My internship was at the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Benin, in microbiology. I was helping out a PhD-student with his study, looking for bacteria and heavy metals in water from the Ossiomo river where it runs by Abudu, a small town about 1 hour east of Benin. The project was about determining the quality and safety of the water and later on in the project the PhD-student will also calculate the risk associated with drinking this water and using it in everyday life. So, most of my working days were spent in the lab, learning about different ways of isolating specifically Yersinia spp., a specific bacterium, which can be tricky as it is a slow growing organism. Since I study biomedical engineering and do not have a background in microbiology, most of the lab work was new to me and I had stay on my toes and learn quickly, but I really enjoyed it. Time management differs quite a bit between Sweden and Nigeria, which was something I had to get used to at work, but I felt that after a week or so I had gotten to know the country and culture well enough to get by. I am very happy to have been a part of such an important study, since clean water is something not everyone has access to and is an essential part of public health.
During my internship I was staying at a hostel on campus that was for postgraduate students (i.e. on Master level) and PhD-students. IAESTE was renting one corridor for the interns, meaning I got to have my own room! We had a shared bathroom and kitchen. When I arrived there was already one intern from Austria there, so the two of us spent much time together and got to know each other well. We also spent time with some IAESTE volunteers who were students at the university and they were all really nice and fun to hang out with, making sure we felt welcome and at ease. Almost every weekend we went on trips outside Benin City – we went to World Heritage Sites such as Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove and Idanre Hills, that both had some truly breath-taking views and interesting history. Three weeks into our stay, we were joined by some more interns, from Austria, Germany and Slovakia. Now we were quite a big group and spent most of our time together; cooking, playing football and going out and exploring campus. I also read a lot during this time and learnt much about Nigeria, about the culture, history and the rich literature and traditions of the different people there.
I learnt a bunch of things about myself; that while I do enjoy living comfortably and having access to electricity and running water 24/7, having it for just a few hours a day and sometimes less is not so bad, especially if there are others in the same situation. You really can adapt to most things – including being noticed wherever you go, which was something else I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve never really enjoyed standing out in a crowd – look, I’m Swedish, we’re a socially awkward people and never speak to strangers if we can avoid it. In Nigeria, everyone chats with strangers all the time, especially ones from a different part of the world. The staring did get better after a week or two – just as I was getting used to my new environment and finding my way around, my environment got used to me. I did learn how obvious it is when someone stares at you though, even if they’re trying to be discrete about it. A few took it further and yelled “Oyibo” after me – the word in Pidgin English for white person – but really everyone was just curious about me and wanted to welcome me to their country. I also expect this to have been the only time in my life where I got to feel a little like a celebrity; getting stopped and asked for selfies by strangers will probably never happen to me again. I think my time in Nigeria made me tougher, which I’m happy for. When I first arrived, I was quite nervous – it was my first time in Africa, in fact it was my first time travelling somewhere that wasn’t the western world. My head was spinning with travel advice and warnings from the Swedish embassy and I was worried about robberies and kidnappings. It did take a week or two for me to really settle in at campus and start to feel at home there. The more I traveled and saw of Nigeria though, the more I realized how biased my view of this country was from what I had read in western media, which really only reports on countries in Africa when something terrible happens. There are so many cool, great things happening there – literature, music, movies, not to mention economic growth and people just genuinely trying to make their country better – it is such a shame people in the west don’t take more of an interest. I’m really happy I took this opportunity to see Nigeria for myself and learn more about the different ways people live their lives in various places around the globe. Finally; what inspired me most on my journey? I think I must say just how resilient Nigerians are. I particularly remember travelling back from what was our longest journey, the week long one that took us to Obudu cattle ranch in the very east of Nigeria. The destination was incredible; we were staying up in the mountains and got to see some really beautiful views. The journey there and back, however, was less enjoyable – it was a bus ride for at least 20 hours. About 15 hours in, sitting in a cramped bus, I was feeling annoyed, tired and not in the mood to speak to anyone really, I just wanted to get back to Benin. The other students (who were Nigerian) didn’t seem to share my mood at all – they were all singing and dancing in their seats, refusing to let the long journey get them down. It was the same other times things didn’t go as planned and I was feeling annoyed – Nigerians just refused to spend energy being annoyed and kept their spirits up instead. That really impressed me.