Sunday, November 12, 2006

I dey for house-o!

All things come to an end. I am back in Blighty, having finished, and handed-over my placement in Nigeria. Things at home are becoming more normal, but I've still got a lot to get straight in my head about what I've experienced and what it means now.

I am happy to be back, but also very happy to have spent a year in such an intriguing country. When and if I lose my current writers block I may try and do some 'summing-up' posts here. Until then...


Saturday, September 30, 2006

UTC Market

Imagine a large warehouse, remove the walls but leave the high roof above. Turn your mind to the floor. What do you see? Smooth, level concrete? Hell no – picture it uneven and stony, with muddy puddles and broken storm drains. Add a few pits of varying depths, reached by uneven, eroded staircases.

Begin to fill (and I mean FILL to every last inch) the vast space with crooked stalls and ramshackle shops. Stock these with any and many of the following: stationery items, CDs, DVDs, phones, electronics, pedal powered sewing machines, material, tailoring supplies, computers, picture frames, printers, mugs, crockery, printing presses from the 12th century.

Once you have finished stocking, double it, and fill any remaining space with debris – paper, cloth and packaging.

Now you are almost set with your mental model of UTC covered market, Abuja. Just a couple more things remain.

Power. NEPA, as usual, is scanty, so each and every stall needs its own generator, pumping black fumes and filling the vast space with a thrumming background din. The melody to this constant noise is contributed by the TVs that are played full volume in every stall, and the giant rasping sound systems of music vendors. The cables between appliances and generators and lights are about as organized as a plate of spaghetti.

People: Bring in human resource, predominantly male and put them to work. Each task (no matter how small) must be broken down sufficiently enough so that three men and a small boy are required to do it. Add roaming hawkers of small snacks, drinks, watches and underpants. The children of workers play among the stalls, making toys out of the waste.

UTC is dark, noisy and hard on the lungs. Health and safety officers could have a field day. But you can get a lot done inside; as long as you are patient and have the assurance of a shower and a sweet drink when you reach home.

Okada Ban

There are plans to ban okadas from Abuja. This is a disastrous bit of city management. The ban is due to be imposed as of the beginning of October. That’s next week! It’s craziness.

Number one: there is no provision made for alternative employment for the thousands of okada drivers.
Number two: there is no alternative transport system to carry passengers about the town.

The repercussions from this, if it indeed goes ahead, could be huge. Both for individuals and the community. There may be less traffic accidents, and less pollution, but the loss of livelihoods for a mass of predominantly young single men could lead to all manner of troubles.

There is cynicism around everything in this country. Someone has suggested that maybe this is as a result of some ‘Big Man’ needing a few extra Naira. He spends public money on ‘cleaning up’ Abuja making it ‘safer’; the okada union ask all their members to pay a fee of N100, they dash the Big Man and all will be able to continue. I wonder. It will be interesting to see what happens these next two weeks.

Friday, September 29, 2006

If the Shoe fits...

There is something about shoes here. They just never seem to fit. On women I think it is really a matter of fashion comes first; if they like the shoe, they’ll cram their foot in any way they can. Toes are often bulging off the side of sandals, and covered shoes are totally misshapen.

With men it’s another story and I’m starting to wonder if importance is measured in shoe size. Men here like big, long shoes. You can see the creases of their toes six inches before the tapering point of the shoe (and it must be pointy). A man of 5’5” may wear shoes that you’d struggle to measure with a 30cm ruler.

I followed such a man up some stairs. The steps were posing quite a challenge. The depth of the step, the length of the shoe and the length of the foot inside the shoe simply did not combine to allow a suave stair-climb; it was very cloppity clop.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mmm Mmm! This is a tasty burger!

Oh we had to laugh! Nigeria Nigeria! Kai, na-wow!

A group of us VSOs met up in Abuja and needed to chop. It was decided we would go to SFC for some cheap(ish) and cheerful fast food. One of our group was vegetarian so we were pleased to see ‘Veggie Burger’ on the menu. I decided to join Esme in ordering one.

We were most curious – what would a Nigerian veggie burger be like? They actually had them in stock, which was a good sign. I had some confidence that it couldn’t be that bad, how wrong could it go?

Esme unwrapped hers first. Lifting the bun she looked, and prodded; ‘I think they forgot the burger!’

Oh dear – poor Esme I thought. Let me tuck into mine!

I peeked at mine and saw the same splodge of mayo, 1 lettuce leaf, 2 weedy tomato slices and 3 rings of raw onion pressed between the bun. She was right! I saw no succulent burger there.

A conversation with the manager ensued. It went something like this, although a little more convoluted:
Esme: ‘Did they forget the burger?’
Manager: ‘No. That is how it is now.’
Esme: ‘Sir, this is not a burger’
Manager: ‘Yes it is. It’s a Veggie Burger.’
Esme: ‘There is no burger! Where is the burger?!’
Manager: ‘It is vegetables in a burger bun. That is our concept of a Veggie Burger.’
Me: ‘…Vegetables???!! It doesn’t even reach one tomato between us!’
Manager: ‘That is how it is now’
Esme: ‘Can’t you at least give us some cheese?’
Manager: ‘Cheese? You want cheese? That will be extra money.’
Esme: ‘Oh no it won’t’

The conversation went round again, probably a couple of times, before they reluctantly squidged in one slice of cheese. We gave in, sat down and chuckled. The others tucked into buns filled with hash browns, salad, and more significantly – actual chunky chicken fillet burgers!

But for Esme and me it was 270Naira for a funny story and an empty belly.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Malta Guinness

Which of these ingredients are addictive? Maize, sorghum, malt, sucrose or hops? Malta Guinness is quite a disgusting thick brown non-alcoholic drink of which I now require a daily slurp to keep me lively. It tastes like something half way between guinness and under-six Calpol medicine.

My name is Kate and I am a Maltaholic.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The mad leading the mad.

Here in Abuja I’ve seen a madman directing the traffic. Initially I was surprised to see that divers adhered to his directions, but actually it’s quite sensible; without his input a busy junction could quickly become a car park. He does a good job, saves people money by preventing bumps and scrapes, allows Road-Safety officers more nap-time and even earns a few tips during the day. Everyone’s a winner! It’s just a shame that drivers in Kubwa don’t observe the Road-Safety people with such diligence.

Ooh I could have a BIG rant about the traffic situation in Kubwa; 1 million people all fighting for space on the road, each with complete contempt for anyone else trying to do the same….BARG! But I won’t continue.


Only to say that the whole thing is exacerbated by shoddy roads, clapped out vehicles, quick tempers and each person’s own belief that it is his/her right to drive where and how they please and that everyone else must respect that and should bloody well get out of the way…

It’s probably not that much different in London actually. It’s just that it’s always nice to have a good old transport moan. I think it must be a British thing. Weather observations and transport moans. Cracking.

PS. Today the weather is mostly hot, getting hotter and turning out hot. As usual.

Friday, September 22, 2006


And there I was worrying about how completely out of touch I am and how I will return to England wearing all the wrong clothes, smelling bad and appearing invisible when looked at sideways; it is not to be! Huzzah!

Two packages have just equipped me with all I need to stage a magnificent comeback into London life: Copies of Glamour and Marie Claire will ensure I know how to wear my new skirt with style; a make-your-own-perfume kit will keep me smelling sweet as a rose (or will get me arrested on the plane – small vials of liquid all in a row are not something for hand baggage); and a load of high-protein energy bars will get me fattened up nicely.

Wahoo! Thanks v. muchly!

A nurse just very politely enquired, ‘Kate! How are you? How is your end?’