Saturday, 14 August 2010

Calabar - worth the trip.

After my stressful journey I finally made it to the beautiful city of Calabar. With its wide streets and actual pavements designed for pedestrians (these don’t exist in Kaduna) it was a really relaxing place to visit.
The VSO workshop I was invited to was about ‘Market Development’, an approach to development which sees NGOs engaging with all levels of a supply chain (referred to as a value chain) to help the most vulnerable in the chain (usually the small farmers) to get more money for their products and hard work thus creating a way out of poverty. It works through ensuring better information flows throughout the supply chain and working with all ‘actors’ in the chain. I found it an interesting approach, and because HVC work with rural farmers it could be a useful tool for us as an NGO.

Our workshop group, mostly representing NGOs in
Calabar, and government members. 
Part of the workshop involved a field trip to interview some of the actors from the palm oil value chain. Palm oil is produced from the fruit of the palm tree, it is a distinctive bright red colour and the most commonly used oil in many Nigerian dishes. My group visited a local market to interview a palm oil seller and practice our research skills, on the basis that we might be carrying out research into other value chains such as rice, ground nuts, etc at a later point. It gave a really interesting insight into the process the small scale retailers go through and how low their profit margins are.

This monkey was very interested in defending her partner
from the visitors. 

The workshop ran for three days, and at the end of each day Mercy and I did our best to see the sights of Calabar. On the first day we went to the CERCOPAN monkey sanctuary. CERCOPAN rescue monkeys from the bush meat trade, and look after others which have been mistakenly kept as pets. The plan is to rehabilitate them and return them to the wild, and in the meantime they work with communities living near their habitats to prevent them from hunting them for bush meat which can be sold for high profits. 

On the Wednesday evening four of us visited Tinapa (right), a new development designed to attract tourists to the region. It is a duty free zone, with space for two thousand cars, but when we arrived it was strangely desolate, and we were practically the only visitors. It was still interesting to visit the massive T mart shop which priced all its goods in dollars, and seemed like a Nigerian version of TK Maxx, I could even have bought some Clark’s shoes if I wanted to! Mercy bought a bag and managed to get two Naira change, this might be the only shop in Nigeria which offers Naira coins, before then the smallest amount I’d seen was a five Naira note. 

On the Thursday most of the other participants from outside Calabar travelled home, but I stayed an extra day to see more of of the city. I spent a very relaxing day visiting the sights.

I started my day at the Drill monkey sanctuary in the north of the city. The drill monkey population is extremely endangered in Nigeria, because they are hunted for bush meat, and kept as exotic pets. The people who set up the sanctuary began with one monkey, but some have been born there, and others donated by hunters or people who have owned them as pets. The sanctuary is linked to the Afi Drill monkey ranch, in the bush in Cross River State where the monkeys are taken to be closer to their natural environment, so that they can be released into the wild in the future.  The sanctuary also has other animals which they have been given, including two small crocodiles and a deer which tried to eat my lunch.

I then got a bus into town, and wandered around the Duke Town area of the city which has the first primary school in West Africa, and an old church built in 1904. as I was about to take a photo of one of the older looking buildings I was spotted by Smruti, a fellow VSO who arrived at the same time as me (turns out the building was her office) and joined her for lunch which was lovely. I met her colleagues and some of the children her NGO works with, one of who came and gave me a big hug! 
The friendly children at Smruti's office. 

Smruti's office.

Next I moved on to the Calabar museum, where I was told to ‘read fast, because the generator is on’ I didn’t quite understand the instruction until I was plunged into darkness half way through the exhibition. Apparently my 100 naira (40p) entrance fee only provided ten minutes of light. The parts I was able to see gave an interesting history of Calabar and the influence of the palm oil trade and the slave trade on the region. The building was a beautiful colonial structure, and in the grounds stood a dilapidated British telephone box! Another sign of British involvement in the region. 

After my trip to the museum I strolled down the hill to the marina resort on the river front, where I had a soft drink and tried to recover my energy for the journey back to the hotel.

At the hotel I met up with Sunita, another VSO who was my host for the night at her place in the south of the city. She made me an incredible Indian feast from scratch, and in the dark, then I had a very early night as I was exhausted from my day of trekking across the city. All in all I had a wonderful day in Calabar, and I can definitely see why it’s got a reputation for being a tourist destination they have a big carnival there at Christmas, so that may prompt a return.  

My week ended in a similar way to how it began. The journey back to Abuja the next day took 14 hours, as the bus broke down and had to be repaired along the way. Luckily I was with Abdul, a friend who works for VSO and was at the workshop too, so we were able to laugh (later) about the length of our journey. And this time we were very far away from the Delta, so I was able to see a different part of Nigeria which had far less check points and made for interesting sights all over again. 


  1. Have you got any notes or anything from the workshop? Hope so, because I'll be picking your brain about market development and supply chains when you get back! I am quite jealous that your week consisted of that workshop and a monkey sanctuary.

  2. Hey Dan, yes I have some notes, I could even email you them if you're that keen? Or are you joking... I can't quite tell. Come to visit! Hope all is going well PHD wise.

  3. I am not joking. You could email it to me if it's no trouble, but I'll wait until you get back - Dan

  4. I sometimes rented a car and drove from event to event in Europe; a road trip was a great escape from the day-to-day anxieties of playing, and it kept me from getting too lost in the tournament fun house with its courtesy cars, caterers, locker room attendants, and such — all amenities that create a firewall between players and what you might call the 'real' world — you know, where you may have to read a map, ask a question in a foreign tongue, find a restaurant and read the menu posted in the window to make sure you're not about to walk into a joint that serves only exotic reptile cuisine.

  5. Sorry, after laughing hysterically at least once a paragraph, I just had to write. The last laugh preceding this comment was the outage at the museum... from a Nigerian, I must commend you on your ability to see Nigeria through that lens of humor, awareness, incredulity, annoyance, resignation and optimism that is uniquely naija. Thanks for the blog.