Thursday, March 29, 2007

The 51st good thing about Lagos: Cheap tennis lessons

Here is a picture of Jide, my tennis coach. He's 28 years old and a very nice young guy. He is single and lives at home with his father and sisters. He enjoys teaching tennis, but hopes to find the time and money to start college next year, because he knows he can't teach tennis forever. He wants to study computer science. I had my last lesson (for this trip) with him this morning. I've been taking 2 lessons a week. He's an okay teacher and a good player. Mostly I pay him just to have someone to play against. There's a few beginning tennis players in our building, but I haven't found anyone willing to play with me. I've gotten to know someone in the ExxonMobil tennis group, and she's said "we should play sometime." But I think they pretty much have the people they need for their group. Hopefully when I come in the fall I'll be able to get into a tennis group and get some friendly competition. But I was a little surprised and disappointed to learn that the expatriate community here doesn't have a tennis league or ladder. I really expected that they would. But, in the meantime, I can get an hour private lesson with Jide for only 1200 naira, under $10. And for this he will come to the courts at my apartment, which is a good 1/2 hour trip from his home. This is about the price of a box of breakfast cereal here. That's kind of a sobering comparison of the prices of goods and services.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The 50th good thing about Lagos: A multi-party system is a hallmark of democracy.

I'm trying to get a handle on this upcoming election here in Nigeria, but it really is a lot more difficult than in the U.S., where there are just two major parties and they each choose their candidate well in advance. I've written before about their political system and the elections, but it really doesn't get much clearer to me the more I read about it. In the presidential election that's just a month away, there are 50 political parties registered, though not all have fielded a candidate. There is still some switching around of candidates in even the larger parties. Here's a quote from today's politics and security brief that I got from the company:

Representatives of Nigeria’s eight leading opposition parties- ANPP, AC, APGA, NDP, DPP, PPA, DFPF and ADC- met with Senate president Ken Nnamani to urge him to take over power if President Olusegun Obasanjo fails to leave office on 29th May. This is because there has been considerable speculation that Obasanjo will try to stay on possibly by invoking martial law.

The National Democratic Party (NDP) went to court on Monday 19th March in an attempt to have Nigeria’s general elections postponed. It claims that the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) ill-preparedness would give the ruling PDP unfair advantage in the April polls.

According to the party, the voters’ registration was not concluded 28 days before the elections as stipulated by the nation’s constitution. Sixty million voters are said to have been registered to vote out of a population of 140 million.

So, did you get those initials straight of those 9 major parties? Me neither! Maybe you can understand my confusion. Even just a month before the elections, there is a lot of uncertainty, with many people questioning if they will really happen. Many people think that Obasanjo will find some excuse to stay in power. Today the current vice-president was scheduled to be in court contesting his disqualification from the election due to his indictment by the committee investigating corruption, but I haven't heard of any decision yet. If he is allowed to run, they may have to postpone the election because he wouldn't have his name printed on the ballot. There seem to be a lot of Nigerians who are apathetic about the elections because they don't see anyone working for the common good in politics and they don't have any hope that someone different will change what the government will do for them. It makes me sad that this country with such good people and so many resources has such a broken system and no one able to step in to help fix it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The 49th good thing about Lagos: It has Nigeria's "premier port"

As I reported in my last post, we had an outing to Apapa, which is the port area of Lagos. I wanted to post some pictures of our trip. It was laundry day along the road leading into Apapa -- the highway guardrails were lined with clothing drying in the exhaust.
At least these areas had guardrails on which to hang clothes. Along much of the elevated roadway the guardrails were missing from the broken posts jutting up from the concrete barriers. One woman had just taken a weekend trip to Ibadan and while there she watched someone melting down guardrails over a fire powered by a bellows attached to a bicycle wheel. They were transforming the guardrails into cooking pots and utensils. So in some places the guardrails are the clothes dryers, in other places they are the cooking tools. We were greeted at the entrance to Apapa with a welcoming sign, and the sight of rusting vehicles lining the road.
Something tells me that the cruise ship industry won't be coming to Nigeria's "premier port" anytime soon!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The 48th good thing about Lagos: Seeing how the other Nigerians live.

As I drive through the streets each day, I pass so many people living on the streets and in shacks with no running water and using the streets for their sewer. (Many sights like the picture here.)It's so difficult to see the level of poverty all around me and I feel very grateful for what I have, but also kind of guilty that I have so much and there are so many that have so little. Yesterday I had an experience viewing the lifestyle at the other end of the Nigerian spectrum. The American Women's Club each month has a "hospitality tea," which is mostly a social event for people to get together and visit. It's held in a member's home. Yesterday was a bit of an adventure. It was at the home of a black American woman (she grew up in North Carolina) who had married into a very prominent and wealthy Nigerian family. Her home is in Apapa, which is the area of Lagos that is the port. I can see Apapa from my apartment window, but to get there we have to drive across the bridge to the mainland and then take another bridge to the port area. Since we can't travel there without security, I wasn't going to go. But then the club realized that with security restrictions, many women wouldn't travel there, so they got Chevron to provide a bus and security to bring us there. It was quite an experience! We found out after we got on the roads that the traffic was especially bad that day because there had been some kind of work stoppage over the weekend and now every truck in Lagos was heading into the port to offload the containers. What would normally be a 20 minute drive, took us 2 1/2 hours. So we spent a lot of time on the road, seeing things like this picture. But we were visiting on the way, so it wasn't bad. I wish I had kept count of all the stalled trucks and other vehicles. I saw several of the ever-present yellow busses loaded down with people, being pushed along by someone through the traffic. The security detail provided some help at crucial intersections, stopping the traffic to allow us to get through. But when we finally got to our destination, we decided the trip was worth it. This woman lives in a large compound with her extended family. Her husband is the oldest son, so he inherited the large family home. I really wanted (but resisted the urge) to take pictures of the beautiful outdoor sculptures and fountains and then the huge carved doors at the entryway, the elephant tusks all over the place, along with an amazing collection of ivory objects. There were animal skin rugs (some complete with heads!) all over the place. Fabulous art, including beautiful bronzes from Benin that were museum worthy and even a Rembrandt drawing. She had an enormous home with a number of rooms and courtyards surrounding the pool -- a beautiful area for entertaining. Her staff kept supplied the loaded table with beautiful cakes and treats, even strawberries and caviar that her husband had brought from London the day before. And as beautiful as this house is, of course it isn't her only home -- they also have a house in England and one in Atlanta. Their college-age children are in England and the US. I asked about her husband's businesses -- it seems like his family has a finger in much of the industry here -- she mentioned the bank and newspaper they owned and importing and fishing businesses. She was a very gracious and welcoming hostess, and gave us each a little gift and card as we left. It was an interesting experience and a very thought-provoking glimpse into the life of the wealthy Nigerian. There's a huge difference between the life of the people on the street and my life, and then another big jump up in lifestyle from my life to the lifestyle of this hostess. As for me, I'm very satisfied just where we are!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The 47th good thing about Lagos: Getting together with dedicated senior missionaries!

This was the second week that I attended church without Brent, as he is still in Houston. Both Sundays many of the ward members have been very kind to ask about him and check to see if he is well. The biggest laugh from that I got after church when one of the American expats said that one of the Primary children had been asking about Brent. This particular young boy had taken an interest in Brent for quite a while, often coming up to him and giving him pats on the stomach. On Sunday, after commenting to this American on how his hair and skin were different, the little boy asked him where "big belly" was. Don't you love kids?

Sunday afternoon the American expats in the ward got together and had the Lagos senior missionaries over for dinner. One of the wives of the mission presidents was able to come, but her husband was enroute returning from Abuja. The other mission president and his wife were unable to attend. But I think there were 5 of the American missionary couples that came. They enjoyed getting a break from their responsibilities and having some social time and it was great for us to visit with them! They are a dedicated bunch, providing a lot of service to help the church grow here. One couple are on a humanitarian mission. They have assisted with the delivery and placement of hundreds of wheelchairs and are working with NGO's on clean water programs for many areas, drilling boreholes and providing what is needed for a better water supply. Before this mission this brother was the church architect of the Houston temple! He shared some stories about this experience and was pleased when I said that we love our temple in Houston and think that it's beautiful. Another couple are working with 3 wards providing leadership support, others are working with family history and the church educational system. One couple talked excitedly about their projects involving career resources and development. They were working with job training and finding resources for people to start their own businesses, working with banks and organizations who would provide microcredit loans to start businesses. I asked this couple, who had just been here for four months, if they had requested anything particular in their application for missionary service. The sister replied, "We had thought about requesting one of the available opportunities that sounded good, but we decided that if we did that, we might be missing out on something that would be really great. We decided that the Lord knew us and knew what would be best for us, so we just left it open and said we would go wherever we were called." She said, "I hate to think about missing out on this adventure, because it isn't one we would have chosen for ourselves, but it's been just great." They love the people and you can tell that they are thriving on their service here. The missionaries have a much harder duty here than we do -- they just arrive with their suitcases and don't have a lot of the benefits and nice living conditions that corporate expats do. They drive themselves around -- that alone is worthy of my great admiration. They drive in cars that are marked "missionary" and they said that helps -- they get more courtesy and they, in return, try to be very courteous when they drive. The men actually seemed to enjoy the challenge of driving here. They all seem to approach the difficulties of life here with good humor, which is really the only way to go!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The 46th good thing about Lagos: A college education is quite reasonably priced.

Since Brent is out of town, I was glad to have the chance on Saturday morning to take advantage of a volunteer opportunity. The American Women's Club offers scholarships each year to college students, and they needed volunteers to interview the new applicants. They assured me that it would be interesting, and indeed it was! Scholarships of N50,000 and N70,000 ($400-$550) -- amount awarded depends on type of study -- are offered to students after their first year of college and they can reapply each year through their undergraduate education. The interviews were taking place at the American school and we were assigned to a preschool room. It was kind of amusing to see everyone there, college applicants and adult women, sitting on preschool size chairs and at short tables made for little people.

First I helped with interviews for a couple of the returning students who were unable to make their assigned interview date a month ago. The female was very impressive and we had no reservations about recommending her continuing her scholarship. One of the questions that was on our list to ask was: "What will you do if you are not awarded this scholarship?" She just shook her head and almost seemed about to cry. She said she didn't know what she would do -- she wouldn't be able to continue in school. We assured her not to worry. The boy we interviewed next was a little less impressive. His first year in school he had passed all his classes except one. The woman over the program assured us that it was not unusual for students here to fail classes -- less unusual than in the U.S., anyway. This past year on the scholarship he had failed 5 out of 11 classes. One question we asked was "How do you spend your leisure time? What are your extracurricular interests?" He said he was involved in hip hop dancing and he spent every night practicing with his dance group. We wondered how serious he was about school and put a question mark next to his recommendation.

Next we started interviewing the new applicants -- there were 16 there, who had been writing an essay as part of their application. They were to write on how they chose their field of study and what they would like to do with their education. Some of the essays were quite bad -- not on the topic or organized well or even with any coherent thoughts. There were some that were organized in paragraphs and written neatly. They seemed about the level of writing we'd expect from a good Junior High student in the U.S. The volunteers divided up and worked in pairs to do the interviews. We asked the applicants questions about their family life and how they had paid for their first year of college. We looked at test scores and grades, though we were assured that financial need and grades were not the determining factors in who would get the scholarships. We were to look for honesty and a desire to learn and work hard at school. Each student would need a sponsor, a member of the Women's Club, who would mentor them while they were a scholarship student. The sponsors not only hand out the money, but they check up on the students and make sure they are staying in school and they are managing things okay. About half of the applicants had a sponsor ready to support them -- they were children of a club member's maid or driver or tailor -- and they had been informed about the scholarship program and given help with the application. The club doesn't want to advertise the program to the general public because the funds are limited and they said when they get random students applying, they often get applications that are fraudulent and it's difficult to verify if the student is really in school. They've had better luck and prefer to award scholarships to students where there is a connection with the sponsor and the student's family.

One interesting thing I learned about universities in Nigeria is that there is a wide range of tuition costs. One student we interviewed was in a private school. His tuition had gone up tremendously this past year -- it was N280,000 ($2200) and had gone up to N360,000 ($2800) a year. Another student in a state school had tuition of N5300 a year ($41). The law student in our ward said that her law school tuition was under $100 a year. One problem with state schools is that there are often strikes and disturbances that shut down the schools. This delays their studies and can add a year to a program. One applicant's school had been closed down for a couple of weeks due to "student disturbances." School terms start at different times depending on the field of study -- there's not a regular schedule for the bulk of students as there is in an American university. Students pretty much go into college knowing what their major is and most programs are 4-5 years, which can be extended due to strikes or other shut-downs. The mother of the student whose son was in private school was a seamstress making the sacrifices necessary to send her son there because she thought it was a better environment and he wouldn't be subject to the strikes and delays that occur in government schools.

The students my partner and I interviewed were all quite nice, soft-spoken, probably a bit scared and nervous in this interview situation. But we were quite impressed with them personally. One was a French student who wanted to work in the tourism industry and help Nigeria open up possibilities for tourism. One was in accounting and wanted to work in a bank. One was in mass media and wanted to be a TV broadcaster. One was in computer engineering. Most of them didn't have grades yet from their first year of school.

My British interview partner said that there had been a big drop in quality in Nigerian colleges. She said that in the past students would come from Nigerian universities to top colleges in Britain and were able to compete and succeed there. She said it's very difficult now to get a good college education here.

After all the students had been interviewed, the interviewers that could stay gathered around the little short tables and we pretty much decided who would get the scholarships. There was actually money in the fund for everybody to be awarded one, but there were several students that the interviewers determined were not eligible or recommended. The students with sponsors already were first priority, and they all got scholarships. There were several of us there who were willing to sponsor students and so there was discussion about who would sponsor students that didn't come in with sponsors. All the students I interviewed were awarded scholarships, and I was pleased with that, though the hip-hop dancer was given a conditional acceptance. His sponsor will be informed that he needs to bring up his grades or he will lose his scholarship. I've also been very pleased with the American Women's Club. They seem to be very focused on service and addressing and meeting needs within the Nigerian community. There are many women who spend a lot of time in the administration of programs such as this. And I think that's a good thing!

The 45th good thing about Lagos: More good church moments.

I'm been having problems posting blogs lately -- either the power is out, or the server is down or the wireless isn't working, or when it works, I have such a slow connection that things time out and don't work. Now something has been seriously wrong on blogger and I haven't been able to publish this. If you see this, it's been fixed....

Anyway, sacrament meeting on Sunday mostly consisted of confirmations for the 13 people that were baptized the previous Sunday. One speaker had time for a few minutes of remarks, but that was it. The ward is really outgrowing our rented building. When the Stake President was visiting the previous Sunday, he said that he knew the ward needed a new building and the church has plans to build us one, but he is forced to ask for an "exception to policy" because our ward doesn't have the expected percentage of tithe payers to warrant a church built meetinghouse. He pleaded with the members to pay their tithing so the church would approve a new building for our ward. This is not at all to imply that the church needs the tithing donations to fund the building -- the little bit that members would contribute won't cover a small portion of the building. The church just wants to know that there are faithful members to support the ward if they are going to invest in a permanent building. I certainly hope they get one -- the present building is pretty bad!

There was some other ward business and, for the second week (so I know it isn't just a momentary slip in word usage), the Nigerian counselor doing the sustainings, asked the ward members to raise their hands to so "magnify" (instead of signify). It gives a little different twist on the meaning of sustaining someone in a church calling.

It was SO hot in our meetings! But, as I stayed late to teach piano lessons and rehearse some other music, and didn't get home till around 2 PM (leaving the apartment before 8:30 AM that morning), I decided it's probably a good thing that I sweat so much because then there's less need to use the restroom! I made it through another week without having to make use of the facilities!

On Saturday we had a women's/young women's joint meeting in the afternoon. It was pretty fun. We were on the back balcony in an attempt to get a breeze, as the power was out. We had a Young Woman speaker talking on "Who am I," then a fabulous Young Adult speaker -- a Nigerian who recently returned from a mission to Washington DC, who is now in law school here (pictured in the center in the photo on the right below) -- she spoke on "What I can become." And then an adult woman talked on eternal marriage. The Young Women sang a song for us. Then we had a question and answer session on how young women and mothers can strengthen their relationships. Then it had been planned that we would have a dancing activity, where they would play music and all the women would get up and dance together. That would have been fun to see! But because the CD player wouldn't work with the power off, they decided not to do that. Then we had refreshments of warm meat pies (quite yummy -- an English empanada -- and better for us than the sweets we would probably have had in the States) and sodas. It was a good time to get to know some of the women in the ward better. Here's a couple of pictures from that event -- in the picture on the left, the women on the right is our Relief Society president. She always really impresses me with her grace and calm demeanor.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The 44th good thing about Lagos: Sometimes business trips happen at the right time.

I really had to think hard to come up with a good thing for the subject I'm writing about today. My sister-in-law, Lisa, passed away yesterday of brain cancer, and that's really not a good thing at all. I'm feeling very sad right now and sorry to be so far away. I'm wishing I was closer to family and could give my nephews a hug and tell them how very sorry I am that their mother won't be there, at least physically, to give them hugs.

Lisa had been suffering from brain cancer for a little over a year and a half. She had been home from the hospital for just over a year and right before we left for Lagos in January the results of an MRI scan showed a very small tumor. Doug, Lisa's husband/Brent's brother, as well as Brent's parents and sister who moved down to Houston and were taking care of Lisa and the boys and keeping the household running -- they all said that it wouldn't be a big deal. The doctors were going to do gamma knife radiation. They had caught it early and the tumor was small. No reason to stay around, they could handle it. I never really thought that when we said goodby that I wouldn't see Lisa again, at least in this life. But the tumor grew quickly and Lisa had all kinds of complications, acquiring pneumonia, necessitating ventilators and a tracheotomy. By the time they were able to perform surgery last Thursday, she was partially paralyzed and in the surgery they were unable to remove all the tumor, as it had grown into her brain stem -- or so I understand. Anyway, I don't believe she ever woke up. Yesterday they removed her from the ventilator and other equipment and they said she passed peacefully.

Brent had a business trip to Houston he was contemplating, though it wasn't essential. But because of this family situation, he decided he'd go ahead and make the trip and see if there is something there he can do to support his brother. Lisa had requested cremation and no funeral service. Unfortunately, Brent will just miss his parents and the boys as they leave directly for Arizona for a planned spring break trip to see their cousins. As they won't be around and there isn't a planned family gathering, I decided there was no real reason to go to Houston right now. But I'm glad that Brent is able to be there with his brother and sister and hopefully he will be of some support. In the meantime, I'm here and just as I was feeling lonely and far away, I got an instant message from my daughter and then we connected through the computer on our Skype phones and talked free for almost an hour. That made me feel not so alone. So, thanks, Linds! I'm going to have my own memorial service for Lisa and read through some of the old emails she sent that I still have on the computer and I'm going to think about the person she was and think about what I can do to hopefully be a good aunt to her 2 young sons. I'm going to remind myself of how quickly life can totally change and how we need to always remember that it is very fragile and we need to make the most of each day we have here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The 43rd good thing about Lagos: Living here before an election makes me really appreciate the American political system

Some of you reading this in the U.S. may be already tired of the potential presidential candidates posturing to get a lead in the polls. I don't know a lot about the political machine here, but what I do know leads me to think it's a pretty scary thing. I was asking some questions of our driver, Jamiu, the other day and asked him if he was interested in politics and he said, "No, not really. To be in politics here it's all about lying and stealing and killing." He said anyone that wants to get involved in politics to really help the people ends up getting killed off. One of the expatriate women said a year or so ago before a governor's election, 6 of the 7 candidates were murdered! There are elections here in April -- governor's elections on the 14th and the presidential election on the 21st. If the presidential election goes as planned and power is actually transferred to another leader, it will be the first time a peaceful transition of presidential power has occurred in Nigeria since it has been an independent country. Gearing up for the elections, there are occasional disturbances on the streets with political rallies and other events. I heard the other day of some women going to the market who were stopped in traffic because someone was handing out caps advertising a candidate at a roundabout. The distribution drew a crowd which ended up in a riot as people were fighting for the caps. As soon as possible, the women got their car turned around and left the area. I don't know much about the candidates running for president, but the current vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, really worries me. He has been disqualified from the election because he was convicted of crimes by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. They recently released their findings which ended up disqualifying many of the candidates for president and governorships due to their illegal dealings. I know enough about the system here to guess that all the politicians currently in power are involved in corrupt actions, and the findings probably have more to do with political maneuvering than anything. Atiku had recently changed political parties from the one that brought him into power -- I'm guessing this has something to do with why he was disqualified, but I really don't know for sure. But being disqualified from the election hasn't stopped him from proclaiming himself the rightful successor to Obasanjo, the current president. He says the ruling disqualifying him from the election means nothing and goes forward like he expects to be the next president. (I'm getting most of my information from news briefs that are compiled for the company, as well as from discussions with people, so I hope I'm accurate here, but I make no guarantees!) In the meantime, the expatriates here (and likely the locals as well) are a little on edge because we don't really know what's going to happen around the elections. The companies here are warning people to be prepared to be in their houses for at least each weekend, but also to have a supply of goods and water to last at least two weeks in case the streets become unsafe (meaning, more unsafe than usual). In an ExxonMobil housing complex, the residents are already planning their election lockdown parties. And the companies are all warning that if things get looking bad, they may fly people out for the duration -- but they aren't really expecting to evacuate anyone. Hopefully there will be no huge revolts or disturbances -- at least I hope Brent won't have any problems. I'm feeling pretty glad that my grandson is due the beginning of April and I'll be in the States helping my daughter with him! Good timing!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The 42nd good thing about Lagos: More memorable church moments.

Each week I worship with these Saints here in the Victoria Island ward, I feel something special and I'm grateful to be here, despite the heat of the un-airconditioned building. At home in Texas when I play the organ prelude music, I rarely get the feeling that many people are listening at all. Sometimes I feel like I'm competing with their social time. But here the members are sitting quietly well before the meeting starts and I feel their attention to the prelude music. We don't yet have our air shipment, so I don't have any special prelude musical arrangements; I just play the hymns straight out of the hymnbook. I usually hear people humming along with the hymns as I play them -- today I could hear one man quietly and unselfconsciously singing along with my playing. I thought it was very sweet. As the Saints here have learned the hymns over the years mostly without accompaniment, they are sometimes not totally accurate with the melody. Such was the case with our closing hymn today -- "Come Follow Me." There were a couple of places where they were singing it wrong. Directly after sacrament meeting, while the teachers are getting to their classrooms, we take time to sing a practice hymn -- either to learn a new hymn or, in this case, practice one that they had learned incorrectly. I was pretty amazed that after the music director asked me to play the melody through once, it sounded like the first time they sang it, they made the corrections and were singing it right. These people really love to sing! As I was upstairs going into our women's meeting, I heard one of my piano students playing a hymn before the men's priesthood meeting. He's really doing great! I'll be out of a job soon. Brent told me afterwards of a discussion that was part of his high priest class. The teacher was talking about the importance of making scripture reading a part of our daily life. He asked the question: "When is a good time to read the scriptures?" Some men responded with a variety of answers regarding when they took time to read the scriptures. One responded seriously -- "Well, I find it's best to read the scriptures in the daytime, because when it is dark outside I have no light to see to read." Pretty sobering. In our testimony meeting today, there were a number of young children who got up to bear their testimonies. Their formal language always makes me smile. Most of them begin by saying: "Good morning, my most beloved brothers and sisters." They go on to speak with beautiful formal phrases -- no trite repetition here, but with words that many American adults would have a hard time getting their mouths around. Samuel, another one of my young piano students, spoke today in our testimony meeting. He offered a beautiful testimony saying: "It is a pleasant thing to be a Latter-Day Saint today and to live a life worthy of emulation." Samuel, I totally agree!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The 41st good thing about Lagos: Ola the tablecloth man and other buying opportunities

One friend here invited me one morning to go over to someone's house. She said they were having kind of a bazaar there and people were selling "stuff." "What kind of stuff?" I asked. "Oh, just a variety of stuff." She then explained to me that the Yoruba people who are from this area in Nigeria are traders and she said that when people move here, they tend to acquire this tendency to buy and sell. The people selling at this home sale were expatriates from a variety of countries. They were selling jewelry or baked goods that they made and interesting or practical things that they buy in their home countries and bring to sell to other expatriates. There was everything from useful stuff from IKEA to beautiful beaded purses from Israel. I managed to escape that buying opportunity with purse intact, but I haven't done the same at other times. It seems like every gathering I've been to -- from a PTA meeting at the school (I went for the speaker), to American Women's Club meeting -- has people selling stuff. One guy that has lightened my purse of naira is Ola. He comes from Ibadan, which is an area of Nigeria known for its fabric, about a 3 hours journey. He makes and sells batik-dyed tablecloths, which are quite nice. He comes regularly to my friend's house, and she invites anyone interested to come and see what Ola has to sell. This friend has quite a tablecloth collection -- enough for a lifetime, but she always sees something different to add to it. If you have a tablecloth of a particular color or size in mind, Ola will take your order and make it for you and when he returns in a week or two, he'll bring it to you. There are floral and geometric prints and African kind of picture prints and he even makes a fun "Happy Birthday" tablecloth and you can purchase a personalized "Happy Birthday" banner with the child's name to hang on the wall or door. So anyway, I've got the beginnings of a great tablecloth collection and if you would like to begin your own batik tablecloth collection, email me privately and I'll take your order -- I won't even charge a commission. Though if I'm really going to get into the spirit of a Yoruba trader, I may have to rethink that....