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!!Warning!!!SCAM!!!Warning!!

September 14, 2010

I didn’t want to update my blog again but after a few people have let me know about a scam I felt I should put a notice on here.  Apparently someone is using this blog in a scam about renting a flat in New York.  THIS IS A SCAM!!!  If you read my blog you will soon see that I am from England and have just got back from Nigeria.  I don’t even live in the US, let alone New York and definitely don’t have a flat for rent – I have never been there!!  So please ignore the email you may have received about a flat for rent in New York – IT IS A SCAM!!  Thanks to those who let me know.

Well, now that is over, if the scam has brought you to this site and you have a spare bit of time, feel free to read on and see what I have been doing for the last two years working as a physiotherapist at ECWA Evangel Hospital, Jos, Nigeria with the mission organisation SIM.  If you don’t have time, all the best with your flat hunting.

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A slightly different view!!!

September 1, 2010

Life looks a bit different now compared to 4 weeks ago.  When I looked out my window I used to see a smoky city skyline, battered old cars rushing by on dusty potholed streets, lots of people carrying their loads balanced on their heads and the odd policeman or soldier with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder.  Now when I look out the window I see green rolling English hills, garages concealing shiny bright cars, manicured gardens leading to smooth tarmac-ed roads, a few people unloading their shopping from the boot of their car and only very occasionally an un-armed policeman, and that’s just because my parents happen to have a policeman as their neighbour.

As you will have guessed I have made it back to the UK and am currently staying with parents in their new (to me at least, they have lived here for nearly a year!) house in Brinscall, a village in Lancashire in the North West of England.  I don’t know if the view from my window is better or worse.  I think it is just different and at the moment I am enjoying those differences.  I have been here nearly 4 weeks now and I am settling in well, I think.  It is a bit strange because I am not living down in London at the moment so it all feels a bit like a holiday.  When I head down to London in 10 days or so, I think things might hit me a bit more, especially when I get back to work after 6 weeks of chilling out!!

Travelling back from Nigeria was generally straight forward.  I flew with Lufthansa rather than BA as I was heading to Manchester and it worked out cheaper, or it would have had I not had to pay for an extra bag which BA would have let me take for free!!  Anyway, I think I am over that!!??

They don’t like to make things easy in Nigeria, and I was reminded of that even as I was leaving.  I got to the airport early as I was given a lift to Abuja by the youth Pastor from my church and he wanted to get back to Jos the same day.  So at the airport at 3.30 I had just 7 hours to wait for my flight.  I first wanted to eat something.  The restaurant was upstairs so I made my way to the lift, only to be told that the lift did not go up to the restaurant level, only to the offices.  I had to use the stairs!!!  So with three bags at 23kg each and two pieces of hand baggage I somehow had to reach the restaurant.  I was reluctant go up in two trips so I loaded a rucksack on my back, one bag over my right shoulder, one over my left and one in each hand.  Then, surprised at my own strength, I slowly plodded up the spiral staircase to the restaurant.  I have to admit, I did really begin to think, I won’t miss this and I can’t say I will miss experiences like that, but there are some things I will miss and some that I won’t.

I won’t miss opening my curtains each morning and usually seeing someone peeing at the side of the road outside, but I will miss having the freedom to pee at the side of the road when needed!!!

I won’t miss having to filter all my water before I drink it, but I will miss the fresh taste of clean water without added chemicals.

I won’t miss taking my life in my hands each morning as I drive to work on the crazy roads, but I will miss the amazing sights that you see on the roads with any number, shape and size of objects being carried on the back of a motorbike.

I won’t miss having to take anti-malaria medication every morning and deal with the side effects of that (only two more days to go – HOORAY), but I will miss being able to get medication delivered to my door after one text to the SIM nurse.

I won’t miss having to fight my way through a mosquito net to get in and out of my bed, but I will miss being able to sleep with just a light duvet all year round and not having to make sure every part of it is well tucked in so I don’t get a cold draught up my legs.

I won’t miss the intermittent and unreliable electricity supply, but I will miss the excitement and being able shout ‘Yauwa’ when the electricity does come on.

I won’t miss having to make sure that the compound internet power system is working well, but I will miss having the excuse that the internet system was down so I don’t have to reply to emails right away.

I won’t miss the effort and hassle of having to barter for a good price when buying fruit and vegetables when I am tired, but I will miss the fun and challenge of bartering to get a good price for fruit and vegetables when I have the energy for it.

I won’t miss being away from friends and family, but I will miss my friends in Nigeria.

I won’t miss being looked at and shouted to every time I walk down the street, but I will miss being joyfully greeted by friendly people everywhere I go.

I won’t miss the way things don’t quite work right in Nigeria, but I will miss, how against all the odds, things somehow work.

I won’t miss the frustration of working with limited facilities, but I will miss the gratefulness of people for the little I was able to do for them.

I won’t miss the uncertainty of the safety situation in Jos and not knowing what was going to happen next, but I will miss how that made me really trust in God to keep me safe.

So, there are many differences that I am finding and I am sure there will be more, especially as I move back down to London to start work again on 20th September.  There are two ways for me to look at all these differences and hopefully I will be able to keep everything in perspective.

This will probably be my last blog for now as Matt is not in Nigeria anymore.  I know my blogs have tended to go on a bit, but I hope you have enjoyed reading them and you have found them interesting.  Who knows, I might be back in Nigeria at some time and I might start blogging again.

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102 weeks gone, 2 to go!!

July 21, 2010

It was 100 weeks ago that I wrote a blog with these numbers the other way round.  It definitely doesn’t feel like it has been 700 days since then but time has flown here and I can only just believe that I am almost into my last week in Nigeria.  As such, I felt I should try and write one more blog to tell you about what I have done since I last wrote.

Blogs have become more difficult to write during my time here and as the new and exciting experiences have become just run of the mill day to day activities there have been less things for me to write about.  I guessed that you didn’t want to hear all the details of my regular routine at work and in other activities so I have saved my blogs for things that have been of particular interest and excitement to me and hopefully they have been interesting to you as well.  I wish I had been able to write more often, but I never seemed to make the time, but I hope what I have written has been enjoyable to read.

So, my latest blog-worthy experience has been a trip to the village of Tahir with my friend Titus Turaki.  I first met Titus when he taught me and some other missionaries some basic Hausa.  Following from that, I have gone on a trip to the remote Donkin Hills with him, preached at his church twice, visited his home in Jos and most recently visited his family home in the village of Tahir.  This trip took place at the end of May (note there was nothing blog-worthy at all about England’s campaign in the World Cup in June and July, so this is my latest story albeit a bit late).

So we headed out from Jos on Thursday 27th May with Titus and three of his children ready to make our way to Tahir, which is in southern Kaduna state, about 2 hours away from Jos.  The travel went well and we made good progress.  We would be on the tar road for about an hour and a half and then on the dirt road for about 30 minutes.  After we had passed through Kagoro to we stopped off at Titus’ mother-in-law’s house.  We greeted them there and had a rest and they fed us some traditional Kunun and gave us some oranges.  The quality of oranges can be hit and miss here and they are definitely not orange in colour.  But these oranges, despite being the usual yellow/green colour were the softest, juiciest and sweetest oranges I have tasted throughout my time in Nigeria.  They were great and just what we needed to revive us before we headed on the road again.  We once more stopped to greet some people at the ECWA DCC headquarters where Titus grew up.  Then we headed to the village.  When I asked Titus about the dirt road to the village he said it would be ok, but it was only when we turned onto the road that he mentioned that he hoped the rivers would not be too high and that we would be able to cross them without any problems.  Although we were not into the main part of the rainy season, there had been quite a bit of rain recently so I was a bit anxious about was lay ahead.  Anyway, we made it along dirt road and some of it was smoother than the tar road with its cavernous potholes that we had been driving on.  But then we came to the first river.

There was not much water, which was a good thing, but there was also not much, in fact no road at all, to get out the other side of the river.  We could tell a herd of Fulani cattle had just passed through as their couple-of-inch-deep hoof prints were still visible in the mud on the other side.  I stopped the car and got out to survey the route a little more closely.  We planned the best route to take and then went for it.  It didn’t work and I managed to get stuck halfway up the bank on the other side.  So then we had to change plans.  Once I had got the car started again – for some reason it didn’t like it when the underside of the engine was driven into a muddy river bank!!  I managed to reverse and then we set about fashioning some sort of road where there was none.  Wearing his smart suit, Titus used a traditional hoe to hack away at the river bank to widen the road, then his sons and a helpful achaba driver (who had just stopped to wash his bike in the quiet little river before we came and disturbed him!!) helped to put rocks in the way to get some better traction.  Anyway, to cut a long story short, after about 6 attempts we decided we needed more than just the engines horsepower to get through, we would require people power.  So, it was all hands to the bumper and off we went.  If I hadn’t felt bad about Titus in his suit to start with, I definitely did when this time my wheels span and fired a huge spray of mud and water in the air and onto Titus’ suit.  As his children fell about laughing I had a hard job keeping a straight face.  What made it worse was that our attempt was unsuccessful.  Anyway, we tried again, flattened the road some more, put more rocks and logs on the path and, thanks to the help of a few more motorbike riders who had come along the route and stopped to help, we managed to get through the river and out the other side.

The first attempt!!

Titus in his suit

Making a road!!

One river down, one to go!!

We made our way along the road and then came to the second river.

This looked like a more substantial river and there was more water and the problem this time was likely to be getting across the water part, as the banks were made of rock, but the river bed was sandy.  Thanks to being the driver I had managed to keep my feet dry during the last river crossing, but this one might be different.  Titus made an investigatory trip paddling across the river and when we couldn’t see his knees we knew that wouldn’t be a good route.  Thankfully there was a route that wasn’t as deep and so I readied myself, mentally went through the route I would take and then went for it…….  Failure!! Thankfully not engine failure, but crossing failure.  I was grounded on the river bed right in the middle of the river.  The initial attempt to push the car back to have another go didn’t work so now, my feet did have to get wet.

The view outside the car door. I was going to get wet!!

I took off my shoes and socks and joined everyone else in the river as we discussed what we needed to do.  We had to first get rid of all the sand under the car so we could get the wheels to have traction again.  This took a while and during that time a few more motorbike drivers, and some that had helped us before, came and assisted us.  We eventually managed to clear the sand and shingle out and reverse the car back to the bank for a second attempt.  This time we would take a different route across the river and we had people power again.  So with the help of Titus, his family and the motorbike drivers we managed to get through the second river.

From then on, the road was pretty smooth as we made it to Tahir village itself.  As we arrived, people seemed to be looking at us a little strangely, I think their thoughts were how did they get that car here!!  When we got to Titus’ family home there was no one there apart from a few small children.  The rest of the family were out at the farm.  So we sat around waiting for the family to return.  Eventually by about 5.30 the women of the family started to return.  They had come back from the farm early to start cooking for the families.  Titus’ brother had two wives and then there were a couple of other women married to other relatives.  On asking Titus, I found out that all the women cooked food for their own children and for the men.  So we sat and watched as the women cooked on their stoves using the rations that they had been given from the family store of grain.

Preparing guinea corn

Eventually the men started to return from the farm and we were able to greet Titus’ brother.  We sat and talked and then a dish of food was brought up to us.  We sat a bit longer and another dish was brought and then and another and another.  All the dishes had pretty much the same thing in it, but each was brought by a different one of the women who had been cooking.  It was humbling to be served in this way, but I was thankful when Titus said to just eat whatever I wanted and then they would take the rest back and save it for the next day.  So I ate the usual tuo (like thick mashed potato) and soups of various types until I was full.  I managed not to make too much of a mess, that I could see anyway as it was pitch black and we only had a small torch between us.  I then went to have a wash in the open air wash room before heading to bed.  We were sleeping in Titus’ room and had no mosquito nets and it was pretty hot.  I was reluctant to put on any mosquito repellent as that makes me ever hotter.  I wish I had as I spent the night shooing away mosquitoes and with the heat as well I was glad when the morning came.

The plan for the day was a hike to the dam near the village that supplies water to Abuja.  After some Kunun for breakfast, Titus and I headed out on the hike.  His family stayed back at the village, they did not want to come to the dam as they had had a bad experience last time when they all got tired out and had to be brought back on motorbikes.  It was great to be able to walk through the countryside.  The path was good as this route had been the first track made by the engineers when they were beginning to build the dam.  It took us a couple of hours to make it to the dam and it was worth the effort.  It was very impressive and much bigger than the Lamingo dam that supplies Jos.  In fact, the overflow part was bigger than the entire Lamingo dam.  It was strange to see this very modern and industrial dam placed in themiddle of this very basic village farming land and even stranger to see Fulani villagers in their traditional dress wander across the dam on their way to the sell their goats at the market.  I took a few pictures and we wandered across the dam.  We could not go too far though as we did not want to arouse the suspicions of the dam security.  Not that we were doing anything wrong, but when they see a white man with a camera they can get a bit suspicious.  So we walked off on another a route, across the thankfully empty overflow and back onto the route to the village.  On our way back we stopped off at the farm where Titus’ family were farming.  I was quite keen to give farming a go, but I didn’t want to ask, as no doubt I would not do as good a job as them and I would probably waste their time. So as they didn’t offer for me to try I didn’t get to have a go.  We then headed back to the village.

After resting for a while, Titus and I took another walk up the rock just by the village.  It was a relaxing stroll and we were able to sit on the top taking in the view and watching some monkeys that were on the other side of the valley jumping through the trees.

Tahir Village

Then we made our way down back to the village.  By this time my thoughts were beginning to focus on the trip back home and on crossing those two rivers again.  This was not helped by the fact that the sky was becoming darker as thick black clouds rolled in.  If it rained I was afraid we would never make it across the river.  When the rain started to pour down I really couldn’t think of anything else.  Especially as all we had to do was sit inside Titus’ room and wait for our food to be cooked before then heading to bed.  I was really annoyed I hadn’t asked Dustin if I could borrow his truck for the trip, but I didn’t know we would need it.  If I had been driving his 4×4 I would have been even more excited about the prospect of driving with all the extra rain, but as it was I was just having visions of flooding the engine and getting stranded in the middle of the river with no way of getting out.  Anyway, there was nothing I could do but pray and try to get some sleep.

The morning came and after some more Kunun for breakfast we said our goodbyes and made our way out of the village.  This time however we were a bit more prepared.  Titus had got his family to send out all the young men ahead of us so they could meet us at the river to assist our passage across.  If only we had had this first time.  We surveyed the river and although it was a little higher after the rain it was not too bad.  So we lined the car up and then everyone helped to push and with a little bit of wheel spin and a lot of effort from the pushers we were across before we knew it.  The second river was much the same and we were across that quickly as well.

The river crossing team

The only problem we had now was an awful noise coming from the front left wheel.  Along with this noise came difficulty in steering the car. It was as if some gravel had got caught in the disc brakes.  So we went a little further and managed to collect some water from a puddle (thankfully it had rained!!!) and we used that to try and wash the dirt out.  We didn’t have any joy so we went a bit further to some flat ground where we jacked the car up, removed the wheel and tried again.  We got a lot of dirt out, but the problem was still there.  There was nothing we could do though apart from put the wheel back on and drive to the main road and try to get some help there.  So we struggled along the road, fighting the pull of the wheels to the left.  Thankfully though, after about 5 minutes the steering became easier and the noise stopped.  That was a relief.  However, now steering wasn’t the problem.  Well, it was, but turning the steering wheel made no difference to that.  The road which had been smooth on the way into the village was now even smoother with slick mud on the top that meant that any attempt to change direction was met with a squirm and a squiggle of the car.  I had to drive very slowly and try to keep in the middle of the road so I didn’t go down the ditches at the side.  On one occasion the car took on a mind of its own and gracefully pirouetted towards the ditch but thankfully stopped short of entering in completely.  So we gingerly made our way along the track until things started to dry out and become more solid and we could speed up.  After a tense 45 minutes we eventually made it to the tar road and we were on our way.  All my worrying of the last night was wasted and through Titus’ family and the other people who helped we made it back to the relative safety of the tar road.  My prayers had been answered.

On the way back to Jos we stopped off at Titus’ mother-in-law’s again.  I had asked if there was anywhere we could buy some of the oranges we had had on the way to the village, but instead of buying them they just gave me a bag full of them.  I know that hospitality is important in Nigeria, but I am still surprised at the generosity of the Nigerian people.  The rest of the journey back to Jos was uneventful and thankfully the car remained in one piece and ran pretty well considering what we had put it through.  We got back to Titus’ house as he insisted on washing the car for me and once that was done I was able to head back home.  It was an interesting trip and great to be able to see another part of Nigeria and a different type of village life.  I just wish I had taken a 4×4!!!

So I now have just over 2 weeks to go before I return to the UK.  I am finishing work at the end of this week and then spending the next week and a half, sorting out my things, taking lots of video and pictures of Jos and the hospital, buying souvenirs, saying goodbye to people and trying to get my head around the idea of leaving Jos.  So I doubt I will update my blog again before I return home but I will hopefully be able to update a final instalment with my thoughts about the last two years when I get home.  I will be spending time with my Mum and Dad and sister in the North-West of England before returning to London around the beginning of September to start work back at Whipps Cross University Hospital on 20th September.  So here’s signing off from Nigeria!! 😦

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Youth Camp with a difference

May 3, 2010

This is the last of three blog posts I have written today.  A public holiday and day off work, a very quiet compound with no distractions and NEPA all day has given me the chance to get up to date with my blogs.  If you want to read them in chronological order you will have to scroll down to the one titled ‘The Apprentice Nigeria – Part 2’, followed by the ‘Medical Outreach to Katsina and Kano’ and then read this one.  Alternatively you can just read down from here.  As ever I have tended to ramble a bit but I hope you enjoy reading.

The weekend before last I found myself in the middle of the Miango countryside with 60 Nigerian young people from the ECWA Seminary Church Youth Fellowship.  This was the first time I had been camping with Nigerians and for most the Nigerians it was the first time they had been camping at all.  Usually Youth Camps consist of going to a school or other similar establishment and sleeping in the classrooms and using the buildings for the activities.  But this Youth Camp was different.  We were in the middle of Miango, with not a building in sight and just an area of relatively flat ground with small shrubs on it.  This was the location for the ECWA Seminary Church Youth Camp 2010.

It was quite a while ago that I discussed with the Youth pastor the idea of having a camp with the Youth Fellowship and we talked about the different options.  Camps to me always meant sleeping under canvas so when I talked about this the pastor was a bit surprised.  However he liked the idea and was keen to try and do it.  So, after a while the date was set for 22nd-25th April 2010.  I got a letter one Sunday morning telling me that I was part of the planning committee for the camp and this involved quite a few meetings and other planning.  I was part of the Venue sub-committee and we were in charge of finding a suitable location for the camp.  We had a number of ideas within the group and I also had a contact at the SIM office of someone who had done a camp out in the Miango area.  I got in touch with him and he gave me the number of Mr Koggi, one of the teachers out at Kent Academy, the former SIM school.  Over a while we made a number of trips and eventually managed to decide on the site in Miango.  So planning was going full steam ahead but it was typically left to the last minute so the week leading up to the camp we had meetings each night to get ready for the trip.

6 am Thursday 22nd April I was up and ready to leave the house.  A slightly upset stomach was slowing me down a little but after a phone call to the SIM nurse I was able to arrange to get some medication to settle my stomach and my mind from the thought of being unwell out in the middle of nowhere in Nigeria!!  The planning committee met at Seminary Church and began to load the vehicles up.  I had been able to borrow Dustin’s 4×4 so we loaded that up and also a Toyota Hilux truck.  We then had to go the ECWA headquarters to get some mattresses, 50 mattresses to be precise.  Now, with the vehicles already full we wondered how we would fit everything in, but then I realised we wouldn’t fit them in, but on.  So we threw the mattresses on top of the car, the truck and another car that we had got as well and strapped them down as best we could.  Not well enough it turned out.  As we drove along the road the load on the car in front of us began to wave wildly in the wind.  When we managed to stop them it turned out that they had been just as worried about our load as we had about theirs so we both re-did the strapping and started off again.  We eventually made it to Miango and then the real fun began.

We had to drive down the dirt track for up to 45 minutes until we reached the village where we would offload the vehicles and carry the equipment from there to the campsite by foot.  It was really fun driving a big 4×4 vehicle along the road and I was a little disappointed when we reached our destination.  I stopped at the village where we had stopped on our previous visits, but then the pastor drove past me and down closer to the campsite.  I was reluctant to follow as it seemed we were driving over farmland but when the villagers said it was no problem I took the track as well.  When I reached where the pastor had parked the Hilux truck I wondered why he had stopped there.  There didn’t seem to be a reason so after consulting with the villagers we made an attempt to go a little further.  Every little bit would help when we had big cooking pots, sound equipment and a generator to carry.  The road started to look impassable but the villagers were adamant that we could make it further.  They got out there farming spades and hoes and began to flatten out the ridges that had been made for planting their crops last year.  Once this was done I felt I had to at least give it a go and so gradually and carefully I coaxed the car over a long series of bumps and dips until we got to a part where we couldn’t go any further without driving right through a fresh crop of tomato plants.  We had reached the end of the road.  Now we had to unload.  Once everything was unloaded I then returned in the car to the first point where more equipment had been dropped by the car that came with us but couldn’t make the road we had just driven.  I made two or three trips with various equipment and by the time I had done this the rest of the campers had arrived.  So I helped to carry the last of the equipments to the campsite, taking care not to fall in the river we had to cross.  When we got to the camp we started to set up tents, or the shelters we had.  I had borrowed Dustin’s tent which I quickly set up.  Other shelters took a little more work.  Long branches from trees were cut and then placed vertically into holes in the ground and then tarpaulins and cement sack sewn together were fastened to the top of these. It was quite impressive to see the structures go up.

Once I was set up I then had to go back with the car to pick up some people who were arriving late.  So I drove along the dirt road again and made it to Miango Rest Home (MRH) where I was to pick the other people up.  Little did I know that there were 12 people that needed a lift.  This would call for some more creative loading of the car.  We took the ropes and tied all the bags and other luggage to the roof and then two people sat in the front seat, 4 across the back seat, 4 in the boot and then another 2 standing on the back footplate holding onto the roof bars.  Thankfully everyone was in a good mood and comments were made that the camp experience had started already.  We arrived at the campsite and then before we knew it it was 7 pm and time for our evening meal, the first of camp – Eba and Egussi soup.  After this we had a short introductory session and then it was off to bed.  Spirits were high and everyone seemed to be excited.  For the guys in the camp our work was not over though.  Due to the security issues in Jos and Plateau State we had to keep watch over night.  So each group took an hour of the night when we would watch for any threats.  So at 1am I got up to join the rest of my group to watch.  I took the opportunity to use the Open air theatre for the first time!!  This was the name given to the guys toilet facilities.  Basically there were not any facilities apart from a designated area of trees where you should go and do your business and then make sure you covered it up.  The cover of darkness was the perfect time to get the most privacy I could.  After the uneventful hour was up it was back to bed before the 5am wake up call for the team cooking breakfast.

After time for morning devotions and to take a bath it was then breakfast – Tea and bread.  It went down well.  We then had our first activity of the morning, a session on Spiritual discipline, before I had to go and brave the road back to Miango again.  I didn’t need much persuasion to go and collect our speaker for the day and I was pleased to head out of the camp and into the 4×4 again for more fun off-road driving.  We made it back to Miango, picked up Barrister Haruna Audu and then returned to the camp, with another extra passenger, a goat.  It was great fun driving down the road once again, especially as every bump was greeted by a bleat from the goat tied up in the boot!!!  We made it down to the campsite only a little late and the session on Social discipline began.  As the session was going on the skies began to darken around and dark clouds began to form.  Our biggest fear was about to be reality – rain.  We were under cover but it wasn’t complete and leaks started to appear in the cement bag covering.  It wasn’t too bad though and amazingly it passed over just in time for the Barrister to walk back to the 4×4 in the dry.  I drove him back to the main town and then had to wait to pick up one of the late arriving campers.  As I sat on the road near Miango the rain started again.  This time it poured down and I was definitely glad that I was in the warm and dry car.  Terver eventually arrived and so we headed off to the campsite this time in the dark, another added excitement to the road back.  I was loving it.  We arrived at the camp to find everyone in a subdued mood.  The rain had been pretty bad and some of the tents had failed and a lot of the mattresses were wet.  We had to resort to plan B.  All the guys were thrown out of their tents to make way for the girls and then the guys had to make do with whatever shelter they could make.  Some re-fashioned the shelters that were there while others went back and slept in the vehicles that were in the village.  Despite my offer, they would not let me give up my tent and so in order not to feel too guilty I offered the spare space in my tent to keep the sound equipment dry.  So after the evening meal of Jolof rice I spent the night sleeping next to two loudspeakers, an amplifier and a number of other boxes and electrical wires etc.

I actually slept pretty well and the idea of night watch seemed to have been forgotten so I woke up in the morning for our group’s breakfast duty pretty well rested.  I tried not to be too upbeat about my night as people rose from their not so comfortable beds.  Breakfast was more tea and bread again but we also had to fetch water for cooking from the river.  The previous day’s rain had washed a lot of mud into the river so we had to go further upstream to get relatively clean water.  After doing the work needed for breakfast it was then time for the first activity of the day – a hike.  This was carried out in military fashion with everyone being told what to do and those not complying having to do squats as punishment.  The hike was led by Tersoo a lecturer in Geology and he told us some interesting facts about the environment around us.  There was one part when we had to come down a very steep slope and this required everyone to work together to ensure we all got down safely.  It was good fun and was finished off well by the spectacular view of the waterfall at the end.  We headed back to the campsite, had our lunch – Beans and Garri and then we had the two afternoon sessions on Financial and Educational discipline respectively.  As we were doing these sessions the clouds started to gather again and sensibly the session was put on hold whilst we collected all the mattresses and other things that had been drying in the sun and covered them with the tarpaulin.  The rain settled down again and we had been much better prepared this time.  We then had our next activity – a treasure hunt.  We had to follow clues to find the treasure, the winning team getting an extra piece of meat at the meal that night.  Competition was high, but as the rain started to fall again the hunt was brought to a premature end.  As we huddled under the shelter and the results were announced spirits began to rise and this was followed by my most memorable moment from the camp.  The group spontaneously broke out in songs and choruses with different people taking the lead.  Then as the rain died down we moved out from the shelter and people began to dance around the fire.  There was a great atmosphere and we had great fun dancing and playing games.  Then it was time for our evening meal – semovita and draw soup – my least favourite.  As we were eating I was called on to give some First Aid.  Someone had been stung by a scorpion!!  I racked my brain for what I had been taught about scorpion stings and funnily enough, having learnt my First Aid in the UK, I didn’t know what on earth to do for someone with a scorpion sting.  The Nigerians seemed to have an idea and set about tying the finger that had been stung and then cutting it with a razor blade to get the poison out.  Amazingly a little while later the same person got stung by a scorpion again, on the other hand.  The Nigerians took over again and treated the sting as before.  I thought I should see if there was anything else we needed to do, so I called Dustin back in Jos and asked him to look up on the internet what we should do.  Apparently rest and elevation of the area that was stung are the only things and keeping an eye on the person to make sure they don’t deteriorate.  So we kept an eye on him and thankfully he was doing ok.  That evening we had Threadstone, a Christian Rock band, perform at the camp and then we watched a short film.  It was great fun and we all sat up chatting until about 12 o’clock before we headed to bed again.

Sunday was the last day of camp and it was up to the camp committee to provide breakfast.  We got up early and prepared the yam and Kunun and other things as well as fetching water for cooking and bathing.  Breakfast was soon over and then we had a short service down by the riverside before we started the task of packing up and heading back to Jos.  I packed my tent away and got my things together and then went off to get the 4×4 ready to load up.  We loaded the first lot up and then took some people to MRH where they had left their car.  I then drove back along the dirt road to collect some more people.  Hopefully this would be the last trip.  We loaded everything in and on the 4×4 and we headed to Jos.  I eventually reached home by about 4 pm and after I had put all my stuff in the house I quickly phoned the Pastor to check if they had managed to get everything else out.  They hadn’t!!  I wasn’t surprised really as we had made many more trips to get all the stuff there than we had to get it back.  So I had to head back out to Miango and along the dirt track to meet them on their way out of the campsite.  I first met some of the campers running along the road.  There was not room for them in the vehicle.  When I saw the vehicle I realised why.  There were 36 mattresses, 10 gerry can, a generator and a number of other items piled precariously on the back being held on by two people sitting on the back.  I picked up the people who had been walking and then we headed along the road.  As we went along the load on the truck looked more and more precarious and eventually we had to stop and as the person on the back of the truck got off everything fell off with him.  We quickly transferred what we could of the mattresses onto the roof of the 4×4 and then carried on.  The load on the truck was still not safe and as we drove along the road a couple of mattresses flew off the back.  We pulled over, picked them up and then carried on.  A little further down the road another few mattresses fell off and we picked them up too.  We were running out of space in the 4×4 so we had to sort out the load on the truck.  The trouble was it was pouring down with rain, but there was nothing we could do, we just had to get soaking wet as we worked together to tie the load securely down and then loaded up the vehicle so the people who were sitting on the back could sit inside.  We eventually made it along the road to Jos and were able to drop the mattresses off at the ECWA HQ before dropping everyone else off at Seminary church.  As I pulled up to the gate of the church I had to turn the internal light on in the car so the guards could see who I was.  As I tried to do this I was pressing all the buttons on the roof and managed to open the sunroof a little. I didn’t think anything of it at the time and dropped everyone off before heading home.  As I was heading home the rain started to come down torrentially and the road was awash with water.  I got to one point where there was a huge puddle and the water flew out to the side of the car, up the bonnet and over the roof.  Suddenly I had water pouring in the through the roof and I didn’t know what to do.  I suddenly remembered about the sunroof so struggled to get it closed.  In my rush I managed only to open it further so I had to pull over and get my light out to see what I had to do.  It turns out you have to press two buttons to close it and just one to open.  Anyway I eventually managed to get it closed and made it home at about 8.30.

The camp was great fun and I think was a real success.  If things had run smoothly and it had not rained it would not have made it such a challenge but also wouldn’t have made people pull together so much.  I really appreciated being able to spend time getting to know people better and that was really great.  The off-road driving was really good fun too, unfortunately I had to give the car back to Dustin the next day!!

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Medical Outreach to Katsina and Kano

May 3, 2010

The Northern part of Nigeria is a very different place to Jos where I live and work.  The climate is different with increased heat and humidity, the landscape is different, with dry, dusty and desert-like conditions and the culture and way of life is very different, being predominantly an Islamic area with a number of the Northern states operating Sharia law.  Despite the climate and conditions not sounding all that inviting, the North is somewhere I have wanted to visit since I have been here in Nigeria.  A number of the other SIM missionaries here also wanted to visit the North and so during the Hillcrest (the missionary school in Jos) Easter break we made a trip up to the North.

The trip was organised by Dustin one of the missionaries on my compound.  Part of his ministry is to do outreaches to rural areas to support the work of the pastors in those villages.  He does these outreaches in various parts of Nigeria but the most challenging and interesting places he goes to are in the Northern part of Nigeria.

So, on Saturday 27th March 2010 eight missionaries and four Nigerians (who work for City Ministries) set out from Jos to the Islamic states of Katsina and Kano to do outreaches in three different villages.  We travelled in a minibus and in Dustin’s 4X4 taking with us all of our food, equipment to camp and medical supplies to be able to provide medical care for people in the villages.  Our first destination was the City Ministries care centre at Malamfashi in Katsina state, about 5 hours north of Jos.  The road was not bad and we soon made it to the care centre where we unloaded part of our things and rested for a while.  We then made our way to the first village called Dogon Dawa where we would do an outreach.

When we got there we were greeted by the pastor and a number of the church members.  The whole village was excited and the children were all keen to see the strange white people that had come to their village.  They just stood and stared to start with but then became braver and were able to join in the games that some of the team started to play.  It didn’t take much for them to get scared of the white people though and a number of times the crowd would just scatter as one of the white people started to chase one of the children.  The village adults that were sitting around took great enjoyment at this and there was a real fun atmosphere with different games being played, bubbles being blown and people just chatting and laughing.  The plan was to show a film that evening and to advertise that fact that we would be giving free basic medical care the next day.  So we  set about arranging the film equipment and putting up the screen, using a ladder made from a few planks of wood loosely nailed together.  It took about three people to hold the ladder together whilst one person climbed to the top to secure the screen to the wall of the church.  Whilst this was going on we gave some of our food supplies to some of the locals for them to cook a meal for us.  They were very pleased to be able to help and after a while a piping hot pot of Jolof rice was delivered to us.  Later we showed a number of Gospel films which the villagers seemed to enjoy a lot.

It was then time for us to go to bed so we set up our sleeping mats inside the church, shut the doors so we were not stared at all night by the children of the village and settled down for the night.  Despite the odd bit of loud snoring from Stefan, the night went quickly and before we knew it it was time to get up.  It was Sunday morning so there would be a church service and then we would do our first session of medical care.  The service was conducted in Hausa so was pretty difficult to understand but it was interesting to see the effect having white people in the church had.  There were loads of children in the church who would not have normally been there, but they were just intrigued to see what the white people were up to.  After the service we started to give out the treatment cards which entitled people to treatment.  We were only able to give out 50 cards as our time was limited before we had to leave, so once the cards had been given out we began to see patients.  Victor, one of the Nigerians with us, is a nurse and he was the one consulting.  I took the role of blood pressure taker and then others became the pharmacists and general handy people.  Others in the group were busy keeping the children outside occupied with games and other activities.  It took us about 3 hours to get through all the patients and then it was time for us to leave.  We packed up all our things and headed back to Malamfashi.  On the way we greeted some of the local pastors and people at a former SIM mission station.  It was interesting to see the place that SIM missionaries used to work before work was handed over to Nigerian missionaries instead.

When we got to the Malamfashi care centre we set up our camps for the night, in tents and in some of the rooms that were available.  We also took the chance to have a wash.  However, we were not sure whether we would be cleaner or dirtier after the wash when we saw the colour of the water that had come from the well.  But, despite the colour it did feel good to get some of the dust and dirt off our bodies, or at least change the dirt on our bodies!!   After a good night’s rest we were up bright and early ready to travel even further North to the border of Niger.  We were joined by Mama Zachary that morning who is a nurse who works for City Ministries in that area.  She was to travel with us for the rest of the trip.  The landscape continued to get more and more desert-like the further north we went and it was a real excitement to see camels wandering around at the side of the road.  Dustin had told us that we were going to within a stone’s throw of the Niger border and although we trusted him, we were still amazed when we arrived literally within a stone’s throw from Niger.  When we arrived at the village we greeted the Pastor there and started to unload all our things.  He had a very nice walled compound and so despite the harsh environment outside the house and the church seemed very homely.  We were glad of this because we would be staying at the church for two nights.

We decided that there was really no point in wasting time and so once we had gone to greet the village chief and also the Nigerian customs men that had an outpost just across the road from the church, we began to distribute cards for people to be treated.  I once again took blood pressures and everyone else took up their various different roles.  We did this for a few hours and then once we had seen everyone with a card we started to prepare for a puppet and film show.

The other side of the road from the church was a large open area.  So we decided to drive the van onto the area and set up the puppet show stage and the film equipment there.  One of the Nigerians who was with us is a very good puppeteer and he had brought his puppets with him.  He had a number of songs that he would sing with puppets and they would dance along.  It was really great fun and the children sat half afraid and half amazed at what they were seeing.  The puppeteer was really good at getting the children engaged and they had a great time.  They had never seen anything like it and probably won’t ever again.  After this we showed some evangelical films before packing the equipment away and heading to bed.

The next day we did more medical care and managed to see over 100 people.  After people had received their medical care they were asked if they would like to be prayed for by someone.  It was amazing the number of people that took up this offer.  It was even more amazing to hear the questions that these people had.  A lot of the women there had heard the message of Jesus on radio programmes that are broadcast into the area, but had never had anyone to ask questions to, so they were able to take this opportunity to ask the things they had wondered about for a while.  It was great that they felt able to ask these questions and that the medical care that we had provided had been able to open the door for them to ask them.  That evening we did another puppet show and film show before once again heading to bed.

The next day we once again rose early, but this time got our things together ready to leave.  Our departure was a little delayed by the fact that we found a man outside riding a camel.  We managed to ask him if he would mind some of the group riding the camel.  So one after the other people climbed on and off the camel.  Unfortunately the camel became tired from all the standing up and down before everyone was able to have a go.  But it was a lot of fun watching the people’s faces as they went up and down in the camel.  After all the excitement we were then soon on the road again, heading towards Kano for a rest day.

It took us 3-4 hours to reach Kano and we were due to stay at the ECWA guesthouse.  However, due to some strange rules that they have we were not able to stay there without having to pay ridiculously high prices to have a room each.  So after a bit of negotiating we managed to get one room for half a day so that we could at least have a shower.  So the guys took the opportunity to wash up in the room while the girls went to the house of an SIM missionary couple to get washed up there.  Once we were all clean some of us went into the busy bustling market of Kano to pick up some more medical supplies.  This was quite an experience. I thought the market in Jos was busy and lively but in Kano it was amazing.  The narrow streets were filled with people walking, pushing carts and driving motorbikes as vendors sold their huge variety of different wares.  It was a shame that we did not have any more time to explore a bit more but we had a very important place to go.  We were going to ‘Pizza Hot’ a renowned pizza restaurant in Kano.  It apparently has pizza better than at home, so we had to go to find out.  It was a really nice place with air conditioning and a wide variety of pizzas to choose from.  What was even better was that we were able to use the money we had saved from not staying at the guesthouse to pay for our food.  The only downside of that was that now we had to make our way to the village at after 8pm in the evening so we had somewhere to sleep.  As we made our way there we needed to get some bread for the next two days.  It was amazing that along the roads out of Kano there were bread stalls about every 50 meters.   All with generators lighting up their produce.  We stopped to get some bread and then later on stopped to get some more water.  We eventually made it to the village by about 10pm and after resting for a short while we set up our sleeping places for the night.

The next day the guys had to get up early to go and greet the village head.  We thought that this would be just a formality and we would be back in time for breakfast.  However, as soon as we got out of the van to meet the village head I got a strange feeling that things were not going to run smoothly.  Unlike in the previous places we had been he didn’t seem to be pleased to see us.  He didn’t offer to shake our hands or anything.  He told us that he was pleased we were there and that it was within his power to let us go ahead and do the medical care, but he needed to check with his district head first.  So, we then all got back into the van, along with the village head and made our way to the District heads office.  As we travelled there I sent a quick text message to the group back at the village asking them to start praying for the situation.  When we reached the District head the village head went to speak to him and then they called us in.  Everything was conducted in Hausa so I don’t really know what was said, but in the end it turned out that we would need to go to the State department of health in Kano in order to get approval there before we could do the medical care.  So, the next stop was the local government headquarters to pick up someone from the local government health department who could take us to the State health department office in Kano.  When we got here the pastor and the village head went in and after a while came out and asked us to join them.  We went into an office and sat down and the person behind the desk began to speak to us in very good English.  It was obvious that he was not originally from the area and judging by his name was from the south of Nigeria.  It turned out that he was the head of State security for the local government.  He told us about how he has previously spoken to the village and district heads and encouraged them that when people, whether Christian or Muslim, come to help develop their area and people they should allow them to do the work they want to do.  He said it will benefit them all in the long run.  However, despite this he said he had no power to allow or stop us from doing the work and we had to follow what the village head had said.  This left us with a decision.  Did we continue to try and do the things that the village head wanted us to do, which would probably takes hours and might not even be successful, or should we give up on the idea of doing a medical outreach and do something else instead.  We came to the decision that it was not worth making the 2 hour trip back to Kano as we only had today to do the outreach so we decided to do things to encourage the church members in the village instead.  We had quite a lot of extra food that we had not used during the trip and as it was our last day before leaving we decided we would cook a meal for the church members as a way of encouraging them.  So we spent the day playing with the children in the village and then set up the equipment for a puppet and film show.  Before the films we had a short service in the church and after that we served the church members with the meal of Jolof rice and Yam that had been prepared.  It was a great experience being able to share with the church in this way and to be able to serve them their food.  Hopefully this was an encouragement to them.  We then had the puppet show and a film show before we headed to our beds for our last night in a village.

The next day we packed up our things early and then were on the road, heading back to Jos.  The first part of the journey was pretty uncomfortable for me as I was half sitting on a fold down chair squashed between three people and the door of the van.  The part of the seat I was sitting on also consisted of a metal hinge that I managed to hit my coccyx on every time we went over a bump.  I was very relieved when some of the people we had given a lift to got out at Kano and I was able to have a whole fold down seat to myself!!  The journey went on but was slowed down by one stretch of road where there were over 10 police checkpoints in about 15km.  It was pretty annoying having to stop for each one but it was made not so bad when we were told that the reason these stops were here was to stop armed robbers from attacking people on this stretch of road.  We got through this stretch and then after about 6 hours from our start we made it back to Jos.  We were all looking forward to a nice shower to clean the grime off ourselves but unfortunately we found that we did not have any water in the tanks at Challenge.  We also didn’t have any NEPA either, so this meant we had to hook up the generator and pump water up to the tanks at the top before we could take a shower.  Not what we really needed after a long trip, but we got it done and then we were able to have our showers and rest.

It had been an amazing trip with ups and downs.  We were very pleased that there had been a lot of Harmattan (dust from the Sahara) during our trip as this meant that the temperatures were significantly less than they usually are at that time of year.  We had worked well together and the trip had been a great success.  During the trip one Fulani man had decided to give his life to Christ and also the ladies in the second village had been able to ask questions about Jesus that they had not previously been able to ask.  Also, in the last village, despite not being able to do the medical outreach, we really felt that God was in control and the meal that we were able to provide for the church members was hopefully a great encouragement to them.  We also hope that we made an impact on the village as a whole by showing that we were able to share the message of Jesus’ love despite not being allowed to do the medical outreach.  We really pray that the effects of our short visits to each of these villages will be to open the people’s eyes to the love that God has for each and every one of them and to encourage them to investigate this more through the pastors who are working in those villages every day.

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The Apprentice Nigeria – Part 2

May 3, 2010

I wrote a while ago about my experiences of being part of the group of friends who took the bride price to the family of the girl who Tabari (the assistant in the therapy Department at Evangel Hospital) wanted to marry.  It was quite an experience, but that wasn’t to be last of the things that needed to be done before Tabari could marry Elizabeth.

Plans were all going ahead and the date of the wedding was set for 6th March 2010.  I was part of the ‘men in suit’, like the best man and Ushers I guess in a traditional UK wedding.  Our role was to assist Tabari in preparations for the wedding and to represent him at the different events and things prior to actual day.  So firstly we had to go to the send-forth for the bride.  There were three of these, one in the village where her mum lives, one in the village where her Uncle (who brought her up after her a Dad died) lives and then one in Jos.  The first one was in Kaduna City in Kaduna state about 3-4 hours North-west of Jos on Friday 19th February.  As I was the only one with transport, I was the one that had to drive, so early (6am) on the 19th February I set out from my compound, first to the petrol station to queue for 2 hours to get fuel and then to the hospital to pick up the rest of the people who were going.  We eventually got going by about 9am.  The trip was due to take about 3 hours, but we had to stop on the way for Joseph to greet his family in a village near Kagoro.  Joseph’s sister-in-law had just died so he wanted to show his respects to his brother.  It was interesting to see the way the way that in his village they bury people underneath their houses.  So when we got there they were digging a big hole in the floor of one of the rooms ready to bury the body.  After doing the required greeting and eating some of the local Kunu (a drink of rice and peanuts I think) we then headed off to Kaduna.  After  while we eventually reached Kaduna City and then after a little bit of driving around and asking for directions we made it to the house of Elizabeth’s mother and the location for the send-forth celebration.

We first greeted the family and ate the lunch of beans and sauce, which was very nice, and a mineral (soft drink).  Apparently this meal is only served to very important visitors.  Then the celebrations began.  There was basically a time of prayer for the bride and then time for people to bring gifts for the bride and then a time for dancing.  The dancing involved the ‘spraying’ of money on the bride and anyone else who people felt like.  So the bride would stand in the middle dancing and then people would dance up to her and get out money and throw it at her or sometimes stick it to her forehead (thankfully they only have paper money in Nigeria otherwise this could be dangerous!!).  It was important for everyone to join in so I had to throw my English reserve to the wind and get up and join in.  When I decided to do this it was greeted with my excitement by the people there.  They were amazed to see a white person dancing and apparently dancing well too!!  So although the bride was supposed to be the one people were focused on, it like all eyes were on me, especially when people started sticking money to my forehead too.  But it was all good fun really and I was pleased to be able to provide some entertainment for everyone.  Then there came a time for the men in suit to present their gifts/money.  But to start with, rather than everyone coming up they asked just me to get up.  They asked why I was here and I said to represent Tabari and so then they said, ‘well as you are representing Tabari you have to take his place and dance with the bride’.  I wasn’t quite sure what this meant and when they started playing some provocative R’n’B music I really wasn’t sure!!  Thankfully the bride looked just as unsure and the music was soon and changed thankfully the rest of the men in suit soon came to my rescue and joined me in the middle of the dance floor.  So, after a bit more spraying of money and more dancing the celebrations were over and it was time for us to go to our accommodation for the night.

Joseph had another brother who lives in Kaduna city so we were due to stay there for the night.  So we made our back to where he lives and settled down for the night.  It was obvious that were off the Plateau as the weather was much hotter and more humid.  It was really difficult to sleep especially with the noise of the busy road just outside the door that was open in the hope of getting some breeze.  I tossed and turned for a while and then was disturbed by another sensation.  There was something crawling on my leg.  I wasn’t sure what it was but I brushed it away and then heard whatever it was land on the plastic covered floor and then scuttle back towards me again and crawl up my leg.  This time I turned my light on to see what it was and as I did this Joseph, who was sleeping next to me, helped as well.  Judging by the speed he moved I guess he was worried that it might have been a snake, but thankfully it was only a huge cockroach!!!  We managed to deal with one of them but a little later I had the same crawling feeling, I brushed it away and then it scuttled back.  I was having enough, I didn’t care that the cockroach was crawling over me I just wanted it to wait until I was asleep.  Needless to say, I was very glad when it got to 6 am and it was time to get up and travel back to Jos.

The journey back to Jos was pretty uneventful apart from a brief stop in Kagoro and another place for another person in the group to greet someone.  We also narrowly missed having a bird fly straight into the windscreen but luckily it just missed but managed to mangle the aerial instead.  So, by about 11.30 we were back in Jos.

So that was one send-forth down, two to go.  The next one was the next weekend on 27th February.  This was in the village of Elizabeth’s uncle who had brought her up.  I was not able to go to this one but some of the other men in suit went, along with Tabari.  This apparently went well apart from the fact that whilst they were there they were given a whole list of extra things that Tabari needed to give the family before he could marry Elizabeth.  This amounted to about N30,000 worth if things that Tabari had to get together in just one week.  So throughout the next week he and others in the men in suit went about trying to get as much as they could.

The last send-forth was on Thursday 4th March and this was very straight forward.  It was a celebration which involved prayers and then the usual dancing and spraying of money again.  However, the next day we had a more difficult task to accomplish.  We had to present the items that Tabari had been able to get together to Elizabeth’s Uncle for acceptance for the go ahead of the wedding.  So Friday 5th March we headed to the family home in Jos with the items that we had (salt, cloth, live chicken, dead goat, tomatoes, oil, minerals (soft drinks) and a number of other things) and presented them to the family with apologies that it was not complete.  This did not go down very well and despite whatever the best man said the items were not accepted.  Elizabeth’s Uncle was not happy that what his family as a whole had decided was required had not been produced.  He was adamant that they would not be accepted by him unless it was fully complete or unless we were able to take them to the village and explain to the rest of the family why it was not complete.  So we had to leave and go back to Tabari’s house with all the goods and decide on a plan of action.  There was nothing we could do that night as it was getting close to curfew time so we just resolved to come back straight after curfew the next morning, the day of the wedding (hopefully), and try to sort it out then.

I got to Tabari’s at about 7am and found out that the plan was that Tabari was not able to get any more of the items so we were just going to have to go back and beg for the items to be accepted.  I was not sure this was a good idea as Elizabeth’s uncle didn’t seem like he would change his mind but I didn’t really know how these things work.  However, despite the pastor who was due to lead the ceremony that afternoon being there to help, Elizabeth’s Uncle was still adamant that the items would not be accepted.  We didn’t have anything else we could do so we tried to scrape together some money, and left this with some of the group of friends (others who were helping Tabari with the preparations) to try to sort out.  The men in suit had to go and get changed and ready for the wedding (that was hopefully going to happen) as it was already 9.30 and the wedding was due to start at 10.  We went to Joseph’s house and got changed into our suits there.  It was nice to get dressed up into a suit made especially for me and when we were all ready we definitely looked the part.  So we drove to the church and assembled outside.  It was now about 10.30, funnily enough we were late, but we then had to make our entrance into the church.  The theme of dancing was one that continued from the send-forths and so we had to dance our way into the church and down the aisle to our seats at the front.  We then had to wait for the bride to arrive.  Thankfully, after about 20 minutes we got word that she was on her way.  I don’t know how it got sorted out but it seemed that the items we had presented and maybe the money we had got together had now been accepted and the wedding could go ahead.  So the bride was lead down the aisle by her Uncle and the ceremony went ahead.  The vows were said and the documents signed and then it was time for the offering.  This called for more dancing and as everyone danced up to the front to put their offering in the basket they moved to the music as only Africans can.  It was quite an experience really and everyone was having a great time.  Then it was time for the men in suit to dance to the front so once again I threw English caution to the wind and moved to the beat as best I could and after putting my money in the basket I moved back to my seat.  Afterwards the pastor leading the service announced he had two things to say.  Firstly to the mother of the bride he said ‘Your Husband dances better than you’ something that is unusual I guess.  Then secondly he said to the men in suit ‘the bature (white man) dances better than all of you!!!’.  Once again, I didn’t really know what I had done, but I was just pleased to have been able to join in the celebrations.

After the service there were pictures taken followed by a reception outside under canopies.  The men in suit and bridesmaids had to dance to our seats once again, then there were some speeches by various people followed by more dancing and spraying of money.  As I was talking to some of the people there it was amazing how appreciative people were of my presence there.  They thanked me for taking part in the celebrations and commented on my dancing skills!!!  It was strange as I didn’t really feel like I had done much, but people seemed to really appreciate my embracing of the culture and taking part fully in the celebrations.  It was really good fun and it was a little disappointing that it all had to finish so soon as the curfew was looming.  So after dropping a few people off home I was able to head home myself.  After having left home just after curfew and returned home just before it, the day was over, the Apprentice task successfully completed and Tabari and Elizabeth were beginning their married life together.

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It’s been a long time

March 18, 2010

Well, it’s been a couple of months since I last updated my blog. Sorry about that but as you will have seen from my last blog things have not really been too settled here.  That is not the only reason I have written, it has also been laziness as well and as time went on there became more and more to write about and that made the thought of writing it even less appealing.  So I have eventually got the motivation, made the time and managed to put down a few thoughts about the last couple of months.  I have made a separate page about the Jos Crisis – you can see it at the edge under Jos Crisis 2010.  I have made it like this as unfortunately  it is an ongoing story and may need adding to later.  So have a look at that if you want.  Then below I have written about the medical outreach that I went on with Dustin, a fellow SIM missionary, from 6th-14th February.  I hope you enjoy.

Medical Outreach to Ondo State

At the beginning of the year whilst he was on a trip to Obudu, Dustin happened to meet the director of an NGO called Family Care Association.  They got talking and realised that they do some similar work, albeit on quite a different scale.  As part of his outreach work, Dustin does some medical outreaches to the small villages he visits with a nurse and few other staff doing basic health care.  Family Care Association do medical outreaches with over 40 doctors, doing general practise, dental work, general surgery and eye surgery.  Dustin was intrigued to see how they manage this and when he was asked to join them on their next outreach in Ondo State he was very keen to go.  He asked me if I wanted to go along as well and the opportunity to see a different part of Nigeria and to see a different way of doing medical work made the decision to join him very easy.

So we packed our things ready for a tough week-long medical outreach in the hot and sweaty south of Nigeria and on Saturday 6th February we headed to Jos airport to board our flight to Lagos.  The people who run Family Care Association are based in Lagos and so we had to go there to meet up with them before heading to Ondo State.  We arrived in Lagos with no problems and were picked up by Josh and Stephen in a nice air-conditioned car.  They welcomed us and told us we would be staying at a hotel that night.  We were expecting a basic hotel where we could rest before the week ahead, but as we pulled into the gated compound we began to get the idea that this hotel was going to be anything but basic.  Family Care Association has a number of contacts in Lagos hotel businesses and they arranged for us to stay at the Protea Leadway Hotel for free.  The water fountain by the doorway, the marble floors in the lobby, and the smart and tasteful decoration throughout the rest of the hotel made us have to pinch ourselves.  I was trying not to have a silly grin on my face but it was hard work, and when they showed us to our room it was impossible.  There was a big flat screen TV with a range of satellite channels, comfortable bed, air-conditioning, then a huge bath and an amazing shower.  When the porter left us in the room Dustin and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing.  We couldn’t believe it, and it was all for free!!!  We sat down on the beds trying to gain some composure but struggling somewhat.  We turned on the TV and flicked through the channels, then got our computers out, logged on to the wireless broadband connection and surfed the internet.  Then we decided that we shouldn’t keep all this luxury to ourselves and we should share it.  So we took some pictures of our room and then in a spirit of sharing sent them via email to our friends back at Challenge in Jos.  We needed their prayers to help us to survive the harsh environment we had found ourselves in on this rural medical outreach!!!!  After smugly waiting for replies from them we flicked through the channels again and I was ecstatic to see that the sports channel was showing England’s first match of the Six Nations tournament.  So whilst giving Dustin a lesson in the rules of rugby I enjoyed watching England beating Wales.  Just when we thought things could not get any better it was time to go for dinner.  We went to the dining room and were ushered into our seats by the attentive staff and then we opened the menu.  What a choice!  Fish, meat, seafood and to top it all Steak!!!  There was no choice really.  Having not seen a proper steak let alone eaten one since being in the Nigeria it had to be that, but which one, which toppings and dressings did we want!!  I eventually decided and when the plate was brought to the table I was not disappointed so I sat and ate the succulent meat, drank the ice cold water and watched another rugby match on the TV.  It was heaven!!  We then returned to our room and despite the temptation to watch TV all night decided we needed to get some sleep as we probably had a hard week ahead of us.  Morning soon came and although we had to get up quite early, we were still motivated by the thought of what breakfast had in store.  We went to the dining room and were greeted by a buffet of all the breakfast items you could think of.  There was cereal, toast, fruit juice of different kinds, fruit, cheese, cold meats, bacon, sausages, baked beans and even the option of having an omelette of your choice made while you waited.  We were overwhelmed once again, but that didn’t stop us from tucking into the food that was on offer.  After having our fill we had to head back to our rooms, collect our things and then make our way over to Josh’s house from where we would head to Ondo State.

Our luxury bubble was soon burst when we saw the taxi that would take us there.  We had to pay for this one so we had gone cheap!!  It was just like the ones in Jos, held together by bits of string and just about making its way down the road thanks to the coaxing and tinkering of the driver after a number of stops on the way.  Then we made it to Josh’s house and it was time to head to Ondo State and the village of Okitipupua.  It took us about 3-4 hours to get there and then we made our way to the accommodation.  We were once again expecting pretty basic accommodation but it turned out we were staying in a pretty nice hotel albeit at the end of a bumpy dirt road.  It had air-conditioning, satellite TV and even a swimming pool.  I guess you may be wondering now how all this was paid for.  The outreaches are funded by big business in Nigeria and this one in particular by DOCAG (Deep Offshore Community Affairs Group) a group of oil companies working in Nigeria.  As the doctors on the outreach give their time for free they like to be able to rest in the evenings and so there is a budget set aside for accommodation.  So although Dustin and I had to share a double bed, we were definitely in better accommodation than we had expected, but not as good as the night before!!!  Once we had arrived the rest of the day was just spent settling in whilst the doctors and other staff arrived from their various locations around Nigeria.

Monday was the day when we had to set up all the equipment for the work to be done.  We were based in the Ondo State Specialist Hospital so most things were in place but we had to unload the truck full of equipment, drugs, IV lines, tables and other equipment that was required for the outreach to run smoothly.  This took us most of the morning and whilst this was going on Solomon (one of Family Care Association’s Nigerian workers) was giving out the first of the treatment cards that the patients needed in order to be able to see the doctors.  He had an easy job that afternoon as the crowds were quite small and under control so he gave out the cards with no problems.  More than could be said for the next few times we gave cards out.

On the Tuesday we had decided to show the Jesus film at the hospital before we gave out the treatment cards.  So, Solomon, Dustin and I left for the hospital at 4.30am so we could show the film before the sun came up and then give the treatment cards out.  We eventually managed to set the film equipment up and find a suitable power supply and so we started to show the film.  As this was going on the number of people waiting for treatment cards was beginning to rise so Solomon decided that we should start to give them out.  So he handed me a bundle of cards and then I began to give them out.  I managed to position myself on a mound of earth by the front gate of the hospital which gave me a good elevated position in order to arrange the crowds of people wanting the cards.  After a bit of shouting and gesturing we managed to get them standing in line and could give the cards out in some sort of order.  There were still people that pushed to the front of the queue and begged for cards.  It was amazing how many times I had to say get to the back of the line, before they gave up begging and went to back of the line and then got their cards after only a few minutes wait.  When it got to about 8.30 the cards I had to give out were finished and so I had to explain to people that they had finished and they should come back tomorrow for another chance to get a card.  They were pretty disappointed and even more so when I told them what time people had been at the hospital that morning and that they needed to be there by at least 4.30 the next morning to get the best chance of getting a card.  I eventually managed to persuade them that I really didn’t have any more cards and their begging eventually subsided and I could leave and go back to the hotel for some breakfast and a rest.  The rest of the day we spent helping out wherever we could around the site.  Some of the time we spent in the pharmacy counting out tablets and putting them into bags ready to be dispensed by the pharmacists and the rest of the time just doing the odd jobs that needed to be done.  The day then came to an end and we went back to the hotel briefly before then heading out again to do a film show at a local school field.  We chose the area because it was right next to the main road so hopefully we would get a good number of people coming to watch the films.  We started by showing some football goals and then we put on the Passion of the Christ.  The crowd seemed to be interested but then the generator stopped working.  We tried to fix it and Richard got to work with his tools, but it was no good.  The local people were more than eager to help and before Richard could stop them they started pulling the generator apart.  Before too much damage was done he managed to stop them and then we realised the generator was beyond hope.  One of the local people offered to get his own generator so we agreed but when it started up the voltage was over 300 volts and so we decided not to risk blowing up the film equipment and had to call it a night.  We then headed back to the hotel, had some food and then after a very long day happily went to bed.

Wednesday morning came all too quickly once more and we found ourselves on the way to the hospital at 4.30am again.  We were planning to give out some cards and then show the Jesus film again.  When we got there we got the feeling that things wouldn’t run as smoothly as previously.  There were hundreds of people there waiting expectantly for cards.  Dustin, Noel and I split the treatment cards between us and then decided the best way to give the cards out.  I remembered from the day before that being in an elevated position had made giving the cards out pretty easy, so I positioned myself at the top of a stairway and tried to arrange the crowd in front of me into a line.  Tried is the operative word as it didn’t really work at all.  As soon as they saw that the cards were going to be given out the crowds surged forward and before I knew it I was surrounded by a mass of people and hands reaching out to take a card.  I tried in vain to organise the crowd but people were too busy pushing and shoving each other and shouting for a card to listen to me.  So I decided I needed to just start giving out the cards.  So as I held the bundle of cards closely to my chest I gradually worked the first card out into my hand and raised it a little.  Before it was even half an inch away from my body there were six or seven hands grabbing at the card.  I did my best to keep a grip on the card and my composure and tried to make eye contact with the person I wanted to give the card to.  Once I identified the person, I then had to identify their hand so I actually gave it to the right person.  This was easier said than done so I had to resort to planting my hand on their head so that I could tell they had got the card when they reached up to get it.  This system was not really working well.  So I tried again to get some order.  I refused to give any more cards out until the people arranged themselves in an orderly line.  This didn’t really work well either and I was still surrounded by a group of people pressing into me and shouting and grabbing for cards.  The most annoying thing was that at the bottom of the steps there was what looked like a pretty organised and well-behaved line of people patiently waiting to get a card.  The only trouble was I had to get through a tightly packed crowd of people and down 6 steps to get to them, but is wasn’t working at the top of the stairs so I thought I might as well try to get to the ones in the queue.  So I gradually started to push myself forwards and down the steps with people still reaching for and begging in various ways for a card.  My plan didn’t really work and all I succeeded in doing was to bring the disorder from the top of the steps to the bottom of the steps, and now I had lost my advantage of elevation so the situation was worse.  I tried in vain to give out some cards but as they were being torn to pieces as I tried I was glad to see Solomon return and say we were going to leave as we couldn’t give the cards out in an environment like this.  As I was talking to him with a bunch of cards in my hand before I knew it someone ran up and grabbed a handful of the cards from my hand.  I turned round and saw him running away and so I started to chase him.  He was pretty fast but we had the advantage of two versus one.  As he ran around, Solomon managed to cut into his path and made a tackle that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Six Nations rugby I had been watching on Saturday.  I then caught up with him and helped Solomon to pin the man to the ground and then we managed to retrieve the cards he had in his hand.  Unfortunately he wasn’t holding as many cards as I had had taken from my hand so someone had got away with quite a number of the valuable cards.  Anyway, there was nothing we could do now so we just made our way to the van and locked ourselves inside.  We were surrounded by the crowd of people but thankfully we were safe inside and after managing to persuade the people who had climbed on the back of the van to get off we were able to drive out of the hospital and back to the calm and safety of the hotel.  There we were able to clean our wounds (literally – I had scratches and marks up my arms) and to compare our battle stories.  Dustin told of how he had had to resort to sprinting away from the crowd, jumping over a wall and climbing up a water tower in order to be able to give out the cards in some order.

So, after having some food and a rest we then headed back to the hospital.  We spent the rest of the day helping out in the pharmacy and then we began to help at the GP treatment area.  Everyone who had a treatment card was now waiting to be seen by the doctors.  The treatment cards were numbered and so the patients were to be seen in order.  So Dustin and I now had the job of trying to keep the crowd in order and making sure that people were seen in the correct order.  After a while we got into the rhythm of how to do this and then it became quite fun.  The people were in a good mood and we could have a bit of a laugh and a joke with them.  I was even found at one point singing ‘If your happy and you know it’ over the megaphone!!  This didn’t stop them from gradually creeping forward and crowding the area so we had to keep on telling them to move back.  We even learnt how to say ‘Get Back!!’ in Yoruba and that surprised them and seemed to have a better effect than our previous shouting had had.  The doctors worked so hard in the GP clinic as I would be checking for when they were finished with a patient and as soon as the patient stood up I would send another patient to them.  They pretty much worked non-stop except for lunch from 8.30-4 every day.

On Thursday we thankfully didn’t have to give any more cards out so we could have a bit of a lie in.  We headed to the Hospital at about 8.30 and took up our place doing crowd control for the GP clinic.  Whilst we were doing this we got a message from the surgeons that they were running out of patients to do surgery on so could we accelerate some suitable patients to them.  The head GP made an announcement and a number of people made their way to the front of the line and then they had an impromptu assessment there and then.  On one occasion one man just dropped his trousers as he stood in the line and had an assessment of his hernia done right there!!!  The crowd remained in good spirits most of the day and then it came time to give some more treatment cards out.  It was once again difficult to do this in order so we tried to subtly give cards out to those most in need – pregnant or nursing mothers and the elderly.  Being subtle was pretty difficult though as everyone waiting for a card had eyes like hawks and as soon as they saw even a hint of a card being given out they would rush to the area and beg for a card to be given to them.  The head GP then spoke over the loudspeaker and actually managed to get an orderly queue of people and then he went along the line giving out cards.

That afternoon we went to one of the local schools to do another film show.  We took all the film equipment with us and set it up.  Then we just had to start the generator which had been serviced by the hospital engineer.  It started, but only lasted for about 5 minutes.  So after trying a couple of other generators and watching some very African electrical wiring (bare wires twisted and poked in the necessary holes!!) we eventually managed to play the film we had chosen.  The students seemed to enjoy it and Dustin gave a short talk at the end.  We then headed back to the hospital and resumed our posts at the GP clinic.

Friday was just a half day at the hospital as we needed to pack everything up afterwards.  This meant that there were no cards to give out.  We just had to finish up seeing everyone else with a card, or so we thought.  Like I said before, the GPs worked really hard and so they managed to get through all the cards and so we had to hurriedly photocopy some new cards and then give them out to the people who were still waiting.  We gave the cards out and by lunchtime the last of the patients had been seen.  In the afternoon we had a treat.  All the staff from the outreach would be taken on a boat trip through the lagoons of the Niger Delta.  After waiting a while for the boats to arrive, discussing the fact that SIM does not pay ransoms just in case we got kidnapped (the Niger Delta is an area where a number of foreigners have been kidnapped) and quickly sheltering form a rain shower we eventually loaded up and headed off.  The scenery was amazing and like something out of a film.  We headed along the river and breakneck speed in our huge speed boat and passed people on their wooden two person canoes and big groups on slow moving barges.  It was amazing and was a real treat.  One the way back we didn’t get to see as much of the scenery as it started to rain heavily and as we were uncovered in the back of the boat and travelling at speed, all we could do was to bend over double and try to protect ourselves from the rain as much as possible.

We then went back to the hotel for dinner and the final evening programme.  Then we had to load up the truck with all the kitchen equipment and other things ready to leave the next day.  So at 10.30pm we started to load the trucks and then ferried the equipment to the big van that was at the hospital.  Although it was late and we were tired it was actually quite a nice novelty to be driving around the roads after 6pm like we are limited to in Jos due to the curfew.  By 11.30 we had finished and then headed to bed.

The next day (Saturday) we headed back to Lagos and after a brief stop at another Protea hotel for a free breakfast we then hit Lagos traffic.  Thankfully though we were in an off-road car with a driver who really knew his way round Lagos so we decided to take the beach road!!  So we turned off the road and headed for the beach.  It was great to drive along the sand and to see the palm trees.  We then stopped and had a short walk along the beach, watched the sea for a while (that was great to see) and took a few pictures.  It was great and we missed a load of traffic as well.  Then we headed to one of the shopping malls in Lagos for Dustin to get a power extension cord (something you can’t get easily in Jos) and after that we had a brief stop at Josh’s house.  Finally we then made the journey to our basic accommodation at the Protea Leadway hotel.  This time we knew what to expect but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable.  In fact, the thought of having another steak almost made it better.  So we checked into our rooms, checked our emails, watched satellite TV and then had another great meal.

The next morning after having another great breakfast, we headed to the airport and almost before we knew it we were back in Jos.  Although it had been a lot less rough a tough than we had expected (particularly our nights in Lagos) we were pleased to be home and it was good to catch up with everyone at Challenge.

What a trip it was – an amazing experience.  Over 3000 people were seen by the GPs and given free drugs by the pharmacy.  Over 70 people had surgery done and about 20 people had eye surgery, not to mention the 100s of patients who had free dental work done.  It was amazing to be part of a project of this scale and definitely gave us something to think about on different ways of doing outreaches.