Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trunk or Treat

Whew, what a day!  This morning I spent going through the motions of a normal day while inwardly I was rehearsing Hausa phrases in my head alternated with prayers that I could remember and hear my Hausa when evaluation time rolled around.  Since it is October 31st my morning went quickly.  I had plenty of distrations with making “ghost” pancakes for breakfast and prepping jack-o-lantern quesadillas for daddy to serve at lunch.  It also helped that we got two packages mid-morning that added some fun to a tense morning.

At 12:30 I headed off for my 2nd language evaluation, which ended up being far less painful than my first one.  I am so, so glad that it is over and I’m looking forward to taking a few weeks for focusing on my family and some R&R before hitting Hausa hard again. 

I came home, took a deep breath and put my mom hat back on to prep the kids for an evening of trunk or treating.  I got to work together with three other ex-pat moms to help host a fun time for the kids.  It was great because we each took a small part of the responsibility and it wasn’t overwhelming for any of us.  Each family that came decorated their own trunk and provided some sort of game or activity to go with it.  We finished it all off with a hot dog picnic dinner.  It was a great time.

Tonight was one of those times when I was reminded how things are so different and yet so the same with our life here.  For example, the treats consisted of things like homemade granola bars, homemade donut holes, homemade cookies, and a few store-bought lollipops.  One of the ladies handed out Koolaid packets, which my kids were excited about.  I have no idea how she got them!  Can you imagine eating homemade goodies in the States?  Me either, but I can tell you, the kids are begging me to get that donut hole recipe!  

Another thing I continue to be amazed at is the diversity in the ex-pat families here.  Out of the 30 trunk or treaters we had there tonight, I know for sure there were representatives from Canada, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, America, Australia, Denmark, and Switzerland.  That still amazes me.  

Even planning the hot dog meal was different.  One gal volunteered that her house helper made good potato chips, so she took that task.  Her helper spent 6 hours yesterday making our potato chips, which were a big hit.  With Lays running $5 for a small bag, WHEN you can find them, they were a treat!    Another gal knew a bakery in town that actually makes hot dog sized buns, so she volunteered to order those.  The third gal agreed to do the topping bar and was tickled when one of the other gals offered a can of her American jalepenos to add to it.  I got tickled watching everyone go through the line and say things like, “Are these pickles, where did you find these?”  or “Oh my, jalepenos, who found jalepenos?”  I’m telling you folks, it’s a different world!

Anyway, it was a fun time and a great experience.  I’ll leave you with some pictures of our evening. 

 Here is Abe, the pirate.

Here is the whole Campbell crew.  We had a hippy, Nancy Drew, a scarecrow, a colonial girl, and a pirate.

Could there be a more handsome scarecrow?

My kid's loved this van!  It was the Mystery Machine complete with Daphne, Velma, Fred, Shaggy, and Scooby.

At this game the kids had to feed the pumpkins by throwing balls into the mouths.  When they made it, they were awarded with a bag of pumpkin poop (which looked and tasted a little like cheese balls.)  Speaking of cheese balls, I have a funny memory when I think of Nigerian cheese balls.  When we had been here just a few weeks and I was struggling with figuring out food and groceries, etc., we were invited to eat dinner at the home of another family.  The kids all had these individual sized bags of cheeseballs.  I noticed because they were an individually wrapped convenience food type of salty treat, something that is not commonly found here.  So, I asked the hostess where she found them.  She explained that they were readily available in bags of 100 bags and that they were very cheap.  I asked her if they were good and I don't think I'll ever forget her response which was, "The longer you're here the better they taste."  That seemed like an odd response, but I smiled and decided that I would just try one.  I couldn't make myself finish the bag, they tasted like styrofoam.  Fast forward 9 months, I now love those puppies.  I can't even remember what real Cheetos taste like, but at this point I'm all for cheesy flavored styrofoam!

Here are Ms. Laura and Ms. Ashley, two Hippie chicks who came and volunteered to help us serve drinks to the masses.  So thankful for these gals who are currently two of my children's favorite people and who do kind things like bring me American candy the night before my language evaluation.  They are great neighbors and great friends!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

You People Have NO Idea

Really, you have no idea what a package can do for our morale.  We can not say thank you enough to those of you who have love on us in this way!  These pictures were taken on a day when we received a very timely package.  It came from a good friend of mine from our BSU college days.  She and her husband are now on staff at a church that has agreed to be prayer partners with us.  We’ve never been to the church, but I’ve been Facebook friended by several folks in the congregation and we have been so overwhelmed by their love and encouragement for us through e-mail and FB.  

My friend decided that this year she was going to send each of our children a package for their birthday.  She was late sending Lizzy’s and early sending Abe’s and since their birthdays are just a few weeks apart, they both came on the same day.  She was concerned that they were late, but I am confident they were right on time.

Anyway, the day these packages came, Lizzy had a really rough morning.  She had cried and cried because she didn’t have any clothes that she felt pretty wearing.  Everything in her closet seemed old and worn out or just plain ugly to her.  I’m not sure that was exactly the reality, but she was perceiving it that way.  On top of that, she was disappointed because she had hoped to get flip flops in her birthday packages and none came.   And honestly, that sort of pouting and feeling sorry for herself is not her normal mode of operation.  So, we were feeling bad for her.  Ryan and I assured here that when we went to Kenya, we would look for some new clothing items for her.  We managed to get her into some clothes and talk her down off the ledge a bit.

(Let me just take a moment to say here in Lizzy’s defense that I had no idea how much I would miss shopping.  There is something about new sandals each spring and a couple of fresh t-shirts each summer that do something to boost a girl’s morale.  That has always been the rhythym of my life.  I miss it.  My kids miss it.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it’s just having a few new things is nice.  Right or wrong, we’ve missed Target, Walmart, and Old Navy.)

So on this day, Lizzy felt a bit forlorn.  She felt ugly and discouraged.  And then the package came and in it were 2 pairs of flip flops.  NEW flip flops.  She was so excited.  She’d finally settled on a pink t-shirt that morning and one of those pairs of flip flops matched it perfectly.  There was also a bracelet that she loved which coordinated as well.  The rest of the day she wore an enormous grin (with her flip-flops and bracelet.)  She fully recognized that God cared about the details of her life and the desires of her heart. 

I am so thankful that we serve a God who loves us and desires to encourage us.  I am also very thankful for a “late” birthday package that came right on time!

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!"  Luke 12:27-28

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Celebrating 5!

Earlier this month we celebrated Abe’s 5th birthday.  He’s generally an easy kid to please and his birthday was no exception.  On his actual birthday, his dinner request was fried chicken and mashed potatos, which he got.  As I was frying chicken that evening, I was tempted to lament over how long it was taking.  Then I remembered that all he wanted for his birthday breakfast was a bowl of Cheerios with milk (which we were also able to get) and I decided not to complain about his dinner request.

All of my children had been allowed to have a “friend” party by their 4th birthday, except Abe.  My mommy guilt meter told me that this year needed to be the one.  He wanted to invite 2 friends for his party.  One lives within walking distance.  The other lives 4.5 hours away.  Fortunately, the second one’s parents were ready for a break from their city and both guests were able to come. 

We did an ocean theme, simply because on our trip to the capitol city a month earlier, we’d had about 3 boy themed choices of plates and he chose some ocean creature ones.  I knew I could probably easily pull off an ocean party without a Target or a Michaels, so we went with it.  It worked out well and I think he had a great time.  The kids made oceans in a bottle, played sharks and minnows, and had a treasure hunt that took them all over the compound.

The only thing I wasn’t able to deliver on was his continual request for a light saber for his birthday.  I thought I had it in the bag.  I found a volunteer team coming into the country who was willing to carry it in and I just knew I was going to have one happy little boy.  But then, the pesky Boko Haram began causing trouble in the area the team was set to go to and they had to delay their trip.  So, the light saber is in some church office in TN and we’re hopeful that the team will get to come in November.  Which means I’m not behind on birthday gifts, I’m just ahead on Christmas gifts, right?  Thankfully, Ryan and I had filled a footlocker full of gifts on the crate to be used for various “somedays,” so he still had some goodies to unwrap.  

It ended up that quite a few our our mission personnel were in town that weekend for a variety of reasons, so Abe had lots of mission family to celebrate with him too.  That’s one thing that we continue to love and adjust to, the extended family of our mission family.  Our kids have enjoyed having all of their mission “aunts and uncles” lavish them with love on their birthdays through text messages, gifts, and birthday cards with ice cream money tucked inside.

All in all, he seemed very happy with his birthday festivities.  We’re very proud and thankful to be parents of such a fun-loving little guy!  

 The three middle kids created a birthday banner for Abe.  This was their workshop sign.  What can I say, I won't win any teacher of the year awards for spelling, but I have some loving kiddos!

Here is Abe in front of his birthday banner.

 We made balloon fish and jelly fish to set the underwater scene for our carport where we had our party.

Here's my shark melon masterpiece.  We just did simple cupcakes, but we had fancy fruit!

 The birthday boy with his candle and cupcakes.

I'm not sure who is more excited at this moment, the gift giver or the gift recipient?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rookie Wedding

This past weekend we went to or first Nigerian wedding.  It was the wedding of a young lady whose family has been involved with Baptist missionaries her entire life.   We were honored that we were invited and had the privilege to go and celebrate with them.  It was a great learning experience and helped to broaden my very limited understanding of Nigerian culture a little bit.  I thought I'd share a little bit about our experience and my basic perspective on it.

When we arrived, I was a bit stressed because it was about 10:10. The invitation and the reminder text that we had gotten told us that the wedding would start at 10:00 "sharp."   When we parked I was determined to make a beeline inside so that we would not be any later than necessary.  However, I had forgotten that I was in Africa where everything is about relationship and conversation, not the time on the clock.  Fortunately, Martha stopped us before we could get away from the vehicle and welcomed me back to that reality.  She took time to pin feathers on Baba and I before we entered the church to decorate our clothing.  Then in typical Nigerian fashion, she told Baba to "snap us."  I wish you could see sweet baby Joel on her back.

This is the bridal party entering the church.  Do you see the empty chairs?  What was I thinking? We weren't late!  Heavens no, we saw several of the bride's family arrive after us.   Within an hour all of the seats were filled and then some.

The actual ceremony took a little over 2 hours.  It contained nearly all of the elements you would expect in an American wedding, plus a bunch more.  There were 3 choirs that sang, but not any soloists.  I have yet to see a soloist in Nigeria.  Sometimes people will sing a solo as part of a whole choir piece, but full on solos don't seem to happen here.  I guess it's a communal culture, even when it comes to special music!  There was also a sermon that was at least 40 minutes long.  I think there were 5 different officiating pastors.  The actual signing of the marriage certificate took place during the offering.  Why yes, there was an offering, which I have been told is typical of any wedding here.

The bride was beautiful and for much of the ceremony they both appeared very solemn.  I have to say that seems to often be true of my Nigerian friends.  As I explained to someone, their default facial expression isn't usually a smile.  It took me a while to get used to the hard facial expressions that are the norm here.  What I've found though is that a basic greeting or attempt to engage folks usually brings a ready smile and a kind exchange.

On a funny note, near the end of the ceremony, just before the reception, the pastor was giving some closing announcements.  We were sitting in an area with a few other ex-pats from various organizations.   We happened to know the pastor and so he said something like, "We'd like to great Reverend Ryan and his family and all of the other (pregnant pause), um, whites that came with you today."  I had to try really hard not to laugh.  My "white" is so very much a part of my life here, but I didn't expect the pastor to point it out so effectively.

The wedding colors were maroon and cream and sky blue and yellow.  I don't exactly understand it all, but I figured out enough to know that the groom's family was dressed primarily in the blue and yellow and the bride's family was maroon and cream.  Hence our outfits below...
This was the uniform fabric for the bride's friends.  The colors are included on the invite so that you know what to wear, but you also have the option of purchasing the uniform fabric and having an outfit made.  Since this was our first wedding here, the other girls who live on our compound and I decided to go all out Nigerian.  We had outfits made and even went to the market and got the formal head wraps done.  That alone was an adventure!  Our Nigerian friends LOVED that we made that effort.  We got so many compliments and comments.  It seems to make many of our friends feel like we value them when we make little efforts like this.  

Here are Ryan and I at the reception beside the church.  As you can see, he's got his fancy feather decoration pinned to his chest.
Another thing that I thought was interesting was that in the program, there was a list of all of the photos that would be taken after the ceremony.  It was a long list of thing like, "Bride, Groom, and classmates,"   or in the case of this photo, "Bride, Groom, and Baptist Mission."

Here is part of the bridal party as they were dancing into the reception area.  Man alive, these people like to dance.  I'm convinced that Nigerian women are born with a back muscle that I do not have.  It's amazing how they can move! 

When I was first beginning my Hausa lessons, I spent some time trying to learn some basic introductory questions that I would need to know when meeting folks.  After we'd finished the typical list, I asked my helper if there was anything else that would be culturally appropriate for me to ask.  She thought for a moment and then said, "Oh yes!  You need to ask, "Menene yarinki?"  When I inquired about the meaning of this phrase, she informed me that I would be asking which tribe they were from.  I think this is so interesting because for everyday work and life, I can't tell that there is a distinction and yet it is very important to my Nigerian friends.  If their parents are from a certain place, that is their home, even if they have never lived there.  

I definitely saw that reflected in the wedding planning and conversations.  These folks are Yoruba and they wanted me to know that this wedding would be a Yoruba wedding.  So, I guess maybe when I go to a different tribal wedding I'll understand how traditions vary.  The one thing my fellow ex-pats could tell me about a Yoruba wedding was that it would be long.  And I believe it, we left 4.5 hours in and they were just about to cut the cake.  At that point they were starting to pass out the second round of food and we were too tired to partake.  We are thankful we got the experience!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We're Alive Over Here!

I haven't been posting.  I wish I could blame the internet, but I would be lying.  It has actually been pretty decent the last few weeks.  I just haven't had it in me.  I've been trying to be self-disciplined with my language study and I'm going to be honest and tell you that I really hate it.  So, by the time I accomplish what needs to be done to keep our family up and running, then do what I need to do to make any progress in language, the last thing I want to do before I collapse into bed is try to make sense of it all in some sort of written form.

But this week, I've sort have had that blogging itch again.   I think maybe it's because I feel like everything else is spinning out of control and so I can go and blog in my happy place where everything is nice and orderly.  Now, before any of you panic, my reference to "spinning out of control" has nothing to do with anything serious or eternal.  My marriage isn't falling apart, my kids aren't terminally ill, and we're not hunkered down with security issues.  It's more the normal, every day spinning out of control.  You know, the electricity current hasn't been high enough to run the dryer or for that matter the fridge most of the week.  This means our house looks like Sanford and Son again with clothing in various stages of the laundry process.  We have a language evaluation next week that's looming large.  Ryan's had to make 2 runs to the embassy in Abuja in the last few weeks to renew Abby's passport so that we can go on vacation in a few weeks.

Yes, I said, VACATION.  Ask me if I'm going to be excited to board an airplane and go to a place that has semi-dependable electricity and where I can wear pants in public.  Go ahead, ask me!  The answer is yes!  A resounding "YES!"  We are thrilled to be heading to a conference in Kenya where we'll be tacking on two fun-filled weeks in Nairobi.  I'm hoping that getting away for a few weeks will be the exact renewal that we need to come back and hit it all again.

Speaking of language, I hate it.  Did I mention that?  I mean I don't really hate the language.  I really like seeing progress.  I have always enjoyed learning new things.  But, I hate how much time it's taking.  I hate how little flexibility it leaves in my life.  I hate the demands that language learning places on my family.  I don't like the fact that no matter what I'm doing I feel like I should probably be focusing on language tasks instead.  I think it's taking me ridiculous amounts of time for me to reach preschool level speech.  I really don't like that I have the pressure to reach a certain level by a certain time.  Then again, without a deadline I don't know that I'd push my sorry-self in any way.  

Staying motivated is hard, especially here where English is so widely spoken.  It's so tempting to use English when I could use Hausa.  Once in a while, I get a "maybe this is worth it" moment.  Like Monday.  Ryan was in Abuja with the van and we needed eggs.  (You need a lot of eggs when all of your food comes from scratch.)  Anyway, I was walking home from the nearest spot where I can purchase eggs and I passed an old, old lady carrying an insane amount of wood on her head.  So I greeted her with a Hausa 101 greeting as we passed.  That sweet (toothless) lady just grinned the biggest sweet (toothless) grin as she bowed a bit and began thanking me over and over again simply for greeting her.  I couldn't help but smile as I walked on listening to my Hausa phrases with my trusty Sony recorder and my earbuds.

I'm rambling.  All of that to say:
1.  Stay tuned, I'm in a blogging mood.
2.  We could use your prayers next Weds. and Thurs. as we attempt to demonstrate to our language evaluators that we've actually progressed in our language learning over the last 3 months.  Please pray for clarity, recall, and an ear that is tuned in to hearing Hausa that day.  Thanks friends!