So you can imagine how beside myself with excitement I am as I have been asked by Melinda Coss to join with her and another 6 soap making teachers to go to Nigeria to teach 1500 Nigerian women how to make soap. The other soap makers are coming from all over europe and most of us have not met before, although many of us have corresponded by email for a number of years, being part of the worldwide soap making community online.
Melinda was asked by Her Excellency Lady Judith O. Amaechi to put a team of soap teachers together to come to the Rivers State (one of the poorest areas in Nigeria) as part of her work to improve conditions for the women living there. The idea is that these women will go home with their new soapmaking skills and, hopefully, start small soap making business's. There are going to be a lot of obstacles and difficulties for these women but if only one or two out of all 1500 actually manages to make a go of her business then I would consider it a very worthwhile thing that we have done.
Many of these women will walk quite long distances (possibly taking days) to come and learn how to make soap and who knows what arrangements they have had to make in order to have the time to come and do this.
The Foreign Office has this to say about the Rivers State in Nigeria:
'We advise against all travel to the Niger Delta States of Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers (including Port Harcourt) and advise British nationals in these States to leave. This is because of the very high risk of kidnapping, armed robbery and other armed attacks in these areas. There is a general threat from terrorism in Nigeria. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
If you decide to travel to or remain in these areas it would be reckless to do so unless and until you have taken full, appropriate professional security advice and have acted on it. You must be vigilant at all times and make sure that your local host and family know your travel plans and timings. You should register with the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos on arrival. See the General (Registration) section of this advice for more details. Limit your movements to only essential journeys. Vary your routines. If travelling by road you should only travel in fully protected transport. Keep your car doors locked and windows closed and maintain telephone or radio communications to report your movements. You should consider permanent armed protection, but be aware that even this cannot guarantee your safety.'
We will be staying in Port Harcourt. Right at the bottom of the map.
Since we are to be given the highest level security protection (no sight seeing trips), I thought that the difficulties I could face on this trip would be minimal compared to the hardships borne every day by a great number of the women who live there.
Some of the people I know (both friends and family) have said "Don't Go!!" or told me tales of how awful the accommodation will be, how many diseases I could catch etc... and I thought about it very carefully before deciding... YES I AM GOING!! There is a great possibility that I shall be operating way outside of my comfort zone, but what is life for... ? If not for experiences like this?
I was first asked to go by Melinda in January and up until now there has been a lot of muddle and confusion over insurance, visas, innoculations and even the dates of travel, that's before we even get to think about the actual soap making bit. But at last the date is set and flights are booked. We leave on 27th May.
In case you are wondering that's Stanley meeting Dr Livingstone in 1871 near Lake Tanganyika which is absolutely no where near where I will be! And I will not be wearing a pith hat either.
I will keep you updated on how arrangements are progressing.