Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Five Days In...

I sit in a guarded bungalow on the property of the former governor of Kwara State where Abdul-Rasheed Na'Allah, the Vice-Chancellor of Kwara State University, resides in the former governor's home and Nancy Hannemann and two other guests reside in the first bungalow.  I share this lodging, with frequent breaks in electricity and no hot water in my bathroom, with two other foreign lecturers, both Nigerians by birth but now faculty members at the University of Alberta here on sabbaticals.  My driver will pick me up in the morning for the 45-minute drive out to Malete where KWASU is located, a brand new university situated in a small community as part of a community development initiative program in Nigeria.  We will stop on the way at a great bakery I found today to pick up treats for some of my new colleagues at KWASU since it will be my birthday!  I think that two of the faculty members who visited four schools in Ilorin with me today also ordered a birthday cake, though they were pretty secretive about it!  At the end of a planning day tomorrow and visits to two more schools, these in rural Malete, five of us here will go to a bar-n-grille behind the Kwara Hotel up the street and have drinks and a light supper in honor of my passing into another year.

Adjustment as been complicated by not only the heat but having to have bottled water with one at all times; the memory card in my camera failing and requiring multiple trips along bustled narrow streets to find a replacement; no Internet services as the university and a couple-day delay in getting my starcomms satellite thingey for the computer here at the bungalow; no DStv for BBC and CNN until last night; and disorientation as to directions when traveling in Ilorin due to the congested winding streets where there are frequent "go slows", i.e. traffic jams.

The university personnel have been most gracious and appear excited that I am here to assist with the design of not only a training program for teachers of students with disabilities, but also the planning of professional development needs of teachers and administrators in Kwara State, one of the 36 states in Nigeria.  Also, our task includes consideration of community service opportunities for the new department of special education, though Jonathan Olukotun, the faculty member I am working with, are considering different names for the new department, such as Inclusive Education for Special Needs Children.  It is a challenge to learn all the existing governmental structures and their functions that need to be considered in the program plan here, but I think we are on the right track.

I have been invited to be a guest on a morning television program this coming Monday, a Women's Issues program where I will be interviewed about students with high incidence disabilities, such as learning disabilities, behavior disorders, ADHD, etc.  Services for these kinds of learners are not well-known here and will be the focus of the KWASU program.  I am also to be invited to meet with the First Lady of Kwara State to discuss with her needs in the state for students with disabilities, or special needs, which is the term in the Nigerian and Kwara state legislations.  I will be giving one public lecture some time during my last week here, most probably on not only what are high incidence disabilities, but the mistakes that the US made over the years in our special education delivery system that we advise others not to make!

I have been accorded royal-like considerations!  The driver opens all doors for me and carries all my materials.  I am addressed as Ma, which is the highest level of respect for a woman in this culture, or Madam with a bow.  Wherever I go I am usually the only white person unless Nancy or Miguel, one of her bungalow guests, is with me.  The Nigerians stare and many come up and want to shake my hand; children usually want to touch me.

I have managed to cook one meal here at the bungalow last night, despite the lack of some ingredients - a pasta dish.  Phil, one of my roommates, made two Nigerian dishes tonight, one with catfish boiled with tomatoes, onions, and garlic, which was delicious.  The other stew was with dried fish, okra, and a green like kale, which she said I would not like, and she was right!  Saturday we will have everyone in the two bungalows over here for a dinner she and I will prepare, with me trying to make both an apple pie and bread pudding, in an antiquated gas oven which I will have to clean first due to its present condition.  Nancy is in charge of the wine, which is low priced and excellent.  Her son-in-law Dell, a Nigerian, temporarily living with her as he awaits permission to leave Nigeria for his bride in Canada, is in charge of replacing all the burned out light bulbs here in the bungalow and fixing the lock on the courtyard door since this morning Phil and I were locked in for awhile until we got the darn key to work!  Such are daily issues here...

The money here is the naira (nar'a), $1US = 150 N.  So I am continually paying in thousands of N (!) and having to carry wads of bills.  For instance, I bought a second towel yesterday for the bathroom that cost 1250 N (a bit more than $8) and the gouda cheese I bought at a little shop over by the hotel cost 1600 N (!).  No credit cards, Travelers Cheques, or ATM machines. 

My sister Lari outside of Seattle Skyped this evening, a first for me.  Since the satellite service is weak at times, the communication faded in and out, but it was at least free.  I spend about $2.50/day for cell phone service to the US with a phone I bought here from Miguel and for which you buy and insert a sim card in with your number and then buy "credit" for the phone.  There are no land lines at all in Nigeria and EVERYONE has a cell phone.  Thus there are no telephone directories, so schools and other agencies are hard to contact if you have not been given the cell phone number of someone who works there, more preferably an administrator.  Yesterday, because Jonathan did not know the cell phone numbers of three of the schools that we wanted to visit today, we had to drive to all of them, which took over three hours, to ask if it was O.K. to visit and what time was the best at each place.  Such a waste of time!

The Nigerian women wear the most beautiful clothing, even those with the least means - brightly colored and patterned long sheath skirts, elaborate tops with embroidery and ribbon, and the customary "wrapper" around the hair, material matching the dress wrapped in various ways around the hair.  I hope to go to a tailor on Saturday, after I get my clothes washed myself by hand (!), and have such a dress made for me.  Next Saturday I have been invited to a wedding where I have been requested to come e che' be (probably not the way it is spelled, but the way it is pronounced), which means that the bride has chosen either a wrapper for the head or an entire outfit that wedding guests "buy" from her to wear at the wedding.  I have yet to learn what mine is to be like or what it will cost me!

Well, it is almost midnight here in Ilorin, Nigeria, and I need to try to get to sleep tonight before 2 a.m. - jet lag is a pain!

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