Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The 170th good thing about Lagos: Visiting musicians joining with local musicians

The USS Nashville has left Lagos now, but last week the Navy brass quintet that they had brought into town treated us to a concert at the Muson center with some different music than what they had performed at the school. I jump at every cultural opportunity I can get here -- and these were really fine musicians, so I welcomed the chance to hear them again. During the week they were in town, they performed at other schools besides the American school and made time to do a lot of outreach. The first half of the concert they performed a variety of music and then in the second half of the concert, they welcomed to the stage the Nigerian navy band. This group was miles away from the US group in musical quality, but matched them with enthusiasm. I thought it was nice that they were able to even field a band, because getting instruments and musical instruction here is very difficult. The mostly Nigerian audience really enjoyed the Navy band's music selections.

After the Nigerian navy band left the stage, the US Navy musicians returned to the stage and invited some Nigerian musicians to join them on the stage in a jam session. They had held a master class that day with local brass musicians and they were at the concert with their instruments. This was really fun to see and they did a great job jamming together. One of the Nigerian trumpeters was especially good.

They closed with a rousing jam session of "When the Saints Come Marching In" that got our New Orleans native Counsel General and some of the consulate staff on stage dancing and clapping in appreciation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The 169th good thing about Lagos: Helping a charity in their efforts to repair women's bodies and lives

This picture is of me receiving a check for 1 million naira (about $6800 at the current official exchange rate), the American Women's Club's portion of the proceeds from the recent Small World charity event. I was pleased to receive it -- from women who did a lot of hard work on the charity event -- on behalf of our designated charity, The Family Life Centre - the Fistula Clinic. Our charity recipient, which is down in the Delta area in Akwa Ibom State (near Port Harcourt) gives hope and rescue for women who have incurred an obstetric fistula. This is a complication of childbirth that is rarely seen in the developed world, but occurs more often in third world countries where many expectant mothers are unable to get medical care. It is also seen more often in young mothers, whose bodies are not ready to deliver a baby vaginally. This injury often occurs when a woman has an obstructed labor, sometimes for 5 days or longer, and cannot get a Caesarean section when needed. The mother usually loses her baby and her internal damage leads to urinary and/or rectal incontinence. The resulting health and hygiene problems often result in lives of women who live as outcasts, discarded by society. This hospital performs surgeries for these women who often live without hope. If you are interested in learning more about this problem, try to get a chance to see the documentary "A Walk To Beautiful" It's about a similar hospital performing these surgical repairs in Ethiopia.

I won't be able to ever visit this charity because it is in a part of Nigeria where white expats must have a really good reason to travel, because of the compelling security risks there. The charity has suffered from the exodus of expats from the area, as they were a helpful source of donations and support for the organization. Some of the expats who were living in the Port Harcourt area and then were evacuated up here to Lagos have become great supporters of the charity, raising awareness about their work and trying to raise funds to help support the clinic. Because of their efforts and their trust and confidence in the work done there, we chose The Fistula Clinic to be our designated recipient. We just located someone traveling to the Delta this week who will deliver the check to the charity. Below are some pictures of the charity that I have received from those who have had closer contact with the Clinic.

The Fistula Clinic has nuns who are also doctors who perform surgeries on some of the more simple cases. They also pay for doctors to come from the UK to perform surgeries on some of the more complicated cases. They said that generally the surgery can be performed for about 50,000 naira (about $340).

The Small World committee restricts the use of their funds to capital expenses -- something that can be documented and the improvement can be seen, so there is less opportunity for corruption. So the funds we raised can't be used for salaries or surgeries directly. But the nuns are happy to use the funds to purchase and install solar panels, so the clinic can have a reliable source of power. The fuel for their generator is expensive and the panels will help them have lights and power (always a plus when performing surgery!) without high continuing expenses. Their preliminary estimates show that there may also be some funds left over to provide some operating theater lighting.

I like the looks of this charity in these pictures, and I've enjoyed email conversations with the Sister Doctor in charge of the clinic. I know they will use these funds wisely and I'm very happy that we are able to support them in their efforts to repair women's bodies and lives.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The 168th good thing about Lagos: Racing for the Cure

I've had quite a number of friends and acquaintenances who have faced a struggle with breast cancer, so almost every year in Houston I would join a very large crowd (it has grown to 30,000 or so) in the Houston Race for the Cure to benefit breast cancer. I always felt a great solidarity with the crowd as we helped to raise money for research to fight this disease. When I recently learned that there would be the first ever Race for the Cure in Nigeria, I wanted to participate here. I wasn't sure that it would be possible with the early race start, because I wasn't sure our driver could get there that early, but it all worked out and I enjoyed the chance to actually walk on the streets in Lagos. Usually it's not a safe thing to do, but there was enough police presence on the race course, that there were no worries.

This first picture is of the US Ambassador to Nigeria welcoming the crowd. Both she and the Lagos Counsel General were present at the race. I don't know how much of the course they actually walked, but it was great that they were there.

There were the usual snacks before and after the race.
This is the group awaiting the start of the race. My guess is that there were 400-500 participants.

The course had some quiet side streets,
and some stretches along a busy road.
Here I am at the end of the race -- I did it! A small portion of the proceeds from the race go to the Susan B. Komen foundation, but a majority will stay in Nigeria to help fund a mammography machine for a hospital for women in Calabar. A much higher percentage of women with breast cancer in Nigeria lose their lives to the disease because they have no access to early detection so hopefully this will make a tiny dent in the need for better health care for women in this country. My hat is off to the dedicated women who worked hard to make this race happen in Lagos!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The 167th good thing about Lagos: Music making opportunities

I've had a busy, and also a tiring, week subbing for the secondary music teacher at the American School. I also subbed for her last month as she traveled with her honor band and choir students. Last month she went with them to Zurich and, this past week, to Doha, Qatar. I would have been happy to trade places with her, but I really had a good time working with her band and choir students, despite the wear and tear on my vocal chords. Trying to be heard over a bunch of tooting horns and beating drums is a bit of a challenge, and I went home every day quite worn out. But I've always gotten a lot of joy in my life out of collaborative music making and, even on this level, it's a pleasure to see so many young people really enjoying the challenge of learning to play an instrument. I also had an especially fun time teaching a small class of 11th grade IB music history students. They were great young people and really interested in learning more about music. A couple of them were talking about what an amazing and exciting thing it is to take these dots on a paper (music notes) and turn them into a beautiful noise. And I agree -- music making is an amazing thing that has brought me a lot of joy in my life, and I hope these kids will keep up with it long enough to really reap the rewards. But I'm wondering how long it will take me to get their music off of constant play in my head.

Last night, I had a different experience of music making. I've started singing with a little choral group and the director and organizer of the group recently left for a short vacation and I volunteered to cover the rehearsals while he is gone, as we shortly will be performing and we needed the rehearsal time. There was no problem, and plenty of enjoyment, with the rehearsal last week, but last night when we were beginning the rehearsal I absently-mindedly plugged in my digital piano to the wrong plug in our step-down transformer -- the one delivering 220V of current, instead of the 110V plug needed for my US-market piano. There were no sparks or smoke, but, even though I quickly realized my mistake and pulled the plug, it wasn't fast enough and the piano wouldn't turn on. I managed to control my rising dismay and panic and we continued with the rehearsal completely acapella (Thankfully, I did have a pitch pipe to give us our needed pitches.) Immediately after the rehearsal, Brent and I took apart the back of the piano to access the electronic board. We quickly saw the fuse inside, took it out and determined that it had burned out, recognized that we actually had the same size fuse in the house, replaced it -- and, within 10 minutes, we had the keyboard working again! What a relief! More music making to come in the future. I did put duct tape over the 220V outlet of the transformer so I don't repeat that mistake!

This afternoon at the school the student body had the treat of a performance by a brass quintet from the crew of the USS Nashville, a US Navy ship that is in port here. I already had good vibes about the presence of this ship, because two of our AWC charities were recipients of medical supplies and other humanitarian goods that were brought on this ship to share with the community here. And then everybody present this afternoon enjoyed a fun performance by these very talented musicians. I was thrilled to observe the band students soaking it all in. I didn't have a class during the performance, but right after the group finished playing, I was scheduled to teach the 6th grade band kids. I went up to the performers and mentioned that if they didn't have to leave right away, the 6th graders would love to have a minute to meet and talk to them. 3 of the 5 musicians took the time to come in and visit with the students, telling them about when they learned to play their instruments and some of the opportunities that music has brought to them. They played "Anchors Aweigh" for the class and then one of them led the kids in playing a favorite piece, and then they listened (and played along) as I led the students in another piece. The 6th graders were thrilled with the personal attention by these military musicians. Here's a couple of clips from the concert:

In the first one, notice the little kids just bursting out in movement with the music. It was fun to see them really get into the music. I neglected to film it, but later in the concert they were really up and dancing around to the music.

In this next clip, I filmed one of the pieces where the quintet played as they walked around their audience. They had a very excited and appreciative crowd of listeners! Thank you USS Nashville for sharing your talents and bounty with our Lagos community!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The 166th good thing about Lagos: A chance to listen up-close to a Grammy winning blues artist

As part of the American National Day festivities featuring New Orleans, the US State department brought in the Grammy-winning musician Chris Thomas King. He performed at the party at the Consul General's residence, and then the following night his group performed at the Muson Center concert hall. We arrived right before the concert started and were ushered to the third row, which had been reserved for VIP guests. Most of the rest of the hall was full. So we were right up-close and personal for this fabulous (and even free!) concert. King both acted in and scored music for the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and also the more recent movie "Ray." In fact, he performed in the "Down From the Mountain" musical tour with Alison Krauss of the music from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", a concert we had attended and really enjoyed in Houston years ago. Recently he released an album called "Rise" dedicated to New Orleans with music he wrote after Katrina's devastation of his home there. He performed some music from that album. This first clip is from a song he performed from the "O, Brother" soundtrack.

He performed with a fabulous bass guitar player as well as a talented drummer. King performed some really wonderful blues music on amplified acoustic guitar, as well as steel guitar and also played sometimes on the keyboard. He is a really amazing talent (this next clip shows off some of his guitar skills -- but I missed recording some of the really amazing riffs he played....) and it was a real treat to be so close up to him and also to see how much the Lagos audience (more Nigerians than expats) really enjoyed him. He's performing this month at the New Orleans Jazz Festival -- we won't make it back to hear him there, but it was great to hear him in Lagos. We really are glad he was able to make the trip!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The 165th good thing about Lagos: Celebrating the United States with fireworks in February

July is not a good month for celebrating with US citizens in Nigeria, because many of them have gone away for the summer, and also it's rainy season and a bad time for outdoor celebrations in Lagos. So the consulate here chooses February to have their National Day celebrations, and we were lucky enough to get an invitation to go to the consulate general's residence to a National Day party paid for by the US State Department (meaning, our taxes). The residence was decked out with red, white and blue bunting and they had chosen to feature cuisine and entertainment from New Orleans. So it was good food and good entertainment (more on that in my next post), and an opportunity to socialize with other Americans and get a glimpse at some Nigerian leaders of all sorts.
Nigeria has an interesting protocol of introducing dignitaries -- they have to be each mentioned individually with their long names and titles both by the "MC" of the event and then again by each speaker. There was quite a long list of chiefs and governors and princes and princessess at this event and their names and titles were stumbled through by several people at this event. I was relieved that the Ambassador, who was present and on the program to speak, ended up not speaking, because we undoubtedly would have had to hear her go through the whole list one more time. I guess it's a real slight for someone to get up and say "welcome everyone" without mentioning important people individually. And then even after the official program was over, the announcer continued to announce the presence of more dignitaries who had missed the official list and hadn't been mentioned previously.
And some chiefs or obas have their own protocol to maintain. I'm sorry I didn't get very good pictures in the low light of evening. But there was one particular oba who traveled with his umbrella. He had a bit of a problem going through the metal detector during the security check at the entrance to the residence. The security detail insisted that he had to go through the detector without his umbrella, but he had his umbrella carrier walk him up to the detector and then wait for him at the other side, so he wouldn't have to be uncovered for long. I remember from my docent preparation for giving tours of the African collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, that the umbrella is a symbol of the power of the king and also his recognition of his subservience to God. It would be unseemly for God to look down and see the uncovered head of the king, so his head must be shielded from the eye of God.
But possibly God doesn't look down at the oba at night, because when he and his entourage were departing that night right in front of us, the umbrella was down as they walked out.
The evening was capped off with a wonderful fireworks display over the water. I didn't get my camera going in time to film the grand finale, but here's a little snippet. Our flat is right next to the Indian embassy and during Indian holidays they sometimes set off fireworks, so whenever we are home and hear big bangs from outside, we question whether it's fireworks, a car backfiring, thunder, or gun shots. We've heard them all from our flat, but we always enjoy it most when the big bangs are caused by fireworks.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The 164th good thing about Lagos: We're number 1!

When I had CNN on this morning, they had a report on about new rankings reported by Business Week magazine listing the world's worst places to live and do business. Guess what! Lagos, Nigeria topped the list! Hooray! We're number 1! (Repeat loudly, jumping up and down and pointing a finger up to the sky!) After several tries to get the live feed (hey, I'm amazed that they were able to do it at all....) they interviewed the head of the Coke bottling company here (I think he was Dutch...) saying that it wasn't that bad a place to live. Sure, there is crime and the infrastructure is bad and the traffic is horrible. But, if you look long enough, you can find housing that is nice. He admitted that he was in a much more privileged position than many people here and his life was pretty comfortable.

You know, I really don't mind my life here. Yes, there are risks and we must always be vigilant and there are things that we don't do because of security. Yes, the infrastructure is bad and sometimes we have inconveniences because of that. Yes, I get frustrated with the bad traffic -- but I sit in the back of the car listening to my ipod and the traffic stress is lessened (unless I'm late for something I should be on time for...). Yes, there's the stress and emotional turmoil caused by encountering scenes of great poverty and need whenever I leave my home. Of course, I don't have to face the job stress of trying to do business and make progress on a project in an environment that is not conducive to getting things done. I know that I have it much easier than Brent does here -- and the stress is wearing him down at times. But I've made some great friends, I'm involved in activities that I enjoy, and I have frequent opportunities to travel to places that I wouldn't be able to visit if we were living in the States. The best thing I like about this report? While the company is trying to find ways to cut their costs in this bad economy, they won't be able to justify cutting our expat premium (currently a bonus of 60% of our salary), because we are clearly still a hardship post!

Monday, March 09, 2009

The 163rd good thing about Lagos: a Muslim holiday gives opportunity for some piano lessons

I hope you all had a great birthday celebration for the Prophet Mohammed today! We didn't have any birthday cake around here, but it was a welcome chance to get some things done around the house. And because it was a public holiday, there was also no school, so the kids from church that I have started teaching piano were all able to come over for a marathon piano lesson. The church provided some keyboards for them to use for at-home practice, and I'm committed to donating some time to teach them piano. They are really excited about the new keyboards and also about the opportunity to learn to play the piano. I hope their enthusiasm continues so they will make time to practice.

I started with the younger group first -- 3 siblings, who then wanted to hang around after the 4 teenagers arrived on the scene. I had 3 kids lined up at my keyboard at a time, often playing the same song in 3 octaves, and we went from 9:15 AM till I ushered them out the door at almost 2 PM.

Here's the girls: Precious, Oto and her twin sister, Anuak, and then Blessing. The twins are sisters of my long-time piano student, Patrick (which is what he wants me to call him, it is actually their last name, his first name is Ididiong), who had a lesson on his own after I finished with all the beginning piano students. Blessing is the sister of my former student, Samuel, who is now away at university.

Patrick has come a long way since I first started teaching him. He was working hard at playing very simplified hymns 2 years ago, now he can play just about every hymn in the church hymnal. He's a very talented musician, as well as being a very nice young man.

Here's the kids clowning around when I asked them to pose for a picture. Patrick is in the back and Daniel and Joseph, Precious' brothers are on either end. I don't know if you can see in the picture, but several of the kids are holding their cell phones. It's an interesting thing here that even though they all are living what we in the States would consider well under the poverty line, most all have a cell phone, and when they weren't active at the keyboard, they were texting or playing around with their phones. Also, they wolfed down the cookies that I had made for them. Not much different than kids anywhere you go.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The 162nd good thing about Lagos: Small World with a Big Party

Last year was my first time at the biggest expat charity event in Lagos -- Small World. We recently were able to attend the 2009 version of the event, with the theme: Small World, Big Party.

This event is hosted by the various women's organizations in Lagos and many women each year spend untold hours organizing the event. There are 3000 tickets sold, and each year, they sell out quickly and many people are left disappointed when they waited too long to buy their tickets.

Each participating organization hosts a booth with some food representing their country and also prepares an act for the program. By the entrance this year, there were boards set up with a costume from each country, with a hole cut out to make pictures fun.

The American Women's Club had chosen the Super Bowl for our country's big party to go along with the theme. So we had a football uniform for our costumed figure. Brent and I took a shift at the American women's club booth serving chili with Fritos (unavailable for purchase here, so they were brought into Lagos in suitcases by rotating workers), with homemade cookies and beer. Before and after our shift, we had time to visit other booths and sample much of the varying cuisine. There was lots more food than we had available stomach space, but we enjoyed a taste of a bunch of different things.

These figures were sitting in front of our booth. Our decorators did a good job!

There were 22 participating women's organizations, and at the beginning of the program, they announced that they had raised over 30 million naira, which would be divided between the charities. I'll be at the receiving ceremony to get the check for our charity, the Fistula clinic, in a couple of weeks, so I'll write more about our charity at that time. But they will be very pleased to receive over a million naira!

The women doing our dance number had practiced long hours and did a great job with a cute dance with female football players and cheerleaders.

The only disappointment I had in the evening was with a group of young adults in front of us. They were either Lebanese or Palestinian -- or I guess they could be both. They cheered equally boisterously for both the Lebanese and the Palestinian dance performances. But when the Israeli group was performing, they shouted out a constant and loud boo through the whole thing. I said something to them about how this was no place for booing, but I don't think they heard me. I was talking with another American about this after the event, and she said that she spoke to those booing around her very sharply about their behavior, telling them that this was a charity event and they should not be acting like that. After the Lebanese performance, I remarked to Brent about how there was no booing from the Israelis in the audience, but I don't think they heard me then either. But it did make me feel bad that these young people are failing to differentiate between governments and people. Those Israelis on stage likely had nothing to do with the policies of their country's government, or with actions that may have been taken by Israelis against Palestinians in the past or the present. They were just women with Israeli citizenship who had taken time to rehearse a dance to represent the culture of their home country. They did not deserve to be booed. It's a small world that will continue to have big problems until people everywhere remember everything the citizens of the world have in common, value everyone's need for peace and find solutions that will allow us to live in harmony.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The 161st good thing about Lagos: The government wants us to have a safe Valentine's Day!

This is a bit of a delayed good thing post -- we've had enough laughs about it around here that I finally decided it was blog-worthy. On the day before Valentine's Day, a representive from the Nigerian National oil company came around the office handing out condoms to all the men. Brent protested that he really didn't need them, but the guy insisted, so he brought them home. They'll go to the next charity clinic I visit (unless it's to the nuns -- maybe they can't hand them out...). But I wonder how many of your employers cared enough to give YOU condoms for Valentine's Day?