Life in Nigeria – Abuja
Anyone who knows me, knows I collect pins from all the countries I’ve ever travelled. This one is as special as all the others – I just asked a guard outside the compound to Federal High Court – they were more than willing to pass it along when they saw my knapsack with the collection and a conversation about all the places I have been and what I thought of Nigeria. Come along on that journey –
Whilst my Pulse assignment has me on the move – Abuja Nigeria is where I am spending most of my time and overall the city has surprised me but at the same time it makes me long for the comforts and familiarity of ‘home’. Time was the subject of another blog but over the course of the past several months, time seems suspended. Like the rest of the Pulse volunteers we have rediscovered time: to reflect, to refocus, to re-energise, to sit still and take in the experience.
Experience the city: Abuja (and Nigeria) is greener than expected, but it could be that I arrived in early August during the rainy season. I’ve been told that come late October as the dry season kicks in, the green will give way to browns in the landscape. Abuja is a growing city as the capital was officially moved here from Lagos about 20 years ago. There is constant construction – but being built on Nigerian time. There are lots of buildings going up, all in different stages waiting for money to be released or ‘found’ – you decide. I was told that the building going up across from the old office (we recently moved from this site) was started over 3 years ago, so to the PULSE volunteers with the Malaria Consortium that have been here; the building may have gotten a little taller but it’s still not finished and the road out front has yet to be paved.
Experience the lay of the land: it is full of rolling hills and wide streets that allow for whatever traffic there is to move freely. We get to the office in less than 10min. Driving on the other hand is not for the faint of heart. Roads are wide but in no way, should hold 3-4 lanes of cars. Changing lanes is not a problem – blow your car horn and just move over – even if you are in the far-right lane and wanting to turn left at the signal. There are some traffic lights but not everybody pays much mind to them. It’s odd to see police at the busier intersections directing traffic and then there is one policeman that I enjoyed watching on my lunchtime walk who seemed to enjoy his job so much that he put on a little dance with each passing car. As for the traffic signals that do work, it’s because they are solar. The rest of them are hooked up to the grid and since there are constant power outages, they just keep these turned off which can make crossing the road a challenge. I swear that it’s easier to take a leap of faith when crossing the road in Hanoi Vietnam than here – I feel that in Abuja they are all formula-one ‘want-to-be’ drivers and only speed up if they see a pedestrian in the street. You best bet at learning how to drive here – well the ‘Survival for Real Driving School’ – lol
Experience the people: As they say; ‘You’re Welcome’ and I do feel welcome on the streets. Folks don’t keep to themselves along the road; they make eye contact, they nod, they smile and they make an effort to say Welcome Sir. It could be that they know I’m not from around here but I do think it’s the nature of the Nigerians. They are very respectful. I am ‘blessed’ by the local Muezzin when I pass (the man who calls out to Muslims for salat) on the street where I live, and I’m saluted by the military guards when I pass on some of my adventurous walks though the Maitama or Wuse neighborhoods. They are full of smiles and laughter. There are three main tribes that make up Nigeria (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba) and the people I have met from the sidelines from these tribes; through listening to their stories; I can tell that they and their culture have so much to offer outside of Nigeria. They have a story that should be shared.
Experience safety: Abuja is calm and relatively safe but then it could be the police presence that keeps the calm compared to other parts of the country. What is ‘funny’ is that Nigeria overall is not the Nigeria I saw in the news or what I had as a first impression when I was told I was coming here. Every Uber driver I have will ask me what I think about their country. I tell them the truth – it is not the one-sided view that comes from the Western news reports. I have never felt threatened or unsafe walking, running or interacting with people on the street. The conversations on politics and the gap between rich and poor can be the topic of a whole blog but for now I will keep those conversations between the driver and me. There is still a long way to go. Regardless of the current situation here you must be smart as there have been security incidents not just locally but all over the country and my International SOS phone app is periodically checked for any new reports. And yes, there are updates on the USA too – so it’s not all rosy back home (another misrepresentation). The flash floods (no, not the one in my flat – that’s a story unto itself) since my arrival have dissipated and been replaced with calls for independence of the Biafra which gained their initial freedom during the Nigerian Civil War. We are mindful of the situations and for the most part follow local security plans that have been provided by our respective NGOs.
Experience the volunteers: 9 individuals from 8 different countries working in 2 different NGOs; Clinton Health Access Initiative & Malaria Consortium. We are living together in the same complex in 5 different flats. To restate my fellow volunteer Caroline, “It is a permanent exchange and sharing: about our respective lives, about our backgrounds, about of our future ambitions, about our dreams. We help each other and we learn a lot from each other”. They help re-ground me with ‘why’ I went on this journey.
Experience the beauty outside the confines of our four walls: As noted by JH in one of my earlier blogs, you need to throw open the windows and you will find beauty. The coffees and lunches at Café de vie or the Saffron café, dinner at House 43, or gatherings at each other’s flat for some pokora and fellowship. The local concerts (albeit small), the jazz ensemble at a local pub, to venturing to respective embassies for Saturday activities. There is a good concert coming up at the end of October in memory of Daniel Pearl being held at the Nigerian Television Authority arena and for those of us in town we are looking for another evening out. We participate in cross-fit either at the American or British complex, Hash/Dash club where I walk with Nationals from around the world and grab a pint at a Bush Bar afterwards where we exchange stories. There is lovely Millennium Park that provides for nature in the city. And there are some cool sites to see: the National Mosque – majestic and in the heart of the city, the National Christian Centre, Aso Rock, the National Library (still taking shape) and the Presidential/Government Complex, the Palmaterium. And the city has some cool ‘local’ places to shop; the Garki, Utako, and Wuse markets; the later the best organized (term used lightly) because the aisles are paved unlike the other markets that in the rain require a certain navigation dance as to not sink in the mud. I bought some material here recently and I am having a few shirts at a tailor. They are quite colourful and when I post another blog you’ll remember my market expedition. There is also the craft market where I have been honing my haggling skills. There isn’t much in this country that requires you to pay the price you see/hear but sometimes I just want to pay for an item on move along!
……As I close and leave you with the many pictures of the time here so far (still have time to go), I think of where I have come from since I first arrived. Nobody can really prepare you for extended time away from your family. The calls and video-chats are nice and they help – but it’s that feeling that you need to learn to rely on yourself again. It goes back to the blog I wrote the day I was boarding the plane in early July. It’s about departures – departure from routine, departure from family and friends, departure from what is familiar.
It’s remembering that we all face a decision – do I take that risk? If we are to do great things we must always be motivated to take bold risks – step outside our comfort zone. I know I have been forced to be outside ‘my zone’ here in Nigeria. I hope you have inspiration to do what you are meant to do because it is along that journey that we land at the answer – set out and Experience the journey for yourself.
“not quite ready for a departure from Nigeria….it really does grow on you”