Friday 23 November 2012

Lafia (3) - Obi Market - a photo diary

PB020340We took a trip to the weekly market in one of the neighbouring villages of Obi, still in Nassarawa State. Here are some of the sights of the village. A lovely day spent just walking around chatting with the locals, being asked to “Snap me” ie take my photo . I am always very careful about photographing people and always ask their permission, unless it is a crowd shot. Everyone was really friendly, including one old lady who stopped by me and when I said the usual Ina Kwana was rewarded with a long piece of Hausa which conveyed that she had never seen a white woman in this market before today.
A little later our guide from the YMCA came over with a local man who initially said he was interested in why we were here and taking pictures. I said the pictures were for family and friends back home so that they could appreciate where I was living as they had never been to Nigeria.  After much to-ing and fro-ing it became apparent that this interest was a rouse and he was angling for “ a complement”, in other words he wanted money to continue to let us take pictures. After much politeness, I gave up and simply said No to the complement and stopped taking pictures, leaving others to continue to haggle with him in Hausa. Leaving a bit of a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, we moved off to return to the market sellers who were selling fabric which a number of us were intending to buy. Much to the stall holder’s annoyance we said no more pictures when he said Snap me.
Otherwise the market and the stallholders were great – lots of life, colour, marvellous faces and displays. Small enough to be interesting, not too crowded. It sold everything – cosmetics, toiletries, shoes, clothes, fabric and food – your classic village market.
PB020325One item which interested me was the local soaps markets here alongside western style toiletries.

Market sellers

Market stalls
Market Life
High Street?

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Lafia (2) –YMCA Farm school


PB030411_thumbTraditionally agriculture in Nigeria is subsistence agriculture and suffers from poor crop yields, a variety of crop pests, and post harvest losses of up to 40% because of inadequate storage facilities.  The farm school is trying to change this subsistence approach into a an agribusiness and wants to encourage its farmers to plant new varieties, try out new techniques and to plant a diverse range of crops to ensure a regular and continuing source of food and income.

PB030412_thumbTypical crops we saw when we were there in early November were oil palm (which gives the oil used for cooking in most of Nigeria), sesame, chilli pepper (which, as far as I can taste, is used in every Nigerian dish), guinea corn (dawa in Hausa) taller than a man, citrus (lemon and oranges (which we had each morning for breakfast) , enormous flouted pumpkins (goye ), okra/ladies fingers (kubewa), rice (shinkafa – and the first paddy field I have seen since India!) and the ubiquitous yam (doya). Everyone of the volunteers harvested a yam  - yes even me - which was then cooked for our evening meal, and I can tell you I wouldn’t want to be doing that all day! There is no yam harvester other than a human being with a large hand hoe – back breaking work as you have to hack away carefully so as not to damage the tuber.




They have a small but growing herbal business growing various herbs such as Artemesia which is drank as a malaria cure, Vinca rosacea for high blood pressure and something they called black stone which is a boiled thigh bone of a cow and which is used against snake bites.

Oil Palm
Digging for yam

Lafia (1) –Escape to the Country


2012-11-03 11.25.33Abuja is a very sanitized volunteer existence. It is after all a capital city and a purpose built one at that. So you don’t get to see much Nigerian life. Also it has all the usual stresses and strains of a city – too much traffic, to high costs, too many expats paying too much for basic things. So it was good to get away albeit only for 3 days.

We headed off to Lafia, in neighbouring Nassarawa State, where one of the VSO volunteers is based with the YMCA who have a farm school there. The journey to Lafia is done in stages: first we walked from our flat to the local market where you catch a bus ( which looks like a bus at home) to the outskirts of Abuja where there are a series of motor parks, each a terminus for long distance buses. These are not really buses but mini-busses, into which some 16 people are crammed and the bus doesn’t leave until it is full. We got an empty one PB010224which had the advantage that we could pick where we sat but the disadvantage of having to wait until it filled up in the 35C heat. One of our number really entered into the Nigerian  way and  tried to hassle and haggle with prospective clientele just like the driver! With 3 rows of 3 seats  holding 4 people each and the front seat another 2 plus the driver, we were finally full and the journey had begun. After 3 hours I was glad to get out and be able to stretch my legs.

The farm school about another 40 minutes drive from Lafia where trainee farmers are taught about farming techniques, new crops to diversify their small holding with and increase their income in an attempt to transform subsistence agriculture into an agribusiness. I was particularly interested in this since this is the dream of my previous NGO in India, Shakti Organisation. So a group of 6 volunteers , 4 based in Abuja and 2 temporarily in Abuja but based in Illorin joined other volunteers from Panyam, Akwanga and Lafia to stay for 2 nights up country at the YMCA hostel on their farm.


Accommodation was basic, but everyone had a bed (something you cannot take for granted in Nigerian hotels), a mosquito net, and even toilet roll provided. Toilet facilities was simple – squat with bucket and chuck it showering for which you have to collect your water from large bucket containers, which themselves are filled every morning by the staff of the farm who carted it from the on site dam, the only permanent year round water source for a considerable distance.

The farm was built some 30 years ago by a German organisation and has accommodation for up to 40 people and they had commission a company to excavate the dam. but in typical Nigerian style the company ran off with their money. However they did leave a very sizeable excavator on site which is still there. I can’t believe it isn’t worth more, but there it stands getting covered in climbing ground weeds and being overtaken by the jungle. Without the skills or resources to use it the staff of the farm and others dug this dam out by hand, it remains the areas water source to this day and at the right time of year one can catch fish in it.

The staff and trainees were great. Many live on site with their families and they were so welcoming. We paid for the food  but the women cooked our meals – some sort of goat’s meat stew and rice on the first night which wins the best dinner I have had in Nigeria prize,  but then it was back to the ever present egusi soup and pounded yam, to which all I can say is yuck! More another time about Nigerian cuisine but suffice to say I have tried everything and like nothing very much.

For our evening entertainment, we borrowed a projector and screen, paid for fuel for the generator and showed movies which everyone sat round and watched. We started with a children’s movie Alvin and the Chipmunks which had all the kids glued to the screen but I must say the choice went downhill from there with a collection of awful 300N cds of the typical fare of all action crap movies, something about a Preacher assassin and other I forget.

By way of thanks, we bought each of the women a small gift of “Ci” soap, a particular brand requested by the women which is reminiscent of the green bars of Fairy soap that were around when I was very small. We also had some fun times playing with their children, taking photos, trying to speak Hausa, visiting a local village and a weekly village market and actually I think everyone had a fun couple of days.

My fellow volunteers have also blogged about this trip. You can read my flatmate Candace’s account and if you read Dutch you can read Stefan and Miranda’s account


Tuesday 20 November 2012

Taking in some High Life at Blake’s

So I had to dispel this illusion people were getting of me not being a party girl and boy did I do it big time!

Every time the other volunteer’s had been going out dancing I made my excuses  - to be honest I can’t hear over the noise any more and the music is not really to my taste – too much hip hop , zip zap stuff I don’t really like. But I was rapidly getting a very undeserved reputation as a party pooper. I wasn’t consciously going out to change that but I most certainly did.

It all started  with a meeting at work when I noticed one of the external attendees. Then, myself and a colleague had to attended a related government shindig and were filmed in attended for Nigerian TV! After the symposium, there was a dinner and I ended up sitting next to my previous flat mate here in Abuja who was there representing VSO when who should sit down beside us but the aforementioned person. Amidst fuel shortages it was becoming to get tricky getting taxi’s and my ex flat mate suggested to this person that he run me home – nice touch B and much appreciated. We sat chatting waiting for his driver to arrive, and he ended up asking me out for dinner that weekend.

So I thought we were just going to eat typical Nigerian point and kill fish when we ended up walking into this nightclub restaurant. My heart sank and I was already beginning to think of excuses to leave early when I heard the music. High life! Just my sort of Afro-Latin beat. I must have been beaming from head to toe! For me, this has always been the music of West Africa and finally here I was amongst it – trumpets, trombones! It turns out that Blake’s is something of an Abuja institution and I am now a big fan.

Short of it was I had a great time! We did eat fish, we didn’t talk much because the music was too loud but that didn’t matter. The music was great, the dancers athletic, the beer was cold and it was costing me nothing! Next thing I knew we were heading home and it was 3:30AM!

Getting into the house proved to be a humourous problem. First I had to rouse our gate man. That was OK. Then I tried to get me key in the door only to find my flat mate had locked up and left her key in the lock. C had returned from her night out, assumed I was in bed as usual because my door was shut and went to bed. So I had to try and raise her by calling her mobile and waking her up at 3:30AM, but my phone provider was having an off day, so I ended up having to re-rouse our gate man, borrow his phone and raise C. A very drowsy and very surprised flatmate stumbled down the stairs to let me in. We did have a laugh about it the following day!

Monday 19 November 2012

A little interlude happened

Well I cannot believe it has been almost 2 months since I last posted! No excuses, but I have been busy.

First, there was the dreaded PC failure! Actually the power lead succumbed to the wear and tear of 2 Indian monsoons, a Nigerian rainy season, power surges, dust and all the other hazards of a volunteer’s life on the road. With the able assistance of one of my work colleagues we scoured Abuja for a replacement ASUS power lead, but none was to be found with the correct Voltage and Ampage. I ended up getting a friend to ship one from the UK for me along with a new battery, just in case it had blown as well. Exorbitant courier costs paid they arrived and I plugged in. My initial relief at seeing it charge was very soon knock flat by the realisation that it was residual charge on the new battery not new charge. Yes something more significant was wrong inside the netbook. I then proceeded to copy off my drive as much as I could before the battery completely emptied. Thank goodness for a large external drive. Needless to say I didn’t quite manage to get everything copied before it died completely.

Secondly, work has been incredibly busy. Yes I constantly describe this volunteer placement as more like having a real, full time, job. I have deadlines, a constant workload which luckily is interesting and worthwhile. We are constantly writing funding proposals which have strict submission deadlines, we have scheduled training classes for paying clients and our project work. On top of this I have conducted a competency assessment of all staff in Abuja, Sokoto and Bauchi offices in respect of IT, OD (Organisational Development) and management skills. It is a busy office, not one where people go to sleep as I have heard about other placements. My colleagues work long hours, outside of normal office hours, travel extensively and are a great team. I’m not painting a rosy picture it really is like that. Yes, they are going through a difficult spell as are many NGOs with money being very tight and new funding being difficult to get – the odds of a successful funding application? I dread to try and quantify, but a guestimate is it is less than 1 in 1000.

In addition to this I have been doing some work for VSO Nigeria as well – the first piece was assessing a request from one of their partners for assistance with collecting success stories from their projects. Unfortunately I didn’t end up doing this piece of work as it required too much time away from my placement which was not feasible. Then I helped out by providing some mentoring and guidance to a staff member writing a funding proposal. Although that particular proposal did not receive funding, I was asked to do the same with a second submission for which news is still awaited.

Finally on the work front, I have picked up a bit of desk based work from home which is great because it brings in much needed funds to me for when I get back to the UK.

But the time has not been all work and no play! so to wet your appetite

  • I have been dancing the night away in one of Abuja’s top night hot spots (INSERT CROSS LINK HERE TO FORTHCOMING POST)
  • A couple of days trip with some other volunteers to visit one of our colleagues in Lafia, about 3 hours drive out of Abuja was a great break (INSERT CROSS LINK HERE TO FORTHCOMING POST)
  • Finally I made it to the North for 2 days delivering training to some of our National Volunteers (INSERT CROSS LINK HERE TO FORTHCOMING POST)