|| Our Introduction to Nigeria ||
October 17th, 1998
Gushing is in order. We have had a wonderful landing in Jos. We have walked into a very nice house by Nigerian standards which was previously inhabited by some industrious Americans who sold us their already installed inverters, rechargers, battery powered lights, water distiller, curtains, household goods, and everything needed to cope with the very frequent power outages (the first one began on the eve of our arrival and lasted 4+ days) and western needs for sanitation. More importantly we have been warmly received by neighbors, university colleagues, and market beggars (Michael can't stand to pass one by.)
The weather here is delightfully temperate, the horizon beautiful with rocky mountains and the flora is surreal. There are poinsettia trees as big as houses and gobs of giant leaves and flowers I couldn't begin to identify. Nobody around here knows what they are either. This is a botanists dream. It took me a while to notice the natural beauty of this place as I was distracted by the hustle of the markets, chaotic traffic, wildly colored clothes, kids everywhere, manual laborers, cattle and goats on main streets, (a Fulani boy herds his cattle right through our compound) and my own confusion about how things work around here.
The boys were accepted into the school we wanted. The school was on a break during our first 10days and the boys and I made extraordinary use of every game, book and plaything we brought with us to while away the days. The greatest joy and diversion for the boys has been our two dogs, one cat and a parrot (who also has an identical girlfriend who visits his cage daily for some through-the-bars cuddling.) Also of major importance is a neighborhood family with children of similar ages who have become wonderful playmates. In spite of the beautiful, colorful dress, Hausa language, crowded markets, strange food, dirth of white faces, "natural" peanut butter, petroleum shortage (translates into can't-go-anywhere-that-isn't-absolutely-necessary), unpredictable power outages, etc., Jake exclaims on the second eve, "This feels like home!" (They didn't like Amsterdam! - it was "too weird" and the Red Light District really creeped them out.)
The boys are enjoying Hillcrest School. They have both made friends and that is what matters to them. The school is very different from Roosevelt. It has a much more traditional way of teaching. The desks are in rows, they have a textbook for each subject, which they dutifully go through chapter by chapter, and every time I walk past a classroom they have their heads bent over a book or paper. It is an international (60% Nigerian) mission school which means religious. They go to chapel once a week, Michael memorizes weekly Bible verses and Jakes homework last night was to learn the twelve tribes of Isreal. They pray before every lunch and for Michael when he had to go to the nurse. Even the public schools, government institutions, and taxis proclaim Christianity. There is no separation of church and state.
It took me a while to figure out how to feed the family but I have discovered a source for Worcestershire sauce so I guess I can make just about anything here for dinner. The tricky part is that I have to go to a different place for meat, milk, veggies, fruit, bread, eggs, etc.. so preparing a dinner requires a full day of hunting and gathering. Several things make it more difficult. There is a petrol shortage and we live far enough out that every trip to "pick" something is carefully evaluated. Also one never knows when the electricity will be shut down (It goes on and off across town to conserve/share the wealth.) Since I have an electric stove/oven, last night's pizza (Nigerian style) got rushed to a neighbor who has a gas oven. There is also a cooking gas shortage so that is not an option to use often. One night I managed tacos but that meant making the tortillas from scratch and asking the boys to use their imaginations. Nothing keeps long so it doesn't make sense to get ahead. Once I stocked several days of meat and milk only to have the power go out for 2 days and lose it all. Now I have a pressure cooker and know how to cook the meat right away and keep it sterile for 24 hours while sealed. There are many tricks to learn. Fortunately I found a women who makes decent peanut butter and I figured out how to mix dry milk to be palatable. So we will survive.
That business about us having a cook was a little misleading. I have a "helper" who is a great worker but needs step-by-step directions which is difficult since I'm not sure how to do things around here, plus she is quite hearing impaired. She just had a baby 2 days ago so is off for 6 weeks. Since laundry is done by hand and everything has to be ironed (even underwear) to kill the mango worms, and the battle against dirt is everyday, I did hire someone to take Anna's place temporarily. To tell you the truth today is Sunday and feels like a day off because no one is coming in to "help". Even the concept of having a driver takes on a new meaning if you could see what we drive around in and through. If these words sound like complaints they are not meant that way. Just thought I would try to give you a taste of Nigeria.
The real drag is when there is no water - and it's not dry season yet.
I am not sure what this year holds for me yet as far as work or projects. I am still feeling my way around. I have received a few general invitations to show me around the local hospitals and clinics and there is no shortage of patients in the neighborhood. I met a mission doctor who exclaimed on hearing that I was a PA, "Good! You get that side of town now!" The pharmacies are better stocked than I anticipated.
We are mostly well. Everyone as had a loose stool or two (delightful) and each of the kids has had a febrile illness which I treated as 1) an ear infection and 2) strep, with fingers crossed that it wasn't malaria. So far so good. Cliff and the boys have each had strange rashes that have responded to whatever I blindly chose to smear on them. I am so glad to have a medical background but this is educated guess work. We have come to accept the occasional diarrhea as normal along with the bugs in the kitchen. They have bug sprays here that would stop a horse in its tracks. Of course the stuff is illegal in the states. I teeter on a balance of bugs vs toxic chemicals.
Ten months is going to be a perfect length stay for us. The kids are happy in school, Cliff is stimulated and revered at his work and I am getting the market place figured out. We went to a welcome party with all the University mucky-mucks and the clear message was that they love Cliff and expect him to be around for at least two years (They know that there is a rare,one-year-extension option for Fulbrighters which we have no intention of pursuing but they seem to think if they say it often enough it will be so.) Cliff has wowed them.
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PS Cliff just pointed out a 4 inch long bug at our window. Too bad the kids are asleep. I am not keeping it for them.
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© 1998 by Cliff Missen