Sunday, January 31, 2010

The 212th good thing about Lagos: An evening of Scottish celebration

This is the photo of the Scottish poet Robert Burns which was hanging from the podium during the Burns Night Ball, held last Saturday evening. Burns is the acclaimed 18th century poet so beloved by Scots everywhere that all over the world this past week, Scots were celebrating the anniversary of his birth by addressing the haggis, the ladies, and the whisky -- all things which Burns enjoyed during his life. We were invited to join the table organized by Brent's boss who, though French, has adopted a love for Scottish culture and is an avid player of bagpipes.

I think men look great in kilts, and their furry man-purses are quite cute. There was a great variety of Scottish garb -- many kilts and other plaid-panted men.

I really enjoyed experiencing all the traditions involved with a Burns Night. There was a bagpipe-led procession with the Chieftain and other officials of the Caledonian society, then toasts and the singing of national anthems. A band had been flown in from Scotland to provide some live music for the dancing. Scottish dancing is quite a bit like American square dancing. I haven't learned any of the intricate dances, so we enjoyed watching them, and we just danced during some of the regular ballroom kind of dances.

The first course of dinner was haggis, accompanied by mashed potatoes and carrot puree. I had been apprehensive about trying haggis, but actually found it quite palatable -- a lot like sausage. But, like sausage, it's probably better to not think about what it is and how it is made. From glancing at the Wikipedia article about haggis I did learn about the sport of "haggis hurling," which involves throwing a haggis as far as possible. I picked up the important trivia tidbit that the world record for haggis hurling has been held since 1984. A 1.5 lb. haggis was hurled for 180 feet, 10 inches. I quite enjoyed the haggis and ate it without any hurling involved. The haggis had also been brought in from Scotland, presumably by airplane and not hurled.

Before the haggis was served, there was a little procession of the haggis on a platter carried by a woman in a period costume who represented "Posy Nancy," one of the many women who featured in Burns' life. There was a recitation of Burns' poem "Address to a Haggis."
The poem begins:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm.
And here's the verse translated in an idiomatic transation easier to understand (don't tell me you understood what he was saying in that original dialect -- I won't believe you):

Nice seeing your honest, chubby face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Belly, tripe, or links:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.
After the haggis toasting and eating, there was more dancing, followed by more traditional courses of banquet food. There was a speech to toast "The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns." The speech was offered by a friend of mine -- he did a great job. I asked for a copy of it so I could read it slowly and decipher some of the Scottish dialect bits that passed me by. To give you a sample of Burn's poetry along with an example of some of the humor of the evening, here's
the joke that began his immortal memory speech:
An Englishman is being shown around a Scottish hospital. At the end of his visit, he is shown into a ward with a number of patients who show no obvious signs of injury. He goes to examine the first man he sees, and the man proclaims: "Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain e' the puddin' race!" The Englishman, somewhat taken aback, goes to the next patient, and immediately the patient launches into: "Some hae meat, and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it!" This continues with the next patient: "Wee sleekit cow'rin tim'rous beastie, O what a panic's in thy breastie!" "Well," the Englishman mutters to his Scottish colleague, "I see you took me to the psychiatric ward." "Na, na,laddie" the Scottish doctor corrects him, "this is the Serious Burns unit."
After dinner there was more piping and dancing and celebrating. There were humorous (and a bit ribald) speeches toasting "the lassies" and a response on behalf of "the lassies."

We were urged to stay till midnight, as then there was the traditional rendition of "Auld Lang Syne," one of the many song lyrics penned by Burns. Those present joined in a circle and clasped hands. At a certain point in the lyrics, the hands are crossed and circle starts closing in to the center and then moving back out. We were pulled in and out quickly and just about lost our footing in the motions. It definitely was the liveliest "Auld Lang Syne" I've ever experienced!
Those Scots know how to party! We really enjoyed our very first Burns night!

The 211th good thing about Lagos: getting to experience fabric dyeing methods

I've written before about the talented batik artist, painter and gallery owner, Nike. She has this fabulous new gallery in Lagos that is a big 4-story building full of wonderful art. She's started holding some fabric dyeing workshops to introduce participants to the art of Nigerian fabric decoration. I was able to participate in one last weekend. Nike is a very beautiful woman, and she always greets me with a smile and a hug. She's always dressed in these interesting outfits.

The workshop started with a demonstration of tie-dyeing, which was not a new experience for me, but it's always fun to try.
They gave us a couple of handkerchiefs to practice folding techniques and dyeing. I'm always surprised with tie-dyeing how you can never really plan the finished product. There's a lot of serendipity involved with how the dye spreads between the folds. These are my handkerchiefs.

After the handkerchiefs, we progressed to dyeing T-shirts. The one I did is a similar pattern to this one displayed by my friend, Amber. I love her purple hand!

We then saw a demonstration of the resist dyeing method using cassava paste, a technique called "adire eleko." The paste is made from cassava flour, which is then painted onto the cloth with a stick and/or chicken feather. It is traditionally just done by women, but Nike has trained men to also use this method, and they demonstrated it for us. After the paste dries, the cloth is dipped in the dye for a very short time. Any longer than 15-10 seconds and the paste will soften and the definition of the decoration will be lost. The fabric is laid in the sun to dry until the paste hardens, after which it will be dipped again and the process is repeated several times until the saturation of color reaches what is desired. We weren't able to experiment with this technique, as it's a time-consuming process. When I visited Osogbo, I also saw an artist using this technique.

Nike showed some examples of finished textiles -- adire as well as batik cloth and showed us how to discern which dyeing method had been used.
For the tie dye, we used German commercial dyes, but for the adire cloth and batik, they let us try indigo dyeing with natural indigo. They roll up the plant into balls and dry it before they put it in the water in the pot, along with filtered potash to get the right chemical ph. They leave it to ferment for some time before it's ready for the fabric.

Here's some adire cloth just after it's been pulled out of the dye pot. The cassava paste patterning is quite softened here.

We next got to experiment with batik. They melted candle wax and we used a sharpened wedge of foam to decorate our fabrics with the wax. The wax has to be at the right temperature -- too hot and it will spread, too cool and it will harden before it soaks into the fabric. I bought 4 yards of cotton cloth and had to work quickly to pattern it all with the wax, so I had to settle for a big patterning and not worry about imperfections.

Here's our fabrics laying out to dry -- they didn't worry about sand and dirt getting on the fabric while it dried in between soakings. It would just go into the pot, sand and all, when it was time for the next dipping.

This is part of the batik I decorated.

Of course, after the fabric is finished with the dye process and dries (I picked it up from the gallery a couple of days later), the wax has to be removed. This is a messy process! Amber came over to my flat to work with me, as I had an old pot I didn't mind using for the effort. We boiled water and dipped the fabric into the boiling water, then skimmed the melted wax off the top of the water, then transferred the fabric to a bowl of cold water which hardened the remaining wax. We rubbed the fabric to remove more wax. Because my fabric was so big, I had to do this several times before I was satisfied that enough wax had been removed that it would be safe in my washer. I had blue wax drips over a good share of my kitchen, as well as the pot, bowls and utensils. I was glad I had the chance to try batik, but the morning after I created this mess in the kitchen, I'm not sure my maid was glad about it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The 210th good thing about Lagos: A brand new church congregation!

(To my readers: I started this blog to keep a journal of my experiences while we live in Nigeria and to keep my family and friends in touch with our experiences here. I know that now I have many readers who don't know me personally and, unless you have been a long-time reader, you may not be aware that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- a Mormon. My religion is a big part of who I am and what I do, so I periodically share things about church happenings here that may not be easy to understand for those not familiar with my faith. If you would like to learn more about the LDS church, you can visit, or I'm happy to address any questions you may want to leave in the comment section.)

I wasn't in town last Sunday when there was a big event in our church congregation (called a ward), though I was aware that it would be happening. For some time, the church here has been planning on splitting our ward to make a new branch that would meet on Ikoyi. Our ward, which met far out on the Lekki peninsula, had large boundaries and it was difficult and expensive for many members who live closer to us, on Ikoyi and Victoria Island, to attend church services. The LDS church in Nigeria is quite large and well-established, with two stakes (like Catholic diocese) in Lagos. But they have recognized the difficulties and costs that arise when members live farther distances from church buildings, so they have begun to split congregations and acquire meeting locations closer to where members and potential members live. Last week the Victoria Island ward was dissolved and the Lekki ward and Ikoyi branch were formed from the membership. We now belong to the newly formed Ikoyi branch of the church and Roy Allen (our upstairs neighbor) is our new branch president. Until our new building on Ikoyi is ready, (hopefully in February) we are still meeting at our former location in Lekki, but we look forward to a shorter commute to church and a chance to help our small branch of the church grow larger. The new meeting location will allow our missionaries to proselyte to and teach interested Nigerians who live in areas close to our new building and invite them to attend services close to their homes. All the LDS expatriates in the area except one American family who live on the Chevron compound are in the new branch, but the branch is small. We had less than 40 to church on this first meeting and will likely have around 50 members at church for a while. There are not many young children and youth, but we are all excited about participating in the growth of the LDS church in Nigeria. I will miss so many of the relationships that I've formed with other Nigerian members of the church staying in the Lekki ward who I won't see each Sunday. They have such wonderful spirits and testimonies, and I've learned and grown from them, and I will treasure my memories of our worship together.
Here's a photo of our new Ikoyi branch after our first service together today.

The 209th good thing about Lagos: Looking forward to a new year of appreciating life's adventures!

I returned to Lagos this past week, a few days later than I had originally scheduled. I delayed my flights when Houston was expecting a hard freeze last weekend, so I could stay and babysit our house and yard. Luckily, we were spared any burst pipes and I was glad to have a few more days to get things organized and ready to leave town. We had a great month in Houston and really enjoyed the chance to be together with our family.

I started this blog when I first arrived in Lagos in August 2006. At that time I never would have guessed that over 3 years later I would still be here, as we were expecting a short stay. I'm very glad we've had more time to experience life here -- and we still don't know how much longer our stay here will continue. I've learned a lot from my time in Nigeria and have enjoyed the chance to live in a different culture. It has been a great adventure! But I also am always very glad for the opportunity to travel back to our permanent home in Houston and spend time with our children and grandchildren who are all in the midst of their own life's adventures. In August 2006 we had only one granddaughter, and now we have 5 beautiful grandchildren. We had a great time being together at Christmas and I'm happy we had a chance to get some family photos taken.

We treasure our time with our children and grandchildren and really appreciate the roads they are taking on their own life adventures. Our grandchildren are beautiful and fun and smart and we enjoy seeing their personalities develop and the things they are learning. We look forward to seeing them grow up. I'm so glad for the technology of today that allows us to stay in touch even when we live so far away! So to my family: We love you and are grateful that you are patient and supportive of us as we continue on our adventure and we hope that we will always be able to support you in your own adventures!

To all of my readers: Best wishes for a very happy and fulfilling adventure of your own in 2010!