What’s your excuse for not going to work?

I’m not sure how many people celebrated Andy Murray’s Wimbledon final appearance last night.  One thing is certain, a few ‘sickies’ will have been taken today!  But spare a thought for our guys who are trying to drill boreholes in Jos.

On Saturday, fresh violence broke out in Plateau State.  The scene of the violence was nine villages in Barikin Ladi Local Government Area.  In the last couple of years, our drilling team has completed a number of boreholes around Barikin Ladi.

Gunmen, who also made use of explosives, reportedly attacked the villages in the early hours of Saturday.  The suspicion is that a Fulani group carried out the attacks in retaliation for the arrest of Fulani men suspected to have killed a policeman.  Inhabitants of one village ran to the church and sheltered in the house of the Pastor, where they were cornered and murdered.

Fifty bodies were later recovered!

On Sunday, during the mass burial, gunmen attacked mourners and claimed even more victims!

Is it any wonder that Jos is described as “tense” this morning?  Is it any wonder that Tim instructed our guys to stay at home?

Please pray that peace will return to Plateau and that those bereaved will be comforted.


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Africa’s different pace …..

…. we read about it all the time.  The way that we, in the West, are obsessed with speed.  So much so that we make ourselves ill with stress, worrying about all those things that we can’t get done.  On the other hand, people living on most of the other continents have a slightly different view of time and pace (OK, granted, the Americans are like us …. well, the East Coast ones anyway).

But there’s another angle to this.  Cultural awareness and acceptance.  Do we appreciate that asking Africans to work at our speed is sometimes inappropriate?  Does our African team appreciate that asking us to work at their pace is also sometimes inappropriate?  I guess we just need to go on a cross-cultural training course!  But would that get rid of the frustration?  Consider the following episode from the TASTE diary.

down the hole drill bits

Halco drill bits

Our new CEO, Ben Udejiofo, takes the reins and settles into the poorly upholstered Chief Exec’s seat.  He begins to communicate with Tim, our team leader in Jos.  There’s a problem.  We need a new drill bit to do our next job and we can’t find a stockist who has one.  This is a real problem because without the drill bit, nothing can happen.  Ben encourages Tim to scour the suppliers – to no avail.  Ben mentions this to past CEO, Steve, who has family in Lagos.  Two e-mails later and we are talking to a major supplier of consumables in Lagos.  “No, we don’t keep that size”.  ‘Do you know anyone else who might?’  “No”.  Great!

Then Ben has a brainwave – that’s why we appointed him!  There is a manufacturer of quality drill bits in Halifax.  A couple of phone calls later and a new bit is on its way, via DHL, to Jos.  Three days later, the team have their new drill.

“How’s the drilling going Tim?”

“Not started yet”

“Why?  Didn’t the drill arrive?”

“Oh, yes, that’s great.  But the Land Rover developed an oil leak.”

“But the mechanic was working on it last week”  “Yes, but he didn’t spot the leak”.

One week later the mechanic is still working on the oil leak; either it’s a big job or he’s very slow …. and Ben has encountered his first glimpse of different work patterns and pace in central Nigeria!

But at least the drilling team managed to drill the hole with the new bit … they are just waiting now for the Land Rover to get fixed to tow the compressor to site so that they can flush the hole and finish off.  What’s the betting the compressor develops a fault ….

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Remember the old drinking fountains?

drinking fountain

Perhaps it’s just me but I’m feeling a bit nostalgic!  Drinking fountains are making a comeback!  Or at least they are in the University of Sheffield.

The very sight of a drinking fountain reminds me of hot days in London, playing football until it’s well past tea-time, then running home (how did we have the energy) and stopping en route to slurp from a drinking fountain.  In my case it wasn’t a beautiful work of art like the picture, rather a spartan, stainless steel job that seemed to make the water taste metallic.  But I’m sure that was my imagination.  But it was cold and it quenched our thirst.

Oh, glory days.  Nothing to worry about except whether the sun was shining.  I suspect there was plenty to worry about but advancing years have provided me with rose-tinted spectacles to observe all things from my youth.

Sorry – day-dreaming over – back to 2012.  The Student Union at Sheffield University (SUSU) have been looking with an environmental eye at the amount of plastic used in the bottling of fresh water.  Their logic seems valid: compare all the costs (financial and environmental) of students buying water in bottles – with the costs of providing free water from drinking fountains and you get a no-brainer result.  Drinking fountains win hands down – and, these days, the hygiene considerations are far greater than when I was slurping freely in the 60s.

So SUSU has installed fountains around the University and, as the water is provided free of charge, they are encouraging students to drop a few pence into a collection box  close to the fountain.  Every so often the boxes will be emptied and the contents donated to a water charity that provides clean drinking water in the developing world.  It is an admirable scheme and SUSU ought to be congratulated for their initiative.

You might be wondering how we know about this.  TASTE is one of two charities nominated to receive the contents of these collection boxes during the next 15 months.  So, don’t forget Sheffield Uni students – when you drink from the fountain, remember to leave a small donation!

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Bombing …. a bit close to home!

COCIN car bomingAround 7:30 a.m. on Sunday 26th February, a suicide bomber smashed his car through the gates of COCIN HQ church in Jos, Plateau State. The bomber failed to reach the church building but still managed to kill 3 people and injure numerous worshippers. Dozens of cars were badly damaged and glass was showered everywhere.

What made this outrage a little more personal was that I had been worshipping in that church just two weeks earlier. The seats occupied by me and my friends were seats that were showered with glass and debris, causing painful injuries and damaging ear drums. That’s a bit too close for comfort!

But it is a risk that every worshipper faces each time they set off for church on Sunday morning. Churches routinely search worshippers and metal scanners are as widely used as hymn books. COCIN HQ had set up road blocks where every car was stopped and searched; questions will be asked why the bomber got past those blocks.

So next time you are tempted to stay away from church for some minor reason, think about church goers in Central and Northern Nigeria who, quite literally, risk their lives every time they set off to worship.


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Nigeria – a cause for concern

What’s it like working for TASTE in Nigeria right now?

Well it is quite tough. The government’s decision to remove the subsidy on petrol sent the price from N65 to N140 overnight. After days of general strikes when the country was effectively shut down, the government partially relented and removed some of the subsidy, so that fuel now costs N95 per litre. But, think about it, that is an increase of nearly 50% on petrol prices. How could you cope with an increase like that on your fuel bill?

water price hikesAs you might have guessed the impact on the price of everything has been enormous. Add the genuine need to recover increases in fuel costs to the opportunistic increases to take advantage of the present uncertainty and you will find that some commodities, even bags of drinking water, have spiralled upwards in price! All travel costs have doubled and clients who were begging us to come and dig boreholes before Christmas have now told us that they are not spending money until they can see how the economic picture will pan out. The strikes and the uncertainty has  effectively shut us down during January. It has been a tough month. And every other business has been affected in the same way.

And what is the primary cause of all this unrest?

In one word: corruption.

Wherever you look, people quote different figues, but all are agreed that a small number of people have become hugely rich by ‘manipulating’ the fuel subsidy.

remove corruption in Nigeria Either businessmen are claiming to have sold more petrol than has been imported – and thus making huge amounts of money; or politicians and civil servants are saying that this is happening and taking the money themselves. Either way, corruption, on a massive scale is taking place. And the people know it.

I wonder how long it will be before the Nigerian sesnse of optimism is replaced by a sense of realism? Perhaps, even, how long before the Arab Spring finds its way to West Africa. My fear then is that, unless God intervenes, those in power will respond as others have done further North and the country will run with blood.

Much prayer is needed for Nigeria right now.


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Nigeria on the brink?

It was the worst incident of its kind in Nigeria for many years.  Attacks on police, security service and immigrations offices left 150 dead.  The BBC, in reporting the atrocity, ask the question, “Is Nigeria on the brink?”.

It is not easy to answer that question.  Certainly things are very serious.  Boko Haram seem set on causing maximum terror – last week they threatened to carry out jihad in the north – and they don’t seem bothered whether they kill Muslim or Christian.  Suggestions that the terrorist group have infiltrated the security services can only add to the concern.

This surely is the toughest test of the President who, as a Christian, will be harried by Boko Haram much more than would be a Muslim President.  But with the Christian States in the south anxious to avoid the imposition of Sharia Law (the ultimate objective of Boko Haram), the pessimist could certainly foresee a north v. south clash.  Might the pessimist even foresee civil war?

Nigeria needs our prayers and, perhaps even external intervention, or things might indeed get worse.


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Consumer demand

photocopier for TASTE

We have just had the office copier repaired. It needed a new PCU. The original PCU has lasted for eight years and printed 400,000 copies, so this replacement will probably outlive the rest of the machine! Photocopier repair man Paul was telling me that new copiers used to come onto the market every 5 – 8 years. In between there were upgrades but not new models. Today, apparently, a manufacturer will market a new model every 12 – 15 months!

Paul was explaining that it was the speed of technological enhancement that was responsible.  Technological enhancement coupled with consumer demand.  Consumers want faster and faster machines with clearer and clearer images.  Jobs that used to be the specialist domain of the local print shop can now be done in your own office.

All this got me thinking.  How fair is it that we are obsessed with getting better and better bits of kit for our offices but don’t worry about people dying in far off parts of the world.  How concerned is your average office worker in Europe or USA with the fact that a child dies every 4 minutes from water-borne disease; or that women around the world spend 200 million hours every day walking to fetch water?  Perhaps if there was some way to link our work to child deaths or water harvesting, we might take more of an interest.  Perhaps if we all had to stop work every 4 minutes to mourn for a child, we’d all become so fed up with our lack of productivity that we’d demand that something was done.  That would be consumer demand in action.

But that is also a dream.  In the meantime, those of us who care have to keep shouting about it.  Those of us who care have to keep raising awareness and raising money; and one day, just maybe, the rest of the world will sit up and look beyond their insulated bubble and take notice.  Then you might see consumer demand make a real difference.


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Optimistic Nigerians

DOptimistic Nigeriansid you know that, apart from the obvious political surveys, Gallup run an annual survey to reveal the most optimistic race on earth? If you are British, you’d have no idea about the annual survey because optimism is not a word found in the vocabulary of many of us!

But, guess what? Uh ha, you’ve guessed already …… The Most Optimistic people in the world 2011, as surveyed by Gallup, (roll of drums, rapid loud beats) are the Nigerians!

And, guess what, this follows their top spot in 2010 as well!

Perhaps that is why it is always so hard to get things done in Nigeria – because there will always be another chance to do it tomorrow! I thought that mañana was a Spanish word but it seems that the Nigerians coined it first. Now I understand why my British urgency doesn’t travel too well to Jos; because nothing is too important that it must be done today ……because tomorrow will be fine; it’ll be OK.

Bim Adewunmi has written a very interesting piece for the Guardian – and she is not happy about all the optimism:

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Twittering about

How old do you have to be not to ‘get’ twitter?

I thought I was reasonably up to date but Twitter has passed me by – even though I opened a Twitter account two years ago.

But then I discovered that Dan Walker has in excess of 95,000 followers (he’s trying to get 100,000 by 31.12.11) and he writes nonsense much of the time. Admittedly amusing nonsense. So, I thought, if he can do it, so can I. Except I don’t have a couple of million people watching me every Saturday lunchtime.

I suppose I had better sign up for a course on how to get the most out of social media. Until then, it’ll just be you and me. Unless you can persuade your granny to tweet occasionally!

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What if you lost 50p?

If you went out shopping and dropped 50p, would it matter to you?

If you had a coffee while you were out at the Sales and left 50p change on your tray by mistake, would it effect your life?

What if it happened every day? Well, that could cost you £15 a month but, losing it a little at a time, we probably wouldn’t notice it. Admittedly, that is not true for us all. There are people in UK for whom 50p is a large sum and who would really notice the loss of £15. But that is the minority and, if you know someone in that position, you ought really to help them.

So, what would £15 achieve if, instead of losing it, you donated it? Clearly, I can only speak for TASTE but, given regularly, it can make a great difference. Let’s do the sums – £15 x 12 = £180 plus Gift Aid (£45) = £225. That would pay for a hand pump that would provide for up to 500 people.

If you both work and you both donated that 50p, each year you would donate enough money to pay all the staff allowances for the borehole installation in that same village.

Think about – we can lose money every day and not notice it. Presumably that means we could donate the same amount and not even notice it. But donating that money will change lives in Nigeria; it will improve health and aid education; ultimately it will save some lives.

Think about it. I have.

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