Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Celebrating International Volunteer Day

5 December was a special day for my organization--The International Volunteer Day--a day to celebrate the efforts and impact made by volunteers! We supported the celebrations five states across in Nigeria including Lagos. Given all the madness that comes with getting 20 NGOs to work together, we somehow managed to pull off the program.

Attended by about 160 individuals & organizations, 21 media reps; we got the fabulous Crowne Troupe of Africa to perform a hilarious however brutally real dance drama. The highlight for me personally was when we awarded six volunteers Recognition Awards, it was the first time such awards were being presented in Nigeria (so I think!) . A couple of volunteers also shot a video taking glimpses of the events and interviews with the organizations, volunteers and media--which should add to developing the first documentary on national volunteering in Nigeria!

Though my anxiety levels were shooting the roof, the onsite volunteers were agile, attentive and very quick to deal with all that could go wrong--including the soundless PA system and the rain! We already are getting fantastic coverage in media and managed to make some solid contacts.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Osogbo: The Art Heart of Nigeria

Osogbo in its heyday, was the flourishing centre of the Osogbo School of Art, a movement which started in the 1960s. It has attracted and produced many internationally acclaimed artists. We visited two prominent art galleries. The first was a two-storey belonging to Nike Davies. It had a dazzling collection of paintings, sculptures, woodworks, clothes, bronze work which were obviously prized for the the expat's budget! It mirrored the vibrancy and ethnicity of Nike's house cum gallery in Lagos. The second one we visited was the home cum gallery of Chief Jimoh Buraimoh, the inventor of the bead paintings! One of the paintings we all fell in love with was priced at Naira 500,000! It took us a while to convince them that we were volunteers with little money! Luckily for us the Chief was home and we had a nice chat with him about his works and life in Osogbo. We were actually also staying in his hotel. The home visit got us an invitation to a special program that evening in the honour of a Osogbo American who is developing a Osogbo village in Florida. We witnessed a pulsating dance and music performance by a local group that performs at the Osun Festival.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Serene Sacred Groves of Osogbo

The quiet town of Osogbo in Osun State (about four hours north of Lagos) is world renowned for two things: its vibrant art galleries and the serene Sacred Groves. It has been on my travel agenda since I came to Nigeria and finally with some other VSO volunteers, we finally managed to go!

As the name suggests, the 75-acre Osun Sacred Groves is a cool green oasis is adorned with sculptures and shrines of Yoruba deities, particularly the river Goddess Osun (Mother of Osogbo) who according to legend, promised the protection of the town. The area of the forest was home to early settlers and founders of Osogbo 400 years ago where the history of the town was recorded. Each sculpture and shrine created by local and international artists (primarily Austrian Susanne Wenger settled in Nigeria since the 50s) represents the activities, lives and preoccupations of the Gods and Goddesses of the Groves. The forest was declared a world heritage site in 2005 by UNESCO. The annual Osun Festival held in August attracts thousands of visitors from Nigeria and abroad.

We had a delightful albeit restricted walk through the forest along with a guide (who was stumped by our barrage of questions). I will make a feeble attempt to explain the sculptures and shrines given my bad memory with the tight lipped guide.

Below is the Goddess of Fertility, with many babies & children sculpted with her.

We then walked through a large opening with a sculpted gate that led to the Oba's (King) palace below.

Just beyond the palace is the Osun river. Below is the Osun Goddess with a fish shaped bottom. During the festival, the Oba sits in the special seat and accepts the water from the mouth of fish who apparently come to that spot only during the festival.

Wandering forward, we came upon a colonial swingy suspension bridge built in 1935 by a Welsh District Officer. The oracle grove at the end of the bridge was closed to us reserved only for the diviners or oracle.
In another part of the forests, were four rather complicated large sculptures. The first one you see is the Goddess called "Iya Maapo", the protector and patroness of all women's craft and trade including child birth. Her three outstretched hands symbolize advice, blessing and regrets.
The next one imposing statue is the tall, elegant and slender ELA portraying dynamism of the Ifa God. The upwardly hands denotes his offering/ pleading to the Gods above.

The last of the massive trios was the most complicated in design and symbolism--the youthful and intricate force God of Alajere and representing the chicken pox!

On our way out, we saw the same stream of surreal sculptures along the road.

Along with the black monkeys and butterflies, the forests were a live walk through the rich and diverse history of the divine lives of the Yorubas.

Below you see the well known and eerie home of Suzanne Wenger which also houses a more random collection of sculptures, art and other traditional trinkets some of which were in our budget range!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Violence: the withering line between the criminals and victims

It is hard enough for me to come to terms with the reality that a city like Mumbai, can be rocked by petty politics played out by statists who curse and blame non-mumbaikars and want to throw them out. And now given the recent Delhi blasts in prominent markets, the Mumbai blasts......its just pathetic and ghastly to imagine that anything can happen at anytime to anyone.
Northern Nigeria is also seeing communal violence, burnt mosques and churches in the city of Jos over state elections. 300 people have died and over seven thousand have fled their homes out of fear.

Its amazing to see how easily and speedily those angry take to violence. Whether its criminals who want to kill for money or its the angered marginalized victim who wants his voice heard. Everyone is raising their hands with an intention to hurt another human being for some goal of which shockingly there are no civilized ways of achieving!

Where is the rule of law utopia that all of keep chiming about? When will all the killing stop?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Great HOPE Walk 2008

If it werent for these pictures, it would be difficult to believe that a thousand people can walk 10 km for a cause on a major Lagos expressway given the stiff competition for space among the bikes, cars, buses and people ! Since 2000, HOPE World Wide Nigeria has been mobilizing thousands of people in Lagos to walk and create awareness on HIV/AIDS and orphans and vulnerable children. It was quite a thrill, knowing me, I was not sure I could walk even half way, but I managed about 8 km before hopping on to the bus!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Volunteer Meeting at Whispering Palms!

Sweet Memories of Home

It was a surreal feeling--landing at the Delhi airport after eight months--given that this has been the longest I have been away from Delhi! Even though my Nigerian lifestyle was so completely different from my Indian one, it was surprising how I adjusted back into old routines and habits.
It is a fantastic feeling being on vacation at home, I was treated with royalty and my family fulfilled my every wish for food, shopping and fun! My birthday was a special day--I made all wear Nigerian clothes and my sis made us put on birthday caps! Thanks to my boss's mobilisation efforts, I received many many birthday calls from my Nigerian friends. With a singing flower candle on cake and my favourite meal (makki ki roti and saag), I completed my 28 years in style.

After badgering Parth for getting me the perfect birthday gift, I got the latest edition of "We the Living" by Ayn Rand. But what made it perfect were the words, "My dear Mana, I cherish our living, loving and learning together! Happy Birthday, Parth"

I had countless conversations on my Naija experiences, the most common question being, "How are the people?" To those with a eager ear, it was fun sharing my daily routines, my pictures, my funny experiences and of course the "not so nice" stuff as well!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Talking Green at the Beach!

The Eko Beach Resort just outside of Lagos is THE queen of beaches, being privately managed. The GREEN Trip--a festival organised by "Children & the Environment (CATE)"--is a day for children and parents to enjoy and learn about environment and creativity and luckily chose the resort as its venue. The "just outside" Lagos can be misleading since we spent eight hours going and coming on the road and only 4 hours at the beach!

Anyhow the stress of the travel was quickly dispelled the moment we got there. There were about 60 families with their children from maybe ages 3-15. The short time we had there the children got to learn about origami & painting, watch a play and the parents got a pep talk on how to allow their child to follow her passion and also make them go "green"!

Nike has been volunteering with CATE since many years and the director, Aunty Sola put Nike and me incharge of a session with the kids. As with all our very enjoyable brainstorming sessions, we came up with a pretty good plan with a word puzzle with environment problems and solutions; role play about convincing peers, schools and parents to go green and finally song about being an active citizen!

I certainly am better at managing grown ups than children. Anyhow we managed to do some energisers and the word puzzle before we got summoned to start wrapping up:)

In the pictures, you see our gang (Nike, Yinka, Fola, Ayo and ME!). One of the pics, you see the three ladies posing as the angels for our Charlie!

Monday, October 13, 2008

"Mama Mia"

On Nigeria's democracy day (Oct 1) which happened to fall in the middle of the week, the usual gang of four (Ayo who we lovingly refer to as our "Charlie" with his angels = Nike, Yinka and me) embarked on a mission to watch the critically acclaimed Yoruba film, Arugba on the BIG SCREEN! This was my first time in the popular Silverbird Cinemas which is one of the three cinemas in Lagos and probably one of ten in the whole country. At almost 500 rupees a ticket, it falls into the "luxury items" list and Lagosians prefer to have the same experience with a 80 rupees DVD an no go-slow!

There were cinemas in Nigeria in the 1960s, but they began going out of business in the 1970s - partly because of the difficulties of operating under military dictatorship. Cinemas closed down across the country and today many are used as churches or Islamic education centres. The scarce and erratic supply of electricity called for seven generators being installed to make sure that the films do not stop mid-show and the air-conditioning does not break down.

Needless to say, after eight months of separation from the multiplex, it was a surreal experience. It was unusually crowded for a holiday and to our surprise the tickets were all sold out! I was visibly quite disappointed and the guys immediately offered to watch a hollywood film. My eyes were caught up on MAMA MIA with a stellar cast (Pierce Brosnan, Meryl Streep...).

Unlike Indian multiplexes, there was quite an eclectic choice of food. We were quickly discouraged by the horribly long queue of irritated and impatient Nigerians and we headed straight for the hall.

The movie itself was ok but what kept me smiling was the evergreen music of ABBA in a gorgeous Mediterranean island. And quite a surprise was that not one cellphone rang during the whole show! Indians can learn a bit or two from Naija in this area! As we were moving out of the Hall, I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia and homesickness especially since we were right behind an Indian family! I realised that I missed home a lot more when I did stuff that I used to do at home!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Indian Dinner for Mayowa!

Mana's Mom & Dad invited Mayowa for a sumptuous full fare Indian Dinner to their house. See all of enjoying the great meal, Mayowa gifting a handpainting to Mom and Dad, which by the way is already framed and put up in the drawing room due to Dad's supper quick action, and Mayowa wondering at the collection of Mana's photos and pointing at the one he liked the most!

Mayowa at CCS, Delhi!

Mana's boss at the GIVE Network, Mr Mayowa Joel, came to Delhi for a meeting and he generously agreed to talk to CCS Team on involving volunteers in CCS work. Well, he is more like a big brother and mentor than a boss! Here are some of the photos of his talk. He also gifted a wonderful handpaiting to CCS which you would see in the group photo. We very much hope that by the time he visits next time, CCS would have adapting his ideas and build up a great volunteer program. Dhanyawad, Mayowa!