Saturday, May 31, 2008

Improving quality of learning in public schools

My colleague, Ike, volunteers with a non profit called Volunteer Corps on Saturdays to teach senior secondary students in public schools. Like India, Nigeria faces a crisis in education with ailing government managed/ run schools and mushrooming multi-range private schools.

Volunteer Corps works with in 30 public schools across five local governments. They make a pitch to the schools, parents and the kids and those interested sign up for their program. Besides english and maths, they do extra-curricular activities (dance, drama, writing..) and life skills education.

Today I accompanied Ike to an "Open Day", an event that gets all stakeholders to come together to celebrate the success and share concerns. Grateful parents, confident and aware students, satisfied volunteers all painted an optimistic picture for the future of Nigeria!

Friday, May 30, 2008

My langotiya yaar!

Parul and I met each other when we were three years old! And it must have been instant bonding, since, after that we have been inseparable. Luckily for both of us, we stayed very close by to each other and our school. We were in the same section from nursery till tenth!

I remember it like yesterday...we used to be so talkative in and out of the classroom. Our class teachers would try everything possible to keep us from talking but we were incorrigible! But like any best friends, we had our share of the fights and frowns with pencil boxes neatly dividing our respective spaces on the small desks.

There was not one evening when we would not get together to play.. I would stand below Parul's window and lazy as I am, shout out her name. From making tea and cake with miniature kitchen sets to dancing on the powdered floor to watching the same cartoons over and over again....we had a ball! When we were older, since kids in my neighbourhood was not all that friendly, I used to go to Parul's colony and a bunch of us kids would play so many games, hide and seek, the seven stones, badminton! And I must say Parul was always the best...with me trailing behind to keep up! On our evening walks which were also veggie shopping time for Parul, I learnt how to buy the right type of potatoes, onions and fruits!

When I was always eager to make new friends and when those friends came and went, Parul stood by me in the thick and thin and was always there for me. I have only good memories of childhood and growing up and thats because of my best buddy-I love you, Pao!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Teaching Rosemary to say "Chicken Tikka Masala"

To celebrate his good fortune, Dr Chika offered to take us out for Indian lunch! Ike (my colleague), Rosemary (a volunteer with Hope) and Dr Chika set out for our lunch adventure as, though it was going back to something familiar for Dr Chika and me; it was the first time for Indian food for Ike and Rosemary!

Out of the two neighbors, we chose Taj Mahal Restaurant! A gloomy entrance gave way to a cozy air conditioned sitting area quite reminiscent of restaurants back home. The menu took my breath away and I kept looking at over and over again. Apart from the usual north Indian and Chinese food, they had Sunday breakfast special with fafda and jalebi! (A delicious Guju breakfast)...

Since the menu was Greek to Ike and Rosemary, Dr Chika and I chose to order naan, chicken tikka masala and mutton rogan josh! Oh my, you should have seen Dr Chika and I, we both were in a dream world! We had a nice, long meal with conversations about India, the food, the people and when the waiter served us finger bowls with lemon and saunf at the end, we couldn't help but say "vow"!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sharing gyan on personal development!

I was pleasantly surprised when Dr Chika asked me if I could speak at a workshop for singles between the age 18-30 on "personal development"! Of course I said yes and soon received an email invitation from one of the coordinators. It was an event organised by the International Church of Christ Nigeria for about 200 singles on "career and personal development".

You know me, I have to have a plan for what I have to say since I had only 25 minutes...if I attempted an extempore I would go on and on! When I started thinking of what to say so many things suddenly came to my was like tapping into different memories and experiences. I scribbled on two pages and attempted to create some sort of logical flow! The disjointed scribblings got connected in a word document in about an hour......after which I had to not look at for a while to get a fresh perspective....I shared the document with my colleague, Ike, who gave me a heads up! Then it was in the hands of my most trusted critique (when I am in the right mood to understand and accept his constructive comments!), Parth! His comments made me think about how to make it sound appealing to such a large group, get a few laughs, and pass on few but powerful messages....The word document transformed into a powerpoint which was more focussed and precise! But there was just so much I felt I wanted to share and say....anyhow after a final ok from Parth I was ready to deliver.

The workshop started on time with a prayer and electrifying songs with congo drums....Besides me, there were four other facilitators who talked about resume development, workplace skills, skills of a craftsman and how to stay fit! They were all very dynamic, articulate and made an instant connection with the audience! After a humbling introduction, I began...knowing full well that I would be saying many things that I didnt plan to and that I would go over time. And true enough I went over 10 minutes....but I did manage to build a connection (as I could make out from the constant nods), make a few jokes (especially when I talked about my experiences living in Naijaland), and answer all the questions. And one person actually remembered something I said I couldnt cover and asked me to share what it was..... It was an amazing was as if I was there and words were magically flowing out...I felt so engrossed in those moments....

Many people came up to me and shared they felt really touched. One person actually also asked for my advice on how she could develop her emotional quotient at work! One person said "here's to the crazy ones" is just like my life's story! So I will see many of them again in the days to come...They gave me a beautiful gift, two candle stands, small bowl and three paper weights all in traditional design! They look lovely on my coffee table.

I am very happy that I was able to think and articulate this way...I basically shared about what has helped me in my own personal development over the years...starting with looking inwards...I want to mention so many who have influenced me and led me on my journey of self awareness ...Bhai (questioning my conscience when I least expect it and our many unconventional conversations); Swati (your sessions on self.and you as a person who is so connected to your inner self..); Rohi (for explaining the reasons for my erratic behaviour and she is always bang on); my OCF program gang (for pushing us to be aware of and attempt to make sense of the unconscious)...and Parth (who is my mirror)....Thank you, I still have a long way to go....

Note: I am trying to figure out a way of attaching my ppt to this post...and my camera battery died so you will have to wait for the pics....

Friday, May 23, 2008

Parth arriving on 13 June!


Parth is finally arriving on Friday the 13th! Our fears about the possible delay in getting the visa were unfounded...and the visa was done in 2 days! Bravo Naija efficiency!

Its strange that next week I would complete THREE MONTHS! My longest time away from Delhi and Parth! There were moments where it felt that time is passing in a flash but there were also some where every moment away would feel like eternity!

But I must say that I have experienced many acts of kindness and support from Nigerians. Its people is undoubtedly the best thing about Nigeria. The one word you will never tire of hearing is "welcome"!

This is also a chance for you to send me something special to remind me of you, like pictures or a handwritten note (PLEASE NO PRINTOUTS) or something that you know I would absolutely love! ...I leave it to you to be creative...

I cant wait for Parth to experience my Naija life with me! So as they say in Yoruba,

OKO MI KAABO (Come my husband!)

Monday, May 19, 2008

My first busy weekend!

After my adventure trip to Tarkwa Bay, my weekends have been quiet and busy with washing, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping and reading!

This weekend after a birthday party I was invited to got postponed, I attempted to explore the happening part of Lagos: Victoria Island (VI) to have lunch with a former VSO Dutch volunteer, Thessa, who is visiting for 2 weeks! A comfortable 45 minute BRT bus ride and a breezy 10 min okada ride later I was at my destination. Thessa treated me to a lovely lunch (pepperoni pizza) and we had a nice stroll on the famous Bar Beach, a hang out famous for barbecue and cold drinks. Oh the sight and smell of water was so peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of everyday Lagos life! And I managed to have a similar travel experience on my return and was home safe and sound before six!

Sunday was devoted to keeping my promise to my first host family! It was interesting travelling in a danfoe after BRTs for two weeks! But I am sure if I like waiting inside the bus (danfoe) any better than waiting outside (BRT)! It was very touching to feel so missed and welcome! Baby Christabell recognised me immediately and was playing in my lap for almost 2 hours. It was nice catching up on the all the soaps and sitcoms that I had missed in the last two weeks. I love the couple--Lizzy and Pastor Samson, as they come across more as best friends than husband and wife and remind me so much of Parth and me!

Quite an eventful weekend, I must say!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Before my marriage, Mom always used to tell me that I should know how to manage things in the house like cooking, cleaning, arranging clothes, grocery shopping! And though at that time I didn't think it was all that important, now I understand her. I can feel empowered at one time (especially when I cook a nice meal or am cleaning) and powerless at the same time (when I just cannot make the ants from coming into the kitchen or I cannot get the soap off the clothes or when I buy squishy veggies)!

When I found out about my selection as a volunteer, I was very nervous for many days because of how my parents would feel when they found it. But just as my Mom had made up her mind to support my marriage, she had made up her mind to support me in whatever I wanted to do in my life. My parents were extremely supportive and have shown immense faith in me. Whether in Nigeria or here, Mom and Dad you are my pillars of strength!

Thanks Mom for all your hard work in making me who I am today! I love you and can't wait to come home to rest on your lap:)

Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Life's Witness!

In all the reasons for marriage that I have heard in my life so far, I always remember this dialogue from the movie "Shall we Dance?" Susan Sarandon is asked why do people marry? Her answer: "Because each one of us needs a witness to our lives. Someone who will witness each and every moment: good or bad, happy or sad." (this is not verbatim)

Since 2001, Parth has been my unrelenting witness and hopefully I his. We have shared seven beautiful years together and I am thankful for every moment that we have spent together! Now we are thousands of miles apart and it sometimes pains so much that we are not together to share our highs and lows. But thanks to internet and phones, we are trying our best to be as together as possible...

I love you, Parth! Thank you!

My second home

On 1 May, I moved into my permanent accomodation, as I call it my second home! My first home will always be with Pastor Samson, Lizzy, Mommy and Baby Christabell, they made me a part of their family! The day I moved we hired a big yellow bus (danfoe). My colleague-Ike (who has been of tremendous help!) got me big bags called "Ghana-go-home". The designation resulted from the various expulsions of immigrants that Ghana and Nigeria engaged in between the 1960s and 1980s. Many were only able to pack their belongings in such bags before fleeing, expelled with barely hours or days notice. Thus Ghana must go is ironic at best, and has mocking overtones at worst. ( The bags are quite sturdy and can carry a lot of stuff at one time!

Now I am staying in what they call here "Boys Quarters" (like a outhouse behind the main house) with another loving family-Prof Adefala and his wife. They have generously provided sofas, a dressing table, cupboards which makes my home look complete! And thanks to my caring colleagues, I have everything I would need to live a comfortable life in Naija! A big thank-you to Dele, their son-in-law and daughter who persuaded them to allow me to rent the place.

You would notice that in the title I am using "our home"...that is because wherever I live, Parth is always with me and it will always be "our home"!


Dr Chika is the link between my organisation, GIVE and Hope World Wide (in whose office premises we have our office). He is the Volunteer Program Manager at Hope and is on the Steering Committee at GIVE. His love for India comes after spending 13 years in Bangalore completing his masters and PhD. On 28 April, after much planning and preparation, I co-facilitated my first mini-workshop with Dr Chika! It was an orientation on volunteer management for project managers/ officers at Hope. Hope involves many volunteers across its various projects but does not have a systematic process of managing their involvement. The orientation aimed to create a buy-in of senior management to develop such a system for Hope.

What was really interested for me was that there didn't seem any difference in the context or challenges that people raised. The implication of this was that I was able to provide useful and relevant inputs to the discussion based on my experiences in India which made complete sense to everyone!

I really enjoyed working in a team to plan the whole orientation (my boss-Mayowa Joel, Dr Chika, Uche & Rosemary-volunteers with Hope) and together we developed the schedule, prepared the handouts, planned the logistics, delivered, documented and evaluated the program!

The orientation itself went very well, we got great feedback and developed concrete action points and everyone was ecstatic to know that I am around for 10 more months:)

Incentives of Ownership

A common sight on the roadsides in Lagos is an okada driver diligently cleaning his okada. However rarely seen are bus drivers doing the same. In a conversation with my former landlord about the crazy traffic situation in Lagos, I learnt something about the transport system which explained this phenomenah. The drivers of the small yellow buses-"danfoes" [my ride to and from office!] rent the bus from the owners. So after they buy fuel, pay rent to the owner and a "tax" to the taxi park where they load/ offload passengers what remains is their profit.

The bikes-"okadas" however, work on a "hire and purchase" system. As soon as the drivers of the okada earn and pay back the cost [with interest] of the okadas to the owners, the bikes are theirs.

The result: badly maintained, strained danfoes versus proudly owned, well-kept okadas! The ownership and the lack of it provides the incentive or disincentive to keep it in good shape. Thats the power of incentives!