Monday, March 26, 2012

The 309th good thing about Lagos: a sign that makes me smile

I got a laugh the other day at the new billboard that was posted on the street outside our flat.  I couldn't figure it out at first.

Then I turned my head to the side.  The picture was designed for a horizontal billboard, but they used it on this tall one.  Supermodels stacked up sideways -- only in Nigeria

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The 308th good thing about Lagos: a visit to an incredible collection of Nigerian art

I was very excited to finally have the opportunity to visit Prince Shyllon's art collection!  Since I first heard about his extensive collection -- the largest private collection of Nigerian art -- I was hoping to have the opportunity to visit his home and see the collection first hand.  In 2007, Prince Shyllon founded his art foundation, OYASAF, which promotes Nigerian art and artists.  In addition to collecting art, he funds study grants for scholars to come to Nigeria to study various subjects relating to the arts.  I had met Shyllon and his lovely wife before and heard them speak about their collection, but it was a real treat to be able to visit and see his collection with a group of members of the Nigerian Field Society. 

We first had a seat in a small reception room where we saw a power point presentation about his foundation and collection and were able to ask some questions to our host.  Shyllon started collecting art when he was a student at the University of Ibadan.  One thing I found interesting -- he said that he had decided early on to divide his life into three periods -- Education, Labor and Living.  He had gotten a good education, then made a substantial fortune in careers in the financial and legal worlds, and was now into the "living" portion of his life plan.  He is a man with a passion for art and collection and a generous laugh.

We were greeted by a whole bunch of crowned cranes that populate his beautiful sculpture garden.  He has a great variety of birds of many kinds in the garden -- and even other animals, including a porcupine.

 He said he is a sculpture man -- preferring sculpture to painting.  His garden was crowded with a great variety of sculpture.  Notice these hard hat wearing workers on the balcony?

As we entered from the road, he pointed out the sculptural people that were taking notice of our arrival. 
 Then there is a sculpture of a woman bearing kola nuts to welcome us.

And, lest we get too comfortable, there were also an armed sculpture guard by the entrance gate giving warning.
This is the artist, Adeola Balogun, next to his very beautiful bull sculpture, which is bronze with a body made of woven rubber from tires.

 There were a number of sculptures of Eyo figures.
 Another guard on the roof of a wing of the house.
 He said this figure on the balcony represented his grandfather.
 Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the house.  Seeing the interior was an amazing experience.  Almost every inch of space was covered with art.  There were narrow passageways to walk between the art pieces in each room.  He said he counted his collection several years ago at over 6000 pieces, but I'm sure he has many more now.  He said he probably averages an acquisition of a piece a week.  I know some pieces in his collection are by artists whose work fetches big sums at auction. But it seems like, at least in some periods of his collecting history, he was going more for quantity than quality.   He made mention of trying to fill gaps in his collection with his current acquisitions. He will selectively sell pieces as he needs to fund his foundation, but it seems that he's still trying to grow the collection rather than refine it.

 Furniture seems to be an afterthought in his house.  Walls were mostly brightly painted, but there was never much wall visible between the art works.  He kept opening the doors to bathrooms saying that they also had art displays.  He had a wonderful and extensive study library.  There was sculpture of all mediums, paintings, folk and historic works, Nigerian art old and new. There were a couple of "theme" rooms -- works by a particular artist or style, but mostly works seemed to be displayed randomly.   His wife is very supportive and understanding, I know -- she would have to be.  I certainly couldn't live in that environment - - it was so crowded and visually stimulating, I could never relax.  The house would make an incredible museum, and he hopes to make it one someday.  It would be great to allow more people to see the amazing collection of art he has accumulated.  He would like to allow some of the art from his collection to travel to museums in an exhibition, and he said there is a museum scholar who is hoping to organize an exhibition. 

There's  more sculpture in his back yard pool garden.

 Before treating us to some "small chop" on his terrace, he showed us one of his 5 storage buildings he uses to store art he has no room for in his home.  I was a little worried when I saw all the art in this building which had windows open to the elements.  Certainly in the storage areas of most art collections, there are measures taken to keep the works at consistent levels of temperature and humidity.  I think there may be great conservation issues with his paintings and other art works if they are kept in Nigeria's heat and humidity, along with dust and insects.  As we toured through his very large home, he would turn on room air conditioners as we entered each room, so works inside also aren't in a temperature controlled environment.  And someone later remarked that he only saw one fire extinguisher in evidence as we visited his house.  I certainly hope that Shyllon never faces a fire -- Nigeria would lose some real treasures.

Thank you, Prince Shyllon, for making such an incredible commitment to the collection and promotion of Nigerian art and artists!  And thank you for welcoming us and letting us get a peek at your passion!  Nigerian art is vibrant and exciting and there is so much talent in this country.  Shyllon knows it and hopes that someday the world will also know.

You can read more about our visit and Prince Shyllon and his collection here at a blog post done by a friend who is a very good writer.  She writes an interesting blog about cultural issues in Nigeria.

The 307th good thing about Lagos: cute kids at church and a helpful young woman

Since last fall I've been serving in my local Mormon church congregation as President of the organization for children -- the Primary.  That means after our main worship service on Sunday morning, I organize the children's classes -- large and small group teaching.  We don't have a big number of children -- usually around 7 in the older class and the same number of the younger ones.  We just split them into 2 classes.  I really need to get pictures of all the kids, because I have become quite fond of all of them.  We have some American and British expats, as well as Nigerian children.  It's a challenge to keep them all engaged and interested.  I have counselors in my Presidency as well as (sometimes) teachers that help me.  Sometimes the commitment and teacher preparation are lacking, but we are trying to train leaders and teachers to be committed and prepared.

 It's easy to care about these happy faces.  Sometimes on Sundays like today when I had no teachers there and my counselor who was doing the (large-group) sharing time lesson also didn't come and it was extremely hot (no air conditioning ever), so I was pinch hitting with doing the sharing time and also then teaching a lesson -- I left church feeling pretty worn out.
 But I'm really grateful for the help and support from a young 18-year old American senior in high school.  Macae is happy to be helping in Primary.  She leads the singing and sometimes helps read a story to the children.

 She loves the kids and when she isn't busy helping with the music, she is often holding a baby.  Thanks Macae!  We'll miss you when you leave for college!

The 306th good thing about Lagos: delicious Nigerian food does exist

When a person travels to a different country and especially when someone lives in a different country, they usually make an effort to get familiar with the local cuisine and learn how to cook some local specialities.  I've been quite remiss in that subject with regard to Nigerian food.  I just haven't had good experiences with it.  I do enjoy cooked plantain and jollof rice is usually good.  Brent will eat the pepper soup at the company canteen.  But I haven't had a lot of local food that I find particularly tasty.  But I had a lunch with some really delicious Nigerian food recently, so I know that it does exist.

I attend a weekly Bible study and my small discussion group was invited to the home of a member of our group for Nigerian food.  She is a wonderful person, half Swiss and half Nigerian, and it turns out that she is also a wonderful cook.  I won't mention names here since I haven't asked permission to post pictures on my blog, but we appreciated her hospitality and the time she spent preparing a delicious meal.

 One of the dishes had egusi -- a spinach-like green --- with melon seed.  The seeds of a melon are dried and pounded.  The dish was delicious.  She explained that some of the dishes had a burned kind of taste.  She said that she used a stove to cook, but traditional Nigerian food is cooked over a fire and the smoky taste is something that they are accustomed to and it's part of the flavor of the dish, so she would intentionally burn some things to give it the smoky flavor.  She had fried plantain and jollof rice and dishes with fish, chicken and beef, all with different sauces.  It was all really delicious.

A lot of Nigerian food seems to be quite labor-intensive -- pounding yam and melon seed and all.  But I'm hoping to find some recipes that I will want to try.  The yam that I had at this lunch was in a very tasty sauce, so it was much better than when it usually appears just as a bland blob.

 And then we had a very non-Nigerian and decadent chocolate cake for dessert.  Thank you for a wonderful lunch!

The 305th good thing about Lagos: Medical and Dental help for an aging body

In the almost 6 years that we've been in Lagos, Brent and I have had remarkably few health problems.  We have really been blessed.  But it seems like since last summer, I've been feeling my age and then some.  I was in the States when I had an injury on the tennis court -- it seems to have been a partial tear of my Achilles tendon, though at the time the orthopedist thought it was a calf muscle tear.  That injury ignited my body into a case of shingles.  So I spent the summer in a fair amount of pain, and I'm still -- 7 months later -- limping from a sore and often swollen ankle, so my activity level is limited with a recovery that is going very slowly.  I was back in Lagos last fall when I had some excruciating pain that turned out to be from a kidney stone.  Brent's employer contracts for health services with the International SOS clinic.  The doctors there became my friends for a couple of weeks while I went there for drugs and antibiotics.  They spent more time diagnosing and listening than any doctor I've ever seen in the States.  Even though it was unrelated to my kidney stone issues, one doctor listened to the story of my ankle pain and spent a some time talking to me about what might be going on with that injury.   They sent me to a Nigerian imaging clinic for ultrasounds of my kidney two times.  I was quite impressed with this clinic.  In the States when you go for an ultrasound the technician will never tell me anything about what they see (even though I know they are quite capable and knowledgeable about whatever they are scanning), and they say that the image will be read by a doctor, who will make the report.  Well, in this center, the doctor was doing the ultrasound and he talked through with me what he saw going on with my kidney and made sure I was able to see the problem areas.  It was very helpful to me and I appreciated that he took the time to show me what was going on in my body.  I was very relieved when I finally came to the end of the kidney stone saga and hope I don't have to do it again.  But I felt that I was in good hands here and one advantage of going through treatment here is that everything was covered completely by SOS clinic -- drugs, ultrasound costs, doctor visits.  I didn't have any co-pays or anything.  So that was much cheaper than if I had been treated in the States.

In February I was worried when I started to have a toothache.  I'm no stranger to dental problems -- I last had a root canal when we were on vacation in South Africa.  But this tooth already had a root canal and a crown, so I knew that if it was hurting that there were problems that would be difficult to solve.  There is a dentist here that is recommended by the expat community and I've heard of a number of Americans who have been happy with their services.  So I visited Schubbs dental clinic on Ikoyi and the young Nigerian woman dentist who I saw said that it wasn't good news for my tooth and it likely would need to come out.  She put me on antibiotics and we made an appointment for the following week.  She seemed capable and the clinic had quite modern equipment and seemed very clean.  In the meantime, I emailed my capable and trusty American dentist and he concurred and said that it wasn't good news and she was likely correct, that I would need to have the tooth extracted.  I debated about whether I would trust a Nigerian dentist with an extraction.  After getting some Facebook reassurances from other expats who had used the head dentist at this clinic for wisdom teeth extractions and a root canal, I booked an appointment with Dr. Karunwi at Schubbs clinic.  He had been trained in England and came highly recommended by a number of expats.  I went in for my appointment with him, not knowing if he would want to do the extraction right then, but he agreed that the tooth would need to come out and there seemed like there would be no reason to wait, so we did it.  He numbed my mouth very well and -- though I've never had an extraction before, so I have no experience to compare it with -- it seemed like it went well.  He showed me the place where the tooth had been fractured and where there was infected tissue.  I really just had minor discomfort and haven't had any problems since then.  The first consultation visit and X-ray cost me N6500 naira -- about $42.  The extraction cost N18,000, about $114.  I'm sure that's quite a bit less than what I (and my insurance) would be paying in the States.  Though the dental clinic here does perform dental implants, I plan on having mine done in the States because it's a more complicated thing and for follow up and "warranty-ability", I want to have it done there.

Well, this is probably TMI about my health issues, but I do have a number of people that stumble on my blog when they are considering a move to Lagos and I wanted to reassure them that, should they need medical and dental care while they are here, that it's not always a scary prospect and it's possible to get good medical and dental care.  I've heard experiences both reassuring and terrifying about hospital care here, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I won't have any personal experiences to relate about that. 

In my emails seeking advice from my American dentist, who is also a friend, when I was debating whether I should make a trip home to the States for the tooth extraction, he said that his wife (also a good friend of mine) said he should tell me that if I had the extraction here in Lagos I could write it up on my blog as another good thing about Lagos.  So it's become #305....

Monday, March 12, 2012

The 304th good thing about Lagos: a school and clinic that are going to get some help

I posted recently about a visit I made to Ife Oluwa just before I left Lagos for the Christmas holidays.  The women that came with me for that visit have joined with other expat women and I now have a big group of women that are really interested in getting involved with this school and clinic.  They've delivered school supplies and ordered more.  They have purchased items such as cleaning supplies, medical supplies and solar powered lanterns.  They did some fundraising with a jewelry sale and some of the proceeds will go to supplies for the school. They are going to get some fabric to make curtains to brighten up the school.  Some teachers are planning to go over regularly to do some supplemental activities -- reading, art, etc. with the students.  A nurse went and sat in on the weekly prenatal checkups and got ideas for how we could help them with their clinic services.

I didn't get pictures of the clinic, but it is in need of a makeover.  We are trying to find a new delivery bed for them -- there's is rusty and held together with string.  When my nurse friend spent the day with the expectant moms, she got a list of the prices the clinic patients pay.  For the equivalent of about 30 cents, they can have their urine tested and get prenatal vitamins for a week.  If they want an ultrasound scan, it is under $10.  They saw around 50 patients that morning and the head nurse was very excited to get 9000 naira in proceeds -- about $57.  Apparently having a white visitor prompted many to pay up that normally would have pleaded that they didn't have the money.  So it is clear that they operate on a shoestring.  The staff frequently are behind a month or more in getting paid because they see a lot of patients who are unable to pay their bills.  They work pretty much on a cash in/cash out basis.  The staff is paid each day by the money that they receive and they have a hand-written log book where the doctor keeps track of how much each of the staff has been paid toward their monthly salary.  We will try to help them get up to date with their salaries and also work on getting them some donations of things like rubber gloves and basic supplies.

I did get some pictures of the school:


 All the women, many of whom are educators, have been really impressed with the learning going on in these classrooms.  Though they don't have much in the way of supplies or books, the teachers seem competent and not stressed and the children are learning.  One woman tested a classroom of 4-year olds and they were working on counting by twos.  They were able to count to 80 by twos!  Pretty amazing!  And they were reading as well.  This expat got information on the tuition fees and staff requirements and found that they are running the school with $79 per student per year -- and that is if all the tuition was paid up, which it never is!  And the children are learning!
 You can see that they need some kind of curtains.  The sun gets bright.  But they need the light to see, because most of the day they don't have any electricity.
 They could also use some general facility repair.
 The headmistress is a beautiful and friendly woman with a big smile.
 The kids are always friendly.

 I would love to find a company wanting to do community service, or Scout looking for an Eagle project or someone with some time and some money to take on fixing up this playground.  There are 114 children at this school and this is their playground.  Two swingset frames with no swings.  A basketball backboard with no hoop.  A slide tower with no slide.  There's no functional play equipment at all.  Wouldn't it be great to come up with a real playground for these kids?
 We always go upstairs to visit Mama when we go to Ife Oluwa.  She has turned over the running of the school and clinic to others now.  She is 84, I think.  Her mind is still very sharp but her body is slowing down.  Her feet hurt so she has a hard time getting around.  She is still grateful for the wheelchair we were able to get donated for her.  She had these kids come up from the school to meet us.  She is taking care of them.  Their father recently died and their mother is absent for some reason.  So she is taking care of them and giving them a home and they go to her school.  She said having them there makes her happy and she loves them.
 I liked these handwriting practice sentences!
It is amazing what this school and clinic are able to do with such limited resources.  I'm glad that we are generating some excitement and interest by the expat women in helping them improve their facilities.

The 303rd good thing about Lagos: A weekend celebrating the Nordic spirit

A couple of weekends ago we enjoyed some of the events that were sponsored by the embassies of Finland, Norway and Sweden to celebrate the "Nordic Spirit in Business and Culture."  There were some great activities open by invitation and some to the public and there was no charge to us, which was a nice bonus.

On Friday we had a lovely evening at the new Radisson Blu hotel which is just up the street from our apartment.  We had never been in this hotel before, but it was really lovely.  It had been under construction since we came here over 6 years ago -- I heard there were problems with subsidence in its foundation right by the water.  But they finally fixed whatever was wrong and now it is a really lovely and very modern hotel. 

There was a really nice program with readings of poetry of the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, who won the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature.  The reading was done by Leif Olsson, a Swedish dramatist, translator, teacher and a personal friend of the poet.  He did a lovely job reading and teaching us about Tranströmer's poetry, which is really beautiful.  The extra special part of this program was that the poetry was interpreted and accompanied by music, mostly Nordic, by the Norwegian pianist Geir Henning Braaten, who was also in Lagos for the occasion.  The two had just met that morning, having communicated by email previously.  Braaten had chosen music to accompany many of the poems that Olsson was going to read.  They said they spent a couple of hours putting the music together with the poetry, and it was just spectacular. 

The poetry has a lot of strong images, many of nature and it lended itself well to musical interpretation.  One interesting thing I learned was that Tomas Tranströmer was also a pianist -- a video was shown of him playing a piece with only his left hand.  He had suffered a stroke in 1990 which left his right side paralyzed and he is unable to speak.  But with his wife's help, he is able to function and attempt some communication and still has written poetry.  I thought it was quite sad that this man who created such beautiful poetry and was also a respected psychologist would suffer a brain injury leaving him inable to communicate freely.

 I did a quick search on the internet for a short poem or two that I could copy here.  Here's a "city" poem and a "country" poem. There were not read during the evening, but I think the clear images in both of them are each beautiful in their own way:

by Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robert Bly
Men in overalls the same color as earth rise from a ditch. It's a transitional place, in stalemate, neither country nor city. Construction cranes on the horizon want to take the big leap, but the clocks are against it. Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues. Auto-body shops occupy old barns. Stones throw shadows as sharp as objects on the moon surface. And these sites keep on getting bigger like the land bought with Judas' silver: "a potter's field for burying strangers."
Here's one more:
April and Silence
Spring lies deserted. The velvet-dark ditch crawls by my side without reflections. All that shines are yellow flowers. I’m carried in my shadow like a violin in its black case. The only thing I want to say gleams out of reach like the silver in a pawnshop. Oh, I do love poetry! It was such a treat to hear the poetry of Tranströmer! After this program, there was a reception with tons of really delicious Nordic food -- it really took us back to our years living in Norway. After some good eating, we found a seat out on the terrace by the pool. It was a pleasant evening with nice breezes for the fashion show. There wasn't anything paraded that was remotely like anything I would wear, but it was still fun to see some fashions and beautiful models and be amazed at how they are able to walk on those super high heels.
On Saturday evening we went to the Muson Centre for a concert sponsored by the embassies. There was music, Nordic and Nigerian and more. There was a Nigerian choir that did a fair job with a variety of pieces.
There was a solo by a Nigerian and this duet by two counter-tenors -- Rossini's "Cat Duet."
Those "fake" sopranos were upstaged by the true soprano, Norwegian opera singer Ingrid Vetiesen. She had a lovely voice, with a crystal clear tone.
There were also some truly beautiful piano solos performed by Geir Henning Braaten, who has made a number of trips to Nigeria to teach and mentor young Nigerian pianists.
He is a wonderful musician -- skilled at solo performance and accompanying.

(Tried to put a video of her singing here, but it wouldn't upload -- maybe I'll try again later...)
Cultural performances (at least of European culture) at standards that we have in the States are few and far between here in Lagos, so it was a real treat to have two cultural evenings in a row with such quality performances. Thank you to the embassies of Finland, Norway and Sweden for a very pleasant weekend!