Erica Williams

Erica Williams (WOCON – Women’s Consortium of Nigeria): Erica worked at the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Howard University, in Washington, where she organized material for the African Burial Ground Project. Between 1999 and 2001 Erica worked and studied in Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, she conducted historical and ethnographic research at the University of Western Cape. Erica studied for her BA at New York University, where she received several travel and research scholarships and volunteered for several different organizations: Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), WomenCare, Face to Face International, The Center for African Spiritual Culture, InI Performance Club, NYU, Golden Rose Awards Banquet Committee, NYU. She also served as Editorial Assistant, Academic Achievement Program Newsletter, NYU. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for a Master's degree in African Studies at Yale University and preparing to start a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. Erica asked many probing questions of AP’s new fellowship program, in person and through her final evaluation: “At the orientation, I noticed the beginning of a possible conflict of interest when I learned that interns were expected to engage in capacity-building at their organizations. But I questioned my ability as a 23 year-old student to tell a 50 year-old experienced, renowned human rights lawyer and activist how to run her organization. Perhaps this is the cultural anthropologist in me, but AP, myself, and future interns must recognize their position as outsiders to Nigeria and to WOCON. Being in that tenuous position creates a dynamic where it is difficult to tell people what they should do, because as outsiders we’re not even accustomed to living in their environment." “For instance, with my office experience in the U.S., I’m used to organizing files in labeled manila folders and hanging file folders in file cabinets. Thus, I found WOCON’s filing system of long folders in a multi-shelved closet impossible to understand. But it works for them. My work experience in the U.S. has also trained me to write out my daily activities, allot a specified amount of time to tasks, and rely heavily on the computer. This is an unattainable goal in Lagos because of the constant unexpected power outages and the fact that sending two emails can take you upwards of two hours. Future interns should be fully aware of the challenges they will face in Nigeria, and even then they may still have trouble adapting to the environment.” Erica also found Lagos to be hard work: “The daily struggles of life in Lagos were another challenge. Constant power outages, traffic jams, torrential rains and floods, painfully slow internet service, and the week-long fuel strike all conspired to make my work more difficult.”

Adventures in Transportation

09 Apr

Who would have thought that I would be attending a party at the Oba’s (King) palace on my third day in Nigeria? Unfortunately, it was raining and I wasn’t dressed in the proper Yoruba attire, but it was great nonetheless. Many of the market women wore coordinated outfits and danced together. The Oba’s four wives also wore the same outfits, and their hair was ornately decorated with red coral beads and cornrow braids. There was lots of music, dancing, and free food (a grad student’s dream)!

The adventure began when I left the party with my host sister at 7pm. It was still raining and there were HUGE puddles of water. I resigned myself to the fact that my cute new high-heeled sandals were going to get all muddy when I had no choice but to walk through one of the mini-ponds. The water (hopefully that’s what it was) reached well above my ankles. I found it incredibly difficult to duck my head from people’s umbrellas, dodge the fast-moving cars and motorcycles that honked every two seconds, and keep my eyes on the ground so that I wouldn’t step into a hole all at the same time.

We tried to take a taxi home, but they tried to charge us N2500 ($18) for a trip that shouldn’t have costed more than N700 ($5) – all because they think I’m a rich Oyinbo (white foreigner). Instead, we took a crowded mini-bus which continuously lurched back and forth in “go-slow” (traffic) for two and a half hours. Then, the unthinkable happened. The rear tires of the bus got stuck in a ditch. Some men got out and started trying to push the bus, and when that didn’t work, they rocked it from side to side. I held my breath and prayed that it wouldn’t tip over. Luckily it didn’t, and we made it out of there alive.

When we got off the bus, we had to take a motorcycle taxi, which I had previously vowed that I would never take. I was scared at first because I’ve never ridden a motorcycle with three people and without a helmet, but it actually wasn’t that bad. Without a doubt it’s the breeziest way to travel!

Posted By Erica Williams

Posted Apr 9th, 2007

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