Saturday, January 31, 2009

Today made me realize how much I like the weekdays. During the week I have a purpose. On the weekends the hours seem to loom over me, making me feel lonely and maudlin.

This morning I used up a good half hour bathing. Like most people in Nigeria we don't have running water in the house. So there is a 30 gallon garbage can in our bathroom that is filled with the filtered water. From there we scoop out a bucket of water anytime we need a shower. Then we use a small bowl to pour water over ourselves. Most mornings the water is quite chilly and my showers are quick but today I did a more thorough job. It felt nice to be clean however that feeling doesn't last long in the Nigerian heat and dust.

After awhile I decided to escape the confines of my room and go for a walk. Yesterday Aubrie and I took to the streets and it felt good to get out. So we headed out again after a detour to the school playground so Aubrie could test out the swings. This time we headed in the opposite direction towards the river/stream. It was interesting to see the women washing clothes in the river and the cattle roaming free. Of course on the way back a group of people started following us and one young farmer started some harmless flirting.

Later this afternoon Aubrie nearly succumbed to the boredom so she called up the music teacher Oduka and ask if he wanted to do something. So he came over with his friend CJ. We walked to a lounge at a hotel just down the street. They ordered us fish and meat pies with fruit juice. Since we drink water at the house I was excited about the juice. I wasn't really interested in the meat pies but I didn't want to be rude so I ate one. It was a dry pastry crust filled with tasteless beef. We had a nice conversation about various topics and after a few hours we walked home.

Aubrie and I usually attract a lot of attention when we go out and normally it simply amuses me. Today it annoyed me. I am sick of feeling like a traveling freak show. I hate not knowing how to respond when people ask for gifts, money, or ipods. I am still taken aback when strangers (especially men) ask for my phone number minutes after meeting me. I am sick and tired of feeling like a nonentity simply known as Oyibo or Onyeocha. I am sick of people touching my skin or hair. The worst part is that there is no one to tell this to. I can't take out my frustration on some poor kid on the street.

Looking back over this entry I am half tempted to erase the whole thing. I want to write about happy things and what a great time I am having. But I want this to be a honest representation of my time in Africa. Today was not my best day but that's okay. The beauty of life is that tomorrow I can start over.

I guess that just goes to show how different things are here. Never in my life did I imagine I would want the weekend to end.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Our chariot awaits
This van must have magical powers because it manages to navigate through the traffic clogged city streets of Enugu as well as the unpaved roads of Awkunanaw.
In the background is our school. The library where I spend most of my time is the middle window on the top fourth floor.

The wall around our compound
Don't let the barb wire fool you it really is a welcoming place. The panels on the left are for solar energy. During the day the school is supplied with solar power. At night we switch the house over to the more reliable solar power. The rest of the time we rely on NEPA (National Electrical Power Authority). So we may or may not have electricity at the house during the day and late at night.

Me and the front of our house

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Here is a quick list of a few things that I did today:

1. Began my first day of work at the Notre Dame School. I work in the library and the children read aloud to me.

2. Had rice, salad, and Paw Paw (papaya) for lunch

3. For once I didn't startle when a lizard scurried out of the bushes. There are lizards everywhere and I think they try to catch me by surprise.

4. Got the security code for the wireless internet connection. We don't have running water but we have wireless internet. Go figure.

5. Went to a major market in Enugu. The ride alone was terrifying because the road was being paved during rush hour traffic. I don't think I have ever prayed so hard in my life.

6. We stopped at a gas station and the sign read 65 naira a liter. However after the attendant filled up he informed us that the price was really 70 naira a liter. We had to do the math ourselves to figure out even with the price change he was still stiffing us 90 naira. Later on Aubrie pointed out the ironic fact that the gas station was called Conoil.

7. Bought a cell phone. (I will give out my number as soon as I figure that phone out.)

8. I saw a man driving a motorcycle with three children riding (one in front and two in back).

9. Ate more rice, salad, and Paw Paw for dinner. However Sister Martina asked if I wanted the chicken neck and Aubrie gleefully reminded me that I pledged to try new things. So since "African women eat everything" I followed suit and ate most of a chicken spine, bones and all.

10. Stopped caring that there are little red ants crawling on me in bed.

It was just another day in paradise. Love from Africa,

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Americans on display

I feel like I have fallen through the looking glass and everything has been turned topsy turvy. It has been very amusing but it is still disorientating. Sister Francisca showed us around the Notre Dame school today. We stopped by each class and the children would recite "Good morning Sisters/Aunties. You are welcome and may God bless you." Some of the children were shy and would avoid making eye contact. Others were boisterous and eager to catch our attention. In one classroom the kids swarmed us and everyone gave us a hug. Poor Aubrie walked in first and took the brunt of the onslaught. I thought she was going to be knocked over.

Recess was even more fun. The three of us were walking around the yard when I noticed a gang of kids following. I turned around and like some bizarre Nigerian version of Red light/Green light the children stopped in their tracks. Realizing that they had been caught following us the children broke into nervous laughter. Our game continued on for a few minutes and apparently they found it (or maybe just me) quite funny. When Sister left us alone in the yard the children closed in. Some of the kids started to play what I have dubbed Onyeocha tag. Basically the kids would touch an Onyeocha (white person) and run away.

The craziest reaction came from one little boy in the nursery classroom (ages three and four). We walked in the classroom and he started crying. He tried to hide behind the teacher's skirts and just balled. When Sister tried to tell him that we were his friends he shouted that "They are NOT my friends and I am going to tell my mommy." Someone later suggested that his reaction was simply because he was new and he had probably seen white people before. I might have accepted that explaination except that in the last two days I have seen only two other white people and one was a nun. I felt a little bad that Aubrie and I had terrified some poor kid but mostly I found the whole situation amusing.

I do have a new appreciation for the animals at the zoo. Hopefully tomorrow there will be a little less gawking.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Home at last

Greetings from Awkunanaw. For those of you back home I would just like to inform you that it is ten o'clock at night and it feels like it is ninety degrees in here. That is with a ceiling fan running and both windows open. I have been in Enugu less than six hours and already I am sweating like a pig. I was not cut out for heat without air conditioning. So think of me the next time you complain about the snow.

So today was an interesting day. Aubrie and I took the bus to Enugu and it took eight hours. But I am really glad we took the bus instead of flying. I have traveled around North America, Europe, and the Middle East but I have never been to a place that seemed as foreign to me as Nigeria. I found myself overwhelmed by how different everything was and those eight hours helped me adjust. As Aubrie put it, the bus ride was like watching the Discovery channel. I was surprised how green everything is, since this is the dry season. It was also fascinating to watch the people. We saw women carrying baskets on their heads, men with wheelbarrows waiting for work, uniformed children walking what must be miles to school, and even people bathing in the rivers. The trip also helped me get used to livestock running wild, the pervasive litter, and the traffic.

I think now would be a good time to explain the rules of the road in Nigeria. (I would like to note that this is strictly my own observations and I don't know the legality of these driving techniques.) The first thing you should know is that I have yet to see a single traffic light in Nigeria. This makes it a little tricky when multiple vehicles enter the intersection simultaneously. Generally the right of way goes to the bigger vehicle such as the bus since it would come off better in an accident. However, it should be noted that the use of one's horn makes this rule null and void. A horn is used to indicate a driver's level of impatience and the likelihood that he or she doesn't care if they die in a horrible crash. So persistent honkers often get let in. Add to this the complete lack of lane lines, the horrible potholes, and the sheer number of suicidal motorcyclists and a simple drive can turn into a wild ride. I think traffic is the reason so many cars and trucks had slogans like "Pray constantly" and "Jesus Saves" painted on them. I certainly prayed for divine intervention when we were in traffic.

Random thought but I hope my malaria pills are working because I just swatted another mosquito.

Love from Africa,

The smells of Africa

Okay so it is 11 pm on Sunday in Nigeria. Aubrie and I have made it to Abuja which is the capital of Nigeria. We just had to stop twice; once in Frankfurt, Germany and once in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. It was only twenty hours ago that we flew out of Washington but I feel like we have been traveling for a week at least. Right now I am exhausted but not really sleepy. And we have to leave at six tomorrow morning for an eight hour bus ride to Enugu. So that should be interesting.

When we arrived in Abuja it was around seven at night and it was already dark. The thing that struck me as off was that it was pitch black outside. Normally when you fly into an American city at night it is lit up like a Christmas tree. In Abuja I couldn't see any street lights until the plane started landing. The only light I saw was several fires Sr. Rita who picked us up from the airport told us that they burn the grass here during the dry season to keep from having to pay someone to mow it. So my first impressions of Nigeria are of the smells. Two smells to be specific: burning grass and coconut.

So I am sure you are thinking the Nigerians grow a lot of coconut? The truth is that I have no idea if they do or not. The reason I will forever associate Nigeria with the smell of coconut is that I had a little luggage mishap. Being a fairly experienced traveler I knew that my luggage would get thrown around a lot. So I decided to buy a shoe box sized rubbermaid container so I could keep my bottles of shampoo, lotion and bug spray from exploding. I should have saved myself the trouble because the container broke in pieces and my entire bottle of shampoo emptied. (Baggage Handlers 1; Katie 0). My clothes were spared but I spent most of the night washing off my shoes and various possessions. Thus the reason I now smell coconut everywhere.

Well so far this entry seems like a bunch of whining. But the truth is that I am really excited to be here. When we landed in Malabo it began to sink in that I was in Africa. I didn't get off the plane but I was in awe of the landscape. It got me thinking how lucky I am. Then I remembered something said at Crusillo: There is no such thing as being lucky, what you really mean is that you are blessed. I have truly been blessed and the amazing thing is that there is so much more to come.

I am sending my love from Africa. Goodnight.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Don't forget to write

Here is my address for the next six months:
Katie O'Dea
(Sisters of Notre Dame)
PO Box 3777, Enugu
Enugu State, Nigeria

I should get anything you send to that address and I would love to get mail from home. However, I should caution that the postal system is not the same as in the US. So please don't send anything valuable, breakable, perishable, or anything that may be tempting to less scrupulous customs officials.

The countdown is now at T-minus 27 hours.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I saw history in the making (well almost)

It might have been temporary insanity but Aubrie and I decided to go to DC for the Inauguration. We ended up driving to the Metro station which took about an hour even without heavy traffic. From there we took the subway train in to DC and it was packed full. I couldn't hold on to anything and people kept falling into one another. But eventually we got off and followed the crowd.
We walked about a mile to get in the general vicinity. So we followed the crowd some more and hopped a cement road block and a temporary fence to this area near the big screen. We inched our way through but that turned out to be a bad idea. People were packed in like a mosh pit and I couldn't see. We were being pushed from all angles and there was no where to go. People had climbed trees and port-a-potties just to get a better view.

We managed to be rolled along with the crowd out of there on to the street and eventually we made it to a less crowded area by the Washington Monument. I didn't get a good view of the Capitol but occasionally I saw the screen through the sea of humanity. The cool part was being a part of the crowd. People were booing Bush and Cheney and I felt like I was part of a lynch mob. When they announced President Obama everyone started screaming and chanting. I heard the speeches and the swearing in on the loud speakers. It was very exciting to be there at that moment and I could feel hope radiating from the masses.

Aubrie was pretty cold by this point since she is not used to a wind chill in the teens. I was a little amused by this since I kept thinking how it was so much warmer than I expected. So we started walking back to the Metro station. We didn't stay for the parade but that's okay. It was cool to be a part of history even if I couldn't see much.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Some highlights of the past week or so

I made my first trip to Connecticut.
Aubrie and I spent a couple days in Connecticut with her friend Billy. He drove all the way to Baltimore to pick us up. On the way we stopped in Brooklyn to see a couple of their friends. We ate at this restaurant called Juniors and they supposedly have the best cheesecake anywhere. Then we traveled on to New Milford, Connecticut. Aubrie is from Texas and she had never seen snow on the ground. So the next morning we went out in the snow and we tried snowboarding. I only fell once which I thought was impressive even if it was gentle incline. So we hung out, saw the sights of New Milford, and Monday night we hit a local watering hole. It turned out to be a fun little excursion.
I worked with GEDCO.
Since Aubrie and I have a good deal of free time Sissy sent us to work with GEDCO across the street. GEDCO stands for Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation and they run outreach programs for the poor, elderly, disable, etc. So we helped stock the food pantry and I don't think I have ever seen that many cans of green beans in my life. Then Aubrie and I helped with some filing and office work. In many ways I feel like I've been on vacation and it was nice to do some work.
I received my visa to Nigeria so we can leave!
Thursday my visa came in the mail and I was really happy to have my passport back. The only bad part was that it is now official that we can stay for only six months. This was not a shock but I am still disappointed. I really wanted to spend a year in Nigeria but I keep trying to tell myself that this is part of God's plan. What was meant to be will be. So in July I can go back to the states and finish out the year in one of Notre Dame Americorp programs. However what I would really like is to spend the next six months in Kenya where the other volunteers are now. I guess I will just wait and see what happens.
Aubrie and I put up plastic insulation around the office windows.
So the NDMV headquarters/convent/volunteer house is a huge old building. And as such it is pretty drafty and cold. Sissy told us what their monthly electric bill is and I had to wince. If you are going to pay that much it should feel like a sauna in here, not an ice chest. So Sissy sent us to pick up plastic insulation. Luckily Aubrie spent the last year working in New Orleans rebuilding houses and together we managed to get the windows covered. It only took most of the day, three trips out for tape, and a couple of times getting lost around Baltimore. The good news is that it seems less drafty around here.
I met up with Aunt Debbie and Uncle Brian for the weekend.
My family is kind of crazy in that we live 100 miles away but we have to travel 700 miles to see each other. It just happened that Aunt Debbie and Uncle Brian were in the area dropping my cousin Jordan off at a youth conference. So I crashed with them for the weekend. We stayed in Williamsburg, VA and saw the colonial era buildings. It turned out to be another nice weekend and I ate really well.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

From left to right: Jean Jones, Me, Sean Michael Durkin, Sue Casey-Leininger, Tom Murphy, Sr. Sissy Corr, and my roommate Aubrie Untermeyer

Our Numbers are Dwindling

Yesterday Sissy and I dropped off the four Kenya volunteers (Jean, Sue, Tom, and Sean/Michael) at Dulles Airport. They should arrive in Nairobi sometime Sunday evening. Tom and Sue will be working at the St. Julie Center for disabled children. Michael and Jean will be working at an orphanage. For the past week we have been getting to know each other and all I can say is that they are all awesome. I can only hope that our paths will meet again.

At the airport I couldn't help but think about my own journey. When I first came to Baltimore it seemed like there was hardly any time left before we flew to Nigeria. Now Aubrie and I are the only international volunteers still here and it doesn't seem quite so real. Part of me is itching to get on a plane right now. Then again maybe these next two weeks in Baltimore will teach me patience. Everyone says that the pace is slower in Africa and I guess that is a lesson I will have to learn eventually. Might as well do it in Baltimore, right?

So only thirteen more days until we leave not that I'm counting or anything.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Orientation in Baltimore

For those of you just tuning in, I am in Baltimore, MD. I am here for an orientation with the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers. I am one of the six Notre Dame Mission Volunteers serving overseas. I leave for Enugu, Nigeria in fifteen days. So what you may ask will I be doing in Nigeria? I will be living with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and working at an elementary school in Awkunanaw. There will probably be other projects but the truth is that right now I don't know a whole lot about what it will be like. I just hope to go into this coming year with an open heart and an open mind.