Like a lot of other non-Western cultures, there are some unique ways that the people in Nigeria use English. For example, one of the main greetings here is, “You’re welcome!”. Given that in the West, we only use “You’re welcome” as a response to someone saying, “Thank you”, this initially led to some confusion for us. In fact, we still feel obligated to follow up a, “You’re welcome” with a “Thank you” just to somehow complete the greeting. I’m not sure if any of us have figured out what the proper response is to that particular greeting.
Another frequently heard greeting is, “How was your sleep?” or “How was your night?”. Don’t be surprised if complete strangers ask you this upon meeting you for the very first time, and like in the US, you don’t have to actually go into graphic detail about how your night was. (It is a good thing that my Grandpa Murphy never came to Nigeria, I guarantee you that the entire country would stop using that greeting in very short order!) It is also a little closer to the Southern United States because strangers do greet each other and look each other in the eyes when walking down the sidewalk. I remember my first time in New York City when I realized that you were supposed to ignore strangers and not say hi, and never make eye contact (at least that has been my experience up in the north eastern area of the US!).
Asha and I walk up four flights of stairs to get to the conference room where we have been working each morning. On each floor is a guard desk, so we usually get at least eight, “You’re welcome” greetings on the way up, and eight more on the way down… which as I mentioned, we follow up with a, “Thank you!”. Asha has been trying out greetings using one of the local languages, Hausa, and this has made her a big hit with the guards. Most of the people we run into are either Hausa or Igbo.
From my guidebook, here are some common phrases in Hausa (pronounced- Hasss-ahhh):
Hello – sannu
(response – yauwaa sannu)
Good morning – eenaa kwanaa
(response – lapeeyaloh)
Goodbye – sai wani lookachi
Please – don allaa
Thank you – naa goodee
There is much more of course, but that gives you an idea. However, I should let you know that just about everyone we have run into speaks English, although you may have to repeat things a couple of times before they understand it, due to accents, unfamiliar phrasings, etc.
We actually have an IBM employee here who is from Australia. She is engaged to someone from Nigeria and has moved here to Abuja. One of the things that she has learned, is to phrase things like the locals do, and she finds that she is more easily understood. I learned this after asking if she was doing it on purpose or if she was just picking it up subconsciously.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011 (I have to throw the date in there every now and then just for my own benefit! I swear I am not trying to make a diary!)
While my experience in Nigeria will have a lifelong impact on me, I must admit that I am missing my beautiful and amazing wife Angela. Sunday, June 26th was our 7th wedding anniversary which we agreed to postpone celebrating until after I have returned home. We haven’t had a lot of opportunity to talk on this trip as there really isn’t a window where both of us are awake and not working at the same time. We were able to speak for about 20 minutes early Monday morning Nigeria time (around 11:30 PM on Sunday, Texas time).
I’m very proud of Angela for all that she has accomplished. Bachelor’s in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin, Master in Social Work from the University of Houston (it’s in Houston), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and business owner of Organizational Bliss – Professional Organizing Services which she started from scratch in 2007, which is turning into a thriving, viable business! She also hates it when anyone draws attention to her (like I am doing now – but hopefully she will forgive me!). Together, our passion is helping with the Houston Sheltie Sanctuary, a local Shetland Sheepdog rescue group, as well as various home improvement projects and just hanging out together.
I couldn’t imagine not having Angela in my life and I love her very much. Happy Anniversary and I look forward to seeing you soon!
But I guess I am supposed to be talking about Nigeria, I’ll pause a moment while everyone recovers from all of the gushy stuff above…
We are settling into a routine and trying to explore all of our options to help the data gathering and reporting at the NPHCDA. I haven’t been sharing as much detail because the further we get into it, I realize that it will not be of interest to a lot of the people reading this. We spent the first few weeks collecting as much information as we could about how the agency is run, and now it is on with the more tedious task of putting it all on paper, researching possible tools which can help and finalizing our reports which will be delivered sometime next week. There is also a media event being scheduled for Friday of next week and then most of us fly home on Saturday (except for a few people who had the foresight to plan other European and African adventures directly after leaving Abuja.)
Today I was able to upload my video from the school for the deaf and blind which we visited on Saturday. Here it is for your viewing pleasure:
Monday, although a work day, was a good time for us to catch our breath from the busy weekend activities. We had the driver take us to “AJ’s Pizza” where I ordered a large pepperoni pizza. It wasn’t exactly what I was used to, but it tasted okay. As Asha had brought her lunch, she wasn’t allowed to eat it in the restaurant so we ate our lunch in the van on the way back to the office.
Another random comment… Glyn had the great idea a few weeks ago to use Post It notes in his hotel room so that the staff would clean the right areas and replace the toilet paper, etc. I thought it was a great idea so I decided to follow his example.
When I need toilet paper in the bathroom I put the sign over the toilet. The last few days I haven’t needed them to replace it so the Post It note is sitting on my desk in my hotel room. I noticed the other day that two rolls of toilet paper had now appeared next to the Post It note. Today, there were three. I’m wondering how many toilet paper rolls I will end up with if I never touch the note and just leave it on my desk for the rest of the trip?
IBM recently passed its 100 year mark as a company so they wanted to celebrate the Centennial by having all of the employees pledge time to a service project. Since we were already in Nigeria, and the regular Nigeria activies don’t count (even though it is a volunteer assignment, we are still getting paid our normal salaries), we wanted to do something as a team which would help Nigeria on our off hours, without getting paid for it.
The original plan was to help administer the Polio vaccine (OPV) which is part of a special drive to completely eliminate Polio in Nigeria. Unfortunately, there are 3 days of training that you are supposed to undergo to be able to administer the vaccine and record the statistics properly for a certain area, so we ended up tagging along as observers only. Many of the team did get to administer the vaccine under the close supervision of the NPHCDA, but if anything I am sure we added to their burden rather than easing it so I don’t feel that I can count it as helping. The compromise was that we were supposed to evaluate the process and look for weaknesses and make suggestions for improvements… which is still worthwhile, but frustrating as sometimes you just want to do something tangible!
Nigeria is one of only a handful of countries in the world which still need to eradicate Polio, and there is a huge drive in the country to vaccinate all of the children. This can be hard with changing populations due to the migration towards cities for jobs, as well as the birthrate, because you have to continue to visit the same areas over and over as more children are born regularly in areas where polio has not been eradicated.
Polio is not curable… but you can be immunized against it, and within reason, there are no side-effects from being immunized more than once. Nigeria has a multi-faceted approach where they go door to door and also visit the local markets and churches and immunize any child between the ages of 0-5 who’s parents are willing. They will continue to visit an area over and over to make sure they have 100% coverage and the goal is to get each child 3 or 4 times, rather than risk missing one. When the vaccine is administered, an indelible marker is used to mark the left pinky fingernail (they do similar markings for other vaccines as well, the left or right hand, and which finger(s) the mark is(are) on signifies which vaccines the child has received) so that you know the child has received the vaccine recently. The marker stays on their fingernail for approximately two weeks.
Since it was Sunday, the target area was the local churches (Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, you name it!)… and specifically Sunday School Class! We were split up into teams and sent out to the churches. In a similar way as when we visited the school on Saturday, we ended up distracting and exciting the kids just by our presence. Several of the younger ones wanted to touch and examine mine and Kate’s skin.
At this point, I did not have enough candy for the kids, so I gave what I had to the teacher and let her distribute it. There were also some pens and notebooks and flashlights. These kids were very excited to get anything, even a small handful of
M&M’s. The people in the church were extremely friendly and welcoming. We are told that the process is not quite as easy in the Muslim areas, as the parents sometimes do not wish for their children to be immunized due to false rumors that have been spread about vaccinations. There is a drive to educate the people so that they understand the vaccine does NOT violate their beliefs, and does not cause impotence or infertility. It is probably best if I keep my thoughts about some of these things to myself, but I would be happy to discuss privately with anyone interested. I’ll just say that I am a big fan of science, and that our society would still be living in caves without it. There is a small anti-immunization
movement in the United States as well, and after you have been to a country which hasn’t reached that next level yet, it is disturbing that people are so complacent and unappreciative of how far we have come that they would rather revert back to the way things were before.
This is a continuation of Day 14 in Nigeria – Part 1 (obviously)
Much to our delight, the school was able to quickly pull together a short drama for us, followed by a talent show (dancing, juggling, etc.). Glyn started the juggling, but then several of the kids came out of the crowd to show that they could juggle too!
As Kim posted on her blog, the drama put on by the students was about a mother and father with two children, one was deaf and the other blind. The parents were embarrassed of their children and would make them hide whenever anyone came to visit. At some point during the drama, someone comes to visit and explains to the parents that there is ability in disability, and that they need to encourage their children to succeed, and not hide them away. This was the overall theme of the drama.
Later as we were loading up on the bus to leave, the children started running along beside the bus, something that we would never allow in the US due to the danger of a child being injured, but things operate on a different wavelength here. There was simple excitement and joy as they ran along beside the bus.
One of the amazing things about this school is that they make do with such limited resources. They seem to have one soccer ball to share for the entire school, and the students apologized that their ball was so poor (you can read more about that on Kim’s blog on the right hand side of this page). At one point, we were given a list from the students of the things they need. Some of the items on the list were, walking sticks for the blind students (they don’t have any!), an audiometer (to measure hearing), soccer balls, a generator, and many other basic needs. These kids aren’t looking for the latest PS3 or Xbox, they would be happy with what we consider basic essentials! Between the 12 of us who were able to go on this particular trip, we collected some money and were able to donate a small amount to the school, which we presented to the principal. We really hope that the money will be used to buy some of the items the students need.
On our return journey in the afternoon, we were able to visit a large waterfall (200 meters across) at Gurara State Park, where the Gurara River (a large tributary of the Niger River) falls 30 meters in a fairly sheer drop. We were able to take pictures from above the waterfall and then hiked down to the bottom, where we could actually feel the spray from the falls.
Once back on the bus, we continued on back towards Abuja and ended up stopping at a local market. Glyn has several good pictures from the market on his blog, and Niki and Anick have already shared their perspectives as well. At this point, I was happy to just sit on the bus and look out the window to take everything in. There is a lot of sensory and emotional input to process during an experience such as this.
Glyn and Pradip were able to arrange with their client, the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) for our entire team to visit one of the two schools for the deaf and blind in Nigeria. So far, I have to say that this experience will be hard to top. I’m sure most of us will be blogging similar thoughts, but it was very emotional. It was about 3 hours away from Abuja near a city called Minna but the trip was well worth it. On the way out of Abuja, we had to stop the bus to take pictures of this big old guy…
I didn’t take many pictures on the way, but I was surprised at the number of gas stations that are being built… in some places, two or three per mile, but few of them are actually finished. I’m not sure that they would need as many gas stations as they are building, at least within the next decade or so. There is a huge population, but not all of the inhabitants have vehicles and you usually see people crammed tightly into whatever vehicles that they can find.
For those interested, here is the Google Map of our trip:
Once we arrived at the school, someone had to open the gates to let us in. The school is surrounded completely by a large cinder block wall, but does have a lot of open space.
There is a dormitory, and several other buildings spread out on the grounds. The school has approximately 700 children ranging in age primarily from about 4 to 17 (just guessing). It is a boarding school so most, if not all of the children live there full time, and I believe there is a problem in Nigeria of being ashamed and hiding away handicapped children as we learned during our visit when they put on a play/drama for us. Most of the children communicate via sign language, I assume it is ASL (American Sign Language) since my understanding is that it is an
international language and not just American… or possibly there is an “International Sign Language” that very closely resembles ASL. I wish I had learned more sign language, as I have been taught words several times over the years but have never retained them.
When we arrived, the children were spread out in their normal clothes, and showed a keen interest in our team. One young man, who if I had to guess was 16 or 17, took my bag from me and stood by my side and held it for me while we were talking to the adults. At one point, someone barked an order and the children excitedly rushed back into their dormitories and put on their uniforms. Once they were ready, we were each introduced to all of the students from a porch, while they stood out in front in fairly orderly rows considering the ages of some the children.
Much ado was made of our visit and based on the children’s reactions, many of them had likely never seen someone with white skin (at least in person). If you looked closely, many of the children would try to make eye contact with you just to form some sort of personal connection, then they would smile shyly and wave back at you after you waved.
They were all excited to take pictures with us, and after the impromptu assembly took place, we ended up taking many pictures with them, with cameras being passed back and forth. Prior to the trip, Angela (my wife) worked hard putting together some gifts as we knew that at some point we would be coming into contact with children, and the bubbles were a huge hit! I had to show them what to do with the bubbles, but they quickly caught on and from the smallest child to the larger teenagers, they all enjoyed the bubbles! They weren’t quite sure what to make of the silly straw, and I tried to explain that you just drink with it… hopefully they will catch on at their next meal time.
I eventually gave my hat to the teenager who held my bag for me… he wore it proudly for the rest of the visit. He came up to me before we left to give it back, and I told him it was his as a gift. Later in the day, the hat was used as prop in the drama the students put on for us. All these kids need is for people to show an interest in them. They are smart and capable and they WANT to learn. So refreshing, compared to some of what we come into contact with back home. With that in mind, there is a lot of corruption in Nigeria, so it would be hard to assure that any donations made it to the students if we were to send money from the US. We are currently tossing ideas around on how we can help the kids and the school.
The kids were extremely well behaved. There were lots of smiles and hand shaking and some of the younger children would just come up to you and grab your hand so that they could walk around with you.
We are going to try to print out all of the pictures with the students and somehow send them back to the school for the kids to see. If you think about it, many of these kids have probably not seen very many pictures of themselves. I’ll be uploading all of my pictures into a Picasa album, but haven’t had an opportunity to do so yet.
Since we did so much on Saturday, I’ll be breaking this post up into two parts just to make it more manageable. Stay tuned for Day 14 – Part 2!
Friday musings… Okay, there have been some strange noises coming from my stomach… I may have been given a special, intimate gift that goes very well with Ciprofloxacin. I have been pretty careful, other than sharing a bag of peanuts (wrapped in cellophane) from the market. I’m learning that there are different levels of careful… there is careful like when you visit the Philippines or India or Mexico… then there is careful like when you visit Nigeria! No big worries, just time to double up my guard and make sure that I keep myself in good shape so that I can finish the project without any down time. Well, enough about my plumbing…
As you have already seen, I was able to wear my caftan to work on Friday (with sandals no less!) and it was a big hit… I received many compliments which I believe were sincere both from the hotel staff and the office staff.
Living this closely with our global colleagues has helped us to increase our understanding of each other. You are able to learn a lot more about people when you are hanging out with them 24/7 as opposed to just during the workday (regardless of what country you are in). One thing that we seem unified in is the list of things we keep with us at all times (either our laptop bags or our weekend bags). Here is a list off the top of my head of those items:
1. Hand sanitizer- there really aren’t that many places to wash your hands in Nigeria, from what we have seen… including the restrooms in our workplaces. And even if there is a sink, there most likely would not be soap, and most definitely not paper towels.
2. Toilet paper – yes, it’s a good idea to always have your own on hand (well, in your bag at least) as it is unusual to find it in the restrooms, at least the ones we have access to most frequently.
3. Snacks – due to the short duration of our project, we have to be very flexible and meet people whenever there is an opening and end up skipping lunch for one reason or another most days. We have also found that it takes at least 2 hours to go to a restaurant about 90% of the time, and that can take away too much time from the workday, so it is much easier to just skip lunch.
4. Insect repellent (this is more for the weekends, or for after hours as you never really know where you are going to end up for supper, and we are trying to be very careful of malaria – and yes, we are taking daily malaria medication as well.)
5. Water (always take at least two bottles of water when you leave your hotel. If you do happen to go to a restaurant for lunch, many places never even offer you anything to drink, and it is already confusing enough trying to get your food, let alone a drink).
6. Napkins or Paper Towels (for some reason, they don’t supply anything to wipe your hands with at restaurants either, so you should always have something with you if needed).
Those are the main additions to our bags, but we end up with lots of other miscellaneous things as well. I find that each day, I am fine-tuning my bag much more carefully than I would ever bother to back home.
Just a quick blog entry to show you my new stylin’ duds!
I’m standing next to Johnny, our driver, in front of the van that he drives to take us back and forth to work. If you look closely underneath the door handle on the van, there is a bullet hole. Johnny says he was shot at by armed robbers a month or two ago. Luckily he seemed to escape without injury, however the driver’s door is now stuck closed so he has to climb in and out on the passenger side.
Before I forget, I would like to recommend that you check out the blogs of my teammates who are with me here in Nigeria. You will find links to most of them on the right hand side. This would allow you to have a perspective other than my own, and some things I have not really written about yet as it is hard to cover everything. In addition, you can see the blog and twitter feeds from all of the CSC teams (at least those that have registered) at the following URL:
Thursday was not a very exciting day (at least for the blog) as I spent most of the day in Microsoft Visio to draw a more comprehensive network diagram for the NPHCDA. About 7 months ago, their headquarters was set up with a basic LAN, with wifi hotspots which cover the entire building and internet connectivity. The service, by Nigerian standards, seems pretty reliable, however the only thing they are really using it for at this point is internet access. One of the things I am going to be helping them with is to get them to the next level. I will be recommending some basic training for some of their IT staff as someone on-site will need to understand the basics of TCP/IP and other various IT skills on the infrastructure level. I’m hoping to show them how to network their printers today, rather than have individual printers spread around which only one person can access at a time.
Another item that I haven’t really covered is electrical power. If you click on Niki’s blog link, she just gave a pretty good description of the problem. Even in the capital city, there are issues and limitations with the electrical service. Both at our hotel, as well as at all of our offices, the power goes out several times a day. Luckily, the hotel and my office have massive generators that kick on when this happens so we are usually only without power for a few seconds at a time. It is not like when the power goes out in the US and everyone makes a huge deal about it (including me)… over here, when the power goes out, even if someone is in mid-sentence, you just continue on your conversation, sometimes in pitch darkness without missing a beat. The power outage is not mentioned, because why would you continue mentioning something that happens so often. (The power went out twice while I wrote the last paragraph… once to fail over to the generator… and once to kick back over to the grid, such that it is).
In some ways, Nigeria is very lucky. With advances in technology over the last couple of decades, laptops and cell phones have fairly robust batteries and are not even affected by short power outages… and the majority of the desktop computers have small UPS’s attached to them so they do not lose power. There was a time, not very long ago, where these types of devices were not common, at least on a small enough scale to be available for every PC in the office. I’m not as familiar with generators, but I assume they have made similar advances. I know that there is only a few second turn around between the time the power goes out, the generator fires up it’s engines and the power is restored. The only prohibitive factor keeping the more outlying areas from using generators as a regular backup method is the cost of fuel (who is going to pay for it) and supply.
It’s odd, I’m starting to lose track of what day it is, even though we are still working Monday through Friday each week. I keep having to check my computer to see whether it is Thursday or Friday… it appears to be Thursday, which means I owe a blog entry for Wednesday… IBM does not specify that we have to blog every day but I figure it will help me to get the most out of the experience if I do so.
Wednesday was fairly uneventful, and it doesn’t appear that I took any pictures, so my apologies! We met with the Finance and Accounting department director, and also the Admin and Human Resources Director. Both seem to have reverted to manual processes within their departments. To create a pay voucher, someone modifies the fields in an MS Publisher file, but doesn’t save the file because they only use the printed copy which is immediately printed. It is then logged in a paper log book and follows manual processes up until the point where the check is written for payment. In addition, personnel files are also paper, and it is the only copy. It has been known to happen where an employee would access their file and just completely remove any kind of disciplinary record from it, giving themselves a clean slate. All of this can be solved with an electronic system, but they are ready to have a system that works across all departments, and not have varying solutions within each department.
I should also mention that I’ve ordered a Caftan (African style matching shirt and pants), and the tailor has already measured me, so I’ll be sure and take pictures once it is ready.
Wednesday evening, we ended up at Spice Foods for supper, it is an Indian restaurant a few blocks from our hotel and discussed our plans for the weekend. We had originally expected to participate in the Polio vaccinations this weekend, but it appears that we will only be observing rather than actually participating, and then report our findings as to how the “in the field” vaccination process can be improved. We are all pretty disappointed because we don’t want to be patronized… we want to actually DO something that is helpful, but I am sure we will find the process interesting, none the less.