Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The 127th good thing about Lagos: Back in the States, missing the colorful and interesting African headwraps

I've really been enjoying being back in Houston, but there are also some things about Lagos that I miss. One thing I miss about Lagos is the freedom I have there from high gas prices. Here I just have a big truck to drive around, and filling it up is getting very pricey. Also in Lagos I don't have to worry about car maintenance. Here in Houston, I have to deal with oil changes, car inspections, new tires and repairs when things go wrong. The air conditioning went out in the truck yesterday and with the summer temperatures here, I didn't waste any time getting it in to be repaired today. I stashed my bike in the back of the truck when I dropped it off and got my exercise biking home and along my favorite bike trail through the reservoir area. I've biked there a number of times since I've been home and each time I am thrilled by the experience and freedom of cycling through a natural area. This is a freedom I don't have in Lagos. I always see a lot of wildlife -- today for the third time I saw deer -- 2 parents and 2 small spotted fawns. I also saw a small cute armadillo right beside the trail (much cuter than the smashed armadillo guts I veered around when cycling down the road a few minutes earlier!). I always see lots of rabbits, snakes, egrets, an occasional blue heron (saw a gorgeous one today) and today there was a bright red bird convention. I saw more beautiful red birds -- most looked like red tanagers, but there was at least one cardinal -- than I've ever seen on that trail. That was really fun.

Though there's more color and variety biking along the trail here in Houston, there is less color in the women's dress at church. I'm going to do a few posts where I show some pictures in the collection I started of women's head wraps in Lagos. I really love to see all the beautiful things that these women do with their head scarfs.

This first picture is of a contest at our company holiday party last December. They gave women pieces of this stiff fabric that they use for head wraps and had a contest to see the best and fastest wrap maker. It was pretty impressive how fast they could wrap this fabric into a really neat headpiece.

This next picture is of a couple of the beautiful women at the company holiday party.

Ooh -- I can't remember the name of this next beautiful mom pictured -- this was after church this spring. But her solemn son is named Temple and the children in Primary were celebrating his first birthday this day.

This next picture was someone I don't know at Stake Conference. I loved her head wrap so I asked to take her picture.

And then there's more women at Stake Conference. Sometimes head wraps are coordinated with the dress, but other times they are not matched at all. Either way, I love to see the many styles and colors. They are as bright and cheery as the red birds on my Houston bike trail. Here in Texas, some women are known for their big hair -- in Lagos it's the big head wrap that gets noticed!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 126th good thing about Lagos: Bringing money to deserving charities

This next year I agreed to co-chair the American Women's Club office of Community Services. This is a big job, and the real focus of the club, which is to raise money to help with charitable efforts in our Nigerian community. The woman who has been leading this effort for 4 years, and doing a FABULOUS job of it, is moving to Kuwait, and she had been sending out appeals for quite a while for someone to replace her. I finally agreed to take the job. Before I left Lagos, there were many things to take care of with the handover and getting money to our charity sponsors before I left town for the summer. There's a lot to the job, but basically I manage the club's charity budget. Each charity we support has a sponsor in the club who visits regularly and brings them donations of money and goods from the club and makes sure they are accountable and my co-chair and I will make sure things are running smoothly and money gets allotted and accounted for. Handing out the money is the fun part of the job -- there's a lot of paperwork stuff that is not as rewarding. But, overall, it's a very worthwhile effort to be involved in and I think it will be a good focus for my spare time in Lagos.

I have in the past visited a few of the charities we support: the Arrow of God orphanage, the Heritage of God school, and the Family Life clinic. Before I left town, I brought a quarterly budget payment to a another charity that makes Braille books. I didn't take any pictures, but this charity is housed in a few metal temporary buildings in an empty lot. They are always asking for donations of heavy paper or cardstock (like used calendars) to use for printing of the books. They think it's funny that in other places Braille books are printed on new blank paper, because blind readers aren't bothered by things printed on the paper, so for them, recycled paper is fine. I have several friends who go to this charity weekly and help sort and cut the recycled paper to be used for the Braille books.

The other charity I visited is a home for severely disabled young people. They have two very dedicated matrons and facilities that, for Lagos, were quite clean and well-kept, though the facilities would have never been considered adequate in the States. Seeing the residents with such disabilities was quite heart-wrenching, especially when you see how little stimulation and therapy they are able to receive. Basically the matrons take care of their physical needs, but there is no effort to improve their abilities or educate them. This first picture is of our wonderful club sponsor who was about to move away. She is with a matron in the courtyard of the home where the residents are washed and fed. This past year we provided funds for a pump to keep this area dry, as it was often flooded, especially during the rainy season.

The matrons were very sad to report the death of one of their residents who had died the previous week after a severe epileptic seizure. It was obvious that they cared very much for these young people, most of whom had physical as well as mental disabilities. The next picture is of some of the residents in a screened porch in the front of the home. I think there are now about 18 residents in the home. They all seemed very happy, and many gave us great smiles.

Along with our club's donations to these charities, I was able to present checks to both of them from the American school. The students did a fabulous job with various fund-raising activities over the school year and they were able to give 4 of our charities donations, each totalling around $6400! Each of these charities were so thrilled with this unexpected bounty. The Braille center was having a budget shortfall and, before this donation, would have had difficulty finding funds to pay the salaries of their full-time staff. And this home is trying to find funds to finish their new facility, which they have been working on piece-meal for at least 8 years, doing work as donated funds came in. Hopefully within the next year they will move to their new home (which we were able to visit after our visit to the current center) and I will be able to post pictures of them in their improved facilities.

The 125th good thing about Lagos: Helping a student with his education expenses

Well, it's been a while since I posted, so I'm going to try to do a couple of posts that I've been meaning to write since I've been home about events right before I left town. For the past month I've really enjoyed being back in Houston and spending some time with grandchildren and enjoying all the bounty that life in the States has to offer. But life back in Lagos is going on, though it's easy to feel very far away. Before I left Lagos in June, I was able to meet with the university student that I will be sponsoring with the American Women's Club scholarship program for the coming year. David is a medical student in his 4th year -- in the US he would be in his last year of undergraduate work. He was one of the new students that passed the interviews I recently participated in. I gave him half of his first year scholarship which was 35,000 Naira, a little less than $300. This doesn't sound like a lot of money for US college students, but the scholarship will cover most of his expenses for the year. He studies at a university quite a ways away and had to travel about 5 hours each direction on a bus to come up to Lagos to get his money. But when I emailed him and said he would need to come soon or wait until I returned in September, he said he could make the trip that weekend. He came to my house along with his uncle, who he is staying with while he is in town. They were both quiet and a little nervous, but I was very impressed with David and his plans for the future. He wants to be a heart surgeon. The medical school system is less intensive than in the US, it is a 6 year program, which includes the undergraduate education along with medical school. I'm sure (at least I hope) there are interships and other training after graduation, though he said that he was currently doing a lot of clinical work. I was a little less impressed when I saw his grades, which were mostly in the 50% range. But I know from the interview process that good grades are very hard to come by in the Nigerian system. I would just be a bit worried if I knew I were going to a doctor who only understood half of his education. He'll keep track of his expenses and need to report them to me and I'll check in with him by email now and then to make sure he's doing okay in school and managing life. I'll see him again in November when there is a reception and meeting for the club's scholarship students, and then I'll give him the second installment of his scholarship money. Both David and his uncle were very grateful for the assistance the club was giving him. His uncle said that he thought it was a wonderful thing that Americans were helping Nigerian students get an advanced education. I think it is too, and I'm glad for the opportunity to be a mentor.