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.)