Goodbye Nigeria

May 20, 2011

So, my Nigerian adventure has unfortunately come to an end. I have made great progress on my research but am also extremely sad to leave. Yola has been a great experience and has widened my view of the developing world even further. I am so grateful to all of the people here who have opened their hearts, lives, and homes.

Here are a few photos from the Jimenta Market. The picture of the “vegetables” ie.) cabbage, yams, cucumber, and potatoes, had to be taken considering this was pretty much what my diet consisted of for two weeks, oh, and also meat. I am ready for a huge green salad and no starches for days!

A funny story I forgot to write about. Yesterday, our last day at the market, I was perusing around and tripped on a piece of wood (not surprising on my behalf) and my sandal broke. These are my favorite pair of sandals too, and I guess I had been waiting for the time when they would eventually wear out. I was just bummed because not only had we just gotten to the market, but also because I did not want to be walking around barefoot…especially in this market. There are stands in the market who sale, what looks like used, flip flops for a decent price.. But I had a hard time deciding whether or not to buy them because I knew I would be home an hour later where I had another pair. However, I decided I just could not hobble around on the dirty ground, so we started looking for a stand that sold slippers. About 2 minutes in to our search, I am with 2 friends, a little boy taps me and points in the direction we had just come from. Down one of the alleys in the market I see a man waving to me and thinking he has sandals head his way…he has obviously seen my situation as I hobbled along. I Get over to him and all of a sudden my shoe has been taken off of my foot and is in the process of being repaired. Only in Nigeria, right?! I ended up paying maybe a dollar for him to fix it…and he did an excellent job in only about 2 minutes. It was amazing. I am guessing I would have paid at least 20 dollars in the US to get them fixed…they are pretty good leather. In fact, I probably would have just left them behind when I left. Such a great story. 🙂

Both these photos were taken from the local “bar,” which is outside and called the FireHouse. These boys play soccer here everyday and are REALLY good–they need to send some scouts out to Yola.
can you see the goal post?
Also, you put your beer/drink down here for 1 minute, this is what happens:
yummy

Here is a photo after our goodbye dinner last night. We had some locals come to the dinner, all who had helped with our research and site visits these last two weeks. They range from teachers, librarians, doctors, politicians, and HIV/AIDS educators. It was great to sit down with them and hear all of their perspectives on the problems in their country–probably one of the best discussions I have been a part of in a long time. All of these people do amazing things and are amazing people-I will miss them greatly.
This is me and Jess in our Hausa Skirts

Thanks for reading everyone–even though I haven’t responded to comments, I get and appreciate them all. It really is my only connection to reality–as being in Nigeria really feels far from it. Until my next adventure (thinking India/Nepal/South America) Goodbye for now!

now for a 32 hour trip home….

May 17, 2011

Today I visited an Organization called Spring of Hope. This visit was probably the most incredible, rewarding and intense experience I have ever had. Farah, who is pictured below runs the organization and is HIV positive. She basically volunteers and counsels other HIV positive individuals and also talks with many women in hospitals about getting tested, especially if they are pregnant, so that if they are positive they can be given the medicine to lessen the chance of mother to child transmission. Many of the women here have no idea they have the disease, especially if there husbands are unfaithful, or have never told their wives that they have the disease and then pass it to them.
Farah has been living with HIV for 9 years now and lost both her son and husband to the disease. She is the most passionate woman I have ever met and really makes a difference in lives around the community by discussing the issue that is rarely addressed due to stigmatization. Her organization is not even funded by the Nigerian government, but by ours. USAID funds a lot of what the organization does and also provides all of the anti-retro viral medications that are given to HIV positive patients. Nigerians with the disease and their families are so grateful–we told them that HIV positive patients in the US don’t get the drugs for free and that they are ridiculously expensive.
After talking with Farah at Spring of Hope, we walked over to the hospital where the HIV/AIDS testing and care center was. This was also an OB/GYN clinic for pregnant women and regular women who were needing care. Here is a photo I took of the front of the hospital and of the town we walked through to get there:
I saw today what many will never see in a lifetime; things I have read about and seen in pictures taken by photo journalists. I will never again complain about our health care system and I know no one else would either if they saw the conditions in this hospital that I did today. We first walked into the center to over 100 women waiting to see the doctor. They get to the hospital early in the morning and sometimes wait until night fall, just to be seen by the OB/GYN. Not to mention, the stifling 100+ degree weather and all being crammed into a small room. It was chaos. Farah took us in to meet all the doctors, while they were seeing patients, which was kind of awkward for us anyway…they obviously did not care. I also saw a premature baby with her mother…the little guy probably weighed no more that 3 pounds. Farah then spoke in front of all the women in Hausa, so we had a hard time understanding, but it was still a great experience allowing me to really make comparisons between our system and the Nigerians. Here is a photo that does close to little of capturing how many women were waiting to be seen:

This is another photo of the hospital grounds-it literally was a dirt area with concrete buildings.

I took few photos here because I felt it wasn’t really appropriate. I also had no desire to physically remember what I saw. After Farah’s talk we headed over to the in patent center, which was all women. The men and women are separated. This was really the most difficult thing to see out of the whole experience. There were probably a dozen patients, 2 of them were HIV positive patients not in good condition at all. Both were young girls around the age of 15 and one of the girls had two female family members with her. The girl was sitting up in her bed trying to get dressed and was extremely weak–which I was not surprised by-she looked like a skeleton, and neither one of her family members would help her. Farah had to go over and help her get dressed while they stood back and watched. Farah later told us that they are scared to touch her because they don’t want the disease. This is an example of what a negative stigma there is on being HIV positive, even within the family.
The majority of women n the in patient clinic were all extremely skinny and malnourished, which could also have been a side effect from the disease. The beds that weren’t being used had dirty sheets with blood stains on them and beds were marked with a number that was written in chalk on the wall above it. The experience is really indescribable. It is still just hard to believe, even after seeing it, that people in our world live like this. We all should be so grateful for all we have.

Totally random side note-this is how meat is sold here..yummy right?

Village School.

May 16, 2011

Here are a few photos I took today during a site visit at a village school. The children here were so adorable and well behaved. I was just observing the class lessons today so I really only got to interact with the children during their break time. During that time we decided to sing some songs with the kids…they loved it and followed along with us and then they sang a few Nigerian songs for us. All of the public schools here are so different and there is very little consistency in regards to curriculum and teacher training. The village school where I was today had four teachers per classroom–talk about a waste of resources. The class sizes were even small. Each teacher teaches a different subject and while they are waiting for their turn to teach basically lounge around outside and mingle amongst themselves. The children really aren’t learning anything as the curriculum is based off of American material and they are teaching lessons that aren’t relevant to their culture. For example, today the “Science” lesson in a 3rd grade class was on sounds of instruments. The teacher copied the lesson on the chalk board from a lesson book and repeated it to them and then had them copy the writing into their notebooks. Most of the children can’t even write and don’t know letters, so when they copied down what the teacher had written nothing was actually readable. If the letter “L” was followed by the letter “e” in a word and the teacher sloppily connected the two letters, most of us would understand that they are two different letters, but the children were writing it as one letter–it looked more like a symbol when they wrote it down. Apparently these children are assessed at the end of each year determining if they move up to the next grade of not, but its obvious this assessment is not being implemented as most children should know the alphabet by age 8 and these children do not. The instruments written down as examples were drum, violin, gong, guitar, piano, and trumpet. As I said before, the curriculum is not relevant to their lives. I could guarantee that none of these children even knew what a trumpet was, nor will they ever see or hear one…and really how is learning the sounds of these instruments going to positively contribute to their learning? The reality is that it is not. The teachers even have the attitude that these children will never go further because they are village children..so really whats the point. it is really unfortunate and huge changes within the system and among teachers needs to occur.

After school got out at 12pm (another issue that needs to be addressed–class only runs from 8-12 with an hour break) Dahiru, our amazing driver came in the van to pick us up, there were 5 of us. The teachers generally walk at least a mile to get to school and so when they saw the van they all wanted a ride back to their respective villages. Two minutes later there were about 15 women in a 9 seat van, including us! HA, it was quite funny…I tried to get a picture but it didn’t turn out too great. There are several children like this boy sitting outside the classrooms wanting to go in. Because even the public school system is fee based a lot of families can’t afford to send their children to school. Quite sad to see these little guys wanting to go SO badly that all they do is sit outside and listen to what they can. Notice he isn’t wearing a uniform like all the other children–this is who they tell if they are enrolled or not. I gave them stickers and I think it made their day 🙂

Going to an organization called Spring of Hope tomorrow to talk with the founder who is an HIV positive woman and provides counseling and support to other HIV positive people and orphan children. Should be interesting…

Yankari

May 15, 2011

Made it to Yankari and back ALIVE. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous about this weekend trip before we went. The drive is about 6 hours and Yankari is in Bauchi State, which is where a lot of the political violence in Nigeria had been occurring after Presidential Elections last month. Yankuri is, fortunately, far from where the actual violence occurred, but it was just that Bauchi State is associated with all of the conflict….so it just made me a little nervous. Also, Jess “our leader” who lives here has made the drive multiple times with her husband and two girls and had prepared us before leaving that we would probably be stopped at the check points along the way. Check Points: basically two guards wo have barricaded the road off and take bribes for you to get through. Did I mention the guards have huge rifles? yah…creepy. So that was also another added worry, especially because Yankari is north of where we are now and their are chances of hostilities towards Americans the more North you go (as I mentioned before the North is predominantly Muslim). I am not saying there are hostilities, just that the chance is a little greater. The majority of the Muslim population here is extremely friendly and they love Americans. In fact, our driver Dahiru, is Muslim and is probably the most genuine friendly person I have ever met in my life….more about him later though, he really deserves his own blog…he is awesome.
So, back to the trip…
We headed out on Friday around 10am, fit 11 people in the van, with little to no air conditioning, and 100+ degree weather. Again, appreciation for something as simple as air conditioner. I will never complain about being hot again, especially during the drive as I watched men push wheel barrels with 12+ gallon jugs of water from one side of a huge hill to their village on the other side. Not to mention, the water is not clean, so this really is only the first step to being able to actually drink it. The amount of work that goes into a day for most families here is ridiculous, especially in the heat….and many only make a dollar a day, if that. Most children also spent their days working to add to family income instead of going to school.
Sorry, I keep getting side tracked, but there is SO much I want to say…there just isn’t enough time! After getting on the road we stopped at two places looking for gas. There are a large number of gas stations here, although most of them are either shut down, or out of gas. If there is gas in a station the line is usually at least 100 people long. Something I am going to look more into when I get back to the states. Nigeria’s number one natural resource is oil….yet there is a huge shortage…hummm, interesting. Most of it is also exported…but it makes me think. What if the roles were reversed and our (as in Americans) number one natural resource (that was necessary) was pretty much taken from us? The divide between the wealthy and poor in this country is incredible, and actually sickening.

So, we made it to Yankari safe, and all the check point guards let us through with no problem. They actually were happy to see us all in the van. Driving through all the villages along the way was surreal. As we drove by everyone would look in at the van at us…for many of them is was the first time seeing a westerner, or even a white person. I would wave from the car and kids would jump with excitement….I promise….I’m really not that exciting:-)
Because we didn’t get there until later we ate dinner at the restaurant in the “resort,” believe me, it was FAR from that, and then head down to the warm springs….and WOW I was not expecting this in the middle of Africa. I thought I was in Thailand again.The spring was beautiful, and the water was cool. It was so nice to
feel refreshed after being in the hot car ride for six hours.
Now for our “Safari:”

Let me tell you something I have learned during this last week. You
cannot think you are going to be on time for anything in Nigeria. We
had planned to go on 2 safaris on Saturday, one at 6:30am and one at
3:30pm…to try and get a variety of animals sightseeing in, also to
escape the heat of the day. SO, 6:30am rolls around and we find out
guide, yet the truck and driver seem to be missing. He has is walkie
talkie and is speaking in Hausa, so we really have no idea what is
being said. Finally 7:15 rolls around and a small truck arrives with
a total of 7 seats. we decide we are flexible, I mean you have to be
here, and decide to scrunch in. This truck does not sound the
greatest….black smoke coming out of the back, rumbling, etc. About
2 minutes into the drive the driver stalls and this continues for the
next 45 minutes, not to mention the car also just keeps dying randomly
while we are out in the bush. Every time it died the driver and guide
hopped out and poured some sort or yellow liquid into the engine and
after several ignition tries, it would finally start up. We are all
trying to keep our best faces on; we ARE in Nigeria and smashed in the
back of this pick up truck (I really don’t think it was any of our
idea of what our first safari would be like)…but really tried to
make the most out of the experience. About 45minutes in and little
sight of any animals the guide says okay..we are going back to change
the driver…he isn’t your driver, he can’t drive stick. WHAT?! they
basically didn’t want to tell us our actually safari driver/larger
truck was running later, so they stalled by taking us out on a fake
safari for 45 minutes….oh boy. We get back and abut 30 minutes
later, 2 hours after the time we were SUPPOSED to leave, our LARGE,
real looking safari truck came, with a driver who ACTUALLY knew how to
drive stick. We we all just so excited to have out own seats. I felt
like I was on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland…okay maybe it was
a tad more realistic. 🙂

Here are some photos I snapped:

After the Safari we headed back to the warm spring, although it was
much different than our experience the night before. Apparently a lot
of locals come during the day on weekends and I am pretty sure all of
Nigeria was there on Saturday! It was great because we were able to
interact and swim with locals, but it was also extremely overwhelming.
Again, many of them have never seen white people, so they all wanted
to touch us and take pictures with us in the water, out of the water,
sitting down, jumping in…it was exhausting. Candid pictures were
even being taken of us while we were swimming. I seriously think I am
in over 200 random Nigerian’s photos. I guess I got a little taste of
what it may feel like to be famous…and it is not fun. They were
great though too, we played volleyball and jumped off the trees into
the spring. The monkeys pictured are the baboons that pretty much roamed around our hotel. They chased my friend megan for her yogurt covered peanuts and she basically had to throw them so they didn’t attack her. HA, hilarious. this was on the drive back to Yola dad, this one is for you.

Suya

May 12, 2011

Just a quick post and some photos before I leave for the weekend to the game reserve. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go to my site visit today-I got sick this morning, most likely some sort of bacteria from the food, but took some pre-prescribed medicine and am fine now.  I had a similar situation in Thailand, only this time I didn’t wait 3 day before taking the pills. 🙂  Luckily I get to make up the site visit next week-it’s called the Remi Foundation and is a private school for primary aged students, but also for disabled children.

We went to dinner tonight at Jessica’s house who is the director of our class.  She, her husband and two little girls have lived here for almost a year now.  Both are American and her husband is a professor at AUN.  Their house was amazing to see, as they pretty much live in the heart of Yola but in a gated community.  They will be moving back to the States in July; both of their girls are starting to get older, one is 3 and one is 6, and the education they are getting here definitely would not be equal to what they would be getting in the States later down the road.  They made us suya, which is a common Nigerian dish-its basically really spicy barbecued beef.  The meat is bought off of people selling it on the streets.  The men who sell it usually carry it on top of their heads in a flat basket and I was told that sometimes the meat is not sold for days, possibly even a week.  It is not the most appealing thing to see, especially when there are flies covering it.  I tried not to think about it, and Harvey, Jessica’s husband, salted it before cooking it, which is supposed to kill all the bacteria.  They have been doing it for a year, so I decided I would trust their judgment.  The meat, after it was cooked, was also very tough.  The cows here have very little meat on them, usually you can see the bones through their skin because they are so malnourished.  The Suya was pretty good nonetheless.

The pictures below are of the Suya cooking and me, Emily, and Bill hanging out on Jess’ patio before dinner.  The first photo is of a man who sold some great handicrafts–got some great things to bring back from him.

byebye,
lauren

yesterdays blog.

May 12, 2011

So I apologize if the blog yesterday was kind of all over the place.  I was sooo tired and it took about two hours to upload photos-I didn’t even proof read but just wanted to get it posted by the time I went to bed. 🙂  I wanted to explain the pictures I posted really quick.  The First few are just some randoms..the huts, which are common to see here, and then the boy in school, which is where I was observing yesterday.  The last two are the ones I wanted to point out.  The third one down, under the little boy counting, is actually a huge river that is dried up.  You can see someone walking in the middle of it.  Beyond the river is the first market we went to, which stretches the length of the photo.  It was HUGE as I said before.  In the last photo I tried to capture the amount of trash here, but the photo hardly does it justice.  You can see it pretty much on the ground in a huge field in the photo….I will try to snap more later.  The waste management here is not the best as you can see and currently trash is burned as a way to get rid of it.  I can’t imagine what it is doing to the air with all the plastic and Styrofoam used here…

And lastly, I wanted to post this photo yesterday but it was taking too long…here is one with me and one of the boys from the orphanage.  His name is Moses, and he was probably the sweetest little boy I have ever encountered.  I walked in to the home and he literally walked up to me and gave me a hug, then proceeded to follow us around the whole time. Sweetie.

Day 2.

May 11, 2011

Wow, what a day.  I am so exhausted again from the day but am also so excited to share some of my experience from today.  I visited the orphanage in Yola today, which was a very neat experience.  Surprisingly, there were only 4 orphans when we went-apparently the numbers fluctuate from as little as two to ten.  Behind the orphanage is a primary school, which the orphans attend if they are old enough.  Most children start primary school at age 6 while what we consider preschool does not really exist here. Of the orphans in the home only two were old enough to go to the school, and one of those two boys was special needs which does not allow for him to attend school.  The other two children were also boys, one was about a year old (SO adorable) and the other, also SO adorable, was about 3.  None of their ages are exactly known so many of the care takers “guess-ti-mate” on ages.  Some of the children have extended family who care for them some of the time, while the others were either abandoned or rescued after being kidnapped, in which case their parents are then tried to be located.  Another interesting fact: because many of the children do not have names when coming to the home, they are given the name of the governor.  If the child is a girl they will name her after the governor’s mistress. So, essentially all of the orphans have the same name.

After visiting the orphanage we headed to the school which is literally behind the home, maybe 200 feet.  There we spoke to the head master of the school and he then walked us around the school and took us to each classroom. Upon entering the classroom they all chanted a welcome song and then told us what hey were studying.  we then introduced ourselves and the head master then continued to tell them that we were from America.  He then asked how many of the children wanted to go to America, and ALL their hands went up.  They have such an idolized view of us all, when in reality we aren’t all perfect either…I mean what country really is?  After the classroom visits, he told us that it was probably going to be the highlight of their day with many of them going home to tell their parents they saw westerners today.  I had remembered the children’s first reactions to me when I taught in Thailand, but during this experience today the realization was much more prominent.  Thailand is a much more touristy place, which pretty much guarantees that most children there have seen white foreigners.  On the other hand, most children here are not exposed to tourists…Yola obviously isn’t the tourist attracting place, so their reactions to us are much more surprising.

After walking about the school we headed back to the orphanage again and hung out with the kids for a bit before we got picked up.  The head mistress of the home kept telling us to take the kids….not sure if she was using sarcastic undertone or not, but pretty sure not.

After the site visit we headed deeper into the bush and picked up three others who had went out into villages with Dr. Sumit for the day.  From there we all headed to the market.  I have to say that this was probably one of the most overwhelming, exciting, nerve wrecking, scary things I have ever experiences.  We were the ONLY westerners in the ENTIRE market.  This market was also HUGE.  The market in Yola where we are staying is much smaller and not as remote, so I guess I should have assumed we would stand out.  People were following us (mostly kids) and just staring.  If we stopped to look at something, which the majority of the time we all stopped together (all 9 of us) and two minutes late a mob of 30 people would be around us just watching what we were doing.  Definitely gave me a taste of what it feels like to be a minority…and it isn’t the best feeling.  It was uncomfortable for awhile, so we decided to leave and head back to the marketin town where many of the people knew Jess, the woman who lives here and is the leader of our group.  I wish I had some pictures of the first market we went to…it really is indescribable, it was just not the time or place to take photos.  I guess that memory will have to stay locked away in my memory.

After stopping at the second market I picked out a fabric for tomorrow night.  A tailor will be coming to measure us and using the fabric to make traditional Hausa dresses and head pieces for us.  The fabric and the tailor costs all of 12 dollars…I will be sure to post photos once we are all in the gowns:-)

Wish i could write more, but its 11pm and I have another site visit tomorrow.  Not to mention it took 2 hours to upload these few photos and the air conditioning just went out in our room :-/ I will try to post in a few days before we head out to the safari this weekend. Miss you all!

here are some photos I snapped today:


Made it.

May 10, 2011

Hi everyone..I am here.  After an almost 28 hour trip, we all made it safe and sound.  I’m not sure how long this post is going to be–it has been a pretty long day and I think the jet lag is starting to officially kick in.

The flights were pretty uneventful except for two small scenarios which occurred at the Frankfurt airport and at the Yola airport upon our arrival here in Nigeria.  We had about a four hour layover in Germany and I must say, besides being a very nice airport it was also interestingly  intimidating, or so I thought.  Anyway, that is beside the point.  As we were sitting in the food court area all having casual conversation and about to get up and leave, a highly intoxicated man came up to us and began singing the pledge of allegiance (obviously in a sarcastic way), which was some what embarrassing not only for us but also for him.  Like I said, not a huge deal.  However, upon our arrival in Yola, Bill, the only guy in the group and planner of the trip, decided to take a picture as we got off the plane.  Bill soon found out that pictures are NOT allowed in airports in Nigeria.  The two security guards proceeded to approach him, rifles in hand, and interrogate him and make him delete the photo from his camera.  Don’t worry, Bill is fine and the whole situation was totally fine…just not the welcome I am sure he was expecting to get.  The American University Nigeria President(I’ll refer to it as AUN from now on) was also with us on the flight and apparently she know everyone in town and pretty much went up and told them to back off.  🙂

Before our flight to Yola, where we are now, we stayed a night in Nigeria’s capital which is called Abuja.  The drive from the Abuja airport into the city was about 20minutes or so and was great to see since we will be spending the majority of our time in the more rural areas in Yola.  We had dinner a nice restaurant there and it took us about two hours to get our food after ordering…also something which I now expect every time food is ordered here.  Also, the power went out about four times during dinner.  By the fourth time you really just forget it happened and continue on with conversation and food eating in the pitch dark.

Now we are in Yola and things are great-we are staying in the dorms at AUN with several other Nigerian students.  I just went to go take a shower and all the water was turned off…guess I will be waiting until morning and going to bed sweaty and smelly 🙂  I will write more in the next week about everything when I have more energy, but just wanted to give an update and let the fam. know I made it safe and sound.  I also have my first site visit tomorrow at the local orphanage, so I am sure I will have much more to write about in the next few days.  Until then…goodnight all!

xoxo

lauren

Here are a few photos I snapped on the way in…well only one bc it took 20 to upload ha..I’ll do more when internet is better 🙂 this was taken in yola, where I will be the next 2 weeks