What did the German say when meeting Aladdin’s monkey?

“Abu, ja?”

Apologies for that awful joke, but it is really hard to make a pun on ‘Abuja’. Luckily, my German GCSE never stops paying back, thank you Herr Ludwigsen. I’ve been in  Nigeria for 10 days now, and given that today is a public holiday to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, I thought it would be good to use my spare time to start my blog and update you on my adventures.

Firstly, I should explain again why I’m here. I was lucky enough to be selected for the GSK PULSE volunteering partnership this spring and will be taking a 6 month break from my role as a Category Manager at GSK Consumer Healthcare UK to work with an NGO.

I was matched with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, an NGO founded in 2002 with the intention of saving the lives of millions of people in the developing world living with HIV/AIDS, but who have now expanded into other areas of healthcare. These include; maternal and new-born health, malaria, and nutrition. I can’t do justice to all the good work they do here so please read more on their site at  http://www.clintonhealthaccess.org.

My placement will be working on the nutrition project, trying to reduce malnutrition in Nigeria, with a specific focus on ensuring that children aged 6 to 24 months are getting high-quality, nutrient-dense complimentary foods. I’ll talk more about the project in future posts.

I arrived in Abuja on Saturday morning and got settled into my hotel where I was to stay for my first week. I met my PULSE colleagues Jeevini, Temi and Mindy for dinner, they had arrived the week before and it was great to have people to talk to who I knew were going through a similar change to me.

My first week at work was quite a standard first week, lots of reading up and trying to get my head around the aims and strategy of the project.

I think this picture pretty much sums up how I felt on my first day in a new country, new company and new industry:

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However, Tuesday was really interesting day. I attended a high level policy meeting to discuss how the Government, Non-Profits and the Private Sector could promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a child’s life in Nigeria as per the WHO guidelines. This is a challenge due to the heat meaning mothers feel the need to supplement with water, as well as the growing influence of breast milk substitutes in the developing world. The Nigerian Minister of Health and Minister of Labour were there, as well as several Governors’ wives representing their respective states. It was a really surreal experience going from discussing Panadol with a customer in Leeds at the start of June, to discussing Breastfeeding with the Government in Nigeria at the end! You can see a video on the event below (and even see me in the background!)- credit to Channels News. Day 4 in Nigeria and I made the news, sort of.

There were a couple of big cultural shocks for me at this meeting too; it was my first experience of ‘Africa Time’. When I couldn’t find my colleagues at 9am when the meeting was due to start I was having a minor panic attack, but the meeting didn’t actually get rolling until at least 10, so we were in the first half of people to arrive anyway. Secondly, loads of mobile phones were going off all the way through the presentations, and no one seemed to bat an eye-lid when people even picked up and started their conversations and chatted over the presenter, this was quite different to the meetings I’m used to at GSK.

My colleagues at CHAI have been really friendly, and with a really strong team around me I know it won’t be long before I no longer feel like paving dog. It was my birthday on Tuesday, and one of my colleagues made me an incredible coconut cake (my favourite), which was really appreciated and made me feel really welcome.IMG_2389

To celebrate, I headed out with the other CHAI volunteers for a birthday dinner which was a great way to get to know the rest of the team.

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(Clockwise from top-left; Jeevini, Temi, me, Mindy)

In London I play rugby for Hanwell RFC, so I wanted to continue this to meet people and keep fit in Abuja, so I went to training with Abuja RFC, known as ‘The Rocks’, on Saturday morning. It was a bit of an adjustment. Rugby is a minority sport in Nigeria so we had to train on a small patch of gravel, and there weren’t many players. The heat and humidity were also a big challenge and it was really hard work. At one point I felt really dizzy and out of breath, but that could also have been the 2 months of fast food and going out since last season finished!

With two days holiday this week due to Eid, we also got to get out and explore a bit of Abuja, including seeing Aso Rock and the National Children’s Zoo, where I met this little fella;13626354_10100415608491278_5485586231734402043_n

I’m off now to go and watch Wales in the Semi-Final of the Euros with my colleague and the 5th PULSE volunteer at CHAI Abuja, Stephen, who arrived on Sunday, so I’ll leave it there. Please comment with any questions and thoughts, and this is my first ever blog so constructive criticism is also welcome.

Speak soon,

Alex