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!