Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't make plans, make options.

"Don't make plans, make options." I saw this quote in a magazine during my layover in Frankfurt before the last leg of our trip into Abuja. I didn't realize at the time that the very nature of international development work and our exchange trip, in particular, would be so wisely foreshadowed by that admonition.

If you've been following my tweets or Facebook status updates, you know I've been back in the States for a few days already. We flew into New York City on 9/11 after a few changes related to our program itinerary in Nigeria. It has been a bit like the amazing race.
• We learned upon arrival in Nigeria that the public universities had been on strike for the past 3 months. The guest house at the University of Benin had then written to our program coordinator explaining that our group's safety could not be guaranteed due to the security concerns. It was agreed by the State Department and US Embassy that we should not proceed with our original plan to stay 3 weeks in Benin City.

• We extended our stay in Abuja, visiting with additional businesses and civil society organizations. We were also able to travel further north in Nigeria, to Kaduna state, to visit Jos Wildlife Park and the national history museum.

• We were able to visit Lagos, which was not part of our original program, and realized how much more developed and wealthy the former capital city is compared to Abuja. Typical signs of modernization, including paved roads, shopping malls, and a healthy night life, abounded. This was, of course, in sharp contrast to houses on stilts in the Lagos Island Lagoon, people urinating freely on the streets, and extreme impoverishment. It felt at times, however, not so different from Manhattan.
Speaking of, we spent our first day back in the U.S. in New York City and then drove that night down the coast to Washington, DC for a weekend of rest to recover from jet lag. From there, we headed to Baton Rouge, LA where we have joined on with a Ugandan delegation focused on entrereneurship and business at Southern University for 2 weeks. The final component of our program will then kick off at Wilberforce University in Ohio.

One peculiar thing I remember about making payments in Nigeria was that they were quite comfortable operating on trust. If they didn't have a 50 naira bill for me when I paid for my Internet service, they'd tell me to use my half hour of time online and that they'd have my change ready for me before I left. And they always did. No doubt that philosophy permeated throughout our trip. At one point after we had veered off the original schedule, our group stopped making plans and focused daily on navigating the available options. And the Nigerians did not fail to give us the meaningful hospitality and experience we requested before we left the country.

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