Saturday, May 21, 2011

The 271st good thing about Lagos: A new LDS Stake in Lagos

My regular blog readers know that I am a Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  My church has many members here in Lagos and it must be growing.   The church has been organized into two Stakes here in Lagos, and last Sunday members of both Stakes gathered for a conference where a third Stake was organized.  (An LDS Stake is like a Catholic diocese -- an administrative unit that consists of a number of congregations which are organized geographically.)

Because the Stake building is full when there is just one stake gathering, we knew it would be stretched to the limit with both stakes in attendance.  The meeting was scheduled to begin at 10, and I heard that people were arriving at 7 AM.  We got there just before 8:30 and the main building was full.
They had set up tents out all over the parking lot with video projections from the podium.  They actually had a good sound system and the video worked.  There were strong fans outside, so actually we ended up being more comfortable outside under the tent than inside the building.  There's no AC in this building, so, with it as packed as it was, it got pretty warm in there.  I don't know why this picture of Brent came out looking so strange -- it's a normal picture, but when I put it into blogger it got all distorted.

We are now members of the new Stake, the Lagos South Stake. 

There were lots of missionaries on hand to hand out pamphlets and answer questions.  When we go to Stake Conference, which is on the mainland, our company requires us to go in the bullet-proof vehicle and with policeman and security detail.  We think this is exercising much more caution than is necessary on a Sunday morning, as the troublemakers are usually sleeping off their Saturday night by then.  But one of our company security guys has come with us before to Stake Conference and, instead of napping in the car with the driver and policemen, he attended the meeting.  He's said before how much he enjoyed our church and after this meeting he had lots of questions and said it was all very interesting.  We told him about how all these new Stake leaders that were put in place had regular jobs and their church responsibilities were taken on as volunteer/lay positions.  They would not receive a salary for their church work.  He thought that was amazing.  There was talk in the meeting about LDS temples and the hope expressed that someday a temple would be built in Lagos.  The security guy asked questions about the temple and said that he thought he would like to join our church so someday he could go to the temple.  So we got his contact information to pass on to the missionaries so he could learn more about it.

We love associating with these Nigerian members of the church.  They have a wonderful spirit and excitement about the gospel.  My American LDS friends may be interested to know that I could almost count on my fingers the number of white people in this gathering of thousands. The reorganization was assisted by two black church authorities, one from Kenya and one from Nigeria.  All the members of Stake presidencies of the three Stakes are black Nigerians.  Though the church may seem awfully white in much of the United States, here it is entirely a different color -- and that's a very great thing!  It was exciting to be here for this evidence of the growth of the LDS Church in Nigeria.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The 270th good thing about Lagos: Celebrating Women's History with the US Ambassador to Nigeria

Women's History Month is in March, but the American Women's Club had a delayed celebration in May this year.  Some dedicated members planned a very nice luncheon with the US Ambassador to Nigeria, the Honorable Terence McCulley.  He gave a nice speech and hosted a question and answer interactive session.

Our Lagos Consul General Joe Stafford offered a toast to the women present.
Recognized Nigerian women were present.  Below is a photo of a new senator-elect, Chief (Mrs.) Oluremi Tinubu.  Her husband is a former governor of Lagos State.  We also recognized the out-going Deputy Governor of Lagos State, H. E. Princess Sarah Adebisi Sosan.  Women are making a contribution in the Nigerian political process and I think that's a really good thing. 

We had a nice lunch and, as women will do when they gather, had a nice chat.

There was a changing of the guard this past summer in the US State Dept. representatives to Nigeria.  Our Ambassador and Consul General previously were both represented by black American women.  Now we have white American men in their places, but they still seem to be really great men, good leaders and they know how to appreciate women, so they'll do just fine.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The 269th good thing about Lagos: Royal Wedding celebrations

Aren't these royal wedding cookies beautiful?  Too beautiful to eat, though they were on display this past week at the meeting of my monthly book group.  Our hostess was British and she had just returned from England (where she got the cookies) which was still reeling from the excitement of the wedding of Will and Kate.  Discussing the wedding continues to be a subject of conversation with women here.  It really was fabulous, wasn't it?  We were in Nairobi on wedding day, but I insisted that we return to the hotel at noon so I could watch the festivities live.  Brent watched for a bit before taking a nap, but I reveled in all the celebrations.   There were a number of wedding watching parties here in Lagos, where expat women dressed up for the occasion and had English food, wore tiaras and did many things to really get into the celebration of the big day.  Though Americans and British women were the ones I knew that were most getting into the excitement of the wedding, I think Nigerian women were also interested in the event.  I don't think they hold the years of British colonial rule in Nigeria against this beautiful young couple in love.  I wish Will and Kate a long and joyful future together.   

The 268th good thing about Lagos: African book group

For many years, wherever I've lived, I've been a member of a book group.  I enjoy reading different literature with the intention of discussing it with others.  It impels me to read things that I likely wouldn't pick up on my own and expands my understanding by hearing what others have gleaned from their reading.  I still have a couple of book groups in Houston that I return to when I'm in town for one of their discussions.  Just after I moved here I joined a book group similar in scope to others that I've participated in -- reading a book a month with a broad variety of literature.  It's a great group that I continue to enjoy. 

This past year I joined another book group that operates on a different scale and it's been a rewarding, though sometimes consuming, experience.  The African Book Group has been in existence since 1984.  It's a subscription book group (meaning members pay an annual fee to participate) and maintains its own library.  And it meets weekly, every Thursday afternoon, which is quite a commitment.  We don't read a book each week, sometimes we watch a movie or have a speaker or discuss something that requires less preparation time, as last week when, for the first time, we reviewed a blog about someone's experiences in Lagos.  All the books discussed are either by African authors or about Africa.  The members of the group come from a great variety of experience and background, with Nigerian members as well as expats of many nationalities.  I've enjoyed learning from and hearing of the experiences of the women in this group.  We recently had a luncheon along with an Annual General Meeting, where we discussed the bylaws and organization of the group and had a treasurer's report -- much more official business than I've ever had with a book group before. 

I haven't enjoyed every book we've read this year, but I've always gotten something out of the discussions that we've had on our reading.  And many of the books have given me a greater understanding and insight into African life and experience.  We're currently choosing books for next year's schedule, so if any of my blog readers have suggestions for interesting books about Africa or by African authors, I would welcome your input.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The 267th good thing about Lagos: visiting the other side of the African continent

Africa is a big continent, and I know that one can't generalize about it.  But there's something about this part of the world, this continent,  that can get into your blood and your soul if you'll let it.  It has many challenges, difficulties and troubles, but everywhere I've gone in Africa I've experienced and seen things that have delighted my eyes and my heart and I've made memories that I'll treasure always.  Earlier in my life I never had a goal or great desire to explore Africa -- I was into Western arts and culture and Europe was my utopia.  But, given the opportunity to live here and travel around a bit on this continent, I've been bitten by the Africa bug (thankfully, not yet one giving me malaria or another tropical disease) that makes me want to visit every country on this continent.  Unfortunately, I'm sure I won't have time or money to do that, but I was very glad that on our trip over Easter this year, we were able to travel to Kenya and see a bit of East Africa.  Since we've lived here, we've been to North Africa (Egypt), South Africa, other countries in West Africa (Senegal, Ghana and Benin), but this was our first time in East Africa.  We had a great time in Kenya!

We started by flying to the coast, to Mombasa, and spent Easter weekend at a beach resort there.  The resort was great and very relaxing.
 Mombasa is known for its tusks, which were erected before the 1952 visit of Britain's Princess Elizabeth (now the queen).
 Mombasa also has a great Portuguese fort -- Fort Jesus was founded in 1593 and has some atmospheric views.  The surrounding Old Town has some interesting architecture.

 On our city tour, we visited the Akamba wood carving cooperative, which has around 3000 wood carvers from the Akamba tribe.  Much of the carvings from Kenya come out of this center and there's a shop with pretty good prices where individual carvers get rewarded for their work.

 After 4 nights at the beach near Mombasa, we left for a 3 night safari.  It was very reasonably priced to deal directly with a Kenyan company and it also helped that we were going at low season.  We finalized plans just a few days before we left and we had a great time.  We had this large Toyota land cruiser jeep to ourselves with an experienced driver/guide. 

The roof opened up for the game drives.  Our driver/guide was very proud of his jeep.  He said he gets lots of compliments on it.  "It's styled like a race car," he said proudly.

We soaked up the beautiful scenery -- like this view from our balcony in the Tsavo West game park.
 We saw lots of great birds, like this red-beaked hornbill that came right in to the lodge,
 these beautiful crowned crane beside the road
 and lots of ostrich.
 There were many varities of antelope.  There were klipspringer posing for pictures on a cliff.
 and beautiful gazelle, lots of dainty dik-dik, impala, waterbuck, kudu and eland.
 Lots of animals stared blankly at us, like these buffalo,
 and giraffe.  Much of the landscape reminded me so much of the American West, especially southern Utah, with the red earth and scrubby hills.  Then it would surprise me when giraffe and elephants and zebra would wander into the picture.

We saw lots and lots of elephants.  We visited Tsavo East and West and Amboseli National Parks.  Each one had a different landscape, so there was great variety, and we saw interesting things in each park.

Amboseli is at the foot of the Kenyan side of Kilimanjaro, and we had a great view from the window of our lodge room.  Of course, we had to pose with Kilimanjaro in the background and I had to get pictures of many animals with Kilimanjaro in the background.
Gazelle with Kilimanjaro
 I think if you zoom in, that's a wildebeast with Kilimanjaro.
 I can't really tell what animal this is, but that's definitely Kilimanjaro in the background.  I really should get one of those cameras with a really big lens for a trip like this.  My pictures will never win any prizes, but mostly, I just enjoyed the trip without worrying about documenting everything with pictures.

 We had been looking for cats the whole trip and had just missed them in several places.  I told our guide to not worry about it, I was having a great time even if I didn't see lions or leopard.  But it seems like it's every safari guide's goal to help their clients see the great cats.  Just before we left Amboseli, he got a call on his radio (the guides are all connected with radios that help them notify others of a sighting) of some lions.  We first saw a bunch of hyena...

 and then a pride of lions napping in the grass.  We watched for awhile as they would get up and walk around to find a new position.  They definitely were having a lazy day.
 As we were travelling in low season, we usually had lots of space and didn't see many other vehicles around, but for the lions, there was a crowd.  Nobody with a stylin' race car jeep like ours, though.

We ended our trip with a few days in Nairobi.  In town we enjoyed the National Museum, the railroad museum, and a great African art collection on display at the National Archives. (I did have to pause our sightseeing to watch the Royal Wedding. Kenya is where Will and Kate got engaged, you know.  Brent had a royal nap during most of the ceremony.) We got a driver for a day trip out of town and had a fun hour watching baby elephants at the Sheldrick elephant orphanage.  They take care of orphaned elephants that have been found all over the country, babies that have lost their mother to poaching or illness.  When they are old enough, they are brought to their center within the Tsavo East park and transitioned into the wild. 

It was fun to watch the babies be bottlefed,

and I got lots of video and pictures of them rolling around in the mud.  I think my grandkids will enjoy watching them play.  The mud is like sunscreen for the elephants, and they had a great time getting themselves covered with it.

 I had been reading "Out of Africa" during the trip, so it was interesting to me to visit Karen Blixsen's house, now a museum, which is the setting of the book.  The movie was also filmed here.  The town is now named Karen, after the writer.

I really loved seeing the other coast of Africa.  I'm hoping for a trip that will include the Masai Mara and Tanzania during the Great Migration.  But that will depend on how long we stay in Africa.  I'm glad that at least we had the chance to visit and see a bit of the beautiful country of Kenya.