Journal - Nigeria 3
The following content is from the journal I kept during my work with World Bank. It documents my reflections during a field trip to Nigeria in 2004.
When I first came to the IITA (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture) office at Ibadan, I was very tired after the 64 hours flight from Seoul to Lagos, transferring at Tokyo and London. An intern at IITA offers me a cup of coffee. When I moved my finger to pick up a block of sugar, I found the word "St. Louis."
What does it mean? Is St. Louis an international, sugar-exporting city?
Most of all, I was just glad to see the name.
To meet St. Louis in Nigeria!
Two days later, I came down to the Ago-Are community. It's a completely rural town 100 miles away from Ibadan. There's nothing of the U.S. except for Coke and Pepsi.
There I found again, St. Louis on the ground.
I live in three continents. I not live in a deep, rural town of West Africa. My school is in a mid-western city in North America. My home is far-east in the Eurasia continent. It keeps me busy crossing the world. Now, internet is the only tool that enables me to link all of the three continents.
For the first time in my life, I haven't spoke my native language for weeks. Not to mention seeing Koreans, I have not seen any Asians or Caucasians.
I went to a leading restaurant in the village. There was only one table and two long chairs. Chairs sloped, so I couldn't sit straight. Flies were hovering around a basket of drinking water. I was afraid of what would be served there. There were five Nigerians around me and I really didn't want to say that I couldn't eat the food they serve. I didn't want to disappoint them. Very luckily, the rice and black eyed peas tasted good.
While I was eating the meal, I saw a letter "Hanwha" on the wall. In the world, there are some words that scream Korea! My eyes searched around the words and I finally found another Korean in Ago-Are!
The password of computers in the information center in Ago-Are was "Daewoo."
Oh, global Korean companies! I'll never forget the password.
My colleague and I were waiting for our roommates to return home as I don't have a key.
When a door is locked, there is no way to contact our roommates. They don't have phones and we don't have a phone either. We were sitting on the stone on the porch and looking at the starry sky. Thousands of twinkling stars are right above me! I could even touch them. I tried to take a photo, but could not see them through the camera lens. It's too far. It's too dim. Sometimes, human eyes are better than a lens.
We were falling asleep on a granite porch. Wet wind was blowing gently.
"Should we just wait?"
"What can we do?"
Clocks and Schedules
I lived my life according to date, time, and schedule. I have different obligations and plans based on the date. Here, I don't live by date and time. I sleep when it's dark and I wake up when the day breaks. I feel like I am in the different part of the universe where time stops and nature is alive.
Phone Cards for Cell Phones
Nigerians have to buy phone cards to charge their units for cell phone service. Whenever they use up their units, they have to buy a new card. They have to look for a phone card seller, buy a card, scratch the card, read a serial number, call to a designated system and put the number in the system. After all these procedures, they get some units to make phone calls. But the units are easily over and people get irritated when they have to recharge their phone often. I had to buy N1,500 ($11) phone card for 15 minutes of local calls. The units could end when they urgently need to use phone services. Recharging units seem to bother people.
"Why don't you use monthly bills?" I asked.
"We don't have that sort of system."
If it a problem of credit? Aren't companies sure whether people will pay for their mobile phone service after a month? Or is it challenging to track down where people live and send a bill to their address?
It might be a waste of national resources to produce and sell rechargeable cards. If people could simply pay monthly or online, Nigerians don't have to print out recharge cards and they don't need to sell them.
"My friend bought a N1,500 phone card. But it's empty. There's nothing. She lost N1,500 in a second."
An Indian lady continued,
"I never want to bother myself with phone cards. So, I don't want to use mobile phone at all. But now, I don't know where I should make a phone call. A few years ago, there are public phones everywhere. Nowadays, all of them are gone because of the mobile phones. The remaining ones are broken down and haven't been repaired." She sighed.
"Things are going worse here."
Nigerian government or private sectors might have a chance to develop a billing system but the money might not be used as it is expected.
Interviews with Women
We conducted research about income and expenditure of married women to look at their access to resources.
We categorized expenditures into different items such as food, transportation, health care, clothes, enterprises, extended family responsibility, and entertainment. This is a monthly expenditure.
"How much to you spend for clothing a month?"
"I don't know. I only know how much I spend a year. Our family buys clothes once a year."
"How much do you spend on entertainment? What do you do to entertain yourself?"
"Well, I buy a chocolate drink." A women responded.
"No, that is food. I am asking about entertainment."
"Chocolate drink should be recorded under the food category, right?" I looked at my colleague from Nigeria.
"No, it IS entertainment. That's how women entertain themselves here."
Can researchers write a good questionnaire and find a good solution without coming down to the rural areas and meeting with people on the ground?
There are hundreds of international organizations in Abuja. I have set up meetings with them for this week.
How many of them are in the rural communities that they are working with?
A multi-million dollar World Bank dam has been completed in Ago-Are since 1982, and it has never been used.
Multi Million Dollar UNICEF project was supposed to connect water pipes to individual houses in years, but people all over Nigeria still have to fetch water from wells.
I was complaining that people of international organizations in Nigeria are less likely to respond to emails. I have sent couple of emails but didn't hear back form them. So, I have to call them or visit them. Making a phone call is very expensive. It's time-consuming to drive all the way down to their office to get just a piece of information.
"Why do people working for development organizations in Nigeria do not respond to emails? Email is fast and east. If they don't want to respond, why do they put their email addresses on the web? Is it the culture? Is it their way of doing things differently from developed countries?" My friend calmly answered. "They put their email address because they are required to do so by international organizations."He continued, "Didn't you see how many hours Dr. Ojo has to spend to download just one document from his email account? Dial-up connections are cut off a lot of times. After hours of struggles, he ended up giving up reading his emails. He's a director of National Emergency Management Agency at the Presidency. If he has such difficulty in just reading emails and downloading information, what would the situation of other people in less powerful position be like? Emails are not very convenient ways of communication in Nigeria where internet connections are slow rare. So staff of development organizations here could only respond to some very critical emails. Can you blame these people for not being very responsive by email? If you are working in a well-equipped. nice headquarter in D.C., you may think that Nigerian branch is too sluggish to quickly email back to them. Is it a cultural difference? You are talking about efficiency, but you should be aware of the developing country's situations first."
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