Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 251st good thing about Lagos: They take poop seriously

I'm on the last week of my holiday vacation, finishing up some things in Houston before returning to Lagos.  I've had a great time with children and grandchildren -- especially while I was in Boston helping to welcome a new granddaughter into the world.  Welcome to the family, Natalie Grace!  Here she is smiling at 2 weeks old!  She's a sweet beauty.

So I've been around a new baby granddaughter as well as grandchildren recently toilet trained, in the process of toilet training and those in diapers, so there is a fair amount of talk of poop, inspection of diapers for poop and questions about the need for pooping.  Poop is the word we usually use in the States when talking about "Number Two."  In the US, it's not nice to use a word beginning with sh--, but in Nigeria that is the common word for excrement.  It's not a swear word and if one were to refer to sh-- as poop, many people would not know what you were talking about. 

Though I'm in the business of looking for the good things in Lagos, I have complained previously about the sorry state of plumbing in Nigeria.  But many Nigerians don't have the luxury of any kind of plumbing, and there is business for those providing outhouse services.  Lagos has one company who is very proud of their business in this service industry and they have a company slogan to prove it.

They are serious about this slogan on their tank truck -- really -- they are not trying to be funny with this. 
But I laugh like crazy every time I think about it.
Thanks to my friend Kelsey -- I stole these pictures off her blog!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The 250th good thing about Lagos: Holiday activities

There was so much going on for me in the short span of time between our return from our November trip and leaving for the States on December 9th -- hopefully now you can understand why I've waited till after Christmas to finally get to blogging about it!  Before I left Lagos, the Christmas decorations were up all over town.  Lagos has gotten better at decorations each year I've been there.  On the way home from my charity visit, we drove by the National Theater with the large Christmas tree all decorated.

 Most of the expat activity groups had some sort of holiday party or get together.  This is a picture from the holiday lunch of the African Book Group.  This is a really great group that I recently joined.  We meet weekly and read and discuss books by Africans and/or about Africa.  We've had some interesting discussions and I'm looking forward to many more with this diverse group of women.

 My Bible Study group had a fun Christmas get-together with wonderful food and a Christmas program with carols and readings to get us in the holiday spirit.

Christmas is a great excuse for a celebration, but it seems like expats in Lagos don't need a big holiday to get together for good food and good conversation. 

I hope you all had wonderful holiday festivities and I'll take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy 2011!

The 249th good thing about Lagos: Seeing a charity finally get into their new home.

The day before I left Lagos for my Christmas trip to the States, I was able to make a trip out to visit one of our charities who had recently moved into their new location. Beth Torrey Home for the Handicapped had been in the process of building these new facilities for about 9 years.  They could only work as they had donations come in to fund the building, so it took a long time, and I wondered if I would ever see it happen.  I was so pleased to see them in their new home -- it was so much more spacious and comfortable than their old place.  This home currently has about 18 residents and they now have room to have up to 25 residents.

 I delivered our gift bags to the staff.
 This is a classroom, used to teach living skills.
 All the bedrooms were neat and clean and all the beds had mosquito nets.

 This is the meeting room for the residents.

 The pantry had the yams lined up on the shelves.
 They didn't have a washing machine and so they had to wash the clothes by hand.  I made a long list of furniture, appliances and equipment that they could use and ConocoPhillips helped them with a big donation.  I wish I could have been there to see the excitement of the staff at getting some new things to outfit their new facilities.
 The land was donated for their new facilities and they had much left undeveloped.
 They were setting out breakfast while I was there.
 Janice always has a big smile.

Some residents have physical disabilities as well as mental.
 They had a lively song and prayer session before they sat down to eat.
 Beth Torrey was the recipient of a donated vehicle from a raffle where the winner didn't claim their prize.
 We had a wild time on the ride home from Beth Torrey trying to get through some gigantic potholes.

 I thought this message on the back of this bus was helpful, based on the state of Lagos roads.

The 248th good thing about Lagos: Being a small part of a generous donation

When I approached my husband's employer about using the vacant apartment above us for our charity gift bag project, the company facilities guy asked me about the American Women's Club and the charities we supported.  I sent him some information about our charities and he said that ConocoPhillips Nigeria had a large storeroom of items that they needed to find a place for and they would like to donate things to some worthy charities.  They asked if we could help them.  I was quick to reply that we would be happy to link them up with some deserving charities.  There ensued a whirlwind of activity in a week that was already very busy with the gift bag project and with getting ready to leave town.  The final donation of items happened after I had already left for the States, but I was able to participate in the really fun experience of going through a couple of large storerooms with some charity representatives who were able to pick out appliances, kitchen equipment and other goods that they would find very useful.  The company was very generous and helpful and it was exciting for us to help these charities get some things they needed.
The ConocoPhillips guy we worked with for this donation asked me if I would write up a news release telling of their donation.  Here's what I came up with for the generally wordy Nigerian press:

At the holiday season, the thoughts of many are turned toward gift giving and how to bring a smile to the face of others.  The smiles this year will be on the faces of many needy in Lagos who are served by a variety of charities, and on the faces of those who work throughout the year to help lift the burdens of the needy through those charities.    Santa doesn't always take the form of a jolly red-suited, round-bellied elf with a hat and a ho-ho-ho.  This year, Santa appeared as an oil company with a storeroom full of furniture, appliances and household goods left over from downsizing as expatriate employees left Nigeria.  ConocoPhillips, Nigeria wanted to find a place for their surplus inventory and looked to the American Women's Club in Lagos to help them match up the charities they serve with items from the ConocoPhillips storeroom that they could use.  Representatives from various charities made their wish lists and some visited the storeroom to choose from the items available.  The charities benefitting from this donation  include primary schools, those serving the mentally and physically handicapped, a charity that rescues and provides a home and education for street boys, a state-run center where homeless and destitute are brought from the streets, and a community center that trains women for employment.  Items donated include cookers, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, tables, chairs, shelves, a generator, electronic equipment, pots and other kitchen equipment, upholstered furniture and more.   This generous donation will greatly benefit those who work at these charities and also the citizens of Nigeria that they serve.  Smiles are now on the faces of those at the charities who look forward to benefitting from the use of needed goods, on the faces of American Women's Club members who helped facilitate the donation, and on the faces of ConocoPhillips employees who reduced their storage inventory while seeing that inventory go to a place where it can be used and appreciated.  Generous giving brings smiles and happy hearts to both the giver and the receiver!  Thank you, ConocoPhillips for your generous donation!

The 247th good thing about Lagos: We had a great time stuffing gift bags for charity staff

I'm still acting chair over the Community Service committee for the American Women's Club and, again this year we faced the challenge of wondering if we could continue our tradition of providing a gift bag to the staff of the charities we support.  This gift of basic goods is a small thank you to them for the work that they do all through the year.  Again this year, the students at the American International School helped us fundraise so we could get what we needed for these gifts.  We had a tight time schedule for these gifts between the fund raiser and when we needed to have the gifts ready to deliver the first week of December, but the experience of working this project for several years now served me well and things went together quite smoothly.
The big advantage this year was being able to use the vacant apartment a floor above mine.  This allowed for convenient set up of the work space, without the hassle of trying to live around the accumulation of materials.  It was ideal for our needs.  We had an enthusiastic crew and everything went together quickly.

We divided up the bulk goods (beans, rice, and garri) into zip lock bags.
 Other volunteers filled airline toiletry bags with other donated toiletries.
 We organized an assembly line for stuffing the bags.

 The nuns from one of our charities, who happened to be there, helped put tags on the gift bags.
 We stuffed 100 gift bags!

The 246th good thing about Lagos: An opportunity to help a missionary get ready for service

As a Mormon family, we raised our sons with the expectation that when they were 19 years old, they would take a break from their regular life -- college and other activities -- and serve God and the church for 2 years as a missionary.  They weren't forced into this choice, but we were pleased when they decided to serve a mission.  We knew that they would learn many important lessons through this service, about sacrifice, perserverance, and putting God first in their lives. Young Mormon missionaries don't have any choice where they serve, but both our sons were happy when they received their mission calls -- our older son served in the Czech and Slovak republics, and our younger son served in Portugal.  They gained fluency in the languages of these countries and learned to love the people there.   They gained a lot of maturity through their mission experiences and we feel that their mission years were well spent.  The past couple of years we've had the opportunity to play a small part in helping another young man prepare for his missionary service, and we've felt very rewarded, because we know that Ben will also benefit from this time of service.

We got to know Ben a couple of years ago after he moved into our church congregation's area.  As a young teenager, Ben had left his village in southern Nigeria after the death of a parent, when he came to Lagos to try to get a job to help support himself and send some money home to his family.  He had converted to Mormonism in his village, and when he came to Lagos, some church members helped him find jobs and housing.  His other parent died shortly after he moved away, so he felt more strongly about the need to help support his siblings back home.  When we first met Ben, we felt there was something special about him.  Though his life was very difficult, he was a hard worker, always optimistic, always on the lookout for an opportunity to help someone out and always had a nice smile.  Ben had left school very early and we knew that before he could serve a mission, he would need to reach a level where he could pass a high school equivalency test, so we helped him by getting him into a tutoring program he could attend after work.  He had long days with work and school, but the staff of the school always praised Ben and said he was their top student.  Ben loved to learn about new things and enjoyed talking with Brent about government and economics.  When Brent was helping Ben prepare for his equivalency test, we were amazed and worried when we realized how poor his vocabulary was.  He just hadn't had exposure to many things that would expand his vocabulary -- though he is a very intelligent person, his life experience was very limited and, therefore, so was his vocabulary.   Ben was very happy when he completed the preparatory work for his mission and he received his call to serve in the Calabar Nigeria mission.  This is the area that covers his village, so he was excited to possibly return to see some of his relatives again.  Most missionaries from West Africa also serve in West Africa, as it's difficult for missionaries from Western countries to serve in many of these countries.  Ben left in late November for the Missionary Training Center in Ghana.  He was very excited when he received his passport.  His flight to Ghana would be his first time on an airplane.
During Ben's two year mission, the pressure and difficulties he faced in supporting himself will be eased as the church will support him during his service.  Generally Mormon missionaries and their families pay a standardized amount toward their own support during their mission, but most Nigerian missionaries can't contribute much and are largely supported through church funds.  Missionary service will give Ben some time to focus on personal study and giving of himself to others and he'll have relief from the worry about having money for his food and housing.

We helped Ben get some clothes and things he needed to bring on his mission, and also got some help from church friends in Texas, who gave us extra shoes and shirts for Ben.  Ben was always so appreciative for every little bit of help we gave him.  We encouraged and expected him to be self-sufficient with his basic support, but wanted to help him with the extra things he needed to be able to serve a mission.

This last picture is of Ben when we last saw him, just before he left for Ghana.  We were so excited for him to reach this point.  I know he will be a wonderful missionary and that he will gain so much from this experience. Brent and I both feel kind of sad that we likely won't ever see Ben again.  But it's possible that he will be able to email us someday.  When Ben returns from his mission, he will be eligible for the church's Perpetual Education Fund, where he will be able to get a low interest loan for his continuing education so he can better prepare for a career that will improve his position in life. 

We wish Ben the best of luck as he serves his mission and goes on with his life.