Monday, July 14, 2008

Three Generations, One Birthday!

Its not everyday you hear about three generations in the same family being born on the SAME DAY! My family can boast of this coincidence!

My Grandfather, Father and Sister (Pinks) were all born on 15 July!
So we need to give only one party but get three sets of gifts:)

Happy Birthday to the three Shahs!

The Lagos BRT Experience

The city of Lagos is the first to have a BRT system in Nigeria. Given Delhi's recent experience I was curious to investigate the Nigerian experiment. Lagosians, unlike Delhites, are absolutely happy about their BRT, the only complaint being that it runs only on a couple of routes and not across the whole city. There was even BRT: People's Parliament for feedback and discussion, unfortunately at the same time as my talk at the IPPA.

As you see in the photos, the first need for a good BRT is space, a lot of it. The Mile 12-CMS BRT route is actually more than 10 lanes wide! 4 lanes for the Expressway, 2 for BRT and 4 for the service lane. The BRT lane and the bus stop is in the middle of the expressway and service road. Passengers have to cross the service road to get to and get out of the bust stop. Since the service road has slower moving traffic, it is possible for passengers to cross it, though not without difficulty. The vehicles on the expressway can cross the BRT lane only in the designated spots and one has to drive long distance to be able to make a U-turn.

Mana swears by BRT and her life would have been lot more difficult without it. So the Lagos experience suggests that its possible to have a viable and working BRT system.

I had an experience of my own though which resonates with other local commuters as well. As I was getting off the rear door, the driver closed the automatic door on me leaving me half in and half out. It was quite a sight for the locals who kept shouting, "DON'T KILL THE OYIBO!".....The driver decides when to open/ close the door through the rear window and with lots of people in the bus, his view is less than perfect!

UniLag Play

Mana's new colleague Nike (the lady next to her in the photo) invited us to a performance by the University of Lagos student theater group. The theme was of human sacrifice--an old custom that still seems to have relevance leading this play to further discussion and raise awareness.

A tribal chief has died and by custom his son-in-law has to be sacrificed, the play focuses on the Western educated son of the son-in-law challenging this custom in the court of law as well as of public opinion. Nike's friendship got us a chance to be photographed with some of the lead actors.
The play was engaging with a fabulous one-man orchestra, but had made an impossible promise of being the "orgasm of creativity" (the last line on the banner). The same English can be used in different ways! While on the campus we found amusing signs and notices too. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Susan's Footprint in Kano

Susan works as a teacher trainer with the State Universal Education Board in Kano. One of her projects is the "Sustainable Classroom" where she trains teachers is making innovative learning resources from locally available materials. We saw one of her classrooms with ABCs and numbers painted beautifully on the walls. She also made a small shop where students learn maths through trading!

She is also training local women in providing basic first aid. She takes care of the local youth called "Almajharees" who have been sent away from their homes by giving them house work. We were overwhelmed to see the warmth, care and protection they showed towards Susan!

All the children in the area know and love Susan. You can hear them shouting "Susaaan" from a mile away!

Kano: The Oldest City in West Africa

Kano has been the "Centre of Commerce" since a thousand years as it was a main conduit for trans-Saharan trade. The remnants of 15th century Kano City Wall can be seen across the city. Hausa architecture is absolutely beautiful and replicated in the British Council office.

We stayed with a fellow VSO Volunteer from UK-Susan who was a fantastic host. She gave us a grand tour of the city starting from the 15th century traditional indigo dye pits, the vibrant Kurmi Market (where we saw whole spices including saboot dhania and methi), the Kano Museum (the only museum where the guide allowed us to take pictures). The Museum had preserved few of the 15 original gates along the Kano Wall whose condition matches that of the Iron Pillar in Delhi!

Kano has a huge Lebanese, Philippino and Indian community. We had delicious shawarma and zarta (special bread with olive oil, thyme and sesame seeds)!

Here we also saw the traditional art of ironing with a very heavy wooden tool which gives a lovely shine to the cloth. You can see Parth also giving it a try! You can also take a peak at a typical motor park in Abuja where we took a shared taxi to Kano!

Abuja: The Centre of Unity!

After a 14-hour long albeit safe AC bus ride through refreshingly green landscape, we arrived in Naija's capital city-Abuja!

If Abuja is your first stop in Nigeria, locals are very quick to tell you that Abuja is NOT space, wide roads, functional street lights, regular NEPA, cheap taxis, no danfoes, great weather...all make Abuja a cosmopoliton global city! It has a huge central Mosque and national Church next to each other which resonate with its state motto "Centre of Unity"!

We stayed with our very hospitable and loving friends Dele, Nike (my landlord's daughter!) and their lovely dog Eva! They have a lovely home on outskirts of Abuja with small hills and greenery all around. Nike cooked lovely vegetarian food for Parth which restored his faith in the otherwise all-NON VEG Nigerian cuisine!

Dele has an interesting background, he studied in Spain and worked with the Friedrich Naumann in Lagos (our connector) until the office closed down and is now with the West African Civil Society Forum. After his masters, he authored a book called "My Grandfather's Mandate" about Yoruba philosophy in folklore.

Abuja is also home to VSO's programme office. Its a comfy, friendly and warm work environment with a room dedicated to volunteers called the "Volzone"!