Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nigerian Adventure

I really hope Kyle's family is ok. This coming year will be difficult, with all the "firsts" they will have to experience without Kyle. I think of them often.

And now for something completely different...I think it's time to move away from discussing learning challenges for a little while. My experiences in Nigeria made me realize how little we really have to complain about here in Canada. (Oddly, I still manage to find things!) I'll recount some of my adventures for a change of pace.

In 2002 I worked in Nigeria on a project called the Literary Enhancement Assistance Project, with the Education Development Center based in Washington DC. I was there in the capital city of Abuja for 5 weeks. The LEAP project was a pilot project paid for by USAID, to develop learner focused teaching modules in 3 states in Nigeria. If this was successful, it would adopted nation wide.
My job was to write a teacher's manual and also to develop a Resource Kit that would be placed in schools across three states during this pilot project.
I wrote reading and math programs into a teachers’ guide that not only taught children, but modeled how to use the student-centered learning strategies. I retreated to an apartment shared by my boss in the project, and good friend Sandy. She was from BC, and it was our previous working relationship that got me the job in the first place. It was in this apartment that I would write a guide that would help fill in some holes in the Nigerian education system. The guide had to start from the position that the teachers had only basic English and the children virtually none. I had to write lessons that had no paper or pencil requirements, as not every school had them. I found that very difficult at first, and then very freeing. I had the students writing in the air, on each other’s backs, and in the dirt with sticks. I wrote little controlled vocabulary stories in the manual for the teacher to write on the board for reading practice, and where possible directed teachers to make one copy of each story to keep for children to read for practice. I had a basic reading program that I use in my private work, one that is based on the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program, so I adapted and modified it. I had to tie in the materials in the kit to every lesson, to ensure that the materials would actually be used. I interviewed people from the three main ethnic areas to find out what stories they were familiar with, what common names were, and what issues were important to children. I used this information to write stories. I had to be mindful of the Qur’anic schools, (separate schools for Muslims), as they would be receiving the kits as well. I had to ask many sensitive questions so as not to offend.

After a few lessons were written, I spent an afternoon with a Nigerian teacher who helped me teach a lesson so I could test its effectiveness. I rewrote using his suggestions. The drive to the school was in a word, terrifying. The vehicles in Nigeria are all imported and very expensive, this coupled with the fact that most people are very poor results in poorly, (ok, not) maintained vehicles. Some of the taxis I rode in had the back seats propped up with rope and twine, and most had the side view mirrors broken off. I know why!

We hired a fellow, a friend of friend, to drive us there in a car that had working lights and four good tires. (Bonanza!) Alex, the driver loved to drive and didn't have a car of his own. For 22 dollars a day he agreed to drive us, spend the night in a motel, and drive us back the next day. This money would go along way to feeding his new baby girl. The first thing I noticed was the lack of seatbelts. (I still had my Canadian perspective about safety) When I mentioned this Alex just laughed. Sandy, who was coming with me just patted my knee and told me not to worry about it.

We left the city perimeter at 120 kms an hour and peaked at 140 for the duration of the trip. I was terrified by the speed, but that was amplified by the fact that most Nigerians drive on the road lines, not between them. This means that a road with lines for two lanes in Canada would have 4 lanes in Nigeria, with very little space between the cars! At 140 kms an hour this is a remedy for constipation, let me tell you. Alex was weaving in and out of traffic with inches of space between us and the car we were passing. I finally stopped asking Alex to slow down (he suddenly didn't seem to understand English) and quivered in the back seat corner. At one point Alex did slow down and I sat up and looked out the window. Bad decision. He slowed to get around a mini bus that had flipped several times and lay burned out at the side of the road. I slouched back down and closed my eyes. Sandy, who had been in the country for several months already, thought my discomfort was hilarious.

A short time later we slowed again and I peeked above the seat. My stomach did flip flops. We were being stopped at a road check by four big Nigerian soldiers carrying guns. I asked Sandy, "What do we do? I didn't bring my passport!" I had seen too many movies apparently. Sandy told me to relax and just to let her do the talking, which was just fine with me. I knew that the Nigerians had had much civil strife and that there had been a series of military coups. Two of the soldiers came up to each side of the car and peered in. Alex rolled down his window and answered some questions in Yoruba. When the fellow at the driver's side saw Sandy and he stuck his head in. In English he said,
"Good morning ladies. What have you got for me today?" I looked at Sandy- thinking he meant papers. She said, "I have this." and she handed him a bottle of peanuts that we took everywhere for snacks as fast food was hard to find in Nigeria. The soldier frowned and shook his head. Sandy sighed and then dug in her purse. The soldier brightened, but then Sandy produced four hard boiled eggs. I gasped, thinking she was doing a good job of making this guy angry and probably getting us killed. To my surprise he motioned for the peanuts, and gave the bottle to one of his comrads.He then took the eggs, looked at them as if weighing the value, then said, "Very good. Thank-you maam." He motioned for Alex to go ahead. Sandy explained that this was quite common. Everyone is hungry in Nigeria. Food is a legitimate bribe. I started giggling, and so did Sandy. Can you imagine that in an American movie? The bad guy holds a gun on a bank manager, and says,"Hand it over". The Bank mangager says,
"All I have is this sandwich. Take it." The robber says, "Hey, pastrami! My favourite".

The rest of the trip was uneventful, I think. I had my eyes closed.

No comments: