Saturday, February 28, 2009

Market Madness

Today Sr. Bernie and I went to the local market as is customary on Saturdays. The market we went to was one I had never been to before. It was smaller than some but Bernie knew more of the vendors. People at this market were very friendly and one lady walked up to me and gave me a big hug just because I was white. We mostly bought vegetables, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, yams, garden egg (egg plant), etc. But we also got other things like dried cod heads, eggs, and ground nuts. We also went to the butcher. There were various cow parts such as the intestines available but all we got was liver.

After that we went to buy chicken. I know have new appreciation for walking in Walmart and grabbing a bag of frozen chicken breast. The chickens we were looking at were alive. We picked out a nice middle size white hen that cost 1,300 naira (9 dollars). And when I say we picked out I mean it literally. Here people reach into a pen and pull out a chicken by both wings. If that one is too scrawny or too big, you put it back and find one that suits your purposes. As Sister was getting out the money, the stall owner told me to hold the chicken. At first I just looked at them like they were crazy but I took the chicken. Most people grab both wings in one hand but I was afraid of dropping it and letting our dinner escape, so I held a wing in each hand. In case you were curious, if you hold a chicken by it's wings it makes this weird sound that reminds me of a baby crying. So as I stood there awkwardly holding a chicken, people stopped what they were doing to laugh at the Onye Oicha. When I protested that I had never held a chicken before, one boy started laughing so hard I thought he was going to hurt himself.

So we were now the proud owners of a chicken. Since neither one of us wanted to slaughter the chicken we took it to a butcher just a few stalls down. I can now proudly say I have seen someone chop off a chicken's head with a machete. I will spare you the details but two minutes later we walked away with a whole butchered chicken. That was probably the best thirty cents I have ever spent in my life. I would have paid much more to get out of killing a chicken.

When we were done shopping, Sr. Bernie decided we should take okadas home. Okadas are motorcycle taxis and they are not for the faint of heart. I have seen okadas swerving in and out of traffic with no regard for personal safety. Most okadas provide helmets for passengers but often it is an ill fitting construction helmet. Fortunately, Bernie was careful in selecting a driver and told him to go slowly. So I climbed on the back of the okada and started praying. Most passengers don't bother holding on but I clutched the bike in one hand and held on to the driver's shoulder with the other hand. The driver was good and we only had to swerve once to avoid a bus. By the time we got home, my adrenaline was pumping and I felt like I had just got off a rollar coaster.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Sick day

For the first time in years, I got sent home sick from school. I think I just have a cold and I probably could have gone to classes. However, Sister Martina told me to go home and rest today. I am a little relieved and a little disappointed. Today is Parents Day and parents will be visiting their child's classroom and examining school work. I thought it would be interesting to meet my students' parents. Yet I was a little intimidated because apparently some parents have been known to make a fuss about their child not receiving enough individual attention. I have no idea how I would have handled that. Oh well. Now my day will probably consist of reading and napping.

On a completely random note...I found cockroaches in my room. It is pretty gross. I have seen a couple aound the courtyard and it didn't bother me. But it is another matter when they are sharing my living space. Last night I woke up to what I thought was the sound of rustling leaves in my room, which was odd. I turned on my flashlight and found two cockroaches scurrying around my room. They were at least two inches long. Needless to say, I had trouble sleeping after that.

So I am sick and I have an infestation of cockroaches. Some day I am having. At least the Royals won yesterday.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fruit is not food

I love all of the fresh fruit that is available in Nigeria. Nothing beats walking outside and picking mangoes or oranges right off the tree. It makes up for some of the more let's say exotic dishes.

Coconut (that is a fruit right?)
Oranges (which Aubrie and I first mistook for lemons because they are yellow)
Paw Paw (Papaya)
Tomato (what's the final verdict, is it a fruit or vegetable?)

The pineapple is by far my favorite fruit here. It is so sweet and juicy. The best part is that a whole pineapple cost roughly one dollar. I am looking forward to going to the market on Saturday and buying a pineapple or two or three. Now that I think of it I might get some more oranges, too. I have a cold and it couldn't hurt to get some extra vitamin C.

I also find it funny that Nigerians do not consider fruit food. One night when I protested that I was too full to eat an orange one of the nuns informed me that fruit is not food. It aids in digestion but it is not food.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes and Baseball

Today is Ash Wednesday. I didn't feel like going to church at 5:30 am (which the Sisters do every day) so I went at 6:00 pm. It was a nice mass even if I didn't understand a word of it as usual. In Nigeria mass is two or two and a half or maybe even three hours long. And church rarely starts on time (last Sunday it was 45 minutes late). Behind the altar there is a huge clock, which is almost as big as the cross, to taunt me as I sit in the sweltering over packed church waiting for the priest to begin. Here in Nigeria even the church has power outages and that means no lights or microphones or worst of all fans. Today it was so hot that a few parents started stripping down young children to their underwear. Also the building can not possibly hold all of the worshippers so it is common for people to bring lawn chairs and sit outside. Sometimes I think I would come to mass even if I wasn't Catholic, just to watch the people.

Today is also the start of baseball season. The Kansas City Royals are playing the Rangers in their first spring training game today. There might be other teams playing but who cares? Only 39 more days until Opening Day. I have a good feeling about this season, after all it is the Royal's 40th year of pure awesomeness.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thank you

Make your light shine before other, that they may see the good that you do and give glory to God. Mark 5:16

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for their support. At first I was really upset about being the only volunteer in Nigeria. I didn't think I could do this alone. And I was right, there is no way I could possibly do this on my own. What became apparent to me is that I am definitely not alone. I am grateful for all of the moral support I received this last week. Most of you will never know how much your prayers, emails, phone calls, and messages have meant to me. Your encouragement helped me realize that I can do this and that I want to do this. I thank God for blessing me with a wonderful family and great friends. Thank you for being a light in my life.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pleasantly Exhausted

Okay Monday is over and only four more days till the weekend. It may seem a little pathetic to be counting down to the weekend already but I have had a hectic day. This morning I woke up at six like most weekdays, although today I would have gladly turned over and slept for another four or five hours. I made it over to school with time to spare before morning assembly at 7:30. My first class started at 8 am. I taught five maths classes and two classes in the library. Maths is by far more stressful since I am the only teacher in the room. In the library Josephine is usually there and she is responsible for discipline. So I was busy until break at 1:30. I made the mistake of looking for Josephine in the computer room. One of the teachers asked if I would type up a test and I agreed since I didn't have anything to do. So I spent the next half hour typing until it was time to do some tutoring. Then I spent an hour with three six year olds helping them write the alphabet and reading them a couple books. I have to admit that the kids were cute and very excited. One of the boys found an I Spy book and they practically begged me to read it. We spent more time looking at the pictures than actually reading and I got the impression that they have seen very few nice colorful picture books. The boys left around 3:00 and I just spent the rest of the day hanging out in the library. I grabbed the library's copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and read in between random visits from students. When the bell rang at 3:45 I said goodbye and left. Once I got home I decided it was time to make lunch, since all I had eaten since I woke up was a package of crackers. I made Indomie noodles, which is kinda like Ramen, and added a chopped up carrot and tomato. By the time I finished eating and did the dishes it was 4:30. I feel like I have put in a full days work and then some. I used to think my last job was difficult because I worked third shift. I can now confidently say that working with children is much more exhausting. Still it was a good day and I am pleasantly exhausted.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I will never, ever take running water for granted again. Yesterday I intended to fill up my water container and do laundry but it was over 100 degrees outside. That is way too hot to do manual labor so I put it off until today when it was merely 91 degrees.

The house is equipped with indoor plumbing but in December the plumbing broke. The nuns called a plumber but he said that it couldn't be fixed until the cistern was completely empty. So the Sisters have lived without running water for almost three months. In order to get water, whether it is for cooking, showering, doing laundry, the toilet, or for drinking, someone has to draw it from the huge cistern. We have a bucket tied to a rope that gets lowered into the now nearly empty cistern. Pulling the full bucket of water up twenty feet is not difficult but repeating the process over and over becomes tedious. It is really fun when I get blisters on my hands.

In the past, I never really considered how much water gets wasted. These days I am aware of exactly how much water I use. Showering normally takes half a bucket. Doing the dishes after dinner requires a full bucket. Emptying the toilet uses three quarters of a bucket. Today's laundry required 6 buckets. After washing my clothes I filled up the water container in my bathroom and that took 11 buckets. Carrying the water to my room is probably more work than drawing it up from the cistern. I also have to be careful not to spill it because I did that once and it is really frustrating. The ironic part is that after doing laundry and fetching water, I am so dirty and sweaty that I have to use my recently acquired water for a shower.

So I am done fetching water and my back, shoulders, arms, and hands all ache. Hopefully I will be able to make the water last until next weekend but that requires a little conservation. I would love to take several long showers a day but that would also mean getting more water. Back home I never once gave a thought to which was more important doing laundry, flushing the toilet, or taking a shower. Fortunately, I never had to choose but I have thought about it. All I know is that when I return to the US, I will not take the miracle of running water for granted.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Laughing until we cry

Today I cooked American food (well sorta) for everyone. I made smoked sausage, corn, jello, and macaroni and cheese. I was impressed with my efforts since it is really difficult to find something that even comes close to American food here. I took a slice of white bread (I couldn't find buns) and loaded it up with sausage, cheese, ketchup, mustard, onion and tomato and most of the Sisters followed suit. However, Sr. Martina decided it would be better to make a sandwich with everything on it including the corn, macaroni, and even jello. I couldn't help laughing and pretty soon everyone was close to hysterics. That is what I like most about Nigeria, the laughter. I read somewhere that in a global study, Nigerians were found to be the happiest people on Earth and it is completely true. It doesn't take much to get everyone laughing at dinner and on more than one occasion we have laughed until we cried. I appreciate the fact that Nigerians don't take life too seriously.

Sometimes I find it hard not to get discouraged by the things I see. Like today when I saw an old man with two young children scaling the huge garbage heap looking for things to salvage. Normally it is just goats picking through other people's trash but today it was children. I see extreme poverty here which is beyond my comprehension. If I think about it for too long I feel myself sinking into despair but I know that won't help anyone.

So you can either laugh or you cry. Here we laugh, a lot.

Just Another Saturday

Here are some things I did today:
I watched a bunch of furniture fall out of the back of a truck in the middle of traffic.

I saw a completely naked man walking down the middle of the street. In Nigeria it is common to see children running around naked but this was the first time I have seen an adult butt naked.

I went to Roban, a wonderful shop that caters to expatriates. I bought smoked sausage, jello, canned corn, and macaroni and cheese for my American dinner tonight. I am a little worried about the jello setting. There hasn't been any power today and the fridge was hot so I decided to put the jello in the fairly cold freezer.

Driving to the store we saw the usual group of bored looking Yellow Fevers, who were as pointless as usual. Since Nigeria doesn't use traffic lights drivers are supposed to follow the direction of traffic cops posted at major intersections. These police officers are referred to as Yellow Fevers because they wear orange vests (many Nigerians think orange is yellow and yellow is orange, it can be really confusing) and because the cops sometimes flap their arms around like they are delirious with Yellow Fever.

I saw a dog today. This was the third dog I have seen since arriving in Nigeria. Dogs are only slightly less common than white people. I have seen six white people in the last four weeks, not counting Aubrie or myself.

On the highway we passed a large flock of white storks. It was pretty cool.

I saw a kid swinging a huge dead rat by one of its legs. I have no idea how the kid got the rat or what he planned on doing with it and I don't think I want to know.

Later I made the trek out to the little local market. This was my first trip out all by myself and it wasn't nearly as bad as I feared. Only a few people yelled at me, I managed to buy a loaf of bread for 40 naira, and I didn't even come close to being hit by a car, so it was a great success.

On the way home from the market, I had to pass one of the burning piles of garbage on One Day Road. The only thing that smells worse than a pile of garbage five feet high in 100 degree heat is a burning pile of garbage five feet high in 100 degree heat.

So today was just your average Saturday in Nigeria.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thank God it's Friday!

I think it is a good sign that I have been looking forward to the weekend. When I first arrived, the weekends seemed long and uncomfortable. It is simply unnatural to dislike the weekends. Now I have reached a point where I can find things to do on the weekends and I like having some time to relax.

I am really glad today is Friday because I find teaching exhausting. I like it but it wears me out. Yesterday the kids were so excited to have my undivided attention that they were really well behaved. Today some of the newness wore off and some of the students wanted to see what they could get away with. I yelled at a few kids and they showed proper remorse. However, already the children notice that I am not a fan of corporal punishment. There is a near constant stream of tattlers who tell me to flog so and so and one child keeps presenting me with the classroom stick. I need to think some more about how I will handle that in the future. Still they are a good bunch of kids. I like the fact that if I ask for one volunteer to come up to the chalkboard a dozen kids eagerly jump out of their seats and if I ask a question nearly every child starts frantically waving his or her hand.

Tomorrow I have got a big day planned. I am going to the market with Ngozi at 8 am (that is sleeping in by Nigerian standards). I told everyone that this weekend I would make dinner. I still haven't figured out what I will make but hopefully inspiration will strike at the market. Does anyone know of any recipes that don't require fresh milk, cheese, other dairy products, or meat? Also we are out of gas for our stove/oven, so we are using a camp stove thing that has only one temperature-high. I would also welcome any suggestions on how to improve the tasteless mashed yams, which is very popular here.

After the market, I will do my normal Saturday activities: Draw up water from the cistern, do laundry, nearly pass out from the heat, shower in a futile attempt to cool off, do some reading, watch a few movies, attempt to kill time, etc.

Those are my big plans for this weekend. Have I mentioned that I am really glad it's the weekend? If only I could go out for a beer...

Love from Africa,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Time to sink or swim

I should be careful what I wish for. Yesterday by 1:30 I had completely run out of this to do, classes were done in the library, I had completed the filing in the office, even lunch had already been made. So I inquired about any other work I could do.

The headmistress Sr. Martina told me that since the beginning of February, one of the teachers had been out sick. So for the past three weeks the Primary 1 and 2 students have been without a teacher for math or home economics. Sr. Martina asked if I would be willing to teach either of those subjects. I am not really sure what home economics is so I decided to take math. So they provided me with a lesson plan which consisted of things like "Week 5: Addition of two digit numbers with the sum not greater than 40." I was also given one of the children's textbooks, which has lots of math problems but doesn't have explanations on how to solve or teach them. So that was all the materials I was given.

Today was sink or swim time. My first two classes were with Primary 2A and 2B. According to the schedule Primary 2 students were supposed to be measuring length with natural units, e.g. handspan, arm length, steps. I was all prepared to teach that lesson but about thirty seconds into the class it became obvious to me that the students had already learned this lesson. So I switched gears and moved on to the next lesson of standard units using centimetres. We measured pencils and various objects. I was a little surprised that most of the students didn't know how to use a ruler. Fortunately, most of the children seemed to catch on by the end of the class period.

After my Primary 2 classes I had Primary 1. This week the students were supposed to be subtracting from whole numbers but I started with a review to help me gauge where the students were at. Almost all of the students could do simple addition like 1 + 2 = 3. When I moved on to adding two digit numbers some of the students were shouting out the answer before I could put the chalk down, while other students gave me the deer in the headlight look. It is my suspicion that the students were taught these lessons but only half of them understood it. So I think the Primary 1 classes will be more difficult to teach.

Never in a million years did I think I would be teaching on my own but I think I might grow to like it. The children are pretty excited about learning in general and about having the Onye Oicha teach them. I am just going to do my best and when I start to feel totally inadequate for the job, I tell myself that something is better than nothing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Today went by quickly. First I went over to school where I accompanied Sr. Bernie to her first two science classes. We discussed the human body and some of its functions.

Around ten o'clock Sr. Martina and I went for round three at the immigration office. I have been having issues with my visa. Although I was given a six month entry visa, the immigration official at the airport changed our visas to only one month. Don't ask me why because I still haven't figured that out. So yesterday we went to get a visa extension but it could not be processed because the internet wasn't working. Today we were supposed to simply pick up my passport. Four hours later I got my passport back and my visa has now been extended until March 23rd. In order to extend my visa again, I will have to travel eight hours to Abuja and once again I will be at the mercy of the immigration official.

We made it back to school just in time for Mass with all of the students. Mass was held outside but luckily the altar was set up under a balcony. About half way through the service it started pouring and there was a mad scurrying to get the children out of the rain. Although our clothes were a little soggy, the Mass resumed as normal. This was the second storm in two days. Normally, the rainy season begins around April and rain in February is almost unheard of. I really wouldn't mind if the rainy season came early this year. It has been nice to have a break from the heat and the dust.

After school was dismissed, I decided it was time for some lunch. If a meal is at four pm is it still lunch or is it an early dinner? I made a box of macaroni and cheese. Cooking with powdered milk and unrefrigerated butter can be interesting but it still tasted really good. No moi-moi for me today. After lunch I decided to do a little reading. There is a lot of free time here and I have been going through my books pretty quickly.

So that has been my day. Nothing too exciting but I am just happy to be here.

Goodbye Aubrie

Goodbye Aubrie.
It's been nice.
Hope you find your paradise.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The joys of peanut butter and soy sauce

Saturday, Sr. Annette (who is British) took Aubrie and I to this grocery store that sold all sorts of western products. I bought peanut butter, pancake mix, cheese slices, nutella, macaroni and cheese, and soy sauce. Just thinking about all my food makes me giddy. Today for lunch there was a dish consisting of potatoes, greenbeans, carrots and tomatoes. Aubrie shared her recently purchased tobasco sauce and it's amazing how much better lunch tasted after that. For dessert we broke into the peanut butter and Nutella and it was almost like being at home.

After we got back from the grocery store, Sr. Amarachi took us to the largest market in Enugu. There you can buy everything from dried fish heads to clothes to little green parrots. The market consists of rows and rows of tiny closet sized stalls that snake around making it easy to get lost. First we stopped to buy some fabric to give as a birthday present to one of the nuns. Then we went looking for some jeans for Aubrie (she found some nice ones for roughly ten bucks). Next we stopped at a stand with beads and necklaces. After that we split up; Aubrie went to look at shoes, Sister went to buy some vegetables, and I went to buy a coke.

If you have never been to an African market, I suggest you try it some time. It is quite the experience. If you are white then everyone assumes you have money to burn and will stop at nothing to get your attention. Most shop owners will blow kisses or hiss at you. One guy started singing to me. But what I found infuriating is that the most persistent shop owners will grab your arm and attempt to pull you into their stall. I find it bad enough that you have to avoid the shopkeepers but you also have to dodge the people pushing wheelbarrows down the narrow aisles. In the market there is also a lot of haggling. Sister Amarachi spent ten minutes haggling over the price of pineapples and when the owner refused to come down she finally walked away. We made it halfway down the aisle before the lady came running after us to accept our offer. Going to the market beats shopping at Walmart any day.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday and Friday

Thursday I spent the day with Sr. Josephine at the Justice and Development Program Commission or JDPC. I typed/edited a counsel report and one project proposal for Misereor (a German corporation that provides funding for development projects). The proposal is for another JDPC project to bring water to a rural area by building a well and a tank to collect rain water. After that we drove a half hour out to Awka because JDPC needed a signature from someone in the Bishop's office there. Awka is farther south than I have ever been and it is a beautiful area up in the hills.
Shockingly both the JDPC office and the pickup truck we drove had air conditioning. So Thursday night I felt like I hadn't done any real work that day because I hadn't sweat at all.

Friday Sr. Annette took Aubrie and I to the first annual Igbo Civilization and Culture Festival. Igbo is one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. The festival was well attended by local chiefs, politicians, and dignitaries. Since we were three of the five white people there, the emcee gave a special welcome to us foreigners. The festival coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, who is Igbo. I have not read that book but in college I read Achebe's No Longer at Ease. So I found it interesting to hear the author's speech which was read by his son (Chinua Achebe was paralyzed in a car crash and doesn't travel often). After several more long winded speeches lunch was served so the slaughtered cow did not go to waste. Then the traditional drumming and dancing began, followed with a masquerade.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The John Nwodo house

There is no school on Thursday or Friday this week for the midterm break. So Aubrie and I are spending the long weekend at the other house in Enugu on John Nwodo Close. This house is in the city center and there is more to do around here. We will probably go to some of the other sites where the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur work. There is a girl named Chiamaka who lives here at the John Nwodo house but goes to school in Awkunanaw. So we followed Chiamaka on her normal daily commute home. First we had to walk to the bus stop which is maybe half a mile away and then we waited until we found the right "bus". So after a few minutes a 15 passenger van pulls up and after haggling over the price we climb in the back row. We were packed in like sardines because there was twenty people in the van. After maybe ten minutes the van stalled. So we sat in the stuffy overcrowded van while traffic went zipping around us. The driver eventually managed to get the bus going again but ten minutes later we had to get off the bus when the engine started smoking. We paid a partial fare and tracked down another bus. This one was only an eight passenger van but the driver still managed to get twelve people in it. Luckily this bus made it in one piece and here we are. In the end, it was totally worth it because they have running water here. This means that for the first time in over two weeks I have a working shower and a flush toilet. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All by myself

"All by myself, Don't wanna be all by myself, All by myself, Don't wanna live by myself"

Like a broken record, I have those lyrics repeating over and over in my head. I find that song obnoxious but it accurately describes how I feel. As of next Tuesday morning, I will be the only American left in Awkunanaw. Aubrie has decided to go back to the United States.

I don't know what to say. I like it here, I like the sisters, and I like working at the school but I never thought I would be the only volunteer here. In the past I could always commiserate with Aubrie. When people would point and stare, it wasn't just me they were gawking at, it was us. If something at dinner upset our stomachs there was someone to help speculate which ingredient was the culprit. It was a big comfort to live with someone who understood me without an explanation.

I don't know if I can do this all by myself but I am going to try. Whatever doesn't kill me can only make me stronger, right?

Almost burning down the house

Unlike back home, Nigeria does not have curbside garbage pickup. So unless someone prefers garbage piles in the middle of the street, most people burn their garbage. Today Aubrie and I were talking outside when we heard what sounded like the pop of fireworks. After a little investigation we found that the bush outside our wall had caught fire, probably the result of burning garbage. Since it is the dry season it didn't take long for the fire to spread. So we stood watching as the flames burned completely uncontrolled. The fire sent a large bush rat scurrying out of the brush and a couple men attempted to catch it (the meat is supposed to be delicious and it is expensive) but the bush rat was much faster. At one point the flames nearly took out our electrical/telephone wires but God must have heard the sisters' prayers. Luckily the fire died out when it reached the cement ditch that separates the bush from the school yard. So that was our excitement for the day.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I should probably talk about the work I am doing. I spend most of my time in the library. Every class comes into the library a couple of times a week and each child reads aloud individually. Half of the class reads to me and half reads to Josephine, after seven or eight pages we stop and record the page for next time. The books are numbered based on skill level starting from 1, 1A, 1B, 2, etc. all the way up to 15. In any class there usually is a wide range of reading levels, one kid might be reading book 2A while another kid is on book 12. Most of the children are comfortable reading aloud and they seem to read at a level comparable to American children. Still there are some children especially those that transferred from other schools that are pretty far behind. However, Nigerian children have very good memories (for example at morning assembly there are two bible readings and even the youngest children recall the verse number long after I have forgotten it) which help them memorize and recite the stories even if they cannot read it, thus making it hard to judge their progress. Still I enjoy working in the library. I am slowly getting to know the kids and I am learning some of their names.

If nothing else I find it fascinating to read the books. I remember some of the books I read in first and second grade and they were nothing like the books here. One of the books is about a big new lorry that fell in the river and the town people have to pull it out. Another is about a naughty boy who refused to help his mother care for his baby brother who came down with Malaria. There is also a book was about Martha who is sure she sees a monster and so she sends the chief and all of the villagers out to kill it but in the end the "monster" is just a goat. Another story is about a family who has a new baby and kills a goat for the celebration feast. These colorful stories seem to highlight the differences between our cultures.

Today I started working individually with one student, Chinedu. I was first introduced to Chinedu in the headmistress's office. He looked scared and I could barely hear a word he said. We explained to him that he wasn't in trouble and I was going to work with him on reading and writing. We told him to come back with his notebook and pencil but ten minutes later there was no sign of Chinedu. So I went to his classroom and asked him to follow me. We barely made it out of the classroom before the poor kid started crying and shaking head to toe. I asked him what was wrong and told him that he was not in trouble but he didn't seem to understand. Luckily we came across Sr. Theresa who saw how distressed he was and explained in Igbo what was happening. After that he calmed down but it was obvious that he still was leery of me as we began to work. Chinedu is probably eight or nine but he cannot even spell his own name. During class he copies down everything written on the chalkboard but he doesn't comprehend what any of it means. I just started working with him so I can't tell if he has a learning disability or if he simply never learned to read. During our time together I helped him spell his name and a few simple words like cat or boy and after that we read a book together. Chinedu then went running around the room finding more books for us to read. I would read aloud and he would turn the pages. I don't know how I could possibly teach this child to read but it nearly broke my heart that Chinedu was so eager to please and how happy he was to have some positive individual attention.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Some random thoughts

My favorite time of day here is the early morning as the sun is rising. Anyone who knows me will find that ironic since I am not usually a morning person. I like to sit outside and enjoy the cool breeze. Later the midday sun beats down relentlessly and the glare is unbearable but in the morning everything looks bright and cheerful.

I miss having a bathroom door. It sucks that we don't have running water, electricity during the day, or a toilet that flushes but I have come to terms with that. I just wish I could have a little privacy. We open up the nearby closet door and that helps provide some privacy even if it doesn't always stay open. When I get home I plan on locking myself in the bathroom and taking a nice long shower, just because I can.

On my way to church this morning I saw both a dog and a little white kitten. I also saw goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and ducks but that is an everyday thing. Today was the first time I have seen a dog or cat in Nigeria.

It is now ten o'clock in the morning and I have already put deodorant on twice today.

Yesterday we went out and played football (or soccer for you crazy Americans) with the nuns. It was a lot of fun even if they are no better at the sport than I am. One of the sisters stopped the ball and called out "I headed it with my legs."

At church all of the women wear these often elaborate head wraps. I don't know if I should too or if it doesn't matter. I assume that I am exempt from this custom since the sisters haven't said anything.

In Nigeria it takes a whole village to raise a child. In the US no one would criticize or discipline a stranger' child but here anyone has the right to discipline a child. Even children have the right to smack a younger child who is misbehaving. Today Sr. Martina yelled at a boy because his ill fitting pants were falling down. "Pull up your trousers, you naughty boy! Your poor mother will have to scrub them to get the dirt out. You are a naughty boy." Of course the boy promptly pulled up his pants before going on his way.

I have now survived two full weeks in Nigeria. Life is good.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Just say NO to Banga

I learned a valuable lesson today, just say no to banga. Last night for dinner Sister Francisca made banga, which is a sauce made of palm oil and cod heads (I ate around the fish heads) served over rice. The banga is tasty even if it is very oily. So far I have at least tried everything that the nuns eat even if they make us something else. Up until last night there were some dishes that I liked and some I politely declined seconds on but I have never gotten sick on anything. I was beginning to think that I have a stomach of steel and that was my downfall. Unfortunately the banga did not agree with me at all and let's just say Pepto-Bismol is my friend. The bad thing about this weather is that once you start to feel sick and dehydrated it is really hard to recover. So I spent most of the day lounging about in my room and throwing back water like there was no tomorrow. Luckily there wasn't much for me to do at school any way.

So if you ever get offered banga, take it from me, just say no.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Super Stories

Today I was introduced to African television with Super Stories, the Nigerian equivalent of a soap opera. Todays episode followed Jide, a young boy who ran away from home in the hopes of uniting his disfunctional family. Unfortunately the bus that Jide was riding in crashed and we have to tune in next week to find out his fate. I was amused by the melodramatic scenes, fake crying, and bad acting but it was even more fun to watch the nun's reactions. Super Stories is quite a hit with the nuns. You might be hard pressed to get all six of them together for a meal but no one would miss Super Stories. The Sisters keep a running commentary going and some of them talk to the characters like it's possible to influence their actions. I even find it interesting to watch the commercials such as a powdered milk product that will "do your body good." If only I could watch The Office...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Killing time

This is assessment week at school so all of the children are taking midterm tests. Normal classes have been suspended and having Americans in the classroom during study time/test taking is too disruptive so that means there has been little for Aubrie and I to do. Each morning there is a school assembly where the children gather and listen to a couple bible readings, say some prayers, listen to announcements, and finally sing the national and school anthem. Morning assembly ends around 8 am and after that I have simply been killing time. Sr. Martina told Aubrie and I that we were welcome to hang out at the house but I feel guilty not working.

The librarian Josephine also has a lot of free time this week so we have had some nice conversations. We have discussed a variety of subjects including why the teachers use a switch. Almost every teacher carries around a stick and misbehaving results in a smack or two. For instance last week an entire class was maybe fifteen minutes late getting to the library so Josephine made the children get on their knees (another common disciplinary method) and slapped each child's hand twice. I haven't decided how I feel about this. Initially I was repulsed by what I always thought of as a barbaric form of discipline. However I noticed that the children tend to be much better behaved than American students. Last year there was a workshop for the teachers that taught other methods of discipline but after a short time the teachers returned to using the switch which they think is more effective. It makes me wonder if there is a correlation between the use of a switch in the classroom and the casual slapping, shoving, and hitting I see everywhere in both children and adults. I have not seen anyone at our school beating a child excessively but I wonder how often that happens in other schools around the country.

This week I have also been going outside with the children during recess. Tuesday afternoon I helped out with a nursery class and as time goes on the children are getting more talkative and friendly. After the usual round of hugs, high fives, and handshakes we started kicking balls around. The three and four year olds would trip over the ball more often than kick it. Soon we started singing and it reminded me of visiting my mom in her Early Childhood classroom. After the little ones go in, the older kids come out for their recess and another round of hugs, high fives, and handshakes begins. After a half hour of this my hand usually starts stinging. Still it's fun to watch the kids with their enthusiasm for life.

Other things that help kill time include making lunch, checking email, filling up water pitchers, moping the bathroom floor. Still I feel like the seconds are slowly ticking by and I miss the fast pace of life in the US. I can hardly wait for normal classes to resume next week.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Just call me Al

A couple of days ago Aubrie and I walked into our room and she said she saw a lizard on her headboard. At first I thought she was joking but she assured me that it was there. There are lizards everywhere and I don't really mind them but the idea of sleeping with a lizard did not appeal to me even if they don't bite. Now several night have gone by and I have yet to find the lizard in my bed. The little lizard who spends most of his time on our ceiling has become a pet of sorts. (It reminds me of the days when my sister Amy had pet anoles.) So I figure if we are going to share living space with a lizard it might as well have a name. Today I christened the lizard Albert but Aubrie just wants to call him Al.

Unfortunately when I was typing I saw a lizard on my window. I thought it was Al at first but he is at his usual post on the ceiling. It aggravates me that I cannot figure out how they are getting in the room since the doors and windows have screens. And I still haven't decided how I feel about this newest house guest. One lizard can be a pet but does two cross the line into an infestation?

The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord

February 2nd is known in the Catholic world as the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. In Enugu the nuns and priest gaAdd Imagether at the Cathedral for a special mass where they renew their vows. Last night at dinner the sisters invited Aubrie and I to come.

So at nine o'clock this morning we loaded up the van and headed into town. In the past I have found Nigerian traffic both exciting and terrifying and today was no exception. We managed to traverse the chasm like ruts of One Day Road and I gave a sigh of relief as we found pavement. I soon became absorbed in the hustle and bustle of daily life until I heard a loud grinding noise. It took me a minute to realize that the grinding noise was the sound made when our driver misjudged the space between oncoming traffic and a parked car. Trying to stop any further damage we stopped and the other driver pulled forward. He then got out of the car and retrieved his tail light and part of his bumper from the street. The driver looked surly and I wondered if Nigerians even have car insurance. Maybe it was because he took pity on the van full of nuns or maybe fender benders are everyday occurrences here or maybe he just couldn't bare to deal with the driver who mutilated his car but the driver told us to just go. One of the sisters leaned out the window and apologized as we drove off. The nun who was driving simply said "It is illegal to park on the street any way." Driving in Nigeria never ceases to amaze me.

So we arrived at the Cathedral and all nine of us piled out. (It was what Becky would call a clown car.) The Diocese of Enugu is pretty large and there were probably at least a hundred nuns there. The cathedral is more of a pavilion than a traditional church and I was grateful of the cool breeze. It was a nice service and it was made all the more meaningful since it was held in English. After mass there was a reception held in an adjacent pavilion. After everyone was settle there was the ceremonial presentation of the kolanut to the bishop. I am not entirely sure why but the kolanut is presented as a sign of welcome and since there was not enough to share with everyone we were offered garden egg (eggplant) dipped in groundnut paste as a substitute. After that the entertainment began as we feasted on a variety of Nigerian dishes including yellow fried tapioca that looked and tasted like grass. One of things I enjoyed most about today was the traditional dances. The first dance was preformed by a group of girls with large white dots painted on their legs and small white dots on their faces. Later a group of boys preformed a dance with one of the boys wearing a wooden mask and masquerading as a woman. Both groups were accompanied by kids who were very talented drummers and singers. At times the nuns or the priests would join in and everyone had a good time.

So all in all it was a good day. I survived my first car accident in Nigeria and I got to party with the Bishop of Enugu.

Love from Africa,

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday in Enugu

Super Bowl Sunday has rolled around once again. That special time of year when people eat their weight in junk food and enjoy a couple of cold ones. I have never especially enjoyed football but I miss being apart of the festivities. Alas, my Super Bowl Sunday will probably be much different from that of most Americans.

I had an early start this morning. Church services start at six am here. Since we were walking in the dark without the aid of street lights, we had to leave around 5:30 am. It is strange to see people coming to church with flashlights. A normal Catholic mass takes about an hour in the US. Today mass was over two hours long and Sr. Ngozi tells me we got off easy since last week it was about three. The service was also in Igbo so I had almost no idea what was going on. There was a lot of beautiful singing which I enjoyed.

After church Aubrie and I did laundry. Without the luxury of a washing machine laundry could easily turn into an all day task. In the backyard there is a huge cistern that we draw water out of in a bucket. That alone can be a backbreaking job. Then I had to scrub my clothes with my hands. Of course multiple rinses are required to get out all the detergent. After that I left the clothes on the line to dry. I don't want to even think about when I have to fold it all up. I wish we had a washer and dryer but all things considered it wasn't as bad as I feared.

After laundry I decided to make a late breakfast. When we first arrived the nuns where cooking every meal for us. Slowly but surely we are learning our way around the kitchen. Cooking is different when you don't have fresh milk, meat, or anything in a can. After I scoped out the kitchen and pantry, I decided to scramble up an egg. I also added a chopped up tomato and some garlic. It ended up being quite tasty and my first homemade meal in Nigeria was a success.

Friday all of the nuns except Ngozi left for a seminar in Edo. They returned around two this afternoon and it is nice having a full house again. There are less akward silences and more people to help translate when we don't understand each other. To celebrate we had a nice lunch of rice and goat. For the record goat meat is actually pretty good and tastes like beef brisket. It was much better than the potato pancakes with ground up fish filling that was dinner on Friday. Is it just me or do I talk about food a lot?

So that is what is new around here. I wonder if the Super Bowl coverage has started yet. Let me know if the commercials are up to par.