Sunday 22 July 2012

Our house - is a very very very nice house….

27LinguCr So no “two cats in the yard”, but still my new home in Abuja is worthy of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young singing its praises. A couple of weeks ago I moved from the apartment I had been sharing with another volunteer in Zone 2 to this one in Wuse2. Wuse 2 is probably a bit more “up market” with not so many blocks of flats more houses of multiple occupancy type structures and more trees. I have already seen, but  failed to photograph a quite large, parrot type bird (African grey? – much bigger than a pigeon anyways, and certainly with a parrot like beak) eating fruit from a tree in our back yard.  I digress, back to the house move. No big reason, my ex flat mate finished her placement although she is staying on as an interim programme manager, providing cover for the programme manager who is on a year’s secondment to VSO Sierra Leone. At the same time there was a shuffle of continuing volunteers merging us into fewer houses in Abuja where rents are very high. I am now sharing with existing volunteer A from Uganda and new volunteer C from the USA.

Our entranceThe apartment is a 3 bed upper floor of a house. On the ground floor there is another 1 bed apartment which also houses a VSO Volunteer, B, from Mali/Canada, our apartment share the same outside door. Round the rear of the house is a completely separate entrance to a third flat, the residents of which I have not met yet. 

gateman's hut


As is typical of this area of town,  the houses all have what is commonly referred to ass the “BQ”, the boy’s quarters, where Godswell, our gatekeeper stays. He keeps the yard clean and tidy, lets cars in and out, provides security cover when no one is at home and through the night.




Inside, the apartment is huge: by far the biggest VSO apartment I have ever seen. We rattle around in it. Our lounge is big enough for table and chairs, two sofas and armchairs with space to spare.  2 of the 3 bedrooms have en suite: with water heaters that work; with shower attachments that work. So although we dutifully keep large water buckets full in case the water goes off, so far we have not needed this supply. I hope I am not tempting fate :)  Likewise 2 of the 3 bedrooms, and the sitting room have balconies, just big enough for a chair and for standing laundry out to dry, although we are also spoiled by having lines already provided in our yard, albeit that we share them with the two other apartments.

My room My room is simple: it has built in hanging space and shelves – in fact too much space for my small Nigerian wardrobe. I have a nice new desk which arrived last week and is heavily used as I do quite a bit of work in the evenings and weekends for my placement organisation. 

My bathroom, although not ensuite is adjacent, I picked this room thinking it could be the quieter of the rooms being one of two at the back of the house away from the road, and because it had the balcony. 

Kitchen1The kitchen is where one gets one’s exercise – walking back and forth between the gas rings, fridge, shelves and cupboard which are scattered along opposite walls. With little the way of other furniture it always seems really empty. Kitchen2

Again as volunteer accommodation goes it a enormous, plenty of room for a kitchen table if we had one. It does have cupboard space, and we are using our bookshelves as open shared storage space because unfortunately we have a cockroach problem which we are having to spray the cupboards to try and eliminate.

The local area is different than where I was previously, there are shops 5 mins walk up onto the main road, including a reasonable sized local bigger then mini- but not a super-market. There are restaurants and beer gardens. In fact the nearest beer garden, AfroAsia, is almost immediate across our street, just round the corner. A very pleasant place to sit out with a drink, although food there is too expensive. A much better bet is newly opened “Dreams” up on the man road about a 10 minutes walk away. There, a number of vendors share a seating area. One I have found sells “suya”, the local delicacy – very spicy, flattened pieces of meat, flamed on skewers, the Niaja kebab in effect. Often suya is too full of pepe, the local chilli,, for me, but this guys seems OK. Moreover  he does a mean “hanta” and “koda” one i.e. liver and kidney respectfully in Hausa, for 200N each, compared to 700-800 as the going rate for “schwrama” – like a donor kebab – and meat of chicken suya.  I’ve had one so far and it was delightful, beautifully cooked, tender pieces of liver – not everyone's taste but definitely mine, lips smackingly good, so I’ll be back. Makes a change having these type of things on your doorstep.

The downside is you don’t see your neighbours because they arrive home by their cars and go behind their gates, never to be seen till their car leaves in the morning. I want to  meet our neighbours to the side, one of the men and one of the women there sing and they have beautiful melodic voices.

So this is my home now through the rest of my placement.

Thursday 19 July 2012

The Scottish Novel?

Macbeth: A Novel




A.J.Hartley and David Hewson


Narrated  by Alan Cumming


I loved this take on the Scottish play! But let’s be clear, it is NOT the play and its two joint authors go further than just reproducing the play in the form of a novel. AJ Hartley is a Shakespeare professor at the University of North Carolina and a thriller writer. He clearly brings his understanding of not only Shakespeare's work but also of the historical context to the endeavour. David Hewson is also a thriller writer who has most recently written a novel based on TV series The Killing which is now close to the top of my to be read list. They begin their story of the rise and decline of Macbeth into paranoia with an enlarge battle scene, setting their Macbeth as warrior and patriot. Narrator’s Alan Cummings, Scottish accent,  lends another layer of realism to the tale. They give Lady Macbeth a name, Skena , and we see much more of the inner workings of the couple and of their relationship prior to and during Macbeth’s ascension to the Scottish throne. Having read the part of one of the witches when I first read the play at school I was keen to see how they were to be shaped. They are incredible, still mystical, still weird, but now modern, and I think you will never again see salmon jumping without thinking of these Macbeth witches :)

ashramblings verdict:  (5 stars) I was intrigued by the prospect of taking a play and generating a novel, but their adaptation and rework went way beyond my expectations. I really hope they do more. I suppose we shall all have to start calling this the Scottish Novel!

Sunday 8 July 2012

A dose of real life hits our sanitized Abuja existence

I was busy in the kitchen cooking  when my flat mate  rushed through from her room, out onto our balcony this afternoon. A man has collapsed in the street, she said. There, by the communal waste bins lay a man, maybe in his 30s/40s, it was hard to tell: very dishevelled, a beard covering his face, not malnourished looking, but clearly all was not well. He lay flat on his back, one leg outstretched, the other knee up, the one arm I could see lay flat out, palm up. After a bit of movement in his arm, nothing. From where we were we could not tell whether he was asleep, drunk, ill, alive or dead. My flat mate went across to some of the local youth sitting under a tree a little way off to try and get someone to help. They would not do anything, not even move him off the road. He’s not our concern they said. meanwhile cars passed on our residential road, a young man walked by, but no one stopped.

Situations like this are hard and my flat mate was really upset at her inability to do anything, and at the reactions of our neighbours. I remember one of the women in the Programme Office in India talking about death on the streets, how we would see it. And we did. No 999 service, no ambulance, little or no medical treatment even if the person got to a hospital. Not being a medical person one  really can’t help at the individual level when it gets to this stage. One can only remember that by being  here, doing what we are doing, we are working to alleviate poverty and its consequential miseries. My Indian colleague was very insistent that when leaving a restaurant that we take any uneaten food from our plates in a “parcel” and leave it beside whoever we saw on our way home who was living on the streets.  That was what we could do, she said. This was what we should do. That message has stayed with me.

Abuja is a relatively sanitised experience, in many ways it feels like any other modern, purpose built city. Built for the car, open streets, large multilane carriages ways, modern shops, malls, cinemas, bars, restaurants etc and some fairly palatial houses in certain areas. Yes there are huge variance in income levels, and one sees people raiding the waste bins in our fairly middle class area, typically housing government workers, but as yet no one living on the streets. Outside the city life is very different.

Finally, another one of our neighbours arrived on the scene with a bottle of water and moved him off the road, and laid him up against one of the tree trunks. Then he came back with some food from his house. An hour later I am really pleased to report the man is sitting up, is eating the food given him, and has thanked his good samaritan. 

Hole in the wall vendors

At various points in house walls, perimeter walls, outhouse walls  etc there are small windows, maybe about 1 metre square at about mid-chest height.  There’s no signs so you’d never know until someone tells you, but these are in fact little shops. A bit like someone selling out a their garage. In fact shops  are a bit of an exaggeration, I’d describe them more as off the street street vending points.

Behind the window is a quite small area, shelved and stacked full of things. Determining what is available is difficult. They are quite dark inside. Everything on the shelves is not facing you directly, but at right angles along the walls. Piles of stuff litter the floor, hiding many of the shelves – in other words they are packed full. Of course things like Coca cola bottles are immediately recognisable, but other things are more difficult, especially when you don’t know the local brand,  don’t recognise the local branding, don’t know the local word for it, and reading the labels is stretching your eyesight too much.

My nearest local one is run by man who is Hausa speaking, no English to speak of. I have been to him a handful of times now – to recharge my phone, to try to but matches – which he didn’t have, to buy powdered milk, and to buy eggs. The last time I went I was greeted by a huge smile so I am beginning to be known.  I am definitely missing Kiran Kumar of Rayagada whose small local shop,although perhaps only 2-3 times the size of this hole in the wall seemed to be much better stocked and who sold loose lentils, rice, onions, potatoes, tomatoes,  garlic etc.  No such here.  Within one block either way from our flat there are 4 such holes in the walls! The commercial logic of this I cannot comprehend.  One run by a lady sells loose beans, and I have bought some black eyed peas there after having worked out what the measuring system was. 250Naira for a mudu’s worth. Ok, what’s a mudu worth I ask? The lady lifts up a small plastic  basic, that’s too  much so would she sell a half mudu worth? Then she picks up a smaller plastic basin, a half mudu, or maybe it’s a mudu as well. No one has scales here so its just by some arbitrary volume that goods are exchanged.