Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For the record, I have not fallen off the face of the planet. I know I haven't updated my blog for awhile but I have been traveling around Nigeria and I haven't had access to the internet for the past two weeks. Right now I am at an internet cafe in Illorin which is in Western Nigeria. I have been staying with some Sisters in Amoyo (which is just outside of Illorin) and I have been working at a boarding school for girls. I am not sure when I will go home to Awkunanaw but for now I am just enjoying the chance to visit other parts of the country.

Love from Africa,

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Happy Easter. And what an interesting holiday it has been for me. Last night everyone in the house (all twelve of us are very rarely in same place at the same time) went to the Easter Vigil Mass which started at 10 pm. It finished after two am and then we had to walk home so I didn't get to sleep until after three. I intended to sleep in but the sun, chickens, broadcasts from neighboring churches, and the comings and goings of the Sisters all conspired to wake me up around 8 am. After getting dress, I went to the kitchen to help cook. We made steamed rice, chicken, cabbage salad, and pineapple for our Easter dinner. I made canned corn and mushrooms for a little taste of home. We also had Easter eggs. I wrote everyone's name on an egg and mixed vinegar and food coloring for the dye. It worked pretty well and the nuns were impressed. It was a nice meal and the company was good, as always. Oh and we have a goat or a sheep (in the daylight I will be able to tell which it is) running around the yard. The priest dropped it off tonight as a Easter gift for us. The Sisters must be right, I am turning into an African woman because my first thought about having a goat in the yard was that it will be very tasty.

Now I need to finishing packing because I am traveling with Sr. Amarachi tomorrow. The Sisters of Notre Dame have a big meeting this week and instead of staying home alone, I am going to do some traveling. The following week I will visit some of the other places around Nigeria where the SNDs live and work. I am not sure how long I will be gone but Ilorin, Edo, and Makurdi are on itinerary.

Have a happy Easter. Love from Africa,

Friday, April 10, 2009


Before this week, I didn't know what garri was. During exam week, a few Primary 1 students incorrectly answered that goats eat garri, not grass. So the extent of my knowledge of garri was that it is not eaten by goats. However this week I have been thoroughly introduced to garri and how it is produced.

Garri is ground up cassava, which is a root tuber. In our compound we grow cassava and this week the Sisters harvested it. I missed out on opportunity to dig up the cassava but I helped out with everything else. The cassava has to be harvested after the rains start and there is a short window before it starts to go bad, which is why we did all of this work during an already hectic Holy Week. So for two days we peeled cassava. I find it funny that regardless of how often I cook, the nuns are still hesitant to give me a knife. If I stopped to examine a blister (we peeled a lot of cassava) they would assume I had cut myself.

This morning we washed the peeled cassava and packed it into huge sacks. We kept a little cassava to make tapioca but most of it was made into garri. The bus driver agreed to take the seven bags of cassava, the three nuns, and I to the garri mill. The cassava is ground up, then mixed with palm oil to give it a slightly different taste but mostly just a yellow color. After it dries out, the ground cassava is sifted to remove the larger particles and is then roasted over a fire. I helped mix in the orange palm oil and it sort of reminded me of using Play Dough. The oil also turned my skin orange and my hands looked they belonged to an Oompa Loompa. Fortunately, it came off after a good scrubbing at home. After two hours at the mill, we grounded, mixed, and bagged all of our garri. Monday it will be cooked and ready for us to pick up. Then we can mix the starchy powder with water and eat garri till our hearts are content.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Washing of Feet

It is Holy Thursday and I spent over six hours in Church today. This morning I went with the Sisters to the Cathedral for Chrism Mass when the Bishop blesses the different oils used in various ceremonies and it is a big deal in Nigeria. This evening I went to our local church St. Theresa's for the standard Holy Thursday mass, which commemorates the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Both services were nice but I am not used to spending the entire day in a church and at times I found my mind wondering.

This afternoon it rained again, it has rained every day this week, and the walk to St. Theresa's was awful. I had just showered (during the few hours in between masses I helped peel our recently harvested cassava) and crossing One Day Road I found myself ankle deep in mud. But I figured in for a penny, in for a pound, so I just kept going. Farther along I greeted the group of women who are always sitting outside this one house. They noticed the mud caked on my feet and quickly produced a bucket of water to wash my feet. I started washing the mud off my leg and before I could stop her, one lady had started scrubbing my shoes. I was a little embarrassed but mostly I was touched by that act of kindness. It made me think of Jesus washing his friend's feet and how I can recognize the face of God in my neighbors. I live among people who may not have much but they would give you the shirt off their back.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mud and the Market

Last night, it started storming pretty badly. The rainy season came late this year but it would seems that it is finally here. It poured last night and the wind was so bad that a hug metal sheet of roofing ripped off the roof. So Sr. Gloria's (she lives here when she is not at school) ceiling was leaking. But I got several buckets of water without having to draw it up from the cistern. What makes life really difficult when it rains is the roads. Only some roads are paved and the unpaved streets become muddy, slippery messes. I can't imagine how people tolerate the rain for the next four months.

Sr Franca and I went to the market today to get food for our Easter dinner. Our shopping expedition took over five hours. We bought the usual dried stock fish, flour, fruits, and vegetables. We also went to the butchers. The butchers have a couple of buildings in the middle of the market with huge cement slabs covered with various cow parts. We bought liver (which I now eat) and cow stomach (which I am a little hesitant to try). As Franca haggled over the price I had time to look around and take it all in. I was a little taken aback when I saw the whole cow heads, watched a man pound the hoof off a foot, or saw a lone cow eye sitting on the table. All of those cow parts are available but I can't even get a hamburger. I was happy because we found vinegar and food coloring for dyeing Easter eggs.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

From left to right: Sr. Maria (Nwodo House), Sr. Franca, Sr. Theresa (Nwodo House), Father, Sr. Martina, Sr. Bernadine, Sr. Helena, Sr. Florence (Nwodo House), and Sr. Ifeoma

Spring Break in Awkunanaw

Spring break makes me think of sandy beaches and margaritas. Even though there are palm trees and lots of sunshine, this is a different sort of spring break.

Today I woke up and started some spring cleaning. Even though it has rained a few times this past week, the dust is still pretty bad. The dust manages to get in my room through the screens on the doors and windows. I once saw an episode of Trading Spaces, where they designed a beach themed room complete with sand floors. I feel like I have that sand floor whenever I go a couple days without sweeping. So I swept and dusted my room and then I scrubbed the floors. The floor is back to it's normal color, instead of rusty brown. So I spent several hours cleaning but at least my room no longer looks like a giant sandbox.

After lunch (which was a delicious Shepard's pie that was almost like an American meal) Sr. Bernie, Ester (a visiting aspirant) and I went down to the stream. The stream like many sources of water in Nigeria is polluted with trash, laundry detergent, and various other things. However the source of the stream is a spring. There the water is clean and clear. So we went wading in the water, with the local children. Then we collected the water trickling out of the rock face and took some home. As a precaution we will boil the water before drinking it but most of the locals drink it straight from the spring. It was a nice way to cool off and get out of the house.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

More random thoughts...

We just finished dinner and as usual after every meal everyone grabs a toothpick. Some times the Nigerians refer to toothpicks as "evidence" because it proves that you ate. Even fast food or the meal served on the ABC bus comes with toothpicks. I am constantly reminded of my Great Grandpa when I see people with a toothpick hanging from the side of their mouth.

I love pineapple. It is good in the US but here it is soo much better. The Sisters have noticed how much I enjoy it and so we now eat pineapple several times a week. When I asked if pineapples grow on trees, the Sisters nearly busted a gut laughing. For the record, pineapples do not grow on trees.

Today was Palm Sunday. Instead of passing out palms at church, most Nigerians bring their own from home. The church was decorated with green palm branches that reached from the floor to the ceiling. In honor of Palm Sunday we had Banga (palm oil soup) for lunch but I steered clear of it after my last less than pleasant experience.

Almost all Nigerian buildings, from the fanciest bank office to the shabbiest apartment building, are surrounded by high concrete walls. Our house is surrounded by a wall and then both the school and house are surrounded by the compound wall. Some walls are topped with barbed wire and others broken bottles. I used to complain that my high school looked like a prison but it was nothing compared to our school with the unpainted cement walls and barbed wire topped fence.

Every so often I hear a someone playing the trumpet, very badly. It reminds me of those first few weeks my sister Megan started playing the trumpet. It is not uncommon to hear music around here but I thought it odd to have a solitary trumpet. After awhile I realized that someone was attempting to play Taps. The trumpeter probably belongs to the army barracks near by. I think the army might want to look for more musicians, that music was painful.

A tiny baby lizard just fell from the ceiling and scampered off. Apparently, Al has a girlfriend and they are procreating.

Goodnight. Love from Africa,

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sprink Break

I don't know why but I was in a gloomy mood this morning. School dismissed early today and we are officially on Spring Break. Even that couldn't get me out of my funk so I decided I needed a change of scenery. I was going out for a walk, when I met Blessing. She needed to buy potash and I tagged along. We had just walked out the front gate when we were nearly run over by a herd of cattle. The cattle had lean, almost scrawny bodies with drooping white hides and impressive horns and they were being herded by an equally scrawny boy. After we finished shopping, Blessing took me to the stream where children were swimming. The warning about parasites and such that might be in the water was the only reason I kept from diving in. After our detour to the stream, Blessing went back home to cook and I made a loop of the neighborhood going past our church and around to One Day road. I had a nice walk that improved my mood and I might have stayed out longer but I noticed that my skin was turning red. I figure that I am long overdue for a sunburn any way. After spending a couple hours in the hot sun, I needed a shower. Unfortunately that meant I had to fetch water for my room. Bernie and Blessing were also fetching water and like usual, they were showing off by carrying it on their heads. So after I filled my container, I made one last trip and carried the bucket on my head. I managed to keep from soaking myself although walking through the door proved problematic. Even if I didn't do anything exciting today was a good start to our Spring Break.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I can't believe that it is already April. Today was the last full day of school for the second term. Tomorrow the kids will not be at school but the teachers will come to finish up their work. Friday the students come to school to get their report cards but school is dismissed at 10 am. We get two full weeks off of school and then the third term begins on April 27th.

I am now half way through my five month stay in Nigeria. This year is going by so quickly.