nigerian field visits photos

As most of you know I'm in Nigeria for four months to finish my masters, working with an international NGO.

This past week I was able to visit the three child protection teams in northern Nigeria -- Bauchi, Kano, and Kaduna.

It was a great experience, and sits with me deeply. All my senses were taking it in -- the sights of the never ending rubbish, goats at every turn of the road. The smells of all those motorbikes, rubbish fires, and at times, sewage. The sounds of all those motorbikes, the hawking, the mosque calls to prayers. The taste of northern Nigeria cuisine, which even the same basic item (fried yams) tasted different.

And of course, the children. I'm not sure what I think. On one hand, it's easy to be angry when every corner in Kano has a bunch of Almaijari boys begging at every car that passes by -- you spot them by their plastic bowls. Boys are sent to the Almaijari "schools" which are Koranic boarding schools where neither the Koran or any form of education is taught. Instead, they are forced on the streets to beg. Millions of boys in northern Nigeria are in this situation.

But it becomes much more complicated when you travel to the communities. Beyond the poverty, you see so many children during the day who should be in school -- in the streets, hawking, working, caring for other children. It's like another world -- especially in Kano, where these communities are basically a hidden world from the main tar streets. But it's not just as easy to say "well, they should all be in school!" At the schools -- the children enrolled are easily identified by their uniforms, but many more children hang around the schools who are not receiving an education.

However the reaction of the children to the foreign oyibos are always the same regardless. With the little ones, it was like a running, screaming mob. For the older ones, we would walk into a classroom, and they would all be hushed by the teacher. They would sometimes sing a song, or merely say in their loudest, proudest English a big "dank you!" -- and once we walked out, it was like pandemonium as squeeling of delight and wonder filled the room. It was impossible not to hear the children and see their laughs and smiles -- and feel relieved and happy. But at the same time -- I always wondered how naive or presumptuous I was to feel that. How cliche, right?

And for the moment you were all waiting for -- yes I took photos, finally!! I didn't get as many photos of images/experiences that I wanted to. Mainly because I was "working" and not travelling, where I could stop as I'd like. And even when I did get to take photos, it never seemed to capture what I was seeing/feeling.

But they are up on flickr, so click on this link to view --



three random stereotypes that are relatively true

1. women carry huge amounts of X, Y, Z balanced on their heads -- well, this is only partly true because plenty of men are hawking items along the street, even if the majority are women. but you see them everywhere, balancing a huge bowl of bananas, mangos, water, rice, etc etc while walking down the hot, dusty sidewalks.

i try not to be impressed by such feats of balance but more than once i wish i could try to do such balancing myself without (a) dropping the load on my feet like the lame oyibo i am or (b) appearing condescending or naive like the out of touch oyibo i am.

2. nigerians drive like shit
-- ok, you want me to be kinder and gentler? how about they drive like crazy crap. this is something that photos cannot do justice to, nor even mere narrative. i cannot describe what riding around in a taxi is like here -- this is something that can only be experienced first hand. but all those rumors i heard about driving on sidewalks, cutting people off, no headlights at night, burn-out car crashes in the middle of the road etc etc are very much true here.

part of the problem is that there are too many cars. everyone owns his/her own car because taking taxis all the time can add up pretty quickly (i should know). so it's a source of pride -- you always see people cleaning up their cars to a glittering sheen, whether it's a brand new peugot or a beat-up 20+ year old volkwagen with no door handles and cracked windshield.

however, once they get on the road -- it's the law of step aside bitch, me first. i like to believe they don't necessarily do this with malicious intent. the truth of the matter is the process of getting a driver's license consists of forking over the required "fee" and there you go, you're ready to drive! it's all about money, baby. so i say a good majority of the drivers out there have never really "learned" how to drive.

so a road technically wide enough for 3 lanes easily becomes a 4 lane road. or even funnier, when the 3 lane road becomes a 2 lane road -- nigerians seem to love to think of lane markings as what you drive over, as if it's a monorail tracking. i've finally gotten used to 4-way intersections with no street lights where the law of step aside bitch, me first is quite an adventure. basically i hold my breath and hope not to get side swiped. only one taxi ride (out of many) have i ever felt "are these my last thoughts? am i going to die here in abuja, alone, in this taxi?" -- but it still doesn't get any easier.

3. nigerians love obama and think of him as a brother -- this is also very much true from my unscientific sampling of taxi drivers and other local folks. the best conversation i've had about obama though was from a taxi driver who was amazed that a black man could become president of the US -- his voice was filled with awe and he felt that made the US a wonderful country where anything was possible, and he only hoped for such greatness to be able to happen in his country. i admit (and i don't even like obama) that i was pretty proud to be representin'!

tomorrow i leave for nothern nigeria -- bauchi, kano, and kaduna -- for a week of field site visits. bauchi recently had some riot troubles, but the curfew has been lifted and so we're going ahead. i'm pretty excited, especially to see historical kano. this is supposed to be work and i'm not really supposed to act like a tourist but i hope to have time to see the famous dye pits and the ancient city walls (what's left of them). i'm also bringing my camera so hopefully i'll have photos soon!