Hmm – I think the only way to get started will be to describe my deliberations:
The first thing that came to me this morning, exactly one year after arriving in Nigeria – was how lucky I am.. In fact as I would go as far as to say ‘blessed’! My VSO placement (Fantsuam) is pretty much as good as it gets in Nigeria (if not across the world); coming here with 2 other VSOs made a huge difference to the settling in process; Kagoro is (agreed by most VSOs who’ve visited) the best place to live in; I’ve never (yet) been sick or involved in a traffic accident or any crime (a big touch wood on those) in addition to which I’ve been privileged to meet some wonderful people and visit some beautiful places.
Kagoro – possibly the best place to live in Nigeria – well we think so!
Fantsuam Foundation – effectively fighting poverty and disadvantage in southern Kaduna state: me in the Fantsuam compound on my first day;
Mama Madaki providing health training to a new microfinance group; local kids surfing the web in Fantsuam’s former Children’s Computer Club; all the staff of FF visit Attachab – our ‘permanent site’
Some of the beautiful places we’ve visited: the extravagant Durbar at the Abuja Carnival; Assops Falls on the way up to Jos: Badagry ‘Point of No Return’ close to Lagos;
On the way up to Afi Mountain in Cross River State; at the start of our tour of the ancient Nok culture; a reservoir close to Kaduna
Then I started thinking about what the impact has been on me? My first thoughts were the changes in what I do, rather than who I am. I can cook well on kerosene, have no qualms navigating the most hectic Nigerian motorpark, I love wearing Nigerian clothes, am quite happy to take cold bucket baths and live without electricity (TV, fridge etc.) and I positively relish a good plate of freshly pounded yam and egussi soup.
First time in braids at a friend’s wedding party; meeting with a group of Corpers in Kagarko; with the recently turbanned (First Class!) Chief of Kagoro; attending a chiefs’ turbanning in Mangu – Plateau State; being greeted by revellers at my first Kagoro Day
Since I’ve been in Nigeria, I think the main source of happiness comes from helping to make other people happy, which in the midst of so much struggle, is easy to do. That probably sounds a bit trite, but I think it’s true. I think the unhappiness – or certainly lack of happiness - of many in the ‘west’ derives from always judging yourself by what other people have, and therefore what potentially you could have, but you don’t. Striving for a bigger house, the better car, recognition at work that you’re performing better than your colleagues, taking more foreign holidays than your neighbours. When I’m on Facebook I see my colleagues in Europe or North America bemoaning the fact that the TV has broken down so they can’t see the next instalment of X Factor, or grappling with trying to select which primary school their child should attend. Stress coming from having a dinner party for ten to cater for or the fact that they had to wait for two hours in an NHS queue.
Whilst we’re ‘volunteers’, with a stipend of about £100 a month (a king's ransome here), we have a very comfortable roof over our heads, and food to eat every day and no children to worry may die or be permanently disabled from malaria, typhoid or a common childhood illness.
And when people with so little, can be so bright and cheerful – what can someone like me possibly justifiably feel sad about?
Nigerians are extremely giving – certainly around here. They are always looking to look after others. I have good friends earning less than £50 who will still take every opportunity to tip a less fortunate security guard or lend money to a friend. Whilst we sometimes get frustrated by our young neighbours demanding sweets, they will often offer us their oranges (admittedly more often than not plucked from our tree), sugar cane or ground nuts. They give what they can.
Thank you Nigeria!