Monday, February 27, 2012

Holy Smokes Batman!

Saturday has become our market day, mainly because our weekdays are filled with homeschooling and language learning. So this past Saturday, we were headed out to shop and I mentioned to Ryan that I wanted to try and find a few more baskets to use around the house. We decided to go to a little area near the "museum" that has some artisan crafts. They call them the museum shops.
As we were driving down the dirt road to the museum shops, Lily said, "Hey mom, look at those bats flying over our heads."
To which I replied, "Lily, those aren't bats, they're birds. Remember, bats are nocturnal and it's mid-morning."
She insisted they were bats and so just to appease her, I took a closer look and what do you know? They were, most definitely, bats. Not just a few bats. Hundreds and hundreds of bats. So many that when we got out of the car their squeaking was extremely loud to our ears. It was amazing.
We walked toward the shops where all of the craftsman came out of their shops and welcomed us in. That is what happens wherever we go. There are usually multiple vendors of similar things in each area and they all call for our attention. It's really bad when we go to the produce stands because, as most of you know, I don't eat my veggies very well, so I have 6 men begging me to buy their broccoli, swiss chard, and cauliflower when all I really want is a few green beans, a tomato, and some irish potatoes. They proudly show off all of their veggies, each one trying to find their most beautiful and unique offering and I am a lost cause in the vegetable world.
Anyway, I digress... Where was I? Oh yeah, so I asked the craftsmen about the bats and they explained to us that this forest area of trees where we parked is always full of bats this time of year and that they will migrate when the rains come in a few months.
We had a great time watching them and we even walked toward the trees so that we could see them hanging in big clumps. It really was fascinating, though all of my kids were not equally keen on the bats.

A few of the bats above our heads
Can you see those dark clumps in the tree? Those are groups of bats. There were gazillions of them. Crazy!
We didn't have the big camera with us, but even if we had, I'm not sure we could have captured the full effect. Anyway, it made for a fun spot in our Saturday morning.
They're hanging all over!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Just a few of the things that I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to...

In no particular order...

  • Hearing our nightguard walk the gravel path around the perimeter of our home through the night.
  • The fact that people twice our age refer to Ryan and I as “Mama” and “Baba.” Which, I think I understand are friendly terms of respect.
  • The call to prayer throughout the day, especially the one that often wakes me at 4:30 every morning.
  • The insane number of “machines” that weave in and out and all around us everywhere we go. I am especially floored by the motorcycles that have a man on the front, with a preschooler, then a mama with a baby tied on her back. Oh, and none of them have helmets!
  • The reality that there are virtually no traffic rules and the number of lanes on any given road is totally flexible.
  • This conversation, which happens several times in the average day...”Oh, the power came on, we’ve got to get laundry started! Hurry! Oh, wait, it’s off, nevermind. Oh, look, it’s on again! Run! Oh wait, nevermind...”
  • The fact that automatic weapons are a common sight while shopping, banking, or driving down the road. I’m not sure what qualifies a person to carry one, but they seem to be pretty standard issue round these parts.
  • Being stared at everywhere that we go. And not in a sly sort of way. In a mouth open gaping at us sort of way. Although, I have learned that looking them straight in the eye , smiling, and going through the standard greetings usually changes the staring session into a slightly more congenial stare.

Tough stuff

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
Psalm 68:5
So, the crazy neighbors took us on another field trip today. This time, they took us to a local state run orphanage. Abby had been wanting to go there since the day that she found out it was a possibility several months ago. When they mentioned it, I knew we needed to go and I'm so glad we did.
Ryan, Abby, and I had visited orphanages in Ethiopia, so we had an idea of what to expect. But, the bottom line is, they are difficult places to go, especially for a bunch of child lovers like us. This facility was small compared to the ones we went to in ET, but it was still heartbreaking. The physical environment was rough and the standard of care was not something that we would consider acceptable in the States. However, I was reminded by my friend that a roof over their head and a meal now and then is a good thing for these children.
The one positive was that there weren't a lot of children there. They had 7 adopted out last week. That is exciting. From what one of the workers explained to me, the children that they get there come from either abandoned babies that the police bring them or a few from social services. Most all of the children will be adopted, they are just there for a season. That made it a little more palatable.
However, my heart really broke for the 2 children there with disabilities. It is obvious that their future is pretty bleak. One of them has Down's Syndrome and he was just precious. He loved to be held and happily went to all of our children. He did not want to be put down. To the point that when we needed to leave, he wouldn't put his feet down, he kept pulling them up so that I couldn't let go of him. That. was. brutal. From what I understand, his adoption options might be pretty slim.
Here's Isaac with the little guy who loved to be held so much. He was so precious. At one point, I was singing to him and my friend was helping him clap his hands to my song and he was just grinning from ear to ear. He is so special.
By the way, do you see Isaac's hat? It's a gift from the crazy neighbors, they didn't have a mutual affection for the hat so the wife was glad to pass it on. It's red and lime green, who can blame her? Now it's found a new home with Isaac and he wears it all of the time! We call it his Dr. Seuss hat.

The other kiddo, who Ryan fell in love with, was much older. I'd say he was at least 13. He was deaf/mute and I would guess he has cerebral palsy. When Ryan realized he was deaf, he immediately began signing to him. The boy was so excited and they communicated back and forth pretty effectively. The workers there couldn't believe how well the boy could communicate, I guess none of them sign. When we asked what his name was, they told us he was called Lazarus. I couldn't help but pray that he would get a second chance at life, just like his namesake.

Lazarus, happily posing for a photo when Ryan asked if he could take his picture.

Our kids did great, I was so proud of them. The scene was tough and yet they kept smiling, talking to the children, singing, and keeping up a very brave front. Here's Abby, my orphan-burdened girl!

Lily, with baby M. When I asked the workers about each child's name, they would stress the fact that the names were temporary and that they are used for identification purposes only. For some reason, that made me really upset and then I was reminded of Psalm 139 and the fact that even though they may not have a "name" they are not forgotten. God knit them together in their mother's womb and all the days ordained for them were written in the book of life before one of them came to be.

Here's Abe, who really, really wanted to hold the baby. Tonight, when Ryan woke him up to use the potty (we're getting him up in the middle of the night because pull-ups are like $40 for a small pack here- insane!) he told Ryan that he wanted to bring that baby home and take care of her. Nigeria is not a country that welcomes adoption by US citizens, so we think we're safe!

Before we left, the workers allowed us to gather round them and pray for them and for the children. It is our hope that we can go back there on a regular basis and love on those children while building a relationship with the workers as well. We know that orphan ministry cannot be our primary task here, it's not what we've committed to. However, we also know what God's word instructs us about caring for orphans and we know the heart that he's given our family in this area. We feel like this may be something that our family is able to be a part of, not as our job, but as a personal ministry. Please continue to pray for us as we navigate all of the ways that our time and energy could be used in this city. We earnestly want to invest our time, talents, and resources in the way that God would have us to as we serve here.

Monday, February 20, 2012

In Your Wildest Dreams...

You cannot imagine the hospital experience we just had. Well, maybe a few of you can, but it's not like anything I'd ever experienced. Here are just a few things I observed...
  • I never, ever, ever, want to have a true medical emergency here... never, ever!
  • Cleanliness is relative, even in medical facilities.
  • Efficiency is not the goal. At all. Nor is a high standard of patient care.
  • Our entire bill, including seeing the doctor, having an ultrasound, and 3 injections (well, it was supposed to be 3, but since the needle broke off in Ryan's tush it was actually 4) cost about $20. Let me just say, this is one of those cases where you get what you pay for!
  • Nigerians like stamping papers, especially all 3 copies of your triplicate carbon copies. Of which we got several. At least we'll have plenty of receipts to submit.
  • Sometimes, being a white person in West Africa has significant advantages, like heading to the front of the line and getting to see an American doctor.
  • Oh yeah, and I never, ever, ever want to have to go there for a medical emergency (did I mention that already?)
All joking aside, we are very happy that we were able to see someone who attempted to provide us with decent care. The Dr. gave Ryan an injection that is at least managing the pain for now. We are supposed to try and get a kidney x-ray tomorrow, they can't do those at the hospital, but we have the name of the place that can. Oh yeah, and a urologist will be in on Friday, he can read it for us then. Hopefully, we won't need a urologist come Friday. Oh, please pray that he's better by Friday!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Got Carbs?

We do. Lots of them. We're trying to find a balance, but easy proteins are not as readily available or affordable as they were in the States. Especially with peanut/legume allergy issues. Let me just say, I miss my almonds!

At any rate, we're eating lots of carbs. It doesn't help that our house help can take the same 1/2 dozen ingredients and do about 15 different things with them. She doesn't like it when I tell her she doesn't need to bake for us. Last Friday, she insisted that we needed a cake or something for the weekend. I said, "Naomi, we don't need a cake, really, you don't need to bake us anything."

She said, "Okay, I will just make some ice cream." So, Saturday night, we had homemade ice cream for dessert. Thank goodness the ice cream maker only holds enough for one serving each!

Whipping up a batch of English muffins.

Cinnamon rolls for Saturday breakfast, who can pass that up?

Of course, in the interest of scurvy prevention, we're balancing those carbs with some delicious homemade orangeade.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Branching Out

At almost 4 weeks in to this African adventure, we're starting to get the hang of the most basic things. Grocery shopping and meal preparation is not as overwhelming as it was. We're figuring out how to navigate the water/power issues. Ryan is beginning to understand how to procure gasoline for the generator. It's getting more "normal."
Because of that, we tried to push ourselves to get out of our compound a little more this past week. We still are a far cry from where we want to be, but we're taking baby steps and gaining experience and confidence, which is a very good thing. Here are some highlights from these last several days...
Tuesday was Valentine's Day and it was definitely different than any I've had before. We did want to do something with the kids that would make it seem festive. While we were in Canada I had thought to purchase a pack of plates, napkins, and some Valentine candy and sprinkles to sneak into our luggage. I am so glad I did, because they were a big hit with the kids and I couldn't have found anything like it here. We baked cookies on Monday night and then we delivered them to our colleagues and a few friends on Tuesday. The kids enjoyed making a few cards to go with them and it gave us a chance to do something familiar without using too much energy.
Some friends dropped by that evening and gave us a Valentine's gift of real milk, which was a big hit with the kids. Abby could not have been more excited. We've tried all of the milk options here and while the powdered milk and long-life milk are okay for baking and cooking, we really miss real milk for other things. So, a 1/2 gallon of the real stuff was a big treat. We've been able to find it twice now, so it is occasionally available.

Here's Lizzy showing off her cookie.

Happy faces for our Valentine's breakfast. Daddy didn't join us because he was in bed with a tummy ache.
Cinnamon scones for our Valentine's breakfast.
Abby decorated our wall using paper that she colored with a marker. I wouldn't let her into our extremely limited colored paper supply, so she got creative. It added a festive feel to the dining area!

After we finished school on Tuesday, we went out with our "crazy neighbors." They took us to a place which operates a ministry to women and children who are affected by Aids. This particular ministry teaches them to sew or quilt and then provides them a place to sell their goods. They also involve them in fellowship and classes that help them to navigate life. In addition, they have recently started a school for the children and we were able to see that. It was a neat experience. We bought a few items there and we look forward to going back again in the months ahead.
These are the sewing machines that are used by the women.

Here's Lily with one of the boys at the shop. She LOVES the children here. Her favorite adjective when referring to them is "adorable!"
Here's the front door of the workshop/store area

After showing us around there, Mr. Frank, decided to give us a little side roads tour of the city. Along the way, we had our first African car accident. It was minor, involved a little fussing back and forth, an exchange of about six US dollars, and then we were on our way. Oh well, at least I went ahead and met that fear head-on and we were able to see a more seasoned colleague deal with a very real reality of living here. What's one more dent in the old Toyota?

That night, our other neighbors offered to keep the kids so that we could go out to dinner. We went to the nicest restaurant in town and it was... well...shall we say... interesting. The menu was a blend of Chinese, Lebanese, and western all mixed together. I tried a beef dish, not a good idea! But, we at least got a new experience, had some time alone, and the kids got the treat of time at a friend's house.

The next day, we went to another friend's house to swim. The mama of this family runs a brothel ministry here in our city as well as a halfway house for women who decide to break away from that life. This family is in the process of adopting a little girl that they rescued out of the brothel. The story is amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. She is absolutely adorable and I got to cuddle with her the whole evening.

On the day we went to their house, the brothel owner had actually asked them if they could take another baby that she couldn't take care of anymore. So while we were there, another family went and picked the little boy up from the brothel and brought him to the house where we were. Ryan and I were amazed that we got to be a part of all of the excitement (we thought we were going to swim and have dinner), but he and I could not look at each other when they brought the little boy home because we were both about to burst into sobs. He was absolutely beautiful and the thought that he was a cast-off was more than we could bear. We are praying that God will bring them clarity for the best long-term solution for this little guy.

Thursday, after school, we headed off with the crazy neighbors again. This time, they took us about 45 minutes outside of the city to the village where Ryan's language helper lives. Thursday is the market day in that village, so we went to experience the village market and practice our pitiful Hausa vocabulary.

The market consisted of lots of vendors seated on the ground with their wares. A few had makeshift tables, but not many. For the most part, there was a small variety of goods. Lots of onions, peppers, and tomatoes.

Here I am seated on the ground with a group of Muslim women who were selling some sort of yogurty millet from their pots. I was trying to have a conversation with the lady in the black head covering, but mostly she was having to communicate to my friend in the green, just behind me. I'm not sure what all they said, but I'm pretty sure they had some laughs at my expense. I think that's just part of language learning!
These children followed us all over the market. The little girl in the pink shirt was literally at my heels the entire time. I kept greeting her but she would just giggle and stare. A couple of times she said, "Bature Hausa, Bature Hausa!" I think she was basically saying, "Wow! There is a white woman and she is trying to speak Hausa." Ryan's language helper, who is a pastor in this village, told him before we went that many of these children have never seen a white person before. The first 15 minutes were really overwhelming for me, but after that, I was able to relax and take it in a little bit. I'm sure that with time I'll be able to enjoy it more.
This is the church that our friend pastors. There is actually a smaller church inside that structure. They are building a larger church around it as they get money. Then, when the larger structure is ready, they will remove the smaller one inside.
More village shots.

That's a bit about our week. And yes, we do feel like we're living inside the pages of a National Geographic magazine. It's pretty cool... most days!

Monday, February 13, 2012


There have been a number of things we've been pleasantly surprised by since we have arrived in our new home. These include, but are not limited to...
  • Internet, which has worked much better than we anticipated. There are times when it simply will not work, and that's frustrating, but most of the time it works fairly well. It is pre-paid and you are charged by volume, so it is a bit expensive. However, considering there isn't much else that we're tempted to overspend on here, we're willing to spring for the plan that allows us to use it pretty frequently.
  • Meat. While I'll readily admit that I like it pre-packaged in tidy American format, it's been better than I imagined here. I have actually been able to find a good variety of types and it tastes decent. In fact, if I use my handy dandy pressure cooker, we can even chew it too! The meat shop that we go to is simply a room full of chest freezers and above each one is a sign letting you know what type of meat you'll find inside. Every week, I get a little bit braver, so who knows what kind of cuts I'll be tackling by this time next year. However, I'm pretty sure I won't be migrating to the rabbit freezer any time soon. I did attempt making some breakfast sausage this week using ground pork and assorted spices and it went over really well with my crowd.
  • The electricity. It's really bad compared to the US, but it's better than I thought it might be. We have outages every day and there is no way of knowing when they will happen or how long it will be off or on. Most days we don't have power more than we do have it. However, we've gotten at least a few hours every day and that means that the fridge can stay cold and the computers can get charged. We're learning to cope with it and the only time it really makes me crazy is when the laundry gets backed up and it won't come on. Another mom of 5 who has been showing me the ropes a bit told me that when hers gets really bad, she'll leave a bunch of lights on around the house so that when the city power does kick on, she can wake up and start laundry. I haven't gotten that desperate yet, but I have learned to load it up so that if the power comes on while I'm asleep I will at least have one load done before I wake up.
  • Another thing that we're really happy about is the fact that we have been able to receive mail! Before we came, we were told that mail was pretty much a nightmare here and that if you received mail, it would probably not be complete and you would pay a good bit in customs. However, after talking with several folks who are fresh on the field, we've found that they have been able to get mail pretty consistently. The key seems to be padded envelopes. Apparently, boxes rarely make it without being pilfered and then they want to charge you a crazy amount in fees. But, padded envelopes are getting through and it's amazing how much can fit in one of those puppies! So, when Ryan's parents decided that they wanted to get some Valentine's treats through, we suggested the largest padded envelope they could find worked!
    It came to us in only 10 days, we only paid about $3 in customs, the contents were complete, and you have never seen a more excited group of kids. I'll readily costs a small fortune and obviously the possibilities of a padded envelope are limited. But still, knowing that we can get mail somehow makes us seem so much more connected to home. We've been daydreaming about all the things that can fit in a padded envelope.
Several of you have asked about sending us letters and correspondence and it looks like we should be able to get those things pretty consistently. They sometimes take a long time, but our understanding is that they usually make it, eventually. We would welcome any sort of letter or postcard.
Many of you have asked also about sending us packages. Let me just say, we don't need anything. We can find everything that we need to do life here, it's just not everything that we're used to. But, if you're still interested in sending a package, I'll just be really frank and tell you some of that things that we don't need, but we would love to have.
Some of these things would be...
  • Kool-aid mix
  • Cherry Jello
  • Taco seasoning
  • Ranch dressing packets
  • Gum
  • Candy (especially holiday themed stuff)
  • Granola bars
  • Blue Diamond Almonds (this brand is usually peanut-free)
  • Pepperoni (the Hormel can go without refrigeration)
  • Real Bacon Bits
  • Chocolate or cinnamon chips
  • Craft supplies like stickers, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, construction paper or cardstock...anything that can be found in the Walmart craft aisle, we have found nothing like that here.
  • Holiday items like plates, napkins, or novelties
  • AND, if you can shove these items in several layers of ziploc type bags, those would be great too!
Please don't send:
  • Money in any form (trust me, you don't want your check going through our postal service!)
  • Boxes
I don't want to publish our mailing address on the blog because it is also our physical address, but I will include it in our February newsletter, which will come out soon. If you want to be added to our newsletter list OR you would like to get a private message from me with our mailing address, please e-mail us at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Around the Compound

I thought I'd take a minute and share some pictures of our world. To be honest, I only have pictures that I've taken inside of our compound walls. This is true for 2 reasons. First of all, every time we go out, I'm too overwhelmed to take photos. Secondly, we are already extremely out of place just walking down the street here, throw a camera in and we'd really be over the top. I'm hoping that soon we'll get comfortable enough to be able to show you the sights on the other side of our wall. For now, here's a glimpse of our immediate area...

This is one of the many fruit trees that grow in our yard. We have grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, lemons, and avocado. We've been told that there are also mango and guava, but I haven't figured out where they are yet.
The oranges are in season and we made some homemade orangeade this week.

This is our beloved generator. It's what ensures that we are able to keep our fridge cold. We are thankful for Lottie Moon which provides this tool for us.
Those tanks ensure that we have water (as long as we remember to turn the pump on when we have power.) The kids need constant reminders to stay off the water tower.
Everyone keeps apologizing for how ugly everything is since we arrived during the dry season. They keep telling us that we will really love it when rainy season comes and the plants are green and beautiful. But, I'm really not thinking it's ugly. Just look at this flower, one of them many beautiful blooms around the compound.

This was our attempt at fast food (which was anything but fast.) I found a recipe for Chick-fil-a type nuggets and we made some homemade "potato chips." The kids loved them and asked if we could have them every weekend. With what it cost to buy that much white meat and the time it took to produce that meal, the answer was a resounding no. But, they will be great for an occasional treat.

This is a beautiful handmade basket that I bought at the fair trade market, it's about 2 feet tall. It cost me about the same amount of money as 2 chicken breasts (with the bone still on them.) Crazy, huh?
He's hard to see, but on that back wall, there is a blue and orange lizard that I was trying to get a photo of. I was having a hard time focusing on getting a good shot because there were two others in close proximity and I was trying to keep an eye on them too. I did not want one running across my foot. There are lots of little ones, but I've seen at least 3 different ones that are at least as long as my forearm in our yard.
This is the guard shack where our night guard stays while he's at work, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. We were told that he's been guarding our gate for 20 years. He doesn't speak English, so we have limited communication with him at this point, but he is very friendly and helps motivate us to learn Hausa.
This is a close-up of the guard area. I can't imagine how long the nights would be in that little area.

This is a random photo that I took because it struck me as funny the other night when I got out of the shower and looked at the contents of my dresser top. You'll notice that there are 2 alternative light sources (a candle and a flashlight), a can of smell good spray that I used on our borrowed furniture drawers, a LARGE can of Raid, a bottle of melatonin someone here gave me to help aid sleep, and my one "house" thing from America that I put in my suitcase.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


I titled this post "grasshoppers" for two reasons. The first reason is because last Friday, I ate one. A grasshopper that is. Apparently, they're in season. I didn't know that there was a season for grasshoppers, did you? I wish I could say it was delicious, but honestly, I thought it was gross. It was crunchy, and it was very, very spicy. I tried to imagine that it was a barbecue potato chip, but I don't have that vivid of an imagination. Those eyes sort of killed it for me.

The two Bature (white) people on the left are our next-door neighbors. They are the crazy people who are responsible for bringing me grasshoppers. They are relatively fearless in navigating the city and we're learning a lot from them (even if they are lunatics!) The beautiful lady on the end who is laughing at our drama is Naomi, our house helper. As you can probably guess, she's a merry soul and her laughter comes easily.

Here's a close up. I'm guessing your mouth is watering at this point.

Even though "Uncle" Frank was offering naira for the kids to eat one, Isaac was the only one who caved. He wouldn't eat a whole one, but he did eat the legs.

I didn't exactly fly under the radar or eat it like a true sport. I had a big glass of water by my side which I drank down after I'd swallowed the little guy (little is a relative term!) I did however get it down and keep it down, so I'll consider it a win for now.

This is a horrible picture, but it accurately captures my, "I am not going to allow myself to vomit" mindset at the moment.

The second reason why the title "grasshoppers" seemed appropriate is because I've felt a bit like one. I realized that when I went to church on Sunday and some very nice Nigerian pastor spoke on the story of Joshua and Caleb when they went as spies into the land of Canaan. The story talks about how Joshua and Caleb trusted God to give them the land while the other 10 spies were afraid. The Bible says that the spies reported that the people in the land were too big. They reported to the people that they would be like grasshoppers among giants. Immediately I realized that I was struggling with the same feelings. Even though I've seen God do some extraordinary things to get us to this point, I've wondered since we arrived if we could ever really be effective here. Could God really use us? My heavens, we can't even grocery shop or remember all of the greetings to get through the average day, how in the world are we ever going to accomplish anything of eternal significance? But Sunday, the Lord reminded me that just like He brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea, fed them with manna and quail, and performed miracle after miracle, He can use little ol' me, if I'll trust him. And when He does, it won't be because of anything spectacular or special in me, it will be because of who He is and his willingness to let me take part.