Laurel and Associates, Ltd. – Madison, WI

Deb in Lagos and Nigeria

Deb in Lagos and Nigeria

On March 3, 2012, Posted by , In Travelogue, By , , With Comments Off on Deb in Lagos and Nigeria

I am writing to you from Lagos, Nigeria. I am staying at the Southern Sun hotel on Victoria Island. The food is plentiful and very good. The lighting in the room is absolutely fantastic! Not only are there two lights on either side of the bed, they each have directional reading lights! There is also a directional light on the desk. I’m in heaven being able to work and read without strain.

At night, they turn down your bed and leave a mint on your pillow. There are very friendly guards on every floor and if you need anything at all (in my case, an iron and ironing board- then someone to fix the shower light) they are there in a flash.

Downstairs outside there are at least 3 or 4 gentlemen to help you in and out of the car and carry anything you need carried (when I arrived, that included three heavy suitcases). After shopping for water at ShopRite, that included carrying two bags full of water bottles.

The shower is wonderful- with a hand held spray as well as an overhead rain spray that I really enjoy. The bed is firm and comfortable, the pillows exactly firm and soft enough. When you open the door, you put your room card into a slot that turns on the lights and the air conditioner. You just have to remember to take it out and with you when you leave the room.

Can you tell that I like my room and this hotel? Oh, also the young woman who was the hostess at breakfast and lunch today was exquisite, wearing the national dress. I hope to get a picture of her tomorrow!

The trip here was very long but relatively uneventful. The leg from Madison to Detroit went quickly. They tagged my heavy carry on bag, so I didn’t have to worry about someone lifting it up and down from the overhead luggage rack.

During the over 7-hour leg from Detroit to Amsterdam, I found that I really couldn’t sleep in the plane. I read and then got up and walked the aisles. I had a four-hour layover in Amsterdam, so I walked around, checked out the duty free shop, and then saw that I could get on the Internet for a fee. So I did, to purchase and download books from Barnes and Noble for my Nook.

Since I read a book a day, usually I bring library paperbacks with me. That wasn’t practical for a month and half trip, so I purchased a Nook e-reader and I’m enjoying it. Most of the books I bought were less than a dollar!

The only unpleasantness occurred when I went through security for KLM Dutch Airlines to get on the plane to Lagos. I had someone put my bag on the conveyer belt and when it went through, I asked the KLM fellow at the other end if he would take it down for me, explaining about my surgery and weight restriction.

The young guy proceeded to lecture me that carry on meant I should be able to carry it on- and continued in that vein for a few minutes. At the end, he said that he would put it down for me just this one time. Good grief! I wanted to kick him!!

Then they said that my bag was too large to carry on with me, so they tagged it and sent it to baggage. That was actually fine with me. However, I felt singled out when I watched dozens of folks carrying much larger bags onto the plane!

While I was waiting to board, the waiting room was packed. A young Nigerian in a natty suit moved his luggage so I could sit down. I learned that his name was Edmund and he was returning to Nigeria from Italy after an absence of 2.5 years from his wife and children. Apparently he was able to find work for a while there, but then the work dried up.

When I sat down on the plane, Edmund was seated next to me across the aisle. And after we landed, he took responsibility for taking my luggage off of the conveyer belt. A very nice guy.

Getting on to the plane was a real trip. The Nigerians do not cue up. When it was time to board, they moved en masse to the gateway. The KLM representative kept repeating that only those in seats 25-42 should board- but after about 10 minutes she gave up!

But back on the plane, three things to tell you about. First, I overheard the lead stewardess talking to the man in front of me who apparently got pain in his ears when the cabin pressure changed. She told him that he needed to use a nose spray- and then went and got him small capsules to use! Talk about amazing service!

Second, it was a treat to watch some of the Nigerian women (mostly much older) come in wearing their beautiful dresses and headdresses.

Third, during the last hour of the7-hour flight to Lagos, an older woman at the end of my aisle started singing and got louder and louder. She was singing in her language and I definitely didn’t know the words or the melody.

Once at Lagos, we had over an hour wait to get through customs. Again, no one just simply lines up. Everyone jostles to move forward and if you’re not aggressive (and even on a good day with lots of sleep, I’m not!) you could get pushed to the end of the crowd very easily. I got behind someone who was good at moving forward, so I was able to, also.

A small complaint. After getting all sorts of shots so I would have the necessary yellow card, every time someone asked for my passport I included the yellow card and every time they just pushed it back to me. No one ever looked at it!!

It took another 30-40 minutes for all three of my bags to appear. A porter came over and got me out to the curb, where approximately 10 taxi drivers descended on me. Luckily, I saw Ben Ben (who was my welcome wagon and ride to the hotel). I followed him through the 90-degree humid evening (about 9 p.m.) over ruts, holes in the road, and around huge crowds of people and cars stopped, beeping, and speeding around us. Just as I was going to get into the car, Edmund came over and introduced me to his wife!

It took about a half hour to get to the hotel, where all of the staff were friendly and welcoming. Tricia, my American contact, came down to greet me. It was nice to finally meet her face to face. We all made plans to meet mid morning and off I went to my room.

There it took a while to get onto the Internet so that I could Skype call anyone- by the time that Jenny and I connected, I was completely wiped out. So she kindly made the calls I had planned to make, announcing my safe arrival.

Deb in Lagos, March 5
Breakfast included scrambled eggs made to order, fresh fruit, smoked salmon! Yogurt and a roll. Then I went upstairs to iron some clothing until Tricia got back from a meeting.

We rolled the two suitcases full of training materials (I had mailed one to her to bring with her from D.C.) and got into the car with the driver, Ayo.

Thank goodness for his ability and quick reflexes. I’ll try to explain the drive from the hotel to the office.
No one obeys any signals or signs. The cars speed, all trying to get into the same lanes (assuming there were lanes). Then we have zillions of motor scooters usually with 2-3 people on them, weaving in and out of the traffic. Then the people standing in the middle of the road hawking everything from mirrors to water to shoe racks! Then the people on the side of the road selling things. There are no sidewalks, so there are also people walking. It’s a madhouse.

The poverty of the place is apparent from all of the dingy broken concrete huts, hovels- there are slums along the roads- there is a water slum with broken huts on stilts. Every now and then, you see someone (usually a woman) walking with something huge balanced on her head (they wrap a cloth in a circle, put that on their head so they can balance whatever it is).

There are what look like bar umbrellas here and there, selling anything and everything.
There is a constant stream of humanity, as well as huge crowds of people just standing.

When we got to the office, Tricia warned me that it would smell of mothballs, because they have them throughout the rooms. We’re thinking it has to be an insect repellant strategy but we’re going to ask Ben Ben about it tomorrow (if we remember).

It took quite a while to get everything else together for the training, then we (Tricia, Ben Ben and I) piled into the car and took off for the hotel where the training will be held.

Something I noticed was that any building of any import (business or hotel) has a guardhouse that you have to get through. If it doesn’t, you have to honk so they check out your car before they open the gate. There are high walls with barbed wire around every building. In some places, it looks like what I imagine a war zone would be like.

At the hotel, the manager introduced herself, welcomed us and led us to the training room. There were heavy wooden tables lined up in a long U with about 15 staff people sitting there. She explained that they were all there waiting to find out how to set up the room. And by golly, they all got involved. In all my years of training, I have NEVER had that much help.

When I went to stand on a chair to put up a kite on the wall, three men hurried over to do it for me. I could certainly get used to that!!

One exciting moment occurred when I plugged in the power strip I brought. There was a large pop! No one told me that the electric current was much higher than in the states. Needless to say, it got fried. Luckily, the LCD projector plugged into it at the time survived unscathed. That would have been terrible if I had ruined it.

There will be fifteen people in the training, which runs from Tuesday through Friday. They are all staying at the hotel with the training room. When I asked Tricia if they were coming from out of town, she said no, they are all from Lagos. But the traffic is so terrible, there would be no guarantee that they would get to the training room if they weren’t already staying there. Tricia and I will be the only ones traveling back and forth. We’re leaving at 7 a.m. tomorrow, even though the training starts at 9, because we don’t know what to expect.

Now it’s time for me to go to bed.
Deb in Nigeria, March 6

This will be a very brief update, because I am absolutely exhausted. I got up at 6, dressed and had breakfast (avoiding the eggs, which they do not refrigerate) and was picked up at 7. It took an hour to get to the training site, where I had to continue with set up.

I am conducting a four day train the trainer program for 15 folks (only 2 women) who conduct training for US AID in Nigeria on access to finance and business management.

As they came into the room, they began to take pictures of the kites, the agenda map, training sayings I’d posted on the wall, and me! They loved the candy and music and moving around for activities. I discovered that they LOVE to debate- which means that a module that is typically 20 minutes is over an hour. We began at 9, had lunch from 1:15 to 2 pm. and didn’t end until 5:45 p.m.- a good 45 minutes over the scheduled ending time. Because I couldn’t get them to stop debating in their small groups. Just one example: it took them over 30 minutes of strenuous arguing just to decide on a title for the training program they were designing! Good grief!

They are all pleasant, bright professional people (all of the men in suits and ties) and are taking the training very seriously. There is a lot of chatter and laughter- and their energy seemed to increase as mine flagged. I still haven’t caught up on my lack of sleep during the flights over.

I’ve already decided to replace some small group work with individual activities, because I absolutely refuse to be on my feet conducting training for 8 hours again tomorrow.

Lunch was not good for me. It was (understandably) native Nigerian food, which meant that it was all too spicy for me- with the exception of some rice and fish. Well, the fish was very spicy but I cut it up and mixed it with the rice, so it was tasty. Unfortunately, it was also full of small bones which were even more difficult to find in the rice… By the time we got back to the hotel after 7 p.m., I was starved. 

Although exhausting, it was a very gratifying day to see these folks, all of whom are lecturers, embrace the idea of accelerated learning and participatory learning activities. The evaluations were all very positive, with the only concern being the length of the class today. Two thought it was too long, one didn’t think it was long enough… We’ll discuss this with the group tomorrow, when I lay down some rules.

I really miss the two count down timers I’ve always used on my Power Point. When I upgraded my Mac operating system, it no longer supported whatever system the timers used. I’m going on line before I got to bed (very very soon!) to find even a basic free timer that will work on a Mac. I think projecting the remaining minutes will help keep them on track.

Oh, I didn’t mention that yesterday I changed dollars into naira. Because of the exchange rate, I am now marching around with many thousand naira bills! My salad buffet tonight cost 4600.

Deb in Nigeria March 7

Today was another exhausting but extremely exhilarating day. 

Driving to the hotel, we see children of all ages dressed in different colored school uniforms. Tiny tots walk holding hands with older siblings, parents or grandparents. The children also dart through the traffic, which is incredibly scary!

I’m rethinking my statement that Lagos has many slums. The more frequently we drive down the same streets and through the same neighborhoods, I’m realizing that the concrete and rust (from the salty ocean air) are just part and parcel of the urban environment. Yes, there are open air shops that sell everything: toys, plantains, tires, groceries- and folks are also sitting under umbrellas, but that is the nature of the small businesses. It is continually amazing to see women, children and some men walking with huge bowls on their heads, filled with fruits, appliances, breads, ice and water! My gosh their necks must be incredibly strong- and their posture very erect.

Women carry their children in a huge sash that goes over their breasts, with the child held close next to their back. 

At the beginning of the training day, I had a frank conversation with the group about the need to set strict time limits on activities so we could avoid a recurrence of the late day yesterday. They agreed and, to a great extent, complied.

They are so into the training- they take photos every time I show a cartoon on the Power Point, they stand next to me for pictures, every activity we do, someone is taking a picture. Since today focused on interactive learning activities, they had a lot to photograph.

Before I forget, they were each given a clear plastic letter-sized case that included a small notebook, a pencil, a square flat eraser, and a razor blade to use for sharpening the pencil. We need to clear off the pencil shavings from the tables after each training day.

I used a bingo-like game- and had to explain what bingo was. They had a blast.  We also used tinker toys to create merry-go-rounds  and they were very creative in their building- although I wouldn’t want to ride on any of them if they were life size!

It was very gratifying to review their home practice, which was to create the title, learning goals and learning objectives as the first part of a lesson plan. They all got it!! Later, in debriefing a case study about a trainer who lectured for 2 hours, it was great to hear their suggestions as to what the trainer did incorrectly and what many changes that trainer would need to make to set the learners up for success.

At one point, the three table groups worked to identify learning activities for a lesson on minimizing the risk of infectious diseases. One group knocked my socks off with their creativity. To introduce the concept of an infectious disease, they created a simple game- their participants, sitting at tables, were to pass around small pieces of paper. Several of those pieces of paper had a dot on it, signifying an infectious disease. Once everyone had their piece of paper, the individuals with the dots were to raise their hand- and then identify all of the people with whom they had come in contact. What an imaginative way to lead into a definition of infectious disease.

They took to heart the idea of meeting the needs of different learning styles. For example, to check participant comprehension of which diseases were infectious, they planned to state a disease and have the participants move to the right of the room if they thought it was infectious and to the left if they thought it wasn’t infectious. 

Another group loved using pop ups to check for comprehension and built in a requirement for an action plan at the end. I am so impressed with how quickly they not only absorbed the idea of participatory learning but also immediately applied what they had learned in their lesson planning process. Yup, very gratifying.

Another nice thing about today is that I had much less trouble understanding folks when they spoke. Yesterday, there were times I simply had no idea what had been said. Today, my ability to comprehend their cadences (which are somewhat British and very lovely) increased geometrically. By the time I leave next Wednesday, I may even understand a good 90-95% of what is said!

Morning “tea” happens during one of the breaks in the morning and includes some pastry with meat. The afternoon tea break yesterday included what looked like plain cupcakes and round flat cakes. I tried one of the latter, which tasted somewhat like very very dry corn bread. Not my favorite (I’m a chocolate and nuts girl).

Today, it looked like some kind of egg roll with what I imagine was very very hot dipping sauce. Lunch was better for me today because we ordered individually rather than having a buffet. I had chicken and chips (french fries) and cole slaw.

Interestingly enough, on our way to the training hotel a fellow passed by on a scooter with an enormous basket behind him on which were tied a pile of live very scrawny looking chickens! I’m wondering whether one of those provided my lunch. We also passed a statue of representatives of the three tribes (?) of Nigeria, each wearing native dress, holding up Nigeria.

Speaking of native dress, Tricia (my US contact who is here with me, thank goodness, and great company and help!) told me that Fridays are native dress days. I can’t wait to have an entire room full of folks in their native dress. Since they’ve been taking pictures of me every day, turn around will be fair play when I take photos of them!

Additional random facts. The training hotel is using its back up generator to ensure that we don’t lose power, since the electricity goes on and off very frequently. It happened at my hotel this morning just when I was going to get dressed. It’s very hard to get dressed when you can’t see in front of you! But the power came on very quickly.

When it rains, as it did yesterday and today, there is a sudden downpour and you hear the thundering drops on the roof above you. It lasts for a few minutes and then stops. There are huge open culverts on the side of roads to take the water- or that’s what I assume.

Tricia informed me that the restaurant puts cream into the scrambled eggs- that’s why they taste funny and have an unusual texture.

when I get back to the hotel in the evening, the maid has turned down the bed, left a little reading light on and a chocolate on the pillow (a date stuffed with an almond and covered with chocolate). It is surprisingly tasty!

Yesterday, on the way back to the hotel, Ayo (our driver) explained that the sirens (more like buzzing beeps)  we heard didn’t mean there was a difficulty- the police use their sirens to get through traffic to go home, not to fulfill any policing responsibility!

When I got back to the room this evening, the big floor lamp wouldn’t turn on and there wasn’t a bottle of water in the bathroom (to use for brushing teeth). I called and within 5 minutes got a return call telling me that both housekeeping and maintenance were on their way. They both came and remedied their respective situations for me within the next 5 minutes. Five minutes after that, I got a call to follow up and make sure that my needs had been met.

What incredible customer service!

An embarrassing admission: when I conduct train the trainer programs in the states, I always tell participants how important it is to use examples that are relevant to their training audiences. Until I came here to Nigeria, I didn’t realize how difficult it is to even discover what might or might not be relevant. I used a pizza example- and they don’t have pizza. I provided what is supposed to be a meaningful sentence in an activity: We go up north to see the autumn colors- and that had no resonance for them. Then today I had to explain what bingo was. Luckily, they knew what a merry go round was.

I’m rethinking some of my training content for Jordan, based on this experience. I can’t imagine that they are familiar with those references either. 

However, I must tell you that there are Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants all over the place…

Speaking of food, I need to go and get some dinner. 

Until tomorrow,

Deb in Nigeria March 8

First of all, let me be the first to say to all of the women reading this email- Happy International Women’s Day!  According to Tricia, every country except the US celebrates it. Each of my participants came up to shake my hand and congratulate me. Who knew?

Some of you have asked if I am taking a lot of pictures. My dears, I am not out strolling- I am in a car at 7 or 7:30 a.m. for a drive that is anywhere from 30-60 minutes to get to the hotel when the training is sited. Then I am in a car at 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. to get back to our hotel. I tried to take pictures as we drove today and (1) got sea sick, (2) got a headache, and (3) got told by Ayo, our driver, that I should make sure no one saw me taking pictures or we would all be arrested. So I stopped.

I believe that we (Tricia and I) will be going with Bassey to see a local artisan. If that’s the case, perhaps I’ll be able to walk and take photos. In lieu of that, I’ll just have to give you word pictures.

When we got to the training room today, we found that all of the candy had been taken from the bowls. A bit later, we learned that the hotel staff actually sleep in that room! They had shown admirable restraint not taking the candy the first night. 

We also lost the air conditioning for about an hour. Given that it was probably 100 F and 100% humidity outside, things got very very warm in a hurry. Just as we were going to move into another part of the hotel that had air conditioning, they fixed ours- and it was even better and cooler than it had been for the previous two days. Whew!

I am so thrilled by the participants. They are very astute and clearly have absorbed the accelerated learning concepts. They handed in their completed home practice assignment, which was to create a lesson plan avoiding the use of lecture- and they were masterful in their lesson design. 

My one minor disappointment today was the fact that no one noticed I was wearing a pin in the shape of Africa and African earrings to match (which my mother brought back when she and Dad went to Africa). I felt very snazzy. Tricia suggested that perhaps they were so used to seeing this type of jewelry it didn’t register with them. Maybe.

On the way to the training hotel, we saw what must have been an entire family of 6 people on one scooter! I wish I’d been able to get a picture of that.

I also wish that I could get a few photos of the fishing boats on the water. In the morning, there is a mist or fog over the water- and the small boats are very graceful- similar to those you would see in photos of Japanese fishermen. Every now and then there is a boat with a square sail, but otherwise the boats are moved with long paddles from a standing position.

That’s all I can manage tonight. I’m bushed!

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