Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Stir Crazy!

I know that my sewing followers will be very impatient for me to get to the costumes and fabrics, and I do have lots to tell on that front, but first I really have to say something about the security arrangements and our guards.



Yesterday evening Ross Kemp (those of you in the UK will know this chap from Eastenders and the various real life programmes that he does where he investigates dangerous things) was on Sky One in a programme about Somalia and Pirates and the associated kidnappings in Rivers State. It showed very exciting footage of driving around Port Harcourt with the Swift Op Squad. Well that is exactly what it was like for us! Except that I don't think any of us felt scared, it was exciting! We went as trusting as lambs with our very competent body guards and our trust was definitely well founded. They seemed to be very experienced and well trained.


They took very special care of us indeed. Our first drive from the airport was in the dark and pouring rain (perhaps thankfully) and we were a little confused as to which side of the road was normal in Nigeria and when we were told that they drive on the right... we were even more confused because we had most definitely been driving for a good part of the journey on the left hand side of the road. We discovered as the week went on that this is a common tactic for the security forces, if the correct side of the road is blocked with traffic (which it frequently was) we would simply cross over the central reservation and head towards the oncoming vehicles with sirens and horns blaring! Most cars got out of our way very quickly!


Another tactic we became familiar with was 'the secret service swivel'. This was when the police landrover in front and behind would start swerving back and forth across the road to prevent any vehicles drawing up along side us. There were a few occasions when the traffic was very dense and our escorts became a little agitated and began 'flogging' the nearby cars out the window in order to get them to move out of the way... since the police are all very heavily armed only the stupidest of drivers would ignore this request.


We did give them some hairy moments though. One of our intrepid soapmaking teachers is a little phobic of lizards - and there were a number of lizards of a fair size running wild all over the place. When inadvertently one of them raced over her foot she cried out in alarm and instantly the guards responded thinking she was in danger and then realising it was some kind of wildlife and assuming a snake offerred to shoot it for her... when they saw that it was the harmless lizard they all laughed heartily!




On another occasion, a guard was invited in to the bedroom to remove a huge moth, but misunderstanding why he was being called urgently into the house, his heart was pounding fiercely, adrenalin flowing, thinking that there was an intruder that he would have to encounter.



With most of us being fairly active women you can imagine that being cooped up within a small compound and then escorted under armed guard to an even smaller one for the training soon had us 'stir crazy'.
Beyond our compound wall was a road and another wall with a second security gate, beyond that was a golf course. We would have liked to have walked the golf course but the best we could manage was a short walk between the two security walls and the guards were not happy about us doing that, in fact it caused them so much distress, we stopped asking to go there so often.



The front gate... from the inside.


I am sorry to say that we gazed longingly out of the mini bus window at colourful markets and shops and voiced our longings to go shopping too frequently, and too loudly. It was, of course, out of the question. But as our hosts were very keen to make us happy, arrangements were made for us to go to church on the second Sunday and then to visit 3 shops on the Saturday afternoon before our homeward flight which was at 10 in the evening. I can only imagine at the cost of this extra security and certainly the bother we caused to Judith who had to organise it all. It must have been very worrying for our hosts and I feel a little bad about it now.







This is just a couple of the shops that we saw on our way to work each day. The rubble that you can see lying about is typical of the whole city. Apparently the Governor drove around one day and noticed that people had built huge security walls so high that nothing could be seen behind them. He ordered that the walls be pulled down to half the height they were, and everyone duly complied, but they havent got around to removing the rubble yet!

One of our guards who is called Sebastine was very interested in conservation and wildlife and he told me all about the wonderful countryside in Rivers State and the wildlife that you could see, except of course, at the moment it is not safe for non Nigerians (and sometimes not safe for Nigerians either!) to go anywhere in Rivers State without the kind of security outlined above. This is very sad.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing about all of this, I almost feel like I was there. Great pictures!

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  2. Good greif Jane! I think you are the intrepid ones!! x

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  3. Amazing, Jane, have loved reading this.

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