Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A "jolly" to Bida

A jolly is a British term for a business trip which implies that you will be travelling at someone else's expense and probably staying in a nice hotel and drinking a few beers in the evening. Before this “jolly” I was told that the best hotel in Bida didn’t have hot water, and that there was no beer. I asked if we could take beer with us, and my colleague asked if I wanted to be tried under Sharia Law for drinking alcohol!

The purpose of our trip was to build efficient wood-burning stoves for a school in Bida, following a successful funding proposal to the Swiss Embassy. In Nigeria it is estimated that 95 million people (the population is around 150 million) rely on wood fuel for cooking, this is mainly burnt on traditional “three-stone” fires, which are inefficient and smoky, the World Health Organisation estimates that 79,000 Nigerians die annually from Indoor Air Pollution, (the highest in the world). Most schools also cook this way, this project is a pilot, so that the lessons learned can be shared across the state Niger, in this case. Each state adopts a name, Niger is the State of Power, (more later) lets hope Jos, the State of Peace of Justice can become that soon.

So our team set off to Bida, Emily (that’s me), Okeychukwu my colleague, and Adrian our stove expert from the UK. We went in a very nice air conditioned vehicle with driver Ifay, and picked up Jiks in Minna to act as interpreter / local guide. (Our Minna meeting point and lunch stop was of course Mr Biggs)
Our first visit was to the school where we met the Vice Principal and saw the current kitchen, met the cooks and some students.  The flowerbed shown has the text "Welcome to GGSB" (Government Girls School Bida)

Then to our hotel the Al Haramain Guest Palace, here a photo of my palatial room and bed big enough for at least three, Nigerian’s have very big beds. There was a little too much wildlife for my liking woodworm in the ceiling panels guaranteed a fresh scattering of yellow dust on my pillow throughout the day, and a rat. The good news was that I didn’t see it until the last night, the bad news, it ran under my bed and appeared to stay there.

The next day we arrived at the workshop and started working with some local metalworkers to build the stoves. Work went well and the guys were interested and helpful, the design was modified a few times as we went along. There were a few “challenges” to a Western eye, such as the sunglasses used for eye protection while welding, the wiring, and several small children watching and also damaging their eyes.

My promise that there would be constant electricity in the State of Power was soon put to the test when the power went off. No problem the workshop had a generator, but first we needed permission to use it and then we needed fuel. When I went back to my colleague who had promised constant electricity the story changed to its generated here, and transmitted elsewhere.

Looking for pots – the stove we are making requires custom made pots, so we went to look for someone to make them, we found this man and his wares in town and contracted his services.

Getting covered in clay – the stove needs to be insulated, our online research had suggested a mix of clay and fine sawdust, as you can imagine a messy job.

Finding beer –  the advantage of having a driver was we could get a much needed drink in the evening, you just have to know the right person. So Mr Bob took us to the Army Barracks, where we got very nice fish pepper soup and a beer.

Mourning – on the final morning of my first trip to Bida (more later), we arrived at the workshop, to hear that the owner had been bereaved in the night so we couldn’t work out of respect. It was suggested that we go to pay our respects. So we drove into town, fortunately I was carrying a scarf so I covered my head, and followed my 5 male colleagues into the house. As I was expecting the women separated from the men as we walked in. I didn’t want to get stranded with the women so loitered outside and was then invited into the place the men were, so I just sat to one side. The workshop owner greeted us all and we left, and were able to continue using the workshop for the rest of the day.

It was great to be away from Abuja and see a bit more of Africa, but I was relieved to be back in the city, with my hot water and rat free bedroom for a few days.  One of the nearly completed stoves is shown below.

More Bida pics

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emily,

    My name is Martin and I am writing to you on behalf of a website that I am currently involved in starting up. We aim to provide prospect volunteers with all the information they need in order to feel confident in their choice of organisation, position and destination, as well as inspire people to make the jump and try out volunteering.

    As a part of that, I was wondering whether you might be interested in answering a few questions and perhaps sharing any advice you may have for people who are considering to volunteer.

    If you think you might have time to do this, I'd love to hear from you. You can reach me through, and you can view the website I'm representing at

    Thanks, and keep up your amazing work!

    Martin Jonsson