Wish for Africa Foundation


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

May 1st 2011 - The Wedding day

The day that this whole trip was based upon was finally here, the wedding of Femi and Aderemi. The night had been restless with noise from outside, I got up and sorted myself breakfast, cornflakes with powered milk, as you just don’t really get fresh milk in Lagos (many people haven’t got fridges or reliable electricity to run them).

The house at this point was fairly quiet, Remi was at the venue and Femi was just going to head out to see if all was OK. They came back and the house then had a steady flow of helpers/visitors.

As Remi had started getting ready (African time O! everything was running late), I thought I’d start getting ready. I had just commenced putting my make-up on when my room was commandeered by photographers laying out all the items Remi was going to wear on my bed to photograph (good job I wasn’t half naked!).

I went to the venue ‘Balmoral’ with Waheed (the driver). On arrival we couldn’t get in as we didn’t have ID and we had to insist that we were meant to be there and had loads of items to off load. They reluctantly let us in! Well only into the grounds, the security on the door wouldn’t let us in as they were tidying up after a church service that morning. So we sat and waited, eventually they let us in and I was told where to sit by Waheed, then a member of Femi’s family came over and directed me to the front row next to the them.

Another hour went by and guests kept arriving and the African tribal band began beating their various drums and shaking the shekeres, the sound was contagious and really made you feel the moving to its beat. Some of the women got up and were dancing around the band (I so wanted to join them). The room was now full of women wearing beautiful traditional attire (Aso-Ebi) with some stunning Geles (head wear), the groom’s side wearing pink and silver and the bride’s side wearing orange and gold. The men also looked amazing in their clothes too.

Shortly after the traditional wedding commenced, the Alago Ijoko (the female ‘master of ceremonies’) takes control and leads and talks through the whole event. This started with Femi’s entrance with the ‘boys’ all dancing he looked marvellous in his clothes (agbaba I believe). He then has to go through an act basically asking the bride’s parents for their permission for their daughter, this is an elaborate show and amusing in many parts. The groom has to lay prostrate bowing to the bride’s family to show how much he respects them and wants their daughter.

The bride, Aderemi, then enters with the ‘girls’ again singing and dancing and looking stunning. She then goes through a similar act with the groom’s parents and is presented to them by the Alago Ijoko and ends with her putting the hat (Kufi) on the groom. Again this all takes time and in the midst of this there are three bowls placed on the floor and guests are encouraged to place money in them at different time. What generally happens is that people come with large amounts of small dominations of money so they can keep putting lots of notes in without the value being so great. People gather outside wedding events with wads of small notes ready to change with guests.

There was a table full of gifts for the brides family, and this is a long list of traditional gifts that are expected to be given. These gifts range from bottles of honey, suitcase, many large yams, fruit, salt, bottles of wine to (Derek) the ram (who didn’t make the ceremony). The whole thing is so elaborate and over the top but such fun and so different from UK weddings.

Once the ceremony was completed we all made our way to the other side of the hall for the meal and party. Remi had worked so hard on making this look fabulous paying attention to every detail, it looked spectacular. The venue that had looked so huge when we visited it earlier in the week suddenly didn’t feel so big with the 500 or so guests. The food just kept coming dish after dish was offered of every Nigerian dish, and cakes and later more food! Drinks were all served and waiters just walked around giving what ever you required.

The band was great and played between speeches from different guests. Then all the bride and grooms friends had to go outside (all girls apart from Gyles who decided to join in for this too). We danced in down the aisle then lined it, singing & dancing as Femi & Remi danced down it.

The bride and groom then had their first dance and people sprayed them with money (this is their wedding gift money). The music was great and much dancing was done as we danced in that fun African way around them. I enjoyed the dancing as those that know me would expect and as the only white person there drew quite a bit of attention and amusement.

The party started to die down around 7 (it had been going on a fair while) and by 8 I had to leave to catch my plane. As almost everyone had left by this time Femi came to the airport with me and helped me carry my bags, we said our goodbyes. I am so grateful to him and Remi for hosting me for my trip in a week that has been busy and stressful for them. I enjoyed my time with them and as always Femi has been a wonderful friend and host. I feel he is a true friend and am honoured to feel so loved by him and I love him dearly and wish him and Remi every happiness and blessing for their future together.

As I left Lagos looking out of the plane window as always I wonder if I will return. I struggle at times in my trips when I feel restricted with no transport and reliant on Femi and others for my every move. I enjoy the food but also struggle with it, that amount of carbs/starch I find difficult and end up not being able to eat. I miss my family and friends. But saying all this there are many times that I just do the simple things like walking out, visiting markets, just mixing with the people or flying over looking at the mass of houses and just feel that I am meant to be part of this and love it.

In conclusion I hope I return, Lagos has changed even in the three years I have been there. Things are slowly starting to improve in some areas, and hopefully this will continue and our vision at Wish For Africa is that we can help improve the health care system for everyone, it often feels that we are swimming against the tide and for every effort we make we are then knocked back. It would be so easy to think why bother, it’s not worth it. On these occasions I just have to think of any of the individuals we have helped and I know it is worth it. One day WFA will get the breakthrough it needs and deserves, someone will pay attention and we will change things for the better. Until that day I thank everyone for their support and ask you to continue encouraging us, telling others about us and these tiny efforts will eventually impact on the health care system of Nigeria.

Monday, 2 May 2011

April 30th 2011 - Happy Birthday Tony

Today is my husband’s birthday. Happy birthday Tony, sorry I’m not there to share it with you. I texted Tony first thing in the morning.  I spoke to him as soon as I could to ask Femi and use his phone. All seemed well at home Tony liked his presents that had been left for him. It felt like a long day, Remi had got the car and was running around Lagos sorting out everything. Femi was downstairs and I was using a very slow and frustrating internet.

About three Femi and I took a walk to the basket market. They make the wicker items from scratch. There were women stripping the bamboo canes into strips, then a man making even thinner and tidying them up. Then others were weaving all sorts of items, from baskets, cribs, chairs to sofas. There were so many stalls and so much choice all under the fly over, it was quite a sight almost hidden to the traffic on the express way above them. I had my camera out and after taking a photo of the Weavers Association we got called into a room full of men asking why I was taking photos, in a very typical Nigerian man way, Femi reassured them with a small amount of money and they welcomed me. I also enjoyed some corn and coconut from the side of the road. This is something I always enjoy and hadn’t had this trip.
It was nice walking along the roads rather than driving, so many people say welcome and hello. It is such a different way of life, many things would just never happen in the UK. Yet here it’s the norm and no one bats an eye or even notices things could be different. Its said to be a dangerous place by some yet children play in the streets at such a young age not something you see in the UK, we fear that they will come to harm. So I ask where is it more dangerous or have we [UK] become so health and safety obsessed that we see danger in everything?

We then went to the photocopying shop, or rather shack the size of a small shed with leads and plugs all over and the oldest computers ever which you can use as an internet café. I sat on a bench while the photocopier spewed out its copies and a large fan kept the air circulating.

We returned home and met with Folekemi and Femi’s other sisters it was great to see her and as always she made me laugh and fussed other me. They stayed and ate and waited for Remi to return before leaving. A lady came round to put decorations on all the items for tomorrow everything is silver and pink and so much detail and tradition goes into this.

A little later when Remi had gone back out, Femi and I walked to the photocopy shop again to collect the items and while I waited for the suya man to cook my tasty what ever part of the cow it is, Femi had his hair cut and I sat watching Lagos go by in the dark of the evening. When you’re in the poorer communities so many more people acknowledge and welcome you, I guess its because they don’t see white people every day in these areas. 

April 29th 2011 - Let's go buy a ram

Today Remi was out early, I laid in and eventually got up and had breakfast with Femi. We then sat down to watch the DVD of the registry and church part of there wedding. They both looked stunning and very happy. Nigerian weddings do go on much longer than ours and they are full of singing, dancing, praising the Lord as well as plenty of advice from everyone on how to have a good marriage. At this point Femi reminded me it was the royal wedding today, which I have managed to avoid completely not being in the country.

Remi returned and we then went out to do some last minute things. I was measured for my wedding attire, the material is pink and silver sequins, I was told I’m going to have a gele the traditional headdress worn by the women but alas I don’t feel I can carry it off as they do.

We then went to a market in Surulere where Remi’s sister has a shop and we picked up some things for the wedding from there. As we walked along the market streets there were chickens being slaughtered, women cutting up tripe in bowl of water, very different to our markets. No shopping trolleys here but boys with wheel barrows eager to help you transport your wares for a small fee.

Then what was probably the highlight of the trip, we went to buy a ram. This was no visit to Sainsbury, this was a massive animal market with herds of goats, rams, chickens, guinea fowl. It is traditional for the bride and groom to buy the brides family a ram and this is what we did. There was a part of me that thought I should be disgusted by this place, compared with the conditions we have to keep animals in this was far below and health and safety rules in the UK but then again so is everything here. To the contrary I was enthralled by the place, it was so busy and life as it is here. People don’t go and buy shrink wrapped joints from the supermarket, they breed them, slaughter them and eat every bit of them, no wasting here.

We then had to transport this rather large ram ( I fondly called him Derek) to Remi’s parent’s house. So in the car it was put. Several helpful bystanders (all hoping for a reward) grabbed hold of this ram tied its feet and placed him in the boot of Femi’s car, thankfully it didn’t mess with nerves. We drove the ten minutes to Remi’s parents with this ram looking at me and barring which all felt rather amusing.

We then returned home and spent some time in my room, this is when I miss just picking up a phone and speaking to friends and family. Having to ask for someone phone and then worrying about their credit is not so easy or convenient. Later in the evening I was able to use the internet and at least chat on line with a few friends. Remi was up sorting things out till very late, she has worked so hard to make this wedding go just as she wants it.

April 28th 2011

Today Remi had lots of preparation and meetings to do, so I went along for the ride. After visiting the bank and dropping off Femi we headed for the wedding venue. We arrived to a reasonably modest looking place with a huge water feature outside, as we walked through the doors my jaws dropped it was huge, the size of a football pitch. From the inside it looked like a Marquee with reams of rouched material from ceiling to floor and massive diamond dropping chandeliers. Remi discussed the final details with various people wanting every detail to be perfect. As she does this sort of thing for a living its hard to hand her own wedding over to someone else. I sat sweating in the heat of the Marquee for what felt like hours but was only an hour or so. Femi popped in for a short time and he had Mr Dee with him. It was great to see him and after a huge hug and a few words they went.

We then made our way to the government offices for Remi to see her uncle. These were loads of buildings each one servicing a different facility. Cars were parked all over the place the usual Lagos chaos and rules (that there are no rules). We also bumped into one of Remi’s sisters and stopped to talk.

The rest of the day was spent weaving in and out the Lagos traffic. Finally we popped into Sweet Sensations for a meat pie for a late lunch. I have noticed that dotted around the area are these mesh like pieces of art, things like butterflies, brightly coloured and in random places. This I guess is part of Lagos’ attempt to beautify itself.

Femi also sorted out the internet, in a fashion, unfortunately my netbook hasn’t a disc drive so I couldn’t load it onto it. So I still remain without internet in my room or a local sim card so contacting family and friends, has not been easy or when I’ve wanted it. Which is frustrating but thankfully I’m only here for a week so I’m sure I will cope. The use I had allowed me to check out facebook and my emails which was useful.

April 27th 2011

A good nights sleep last night.  The first heavy rain of my trip was crashing down about 7.30 the noise made worse due to the tin roofs but typically it only lasted for 15 minutes or so. After my wash Femi sorted toast for breakfast and we went to meet my friend on the moped the money man.
We headed to Olowoora to see Gyles at the medical centre. Gyles is a medical student who contacted us at Wish for Africa wanting to spend time with us for his elective. It was the Ante natal clinic so a great opportunity to share the baby clothes that had kindly been donated to me and they were very well received along with some toys for the older ones. On my arrival all the women greeted me with a song and some dancing and of course I joined in. Gyles looked well and we handed him some money from WFA funds towards his costs as he was finding it difficult to sustain himself and was thinking of going to stay with someone, which we didn’t feel safe about due to not knowing them.

We then headed to Femi’s cousin who very sadly lost his wife last week. She had given birth to a beautiful baby boy and with a previous history of pre-eclampsia, this time it went to eclampsia a day or so after the birth. It sounds like the blood pressure may not have been well controlled and the hospital had decided not to do an autopsy, typically here the situation was probably covered up, no audit, no lessons learnt, no change of practise, no reviewed policies. Just a family with young children and a baby all with no mother, and this wasn’t even a poor family they could afford a good hospital, but so often it seems that the practises here are not as up-to-date, not evidence based and many people suffer not even realising it should and could be better.
The family although grieving were very welcoming, I was offered akara and made friends with the youngest daughter, who was only about 2 she shared her biscuits with me or should I say the crumbs which she amused herself by crumbling the biscuit on me, with fits of laughter. The grandmother decided I should be given a Nigerian name and suggested Adejoke (which apparently means some thing like gather around or together). It humbled me to think that these strangers in the midst of their grief can still be so warm and welcoming.

We visited a IVF clinic in Ikoyi  run by Dr Bolaji who trained in both Nigeria and Norway. He then decided to set up business here to provide a service to the increasing population of couples that are unable to conceive naturally. We were given an impromptu  guided tour of the unit by his wife and found it to be well run, clean and professional. There were several people being or waiting to be seen and they had a photo gallery of all the successful births. I also commented on and was impressed by a counselling service that they supply which is not a common thing in Nigeria. Stress, depression, mental health is not readily accepted here often thought of as a weakness or a blame thing, it was good to see that this clinic was taking the stress that often comes with the issues around IVF seriously and acknowledging and dealing with them.

As we drove I was trying to work out if things had really begun to improve here or was it that I was now used to the sights and they no longer surprise me. This in part is true I believe that familiarity does breed contempt but saying that the road sides generally were clean, the main road we travelled along had no major holes, it had a new layer of tarmac. The yellow buses had gone giving way to red and blue ones which had taken there place in a new government scheme allowing private enterprise to run the routes. They certainly looked an improvement on the previous buses. Nigeria has such a huge way to go in so many areas but things are beginning to change and that has to be a positive encouragement for its future.

April 26th 2011

As usual on my first night anywhere different I didn’t have the best sleep ever, the noise of the air con and what sounded like a generator humming outside kept disturbing me. Remi woke me around eight to ask if I wanted breakfast, I showered which is an all together different experience from home, not the high powered shower I am used to, but a bit more than a trickle, but with the aide of a bucket and bowl which every Nigerian must be familiar with all was OK.
Remi I feel is going to attempt to feed me to death, she made a huge breakfast of scrambled eggs, with mixed veg and chillies, sausages and toast a delicious start to the morning.

Today is Election Day (one of many as they don’t do them all on one day here). This means it’s quieter out, similar to a bank holiday. I walked with Femi and Remi to the polling station a few streets away. I was welcomed by the locals and offered food and shade, which I declined as I was full from my breakfast banquet. We got there only for Femi to find out his name wasn’t on their list to vote, even though he had a card saying to do so. They told him to return later in the day, it appeared he wasn’t the only one to not be included on the list.

Remi and I left Femi walked to see and discuss her wedding cake at the house of the Doctor who’s restaurant in Ikeja  I visited on my last trip where at last I had a great cup of coffee, a must visit for any one coming here. The doctor seemed a charming man who made us welcome and then walked with us some of the way back before catching his lift to another appointment.
We then visited some neighbours who had three lovely children the youngest about 16 months was very bemused by me and clung to Remi not being familiar with oyibo (white person). Eventually he smiled and clapped at me at least from a distance.
We went home and Remi prepared another lovely meal of fried rice, plantain and meat whilst I watch Nigerian TV from African Magic to music and a few American things in between.
We all rested in the afternoon heat and I read and blogged as well as grabbed forty winks before heading to the airport. Femi’s sister Folake was arriving from the UK, we were originally going to fly together but we couldn’t make the same day. We met up with other family members including Femi’s mum who I hadn’t met before but have heard a lot about from Femi. She is a lovely lady, reminding me of Folake in her ways laughter and talking. Also Folake’s older son who still lives in Lagos, when she arrived and saw him the tears of joy were unstoppable. It was a touching moment to see a mothers love for her son that she hadn’t seen in quite some time. We had been there for two hours waiting for her to come through with her baggage. In Lagos airport nobody is allowed inside to greet people, we even had to slip something into the guards hand to allow us to wait outside the doors, it’s a busy place. We all had our hugs and walked her to the car park past all the money touts and people trying to grab your business or attention.

On our return Remi wanted to cook again but we agreed on a lighter snack, Femi decided to do cup cakes Femi style, this ended up being a huge bowl of custard with a cup cake in it, which we all sat and enjoyed. Followed by a chase around the bath of the odd insect, before stupidly losing my ring down the sink plug hole! Then blog and bed and hopefully a better nights sleep.

April 25th 2011- Returning to Lagos

I have returned toLagos for the third time in as many years, but this time my charity work here isn’t my reason for coming. I have been invited to attend the wedding of Dr Femi Olaleye to the beautiful Aderemi.
I had a good flight from London, the plane was not full and I got three seats to myself which was great almost feeling first class, I put my feet up and relaxed, read my book and watched the Black Swan. The food however didn’t quite feel so first class with one of my least favourite combinations for sweet, rhubarb and ginger.
As I looked out at the now familiar terrain of Lagos, which suddenly appears after the green landscape before it, a mass of brown, blue and red roofs and the yellow buses and taxis on the busy roads, we landed smoothly. I departed the plane feeling less anxious than on previous journeys, knowing what to expect. The escalator down, which can be manic at the bottom if queues are backing up and end in people falling onto each other, was even ok this time, although I was cautious to check before embarking onto it.  
I went though the control with relative ease, even remembering to write an address down on my blue form. I walked to get my trolley gave my hundred naira and waited for my bags, and waited and waited. Eventually as most passengers had picked up their luggage and left the airport I was just starting to feel anxious when “Hallelujah” I said aloud as my bag came through onto the conveyer belt. I had received a text and knew Femi was waiting (patiently) outside, so I headed out saying no thank you to the many offers of help from the many people trying to make their money from the airport traffic. I looked around the area which as always is manically busy and loud and caught Femi waving in the distance, welcome to Lagos.
We took the short drive to Femi and Remi’s home which is situated in a well secured area of town. I was welcomed by Remi to their house and shown to my room, all a far cry from Femi’s previous lodgings in Mafoluku. Remi prepared a lovely meal with pounded yam and then I retired to my room where I unpacked and went to bed.