For the past three months I’ve been living in Kwali; a small town in central Nigeria. It’s the first time I’ve visited Kwali or anywhere like it. Kwali contains little nuances that make it special and having just read “You know you’ve been living in Tamale, Ghana for almost two years when…” I want to share them with you.
Everywhere is a toilet
Wherever you turn, and I mean wherever, you can and will see someone toileting. Whether it’s number one or number two. Whether it’s a male or a female. Whether it’s a child or a grown up. Whether it’s at the crossroads in the middle of town or at the side of the river. It will happen. You will witness it. Just hold your breath, avert your eyes and move on.
Everywhere else is a shower
When they’re not pooping or peeing in public they’re bathing. Some houses have outdoor showers constructed from corrugated steel. Some houses have outdoor showers with no walls. Some people wash at the side of rivers. If you’re not careful you can be driving down the road and witness a butt naked man lathering himself with soap or a child being washed by their parent.
Electricity is nowhere
Electricity is very rare. The power lines tend to only bring electricity once a week, and it’s usually on a Saturday or Sunday. As a result the main source of electricity is generators, and some houses have solar panels. Generators run on foil (aka fuel) meaning most homes just use them for a few hours each evening. The size of the generator or solar battery dictates which household items can be used. For example, a small generator/solar battery can run lights but not a washing machine or an iron. To illustrate how rare electricity from power lines (called NEPA) is let me share this story:
One night at 3 am a member of my host family woke me up. Our conversation went something like this:
Host family: Lettice, are you awake? Lettice, are you awake? Lettice, are you awake?
Host family: Lettice, NEPA is on. Do you want to do any laundry?
Me: No! It’s 3am!
NEPA is so rare when it comes on people will wake you up, further, if it’s on in the day people will favour staying at home than going out.
Can I have a sachet water?
Drinking water does not come out of taps or wells. You’ll be sick. Typhoid or upset tummy sick. Drinking water, at least affordable drinking water, comes out of plastic bags which you rip open with your teeth. So denture wearers be warned, unless you want to pay 10 times the price for the same amount of water presented in a bottle, you’d better bring extra glue.
People like saying white person to white people. As you go around town people say “Oyibo” to you. Oyibo is Nigerian Pidgin (broken English) for white person or Westernised person. I don’t mind in the slightest. I like the fame #NoLie. My two favourite Oyibo moments are:
- I was walking down a path and a little girl (approximately 3 years old) was walking towards me. She started running and shouting “Oyibo! Oyibo! Oyibo!” When she reached me she threw her arms around my legs. It was adorable.
- I was walking down a dirt road and a little boy was walking towards me. He started clapping and chanting “Oyibo, Oyibo”. It was adorable too.
Welcome to the farm
Kwali is a free, open air farm. Goats, pigs and chickens roam around everywhere. I have no complaints except piglets are too fast to catch and I wish I could catch them so I can hug them as they are so cute!
Transport is cheap
It cost 50 Naira (15 pence) to get a mototaxi to anywhere in Kwali. The price only increases if two passengers get on or if you ask the driver to wait for you whilst you run an errand. A shared taxi to the nearest big town, called Gwagwalada (aka Gwagblahblahblah or Gwags), costs 100 Naira (30 pence). To get to a shopping mall in the capital city, Abuja, approximately 1.5 hours away, it costs 600 Naira (£1.80) and requires you to take three shared taxis.
God is 24/7
People go to church a lot. I mean A LOT. Daily visits are not uncommon, and going twice a day isn’t unheard of either. To be fair there isn’t much else to do in Kwali but still, everyday? Are you sure? Isn’t Sunday enough? Don’t you want a lie-in or to practice a hobby in the evenings?
Everybody farm now! (song)
When it rains people farm. The rain softens the ground helping farmers make mounds for yam and dig troughs for corn. One day I rang one of our local volunteers to ask if he was volunteering with us that day. He said no as it rained the night before so he needed to go to the farm #FairPlay.
Be indoors by 7pm
I can tell the time by the presence of mosquitoes. At 7pm they get hungry and start biting me. They’re vicious; even managing to bite through clothing. Nearly everyone in our team got Malaria. Only 4 people out of 21 escaped it.
Story telling is a popular method of passing on moral lessons to children and adults. The start of any verbal story begins like this:
Story teller: Story story
Story teller: Once upon a time
Audience: Time time
I love this introduction to stories. You can read a story here about How the turtle got his crooked shell.
Since pre-departure training in England I’ve feared bucket showers. It was the only thing I hadn’t already experienced somewhere else. Pit toilets, squat toilets, basic accommodation… I’d done it and survived it. But bucket showers… I’d never experienced that. Now, three months in I can say they’re fine. You just need to collect enough water to wash all the bloody soap out of your hair.
Riding dirty in Kwali means bouncing along dirt roads not driving with contraband. Dirt roads way out number tarmac roads. I can count the number of tarmac roads on two hands; 8. There are 8 tarmac roads in Kwali.
You see litter everywhere
Bins? What are bins? Public sanitation – what’s that? Rubbish is thrown on the ground by everyone all the time. It’s not the most rubbish filled place I’ve seen, that award goes to North Columbia, but it’s close.
Your tummy is forever mad at you. Somehow, whether you ate it, drank it or were bitten by it, you’ve caught something that your tummy won’t forgive you for.
Throw road safety out the window. Road safety measures such as seatbelts, baby car seats, and road markings don’t exist. In their absence there are wreaked cars, trucks and minivans scattered along the roadside. Near death experiences are a part of every road journey.