Oh Intern-Et Where Art Thou?
I know what you’re thinking; Where on Earth have you been?
My only response to that question which is exactly what my editor is going to ask me once I sheepishly drag myself into a meeting to explain what exactly I have been doing for the last 3 weeks and what I have to show for it is: “Where exactly haven’t I been and what exactly haven’t I seen over the month of August?”
It began on the 5th of August at the music festival Shambhala located on a ranch in Nelson, BC. The aim was to go and experience what Shambhala means through the eyes of a first time festival goer and the results of that were more than I could have imagined. The sense of community and togetherness that was experienced is something I feel city dwellers should try to place in their communities.
Not up to a couple hours into being back in Calgary buzzing from the music and the overwhelming feeling that settles when you realize that life in the big city is really not as pleasant as it would seem with fast cars zipping by and an urgency that can only be experienced in a big city as well as the exhaustion that comes from a 6 hour drive from Nelson, a plane ticket to Nigeria was delivered via express e-mail.
I called my parents instantly and my first line to them was… “I will have Internet right?” Already as it stands I am the worst at communicating, the fear of not being connected in any shape or form was more important to me than the actual plane ticket to Nigeria. “It will be fine,” they said, “we are sure you will have steady Internet to please you.”
They were wrong. What they failed to say was that in a bigger city such as Abuja or Lagos, this problem may not be faced, but for a town or village in Nigeria the circumstances are different.
A weekend without being connected is manageable for people immersed in online activities for their jobs, personal pleasure or TV watching, but 10 days without being connected to the grand scheme of things had me worrying. But really how do you say no to a plane ticket to Africa? I didn’t have a choice and I definitely wasn’t going to object.
So with $20 in my back pocket I hopped on a plane, destination Abuja, Nigeria with a final stop at Gboko, Benue State.
Nigeria turned out to be an eye opener of many sorts. The people although devoid of constant electricity, running water and steady Internet, are still moving and surviving in a way that shows sustainability as the future.
Community still holds a great importance in the lives of Nigerians and even though the government may be doing nothing to enhance the standard of living for the average Nigerian, many people are doing what they can to survive without what many in Canada consider to be the basic necessities of life.
Today as it stands computers are still a luxury item and as opposed to Canada where there are 3 laptops to 1 home, Nigeria still has many homes without computers or anything that may connect them to the outside world.
Most homes come with a well or bore hole for water and a generator for electricity to run home appliances such as fridges and freezers.
I know exactly what you are thinking; “So how on earth did you have time to update your Facebook account?” The journeys made to find a place with a simple connection that worked was enough to drive anybody insane. At times it took a whole day of hopping between Internet cafés depending on which side of the city had electricity or whoever had their generators as well as their servers up and running.
The Internet cafés were nothing to write home about, there were no fancy coffee barrister to serve you coffee while you surf and it took a minimum of 30 minutes to load a page if you were lucky. From talking with other users in the café, many users spend a maximum of 8 hours a day at an Internet Café, so they can surf the web.
After much Internet seeking, Facebook was all I had the patience for. Once I let go of my attachment to the Internet, my eyes began to see more; the people and the culture came alive as they find other ways to entertain themselves. It was the first time in months that I had read a book without the distractions of social media networking and online activity. Life had definitely slowed down.
After 10 days of no electricity or running water, a person’s perspective on what life is actually all about changes. The urgency for the “now” experienced in the first world slides down a notch, because people were not tied to their computers and Blackberry’s, community had more of a solid tie, especially when a football match came on and the only TV in the area was at the local bar. The crowds and cheers could be heard a mile away.
So leaving all Internet aside, armed with my cameras, one for pictures and one for video footage, I blended into the community and went around observing the life and culture of the Tiv people from Benue State. My stories will now be focused on cultural observations and community not only in Africa but in Canada as well.
To come from a country of abundance in technology and solid infrastructure to a country full of community and a lack of technology as well as basic amenities definitely take a toll on a persons understanding of what is important and what is not important. I can say this much, compared to the popular television show True Blood, the action just from the streets was enough to keep me entertained.
With all this said however, communication is very important in Nigeria, they may not have constant access to the Internet but everyone has a cell phone and is connected to a pay as you go service. When you run out of credit, you simply recharge with a pay as you go card. The streets are filled with vendors for every mobile telephone company. Contracts as well as paying for incoming calls is a strange concept and very much frowned upon when explaining how the telephone companies work in Canada. Many people own more than one, for their numbers associated to different companies.
Right after I got back from Africa, I got the opportunity to visit Morley, Alberta for the breaking of the ground for the new youth center to be shared with the neighboring bands. Even as the community came together to celebrate the new youth center, the elders placed a lot of emphasis on the preservation of the Native culture as many are losing their official languages and losing their children to violence and substance abuse on the reserves. This is a phenomenon so opposite to that of Africa, the weight of this can only be felt once you step foot on the land and see young men dressed in jerseys and baggy jeans and gang colored bandanna’s hanging from their sagging jean pockets.
It saddened me to see that there was not one member of the press other than myself to report on the new exciting opportunity that is being created for the youth of Morley.
To say that I have come full circle is an understatement as I continue to be blessed with such circumstances and I hope you enjoy the reports that will come as a result of this.
Your faithful intern,