16 comments on “No, Thanks: An Aid Worker Answers the Question “Where Wouldn’t You Go”? (Daily Prompt)

  1. we are missionaries and we live mostly in Malawi, Africa and PNG , my father in law was a missionary to Nigeria for 10 yrs. !!! My husband went there for 3 Mts. and said it was trouble the entire time! and he never wants to go back and he , I mean WE are like you , in that we never want to miss a chance to get our passport stamped !! However, Nigeria was the first place to come to my mind when I first read this question, so, I agree…

    • Thanks geogypsy- Yeah, it’s interesting- I’ve heard both sides of the story, even from missionaries. I know some who loved it, some who hated it. I’d be interesting to know where in the country your husband went, as people seem to have different experiences north and south, urban and rural.

      Out of PNG, Nigeria and Malawi, I’d definitely pick Malawi for an extended stay!

      • Lagos city is where my father in law was and also where my husband visited him at, we live most of the time in Malawi , however , I prefer PNG and so does my husband . He actually was born in PNG on the mission field and lived there till he was 12 yrs old , and went back there when he was 23 as a missionary himself, we have a home at Tanggi and are preparing to go back there full time and visit the Malawi work part time .

  2. I have lived in Niger since 2008. Many people say this is one of the “worst in the world” and currently security issues certainly don’t preclude that, but we just signed up for another 4 years so it can’t be too bad 🙂

    • Niger is gorgeous- certainly in its own way. I have very fond memories (and also had a really hard time, as these postings typically go). The saddest thing is that the insecurity means the desert north is pretty much off-limits these days. It’s one of the most beautiful corners of the planet and I’ll remember the dunes north of Iferouane until I die. Enjoy your time. 🙂

  3. I spent five weeks in Nigeria (mostly Abuja, with short trips to Lagos and Calabar) about a year ago. I was quite apprehensive about it–like you I’d heard all kinds of terrible things, all of which of course are true. I had lived and worked elsewhere in West Africa and Nigeria was one of the only countries in the sub-region I’d never visited. It didn’t help of course that all of my friends/colleagues from other African countries had always acted as though Nigeria was the worst place on earth.

    Honestly I don’t know that I’d want to live there (the opportunity has arisen since and I turned it down, mostly because my spouse wouldn’t be happy there). My time there was perfectly pleasant, I found most everyone I met to be bright and funny and entrepreneurial and I never experienced a single problem–even when my host brought me to all the nightlife spots that our security team had advised against. My Nigerian colleagues were really top notch, among the most competent and quick thinking people I’ve ever worked with. But I was staying with a western colleague who had married a Nigerian. And every morning over breakfast I would hear the stories from the extended family–the bar that had been shot up the night before, the bombings, the kidnapped cousins, property sold out from under an aunt. The level of caution with which you grow to live and treat all but your closest relationships must grow exhausting. The only other place I’d been where I felt the complexity of things to be so heavy and mentally wearing was the Palestinian territories.

    Still exhausting context aside, Nigeria is a fascinating and fun place. The musical and literature traditions are fantastic and the arts scene is vibrant across the board from the high-brow to the cheesiest of Nollywood. The food is spicy and interesting (I fell pretty hard for moi moi). I can see how easily you could fall in love with the place, and why Nigerians are (rightly) so proud of their country and traditions. In many ways Nigeria drives trends all over Africa (and beyond) and it is exciting to be at the center of that innovation. I would gladly go back (though there are absolutely parts of the country I wouldn’t visit today), and I’d feel less apprehension about it than going to Guatemala City or Tegucigalpa. That’s where our experiences color our feelings–I have been violently assaulted in Central America and the thought of going back terrifies me a bit (though I would certainly go). With an uneventful trip to Nigeria under my belt (Lagos traffic and a horrific hangover excepted), I wouldn’t hesitate to return.

    • Thanks- I’m so glad somebody came to chip in a positive story about Nigeria! Appreciate your thoughts & memories. And yes, fully agree with you re: Latin American cities. I have also traveled through a number, including both GC and Tegucigalpa- I was fortunate enough to have local colleagues to take me around- and was certainly on high alert. They are two of the most dangerous places on the planet. As you say, our experiences can taint us, and rightly so. I probably feel similarly about a place like Lagos, in that I would feel apprehensive, but would go for the right reasons.

  4. Nigeria was also my first though when I saw the title, and I lived there for 2 years! I was in Calabar in the Delta region, which has a reputation for being one of the more peaceful areas, but I still found it to be the most brutal place I could have imagined. Even ordinary tasks like grocery shopping typically involved aggressive arguments (sellers screaming at me for questioning ludicrous white-girl prices though they were clearly in the wrong) and conducting work meetings impossible without bribing participants to come with promises of food and exorbitant transport costs (and this is local NGOs). Again, I know these things are not unique to Nigeria, but there is something about the mixture of arrogance, indignance and aggression as an accepted part of normal interactions that was too much for me.

    I was so utterly relieved to escape unscathed from my time there (I had some horrifyingly near misses). Sorry Najia, but the closest I will get to coming back will be watching the new movie of Half of a Yellow Sun, which was filmed around Calabar!

    • Hmm. Yes, that’s quite strong testimony from somebody who’s actually lived there. I can’t say you’ve sold it to me with that one! 🙂

      I didn’t know there was a movie of Half of a Yellow Sun coming out though. I will have to look out for that!

  5. Definitely an interesting question to try and answer – starting to read this, I too didn’t think there were many places I wouldn’t be prepared to go. But funny enough the second you said Nigeria, it definitely resonated. I too had the chance to read Half of a Yellow Sun (though tragic, I felt it was such a beautiful book) which certainly peaked my interest for Nigeria, but just not enough to want to head there 😉

    I’m actually in Niger right now, so really this whole post speaks to me. Instead of Boko Haram, we have some others to worry about but we do feel relatively safe and secure! But can’t say we’ve been tempted to go visit that neighbour..Although, I would be interested in witnessing some of the vast differences in wealth in Nigeria!

    • Thanks Maxime. Luckily you’re in a beautiful spot in Niger- fascinating and lovely country. Your options for visiting neighbours are quite limited at the moment, sadly! With the north off-limits, Mali in a difficult spot, northern Nigeria quite unsafe and Chad a bit of a write-off, you’re pretty much stuck with forays into Burkina Faso just at the moment. It’s a shame- when I was there in 2005/6, you could travel freely in the desert north of Agadez, and also up into Mali via Ayorou and then Gao. I loved it. I was sad to go back in 2010 and find travel restrictions closing in. But enjoy none the less- it’s a place with a lot of charm and very sweet people.

  6. Loved this article. I did four years in E. Chad and now am on my second year in Goma. You’re descriptions of both were on point.

    • Wow, you’re really doing your time! What Humanitarian Coordinator did you annoy to get your deployments?!


      And in all seriousness, good on you. You’ve put yourself out in two of the most challenging, but most undeniably needy, contexts on earth. Well done and stay safe. Glad you enjoyed the piece. Ciao!

      • I find myself asking that exactly question quite frequently these days! Especially when I am under my desk in my office when rebels decide to pay our towns and villages a visit. What is a girl from Tennessee doing here in this mess? 🙂 These places can tend to be demoralizing but as you accurately described, there is a frightening amount of beauty, both in the nature and the people. Thanks for the encouragement and again, great job on the piece!

  7. Your post doesn’t surprise me at all. Nigeria does have its fair share of issues,although our population does not help. When you look at the numbers, then it makes sense how exaggerated things are to people from other cultures,and why they seem a lot worse than they actually are, it’s the “one in every seven” curse. There are some parts of South Africa, the US,the UK, or the rest of Europe where I would never visit, because they are just plain dangerous to a foreigner (sometimes even to locals), or because I just do not understand the attitude/outlook, or feel threatened and ill at ease in those areas. Lots of foreigners,like you mentioned,do come and end up extending their stay for a couple more years. If you ever change your mind, be prepared for the rich culture; music, film, art and literature, and the warmth of its people. However, no thanks to Boko Haram, the key is to have a sense of heightened security and stay away from the conflict ridden areas. Great blog 🙂

  8. Pingback: Travel is not education | whydev.org

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