Nigeria at last!
Day 1 - The first few days and weeks of a placement are always a strange time, and since of the original reasons for writing this blog was to aide other prospective future volunteers I try and write up the first few days in some detail.
The flight from London to Abuja went off without hitch. Leaving at 22:15 for arrival at 05:30 with a + 1 hour time difference I had hardly expected drink service, dinner, trolley goods for sale service, and breakfast but that’s what BA dished up, making it a busy shift for its staff and making it almost impossible to get any sleep with so much going on. I think I might have managed 2 hrs on the flight.
I was met at the airport by the local VSO Logistics officer and since there was only me coming in there was no need to hang about waiting on anyone else clearing immigration. The drive into the city is about 40kms along a good tarmac road, currently being widened. It is going to be 2 roads in each direction, without lane markers I judged each road is about 3-4 cars in width. Gulleys exist between the roads, presumably for water run off in the rainy season.
Collections of green taxi cabs and collectivos dot the road at regular intervals the only markers to the fact that houses exist somewhere off to the side. Some of these “villages” look better than others, the inevitable shacks but also some quite reasonable dormitory suburb type homes, albeit looking all the same. There’s no sign of buses and one regularly sees people standing aside the road trying to hail a lift from a passing car.
The sky was overcast, very hazy so visibility was not that great but as we approached the city I began to recognise buildings and landmarks from pictures seen on the internet - the grand mosque, the main church
At the hotel I had to wait on my room being prepared only because the hotel had been filled with VSO people, most of whom were leaving that morning. This included 4 other new volunteers who had arrived from Canada and Kenya early in the week, a study tour group from VSO Ethiopia and some existing volunteers and people from their partner organisation who had been attending a workshop. All the VSO meetings are held in this hotel. It’s clean, functional, dilapidated, but the staff seem very friendly and welcoming. Loads of introductions many of whom I will not remember the next time they are in town because I was by this time getting very tired.
I decided to listen to my body and even though I should not have had any jet lag I slept through from 08:30 until noon. Shower, minimal unpacking as I don’t actually know how long I shall be here nor what the plan is for the coming week except that my programme manager is supposed to stop by over the weekend to see me and someone will collect me sometime on Monday to go to the office. Otherwise I was told just to chill for the Sat & Sun so that’s what I did. I watched some TV films, had lunch and something to eat later but the pace seemed deserted although I could hear TVs on in a number of the rooms. Early night.
Day 3 Monday was spent form filling in the VSO office meeting the VSO Nigeria staff. General Administration. Met up with a current Abuja based volunteer whose blog I had following for my first Nigerian Star beer. At 300Niara a bottle these will be real treats. (The current exchange rate is 250N to 1GBP)
I received my first half months allowance (36,000N per month) and what is termed your setting up allowance (13,600N) meant to help purchase necessary household items. My NGO will be funding 100% of my placement allowance, plus a travel allowance of 17600N per month because Abuja is so expensive. Sadly I Iearn that whilst VSO pays quarterly in advance, my NGO pays monthly in arrears. Oh dear! April will be very tough! So I decided I had to blow the budget on week 1 and exchange half the cash I brought with me, especially as I had to buy an internet dongle and internet access which was 12,000N and 6500N for 1 month or 50 hours whichever comes first, but a girl needs to be connected, so get Skyping ! Ping me first to fix a time :)
Day 5 Wednesday - more form filling, this time at the bank, VSO now have to send the bank a letter and then fingers crossed it doesn’t take too long for them to set up my account. In the past it has been proving an extremely long affair for non-African nationals.
Then moved out of the hotel and into my new home I am sharing with another volunteer – enjoy the video tour :)
Day 4, 6, 7 Tuesday, Thursday, Friday was spent at my partner organisation. More bureaucracy and help from colleagues to get SIM cards and internet dongle all sorted out. I now am a typical Nigeria with 3 phones!!! Sadly my UK number does not work at all, even though Orange PAYG is supposed to work here I cannot get a signal. Nigerian telecommunications companies are notoriously unpredictable and so folks have different phones with different SIMs for different networks. This means everyone has at least 2 if not 3 or 4 mobile numbers. I’m only giving folks one back home so lets see how that goes. If you have problems let me know.
Other vols are quite envious of how my placement has started. A 3 days orientation agenda had been prepared! Schedules were adapted because I moved house and because the chief functionary of the NGO had to fly south at short notice. By the end of the week I have a mountain of paperwork, briefing notes, strategic plans, business plans, review papers to wade through!
Also , 2 of my colleagues are heading of to Niger state on Monday for 3 days training as part of one of the capacity building consultancies my NGO is doing for another community based organisation. My In country training (ICT) is supposed to start late next week, but I got dispensation to go with them. So Monday we shall be travelling for I think 6 hours if the traffic conditions are good to Kontagoro in Niger State, to the north west of Abuja.
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Not only did I have to get permission because of missing the start of ICT but also because of the security issues here in Nigeria. But I am pleased to say that my Programmer Officer gave permission and I am really looking forward to seeing my colleagues in action as they conduct their workshop. I’ve been asked to review the tools they use, make suggestions on improvements and additional tools they could utilise. So it would seem like I am starting off this placement at top speed!