge ready to serve for breakfast to the hungry pupils of Kudai Boarding Primary School.

The cooks preparing spagetti ready for lunch.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Security in Nigeria

Emily, the VSO who is also from Bournemouth, has summarised the political situation in Nigeria for the past year. You can read her blog post here

This encourages me too to also write about this situation. And the truth is that VSOs (and possibly everyone in the whole country) lives with this constant reminder and threats of Boko Haram.

VSO regularly sends us information on which states and towns we can or cannot visit due to safety reasons. But many VSOs are living and working in these towns where bombs have been set off. Some VSOs even live in places where there is a curfew in place for safety reasons.

An education conference was held in our town last week in which people travelled from the whole country to attend. There was heavy police presence around and as I walked to the office I asked some policemen who were guarding a dusty road that leads to farms, why they were here. “To protect the people and the houses of the town,” was the reply.
Of course, the thought crossed my mind that we could be bombed that week.

We are often advised by VSO or the British High Commission Travel Advice, not to visit drinking places, or stay out late, or attend any celebrations or public gatherings. What kind of a life for a western VSO is that!?

The day after the police headquarters were bombed in Abuja we had guests so went to visit our police headquarters in Dutse (the place to get beer and fish), not because we are looking to get bombed but because there is no point in living in fear.

Although, of course, we need to be cautious of the situation, in my opinion I am far more likely to die on the roads than by a bomb or any other attack.

VSO said they are struggling to recruit volunteers in Nigeria at the moment and it is not surprising due to the above issues.

But to conclude: Despite the above, I feel safe in Nigeria. I really enjoy my work and the town I live in. My parents came to visit and they too enjoyed Nigeria. I have met many wonderful people, had so many amazing experiences and learnt so much from Nigeria. Thus, I am happy to be in Nigeria and continue my work as a VSO volunteer, promoting and improving the quality of Primary Education.