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.