Although I am sad that our journey to Africa is nearing an end, we are excited to finally have internet access so that we can share our experiences with you! We had a trip beyond our wildest imagination and we are thankful to have had this opportunity. When we signed up for IBD, we requested the highest adventure level and we certainly were not let down!
Ruth, Amara, Ken and Pablo
May, 14 2012
Ahh the sights and sounds of Nigeria! As soon as we stepped off of the plane in Lagos, we knew we were in another world. The hustle and bustle of people in Murtala Muhammed International Airport made the modest sized building seem larger than life. To our surprise, we managed to make it through the maze of customs officers, security guards and luggage pileup unscathed.We found our host, Bimbola from the NGO Partnership for Children’s Development (PCD) waiting for us right outside. Even though we had spent the last three months corresponding with her weekly, we didn’t have a clue what she looked like. Nevertheless, she recognized Amara immediately from her Skype photo and I’m sure our entire crew stuck out like a sore thumb!
As we traveled the streets of Lagos, we noticed the numerous buses and motorcycle taxis—“okada drivers”—weaving in and out of traffic. Bimbola told us that traffic in Lagos is usually horrendous. Most people use public transportation to get around but the system is not well organized and the roads are in poor condition. Another thing we noticed is that there are hardly any traffic lights. People travel through intersections by making their own way through the sea of other cars. All of this seemed very dangerous and risky, but was business as usual to the natives. All I can say is if there are any rules to the road, I definitely couldn’t make them out! I realized that many of us from more developed countries take our subway systems and roadways for granted. In Nigeria, the potholes can be the size of craters!
The next morning we made our way to Osun State, which is about three and a half hours away from Lagos. We couldn’t keep our eyes away from the sights outside the car window. Women in brightly patterned dresses and men in traditional garments resembling pajama outfits, clamored through the streets. It seems that native attire is usually worn on weekends—exchanged for more western styles throughout the workweek. Dense forests of tropical bushes and palm trees lined the sides of road and each town we passed greeted us with a mesmerizing array of open food markets, butcheries, cell phone stands and shanty houses with tin roofs. We settled into our hotel in Osun and began to contemplate our rigorous field schedule starting the next day . . .
May, 19 2012
We’ve been in Nigeria for one week now. Our multi-ethnic team attracts attention wherever we go. They call members of our team “Oebo” which means “white man” or “foreigner”. Many of them have never seen white people before, especially in the rural parts of the state. Our work involves visiting schools and farms in Osun State as we help NGO Partnership for Children Development (PCD) analyze and improve the free school lunch program here. Fortunately, we have had amazing exposure to the culture and everyone we have met has been extraordinarily friendly and open to us. More than once farmers, headmasters and parents have dropped their plans to help us with our work. We have also had the opportunity to work closely with four local students from the Osun State University—Seun, Davis, Sunday and Joseph. They will be continuing our project when we leave. These sharp “kids” help us translate the Yoruba language and conduct the interviews. They are enthusiastic about the project and we were able to become fast friends with them.
I could hardly wait to get to work because every day in the field is an adventure. The Nigerian public school system is different from what I am use to in the US. First, the schools are a lot smaller and localized due to the fact that there is no bus system and children must walk to school. Most students wear uniforms and one desk is often shared by one or two other pupils. The classrooms have no air-conditioning and students are taught with open windows and doors. Often there is no running water or latrines and the buildings are in bad condition. One day as we were interviewing a headmaster, the roof of his office blew away with the wind!
The best part of the job is the children. They are so excited and run out to greet us singing when we arrive. I’m sure they don’t have “Oebo” visitors very often. Yesterday after our interviews, Pablo began to dance and play football (soccer) with a large group kids. It was such an adorable site to see all of the children running after him. He even managed to pull one cute small boy on his shoulders as he ran around the play area kicking a ball. The excursions into the field also give us the opportunity to experience the diversity of the Nigerian culture. The local food usually involves a spicy vegetable stew eaten with rice or pounded yam called “fufu” or “amala”. The food in Nigeria is carb heavy to say the least. One of the best meals we had was in a part of the state called Ilesa. We were exposed to a new meat called grasscutter. A quick Google search (after we ate) revealed that grasscutter is also known as cane rat—that’s right, we ate fresh rat, and it was delicious! During our visit to the Ife region, we ventured into the Muslim community, relatively small in Osun State, but a large part of Nigerian culture. We discussed the dietary struggles those students face when it comes to standardizing a school lunch menu. We also learned that the Yoruba people, the most populous group in Osun, believe that they were the first humans, and that civilization began in Ife.
May 21, 2012
The weekend has arrived! We managed to escape the confinement of our hotel to visit Lagos, only to discover that travel there can be even more restricted. Lagos is the county’s largest city and is considered less safe than Osun. We managed to get a glimpse into the lifestyle of western expatriates and wealthy Nigerians. We stayed with one of Amara’s friends who is currently working on an expat assignment near the upscale part of Lagos—Victoria Island. As we crossed the bridge from the mainland, the yellow city busses quickly disappeared and were replaced with luxury cars and SUVs. Our home for the weekend was a large apartment with several rooms and bathrooms, a maid, swimming pool and several armed guards outside the gates. A sharp contrast from the rural dirt roads and shanty houses we had visited throughout the week. We explored the island, visiting several cultural art galleries, markets, and cafes. We even tried palm wine, which is considered a Nigerian delicacy. Saturday ended with the exciting and nerve wracking Champions League final. If there is one thing Nigerians manage to agree upon, across tribal lines, it is their love for European football. We are now back in Osun now, preparing for another week of meetings with government officials, visits to schools, and collecting our results into recommendations.
May 28, 2012
As each day passes, I am realizing more and more the things we take for granted coming from the western world. Basic things like electricity, running water, and convenient access to a toilet. We are lucky because we are staying in a decent hotel (that means we only loses power 3-4 times a day). One of the main issues we have had is internet connection, which has made it difficult to get our work done. Those of us who are attached to our cell phones and email have had to learn to cope. For me its actually been an eye-opening experience, getting rid of distractions so that I can truly take in the sights and sounds around me and get to know my teammates on a more personal level. This weekend we finally got to see more of Nigeria. I was able to leave for a few days on my own to visit family in Edo State. The trip a allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and reflect on the previous week. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew went sightseeing in and around Osun, taking in the beautify countryside. Palm trees and mountains line the landscape as they hiked to a splendid waterfall.
June 1, 2012
Yesterday we presented for the Osun State governor at the White House! Well. . .it was a white building. . .we felt like rockstars because we were even on local television! It was awesome being able to wrap up our experiences here by making our findings directly available to the governor. We are hopeful that the government will move forward with our recommendations to enhance their school feeding program, securing Osun State as a model for Nigeria.
Later in the evening we took Daniel, Bimbola and Yinka from PCD along with the students from Osun State University out to dinner at a pepper soup joint (yummy spicy soup with fresh catfish). We reminisced about our time here and promised to keep in touch. Our time here has been a great experience in learning about how to handle various stakeholders and influence government legislation. We will miss all of the children and townspeople. I truly believe we are taking away skills that will make us better leaders and individuals.
Ruth, Amara, Ken and Pablo