A Year in Nigeria: Living the questions

I want to beg of you much as I can to be patient toward all that’s unsolved in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms, or like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you, because you would not be able to live them, and the point is to live everything. Live the question now, perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

A year and a half after I first set foot on this incredible continent, I continue to be inspired and intrigued by the cultural diversity and overwhelming possibilities. I see creativity, hard work and enthusiasm everywhere, especially from the many Nigerian youth I interact with through my work with the Mary Slessor Foundation (MSF).

Toward the end of last year, I had the privilege of attending an incredible fabricator’s event held in the megacity of Lagos with two of my colleagues from MSF. Maker Faire Africa is an annual event held to showcase African ingenuity and innovation and to connect people working to create the future and drive progress on the continent. We saw everything from a urine-powered generator to fashion accessories, all made in Nigeria, and gained a whole lot of inspiration to take back with us to Akpap Okoyong.

My colleagues Essien and Effiom and I had the opportunity to attend Maker Faire Africa.

In the village, we’ve been busy revamping our agricultural processing mill to get ready for the high season of palm fruits next month, as well as recruiting new students and creating awareness of the organization by visiting chiefs, youth leaders, and women’s leaders in many surrounding communities. The New Year is a time for positive change around the world, and here, we are initiating major changes within MSF aimed at boosting the team’s productivity and increasing the financial sustainability of the organization by developing and implementing a new model for the non-governmental organization (NGO). We’ve also been working on the prototype of a portable water vending kiosk that will be able to provide communities with a water source that can be moved according to the needs of and circumstances in a particular community.

Walking out of a church wedding with friends in Ifako-Okoyong, a nearby community within the Odukpani L.G.A.

Now that we’re in the dry season, known as the Harmattan, it is incredibly hot, humid, and dusty. Being in rural Nigeria during the dry season also means nights can be spent admiring the wonderfully starry sky, wishing I were an astronomer.

My time in Nigeria is a “do-good effectively boot camp” of sorts for me, seeing as each unique experience teaches me something useful.

I expected significant clarity, answers, direction and solutions to how I could use my business background and experience to serve humanity. And, sure, I’ve definitely become more aware of how I may best contribute to this world. But every day I, without a doubt, end up with more questions than answers.

Lagos, Nigeria is simultaneously wonderful and chaotic. This is the view of Balogun Market on Victoria Island.

What I’ve come to realize in my time in Nigeria is that in both our personal and professional lives it is important to be curious, to try out new ideas, to take risks, to make mistakes. We won’t live up to our potential, create innovative products and organizations, or develop fulfilling relationships otherwise. Na so!*

*’Nigerian Pidgin English expression meaning “That is true.”

Christine M. Adolf (BBA ’07) is spending close to two years in Nigeria as a CUSO International volunteer, exploring how she can use her background in business to empower people living in poverty around the world. Her interests include yoga, reading, dancing, social entrepreneurship and exploring new places.

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