Strange how novelties develop into the everyday routine … we soon began to feel we’d always worked in Port Harcourt: we got to know our colleagues, our workplace, and began to work out the geography of the city. I’ll give you an idea of what we did each day.
We didn’t need alarm clocks as around seven we would hear a huge clatter on the metal roof above our bedroom. Trying to decide between the possibilities of workmen or robbers, I emerged on the balcony to see two magnificent Griffin vultures prancing around, no doubt waiting for one of us to get Malaria … my room-mate and I get out of bed groaning at the insult done to our backs by the hardest bed I’ve ever slept in.
Breakfast was waiting for us at about 7.30. We tried to persuade the housekeeper, Margaret, that they shouldn’t make us a full breakfast and we’d be happy to helpourselves to cereal, fruit and toast. That worked for two days but then the eggs started creeping back in, followed by the bacon, then the fried plantains and baked beans and soon we were back to the full service breakfast with our own personal waiters.
Two “chaperones” stayed with us on a rota basis – the female pastors we had met at the airport – whose job was to keep us company and, frankly, to cater to our every need (except for internet access and leaving the compound …) We had our favourites among them, the statuesque beauty called Pastor Milly being the nicest and also the most amazingly dressed – we were always agog to see her latest creation, but learned not to be too appreciative as they loved to give us gifts!
After breakfast came our favourite part of our day: the drive to work. Since we couldn’t travel freely this was the only time we really got to see the bustling, chaotic and fascinating city. We roared off with our armed police in front and behind. Our driver , the Jenson Button of Port Harcourt, was amazing, switching lanes (i.e. onto the other side of the road) nonchalantly and driving straight towards any oncoming traffic. We actually got quite blasé about this …
As we passed through the relatively upmarket suburb our guest house was in we waved to the beautifully-dressed, shining-faced children in their rather french style uniforms (check shirts and blouses and tunics) on their way to school. Then traffic started to build up and we hit the busiest part of town where the main market is. We called this Umbrella City as it’s a huge area covered with small open stalls shielded by multi-coloured umbrellas. This part was obviously a flea market, but next to it were the food stalls and we drooled at the mangoes, watermelons and enormous pineapples on sale. We reached the business district where the temporary offices of the Employment Support Initiative are located, driving past a mixture of business shacks (Wank Creations was my favourite sign, but I think it was missing an initial S …) and modern highrise buildings. I should say that the traffic was no problem for us as the answer to “Who has right of way here?” was always “We do”!
We arrive at our workspace at about 9 to find most of our morning students (about 85) crowding outside the gates waiting to register. I’ll leave until the next post a description of our workday and the actual training and jump forward to about 6.30 when our last trainee leaves, the workstations have been cleared for the next day and we pile, sweaty, tired and dirty (we’ve been working in 30 degree heat but more importantly 80 to 90% humidity) into our bus for the homeward journey …
Margaret, the housekeeper and Isaac, the steward, greet us as if we were their long-lost children and urge us to eat supper soon (strange, this compunction to feed us up, as on the whole we are big, strapping girls. Well, I definitely am ….) Of course what we really want is a nice hot shower and a huge alcoholic drink. I convince myself that I actually like my showers lukewarm and dribbly and then – bliss – clever me packed a bottle of gin!
Sometimes we have the excitement of a visit from the tailor or a shopkeeper (of which more later) but usually after-dinner entertainment consists of talking over the day’s training and making plans for the next day, a hand of gin rummy which I always lose, and slumping in front of the telly watching, of all things, re-runs of Masterchef! Yes, folks, I had to go all the way to Nigeria to hear John Torode say “The SWEETNESS of the beetroot is so exciting as it BURSTS through the silky cabbage …” This thanks to my room-mate Leanne who is as passionate about food as she is about soap, and whose heroes are the Jamies and Ricks of this world that she never gets to see on French TV ….
I retaliate by spending half an hour looking for my glasses, ipod, mozzie plug-in, book and clean apron for next day and then it’s off to sleep at the ridiculously (for me) early hour of 10.30 …