Much Betta!

This will be just a REALLY quick update to let you all know that all my fears and worries about arriving at site were totally unnecessary! I traveled to Ilorin by airplane with my new friend and colleague Princess Cecilia (and her 5 month old baby Happiness), to Ilorin, which is a lovely Nigerian city. I was welcomed with open arms by a wonderful British VSO volunteer couple, Lea and Caroline, who have been most hospitable. They even cooked peanut curry and offered pineapple mango fruit salad on my first night!

Today I came with Lea and Caroline to their workplace: the ESSPIN office. ESSPIN is a UK funded organization that works to improve the Nigerian education sector. Even though I’m not a part of their organization, they have basically included me in their work and consider me their colleague, which is wonderful because they are an amazing resource to be connected with.

After some meetings today, I feel much more clear-minded about the work I’ll be doing at the College of Education, and I’m really excited to get my feet wet and start work. I should hopefully find out about my accommodations soon, but I’m not too worried about that since Lea and Caroline are happy to host me, as is Princess Cecilia.

I most likely won’t have much access to internet where I’ll be living (or much time to blog once work gets rolling), so this may be the last one for a while. Take good care until then!

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Moving On, But Currently Homeless!

Despite the myriad of opportunities I had this past week to write about the great experiences I’ve had and the excitement and optimism I’ve felt, it has ended up that I am writing instead during a time when I feel quite alone and scared.

My training here has been brilliant. I’ve met amazingly wonderful people; ones that I will miss seeing around on site. I had quite the cool field trip to a city in the north called Kaduna, where another volunteer and I stayed with two current VSO volunteers. They took us out, we rode multiple okadas (motorcycle taxis), shopped at the huge market (which there’s so much to say about that I will have to write a separate blog on it later), went out to local bars, went to a park (and saw chained-up monkeys…sad!), baked bread and cooked food, slept (and roasted) under mosquito nets, and got to experience NEPA (Nigerian’s electrical supply, known in Nigeria as “Never Expect Power Anytime”). The field trip was the best way to feel acquainted with the day-to-day life of Nigeria, and our hosts were lovely.

I also went to the medical clinic in Abuja with a friend. He had to be blood-typed and I had to get my last round of Hep A and Hep B shots. Because we were white, we were served first, even before people who had more urgent situations. This made me very uncomfortable, but since I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t say anything. Next time (though hopefully I won’t be in a hospital anytime soon), I don’t want that kind of preferential treatment. I got my shots in this tiny room called the “Injection Room,” and while I was a bit nervous about the needles, it turned out to be alright. It wouldn’t have passed American standards, but it was just fine.

So here I am, on my last day of training, and I’m off to Kwara State, where I will be teaching. My reason for feeling alone and scared is just that my circumstances at site have been quite uncertain (in Julie “control-lover” terms) and I feel a bit at loose ends about what I’ve gotten myself into! For example, my first day here I read in the paper that the Teacher’s Union in Kwara State (including my college I’ll be working at) is on strike indefinitely. I’ve been assured that I’ll still be working, but a colleague of mine was talking about it, and it sounds like there are deeply rooted problems with salaries and job satisfaction among Nigerian teachers. I also don’t have a place to live yet, and we keep flip-flopping whether I’ll live in the town where my college is located, or whether I’ll live in the city about 45 minutes outside of the town. I’d rather live in the town because commuting daily on bad roads in unsafe vehicles with aggressive drivers gives me a subtle, gut-wrenching sense of horror. Traffic accidents are a huge problem in Nigeria. However, if I live in the town, I’ll be the only oyibo (common Nigerian word for white person), and I feel like that might be a challenge at first.

I love the Nigerian folks I’ve met so far. Everyone is extremely friendly and kind and welcoming, and overall I feel very comfortable here. In some ways I feel at home already. The food is great, the VSO staff is helpful, and I know that when I arrive at site and get settled I will have a lot of amazing and challenging work ahead of me. For that I am very excited. But none of this cuts away from the fact that I miss my family and friends dearly, and now that I’m going off all on my own, it stings a bit more. Luckily there is a VSO volunteer couple from the UK who are close by and they can help me adjust.

Well, I will try to make my next blog more specific about Nigeria, since that will be much more interesting! There is just so much to say that I don’t know where to begin, and now I’m getting used to a lot of it so I don’t know how to write about it all. I will try to send pictures next time, as they speak louder than words anyway.

Peace,

Julie

Arrival. Training. Liver Chunks.

Hey all! I arrived in Abuja, Nigeria, on the 13th after a perfectly uneventful 26-hour air transit journey. It was rather boring, actually. Until, that is, I arrived at the Frankfurt airport and walked right past the sausage restaurant where I sat and ate with former Kazakhstan Peace Corps friends only six months prior. That was a surprisingly profound experience, actually. I kind of had to pause and take in the moment. Life has a very funny way of writhing around on us a bit, doesn’t it!?!?

I feel like I’m writing in British. I probably am, since I’m in training with people mostly from the UK, but also one from Australia, two from Kenya, one from Nigeria, and one from India. It’s a really diverse group of people of various ages, professions, and backgrounds.

Anyway, aside from getting proposed to by the customs official at the airport, clearing immigration and getting my luggage was a piece of cake. No pushy porters, no corrupt immigration officials, no bribery, and no scam-happy cab drivers. It just goes to show not to believe everything you read. Nigeria unfortunately isn’t known for good reputation. I’ll change that 🙂

So I’m staying at a hotel during training which is called “The Crystal Palace.” The owners refer to it as “The Buckingham Palace of Nigeria.” I wouldn’t go that far with the palace analogy, but it’s really quite nice! I’ve got internet, a comfy bed, air conditioning, a TOILET (sorry, fellow Kazakh Peace Corps friends), and a shower. We also get comped meals, and I’ve enjoyed a wide array of the following yumminess:

Pounded yams
Pounded wheat
Pounded cassava
Fried plantains
Fried chicken
Fried egg
Spicy bean cake
Spicy fishy sauce
Spicy liver chunks in sauce
Spicy spinach fishy sauce

And much more! I’d tell you the real names and ingredients of these dishes, but to be honest, I don’t know them yet. I just know that Nigerian food is sauced, spiced, fried, fishyfied, and pounded en masse. And I love it.

The Nigerians I’ve met in the hotel and the VSO program staff are incredibly nice. So that particular rumor about Nigerians being wonderful people has proven true so far. I also heard on the radio a guy read a poem about the importance of being kind and respectful to one another. We could use a bit of that kind of broadcasting in The States, right?! And the dining area in The Crystal Palace hotel is called the “Happy Hall.” I think they’re on to something here.

As for weather – since we all have that bizarre human compulsion to know about The Weather – it’s in the 30s Celsius here, which is high 80s, low 90s Fahrenheit. A bit humid and quite smoggy, but a welcome change for a chilled-to-the-bone Oregonian like myself.

I hope all is well for everyone, and thanks for staying connected!

Peace,
Julie

P.S. Check out the “I Am Happy” project, started by a Nigerian who my mom’s friend knows. His goal is to spread happiness globally, one person at a time.