Thursday, March 29, 2012

Zoo Trip

Last week, we took a trip to our city's zoo. To say that it was different from an American zoo would be the understatement of the century. Fortunately, we went with that expectation in mind, so we found it quite charming in its own unique way.

The first major difference was when the friend that invited us stopped by the produce stand on the way there so that we could pick up some food for the animals. Say what? Then, at the gate, I paid a grand total of about $4.50 to get myself and my five children into the gate. Almost half of that was the camera fee they charged me for bringing in my camera.

The place had obviously passed it's glory days and the habitats were small, unimpressive, and a little sad. A person who has a big animal heart would probably not like it. But, I've never been overly sensitive in that area, so we were able to enjoy it for what it had to offer.

The interaction with the animals made it very fun. Honestly, you could probably experience something like it in the States through some company like Busch Gardens or SeaWorld, but it would be called "close-up animal encounter" and you'd have to reserve it months ahead of time, sign some waiver of liability, and then pay a fortune for 10 minutes of feeding time. Not us. We just marched in there with our sacks of carrots and bananas and fed away. It was unbelievable.

Abe got the hang of it pretty quick and would have stayed at the first cage until the food was gone, but we kept pushing on.

That primate realized Abe's got nothing left, he's not coming down!

These guys nearly traumatized Lizzy. She tried to feed a carrot to one of them and the other one snatched it away. So, she then put in a second carrot, which was again snatched away. But, Lizzy didn't want that greedy chimpanzee to have it, so she tried to pull it back out and the chimp grabbed her arm and pulled it in. Fortunately, she was able to pull her arm out, but she was shaken up for a few minutes. Needless to say, we were all a bit more cautious from that point on. (And here is where all of you socially conscious, responsible parents are thinking that we never should have let her get that close in the first place. I understand and appreciate your concern, so you don't need to leave me a comment.)

This little guy gladly took a banana from Lily.

These two were funny. They were loud and demanding and we really wanted to give them a token for all of their jumping and yelping, but the gap was just a bit too wide. So, we tried throwing bananas, but kept coming up short. Finally Abby realized that if she just walked up the fence a bit, she could hand it to them. So, she convinced them to follow her up the rocks a bit and ...

they made the hand-off!

We can't wait to go back and take Ryan with us. Of course, then it would cost like $5.25, so, we'll have to budget for that! I've been told that if you want to be a really big spender, you can buy a goat and they'll feed it to the lions while you watch. I don't think that splurge is in our near future!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Love in the Details

I’ve said over and over and over and over during this whole process that I have been totally amazed by how personal God has been to me. I look back on every detail and I just see God’s love woven through both the big and the little things. We had one of those “in the details” moments last week.

We have 2 children who have excema. Their skin is really dry and needs lots of moisturizers. We put 100 tubes of cream on the crate for them. But the crate’s not here yet. And the tubes we brought on the plane are gone. We underestimated the “dry” in dry season.

In the 9 years we’ve been dealing with this, we have tried a gazillion creams. Cheap ones, expensive ones, prescription steroids and compounds, petroleum jelly, crisco, mayonnaise, coconut oil, and a variety of other quacky suggestions. But, the last 18 months, we’ve been using a moisturizer made by Avon. We never would have thought to try it, but a friend insisted and it has been the best we’ve found.

So, here we are in West Africa with nothing left except a few tubes that we’ve cut open so that we can dig out what’s stuck in the corners. We weren’t sure what we should do. We decided we’d just see what was available locally and we’d have to make it work until we could get our crate here.

Imagine our surprise when we went to the local store to look for some alternative and there on the shelf between the Jergens and the unfamiiar local brands we should find 6 tubes of OUR Avon cream. Can you believe it? Ryan and I stood right there in that aisle and cried. About the time we dried it up, Isaac came around the corner, gasped in unbelief, and we cried again. Then, we headed home to where the girls were and they pulled them out of the bag and shrieked with joy and I teared up again. Personal, that’s my God!

Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:7

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beyond the Wall

Right now we're in this stage of our process where we are formally "language learners." For the first year that we're here, our main responsibility is just to learn the Hausa language. Everyone who goes out with our agency is required to learn language. Their past experience has shown them that the type of work we do is significantly more effective when our people learn the local language. Even for folks that speak good English, they tend to talk about heart issues in their heart language. It was explained to me that when people are broken, when they pray, when they wrestle with the deep things of life, they don't tend to think their national language, they use their heart language.

Our situation is unique because language here is different than what many of our friends are facing. The good thing is, many, many people in our city speak English. The schools operate in English, the street signs are in English, the national language is English. So, I can walk out my gate and go complete any errand I want to complete in English. In fact, I sometimes have trouble finding people who will speak Hausa with me. We both now that we can communicate so much faster in English. Plus, some people here don't speak Hausa, they speak other languages. Many of them want to practice with their English instead of the other way around.

Many people here have told us that we don't need to learn the language. Even Nigerians here have said that we will not need it to do the job we've come here to do. Ryan's main task will be running the logistics and support end of things, so he will spend many days in his office or working with our American personnel. Other ex-pats have told us that we won't ever use it if we do learn it. And it is hard. Language learning is hard. So, all of this is really discouraging.

We're tempted to quit, to make excuses, to throw in the towel. Until we venture out of our comfortable little compound or our comfortable little ex-pat circle. When we go beyond the wall and walk in the areas where the white folks rarely go, even if it's just for 30 minutes, we see the motivation for learning the language. Because, just beyond the wall of our compound, there are streets filled with people who don't need for us to learn the language if we simply want to purchase tomatoes from them. But, if we want to share the Living Water, that's a different story. When we use our pitiful handful of phrases and we see them light up, it's worth it. When we are able to greet the folks who are older than us, folks who are inching toward eternity, and they have little or no English, we find motivation. When the throngs of small children follow us pointing and shouting, "Bature! Bature!" and I'm able to smile and ask them "How is mama?" and they giggle, I am ready to run home to my voice recorder and flash cards and chip away at a few more phrases.

We call them our "language walks," but maybe we should call them our "motivation walks?"

Photos taken over the top of our wall, in the area where we take our language walks.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Yard Sales

I was not a fan of yard sales in the States. I wanted to be. I really did. But, whenever I tried, I came home tired from getting up at dawn and I either had a bunch of stuff I didn't need or nothing at all. I really admire people whose entire house is furnished with stuff they collected at yard sales. I think it's amazing. But, it's not me.

Enter January 23, 2012. The day I landed in Nigeria. That'll change your attitude folks. I went from being a "No, thank you, I'll wait until I can buy it new," kinda gal to a "Hey, what are you gonna do with that?" kinda gal.

It didn't happen overnight. It took about 3 full weeks of shopping at all of the "best stores" in town for me to realize how narrow and expensive my options were. Realizing that you're going to pay $10 for a box of ziplocs IF you can find them, will motivate you to treat them with kid gloves. My kids used to complain about washing the dishes, but they really hate washing the ziplocs!

I should have figured it out a couple of days in when a colleague brought me a few boxes of goodies that another colleague had left for us after a recent move to different country. In that box were about a 1/2 dozen used Food Lion egg cartons that had obviously been around the block a few times. I thought it was odd that this sweet lady would leave me a stack of old dirty egg cartons, but so as not to be rude, I stuck them on the shelf. It wasn't until Ryan went out for eggs the first time that I realized I needed to guard those puppies with my life!

We go through TONS of eggs here. When you're baking all of your bread, granola bars, snacks, and muffins from scratch, you use some eggs. When you're looking for inexpensive protein sources, you go through even more eggs. So, the first time Ryan brought back my order of 60 eggs and he came home with a black bag full of eggs, I had a light bulb moment. I needed those egg cartons!

Wait a minute, I'm supposed to be talking about yard sales. About 3 weeks into our time here, we went to our first yard sale. A family on the next compound is preparing to move back to the States and so they were selling lots of goodies. We headed over there and found all sorts of treasures. We laughed like crazy when we got them home and realized that NEVER, just 4 short weeks earlier, would we have found value in those items.

My favorite score was a jumbo canister of taco seasoning...unopened! We also bought a baggie full of bandaids, gauze, and first aid goodies, several pieces of Tupperware including a pitcher that we have already used the heck out of, and a special popcorn popping pot with a crank. I can't tell you how many times in the past month we've used that baby. I even had one week where I wondered how many times in a week you could call popcorn and fruit a meal before it bordered on child abuse. What can I say, it's a daily learning curve here!

A few days later, we had some friends to dinner and they chuckled when we poured our drinks out of the "new" pitcher. They noticed that both the lid and the base had the previous owner's name sharpied on it and they thought it was quite funny. In my former life, that would have bothered me, but I was so excited to have the pitcher that I laughed right along.

Last week, I had the opportunity to go to another yard sale. This time, it was at the crazy neighbor's house and she'd asked Abby and I to help them. I was happy to help and what a cultural lesson it turned out to be. First of all, you have never bargained until you've bargained with a Nigerian. I heard all about how I should reduce the price because it was for their child, they are my brother in Christ, they have great need, etc., etc. It was crazy. I tried hard to just take the money and let the neighbors do the bargaining, but it didn't always work.

It also amazed me how they were buying things that they were unfamiliar with, just because they come from America. One lady paid me for a pastry blender and as she was walking away, she turned around and asked me what it was for. What?!?

But the thing that made it really interesting is that, unbeknownst to us, there was some sort of election or something taking place near our home. So, there were tons of military and police vehicles in front of our compound. The road was closed and people who wanted to come had to park and walk. But don't worry, there was no shortage of customers. Because the military and the police were happy to patronize the sale. I have no idea who was manning the tanks, but we had lots of folks inside our wall. At one point I counted 4 different uniforms and 22 guns sorting through my neighbor's shelves of books, DVDs, pharmaceuticals, and household goods. Abby and I just kept looking at each other and laughing. I told my neighbor, "Oh, I am so going to blog about this, it totally confirms that you are crazy!"

Isaac was enamored with one of the soldier's black, beret style hat and he told him as much. I suppose the soldier thought that made us family friends, because he then told me that I should let him marry my daughter. I explained that she was too young and that she would cost him way too many cows. He just laughed. Fortunately we've been warned multiple times to expect this and to turn it into a joke. It worked well!

I racked up at that yard sale myself as well ending up with 3 rolls of paper towels, a giant roll of aluminum foil, kool-aid, spices, index cards, and several other goodies! I guess I'm officially a yard-saler!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Duds

One of the things that I’ve been adjusting to is the wardrobe changes that have come with my new life. Part of the expectation here is that I wear a skirt all of the time. When I go to lots of places like the market, a village, or to a church, I also need to wear a head-covering. I brought some skirts with me, but they are definitely not “Nigerian” skirts. To compound that, I didn’t have any head coverings, so I’ve been wearing an assortment of bandanas in my head. That’ll make you feel pretty on a Sunday morning. So, I was excited to have some clothes made that were “normal.”

Of course, this is no simple task. First, we had to go to the market and buy the cloth. They sell it in 6 yard cuts, which is the amount that you are supposed to have to make your skirt, matching shirt, and head-tie. There were so, so, so many options. In the small area that we walked, we saw at least 25 fabric vendors. Like everything in the market, it’s not as simple as seeing it, liking it, buying it. You must ask the price, insist that it is too much, banter back and forth, and then finally either settle on it or walk away. We were exhausted when we finished that adventure.

Next, we had to find a tailor. Actually, everyone recommended that we find several tailors. Apparently, it’s best not to put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to having clothes made. There are 100s of tailors here. Many of them are talented and brilliant. Others, not so much. The trick is finding one that you like. We started with 3 different tailors. The first one I found by asking someone who had on an outfit that I really liked if she would give me the name of her tailor. She was kind enough to take me to her tailor’s “shop.”

I wish you could have seen it. Really, you can not imagine. It was one of my many, “Oh my word, I live in Africa.” moments. We walked through a series of dirt alleys in the middle of our city to her shop. It was no larger than an average American powder room. It consisted of a foot-pedaled sewing machine, some stacks of fabric from current orders, and a pile of “fashion magazines” that you can flip through for ideas.

I went through a magazine and picked some pictures I liked. Then, she sketched a rough drawing of my order. This skirt, these sleeves, a neckline like this., etc. She took a few measurements, laid my fabric in a pile on the mud floor, and then I paid her 1/2 of her fee. There was no pattern, no fitting room, that was it.

10 days later, I went back and picked it up. Actually, I ordered 2 pieces from that tailor. One of them turned out great. The other, not so much. I’ll be taking it back for some alterations. But, I was thrilled to finally have something to wear to church that didn’t involve a handkerchief on my head!

Headed to church last Sunday. The girls actually have their own Nigerian dresses now too and I'll try to get pictures soon!

What a Treat!

Last week we got our first non-grandparent package. I'm not sure why that is so darn humbling to me, but it is. The fact that people would spend their time and money to send us things that must seem so trivial overwhelms me. It also blesses me to know that people care and that while I'm over here struggling through all of the newness and the culture shock and the daily demands of basic living, people back home are remembering us and seeking ways to encourage us. And obviously, from the pictures, you can see that we were one encouraged bunch!

Grins before we dig too far in.

Wow! Easter marshmallows! They decided that they wanted me to put them up and save them for the week of Easter so that they could have something festive. We also got 2 bags of lifesaver Easter gummies and they ate one and had me hide the other one until Easter week. This morning, the 2 older girls had taken Abe outside and he had some of the gummies. He dropped one on the ground and they couldn't stand to see it wasted, so they decided to split it, dirt and all! According to their story, they then looked at each other and said, "We never would have eaten a gummy of the ground back home and we're splitting one from the dirt? What's happening to us?" Then they came running inside laughing at one another to tell me what they'd done.

The Peeps, however, did not get saved. They disappeared in about 12 hours. The napkins, I have been ordered to save until Abby's birthday in June. We'll see if they make it that long.

A big thanks to the McNeill family for such a special and heartfelt package. We could tell that it came with lots of thought and love. And Sarah, I really enjoyed those pretzel M&Ms! It pays to have an office partner who remembers your cubicle snacking habits!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A New Take on Fun

One of the things that we've been most overwhelmed with here is how "small and simple" our world has become (it's become really complicated in some ways too, but that's a different post!) We knew in our heads that it would be this way, but living in the reality of it has been harder than we expected. It used to be that we had all sorts of options for outings and adventures. Museums, special events, camping trips, birthday parties, parks, Chik-fil-a playgrounds, Target snack name it, it was available to us. Often, we were stressed out by too many options.

That's not the case here. At. all. Our city doesn't have many options for "down time" activities. We have not eaten at a restaurant as a family since we left London. There are no malls, parks, or get away options. There are a few hotels that will allow you to pay for a day of swimming, which we may try soon. But, the fact that we would pay about $50 for our family to swim in a pool that has a reputation of being 1/2 full and questionably clean has prevented that action thus far.

So, we're learning a new normal. We're looking for other ways to find fun and we're trying to build relationships with other people, though it is slow-going. It's obvious that folks who've gone before us have used lots of ingenuity to create memorable activities. We got to take part in one of those fun, festive things a couple of Saturdays ago. The school here that many of the TCKs in our city attend recently had their spring carnival and we decided to take the kids and check it out. They had a lot of fun.

Ryan and I decided that one of the reasons it was so fun is because safety standards are nearly non-existant here. Since Ryan served as a children's pastor in our last life and he's been a part of building several playgrounds, we've learned that US safety standards are really, really strict, to the point that it's hard to have any fun sometimes! Sheesh, the last playground he worked on they didn't even put swings because the rules for swings and clearance and inches of padding underneath, etc. are too hard to meet.

That's not the case here. If you can dream it up...go for it! I have to admit though, when Ryan agreed that our 2 oldest girls could ride the zipline, I had my doubts!

Here is the platform to zipline off of, they climbed an extension ladder to get up there.

Abby climbed up first, since she was the oldest.
But then they decided that Abby's harness needed some adjustments, so they sent Lizzy down first.
Then it was Abby's turn!

Coming in for a landing!

The other favorite of the day was this slide. I know that from here it looks like an ordinary playground slide...

But actually, it's been rigged up with a water hose at the top and a water box at the bottom to create the ultimate carnival experience! I just love this photo, because it totally captures Abe's approach to life, "If you're going to do it, do it with gusto!"

Lily was hesitant at first, but after watching Abe a few times while standing in the hot sun, she decided to go for it! Then when she found out that if she did it 3 times, she got the 4th ride free, she was burning through her tickets!
Take that, Water Country USA! We didn't even have to wear swimsuits, or read warning signs before climbing on!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Opportunity

Sunday, we walked home from church and by the time we came through our gate, I was ready to rest. I was on total sensory overload and my head was swimming from drinking a warm Coke on an empty stomach while visiting with the pastor. I had one thing on my mind... lunch! When we came in, I immediately noticed our night guard standing at the gate. It was the middle of the day, so I was surprised to see him.
Right away, I could tell that something was wrong, he didn't have his normal sweet smile and I sensed that he was in pain. I knew that he had hurt his arm a couple of weeks ago and Ryan and I had been worried that he didn't have it treated properly. But, with his limited English and our limited Hausa, we couldn't ever get to the bottom of it.
G, our guard had come to tell us that he had been to a traditional bone setter that morning and he needed to have 3 days off of work. He also asked for some ice. Immediately, I insisted that we find out more about what had been done and we were able to determine that they had actually made an incision in his arm so that they could see the bone, and then two men had pulled in opposite directions to reset the 2 week old injury.
I insisted to Ryan that I wanted him to have ibuprofen and that he needed to drive him to a pharmacy and buy him an antibiotic because I didn't want this sweet man getting seriously ill from an infection. So, Ryan, Abby, and our neighbor, who speaks a good bit of Hausa, set off for the pharmacy. At the pharmacy, they were able to get the pharmacist to talk to him and determine that no x-ray had been done at any point, so they then took him to the imaging center to have that done. Bless his heart, he just sort of went along for the ride and according to Ryan his only concern was that someone would make him take the gauze off his incision, because it hurt so badly.
After they got all of that taken care of, he allowed them to take him home. According to Ryan, they headed through an area of town that we were familiar with and then kept on winding further and further from our beaten path into a distinctively Muslim area. Ryan said that at one point, the walls and building were so close to the sides of the vehicle that he could have almost reached out and touched the mosque.
When they arrived at his home, he invited them in, which Ryan considers a great honor. Abby tells me that the room that our guard, his 2 wives, and his 7 children live in is tiny- maybe the size of my bedroom. She said there were about 30 people pressing in to see the Batures who had come. They only stayed for a few minutes, but they were very excited to have the opportunity to show the love of Christ to this man. Our family has been praying that he would come to know Christ in a personal way. Every night, when I hear the call to prayer and I look out my window and see him drop to his prayer mat, I pray that he will know the freedom that can only be found in Christ. When you think of him, please pray for our friend, G.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hausa Church

This weekend, we went to our first service at a Hausa speaking church. Our first couple of weeks, we went to church at the local Christian school where most of the kids from the States go to school. We wanted to meet some of the other ex-pat families so that our kids could begin to make friends. After two Sundays there, we decided to begin attending a Hausa church. We had been trying to get there for the past 3 Sundays, but we had two weeks of illness and then the bombing. Finally, on our 6th Sunday in the country, we made it!

We had learned a lot at training about what to expect and for the most part, we were prepared. We had been warned that many of the services would last 3-4 hours. We were pleasantly surprised that the services at this church typically only last about 90 minutes to 2 hours. Now, that may sound awful to you. But, when you’re wrangling 5 kids, you can’t understand the language, and everyone is watching you, that’s long enough.

We had a great experience and we’re excited to go back again. I thought I’d try to share a few highlights with you, though I’m sure I won’t do it justice. First of all, when we entered, the women were seated in one section and the men went to another. The seating consisted of plastic chairs for the main congregation facing forward, but the choirs, musicians, and platform people were seated on wooden benches facing the center. The building was basic with one big room made of cinder block walls, a concrete floor, and a tin roof. I’d say there were between 150-200 people there.

We had never met the pastor, but he knew the crazy neighbor who took us and I guess that was enough to gain merit in his eyes, because he called on Ryan to pray 2 different times during the service. The first time, he called Ryan and I both up to the front so that Ryan could pray over a couple that will be married this Saturday. Then, he called him up to pray again after the invitation.

Because they don’t have bulletins or power points, there were lots of announcements and business which was dealt with orally, which I did not understand at all. Fortunately, my friend gave me tidbits of what was happening throughout the service.

Probably the most interesting part for me was the offering. The offering is taken up by groups according to where you live. We were told from the pulpit, during the welcome, that we were to go with the last group which includes the pastor, missionaries, visitors, and the children. Each group danced to the front, put their offering in the bowl, and then danced back to their seats. It was really neat to see. It was especially neat for us because we were surrounded by children as we walked to the front, which is exactly the crowd we love to hang with. There were dozens of children dancing up the aisles around us and it was a very surreal, “Oh my word, I really live in Africa!” moment.

The choir specials were also pretty cool. This week the women’s and the youth choir sang. One cool thing for us was that the solo part for the women’t choir was sung by our house helper, Naomi. I’d been trying to find her among the rows and rows of colorful head ties and just when I decided she must be missing for some reason, I hear this woman take off with the lead on the choir special and I realized it was her. The kids thought that was neat too.

After the service, we were called to the pastor’s office where we were served minerals. It is the custom here to serve minerals as a sign of hospitality. In case you’re wondering, minerals are what they call soda here and the best part is, they come in glass bottles! The kids were not excited about going to the pastor’s office, until they started handing out bottles of Coke and Fanta!

The whole experience was very humbling. One thing that continues to amaze me is that we are esteemed simply because of the color of our skin. People use terms of respect and give us privileges simply because we’re white Americans. I find it quite bothersome and it brings with it a heavy sense of responsibility.

Monday, March 5, 2012

10 years old!

Today we celebrated Isaac's 10th birthday. It's hard to believe that my 10 pound, 6 ounce baby boy is a decade old! He is such a delight and we're very proud of the young man he is becoming.

Isaac decided that he wanted to have pizza for dinner and a cookie cake for dessert, which were relatively easy requests to fill. My helper made the pizza dough up before she left and grated the cheese. I'd made a big batch of pizza sauce a few weeks ago and I froze it in individual servings in a ziploc, so it is ready in a flash. We just had a family dinner and then we planned to watch a movie, but our generator has been uncooperative, so we clustered around a laptop.

Nana had thoughtfully sent a pack of plates and napkins featuring Lego Star Wars, when she sent his birthday gift, which brought great delight. It's a good thing she did, because I haven't found anything like that here, even though I did go to a "party store." It was basically a small shop with 3 shelves of trinkets like you would put in a pinata. It made the Dollar Tree party aisle look like a boutique. One more thing to love about West Africa!

To really improve upon the day, we had power for almost 9 hours, which is one of the longest stretches since we arrived here. That may not seem like a big deal, but that meant that we were able to print decorations from the computer, I was able to use my hand mixer to prepare the cake and icing, and the sodas were actually cold because the fridge had been running all day!

The girls wanted to make dinner special, so they pulled out some Star Wars Legos and toys, used some stickers, printed out a few things they found on the computer and made things party-ish. It was nothing fancy, but he felt special and had a fun time.
Here's the birthday boy drinking his bottle of soda, which his sisters had re-labeled with a printed "Yoda Soda" label. The kids look forward to drinking soda here for special occassions. Here, they are called "minerals." They come in glass bottles and the price is about 40 cents per bottle. You keep the bottles in a pallet and then exchange them when they're empty.
That's a can of Pringles at the end of the table, which has been re-labeled also to look like R2-D2. Pringles is one of the only American type snack-foods that is readily available here at a relatively affordable price.

Happy Birthday Isaac!