The warmth of Nigeria….

Ok, you know those goofy t-shirts with I “heart” whatever on them?  Well, if I could find one here I would buy it, and proudly wear it…….everyday.  I LOVE Nigeria.  I truly do.  The people, the food, the fashion, the formalities, the children, and above all, their acceptance of visitors – I feel welcomed here.  It’s a sense of belonging.

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Every day we are warmly welcomed, with the customary “You’re welcome” and “How was your night?”  I’ve found myself slowing down my usual frantic pace of life, to offer my own “I’ve very well, how was your night?  How is your family?”  Pausing a bit more than usual, to simply chat.  And, to listen.  This authentic warmth extends to everyone I’ve met and spoken with so far in Abuja – from those in the city to the villages, plus uber drivers, service workers, government employees, children, adults, you name it, it’s the way Nigerians seem to roll.  Or, maybe it’s the pride they feel about introducing visitors to their customs, culture, and ways.

I started to wonder about this……How do Nigerians maintain such a sense of joy and acceptance of others in the face of some pretty challenging circumstances?  It could have something to do with Nigeria’s extremely diverse population – more than 250 ethnic groups live here.  And while not always harmonious, most have found a way to co-exist – and communicate.  While  English is the official language, Yoruba, Ibo, and Hausa represent the principal languages, joined by Kanuri, Fulani, Nupe, Tiv, Edo, Ijaw and Ibibio.  Interesting to note, also, that Nigeria’s national flag consists of a field of green, white, and green, divided into three equal parts. Green represents the agricultural richness of the nation, while the white stands for unity and peace.  Telling.

As weekend #2 here comes to a close, I wanted to share a few memorable moments of experiencing the beautiful country and people of Nigeria…

Just like our first Saturday in Abuja, we kicked off Saturday #2 with CrossFit at the US Embassy employee residential compound – super tough class given the full African sun was out in full force.  Here a few of us are, together with the UK Col Pat who leads the cool down….Go Team!

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CrossFit!

Post workout, a few of us ventured poolside at the hotel to cool off, where our very own SCC Abuja teammate, Marvin – a former competitive collegiate swimmer – made a fortuitous challenge to 2 of the Nigerian national swimmers:  an individual medley consisting of 4 pool lengths.  This was getting interesting.   On your mark, get set, go!  And, we were off.  Needless to say, Marvin kicked it up – and won, by a landslide.  Nice job!  Radhesh caught the entire race on video, but here’s a snapshot….

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Next up was gathering back up with our entire team and hitting the road for a trip to the outskirts of Abuja to visit the Bwari Pottery Village.  While on our journey, we found ourselves weaving in and out of several small, hustling and bustling villages….
The Bwari Pottery Village is made up of various thatched mud houses that house artistes and craftsmen who work with various materials to create paintings, leather works, pottery, decorative lanterns, among many others.  It’s also where the Bwari Soap Company is located which trains women in soap and shea butter production and product development – contributing to the development of a strong community business and creating jobs for local women in the process.  Check out a cool video here about this pottery making process.  Plus, more photos below…

 And now the highlight of the day………a Nigerian wedding.  Who would have thought the day we visited Bwari Pottery Village just so happened to be the day the owner was getting married.  A truly gracious and welcoming gentleman, he extended an invite to all of us to attend his wedding, and turns out, we spontaneously became the guests of honor.  We are now official Nigerian wedding crashers!

We found ourselves front and center as the ceremony was getting underway – with the wedding MC asking each of us to stand up, introduce ourselves and say a few words to the bride and groom.  In a moment of grace, all of us managed to think fast on our feet and offer words of advice and well wishes to the couple….and then, the dancing began.  As the celebration kicked into full gear, we found ourselves grooving to the beat of some pretty awesome live African music – even joining in with the drummers and going with the flow.  Needles to say, we had a hard time gracefully bowing out of the rest of the celebration, with guests piling into our van for last minute photo ops.  What a day!  What a perfectly glorious and beautiful day here in Abuja.

IMG_3276As we drove out of Bwari Pottery Village and wound our way through the curvy roads towards Abuja, we just so happened to come across yet one more sign of the warm welcome we’ve been given – a reminder perhaps of why we are all here in Abuja.  Could it be a sign that the best is yet to come?  We think so.  Up next?  Our last week in Abuja……lots more in store!

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Smarter Cities Challenge Team Abuja

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1 Comment

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One response to “The warmth of Nigeria….

  1. Rick

    Maria – what an amazing time you and your teammates are having! Best success in your presentation this week!