Thursday, December 06, 2007

The 99th good thing about Lagos: Charity work around the holidays

Tomorrow morning we'll be heading back to the States (hooray!). I've still got some packing to do -- but with a house still in Houston, we don't need to bring very much going back that direction. Returning to Lagos, our bags are packed to the brim with things we can't find here or things that are very expensive here. In the past week we've been able to attend a number of Christmas parties and events to get us in the Christmas spirit. When I went to the grocery store, it was decorated for Christmas with carols playing on the speaker system. That felt very much like home. With most organizations here around the holidays, there is an even bigger focus on charity drives and there has been many opportunities to give donations and help. That's a good thing. I just got an email from a Houston friend about a robbery in the Hobby Lobby parking lot near our home in Katy -- crime like that is also on an increase here before the holidays as some with a criminal mind use this method to get funding for their Christmas gifts. We have (thankfully) not encountered this as yet, though there was recently a big wahalla (uproar) on the street just outside our apartment building where there was a robbery attempt and a crowd of people set themselves on the thief and held him till police arrived. The police then shot the robber in the leg to keep him from escape. I'm glad there are people here still willing to confront robbers -- I had heard that recently most people have been turning a blind eye to crime for fear of getting hurt in a conflict. But I am glad that they restrained themselves from the traditional method of meting out justice to the criminal -- it has been a fairly common thing for a crowd, after beating up a criminal, to put a tire around the thief and light it on fire and watch him burn to death. Nigerians are quite passionate people -- and their passions lead to good and bad. I'm glad I've had more exposure to the good side of Nigerian passion.

Last Saturday I took a small part in assembling some gift bags for the staff of the charities that are supported by the American Women's Club. Many women had done a lot of work in gathering and buying supplies and getting them divided and organized. I was a small cog in the assembly line in stuffing 100 large gift bags with food and goods. It went so quickly because it was so well organized. But it is a bit sobering to remember that these weren't the sweets and luxuries that many charities in the States would give to staff for holiday gifts. We were giving them beans and rice and oil and dry milk and matches and candles and much more of the basic supplies of life. I'm sure they will be extremely glad to get these needed goods. There are other organizations gathering toys, magazines, and, of course, there are many opportunities to give donations of money to help organizations buy what they need. Seeing the poverty here does make me question why we spend money each year on gifts for things that we don't really need. I'm really ready to scale back my Christmas list -- I have sufficient for my needs. The opportunity to be together with my children and grandchildren will fill my greatest desire.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The 98th good thing about Lagos: A chance to visit our son's mission on a great Thanksgiving trip

One of the plusses of our hardship post here is that not only do we get 2 R & R trips a year, but the company also pays for our college-age son to either come here or meet us somewhere. Jordan returned at the end of August from 2 years service in the Portugal Porto mission, where he served for 6 months on the island of Madeira. We chose to take our Thanksgiving vacation on this beautiful island. Madeira belongs to Portugal and is located in the Atlantic 378 miles west of Morocco. It's a volcanic island with beautiful mountains, vistas, waterfalls and great hiking. It is sometimes referred to as "the Hawaii of Europe." Brent and I flew to Lisbon via Paris, and spent a night there. We met Jordan at the airport the next morning and took the 1 1/2 hour flight from Lisbon to Madeira on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving week. It was so great to spend this week with Jordan, to let him be our guide and interpreter. It was fun to see how well he conversed in Portuguese and have him show off this beautiful place that he had grown to love. The weather was not ideal -- we had rain and fog that hampered some of the beautiful views. But the bonus were beautiful rainbows every day.

The rain also brought wonderful waterfalls all over the island.

Madeira has great hiking along the levadas, which are drainage canals that were built to direct water from the mountainous north down to the drier southlands. The levadas were built with paths alongside to help with maintenance, so they provide perfect walking trails through mountain areas impassable by road. I wish the weather and our fitness level would have allowed some of the more strenuous hikes, but it felt wonderful to do the hiking we were able to do.

There were beautiful flowers all over the island, alongside roads -- the bird-of-paradise is the flower of Madeira and it is all over the place. There were even wild hydrangeas along the road, as well as beautiful flowers in gardens and the market.

There was lots of fog in high places.

But still plenty of beautiful views to be appreciated.

There was the bustling city of Funchal in the South and the quaint village of Santana in the North.

We spent Thanksgiving day on the neighboring island of Porto Santo -- visiting the museum that is built by the traditional home of Christopher Columbus, who lived here for several years before his journey to find a new route to Asia. This island has a long stretch of beautiful, pristine beach.

Our last night in Madeira, we walked through downtown Funchal, admiring the beautiful Christmas lights, which had just been lit. We have great memories of the beauty of Madeira, and hope that we will be able to return someday.

If you're still interested, you can visit my web album and view even more of my Madeira pictures. Here's the link:

The 97th good thing about Lagos: Cute children at church

Yesterday at church I took some pictures and a short video of children singing for a friend who recently moved away and requested it for a church youth conference. The children at church here are really quite amazing. They sing with such enthusiasm, they sit quietly in Sacrament meeting even without all the distraction devices that American children seem to need. They bear their testimonies with eloquent words.

I stopped in the nursery and got some pictures of snack time. The young women in my home ward gathered some toys for the nursery, which will be so appreciated. There were four children sitting on a thin mattress covered with a sheet eating crackers for their snack. Before my home ward's donation of toys, there were only two toys in the room for the children.

This little girl in the nursery really wanted to have her picture taken.

This smiling girl's name is Precious -- and the name is very fitting for her. She's my favorite child to watch at church. She always has a huge smile, she stands to bear her testimony each month and she sings hymns at the top of her voice. She said the closing prayer after the children's sacrament meeting presentation and spoke an incredibly thoughtful and profound prayer. I haven't ever been able to connect her with her parents, because she usually chooses to sit in the front row of chairs in the chapel and she listens to the speakers with rapt attention.

The kids seem to really enjoy having their picture taken. Sorry, the video is too long to upload here -- maybe I can add it when I get back to a faster connection in the US.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The 96th good thing about Lagos: Returning home from a trip on the Sunday after Thanksgiving without running into holiday traffic

We got back tonight from a great trip to Madeira -- I'll post a link to pictures later. We had a very different seafood Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant with a view on the neighboring island of Porto Santo -- certainly a Thanksgiving to remember. I hope all you readers had a great Thanksgiving as well. We had a night in Paris on our return and enjoyed walking around the city even though it was quite cold. It was a very chilly morning in Paris, but we returned to heat in Lagos. The harmattan seems to have started -- winds from the north that blow sands from the Sahara. It's not too dusty, but it produced a pretty sunset on our drive home from the airport. Our luggage was among the first off the belt, we had a drive home with no big traffic slows (certainly not the case if we were driving home on Sunday evening in the States), and we arrived home to find everything intact -- except the water pressure. Our neighbor said the water pump has been working only sporadically since Friday. I'm hoping it will work before long and I'll be able to get going on the laundry. The power has gone off a couple of times since our return less than 2 hours ago -- I haven't forgotten how to stop in place and wait the 10 seconds or so for the generator to kick in -- but it's been great to have 10 days away without the power going out once! It was a great trip, but good to return home and have it feel like home.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The 95th good thing about Lagos: Our own toileting signs

As a follow-up to my 93rd good thing post, I wanted to show you our Lagos version of toileting signs, which are all over the place on walls, fences and buildings. The instructions are sometimes accompanied with threats of fines...
or promises of police action.

There is often creative spelling with the signs -- this stenciled instruction "Don't unirate here" is repeated over and over on a long cement block wall.
By personal observation, I know the instructions are often ignored. But as for myself, I promise to never urinte or unirate anywhere near those signs!

The 94th good thing about Lagos: LDS helping hands: a continent-wide church effort to serve communities

We missed an opportunity a couple of weekends ago to participate in a service project the ward was undertaking. I just got a link to a church news article that told me more about the effort. I guess this Saturday morning activity was a continent-wide effort to improve our communities. It says that around 100,000 LDS members in the African continent worked on that day in service projects in their areas. Our ward helped to clean up a local orphanage. I heard that it was a successful project. I didn't understand when they announced it why they would choose to have it on an Environmental Saturday when travel times were restricted. But now I understand that someone outside the local area had chosen this date for the activity and didn't really know about local laws. We couldn't go because we would have had to be at this orphanage, quite a distance away, before 7 AM to be off the roads before they were closed to travel from 7-10 AM. We couldn't get our driver here early enough to do this -- and we also had a resident's meeting at our apartment building we were supposed to attend. So those are my excuses for not being one of the 100,000. Here's a link if you'd like to see some pictures -- there are some photos of other projects in Lagos, but none from our ward's orphanage project.

I'm glad Africa has a lot of LDS helping hands!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The 93rd good thing about Lagos: Mormon missionaries here have good toilet training

Every day that I drive through the streets of Lagos, I see plenty of men in the act of urinating (women tend to be a bit more discreet). Some are modestly facing a wall, but others have no reservations about aiming their stream into the street. Sorry -- no pictures of that here. But there was an amusing picture posted on an LDS blog this weekend -- a photo of a sign that is in each stall in the Ghana Missionary Training Center. This is where missionaries called from this area go for their training, as they almost always stay to serve within West Africa -- they often stay in Nigeria for their mission. I think most LDS members have a little better hygiene practices than the public at large here, but still there are a majority of Nigerians who have no access to indoor plumbing and probably need some explicit instructions on the use of toilets and toilet paper.
I like the tip about repeating a scripture in your head while you wash your hands.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The 92nd good thing about Lagos: Other people here are looking for good things

I turned to a copy of the LDS Church News this afternoon (Oct. 20 edition) for some Sunday reading and was delighted to discover a letter that had been sent in by Elder Claude Rawlins -- he and his wife recently left Lagos at the end of their 18 month mission here. I have a picture of them in a prior post. This was for the "Living by the Scriptures" feature where readers quote a scripture and talk about how they were influenced by it in their lives. He was writing about Matthew 6:34: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." I'd like to reproduce Elder Rawlins comments here -- I hope he won't mind!

"Asleep in our Lagos, Nigeria flat, I awoke in the early hours with the words of the Savior implanted perfectly in my mind: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." I recognized that I had read them before and assumed they were part of the Sermon of the Mount, but I had no recollection of ever focusing on their meaning. To recoin a phrase: out of the blue, the message was delivered and I knew I had to pursue its meaning.

When mission presidents and senior couples like us first arrive at the Lagos Airport they are immediately crammed into an overloaded environment that is not at all like home. Traffic is scary, electricity is sporadic, water is occasional, sewers are open, shopping is ... let's say it takes some getting used to. Lagos is a city of around 20 million people with an unemployment rate exceeding 80%. It is so very different from anything most North Americans have ever experienced. Frustration is inevitable and anger is close to automatic. A common response is to begin a cynical cataloging of everything that is wrong which, of course, runs counter to why we were sent here in the first place.

I have been led to understand that there is plenty of evil in the world. My calling is not to add to it, by bringing attention to all of the problems in this country. My purpose is to "seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33) and simply go about doing the good the mission president has assigned us to do.

While there is sufficient evil for each day, there is never enough good being done. Focus on the good."

This is a wise practice wherever we may be, but especially important for those living in Lagos. Focus on the good.

The 91st good thing about Lagos: Getting a shipment!

In Houston in May the movers packed up a sea shipment of our household goods to send here to Lagos. We were allowed 2 lift vans (which are about 7 ft long by 7 ft high -- don't remember how wide... ). It doesn't sound like a lot of space, but it really was plenty. Our shipment sat in Houston for a couple of months before they could get clearance from Nigeria to get it on the ship. Actual transit time to Lagos was only a few weeks, but then it's been sitting here waiting for the right papers, waiting for a dock workers strike to be over, waiting for someone from the company to put the pressure on customs people to release it -- the latest was that it was being held hostage in a past due bill payment dispute between Graebel movers and Panalpina. After a heated email from us about the absurdity of requiring us to put pressure on Graebel to pay their bills and some people from the company making threats about getting lawyers involved -- Panalpina decided they could release our shipment. It was delivered Saturday morning and we were so glad to finally receive it -- total time almost 6 months from packing to delivery. Boxes had been opened for inspection by customs. There may be some things missing -- we haven't got into every box yet and still need to check things off our detailed inventory. But every box on the packing list arrived and it actually seemed to be in pretty good shape. I've heard lots of horror stories about shipments sitting out in the rain and arriving green with mold. No problems here -- things were dry and in pretty good shape. It's such a pleasure to have my digital piano here! It doesn't compare with my baby grand at home, but it's so fun to be able to make some music! I really just want to sit and play the piano for hours. But there are boxes to unpack and things to organize and I need to find places for lots of things. The company doesn't allow any shipment of food (we're a bit jealous of other companies here that give their employees a big annual shipment of food and goods). But we shipped lots of toilet paper and paper towels (which are very lacking in quality here) and laundry detergent (which is very expensive -- a box that may cost $6 in the States is around $45 here). Of course, there's a renewed awareness of the enormity of things that we Americans feel we need to manage our lives. It's a big contrast to how most Nigerians live. In some respects, it's great to live simply and with a minimum of possessions. In other respects, I'm looking forward to using my salad spinner!

Monday, November 05, 2007

The 90th good thing about Lagos: African choral music

I'm worn out today after subbing in a 1st grade classroom at the American school. I enjoyed it, but it was tiring. But one nice thing about working -- I return home in the afternoon and the dishes from the night before are done and put away, the bed was changed with fresh sheets and sheets washed, floors mopped and bathrooms cleaned. It's really nice to have a stewardess!

This weekend we went to a choral concert, the final performance of the Muson (Musical society of Nigeria) festival. It was the best attended of the performances we saw -- obviously people here enjoy choral music. The first half of the concert was Western music -- a performance of Mendelssohn's "Lobegesang," (Hymn of Praise). It was not a piece I was familiar with, but it was quite enjoyable, despite the struggling orchestra. The choral movements were a large part of the work and the choir did a good job and the soloists were excellent. There was a nice setting of the hymn "Now Thank We All Our God" in one of the movements. And my soprano friends may want to look up the music for movement 5, which is a beautiful soprano duet. The interesting program notes about the work said that this piece was written for a festival in Leipzig, Germany in 1840 (where Mendelssohn was then directing their orchestra) celebrating the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. Most of the choral movements were set to texts from the Psalms -- so the major theme of the work is praising God for blessings (like the printing press). One interesting tidbit from the notes is that a movement from a work Mendelssohn wrote for another evening in this festival is well known to us today as "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." Who would have guessed that the printing press and this Christmas carol have a connection? It's a bit of trivia that will probably never be useful, but you never know when you can impress someone knowing something like that!

During the intermission, the choir members changed out of their tuxedos and shimmering chorus gowns into colorful African dress. The second half was African choral music, and it was a highlight of the evening. They sang mostly without scores and were accompanied with a piano, at times, and percussion. They swayed together during much of the singing. It was kind of interesting to see how the 2 white people in the chorus just don't do the swaying as comfortably as the Nigerians. I can relate -- I remember when the Houston Symphony Chorus joined with a couple of church gospel choirs for "Gospel Night at the Symphony." It was lots of fun, but it was clear that us whites just didn't have the same knack for the swaying as did those black gospel singers. It must be something in the genes. The video clip below doesn't really do justice to the performance, but you may get a hint of what it was like. We were told (by a Nigerian musician in the audience) that this music was African folk songs that had been arranged for choir, but probably most of it had not been published. Much of the music was fairly complicated rhythmically and harmonically. It was a real treat to hear this Nigerian choir!

(Sorry, it looks like this video turned out really dark here -- unfortunately, I don't know how to lighten it so you can see their colorful green African dress costumes.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The 89th good thing about Lagos: The Family Life Clinic

Happy Halloween! The most festive thing happening around me today was when I was volunteering at the AWC library and someone had hung up a motion-detector skull decoration and it was making various cackling sounds and utterances whenever someone passed by. I understand in the area company compounds there will be trick-or-treating tonight, and I may go upstairs and watch a scary movie with my neighbors, but that's about it. I've enjoyed seeing the costumes of my grandchildren on their blogs -- thanks for keeping those up!

Our final stop on the AWC charity field trip last week was a community clinic. It's run by a larger organization which has a number of fixed clinics and they also go out into rural areas and do outreach care. They go out and set up a temporary clinic and can see thousands of people in a matter of days. The clinic was quite small, but in a very nice, sturdy looking building (as opposed to most of the construction around here) and it was exceptionally clean. It almost looked like a doctor's office in the US.

They had, I think, four examination rooms off the lobby, as well as an area marked "Pharmacy" (pictured here) where they had a few shelves of medical supplies and medicine. They were pleased to get our donated supplies.
They had a surgical area in the back with a table for surgery and a dental chair -- which was really a car seat that had been modified with a foot rest. They said they do a lot of dental work -- regular stuff as well as major surgery. They had a man come in recently with a large tumor in his jaw that was making it impossible to open his mouth. They were able to remove the tumor and make his jaw functional again.

"Dr Dan" is the resident doctor -- he's a Nigerian. The administrator of the clinic is Andrew, a really friendly American young man, 28 years old. He was raised by missionary parents, mostly in Japan, but also in other places in the world. He said he loves it here in Nigeria and is hoping to stay "for a long time." He's quite a remarkable young man who is making a real difference in the community.
The clinic has some support from its larger Christian organization, but they welcome medical supplies. They would especially like to get a donation of a real dental chair. Unfortunately, no members of the club seem to have an extra one sitting around, but maybe in the future the club can help them with funds to get one.

Right across the narrow street from the clinic, these neighbor children (and resident chicken) were interested in the bus with the oyibos (white people).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The 88th good thing about Lagos: The Heritage of God School

Our next stop on our AWC field trip was to a school that was started by a church congregation that recognized a community need. They saw many of the local children from families that couldn't afford school tuition just wasting their time without any education. At first when they started the school, they used the church meeting hall, but they quickly outgrew those facilities. They now have around 500 students. They have moved into the building that is still being completed. It is very rough concrete -- they plan on painting it eventually. The windows are open holes cut in the walls. There is no electricity. I didn't see any toilets, so I don't know how they handle that with the children. It would never be an acceptable facility in the States, but, for here, it seemed to be a well-run place. The classes were crowded, but the children were working quietly when they weren't disturbed by the visitors. The church started allowing free tuition for the students, but they found that parents didn't take the school seriously, so they started charging 2000 naira ($16) a term, with 3 terms a year. She said they do give scholarships if that is too much for a family to handle.

Here's the entrance to the church.

The school building is attached.

The stairways are a little scary -- they just got the railings installed -- I don't know how the children managed before they were there!

Water was leaking at a good rate out of the water tank next to the school.

This is the food serving area right outside the school's front door. Tomorrow the AWC is providing lunch here for the children. Today they are cooking big pots of stew with rice and with the member's donations of drink boxes, boiled eggs and crackers and rolls, they will serve a treat -- no trick -- Halloween meal (though I doubt these kids know anything about Halloween....).
The classrooms were in different configurations, but all the children were in their seats. In this classroom some of the children were responding to what the teacher was asking, and some were more interested in the white women peeking in the doorway.

Such cute little children!

When we came to their classroom door, these children stood and recited a little welcome rhyme for us. The children seemed very happy and neat. One of the senior missionary couples was telling me about their neighbor children and how this little girl came home from their local school with cuts from beatings on her hands from offenses like when her brother was late for school. They beat the kids even for things that are totally without their control. I doubt these children experience that kind of mistreatment. We brought some general school supply and assorted donations. The school representative said that what they really need is a bus. Many children live close enough to walk to school. But those that don't, the parents just find whatever transport they can manage. This past year one child fell off the transport (I don't know if it was a bus or an okada or truck) and was killed. The school would love to have a bus to minimize those risks by transporting the children. Unfortunately, the club can't help them with that.
Also a part of the church service is a free clinic for the local community. This was just a few small rooms at the back of the church. They do a lot of prenatal support -- the women give birth in these beds. There was a sick child in the clinic's crib. The clinic really needs donations of drugs and medical supplies. When I'm home at Christmas, I'm hoping to visit my doctors offices and see what extra samples and supplies they can send back with me -- they said anything would be so much appreciated.