Monday, June 29, 2009

My First Day at the Orphanage

The verdict is still out about how much I like my new job. Today was my first day and it too soon to formulate an opinion. I now work at the Divine Providence Orphanage in Kakamega, in the baby wing. I help three other women look after five preschoolers, six babies who are roughly 6-18 months, and two very young infants. I get to work around 8 am when we start bathing, dressing, and feeding everyone. The next couple hours are spent cleaning, helping with the laundry (most of that is done by women prisoners on lone from the neighboring prison), making beds, and basically keeping the kids happy and entertained. Lunch, which was also my only break today, is around one o'clock when I eat with the Divine Providence Sisters who run the orphanage. This afternoon consisted of folding all the laundry and rocking fussy babies. My work day ended at 4:50.

In some ways it was fun working at the orphanage. The kids are ridiculously cute and who doesn't like rocking babies? Yet in many ways it is depressing work. The youngest baby, who by my guess is probably only a week or maybe two old, was abandoned in the forest. The staff treats the babies with love and kindness but there is only so much they can do. There isn't enough time to give everyone enough attention. Often it is the screaming child who gets picked up while quiet babies like Andrew are left lying in their cribs.

I don't know where I am going to get the energy needed to work at the orphanage. I don't know what is more tiring, chasing two year olds around the courtyard or dealing with a baby who screams every time I tried to put him down. Today we had almost finished feeding everyone, when one baby threw up his entire breakfast all over himself, me, and the floor. That meant changing him for the second time in thirty minutes, cleaning my clothes as best I could, and mopping the floor. Then, as if the work wasn't exhausting enough, there was the commute home. In order to get home (or to work for that matter) I have to take a 40 minute bus ride and then there is a 30 minute walk from the bus stop. Today it was pouring and it took me an hour and forty minutes to get home.

So this job could be very rewarding. Or it could mean a lot of long days. More than likely it will be both.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The cool thing about Kenya is...

the wildlife. Nigeria was a pretty awesome place but the most exotic animal I saw was a scorpion. Kenya on the other hand has lots of animals. On Tuesday, Sr. Jane took Sue and I to lunch at a national park just outside of Nairobi. When we were leaving we saw a bunch of wild baboons, who had overturned a garbage can and were eating the contents. We drove to Malava on Thursday and it was a poor volunteer's version of a safari. We saw herds of gazelle, a couple of warthogs, vultures, a flock of flamingos (that looked like a sea of pink on the lake), and zebras. All of them were running around wild outside of Nairobi. Back home drivers have to avoid hitting deer, here it is zebras. We also have a lot of animals at the house. The Sisters have four or five cows, several goats, at least three chickens, two dogs, and a cat.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Travel Misadventures and Miracles

Sunday I came the closest I have ever come to missing a flight. It was probably the most stressful day of my life. I took the 7 am bus to Lagos and that is where the trouble began. The bus was a half hour late to begin with and the roads were a muddy mess after two days of rain. Around Oro we were stuck in grid lock for two hours. We lost a side mirror (on a military vehicle no less) and I saw more than one car bump into another vehicle. The nine hour bus ride turned into a thirteen hour trip. One of the Sisters arranged for me to meet Emmanuel, the driver at the last bus stop. Unfortunately, the bus company recently added a new last stop. So Emmanuel called and asked where I was, turns out he was at the previous stop and it was almost a half hour before we met up. So it was 8:45 when we arrived at the airport and my flight was at 10:10. When Emmanuel and I arrived at the check-in counter we were told that it was closed. I stood there gaping at the woman, wondering what I was supposed to do. Luckily after a 2000 naira bribe (roughly 20 bucks) they agreed to check me in. The next problem arose when weighing my bags. When the woman informed me that the two bags combined were four kilos over weight, I was ready to start coughing up the dough so I didn't have to unpack my luggage. Emmanuel discreetly tugged my sleeve and after a few minutes of us just standing there, they took the bags away, gave me my boarding pass, and nothing more was said about the weight. So I made it over that first hurdle at the airport.

I now had an hour to get through immigration and security before the gate closed but the line barely seemed to move at all. My anxiety and nausea kept increasing as I watched the minutes tick past. It did not help that Emmanuel and Sr. Amarachi kept calling to check if I had made it through yet. With ten minutes left, I finally made it to the front of the line. The officer asked to see my passport, boarding pass, and immigration forms. The first two I had ready but it appears in their haste to check me in, I was not given the necessary immigration forms. The officer told me to go back to the check in counter and pick up a form. By this time I was ready to either cry or throw up. The woman took pity on me and assured me that the South African flight crew had just arrived themselves, I would not have to wait in line again, and I would still make my flight. So I ran back to the counter but not a soul was in site. When I finally tracked down an employee, he told me there were no more forms. By this point I felt certain that I was not getting on that plane. Luckily I spotted an employee for another airline and he helped me acquire the form. I jumped to the front of the line, received my exit stamp, and it seemed as if my luck was finally changing. However after going through the metal detectors, an security guard led me off to the side and told me to open my backpack. He then said as calmly as you please, "you pay me 100 US dollars now." Cops seem to be constantly asking people what they will give them, but this is the first time I had ever seen someone demand a certain amount. If it was 20 bucks I probably would have paid right up but 100 bucks is a lot of money for a poor volunteer. So I used the tactic I have seen the Sisters use several times: don't come out and say no, just stall. So I kept telling that man that I didn't understand. The jerk kept repeating "you pay me 100 dollars." It became a battle of wills and five precious minutes later, he finally gave up and told me to go.

After nearly giving myself an ulcer, I finally arrived at the gate at 10:15 to find that they hadn't even started boarding yet. The flight took off an hour and twenty minutes late but I was on it. So that is how twenty four hours after the start of my journey I find myself sitting in Johannesburg typing away. Yesterday was by far my worst day in Nigeria but just writing down all the wahalla has been very therapeutic and I feel much better. I prayed more yesterday than I have in a long time. The Good God must have been listening because it was a miracle I made it on that flight. And eight hours from now, God willing, I will be in Kenya.

Love from a different corner of Africa,

Things I have learned in Nigeria

Just because you are in Africa, doesn't mean there is a lion, elephant, or giraffe nearby.

It is not a good idea to fetch water in cargo shorts. The buckets catch on the pockets and then you end up slopping water all over yourself.

I thought living in a convent might be like the Sound of Music, without the nazis. It was nothing like that. Living with nuns was actually a lot of fun.

Malaria is more fun the second and third time.

The part in the Wizard of Oz, where the Wicked Witch starts melting always seemed far fetched to me. After spending time in Nigeria's heat and humidity I think it is entirely plausible that someone could melt.

Murphy's Law is alive and well. Anything that can go wrong, will probably go wrong. This is especially true when it comes to travel in Nigeria.

Pineapples do not grow on trees.

It is acceptable and sometimes necessary to start laughing without knowing why.

Roosters do not crow at dawn. Well, they do but they also crow at all hours of the day and night.

A baby is never too young to be tied on someones back and carried around.

If I had to choose between running water and electricity, I would rather have electricity. Although having both is preferable.

Eating bugs is a crunchy but not all together unpleasant experience.

Just because a cop is looking for a bribe, doesn't mean you have to give one.

Haggling over prices is an art form. It can be a long and frustrating process but in the end it is very rewarding.

The fastest way to tell a goat apart from a sheep is to look at the tail (goat tails point up and sheep tails point down).

During my entire time in Nigeria (not counting the airport) I saw a total of 18 white people. Six of whom were SNDs and four more were other religious. I am relatively young, unmarried, white, and a woman, which made me an especially rare commodity. Now I know what it is like to be the minority. It was fun at times, other times it earned me special treatment, but often times it left me feeling exposed and uncomfortable. In the future I will have more sympathy for anyone who is in the minority, whether because of their gender, race, age, or culture.

Being homesick for a place that is not your home is much worse than being homesick for your home. You can always go home.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Goodbye Awkunanaw

Today is my last day in Awkunanaw. I will spend tonight at the Nwodo house and Sunday morning I take the 7 am bus to Lagos. I should arrive around 5 pm and my flight leaves at 10:10 pm. Around 5 am on Monday, we should land in Johannesburg, South Africa. I will have a five hour layover and then I fly to Nairobi. Provided everything goes according to plan, I should be in Nairobi around 4pm.

I will be excited about going to Kenya once I arrive. But right now, I am stressed out about the journey and I am depressed about leaving Nigeria. There is something special about Nigeria. The people are open and friendly. There is so much joy, even among the poor and suffering. I have grown to love Awkunanaw, the school, and especially the Sisters. Way back in October at the CMMB orientation, someone asked why we wanted to volunteer overseas. I said something about living in Germany, how I loved experiencing a different culture, and that years later I still get homesick for a place that was never my home. Well I am going to be horribly homesick for Nigeria. I pray that one day God will bring me back to Nigeria.

Friday, June 19, 2009



I wish the queasiness would go away...

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Sometime ago, I went to the market and noticed what I first thought was seashells in a bag. On closer inspection, I realized it was actually snails. Snails are a delicacy in Nigeria. Since I have decided to be more open to trying new things, I asked if we could eat snails one day. Well that day was today.

This afternoon I went with Ngozi to Zenith and PHB banks, the school has accounts at both banks. I was really struck by the disparity of wealth in Nigeria after going to the bank. Outside PHB there was a half naked boy begging for food, inside men in expensive three piece suits sort wads of cash. And having lived mostly without running water or electricity since January, I sometimes forget what it is like to have luxuries such as air conditioning. But like anywhere in the world, luxuries are always available if you have enough money.

After we left the bank, Ngozi and I headed to Obwayta, the large market. We bought snails, pineapples, and watermelon. We also looked at a few stalls that sold fabric because Ngozi wants to make a new veil. So that was our shopping expedition.

When we got home Franca cooked the snails. Normally, snails are cooked in soup and eaten with swallow but Franca fried the snails instead. The snails were a little chewy but actually pretty tasty. I would eat snails again if I get the chance.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009



I keep checking the countdown because I am in complete denial. How can I be leaving for Kenya already? Where has the time gone?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nigeria vs. Kenya

In the coming weeks, I will probably be comparing Nigeria and Kenya a lot. Thanks to the CIA World Factbook, here are some statistics for Nigeria and Kenya.

Location: West Africa vs. East Africa

Area: 923,768 sq km (Ranked 39th largest in the world) vs. 582,650 sq km (Ranked 55th)

Highest point: Chappal Waddi 2,419 m vs. Mount Kenya 5,199 m (2nd Highest in Africa)

Population: 149,229,090 (9th highest in the world and 1st in Africa) vs. 39,002,772 (Ranked 34th)

Population growth rate: 1.999% (Ranked 59th) vs. 2.691% (Ranked 25th)

Urban population: 48% of total population vs. 22% of total population

Infant mortality rate: 94.35 deaths/1,000 live births (Ranked 13th highest) vs. 54.7 deaths/1,000 live births (Ranked 44th)

Life expectancy at birth: 46.94 years (Ranked 212th out of 224) vs. 57.86 years (Ranked 188th)

Total fertility rate: 4.91 children born/woman (Ranked 32nd highest) vs. 4.56 children born/woman (Ranked 38th)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 3.1% (Ranked 23rd highest) vs. 6.7% (Ranked 10th)

HIV/AIDS - deaths: 170,000 (Ranked 3rd highest) vs. 150,000 (Ranked 4th)

Religions: Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, indigenous beliefs 10% vs. Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, Muslim 10%, indigenous beliefs 10%, other 2%

Literacy total population: 68% vs. 85.1%

School life expectancy: 8 years vs. 10 years

Education expenditures: 0.9% of GDP vs. 6.9% of GDP

Independence: 1 October 1960 (from the UK) vs. 12 December 1963 (from the UK)

GDP (purchasing power parity): $338.1 billion (Ranked 35th) vs. $61.83 billion (Ranked: 84th)

GDP - per capita (PPP): $2,300 (Ranked 180th) vs. $1,600 (Ranked 193rd)

Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 70%, industry: 10%, services: 20% vs. agriculture: 23.8% industry: 16.7% services: 59.5%

Oil - production: 2.352 million bbl/day (Ranked 14th in the world) vs. 0 bbl/day

Roads paved: 28,980 km vs. 8,933 km

Holy Blisters Batman

I only spent about an hour at school today. This is partially because once again it is Assessment Week so classes in the library are canceled and partially because I wanted to get some packing done. Well I still don't have anything packed in my suitcases but at least I have things sorted into piles. So after lunch I wanted to do something productive. That was when I heard voices outside my window. The land outside my window is quickly being reclaimed by the bush and I was surprised that anyone would be out in the waist high weeds. Turns out that Ngozi started clearing the brush away so things could be planted. I decided that clearing the bush would make today a productive day. Ngozi was using the machete, so I got the hoe. Now in the US, a hoe would probably have a long handle like a rake; in Nigeria, a hoe has a short little handle which forces the user to bend over.

We made steady progress over the next hour and it was kinda fun. I saw a poisonous spider which Ngozi quickly hacked up. Ngozi saw a reddish brown snake, which is pretty dangerous. Bernadine came out and told me her brother would marry me so I can help in the farm. While taking a break I noticed several blisters on my hand but I went back to work. I now have four of the biggest blisters I have ever seen. The one on my thumb is about the size of a nickel. There is an episode of The Office where Andy shows his blistered hands after hitting a couple thousand golf balls. That is kinda what my hands look like.

Sunday, June 14, 2009



This is more stressful than leaving the US was. I have to keep reminding myself to breathe.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yummy Termites

I ate flying termites for dinner tonight. Every time there is significant rainfall a swarm of flying termites descends upon the house. They manage to get past the mosquito netting on all the doors and windows, where they dive bomb any light source. Soon afterwards the termites begin losing their wings and are forced to crawl instead. The first time I was visited by a biblical type plague of flying termites, I used nearly an entire can of bug spray in an effort to reclaim my bedroom. Now I simply let the termites be and in the morning I sweep up the discarded wings. Most Nigerians do not use bug spray on the termites because that makes them inedible. This afternoon I came into the kitchen and there was a large bowl of still crawling termites. They were fried and served with dinner. Most nights the Sisters make something for Helena and I to eat as an alternative. Tonight Celestina made us pancakes, which were quite good. I also ate termites with my pancake. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of eating termites, they really aren't that bad. They are crunchy and salty and Sr. Helena swears they smell like bacon. I thought the termites tasted a little bit like popcorn.


From left to right: Josephine, Nnamdi, Me, Nonso (in the back), Bene, and Boniface

Performance of the Signals

Children at the Send Off

The Staff of the Notre Dame Nursery and Primary School and Academy in Awkunanaw

Ifeoma, Franca, Celestina, Martina, Me, Ngozi, Helena, and Bernadine

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sendoff Celebration

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Today the school gave me a going away celebration. Classes finished early at 11:00 and the students gathered outside. As tradition dictates, Sr. Martina, Sr. Ifeoma, and Sr. Helena were then called to be seated at the head table. Then the band and the signals (dancers with flags) led the Chief Celebrant, which was me, to the head table. One of the students gave a speech thanking me for my work. Then the signals came out and preformed. They came and invited me to dance and one boy handed his flags over to me. I was a little hesitant to dance in front of the whole school but it seemed rude to decline and I am accustomed to embarrassing myself. Luckily the Sisters and a few of the cutest little kids joined me soon after so I felt better and it was kinda fun. After that Sr. Martina and Nnamdi, the technology teacher, each gave a short speech. So often I have felt inadequate or unable to do as much as I would like but hearing all of the kind things they said made me feel very loved and appreciated.

After the school celebration finished, there was a staff meeting. Seeing as I will not be at this school two weeks from now and the meeting didn't really pertain to me, I went back home for awhile. When the meeting finished someone called me to come back to school and phase two of the celebration began. The staff wanted to have one last meal with me. Everyone else eat abacha with fish and drank minerals. I was surprised when they served me pizza and Star beer. Apparently Martina searched all over town for a restaurant that made pizza. As we settled down to eat, several teachers wished me well and spoke about what they will remember about working with me. Even some of the people I didn't know very well got up talked and it was then that I realized that most people don't realize the full impact, either positive or negative, their actions have on others.

My sendoff party was very special, mostly because my closest friends were there. The staff have always been very welcoming and supportive of me. The children crack me up and there is nothing better than being hugged by a mob of kids. If I think about leaving it depresses me. So instead of dwelling on my imminent departure, I tried to live in the moment, count my many blessings, and enjoy my time as the Chief Celebrant.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009





Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mouse Trap

Last night the Sisters had one of their community meetings and it lasted until quarter to nine. Around 8:30, I decided it was time for me to eat, with or without everyone else. So I was eating my spaghetti, when I heard a noise in the store room. We have had a problem with rats (the Sisters call even the smallest mouse a rat) eating any food left out and they even left two impressive holes in a plastic container. I looked around but there was no sign of the creature. So I went back to my dinner and soon after Bernadine came into the dinning room. That is when I saw the mouse run across the room into a box. I told Bernadine about the mouse and she confirmed that there was something in the box. She said she was going to kill it and that I should position myself behind her in case the rat made a break for it. I told her straight out that when it comes to killing rodents, I am a total coward. Bernadine ignored this and took off one of her flip flops, so she could kill the rat with it. When asked if she needed a broom or something, she replied that she would kill it with her leg if needed. So she shook the box and the mouse came running out. Bernadine slapped down her sandal but she missed and it ran straight for her. She jumped about a foot in the air as the rat scurried across the room under the cupboard (I made no attempt to catch it because I really am a coward). By this time, reinforcements had arrived: Ngozi got a mop, Celestina got a couple pieces of wood, Helena got a broom, and Ifeoma took off her sandal. It was quite comical watching them crowd around, looking for one small mouse. At one point the managed to scare it out of the cupboard but alas it evaded the blow from the broom and took refuge under the fridge. Try as they might, no one could find the mouse after that. So the rat lives to fight another day.

After the rat hunt, we finished our dinner and everyone went to bed. I couldn't help thinking that the mouse might want revenge for the multiple assassination attempts. Most of the Sisters sleep upstairs so it is unlikely that the rat would visit them. My room however is on the first floor and I was the one who spotted it. Fortunately, the mouse seemed content to stay in the kitchen near the food and I didn't have any visitors in the night. But last night I had a dream about ROUSes from The Princess Bride.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What's in a Name?

When speaking with Nigerians I sometimes find myself thinking, we speak the same language but we don't really speak the same language. Here is a list of Nigerian words and phrases and their meanings:

Abi? - Pidgin for "isn't it?" or "right?"
Boot - The trunk of a car
Catarrh- The common cold or flu
Chop - Food
Cleaner - A pencil eraser or a chalkboard eraser
Damott - Term used in the army barracks for house
Ease myself - To pee
Find my trouble - To be annoying or get on my nerves
Hawker - People selling things often from trays carried on their heads
Jagbajantis - Pidgin for nonsense
Knickers or Trousers - Pants. Meanwhile, to the Nigerians the term 'pant' refers to underwear.
Light - Means electricity, such as the all too common phrase "There is no light."
Lorry - Truck
Mach - To step on, when sitting on the floor we tell students to put their hands on their laps so they don't get their fingers mached
Mineral - Soda
Naija - Slang for Nigeria, sometimes written 9ja
Okada or Machine - Motorcycle
Onye Ogi - Igbo for a black person
Onye Oicha or Oyibo - Igbo for a white person
Oya - Let's go or hurry
Petrol - Gasoline
Shakara - Showing off, strutting
Slippers - Flip flops
Spraying - During a dance or performance, it is customary to throw money at performers.
Swallow - Food (often made from wheat, corn, or cassava) that is rolled into a ball, dipped in soup, and swallowed whole
Trek - Means to walk
Wahala or Palava - Pidgin for trouble
Yellow Fever - The traffic cops that are found at major intersection instead of stop lights