Sunday, July 22, 2007

The 58th good thing about Lagos: Insightful gospel teaching

It was a pleasure to return to church again today to the Victoria Island ward. Getting there was a challenge, as there was rain overnight. The dirt road that leads to the church off the main road gets very rutted with deep puddles after rain. It's hard to judge how deep the puddles are and cars and the okadas (motorcycle taxis) zig-zag down the street trying to stay as close to the edges of the puddles as possible. We managed to not sink too low in any puddles or get stuck. I was very grateful to have a car to negotiate the hazardous street. So many of the church members come down this street in okadas and must get splattered and muddy. Others walk the kilometer up the road up to the main street where they can catch a bus, and have to slog through the mud and the debris lining the road. I hope it won't be long before the ward can qualify for a new building that will be closer to public transportation.

I had heard that one of my young piano students had been doing a great job accompanying the hymns while I was gone (using the Hymns Made Easy book). When I arrived he was at the sacrament table and said I should play the keyboard. The keyboard power cord was broken, so it was running off batteries, which had a poor connection and went out several times. When we started the closing hymn, I couldn't get the keyboard power to work, so the chorister started the congregation singing acapella. Shortly into the first verse, the keyboard started holding power so I decided to just start playing, expecting the group to adjust to the key from the keyboard. But they were settled into the key that they had started singing in and so it was quite an amusing musical clash as I was playing in one key and they were singing in another. They continued it through both verses of the hymn. That takes talent! My piano students had been practicing and were pleased to see the new hymnbook with simplified accompaniments that I brought back for them. I think Patrick at least is very ready to step up to this new level.

We had a wonderful lesson today in Relief Society (our women's organization). Our teacher was the former Relief Society President, who had recently been released when her husband was called to be our new bishop. (After the class I asked to take her picture with her object lesson props.) They are a wonderful young couple who will be great leaders in the church in Nigeria. Her lesson was based on Elder Bednar's talk from the last General Conference -- the wonderful talk that had the "pickle parable." While I was in Houston, we had a Relief Society lesson based on this talk where the teacher brought cucumbers and jars of vinegar and displayed the object lesson that Elder Bednar used comparing the process of pickling cucumbers to the process of being born again. But our Nigerian sister adapted this lesson on being born again to an object lesson that was familiar to her Nigerian class. She started by placing some objects on the table that were familiar to everyone except the two Americans in the class. These are palm fruit and a bottle of palm oil. (Though petroleum products have taken over as Nigeria's major economic resource, palm oil used to be its primary export and resource.) Our teacher asked a member of the class to relate the process required in getting the palm oil out of the palm fruit. She talked about cleaning the seed and scraping the surface and then putting the fruit in water on the fire and after heating it for a certain amount of time, you would take out the seed and put it in a mortar and pound it and then boil it some more and siphon off the oil. Our teacher discussed the steps of this process of producing palm oil and used scriptures to compare them to the process in our lives when we are born again. Our spirits need to be prepared and cleansed. Then we go through the refining process compared to the boiling and pounding and filtering of the palm fruit. Then she showed her bottle of palm oil and talked about putting the oil in a clean container and sealing it so it would stay pure and clean. Throughout the lesson the class members contributed some wonderful insights to this process. They talked about how mothers teach their daughters this process of producing palm oil comparing how we teach our families through precept and example how we can live our lives to draw closer to the Lord. They talked about how when the fruit is not used within a short time, it loses its value. And when the boiling is not done thoroughly and correctly, there is a "poison" in the fruit that can be very harmful. The process must be done completely to make a usable oil. It's only through the process of producing the oil that the fruit becomes valuable and when the oil is ready, it can be added to a soup and its influence will be expand to a much larger extent than the small amount of oil used in the soup. The teacher concluded by saying that we all know (well, it was news to me) that palm oil is a great source of vitamin A (the wikipedia article said that it is the betacarotene in palm oil that gives it the orange color), which helps us with our eyesight and vision. She said we need this sight and vision in our lives as we strive through this goal of becoming born again. It was inspiring to see this masterful teaching experience as Sister I. adapted this lesson to something relevant and understandable to her Nigerian sisters.

The 57th good thing about Lagos: Returning and having it feel somewhat like home.

It's been a long time since I've posted anything on my blog. I really did intend to keep it up while I was away from Lagos. But life got busy and it didn't seem a priority. We've been back for a week now, and it's time to start updating the blog and journaling some experiences here. A lot happened while I was away: I got a new grandson, who continues to grow and develop wonderfully. It's so rewarding to see a daughter learn to be a great mother. We also had great times with our other grandchildren, who are also beautiful and continue to get more fun and amaze us all the time. I had a wonderfully fun European tour with the Houston Symphony Chorus. It was a real pleasure and privilege to take part in that. We had such wonderful concerts in the fabulous cities of Prague (performed as part of the Prague Spring Festival, one of the world's great musical festivals), Budapest (we sang in the Liszt Academy, a fabulous hall), and Vienna, where we performed in the beautiful gothic cathedral of St. Stephensdom. On the trip here we stopped in London for 6 days while Brent had business there. So that was a treat to have another chance to explore that wonderful city.

This was my third time arriving into Lagos and it continues to amaze me every time. Leaving the airport, feeling grateful that all our bags arrived, we go outside the airport doors and are met with a huge crowd of people waiting for other travellers. I'm always so very thankful for the company security people who assist us with our luggage and in fighting our way through the crowd. We walk down to the parking area on a street where cars are parked on both sides and we dodge other cars driving up the street. I'm always so amazed that there are no provisions for pedestrians leaving the airport. It's a security and safety nightmare, in my opinion. We dodge the cars and beggers and money traders and I get as quickly as possible into our safe vehicle away from the people accosting us for handouts. It's illegal to take pictures in the vicinity of the airport, but I'm always tempted because this experience is such a view of a totally different world.

While I was away from Lagos, Nigeria had its first peaceful transition of power since independence. The election itself was criticized greatly as being corrupt, but there wasn't the widespread violence that some had feared. And Obasanjo did step down (many questioned beforehand whether he would) and Yar'Adua (his hand-picked successor) is now in power. The cabinet is not yet chosen and it remains to be seen whether anything in government or the functioning of the country will really change. But one can always hope for the better. Most Nigerians seem to be pretty apathetic about it. The country also survived a wide-spread strike which lasted for about 5 days. I wasn't sorry to be away during that. Some expats said they were getting worried because they were low on bottled water and the company was unable to get any deliveries during the strike. There continues to be talk about the rebel groups in the delta area coming to agreement to stop the violence and kidnappings of oil workers, but the kidnappings continue. And there seems to be increased violence with robberies here. So we need to be very vigilant and careful.

We came back expecting to move right in to our new apartment, thinking that the company was anxious to get us out of our present visitors flat to free it up for someone else. But our first view Tuesday morning of our new flat was pretty discouraging. The owner had decided that he wanted security gates over all the balcony doors. So we were greeted with a filthy apartment, with holes in the concrete walls and concrete debris all over. The workers did their welding right on the tile floor. Now that most of the concrete mess is cleaned up and holes are patched, there is still paint and welding debris and marks all over the nice new tile. They also just piled up the new furniture and expensive new drapes and didn't protect them from the concrete dust and debris, so there's a lot of cleaning to do still. They need to get new brackets to rehang the drapes that will fit over the security gates. What a mess! We're hoping to move in early this week. But when we went through the apartment to check things this week, about half the sinks were leaking from the drainpipes, the clothes dryer and dishwasher were not functioning, half the lights weren't working and we had many other things on the list of things to be fixed. The workers also really marked up the walls and the paint used here comes right off on the cloth when you try to clean a spot, so there will need to be some touch-up painting. Some of this will certainly happen after we move in, but hopefully they will get going on things tomorrow. We've started moving some things over to the new flat, wanting to do as much as we can ourselves. We haven't heard good things about the care that movers take here. Brent's boss said that when he moved to a different apartment, his goods were loaded in the back of a dirty cattle car. The other thing we've been busy with this week is scheduling an R&R leave, for which Brent is very overdue. We've both been away from Lagos so much that we really don't need a break from here, but Brent needs a break from work and we need a vacation together. I found a great deal on an Eastern Mediterranean cruise out of Rome, so we fly out for that on Saturday. Hopefully this week we'll be able to get settled in the new apartment and then we'll be ready for a week and a few days away.

For right now, though things are frustrating with the mess they've made of this new flat, I look around me every day and realize how very blessed I am. I see people living in impossible conditions and see so many people horribly crippled without hope of getting healed. My frustrations come from having much and coming from a life that has programmed me to expect things to work and function. My life is so very easy compared to the majority of people here. Living in Lago gives me a constant reminder of my many blessings.