Friday 11 May 2012

The Woodcutter

The Woodcutter

by Reginald Hill

Did he or didn’t he? Was he or wasn’t he? Convicted yes but guilty, innocent or fitted up? Master manipulator or genuinely sociable bloke? Wolf (Wilfred Hadda) is a well written character, extremely real and a somewhat likeable albeit revengeful creation. The reader is taken half way through before it is revealed how the great man was brought down. Up to then the reader is as much in the dark as Wolf about how his downfall was orchestrated. Although both probably have their suspicions of whom, how this was achieved and how far through the socio-political establishment it goes, well that’s another matter. The reader is also wondering just how the free running youngster announced in the early stages of the book relate to the mature business man convicted of fraud and paedophilia. How many fingers are sticking in the pie, just who is playing mind games with who, who is fooling who, who is calling the shots, and how far will they go to keep the orchestration in tune?

 ashramblings verdict : This is a really good  4* thriller – well narrated by Jonathon Keeble who does a fine selection of voices, especially for Wolf.

Wednesday 9 May 2012


The first few weeks in a new placement are always a strange mix of getting to know knew things, becoming familiar with one’s route to work,  with one’s neighbourhood, with where to buy things.  My flat mate went away one weekend a couple of weeks back so a great opportunity to explore a bit, tidy up the flat etc. I took of early via taxi to Amigos Supermarket, one of the few in Abuja which is a 10 min, 250-300Naira taxi ride away. This may well not be a weekly occurrence but I wanted to explore the costs of buying meat, lamb and chicken, and to stock up on some basic staples like chick peas, and to buy a decent cooking pan as the ones in the flat are all rather flimsy and far too big for one person cooking.

All volunteers in Nigeria get the same living allowance, 36,000N per month. As usual with VSO this can  be paid in full or in part by VSO, in full or in part by our partner organisation. Mine is paid in full by my partner organisation.  This has meant waiting for an entire month before getting paid. VSO normally pay quarterly in advance, but my partner pays monthly in arrears. VSO’s predeparture instructions say to bring about 100-150GBP to get yourself through this first month.  The timing of my arrival was such that VSO paid me a 2 weeks allowance for the half of March, so between that and my GBP I’ve managed through April, but only just. The main expense has been buying an internet dongle at 12,000N and a month’s online usage which will cost me 6000N.  As I mentioned in my previous post I have since found out that I will not have to continue to pay for this.  The exchange rate is 250N = 1GBP.

Abuja like most capital cities is expensive. The volunteers placed here get an additional allowance over and above our living  allowance which is earmarked for travel. Mine is 17,600N .The biggest regular expense is getting to and from work. This takes me about 10-15mins by taxi and the cost seems to have regularly settled at 300N each way. This means that if I have to use taxis every day including the weekends to go to market or shops, then a month of 30 days will  completely use up the travel allowance.

Food is the next biggest expenditure.  Here’s some typical prices

Fruit: Apples large 150N each, Apples small 70N each, Banana 60N each, Pears 150N each, Mangoes 150N each

Vegetables: Cucumber (about 4-6in) 70-100N, Lettuce 100N, Onions 6 large red 200N, Tomatoes 200N for about a kg, Ginger 3 good sized pieces 50N

Nuts: a small packet of groundnuts , about 1/2 cupful, 50N

Drinks: Carton of fruit juice 250N, Small bottle of water 70-80N, Soda, coke, fanta, etc 150N, Tin of milk powder 700N, Tin of evaporated milk 150N

Snacks: packet of Digestive biscuits 500N, 4 small pots of yogurt 760N

Breakfasts: Oats 500g 480N, Alpen 1200N

Protein: tin of tuna fish 270N, lamb 2700N per kg, chicken 1000 per kg, minced beef 1600N per kg, egg 30N each

cheese, cheddar 200g 870N

Carbs: spaghetti 120N, rice 600N, sugar cubes 220N

Household: Bathroom/kitchen cleaner 700N, dish cloths 700N, towel 1500N, frying pan 2900N, milk pan 2200N


So a typical budget looks something like

Monthly staples   every week
Alpen 1200 eggs x 6 180
oats 450 bananas x 7 400
toilet roll 120 apples x 4 400
rice 600 yogurt x 4 x 2 1520
soap 220 juice x 2l 500
sultanas 740 evap milk 250
chickpeas 390 spaghetti 500g 120
Milk powder 700   cheese x 220g 950
Total 4420   biscuit x 1 packet 350
Weekly equivalent 1105   meat 1000
veg 600
tuna x2 880
      Subtotal 7150
      Weekly equivalent 1105
      Adjusted subtotal 8255
      4 weeks 4
      Monthly total 33020

Yes , its tight!

Hunting and gathering

Locally sourcing vegetables is the main issue at the moment for me. The open market, Wuse market, is a trek by foot or taxiride  away and very busy and noisy. The alternative is crossing town by taxi to the much quieter and much more pleasant farmers market in Maitama but that eats up a whole days travel allowance. One Saturday a man with a wheelbarrow came round selling veg, but he has not been seen again. Rumour has it there is supposed to be a veg stall  a few blocks away, but I’ve never seen it yet.

Fruits are Ok to find. 2 young Hausa boys, Adam and his friend whose name I have not established, pitch their stall each day just around the corner at the end of our road. For now they are selling watermelon, apples , slices of pineapple, and oranges, and last week bananas. The oranges here are very stringy and not that nice, the apples are imported so Ok but more expensive, the bananas when they are available are lovely.They  have been selling mangoes but these appear to be coming to the end of their season here and the quality is going down. Generally fruit prices are as follows: large apples 150N each, small apples 70N each, bananas 60N each, large mangoes 120-150N each. Outside of Abuja you can get about 8-10 small mangoes for 200N – so that shows you the markup in town!

The farmers market is much nicer. I’ve only been once so far. I went with a VSO staff colleague. In addition to the same range of fruits, there was a good selection of vegetables. None of the small market sellers has weighing scales. Some do in Wuse market, but elsewhere no. It is down to asking how much is that pile? nawà nawà nē kashìn albasa? how much is that pile of onions?  This lack of scales surprises me, I recall my Shakti colleagues telling me that they encouraged and motivated the women traders to invest in hand held scales to have greater control over how much they got for their goods.

So back to pricing vegetables…a small pile of green beans 150N, a  lettuce 100N, 3 sizeable pieces of ginger root 50N ( best buy of the day - ginger infusions rock!), 6 large onions 200N. a pile of tomatoes 200N, a 5in chunky cucumber 100N.  Other veg on sale but which I haven’t bought yet includes carrots, beetroot. Yam of course is always available, but I can’t stomach it :(  I’d love to find something like a sweet potato but haven’t yet found one.  A small bag of groundnuts, about a couple of handfuls 50N.

Although my sabzi walla in Rayagada had a really limited choice she did come regularly, indeed she was around every day for many of my neighbours. Here I have not been able to establish a pattern with the street sellers who walk with buckets of good on their heads. I’ve seen yam sellers, dried fish sellers, but no one regular and predictable. Perhaps they come through the working day?


I still haven’t managed to open a bank account here. I have filled in all the forms mid March but so far nothing has materialized back. Just one of the bureaucratic nightmares one has to negotiate when trying to live in a country other than one’s own.

The other is internet. Without a bank account I can’t pay online, so that means a trek across the city to the telecom vendors shop to pay each money which eats away a days travel allowance.  I can’t pay from a UK account as no one here accepts foreign cards at all, and Paypal doesn’t operate here – it even goes as far as freezing your account – real pain. There is Interswitch but for that you need a local account. Circles!

The other way I discovered on the telecomm company’s website is that you can pay by directing charging from your phone, oh great that should be easy. Everyone here has 2 or more phones because the networks go down regularly, so I have a MTN and and Starcomm phone, and the starcomm  one is my dongle. But can I find a local vendor of Starcomm recharge cards! MTN yes, every street vendor seems to have those, every hole in the wall vendor seems to have those, , everywhere, but starcomm, no, ziltch, nada! Sods law. Having invested 12,000N, that’s 1/3 of my monthly allowance in the dongle there’s no going back.

For the last week in April I decided to forego recharging it and wait until I got paid at month end so as to get income and expenditure better synched and give myself a better chance of find a starcomm recharge card vendor closer than a 300N taxi ride away.

Postscript: I wrote this blog entry at the end of April. Then I just thought I’d ask in the office about where to buy recharge cards in the neighbourhood, to be told that my NGO is going to pay for my internet! This is what happened in India and it saved me a fortune and meant that I was quite happy to do work at home and outside of normal office hours. Now I am a happy, connected person again:)