Thursday, April 26, 2007
I did want to end the "drama" and tell you that JB DID bungee jump. I did the firefox (a sort of cable across) but did NOT bungee jump. Nor did I have ANY inkling or desire TO jump. I won't reveal the other jumpers yet. I'll let Tara post first. But there's half the answer. It was AMAZING. JB was not planning on jumping. But then we got to the top, two other people decided to go, and he just couldn't pass up the opportunity to bungee from the highest place IN THE WORLD!
In other news, this trip has been AMAZING. We have been staying at some wonderful bed and breakfasts and just enjoying this beautiful country. Food and lodging is much cheaper than the US. I have so many pictures to share but no way to actually post them. Just trust me when I say that this has been the trip of a lifetime -- four weeks in Nigeria and now two whole weeks traveling across South Africa. We have three more nights before we reach Kruger National Park for our five days of Safari.
Hopefully you'll hear from me again. We are all doing great!!!!
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
We are currently nearing Durbin. So much to say but no time to say it. This has been the most amazing adventure of my life!!! More to come. (Check Tara's blog too.)
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Tara's blog rocks!
We are staying at this really funky "hotel" called BIG BLUE BACKPACKERS. It's a hostel. JB and I have our own room which actually has a bunk bed in it that could have been utilized by two more people. However, for about $13 a night, our three travel companions are in a really nice bunk bed filled room with some strangers :). They are keeping their personal belongings in our room but staying in the group room. It's a great place with internet, and a kitchen for cooking, and just young people hanging out all over the place. Very fun. Maybe I wouldn't think it so nice if we were doing the Nigeria portion of our trip pre-travels, but either way, it was a good find.
We have booked all of our lodging already and have a great outline already established for the next two weeks. I made an outline of this and posted it on my blog sometime ago. I can't seem to find that post right now though. We are trying to eat out only one meal a day (although we didn't start well and yesterday did two -- a great lunch on the beach and then a Thai dinner by our hostel for dinner) but that is the plan. We hit a grocery store early yesterday morning and got some fruit and cheese and drinks. If all goes according to plan, we hope to have a picnic in the wine country today.
Friday afternoon and Saturday were amazing days. As I briefly mentioned, a flat tire started our arrival in Capetown. This was a little bit of a downer, but getting the new tire went very smoothly. The flat tire was technically JB's doing, but the poor guy was having to learn how to drive in moments on the other side of the road (Nicole -- how hard is that?!), but not just learn, do it in a stick with the stick on his left hand! Then, add to that the fact that there are hills EVERYWHERE here and the curb outside our hostel is a foot high, and he hit the curb with the left back wheel. This experience made me a little nervous, especially when yesterday, I rode shotgun (which is actually the driver's side in America.) The guy at the tire station (who was adamant that THEY drive on the WRONG side of the road) said the key to successfully navigating in a backwards area is a co-captain. I did my best to do that. However, as we navigated down Chapman's peak, a breathtaking view but a windy, cliff-hanging adventure, I realized that the front seat is the worst place to be as everything is moving backwards for you! I also forbid Kelsey from using the word "plunge" on this drive.
Needless to say (and Tara's blog can prove this for you), this was one of the most amazing travel days I have ever spent. Ajit explored on his own today so JB and his "three wives" (inside joke -- don't worry ... I am still his one and only) were off on their own with John know a professional driving. We drove all the way down the Cape and then returned to the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. We had been there the previous day with Ajit while Kelsey and Tara had explored Robben Island (the jail Nelson Mendela was imprisoned), but Tara and Kelsey wanted to see it, and JB wanted to go back with his "good" camera. JB also cracked me up when we walked in when he said in a nice way that I should go explore with the women so as to not bug him to move on and "finish that photo already". So I did. It was amazing that nearly everything I saw this day were things that I hadn't seen the previous day. This play was ginormous! (Yes, I made that word up.)
We also took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain. This was awesome. (I have used that word a lot on this trip. It's hard to come up with something else when everything is just stinkin' awesome.) It was especially awesome because we got the last car up of the day so there were only us and one other group on the car. Amazing!!!
South Africa, so far, is fantastic. One thing, however, that greatly bothers me here is the division between the races. As I understand it, there are only about 15% whites here. However, wherever we go, that is basically all we see. When we go out to eat, the restaurant is basically all white but all black doing the serving. There is a HUGE division between the races here. Much of the black population lives in its own housing areas very segregated (segregation due to economic differences) lives. It was amazing how instantly I noticed this. It may be because we are frequenting tourist areas, but it is still troubling. I read that the white population makes about $10,000 a year but the black population about $2,000.
Aside from our time here in South Africa, I am overcome with the fact that we are no longer in Nigeria. The saddest point of the whole departure on Thursday was getting in our big bus and seeing Papa (our cook), and Musa (our house help), standing there, waving, Musa looking like he was going to cry. We all gave Papa and Musa some gifts before we left, and Musa hugged JB so hard and was so thankful. To look at them and wonder if you will ever see them again, is very difficult. It is also difficult to think that as we pull away, we are pulling away to electricity, running water, and our old homes, and they will continue to work over kerosene lanterns and wells. I am not sure how to reason this.
I was also shocked by how quickly I reverted to old behaviors. After not having great bathroom access for a month, I walked into a bathroom in the restaurant we had lunch in yesterday and quickly remembered all my old tricks to avoid germs like grabbing the paper towels to open the door. This after not even having a place to wash our hands after using the bathroom for a month and not usually having a toilet to flush with the push of a button! It keeps nagging at me and relieving me at the same time.
Our last few days in Nigeria continued to produce new and eye-opening experiences. We went on three home visits with Ashom and Ezekial two days before we left. They are both HIV positive men and both a part of Faith Alive's Home Based Team. They have also both lost a wife to HIV and were basically "rescued from their death beds" early in Dr. Chris' years starting Faith Alive. They have now devoted their lives to helping others. They aren't doctors, just trained health aids.
Each of our three stops was equally amazing and difficult. All three individuals were HIV positive and all, according to our guides, doing much better. The first woman was literally skin and bones but apparently seemed to be responding to the new ARVs she was on. (These are drugs that work for a time but then, can often stop working. In the U.S. there are tons of different ones to try. Here at Faith Alive, there are only about two that they can afford and get their hands on. Again, your death is determined by where you live and how much money you have.) This woman was 26 years old and truly looked like a skeleton. However, she was still so blessed to see us and managed to sit up to say, "You are welcome." She lived in a fairly nice home and was responding well to the new drugs.
The second stop required us to get out and walk quite a bit as cars couldn't get into this village. The area we walked was rocky and steep and truly felt like what you would picture in Biblical times. The man we saw was staying in a 2 room house, fighting TB and HIV and as a result, bad bed sores. This home was unlike anything I have ever seen. In the U.S., anyone who lived like this would be considered homeless. He was on a plain mattress in his own room but the other room, was nothing more than a cement floor with some bed mats. A few woman were napping in here. Everyone was so happy to see us even though we offered nothing more but support and prayers. They don't even have a medical kit. They simply speak to a doctor when they return and then try to bring medications back when they come back in a day or two.
The third woman was an HIV widow with two children. She was staying at her parents' home. This home seemed a little better but was still just a plain room with uncovered mattresses and pillows. She was using a catheter and had extreme pain in her legs. Ezekial told them to buy some ibuprofen and that he would try to return soon with some more pain medicine. I reminded JB of a plastic bag in his pocket with some Tylenol and ibuprofen in it as he had been having a headache that day. We gave Ezekial the bag, and the family was very thankful to have a few pills. I wished we had a few bottles. Just helping with pain would help this woman so much! And it was ibuprofen, something every one of us has in our medicine cabinet. It would have been so helpful if this team could carry some sort of medicine kit. But that is a luxury currently not available.
We know Faith Alive will continue to grow and prosper. I look forward to seeing what they can do in just a short period of time. This is an amazing organization which has come so far in 10 years. It will be amazing to see where they go in ten more. Just ten years ago, Faith Alive was only a dream. Dr. Chris was a one man show in one room, offering counseling and encouragement, but no medicine, to patients. Naomi (the woman I worked with on the magazine) was his first patient. And she has been his most loyal "worker" -- a daughter to him and his wife. The organization now has hundreds working for them and will one day be, the "Mayo" of Africa. However, despite an operating budget of about $80,000 a month, only about $500 comes from patient donations. The rest of the money is through donations from outside their organization. The U.S. and UK are two of their biggest supporters. All of these donations started from people who simply visited and then went home and told the story. Through this, people continued to donate and one church donated their entire building (a palace according to the standards of Jos) after a fire destroyed the previous building. Like I wrote earlier, Dr. Chris is, without a doubt, this MOST AMAZING MAN. I am excited because if all goes well, he will be at the medical school graduation and speaking at the Christian swearing in ceremony. Our families will get to meet this little Nigerian man with a heart so big you just can't help get in line with his dreams. I truly love this man and his family and all of Faith Alive.
Another interesting thing I must note is that Jos is not how all of Nigeria is. As we returned to Abuja (about three hours away), I was amazed at how developed it was in comparison. I didn't really notice this on the way in since this was my first initial glimpse of Nigeria. We have spoken with Tunde and Deola (in person and via email while we are gone.) They both lived in Nigeria and did not live (as I understand it) as we have lived for the last month. They did not live like we have lived while in Jos. What is difficult, however, is that Jos and its surrounding areas exists as it does. Nigeria is the 6th largest oil producer. The technology is there for running water and electricity and yet the money is not with the people. It would be one thing if there weren't light switches. But there are light switches and the power doesn't get there. That is even more frustrating.
Okay, so I have gone on for an exorbitant amount of time. Better return to my room and get ready to check out. Like I said, I have so much to say. I'm sure I'll be saying it for months to come. I hope you aren't tired of me.
I'm definitely not tired of our adventures!!!
Friday, April 20, 2007
Dr. Chris was not there in Lagos of course so we had to battle customs ourselves. This was interesting, but we eventually got through. We got great seats for the the 5 hour and 3o minute flight to Capetown because the plane wasn't very full. We slept for a few hours!!! However, when we got to Capetown, we had to get our luggage off and then recheck because we were "entering" the country. This caused us to miss our connection. They put us on standby, and we were relieved to find out that we all would be on the 9 a.m. flight to Capetown. That was a blessing.
We are moved into our "home" for two days in Capetown. We got our rental car but it is a stick, on the opposite side of the vehicle, and JB accidentally hit a curb as he tried to make an opposite turn up an extremely winding street. No one faults him as it was VERY hard driving. Not a great start, but we are in good spirits. The girls have headed out to Robin Island, Ajit is going to venture out a bit on his own, and I am looking forward to spending the evening with my best friend settling things with the vehicle and just being together.
I have so much to say about our departure from Nigeria, but I will save all that for another time. For now, we are here, and I love you all!
Monday, April 16, 2007
Yankuri Game Reserve & State Elections
I must devote a portion of this blog to the “vacation” we took to Yankuri Game Reserve on Thursday and Friday. (See Tara's blog for some great pics. I'll post more when I get home. I don't have her patience.) Dr. Chris got word that he would be returning to Jos by 3 p.m. on Thursday and decided that we would leave at 3 p.m. for Yankuri. This trip was supposed to occur earlier in the week, however, his side trip to Lagos to retrieve the surgery equipment that has been in customs for over a year (he still doesn’t have it, but he did make progress in moving it forward) put a kink in these plans. This was really the last opportunity we had to take this trip. The elections were on Saturday which meant we shouldn’t be “on the road”, and Dr. Phil Fischer, our Mayo “contact” is coming into Jos on Monday which will fill up our days until we leave for Thursday. It was therefore Thursday or not at all.
It was actually 4:30 before we got on the road. This is not unusual for Nigerians. They admit that there is “Nigerian time” and “American time.” Usually Nigerian time is the norm. Occasionally they will tell us to be there at “American time” but even this time usually leaves us waiting a bit. Nigerians are very “no problem” about everything. I really covet their laid-back attitude.
One thing I quickly learned. It is possible to fit more people in a vehicle then you may have every thought possible. I have yet to see a child’s car seat. If you can fit in the vehicle, then it is a safe arrangement. I say this to tell you that we had 13 people in a “comfortably” eight person van. Technically, you could seat nine. We put 4 more inside. Granted four of these were children, but it still left us sitting wherever possible. This seemed okay until Dr. Chris told us it was a three hour drive! In all actuality it took 4 hours. This was due to a few factors. The first was the need for a quick pit stop. This “bathroom break” took place behind an abandoned gas station on the side of the road. Quite honestly, I am getting less and less picky about where I use the restroom. The second reason for the longer trip was nightfall. This slows everyone down. There are many police stops on the road. These include rocks or tree branches in the road that you must wind around to get by. (These cause a lot of accidents as they are in the middle of the highway and hard to slow down for.) These stops are harder to see at night. There are also a lot of potholes in the roads. I asked Dr. Chris why this was, and he said it really boiled down to people doing sub-par work. The third reason was a stop at the gate of Yankuri. They like to keep track of tourists so we had to give passport numbers and pay for camera usage (people sell their photos apparently) and other things of the like.
We finally arrived at 8 p.m. Dr. Chris and Dr. Mercy’s cook had made us some food for the road. Warming containers are very big here and really do a great job. The food was very warm and very good! Afterwards, Dr. Chris informed us it was time to go to the warm springs. I was not too sure about swimming in foreign waters in the dark. However, I should have been more relaxed. These springs were so amazingly beautiful! It was basically a site for the movies – a perfect lagoon in the middle of the jungle. Bats were diving and eating flies off the water. The water was the PERFECT temperature (seventy degrees I believe.) It was so amazingly refreshing and totally worth the long drive.
The next morning we went on a two hour game drive in the back of a pickup truck. We didn't see any of the “big five”, but we saw some great birds, bush bucks, and other smaller animals. We also, as our tour guide informed us, got to see the "tse-tse fly”. These things bite badly! The only thing I can compare them to are those bugs that bite you in the pool in south Florida. Ajit is covered in bites today from some animal -- not sure if it was the tse-tse fly or what! But it was still great fun.
Afterwards, we returned to the warm springs for another swim before heading back. I could have swam there for the entire day. Dr. Chris was a bit disappointed that the park was still in the condition it was. Apparently, a year ago, government officials said they were going to really focus on this park and make it more welcoming for tourists. It has the potential to be an amazing “money maker” for the area. However, apparently, work has been started but hasn't really advanced. In a sense, we were glad that it isn’t exactly “welcoming” to tourists because, as Tara said, the swimming area wouldn’t be as amazing if it were overcome with tourists. However, it definitely has something to offer people from all over the world. They will need to improve the living quarters and roads in order to make this happen but the potential is there.
We got back to Jos in much better time than our prior trip. No bathroom break and no darkness allowed our driver to get us back in 2:45 minutes! Great job Godwyn!
We spent all day Saturday laying low. We turned on the television in our flat for the first time in order to watch some news. It appears that there really wasn’t any violence throughout the country. This was the first time in the country’s history that the government had shifted from democratic to democratic. In the past the shifts have been from military to democratic and back to military again. In addition, there was some big “to do” in regards to some court hearing on Thursday. To avoid the case being heard in time, a national holiday was declared. Just like that a national holiday! This really cracks us up. It’s all quite interesting and educational. Next Saturday the elections for the president will be held. Apparently, this election isn’t as serious as the election today. Either way, we are glad our flight is mid-week being as most of the airlines have cancelled their flights today and next Saturday. Elections are quite serious stuff around here.
It was actually very strange on Friday night when we went to bed and when we woke up. It was eerily quiet! Dr. Chris said most Nigerians would stay home and just avoid any trouble. People were encouraged to vote and then head home to avoid getting swept up into any riots or problems. Musa, who is staying downstairs and helps us with water and the generator, taught us a fun Nigerian card game.
“Papa” our favorite Nigerian chef voted this morning. He returned and showed us the ink on his thumb. He was very proud. He also pulled out his voting card and registration. We found out from this card what Papa’s real name is: Danladi Dasan. We also found out that he is not in his sixties as we thought. The guy is 78! He doesn’t speak great English. We can communicate but are limited to very surface conversations. He calls me Madam. He calls Tara “Mrs. Fruit” because of how she devours any fruit he serves. He also likes having doctors living in the house. He got a pretty nasty cold last week. JB went in to check on him and Papa asked John if he would take his blood pressure! This was so cute. John explained that blood pressure probably wasn’t necessary, but he did give Papa some Dayquil and Nightquil. Papa really enjoyed this stuff and the next day, I asked if he needed more medicine he said, “Yes please. And the green ones.” The green ones are to help him sleep so they obviously helped. Papa is an amazing man! He brought us two pictures of he and his wife. He had 12 children. Ten of them are still alive. I haven’t been able to get a straight answer as to how many grandchildren he has.
It is now Monday afternoon. Our friend Lauretta came over last night and gave us each Ibo names. Later, I will write them for you. She gave our "future" child a name as well which means "God's gift". It was quite awesome. She is coming over tonight to help JB learn to cook a "real" Nigerian meal. Very fun.
Anyways, I think that is enough for now. Again, I'm not sure I will get on again before we leave for South Africa. I am also not sure what access we will have in South Africa. It is amazing that our nearly four weeks in Nigeria has come to an end. I have so much more to say (believe it or not) than what I have currently written, but I guess you will all have to wait until we get home for more details (and pictures). Check Tara's blog. She's a great picture-loader!
Missing you all so much!!
Friday, April 13, 2007
Here I am with our toiletry bags when they arrived from Abuja. We went 10 days without any of the "extras". It wasn't too bad for me but Kelsey and Tara were excited to get their clothes.Here we are the graduation for the sewing, computer, and knitting schools. People love to get their photo taken here and we ended up taking photo after photo rotating people in and out. This woman in the brown dress in the middle wanted a photo with just us but all these people jumped in. We took another with just her later.
I told you the rains came! Here is Ajit and JB (very cold) taking a shower in the rains.
We continue to be amazed by how beautiful the people of Nigeria are. They are such an amazing and charismatic people – so in love with God and life. I am sure you will hear more about them in time to come from me. They are so full of love and encouraging and loving life. We are reminded that we are only seeing a small section of Nigeria ... but this section has just really grabbed me. I just love, love, love these people!!!!
Please be praying for the country as tomorrow is the governor-elections (we are leaving on Thursday before the presidential elections). Jos never has any problems with riots etc.; however, they encourage us not to be on the road and to instead just lay low.
Dr. Chris is back in town and went with us to Yankari. Here is a blog I wrote a few days ago:
Bulleting our lives in Nigeria
- I love the names of people here: Blessing, Innocent, Comfort, Mercy, Grace, Praise, Miracle … In additions, everyone’s name means something and people are quick to share the meaning. Most people also have a “tribal” name in addition to their “English” names.
- One thing that is very different from the U.S. is the relationship between the sexes. Men will often walk holding hands. Dr. Chris will often take JB’s or Ajit’s hand as they walk. This is how male friends will act with each other. Women will do the same thing. A big difference is that couples (like JB and I) do not show a lot of affection in public. I have been told that it is not inappropriate. However, I still feel like if I touch JB in public, I am bringing unnecessary attention to us. My relationship with JB is different here and it would take months I think to find a new “normal”.
- Our friend Blessing took us to Afri-one for dessert to celebrate Tara’s “lent is now over – let them eat cake”. We returned two days later for a lunch just the five of us. There appear to be very few restaurants, primarily restaurants that non-natives would visit. This restaurant was a strange sort of “surreal” experience. It was if we had gone back into the U.S. There was fresh bread and desserts and drinks in freezers and a bathroom nicer than most you have seen in public facilities in the U.S. It was nice to have some ice cream (and a hamburger and different-tasting Mountain Dew on our second visit), but it was a very weird experience to step back outside to be flogged by beggars and honking horns. I almost felt bad enjoying the experience. There were also more white people and non-Nigerians in this one place than I have seen total since we arrived in Nigeria. Quite surreal.
- As far as food is concerned, “Papa” makes us three meals a day, seven days a week. It has been difficult to allow this sixty-something year old man to serve us meals. He is absolutely the sweetest-hearted man you could ever meet! We try to make things easier by clearing our places, but in the end, he still works nearly all day for the five of us to eat. He makes a sort of American and Nigerian mixture of food: papaya, watermelon, oranges, cous cous, beefy mixtures, chicken, noodles, even macaroni and cheese (with egg in it). At first we thought we wanted to stick to more native food. However, this tame-down version is probably better for our stomachs.
- I helped get water from the well up to the house the other day. This is not easy work AT ALL. I also can't wear my glasses in fear they will fall in.
- Tuesday we visited two SIM (Sudanese Interior Mission) boys’ homes (a smaller one of 16 that serves as a transition house to the larger one of 90). This is run by a lot of “white” people from Europe and the U.S. so our presence was not seen as “out of the ordinary” for the boys. They barely gave us a second look. I was very impressed with the amount of organization and discipline in these places. We met Isaac and Shadrach, two small boys, probably around 7 or 8 who lived in the transitional house. They eagerly showed us their beds and “place”. Most of the boys are orphans or runaways or excluded from broken homes.
- On Wednesday we went and visited the World Health Organization’s headquarters. This is basically a Christian version of “Doctors without Borders”. There building, facilities, and organization were amazing. It was a fascinating tour.
- Tuesday morning, Tara led the devotional and Kelsey led the health talk. They both did a FANTASTIC job! I was thoroughly impressed. During this time, a mother of a young boy (probably about 11) started asking me health questions. It is generally assumed that I am a physician. This little boy had cirrhosis (sp?) of the liver. His stomach was greatly distended and his eyes were very yellowed. I directed her to Ajit who discussed the back pain the boy was having. Afterwards, I asked Ajit about his case. The cirrhosis is likely a result of Hepatitis but the only cure is a liver transplant. They do not do organ transplants in Nigeria. And there is nothing I can do about that. I kept looking at this boy wishing I could help.
- A local woman gave Ajit a gift of food to take home with us. We were eating dinner with two Nigerians who explained to us (after Tara and JB had tried the food) that it was Goat head with smashed up brains. This was amazingly foul smelling. I don’t care how long I lived in Nigeria. I would never eat this!
- There are certain things that cause me frustration here that I have to work to not get frustrated about. The noise in the evenings is one of those things. You really must leave your windows open to get any sort of circulation, however, the people outside are often yelling and honking well into the night. Even with the windows closed and ear plugs in, the noise is still prevalent. This is very different from the U.S. where you assume that once you go into your house, any noise you hear is noise you personally make.
- Another frustration is toilet facilities. If you can find a toilet, it may just be a hole in the ground. There is often no toilet paper, never soap, and never hand towels. In fact, it is rare that the water is running to flush the toilet or turn on the sink. This is really “mind over matter” for me. My tendency toward being a germ-a-phobe has had to be put aside. The lack of electricity is something that I can deal with especially with a generator that you can turn on for a few hours in the evening but the water is quite frustrating.
- If I lived here all the time, I would definitely wear skirts everywhere. I would also learn how to put on a head covering, especially for church. Apparently, dress varies from church to church, but in the Baptist church on Sunday, we white women were the only three in church without our head covered. They allow westerners to do their own thing and do not include us in the “dress code” discussions that are constantly ensuing between all the older women and the younger women, however, I would want to fit in more to help draw less attention to the large amount of attention a white person already encourages. I keep thinking the novelty of seeing a white person would wear off, especially for the children that see us everyday. But it doesn’t. Older women do not like “trousers”, however, no one considers anything a westerner wears as inappropriate. They “know” we do not dress like them, and they accept that.
- Dr. Chris has been in Lagos (in the south part of the country) for a few days now. He was told the surgery equipment had been “released” from customs, but apparently, he is still struggling to get it. I know he is very anxious to get that equipment and bring it back to Faith Alive.
- JB and I have been spending a lot of time discussing missions. I would need a whole post (and will most likely use one) in the future to discuss everything that we have been discussing. We really love this organization and could definitely see ourselves being involved with them. However, we would most likely be involved at one of their rural satellite clinics. These are usually only 1-2 hours from Faith Alive, but provide less of a city environment. They would allow JB to incorporate his love for community development. In fact, today, he is going to be helping one of the physicians working on a community development grant. In addition, while long term missions is definitely something in our discussions, the possibility of being involved in a short-term fashion is also greatly needed. A few different doctors could easily “staff” a rural clinic, continuing to support themselves and the clinic back in the U.S. by taking quarter long turns. There are a lot of different options.
- People here do NOT like to see me sit on the floor. In the U.S., if there is not an extra seat, someone will easily just take a spot in a corner, pulling their laptop up onto their lap. I have tried this on many occasions and almost always, a chairs flies in from somewhere – who knows where – to save the day. I think it comes down to their perception of the feet being so dirty. I agree with this of course, however, I just still don’t think they are putting enough emphasis on the dirt of the hands.
Monday, April 09, 2007
Some other things that are on my mind (and please excuse me if these points do not “flow” very much … when your head has this much going on, it becomes difficult to present things slowly) …
Prior to coming to Nigeria, I had never seen a dead body. I have now seen three I think, but even more sad is that I am not sure I am really keeping a tally anymore. We were back at Juth, the “best” hospital in the area. Two men were wheeling a cart through the parking lot to the morgue, a body obviously under the sheet. What stuck out to me most is that individual still had her head scarf on. It so perfectly symbolized the way that death fails to announce its arrival. I am sure when she put this head scarf on in the morning, she did not think that it would be the last time she put it on.
Our return to Juth was a result of JB’s second “speech” of the trip. In fact, JB has actually spoken five times since we have arrived in Nigeria. Tuesday and Wednesday he gave a lecture to Dr. Chris’ medical school classes. On Thursday he did the morning patient devotional at Faith Alive. On Friday he gave the morning health talk at Faith Alive. Then, on Friday night, Dr. Chris handed him a program for Faith Alive’s Social Services/Rehabilitative Training School. JB instantly saw that he was listed as the speaker for the ceremony! Leave it to Nigerians to wait until the last minute to fill you in. Especially Dr. Chris. He loves to put people on the spot! So, a fifth speech followed today. JB has done a great job speaking! Dad and Mom K., you would be very proud of your son.
I led my devotional on Friday. I was relieved because, due to the Easter holiday, the audience was much smaller. I was initially hoping that they wouldn’t have me do it all, but Dr. Chris immediately thought otherwise. I spoke on “Smiling through the bad times” and included a brief discussion of our difficulties conceiving. Barrenness is something that this culture takes very seriously. As soon as we were done, Dr. Chris said they should pray for me and a woman volunteered. It was an amazing powerful prayer. I have been prayed for many times, but I do not think I will soon forget this prayer. Another woman, Mary, that I have been helping in medical records, told me earlier in the week that she sees me with twins. I didn’t disagree with this at all!
Jumping back to a discussion of the Social Services/Rehabilitative Training School (I told you this post may not flow very much) … this school is a fantastic program sponsored by Faith Alive. In short, they offer computer, knitting, and sewing training to HIV positive individuals who are in need of a way to provide for their family. The program is free, and upon graduation, sewing students are given a sewing machine and knitting students a knitting machine. They are then charged to go out and support themselves and their families and also to help educate other individuals free of charge, just as they have been educated. It is such a great program!
On Friday, Dr. Chris informed the three doctors in our midst that he was going to spend some time with his family. Instead, they would see his patients and make all the decisions regarding their care. All the Faith Alive workers are given the holidays off – unless they are on call, -- coming in is completely optional. There was one nurse to help and a doctor came later, but other than that, they were on their own. They set up clinic in one room so that they could bounce things off of each other. I decided to help by running errands, looking for translators, or getting files. Kelsey, unfortunately, was unable to be with us. Dear Kelsey was attempting to fast due to Good Friday. Kelsey, unfortunately, is also on a medication for her malaria that can tear your stomach up without food. As a result, Kelsey, unfortunately, ended up barfing half a dozen times, and had to go home for the rest of the day. Just to let Mama Wicks and other Kelsey fans know, she is now feeling great. It passed quickly. Our entire group minus me has had some stomach issues throughout. My stomach has felt great!
Anyways, during this clinic time, Tara, Ajit, and JB did a great job running things. One patient particularly stood out. It was actually his first patient of the morning, and he stopped midway through to ask if we would all gather together and pray with the woman. She was coming in for pain in her back due to spousal abuse. I nearly started crying as she said, “I don’t believe in divorce, but I have to take care of my son. He is the father of my son, and maybe one day he will be healed. But for now, I am very afraid.” She also said she had no food. I went out to FANOL bank (a food and clothing bank sponsored by Faith Alive.) However, due to the Easter holiday, there was not a drop of food in the bank. Everyone had come to get food so that their family could have an Easter meal. I ended up giving this woman 1,000 naira (the equivalent of about 8 US dollars.) Later, I would give another woman the same amount – she had come to Faith Alive for some food for Easter and I could not just tell her that the bank had nothing! I don’t tell you all this to, in any way, brag on myself or JB. I instead tell you this to ask how in the world these physicians and nurses do what they are doing! How do you not give away every penny you have in order to help everyone else? That’s when I realized. This is what Dr. Chris has done.
Yesterday, we went to the market with B____. I will have to put a photo of her on the blog at some point. She is one of the most beautiful people, inside and out, that I have ever met. The love of God just radiates off of her. She is twenty-six years old but seems much more mature than this. Four years ago her husband died of AIDS and she was diagnosed. Her husband’s family attempted to take her two children from her, but she “kidnapped” them back. She went through Faith Alive’s sewing school and now has a small shop just a few doors down where she teachers others.
We went to the market to get fabric for B____ to make some things for us. I would be okay if I never returned to the marketplace. Apparently, a lot of what is going on there is “black market” activity. JB brought his nice camera, and most people immediately interpreted the “white man” with the camera as a threat. This is very different from out experience here in Jos as a whole. In fact, while we were at the graduation today, people thronged us for photos. Nigerians love to get their photos taken! However, here at the market, the “illegal” activity left JB to get a “berating” from a local. The crowds had forced B____ to be quite some distance from him when this happened. Dr. Chris told us that had he known we were with Faith Alive, he would have immediately backed off.
Another thing that has greatly impressed me while I am here is how intertwined religion is into the culture. The country itself is about half Muslim and half Christian – I think a little bit more Muslim. The area we are in is actually 90% Christian. However, there are many Muslims who work at Faith Alive. There are many Muslims who attend the Faith Alive HIV Support Group. I am so moved by how these two religious groups work and fellowship seeing their similarities instead of their differences. I have been so blessed by our own relationship with Bara – even though these communities are fighting throughout the world, they cane live together! As you walk through the neighborhood, you can hear people signing and praying. You can see Muslims praying. Religion is very out in the open. Even at the Christian school I attended, I did not see such open faith. People are constantly talking about the Lord.
Another fun bit of info for you all … the rains have begun. I think it is the beginning of the rainy season. The first big rain, Kelsey, JB, and Ajit took a shower outside (complete with soap and shampoo). We also brought buckets out to fill up. When there is no running water, you take anything you can get. I’ll try to upload a picture of this if I can!
I think that is enough for tonight. Not sure when I will post this. Hope all of you are doing well.
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Wednesday Evening Reflections
Today was a day I will not soon forget. I am forever moved by what I have seen today, and I will attempt, in whatever way I can, to put it into words for you.
At 10 a.m., JB and I were sitting outside of Faith Alive, waiting for Dr. Chris. The medical school he works at has gone on strike (again) and he is not allowed to teach. However, his friends from the USA are not being paid and can volunteer. So JB was going to teach a class.
As we waited, I saw a man, out of the corner of my eyes, standing at the side entrance. His shirt was covered with blood. Shortly thereafter he fell to the payment. I immediately began pounding on JB but not really able to formulate what to say. JB jumped up and ran inside. He had no gloves and also was not for sure that Faith Alive could handle this emergency. I walked over to the man as JB and Dr. Chris returned and saw that his hand was barely attached. Apparently, he had been using dynamite for work and it had gone off in his hand. I have never seen anything like this.
Dr. Chris immediately told the driver preparing to take us to JB’s lecture to instead take the man to the nearest “big” hospital … Juth. It is Dr. Chris’ hope that they will soon have a surgery area again. However, customs currently has most of his instruments, refusing to let them go do to “paperwork” issues. Dr. Chris also made sure that the three friends who brought the man to Faith Alive, went with him to the hospital. He was adamant about this point. JB was basically unable to help without any extra gloves. There was blood all over, and therefore he and Dr. Chris relied on his friends to load him into the car.
When we finally found a second vehicle to head to Juth ourselves, Dr. Chris explained the situation. Juth is not a free hospital. Not even for emergencies. They would require a deposit of about $100 USD before they would even see the man. Even the missionary hospital, Evangel, not far from us, requires this payment. Without it, they would go under. This man’s friends had to go to make sure that the man was not left to die on the doorstep. If he had friends, they could go and collect money and maybe even sell some of the man’s things to get him help. This, literally, made me feel sick to my stomach. They would let the man die before they would help him without a deposit. Dr. Chris did tell us that if the man had come alone, Faith Alive would have paid the deposit. This was a relief.
After JB’s lecture (which was GREAT!), Dr. Chris took Ajit, JB, and me on a tour of Juth. This is a large hospital. However, the conditions were beyond deplorable. It was absolutely the most stomach-turning thing I have ever seen. There is no such thing as privacy. Ten or twenty patients could easily fill a room. They are given no food or water. If they eat or drink, it is because their family members are outside in one of the grassy areas, making them food or buying them water. A filthy pillow sat on one of the examination tables and a young boy laid naked on a ripped table. When we went into the ICU, they asked us to remove our shoes. I thought this a bit ironic as our hands were not washed. Shoes are seen as very dirty but hands are not as big of a focus-point. One patient lay dead under a blanket. Another three patients were victims of a tanker spill earlier that week. We had seen the remnants of this spill on our way back from the rural clinic. People had scattered to collect the gas to sell, when the tanker exploded. These three patients were burned over 50% of their bodies. One was six months pregnant. They had bandages on but nothing else was being done for them. In the US we complain when people have tubes going everywhere. Here, there are no tubes. Their dressings were only changed if the family members paid money to have them changed. I thought of people like my cousin Sarah’s cousin Erica who survived bacterial meningitis with the most amazing care. If she had lived here, what would have happened?
When Dr. Chris told the ICU nurses (who were very nice – despite the deplorable conditions, the people who work in these places seem very kind) that we were from Mayo Clinic “the best healthcare center in the world”, one of the nurses said, “Better than Nigeria?” Dr. Chris just repeated his statement. Could they seriously think this was good? I would, honestly, be horrified to have to be in the hospital here. It was gut wrenching.
We weaved our way through the ER until we found the man who had come to Faith Alive earlier that day with the hand injury. He was sitting on a table, with a basic IV for fluids, waiting for his friends to return with money. They had wrapped his wounds but would not do anything else until the money showed up. This was so frustrating! They were losing time to try to reattach the man’s hand, a hand he, obviously, used to make a living. Dr. Chris spoke with a doctor who said that this would most likely be an amputation. Dr. Chris asked him to please have the plastic surgeon look at it. “I will help with the bill,” he said. Whether they will try to save the hand or not is something I may never know. But I do know that this man’s place of birth will most likely determine whether he has two hands or one for the rest of his life. I did not know how to make sense of this.
At some point, I will try to get some of Ajit’s photos from the hospital and post them on the blog so you can see just what I am talking about. I felt so unbelievably fortunate and so amazingly helpless at the same time. Death and suffering seems to be just a matter of where you are born. If you could picture the worst hospital in all of the US, you would still be a gazillion steps away from what I saw today. If there was a word bigger than gazillion, I would use it.
I’ll just leave it at that. There really isn’t anything else to say.
… on a completely ‘nother topic, thank you for the prayers for our health. I am feeling GREAT. The other four members have all taken a good hit of some pretty torn-up stomachs. I think Tara took it the worst. But I feel fantastic. There was also a sort of “monsoon” experience that moved in today. While it never rained very hard, things started blowing all OVER the place. Since it had been so long since it rained, the dust was overwhelming. The good thing about this was, things GREATLY cooled off!!!
Oh and other good news … we got our luggage today!!!!!! It was like Christmas in our guest house. Included in the missing bags was a $60,000 ultrasound machine. It is here and safe and sound. I’ll have to post pictures later featuring Dr. Chris, in our living room, checking out JB’s heart. He was unbelievably thrilled and relieved (although he didn’t share with us how nervous he had been that the box wouldn’t arrive, until it arrived safely) that the machine made it to Nigeria!!!
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Finally got online!
As we left one of Faith Alive's satellite clinic, these school children chased the van. They don't get many visitors, especially not white ones. The satellite clinic just lost their male nurse to liver cancer. They are currently without a physician. When we came in, the man who is volunteering to help run it asked us what he should do with the patients who were waiting. Dr. Chris, Dr. Aquiris, Ajit, Tara, and JB split up and conquered the small crowd in only a few minutes. There were some disturbing scenes at this clinic, but I'll leave those for Tara, the medical gal's blog.
Well, it took a bit of effort and trying (and Tara and I collectively brainstorming to no avail) but I finally figured out (with some encouragement from Ajit), how to post photos onto the blog! This means that I have now shared this knowledge with my fellow-blogger Tara, and she now knows how to load photos to her blog. This means that both our blogs should soon carry photos. It isn’t a manner of simply “loading” them as I do in the States. I think, due to the slow connection, that the files are too large and they never actually “attach”. So instead, I am loading them into PowerPoint, making them smaller and compressing them … well … you all probably don’t care what I am doing just that I can do it. So can I will. Hopefully from this point out, I will be able to share a picture or two with my faithful readers now and then. Ajit tells me people would be much more interested in pictures than words. However, over dinner, Tara and I argued that this was not the case. We spoke of my Aunt Janet and our mothers and other friends who do want all the details. You can take or leave them if you want, but they are here for you to peruse.
Thank you to those of you who posted comments. While I am not really checking email, the comments allow me to click only one time and read! That doesn’t take too long for the computer to process. However, just because I come downstairs to post a blog, doesn’t mean it will post. We are never sure when the Internet will be up or down.
As of today (Monday when I am writing this. Who knows when I will actually get to post this) we started our “normal” routine. This includes work in Faith Alive Clinic. Before leaving for Nigeria, one of the things I specifically asked for prayer for was my ability to be flexible. If you have prayed this, thank you. I am totally going with the flow and am very relaxed – just allowing the day to develop as it will.
One of the major differences in our adventure is that prior to coming, we thought we would be working at Faith Alive some but also at the local hospitals, clinics, orphanages, and schools in the area. However, this is not really the case. Instead, Dr. Chris’ “vision” was for us to spend most all of our time at Faith Alive – sharing information in both directions.)
Today, I shadowed JB as he saw HIV positive patients for their monthly checkup. Dr. Chris thought that me spending time with JB was a great idea. He said that if we do choose to go into medical missions, people won’t care that the “doctor isn’t in”. They will expect me to have an answer. I have often thought that getting a nursing degree or some other bit of healthcare background would be helpful (something I have ZERO interest in doing – I am a horrible science/math person). I realize now that, while it would be helpful, it is probably not necessary. If we end up in the mission field, it won’t matter what degree I have written on a piece of paper. It will matter whether or not I have the knowledge to help. Obviously a degree would help with that knowledge, but most likely, my help would be limited to key areas of which JB could easily educate me.
Okay, back to me shadowing JB. When a person has HIV, it attacks their immune system. The higher the CD-4 count, the healthier a person is. (I know, I know – can’t you just feel how much I am learning?!) Ideally, Dr. Chris would like to check a person’s CD-4 count often. However, it is expensive by Nigerian standards. (I think it is about $10 USD per test which is what the average Nigerian makes a month.) So instead, they use weight. As long as a person is not losing weight, they assume the CD-4 count is remaining relatively high. If they start to lose weight, then they test the CD-4 count. So JB would meet with these patients. If their weight was good and they had no complaints, he simply refilled their medications. If their weight was down or they had complaints, he learned different treatment options to pursue, examined their complaints, and wrote new prescriptions.
While this was interesting, I quickly realized that doing this with JB eight hours a day could be quite monotonous. (We actually work 8-12 and then 4-8’ish, taking a long break midday). The rooms are very small and there are so many people coming in and going out. The doctor and JB were sitting at one table, each seeing a patient. There was a nurse and an “appointment lady” (I’m not sure what else to call her) as well. And then there were just all kinds of people walking in and out and various times doing who knows what. One girl wanted to charge her cell phone so she started playing with wires to attempt to get her phone to charge. (Everyone here has a phone! This is one luxury item no one does without. And apparently, the average person also knows a lot about electrical work. I’d never start messing with wires!) When it was time for a new patient, they would just shout the name and in would come the respective person. The only exception is for the 10% of patients who want their status to remain secretive. Secretive patients are indicated on their files. Patients have an appointment but their appointment is simply for the day. From that point on, it is simply first-come, first-serve. You know what day to come but what time you come is up to you. How long you wait is up to how fast things move.
I quickly realized that anytime I grow bored shadowing JB, the people in medical records had plenty for me to do. There is no Internet in the building. While there are a few computers, getting them networked is still some time (and $20,000) away. So in the meantime, records are manual, filed in little cubbies according to the last two numbers. There is always filing to be done. Since I am an organization nut, this is definitely something I can always help with. They have told me that there would never be a shortage of work for me to do in this regard.
The other item (and the much cooler one) is Faith Alive’s magazine. It currently has only been printed one time. However, it is their hope to have it become a quarterly publication. The first night I was here, Dr. Chris said that he thought this was something I could work with Naomi (one of the “veterans” of Faith Alive) on. So today Naomi found me and we discussed this. I am so excited about this opportunity as it appears this will be something I can continue doing while in the States to help the organization! Who would have thought that the mission field could use a writer! The designer of the magazine lives in the states, and Naomi, who is a local Nigerian, just graduated with a degree in communications. However, she is not a writer, and they do not have any writers. How amazing is this opportunity?! I am absolutely thrilled about this. So, between (1) shadowing or helping JB, (2) helping in medical records, and (3) working on the magazine, I think I will be kept very busy in tasks that I feel like I can really help with. I would have loved to have gone to the orphanage/s more often, however, these are quite a drive and therefore require a lot more planning and organization. I am equally glad to stay close at Faith Alive which is just a short walk from our guesthouse. This allows me to go home for lunch and also to get some things done while it is light out.
In the meantime, there are many other things going on around the clinic. This is a free clinic. (Any money paid is simply a donation.) Most of the people are therefore very poor. There is an outpatient center and a TB area (where Tara worked this morning). I think they see pregnant women on Wednesdays and are soon hoping to be able to allow women to deliver in their facilities. Faith Alive had a fire a few years back (the result of a power surge), and they are still working their way back from this. This “work” includes a new surgery center which they hope to have up and running very soon as well. Kelsey spent her morning working with the counselors who counsel people pre- and post-HIV test. These people are often HIV positive themselves or counselors by trade.
Speaking of Kelsey, she will probably spend her time working on an Annual Report, possibly helping me with articles, working in medical records, or spending more time in the counseling area.
Aside from all the details of what we are doing everyday, I am still learning so much about this culture and part of the world. Weeknights are better as far as noise is concerned, however, as Tunde and Deola told us before we left, their really is no “quiet escape” as there is in the US. Once we go in our homes in the US, we shut out the outside world. Here, the outside world is an extension of homes. If you knock on someone’s door, you are ushered in. They often use the phrase “you are welcome” which initially confused us. (Did we say “thank you”?) But instead, this phrase encourages you to understand that you are wanted and that they are happy you are here. We printed some pictures before we left and stapled them together. This has been very helpful so we can show people where we live and how much snow is on the ground! They thought the pictures of our family were interesting because I was not shy around JB’s mother and he was not shy around mine. This conflicts with their culture where mothers-in-law require “shy” behavior. (I am still trying to determine what exactly this means.)
Our king sized bed has a mosquito net, however, it is not large enough for JB and I to sleep under. Instead we have been half sleeping under it and coating ourselves with repellent before bed. This was not working so well. We were waking up with many bites. I am not sure if they are mosquitoes or not, but nonetheless, JB found an extra net in Ajit’s room and rigged it so we both have one now. When I woke up this morning and climbed out from under my net, I grabbed my journal and used our cell phone for some extra light (a big “second use” of phones). The town of Jos was coming to life, and I was amazed at all the sounds that accompanied the morning. A broom (brooms here do not have sticks on them) wiping the floor, flip-flops clattering on semi-paved roads, motorbikes, honking, roosters, a preacher on speaker (yet again), ducks, jingling keys, water buckets sloshing as people walked, someone fixing a car, cars driving by, stores opening for the first time, conversations ensuing in Housa and English, men pushing carts of water … these are all things my ears recognized even though it was too dark to yet see anything.
Speaking of water, it is amazing how my perspective on this commodity has been altered. Very few places have running waters or toilets that flush. Instead, water is stored in barrels in bathrooms. If you want to wash your hands, you scoop the water into a small bowl, wash your hands, and then pour out the dirty water into the toilet (to help flush it) or down the drain. If you want to do laundry, you fill up two buckets with the minimum amount of water for the amount of things you want to wash. One is used for washing and the other for rinsing. (Although by the time you are done the “rinse” bucket is pretty cruddy as well. Does this mean I am doing something wrong?) If you want to flush the toilet, you scoop water into a bucket and throw it down the toilet. If you want to brush your teeth, you use bottled water. There are sinks and faucets, but the water rarely works. If you want to take a shower, you fill a bucket with water and take a smaller bucket to dump water on yourself.in the shower. I am amazed by the fact that no matter how hot it is, pouring cold water on yourself is still very, very cold!
Yesterday we were sitting outside and a spicket started spitting water. A man jumped up and yelled “Jesus is here!” Everyone then scattered for buckets to fill to use. If there is no water running (and I have yet to see it run in the house) you have to get it out of a well – something that is a lot more work. I find myself saving every drop of water I can. I never leave a glass of water “undrunk”. I try my best to save every bit of water as best I can. We also have bottles of water by our beds. It is so hot and you sweat so much during the night, that you often wake up unbelievably parched. I take a few sips and slip right back to sleep.
Speaking of commodities, it is nearly 9:00 p.m. on Monday evening. We have lights because of the generator. They will soon turn it off. I am therefore going to get in the shower before we opt to let our power go.
Good night all. I hope my novels aren’t too monotonous. I figure those of you who want to read can and the rest (like Ajit) can wait for pictures.
On second thought, maybe it is good morning. I have lost all sense of time.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Finally got some photos to load
Novel from Nigeria!
I am writing this blog at 7:39 p.m. Nigerian time on Saturday, April 31st. I believe that it is currently 1:39 p.m. Minnesota time. I am sitting on the floor of the Faith Alive guest house, typing my blog on a word document ahead of time. I feel guilty optimizing prime Internet time just typing when my fellow “Oyibus” are waiting. In fact, Nigerians will come to the house to use it as well! This is the home of a missionary family who normally live below us. They are gone on furlough so there are some people caring for their place while they are gone. I can easily type ahead of time and then just copy and paste from a word document. Right now, they have turned the generator on for us so we have a few hours of electricity. That is helpful so that I do not drain the battery on Tara’s computer. There is one portable fan in the house so Tara and JB are reading on the bed while I am sitting across the room, also in reach of the fan. The computer is sitting on a small table and I am sitting on the floor. Putting it on my lap would be horribly hot!
It is hard to believe that we left a week ago tomorrow. The time has flown by. It has not been a simple transition. JB was really struggling with jet lag the first few days and now Kelsey is struggling a bit. Your body wants to sleep when it should be awake and this creates difficulty sleeping and difficulty staying awake. In addition, things like the preacher this morning who came on with loud speaker as soon as the sun came up, make everyone, including the locals, extremely frustrated. Everyone has been dealing with sleep issues except for me – my Ambien has been a Godsend. I start my progesterone tomorrow but have been taking an Ambien each night despite the fact that I am not yet on the progesterone. This probably isn’t advisable, but I would rather deal with insomnia back in the states when I get back than deal with it here. I am also dealing with a cruddy sore in my mouth, most likely a result of my dental work, that has left eating and talking quite a chore. All of us also have some congestion – possibly due to the dust and smog and dry air. However, while I just wrote a whole paragraph discussing our “difficulties”, in fact, we are all adjusting well and completely engulfed in the amazing differences of our surroundings.
Today we attended a Nigerian wedding. Apparently they “stole” many American traditions so the wedding, while different, carried a lot of the similarities as a wedding you would see in the states. The clothes that the sewing school was making us weren’t ready so we did our best to “dress up” with our limited amount of supplies. Tara did the best! She borrowed a piece of fabric our new friend Loretta gave Kelsey. In fear that it might fall off, she wore a pair of JB’s boxers underneath! This gave us all a good laugh. She snagged a pair of Kelsey’s flip-flops, she wore one of my tops, I braided her hair, and wa-laa! An American trying to dress like a Nigerian was instantaneously produced! We have no makeup, one brush, one stick of deodorant, and one razor with some blade changes. When our bags arrive (hopefully on Tuesday), it will feel like Christmas!
After the wedding, we took lunch back at our apartment, and then headed to the reception. I am not able to explain to you the difference in our cultures when it comes to hospitality. I think we have all have had a time where we arrived at a place not knowing anyone and stood on the side, not sure what to do. When we arrived at this Nigerian reception, it had been going on for quite some time. It was outdoors, under tents, and it seemed like every seat had been taken. But as soon as we stepped onto the pavement, a man found us and wound us through the crowd to chairs under a tent. Dr. Chris then found us and led us to the dance floor. Tara and Ajit followed and JB and I managed, amidst the crowd, to slide back to our seats. Dr. Chris had danced for only mere seconds when we realized he had been deserted by the tall “Obiyus” and came to find us. We did our best dancing with all the Nigerians, and I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed watching the spectacle we made. In the course of the event, so many people stopped to offer us drinks, food, anything. They take such good care of their guests – no matter how long they stay.
In fact, as we talked to a fellow Nigerian who is preparing to come to the US for the first time this summer to get his Masters in Public Health, he asked us: “Is it true that in your culture, you must call before you go to visit someone?” This is completely foreign to them! He was also amazed that we can drink water out of “fountains”. He asked us twice if this was true or if we were just joking with him. We also learned, that it is completely acceptable in Nigerian culture to attend a wedding that you weren’t invited to. In fact, as I understand it, they do not even send invitations. Everyone just comes.
After the wedding, as we loaded the van, Dr. Chris revealed to us that the bride’s father had died yesterday! We sat there in silence. In fact, the entire family minus the bride’s brother and Dr. Chris, thought that he was in intensive care. Dr. Chris and the brother knew that he had passed away, and it was the brother’s decision to proceed with the wedding and not reveal to the bride until afterwards, that her father had, in fact, died.
I am amazed at how readily death surrounds this community. It is such a huge part of life. I think, in America, we have this idea that death is something that only happens on rare occasions, when medicine has tried everything else. Here, people die very often – as was the case with this father – for reasons they do not even know. There are no such things as transplants here or other complex operations. People simply die.
In addition, the silence amongst the community surrounding HIV, especially among the men, is a serious problem. Women are much more likely to be tested and much more likely to share their positive status with their husbands. Men, on the other hand, often live in silence. This results in many more women still alive then men. This was terribly apparent at the wedding today. There are so few men!
Prior to coming to Nigeria, I had never met someone who was HIV positive. Now, I have met dozens and dozens of people. Today, a woman named Esther came by the guest house bringing fabric and purses. She was “living positive” as they call it and had graduated from Faith Alive’s Sewing School. When students graduate, they are given a sewing machine. She asked us if she could make some clothes for us or possibly a purse. We quickly agreed and were measured for skirts for the ladies and shirts for the men. As she walked out the door, she turned to Ajit and said, “Thank you. You have just fed my daughter.” I get the chills as I write this here. I used to think that I grew up lower class. I suppose I did in comparison to other Americans. However my mobile home was a palace in comparison to the life people live here.
The poverty is, in fact, so “normal” that even after a week, it doesn’t even surprise me. Everyone here is, in US standards, poor. Houses are very small. There is often no running water (we have not had any here since we arrived) and electricity comes on only intermittently (probably six hours total since we have been here). They have some chairs in the living room and an area for dining, but there are none of the “superfluous” things you see littering our houses back home. The small condo JB and I inhabit in Minnesota would be considered a palace! Yet, with their small homes, they still are there to share everything they have with you. Even though that everything is next to nothing.
After the wedding we headed to Faith Alive. Dr. Chris gave us small, handmade African plaques with our names on them. This was so precious to me, even more so because I know that they were made by hand and with much thought and love. While the gift was simple compared to other gifts I have received, the thought behind it ranked so much higher than routine gift exchanging I usually take part in. Kelsey had stayed back at the guest house as she wasn’t feeling well, but the three “doctors” and myself spoke with a Nigerian surgeon and another physician who worked with “Doctors Without Borders” and a Christian agency called “Prohealth” traveling to small places to treat patients who would otherwise not be seen. When we were leaving, we were given a bag of our clothes that were now finished! They look wonderful! My skirt is a little snug but I still plan to wear it tomorrow to church. I may ask them to take it out later. It should be quite an adventure.
If I haven’t lost you with the length of this blog … feel free to keep reading.
Where we are staying there is a cook. He is an elderly man, probably in his seventies, and one of his main jobs is simply to cook for us. We call him “Papa”. (I have learned though that in fact, all elderly people are called Papa if they are a man and Mama if they are female.) It is so difficult to watch this delightful man always with a smile on his face, refuse to let us lift a finger to help him. In the bathroom, are two large black “barrels”. Esther goes to the well outside of our house, fills buckets up with water, and then carries them up the house and fills the two large buckets so we have water to shower, wash clothes, and flush the toilet. This takes her many, many trips, and many, many dips into the well. When we offer to help, they will hear nothing of it. However, we have all decided that now where we know where the water comes from, we will try to prevent her from doing this again. We can take turns at the well! We are slightly worried that this may be considered offensive, but we are going to give it a try.
There is so much else I want to say. I feel overwhelmed with how much is in my head and how difficult it is to put it in words on this screen. Some things that have stood out to me include:
- The leading causes of death are HIV and car accidents. If you saw the driving, this would not surprise you.
- The average age here is 47 for men and 49 for women.
- It is extremely warm here. We sleep under mosquito nets with very little on. We have really lost all sense of modesty when we are in our apartment. However, outside of our apartment, both men and women usually cover their legs. What you wear on the top is not of importance. Women openly breastfeed here without any thought.
- Women carry their children on their back with a piece of material wrapped around them. Everyone carries things on their heads. When it comes to children, the children will often readily come to us and sit with us, seemingly unconcerned as to the absence of their parent. I have held many babies, especially in the van, where there are so many of us stuffed in and child seats are non-existent.
- 50% of Nigerian children die before the age of 5.
- It is believed that about 10% of Nigeria has HIV although at Faith Alive it is about 50% and in Jos it is about 8%. The government will make it seem like a lot less. Recently the South African president made a statement that HIV didn’t actually exist! There is frustration that the officials will “talk” a good game but don’t really want to hear from the people. We attended a ceremony at the local Air Force Academy and Faith Alive’s support group made it a point to get up on stage while the officials were still present.
- Most people speak English but it is very different from our English. They have to concentrate when they are speaking to us to allow us to understand them. If two Nigerians start speaking to each other, I often lose track of what is happening. The other two languages most commonly spoken here are Ibo and Hausa. In this area, and especially at the rural clinic we visited, Hausa is very popular. I have learned a few phrases. “Sannu” is the most popular for me. It means “Greetings”.
- Because of the importance of children in this society, HIV positive women nearly always make the choice to get pregnant despite the risk to their future child. Doing something like artificial insemination to help get pregnant is not even a possibility. The good news is that with the proper drug treatment, the chances of passing HIV onto your child is only 1-2%. Without drugs it is about 60%! Faith Alive helps by providing formula as these mothers cannot breastfeed their children without a large risk of passing the disease on.
- Teenage pregnancy or contracting HIV is seen as very socially unacceptable. Parents will often disown their children. Faith Alive helps these people by providing a place to stay and a trade to learn.
Dr. Chris first came to the US to visit in 1996. He told us that his immediate reaction was “God, you are so unfair.” He was absolutely amazed at the differences between the USA and Nigeria. The only way I can describe it here is to think of the WORST place in Miami or Harlem or some other extremely poor area in a large US city. Then think of EVERYTHING looking like that. I mean … everything. It is difficult to imagine but it is true. Even the home a doctor lives in here is below anything most of you have seen in the US. And quite honestly, those places in the US are still probably better than what you see here. Dr. Chris had never seen this sort of wealth when he came to the US. He said he had never seen that much ice cream in one place! Dessert and treats are a rarity here. It is the basic sustenance that is important. However, since then, Dr. Chris has come to realize that the Lord has a plan for Nigeria and that he is part of that plan. Dr. Chris is well-known and extremely popular for his work with Nigeria’s most needy. I will try to capture a video of this man speaking before I leave so you can this small-statured Nigerian man in action. He is more amazing that words could ever do justice.
Well, if you read this all the way through, congratulations. I am not sure what day I will actually post this. Most likely you will probably get it a few days from now. But this is the only way I know how to do this. I want to say so much and find myself struggling with exactly how to share properly.