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.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The 87th good thing about Lagos: the Arrow of God orphanage

This past week I went on an American Women's Club field trip to visit three charities that the club supports. They organized this trip so members can see the good work that these charities do and be more ready to pitch in and help when needed. They also requested donations from the club's members so we were able to bring a supply of needed items to each location. I'll do a separate blog post telling about each of the charities.

Here's a shot of some of our group in the Chevron bus that provided us transport. Donations were piled in the back.

The first stop was at the Arrow of God orphanage. We got to this via some very rutted and roller-coaster dirt roads that led our trip leader to remind us that "you pay good money for this kind of ride at Disneyland." She was anxious to see the new home of the orphanage. They had moved this past spring after getting a large donation that allowed them to buy concrete to build a new facility. The funds came from the American pop singer Beyonce. She came last fall to perform in Lagos and she had learned about the orphanage when investigating charities in Lagos and she wanted to help them. She invited the children to come and meet her and she fed them and sang for them and they had a great time. Deborah, the orphanage director, said the older children knew who Beyonce was and they were thrilled to meet her. We were quite impressed with the buildings -- the women who had visited the orphanage in its old location said this was a big improvement. I was very impressed with the center's director. (She's pictured here in her office) The orphanage pamphlet I received said about her: "The President and Founder, Rev. Lt. Col. D. C. Ogo, an ordained Minister, a former Principal of the Nigerian Army School of Nursing and Mid-Wifery, a former Chief Matron and a retired Army Colonel who blends her military discipline with the warmth of a seasoned nurse to provide an enduring care and motherhood for the children." Sounds like a winning combination of skills! The orphanage is 9 years old and their brochure says that over 300 children have been adopted from the orphanage during that time.

After unloading the donations from the bus, we took a tour of the orphanage's buildings.

In the nursery area we were able to see and hold several new infants that had come to the orphanage. Generally the babies are brought there by the police after they have found abandoned infants, or after they've been given infants by people who find them abandoned. The babies were beautiful!
The director said that adopting a baby is very easy here -- there's not much paperwork and there's never a shortage of supply. (I'm sure actually getting the baby out of Nigeria and into the US there would be plenty of legal wrangling, however.) After holding these darling newborns, several women joked about bringing home a surprise for their husbands.

There are two buildings for living quarters, the one that has the babies and another that's a dormitory for the older children. There are 180 children at the orphanage right now, and the dormitory is not large, so they must really be packed in there at night! Behind these buildings is a courtyard area in front of the open building that is used for the school. This open school has classrooms divided by sheets of plywood. The children are working very closely together, but they seemed to be very focused on their work -- at least when they weren't greeting their visitors.

Here's the youngest kids -- with 3 that were down for the count.

Here's a close-up of a couple of the students. They loved it when I showed them their picture on my camera's screen.

A passing goat in the courtyard -- one of the women remarked that it was a plus to have a goat because it kept the trash down -- and laundry was hanging on the line. 180 kids must generate a lot of laundry -- though I'm sure they have much more limited clothing supply than the average American child. The facilities here would be considered very primitive in the States, I'm sure below what would be considered acceptable, but for Nigeria, it's quite an impressive facility. It was clean, the children were orderly and were learning and the babies were being cared for with love.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The 86th good thing about Lagos: A resident's meeting beginning with prayer

It was another very welcome Environmental Saturday. No noise from the road, but with the occasional rumbling of thunder from a passing storm. We should be in the dry season by now -- I'm sure this is concrete evidence of global warming! :o) Isn't everything?

We had received a notice summoning us to a 9 AM meeting of the residents, which was probably a good choice of time, as no one can be on the roads between 7-10. I was a little surprised when the apartment manager asked a resident to say a prayer to open the meeting. This young black woman kind of rolled her eyes and said a very terse prayer thanking God. I think she was either caught off-guard by the request, or considered it inappropriate. During the meeting when the manager was being called to task by residents who are more than ready to have some of the maintenance and upkeep issues addressed, I wondered if he had been expecting the barrage of criticism from the residents and felt that he needed a prayer to face it!

The 85th good thing about Lagos: A cultural experience with music and dance from the Kanuri tribe

Last night's performance at the Muson Centre was a big contrast to the performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony the night before. For this evening of "Indigenous Social Music" they brought down some musicians and dancers from the Kanuri tribe which is the dominant ethnic group of Bornu state in northeastern Nigeria. For this event, the hall was set up with tables and when we arrived, on each chair were 2 tote bags with cans of evaporated milk -- a gift from the sponsor of the event -- an unexpected bonus to our evening. While waiting for the event to begin (things there seem to always start a half hour late) we had a nice chat with the chairman of the Muson board. The program had some interesting background information on the Kanuri tribe. The Kanuri are Muslim and they do have their own language, though most also speak Hausa, which is the most common language spoken in northern Nigeria. They are "sedentary hoe agriculturalists. " Millet is the staple food crop, followed by guinea corn (sorghum). Ground nuts (peanuts) are grown for sale. "Social relations in Kanuri society are generally patterned upon those of the idealized family, the most common being the father-son/superior-subordinate relation. A man's prestige is based on the size of his household and the number of his patron-client relationships." The paragraph that got my attention was this: "The preferred marriage for a man is to a young virgin, 10-14 years of age. But this is a very expensive form of marriage, and most men cannot afford it as a first marriage when they are themselves usually in their late teens to mid-twenties. The more common first marriage is to a divorcee, for whom the bride wealth payments are much lower. Marriage between cousins also reduces the required bride-price. In case of divorce, children stay with the father." Remember, Muslims can have more than one wife. This doesn't sound like my idea of the "idealized family!" I'm glad I'm not a female in this ethnic group!

The music consisted of a man playing the "algaita" which they call a flute. It sounded like it had a reed, but I'm not exactly sure exactly how the sound was produced. The guy playing it was amazing because he had a circular breathing kind of technique and he could keep the sound going continuously for a really long time -- like 10 minutes without a break! I wish I had timed his first set. He puffed out his cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie. The second set had some elements that sounded kind of jazz-like. He was accompanied by four drummers who beat on their drums with sticks. Each music bit went on a bit longer than my ears would have chosen, but it was interesting to hear this native music. In between sets, the waiters brought us out drinks: a rich milk drink, bottled water, and a fruit juice drink that was very different. They also brought some native food -- fried plantain and yam and potato. We all tried it, but it was so heavily fried that a taste was enough. The dancers in the second half were performing "Maliki dance," which is a popular dance style of the Kanuri people. The program said, "It was performed by princes and princesses of Kanem Borno Empire but today, it has become more universal in terms of people who perform it. It still retains elements of royalty as demonstrated by the measured movements of the dancers. Originally the dance was performed during social occasions like installation and turbaning ceremonies of traditional rulers." The dances were not complicated or really energetic, but the dancers really seemed to be having fun. They all had big smiles on while they were dancing.

A really interesting part of the evening involved 3 tables of men in the audience that were obviously from the Kanuri tribe. In the first set, the flutist came off stage and played in front of them and several of these men responded by tucking large stacks of money inside his costume. In the second half, when the dancers were on the stage, a number of these men came up on the stage and, after waving a kind of blessing to the performers, they went around the stage dropping money around each of them. They would touch the bill to the performer's foreheard and then let the money drop to the floor. They were shelling out a LOT of money, which was then gathered up by some stage hand. I hope I'll be able to upload a video of that here. We didn't bring stacks of money to give to the performers, but we did give them lots of applause. It would have been even better to see the performance in a real-life setting in a village, but these musicians and dancers traveled for 2 days to Lagos to perform for us, so I'm glad that they were willing to face the hazards of the road. For our 500 naira entrance fee ($4) we got 24 cans of evaporated milk, (some of which we gave to our driver), food and drink, and a cultural experience.

I love how my camera responded to the low light levels in the room and these photos came out looking like paintings.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The 84th good thing about Lagos: A Beethoven performance that evokes great memories

Tonight Brent and I and a friend who's an officer at the US Consulate attended a performance of Beethoven's Ninth. It was one of those experiences that remind me, "Carolee, you're not in Houston anymore." Tonight was the opening concert of the Muson Center's Fall Music Festival. Muson stands for the Musical Society of Nigeria. I didn't have high expectations for this performance -- what I had heard about the Muson's orchestra was "well, it's nice that they're trying so hard." I've performed this work many times with the top notch Houston Symphony and Chorus and with some of the finest orchestral conductors around, so I was just hoping that it wouldn't be painful. When I heard the orchestra tuning I realized that it would be painful. The brass players were especially oblivious to their tuning problems. The orchestra had to do some shuffling of parts -- their woodwind section consisted of 3 flutes and 3 clarinets and a bassoon. Most often a clarinet played the oboe part, sometimes a flute took the part. There were no french horns -- the brass section was just trumpets and trombones. Although there were 4 chairs set up for the soloists, there were no visible risers for the chorus and the chorus hadn't been mentioned in the publicity for the event, so I was a little worried that they were going to have a recorded chorus or something. There was a flat screen beside the stage playing ads through the concert -- I wondered if maybe they'd show a chorus on screen there. But before the 4th movement, the chorus came on and crowded in behind the orchestra. The women in the chorus wore these striking orange-red iridescent dresses. What a relief when the soloists started singing and I realized they were a few steps above the orchestra in quality. Though they had some unique pronunciation of the German text, they handled the music quite well. The chorus was not polished, but they sang with energy and they knew their music well. There were a couple of times when the orchestra and chorus and soloists were off by a beat or so, but it was resolved within a few measures.

I don't want in any way to show a lack of respect for these Nigerian musicians. (The racial mix, by the way, was quite different from that we have in Houston -- the orchestra had 2 token white faces -- no Asians in sight -- and there was 1 white in the chorus.) The pink rubber bands visibly holding together the shoes of a violinist in the front row was a reminder to me of the challenges many of these musicians likely have had to face in getting as much training as they have. This Western orchestral music tradition is not theirs and it had to be difficult to find teachers and instruments in this city of over 14 million people that doesn't even have a single piano store. I do think it's great that they have the chance to perform wonderful music and it was obvious from the faces of the instrumentalists and chorus members and soloists (who sang along with the chorus parts when they didn't have a solo line) that they were relishing it with the same exhilaration that I feel when I perform it.

The real miracle began for me in the 3rd movement when it opens with that quiet woodwind section that is so lovely when performed by the Houston Symphony. This group was really struggling through it, but in the midst of their struggles, I could hear in my mind the beautiful harmonies of the Houston Symphony. When, in the 4th movement, the cellos introduced the theme and the lone string bass player was scrambling to keep up and was a quarter-step under pitch, what I felt I heard was the incredible unison of the low strings of the Houston Symphony. When the chorus joined together for that first 4-part "Freude..." it was easy to be reminded of the many times I've had the opportunity of singing that exciting theme with the Houston Symphony Chorus. When the concert began, I was worried that it would be a miserable experience. When it ended, it was an amazing testament to me of the power of music in using our memory to return us to meaningful places and experiences in our past. Through the many wonderful opportunities I've had of performing that brilliant work with such talented and well-trained musicians as I was able to associate with in Houston, the beauty of it has been imprinted on my soul. I was able to transcend this poor performance and return to the many beautifully rewarding performances in which I have had the privilege of participating.

Tomorrow night's concert is one of indigenous social music with drum and a traditional flute called an algaita, along with a Maliki cultural dance troupe. I'll go and enjoy being totally unable to assess the quality of the performance!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The 83rd good thing about Lagos: You can get a Butterball turkey here, if you're willing to pay the price!

Yesterday at our American Women's Club general meeting, after the speakers, a member of the board got up and said we had a special opportunity. She then gave a very funny explanation and introduction telling us about this opportunity. She explained how her husband worked for DHL and he was trying to build connections with a guy running a shipping line. The guy said DHL had to prove what they could do and, when asked what it would take, he said he would consider using DHL if they could get him a Butterball turkey. In just a couple of days, the turkey was delivered to his office, and he responded with shouts of delight. Well, this woman was a little bit miffed because, she told her husband, she has never had a turkey while she was here and she would like her own Butterball turkey. This was on Thursday and by Saturday morning, she had her turkey delivered. (This makes me think DHL is a miracle worker -- NOTHING happens here that fast!) Well, she got an extra one for the AWC to auction off. The bidding quickly rose up higher than I was willing to go. I think the winning price was 17,000 naira -- about $140. And it wasn't even that big of a turkey! Well, no worries, we'll be away for Thanksgiving anyway.

The 82nd good thing about Lagos: Being here gives us the opportunity to get away

We are entitled to 2 interim leaves a year while we live in Lagos (R&R trips where the company pays for our flights and a per diem). We took our first one at the end of July, and I finally finished organizing my photos. We found a great deal on a Mediterranean cruise. We flew to Rome (via Paris) and spent a couple of days sightseeing there.
I really enjoyed Rome! Here's a photo of us with the Colliseum in the background.

We then took a train to Civitavecchia, the port that's near Rome and got on our 7 night Costa cruise ship. Our first port was in Sicily and we took an excursion to the beautiful city of Tourmina.

Our next port was the Isle of Patmos, where John the Revelator received the vision that is now recorded in the book of Revelations in the New Testament. There's a church built now on the site of that cave where he lived and there's also a great monastery on top of the island.

That evening we stopped on the island of Mykonos and enjoyed an evening stroll (along with the passengers from about 4 cruise ships). We would love to come back here when it wasn't so crowded!
Our next port was Izmir, Turkey where we took a fabulous excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus. We were amazed at the extensive ruins there. This picture is of the showpiece at Ephesus, the ancient library.

Our final port was the beautiful island of Santorini, where we took a trip across the island to see the charming and picturesque village of Oia.
If you want to see more of our cruise, you can visit my web album -- it has more than 400 pictures (and that's not even all that I took!). Digital cameras with big media cards are great!
Here's the address (you may need to copy and paste into your browser):

I think a cruise was a great way to see different areas in the Mediterranean! We had a fabulous time!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The 81st good thing about Lagos: Billboards that give advice to improve our lives

There are lots of signs of all kinds around Lagos. Small, large, hand lettered, scrawled on walls -- you name it, there's a sign for it. Here's some daily advice from a couple of billboards.
Smile more and befriend Jesus -- good advice. The sign I REALLY wanted a picture of, I couldn't find, though several people said it was their favorite sign. I think it's possible that it's been replaced. So I'll just have to tell you the secret to success that was on this billboard: "A worm-free family is a happy family." I bet you thought happy families had something to do with praying together or eating meals together or playing together.
But there it is -- the key to happiness in your family life! Get rid of those worms!