Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The 208th good thing about Lagos: Christmas on the bridge

Here in Lagos it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, even though it's still hot and steamy outside. Decorations are popping up all over the place. On the Chevron compound, the trunks of palm trees have turned festive colors.



You can often buy a great variety of things in the go-slows on Falomo bridge. This week, you could buy a small Christmas tree, complete with a few decorations, and also a Santa hat, sold by a red-nosed hawker -- in addition to the long list of normal items sold by the hawkers on the bridge.



Though my sole decoration in our flat is a Christmas ornament that I acquired in a gift exchange, I decided to pass on the purchase of the Christmas tree. Our bags are almost packed and we're getting ready to go -- back to Houston for the holidays. After I get there I will haul out the holly and deck the halls and dream of a white Christmas. (However, Houston had a record breaking and highly unusual snowfall last week, so I probably missed my chance there.) But I'll be home for Christmas -- so that's one really good thing about living in Lagos! I wish you a Merry Christmas and I hope for Joy to the World! (Is it obvious that I've started listening to Christmas carols?)

The 207th good thing about Lagos: Fabulous fund-raising by American International School students keeps a charity gift tradition alive!

The American Women's Club here has a Christmas tradition of giving a bag of foodstuffs to the staff members of the charities we support -- a thank you and acknowledgement of their generous efforts throughout the year. My first Christmas here I assisted with this project and last year I was in charge. As we made up our Community Services budget for the AWC this year, the funding for this project was something that we had to cut out, so we weren't sure how or if we would be able to continue this tradition, which was very much appreciated by these workers who give of themselves all year. But contact with the American International School's Student Senate (what they call their high school's student government) led to their generous offer to do the fundraising for us for this project. They gave students a number of giving opportunities on Thanksgiving week. A big component of their efforts was the opportunity for students to pay for the privilege of not wearing their school uniform, buying a "free dress" day. Their uniform is really quite flexible so I wouldn't have thought it an onerous thing, but I guess many really wanted to dress in something other than navy, khaki or red, because the students raised a lot of money in just a few days -- N374,000 -- about $2500! I was astounded and very grateful. That was enough money to cover the cost of the gift bags and also help with the extra funds we needed (along with other private donations received) to keep up our tradition of giving some money to help fund a Christmas party to our charities that serve children. We had just one week to organize this Christmas gift bag project, so it was a whirlwind effort. We had a committee member, who heads up a local foundation and has bulk food buying connections, volunteer to do the shopping and she also offered the use of her office for the assembly efforts. Club members donated ziplock bags for dividing up the bulk goods.
The ghana bags were filled with rice, beans, garri, oil, sugar, salt, tea, oats, semovita, candles, matches, canned milk, sardines, bouillon cubes, tomato paste, bar soap, and a toiletry bag stuffed with airplane and hotel toiletries. In two hours we stuffed 100 bags and the delivery to the charities is almost finished -- at least all the bags I was responsible for getting somewhere are out of my apartment! When I delivered the gift bags to the Braille Book Production Centre, the volunteer manning the desk in the shipping container that serves as their office said their staff (many of whom are visually impaired and have many challenges in their lives) had really been looking forward to getting their gift bags again this year. Many thanks to the American school students for getting us the funds so we didn't have to disappoint them!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The 206th good thing about Lagos: Living here gives us the opportunity to have another great trip with our son!

As I've written before, living here gives us an opportunity to travel to an extent that we wouldn't be able to manage if we were living and working in the States. The company pays for our college-age son, who is our dependent, to meet us twice a year. He will graduate from college next spring, so he is relishing this benefit which will end before long. From the choices we gave him, top on his list was a Mediterranean cruise this Thanksgiving. He is taking a class in art history and was looking forward to seeing some of the art he's been studying. We all met in Barcelona -- Jordan travelled from Salt Lake City, Brent from London, where he had been on business, and I came from Lagos. I was so relieved when we all met up there without any problems! We had a day and a half in Barcelona to explore the city. We enjoyed seeing the walking down Las Ramblas, going to the market with beautiful fruit, and appreciating the artistic heritage of Gaudi.

Gaudi's enormous cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, which is still under construction, was really great to see. It was begun in 1882 and is not expected to be complete till at least 2026. It is supposed to be open for worship next year, and they are working hard on it. I had last seen it in 1978 -- so they had made a lot of progress on it since then, but there's still lots left to do.

The stained glass was beautiful from the inside.


Another Gaudi creation was Park Guell, with some fantastic organic constructions.



We really loved seeing the sights of Barcelona -- a night show of fountains orchestrated to music, the Picasso museum, seeing some great architecture. I would love to have had more time there. But Saturday we boarded the Century for a 7 night cruise.

This cruise was port-heavy, with a different stop every day except the last day, which was at sea on the way back to Barcelona. Our first day, Sunday, we stopped at Cannes, France. We took a quick tour of that city and then took the train to Nice, where we took a quick look at this charming city on the French Riviera. It kind of got chilly there and threatened rain, but we missed it and had really great weather for the rest of the trip.



On Monday we toured Genoa, where we saw sights such as this home of Christopher Columbus. On our Thanksgiving trip two years ago, we were in Madeira and on Thanksgiving Day we took a boat to the smaller island of Porto Santo and visited another home of Christopher Columbus there, so we felt like following Columbus was becoming a Thanksgiving tradition.



There are some beautiful churches in Genoa. In this beautiful Baroque church, Brent moved closer to look at the altar painting after I told him that it was a Rubens painting of the Circumcision of Christ -- kind of an interesting subject for the main altar.




I loved the facade on this Church.



Look at this detail of the inlay decoration -- I can't imagine the work involved in creating this decorated facade!




On Tuesday was a trip to Florence -- one of my very favorite European cities. We saw the famous Baptistry doors, the "Gates of Paradise," beside the enormous Duomo.


We saw the original Michaelangelo "David." We couldn't take a picture of the real one in the Academy, but this contemporary copy in a main piazza could be photographed.


Florence is a city that I could spend a month in and still not be satisfied. A day was a nice taste, but left me wanting a lot more.



The next day was Rome. Brent and I had seen quite a bit two years ago, so we got Jordan off with a small group doing a fast paced whirlwind tour. We took our time and saw some things that we missed last time -- the Pantheon was never open when we were by it last time, so this trip we made sure to get inside.



But I did take time to take one more look in the fabulous St. Peter's cathedral in Vatican City. We were close by and there were no lines, so I walked through it once again. It is so awe-inspiring.



On Thanksgiving Day we were in Naples and we took the train to Pompeii -- which was a new site to all of us. It was amazing to us how huge it was! It was a perfect day and there weren't many visitors there. What a great way to spend Thanksgiving!








Here I uttered the words I never thought I would say to my young-adult son: "Oh, here's the brothel -- let's go on in."



We had busy days of sightseeing and then came back each evening to a wonderful dinner. Thanksgiving was a beautiful 7-course meal that I didn't need to cook or clean up after. I could get used to this life.


I also really enjoyed the entertainment on board the ship in the evening -- especially this acapella group! I'm currently still in a state of cruise withdrawal!

video

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The 205th good thing about Lagos: Great pictures from others on my coffee table and pictures of my own in my mind!

On our trip to Badagry earlier this fall, we got acquainted with a very interesting man who has become a friend. Victor is a successful entrepeneur and is talented in a business sense, but also has a passion and talent for photography. He has homes in other places besides Nigeria, but this country has become his most recent outlet for his photography obsession. (He referred to it as an obsession himself, so hopefully he won't mind if I do so as well. ;o)) He recently published a beautiful coffee-table book of his pictures of Nigeria and, when I expressed interest, he allowed me the opportunity to sell it to my friends at a discount to what they would pay in stores here, with some of the purchase price going to charity. His book Nigeria through the Eyes of a Passerby is very popular with many expats here because it has the scenes of Nigeria that we see on the street but most frequently are unable to get our cameras out in time to photograph. He is able to capture those pictures on film (except that's become just an expression now, hasn't it? It's not really on film but on pixels....) that we all have just in our minds. He shows the every-day people on the street with a dignity and respect that I really appreciate. I laughed when I first was paging through his book and saw his photo of a goat as a passenger on an okada, a motorcycle taxi. The goat is looking back at the camera with a pensive look. It was a delight to see it because I had seen just such a scene, except the photo in my mind was a bit better because there were two goats being held between the okada driver and his human passenger, each facing opposite directions. From behind, I saw a goat head and two goat legs poking out from each side between the people motorcycle riders -- it looked like a goat with a head on each end! Victor would have done great things with that shot! (As an aside, while we're on the subject of goat transport photos --a friend recently showed me a series of photos she had taken of a taxi they had passed on the street that was crammed full of goats. She said there must have been at least 20 goats stuffing the cab!) Anyway, I'm very glad now to have a book of similar pictures to the ones that I have kicking around in my mind -- and with pictures much more beautiful than I could ever take with my camera. Thank you Victor!

I should be packing right now for the Thanksgiving trip I'll leave for tonight. Brent's on business in London and Jordan will be leaving his university studies at BYU and we're meeting in Barcelona and going on a cruise to relax together and enjoy some European-style culture. Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers! But before my mind gets cluttered with this different variety of culture, I want to paint a word-picture of a sight I saw this past weekend. I want to write it down so I will be reminded when my powers of recall aren't working so well (as seems to be happening more frequently these days). I was telling Victor that I wish he had seen it and been able to record it -- the picture in my mind is so beautiful. I was riding to church on the road that goes through a little village. I love this road because there's so much activity happening there on Sunday mornings. There are shacks with tomatoes and peppers piled high, peeks into rooms with people gathered for worship, and the sounds of the preacher and singing as we pass. There are people going about their morning activities, and all the activity is just a few feet from my car window. As I passed by on Sunday, standing so close I could have reached out to touch her if I had rolled down my window, was a young girl of about 7, standing nude beside a plastic tub of soapy water. She was standing, head upright, with the contropposto stance of a classical sculpture. Half of her black torso was white, covered with a thick soapy lather. Her younger brother (I assumed), maybe about 5 years old, was crouched beside her with a cloth scrubbing at her legs, covering them with the thick soap. He was so intent on scrubbing her clean -- I couldn't have imagined that my body had ever been scrubbed with such intensity. Overseeing this cleansing was their mother, standing by, looking on for quality control, while her son performed this service for his sister. Then again, maybe I'm romanticizing the scene. The mother was watching with one hand on hip -- maybe her son was doing penance for some teasing act he did to his sister and possibly his vigorous scrubbing was him acting out his frustration with his punishment. But I like the first scenario better! Anyway, I hope you can picture a little bit of this scene of dignity that I was allowed to witness. I do so treasure and, at this time of Thanksgiving, am grateful for the pictures of Nigeria that I now carry with me in my mind!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The 204th good thing about Lagos: Saturday celebrations from two different cultures

The weekend before last we had a busy day with the opportunity to participate in two big celebrations. We first attended the wedding of one of Brent's co-worker. Weddings in Nigeria are often big and fancy affairs. There are different types of weddings here, and many couples have more than one celebration. This couple had celebrated a traditional wedding in their family's village the weekend before this "church" wedding, which was held in a Chinese restaurant. Some couples opt for a wedding at the registry (kind of like going to City Hall in the States), where families and friends often come to join in the celebration and even there they have a lot of pomp and ceremony.

One thing quite different from the States is the tradition here of the wedding attendees having dresses, or at least head ties, matching the colors of the wedding. After we accepted the invitation, the woman at work who was organizing the fabric choice for the office workers said she had fabric for my dress, told me how much my portion would cost, and said I should have a tailor make me a dress for the occasion. I was glad that I was already having a tailor come to make me something for the Marine Ball (the next occasion on this day), so I didn't have to scramble to find someone to make me a dress. The wedding colors were blue and silver, so they bought a lots of yards of one particular fabric and many people from the office that attended had outfits made out of it. Other groups came in matching outfits of a different fabric that they had chosen to coordinate with the bridal colors. So, besides the wedding party itself, the attendees add to the decor of the celebration. I thought my dress turned out pretty well. The tailor just took my measurements and looked at a drawing I had made with a description of what I wanted him to do and he executed it quite well. Though the fabric wasn't cheap, the tailor only charged me about $35.

At this occasion, there were some things different from other church weddings I have experienced. Even though the wedding was held in a meeting room in a Chinese restaurant, it was managed by an Evangelical Christian church -- I think there were four pastors participating at various times. We got there right on the scheduled time, knowing that we would be among the early arrivals, as things here always start late. We joined in about 1 1/2 hours of praise music singing while waiting for the wedding party to arrive. The wedding was fairly conventional -- though I thought it was interesting that they used Coke as the beverage when they participated in communion together. ;o) The singing, both by the performers and the dancing and singing by the audience who joined in, was quite lively. And after the official ceremony, one of the preachers gave a sermon about making marriage work (with some graphic discussion that I've never heard in our church services... I won't explain it here) for a full hour. That was stretching it a bit for us! Then after that there was a prayer over the couple with the preacher calling for the bride to be having a child 9 months from this day -- he repeated that over and over while stretching his hands out over her. These evangelical pastors here can get very dramatic and I don't think any preacher in the States would dare offer that kind of admonition to a bride on her wedding day!

After all that, there was some picture taking -- both formal shots and informal ones, like this one of Brent's co-workers. Even one man got into the matching fabric action! Brent just wore a suit.

Then there was a nice dinner and dancing and cake cutting -- nothing too unusual. I was thinking -- "wow, this has got to be costing them a lot of money -- weddings sure are expensive here," but the Nigerians at our table said this was a very modest affair for a Nigerian wedding. He said they at times have a seated dinner for 3000-4000 people! I can't imagine that! I've heard about how often people accrue huge debt here paying for a wedding. It makes me very grateful that I have a practical daughter without expensive tastes and she was married in the US!


There was some lively dancing. When the bride and groom danced, many of the the attendees did the Nigerian practice of coming forward and dropping money around the dancers. They had a laundry basket there to catch the money gifts.
I liked this picture of some of the group of Brent's coworkers. I thought it was fun to see how we all had the same fabric, but there were so many different dresses made from it. Alas, I didn't get the head tie!


We had just a short time home in the afternoon before we needed to leave for the Marine Ball. This Ball is held in different places all over the world to celebrate the Marine's birthday. This year it was their 234th birthday. This is a big event for the American expatriates here. As we entered the hall, we were greeted by a reception line of the Marines from the detachment here in Lagos. They sure looked great in their uniforms. (I was not terrifically thrilled with this outfit which I had made for the occasion -- it's certainly not very flattering on me.)



After some cocktail/visiting time, there was a ceremony which started with the color guard presenting the colors.

We had a program with a short film about talk and history of the event we were celebrating. The US Ambassador to Nigeria was present and gave a short speech.
Then there was the ceremony of cutting of the cake. This is a ceremony that recognizes the oldest and youngest Marines present at the occasion and symbolizes the passing of knowledge from the experienced Marines to the new Marine.

This was extra special to us because our host at our table, a co-worker of Brent's and friend to us, was the oldest Marine present (he is retired), so he went up, with the US Consulate General, and was the first to have a piece of cake. Next served was the youngest Marine here, who was only 21 years old.



Then there was dinner and then dancing. I was surprised when Brent went out on the dance floor willingly -- usually I have to drag him out to dance. We really had a nice evening. Thanks, Buster, for your invitation, but even more for your career of service in the Marines. My thanks also to all the U.S. servicemen who are today sacrificing and putting their lives on the line throughout the world. Happy Birthday Marines!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The 203rd good thing about Lagos: A waystation to get people off life on the street

Last week I went with some other American women to visit a Lagos State rehabilitation center in Majidun, Ikorodu. It is one of the charities that the American Women's club supports here. It's kind of a distance away, so I hadn't yet had the opportunity to travel there. We got a bus from Chevron and had a nice little day trip. Unfortunately, the big boss met us on our arrival and told us he didn't want us to take pictures of the facility, so I only was able to take a couple of shots of our group and our pile of donations that we brought with us.


This center we call Majidun is almost a city, sometimes with as many as 2000 residents. Although the week before our visit there had been 2000, when we were there they said there were around 900. It's basicaly the place where Lagos police bring people when they do a sweep to get people off the streets. There are some people there -- mostly mentally handicapped or mentally ill -- who are long-term residents. They are allowed to stay because they need care and support that they wouldn't be able to get on the outside. But when someone new is brought to Majidun, they are given a health screening and then the staff investigate which is their home state. Many people that come from outside Lagos State are sent back to their home state and hopefully to the care of some family. It sounded like Lagos State was saying to other States -- this is your problem, not ours. Lagos gets many people come from other areas in the country, as it is considered a place to come to make money. But people frequently get here and find that making money is not so easy here. When people are taken to Majidun, they are not free to go as they please from there, so it's kind of an incarceration, but residents have a place to sleep and food, so some people are happy to stay there for a long time. But the staff there try to get people well and functioning and into some place where they can live a productive life.
We were given a tour of the medical facilities which are pretty spare. The really sick are given access to a hospital. The place they called a school was basically a day care -- the kids moved their attention from the TV to us when we came into the room. The staff said they didn't see white people very much, so we were quite a sight -- some children were scared of us and started crying. The children are usually brought in from the street with their mothers. They are allowed some time with their parent, but many of the women are unable mentally to care for their children, so here the children are able to get some care, though there were a lot of children for the staff and space there. There was one little baby that looked very sick and malnourished, but most of the kids seemed healthy and happy (except for the white fright!). The sleeping facilities for the children looked fairly comfortable. We walked around the women's barracks area (there are separate living facilities for men and women and -- they said -- never the twain can meet, though I'm sure plenty find a way). They said most residents there have a mattress, basically a piece of foam, on the floor, though when a lot of people come in, they sometimes have to put out mats for them to sleep on. She said they have a constant problem with bedbugs and have to burn mattresses, but companies are good about giving them foam for mattresses when they need them. Each resident has their own little bowl that they bring to the covered patio area at meal time to receive something to eat. They serve 3 meals a day. Some days charities will come in and cook and serve a meal, giving a better meal than what the State provides. Our liaison for this charity, Maxine, has been watching out for Majidun for over 20 years. She said that long ago Lagos only allowed something like 30 naira per day per resident -- which is nothing -- and there was a lot of malnourishment. But these days the food is adequate.
There was an area which was used for vocational training -- a shoeshop and wood workshop and a weaving area and sewing room. There were a few people working on things. Maxine said they have a problem getting enough materials for them to use to make things. The volunteers and staff there help the residents sell the things they make to buy more materials to make things, but there's never enough. They want the residents to learn something useful that they could use as a trade when they get to live in the outside. They are in need of crafts and things they can make and sell that have little initial cost. It seemed to me that there is a lot of time there with nothing to do. The staff said that the residents have some jobs and responsibilities, but there are a lot of people there and not much going on.
We were impressed with how clean the place is -- there wasn't any garbage piled up around and it seemed to be swept, even though most buildings had the kind of decrepit look that most Nigerian buildings have . But I realized that the lack of trash was likely due in large part to the reality that people there didn't have any stuff and they weren't given access to things that would create garbage.
In the end, we were quite favorably impressed with the facility. It wasn't scary or really awful looking, as it could have been. There are certainly many improvements that could be made to help the residents, but for many of them, I'm sure it's a big improvement over the hard life on the streets.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The 202nd good thing about Lagos: Students pledging allegiance to the world

I've been doing a fair amount of substitute teaching at the American International School this year. I've enjoyed it -- the students there are really great and I like having something different to do. I've done a range of subjects -- high school History and English, kindergarten and, this week, middle school English and History. My students this week are reading Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and it's fun to see how much they're enjoying it as we read it out loud.

When I was recently subbing in kindergarten (which takes a different level of energy -- but while 8th graders tolerate me -- kindergarteners LOVE me! And that feels nice), I had the opportunity to observe the elementary students weekly Monday morning assembly.

Although the school has "American" in its name, it has a high percentage of students from all over the world, so saying a pledge to the flag of the United States would not be appropriate. I really liked the pledge these students made to a flag with a symbol of our earth home:

  • I pledge allegiance to the world, To care for earth and sea and air,
  • To cherish every living thing, With peace and justice everywhere.

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone all over the world could make a pledge like that and keep it?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The 201st good thing about Lagos: A variety of cultural performances

We just returned from a really great classical concert performance by a wonderful soprano and a talented pianist. It was the final performance of the Muson (Musical Society of Nigeria) Centre and the musicians were flown in from Great Britain. It just filled my soul to hear some really fine music performed well -- that level of performance is something that I miss from my life in Houston. In the past couple of weeks I have had opportunity to hear a different variety of musical performances, and I've enjoyed them as well. Last Sunday I went to a choral concert with the Muson choir, orchestra and soloists singing works of Handel and Haydn. And the Friday previous to that, we attended a performance of indigenous social dance and music featuring the Ilaje people of Nigeria. The Ilajes live in areas where there is water, building their homes on stilts over water, and making their living by fishing. The performance was called Ajo, (The Journey) and highlighted a man's life cycle.

These women served as the visual narrators, dancing away the passage of time between scenes.
video

A young man wooed a young woman, presenting her with a flower.


They danced the beginning of their life together...
video
and then celebrated the birth of a child (and they used a real baby here, which slept peacefully through all the dancing).
video

There were dancing scenes of work and fishing.

video

The baby grew up and eventually there was another marriage scene.

video

And finally, a death scene. It actually was a much more cohesive performance than my video here show, and they had a little slide show to help tell the story with projected pictures. Pretty high-tech for Lagos!

video

Another performance of a different variety that we enjoyed was courtesy of the Goethe Institute. They have a peaceful setting right by the water and we enjoyed listening to a German reggae musician known as Jahcoustix. He was quite a talented guy with a good band and I really enjoyed his music.

So, yes, I have very eclectic tastes in music and I'm always very happy when I have an opportunity to indulge them here in Lagos -- it seems like it's feast or famine here, so I'm likely in for a dearth of concert opportunities for awhile. In this next clip. the dread-locked Jahcoustix is singing reggae in Arabic -- he also sang in German as well as English -- this concert was an eclectic mix all by itself!

video

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The 200th good thing about Lagos: Another good time at the beach

I'm catching up on posting October activities -- and it's taken me to 200 good things in Lagos, and there's even more posts when I count other good things outside Lagos. We've stayed here longer than I had imagined when we first got here and we still don't know how long it will last, but I'm still enjoying the experience!

We always jump at the opportunity for a day at the beach -- a chance to get away from the noise and hurry of the city and relax in a beautiful setting that seems farther away from Lagos than it is. Friends from church (thanks, Cox's!) invited us to the ExxonMobil beach house. There were two boats full of people...
and quite a procession departing from the boats.



We had a fun time eating and relaxing under the cabana...


playing in the sand and some ventured into the water...


and then time for shopping with the vendors -- buying tablecloths spread out to view on the sand.


Thanks for a great day!

Friday, November 06, 2009

The 199th good thing about Lagos: seeing Osogbo artists again and some seriously cool hairstyles

The weekend after we returned from our Osogbo trip, there was an art exhibition opening here in a Lagos gallery of some of the work of the New Sacred artists of Osogbo. One of the things our trip organizer was doing on our trip was gathering some art for the exhibition. Anyway, it was kind of fun to see many of the artists there that we had met on our trip. They all wore matching outfits made out of Susanne Wenger commemorative fabric.


We greeted again the adopted children of Wenger -- Shangodare and Doyin.


Doyin and her friend had seriously cool hair styles!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The 198th good thing about Lagos: a business name that made me smile

Brent pointed out this sign while we were driving around Osogbo. We laughed, shook our heads and wondered why they thought Desolat was a good name for a farm.