"The king is really looking forward to meeting you!" I'd been told, before I even got there. "He's been looking forward to it for months in fact!" He had apparently heard of my previous work in the neighboring city of Ibadan.
It was a long journey from Australia, via Dubai and Egypt, with Egyptair wasting a day by marooning an entire planeload of us Nigeria-bound passangers in Cairo. By the time I arrived in the broad hot plains of Nigeria my digestive tract was in complete disarray (due, incidentally, I believe, to some "texas style chicken" in the Dubai airport).
Nevertheless I received a warm welcome from my colleagues at The Organization's Abuja office and that evening the beautiful and elegant Princess (actual princess) Nwaji came to hang out with me despite my being practically bedridden with intestinal distress.
It took two more days to get to "Shakiland," a sprawling village of ramshackle-looking houses of rough-brick with tin roofs, one large royal palace ("large" being relative, many a lawyer or doctor in the West may live in bigger mansions), and one local government headquarters on top of the hill that look looked like imposing concrete fortress out of Star Wars, jutting above everything else like some kind of dystopian tower.
On the leafy sun-dappled grounds of the state development agency the next day we had an opening ceremony for the development project. Local dignitaries in suits spoke, and what was said in English was translated for the many farmers sitting in their colorful robes. The seating area was large, but many of the seats were empty -- I was informed we were missing a large number of people because the king had died just the day before.
The work began immediately, every day a frenzy of trying to visit as many sites as possible between the five principal villages of Shakiland. Year-later impact reports from earlier projects had indicated a 60% increase in community income from the projects ("and we can now afford to send our children to school"), and this one seemed even more successful than usual. The beekeepers were so enthusiastic, hungry for knowledge and energized to put it into effect immediately. I'd have also really liked to work in another visit to my previous project site in the Nigerian state of Nasarawa, but there wasn't enough time. I had to hurry to my next project in Egypt.
After the frenzy of Nigeria, a five hour flight to Cairo, and I walked out of the terminal to be met by the (Different) Organization's driver, who had a manila envelope for me with keys to the guest house and a note that said "See you on Sunday!" It was Thursday evening. I had rushed out of Nigeria, where I could have accomplished some very much appreciated work with some extra days, only to cool my heels in Cairo for two whole days.
In the guesthouse, a flat on the seventh floor of an apartment building in an upscale part of Cairo, I met some other agricultural consultants, a potato expert, a tomato expert, and a citrus expert. All of them told me the same story -- "there's already three PhDs working on the operation I'm here to visit, I don't know why I'm here!"
Over the next two weeks in Egypt, I spent nine days working and five frustratedly trying to enjoy this thing called "free time" that they expected me to enjoy. The beekeepers a I met with were among the more affluent members of their communities, they exported bees throughout the region, they had taken over the formerly Australian-serviced market of selling bees to the Arab peninsula (bees don't survive year round there), and were even exporting bees to the former beekeeping powerhouse of Turkey. One beekeeper proudly showed me the cards of the previous three beekeeping consultants aid dollars had sent to him from America.
Walking through a tightly packed enclosure of 500 hives, all jammed side by side, the beekeeper looks hopefully at me for comments on his hives. The sun is hot overhead. At the other end, his two employees, working for a pittance, clad in bee suits, are busy with their daily work in the hives. I tell him they look very well maintained, he looks disappointed, he wants something he hasn't heard before. I tell him he should spread them out, he tells me it isn't practical. I tell him he should let them expand to be bigger hives, not split them every time they get big enough to be what I'd call a strong colony. He laughs and tells me I'll never convince an Egyptian beekeeper to do that, and takes a long drag at his cigarette.
I have a theory about the projects in Egypt -- I think aid money is shoveled on them regardless of whether they need it, because the US wants to say it's spending X amount on their dear allies the Egyptians. I also have a theory that I'm not getting invited back to Egypt. But the Nigerian people have bestowed the name of Oyeyemi Omowale on me, "our son has returned," and the Chieftaincy title of Soyindaro -- "maker of honey into wealth," and I look forward to returning. In the mean time, next month: Guinea in West Africa!
Project Nigeria 251 (/ photo set)
Project Egypt 2013 (/ photo set)
All development project entries