Thursday, December 11, 2008

First contact with malaria

Charlotte has been quite ill the past 3 days with malaria and likely typhoid on top of it. She is feeling a fair bit better this morning and had a bite to eat. Our family has been faithfully taking malaria prophylaxis and also received typhoid vaccination before coming, but they are known to be less than 100% effective.

We have learned a little bit how to use the hospital’s services through the experience. A Scottish doctor we know has been helping Charlotte, along with one of the Nigerian staff doctors. The lab test to diagnose malaria can be done for 150 naira (about $1.25). I had the lab tech give me a refresher on how to prepare a thick smear slide for microscopy and was able to see the parasites giving Charlotte such trouble. Although medications may be inexpensive by North American standards, their cost is often a heavy burden for families here. Medications are readily available in pharmacies, even without prescriptions. (Apparently the national government has been making progress in ensuring that ineffective fake medications are kept off the shelves, but we are still advised to always ask, “Is this the orginal?”)

Yesterday while at the MCC office in Jos, we heard a volley of shots being fired not far away. Apparently someone had stolen a motorcycle and the police were pursuing him. This caused some people to panic and start fleeing. In no time at all, rumors of “Jos burning” and renewed violence had spread via cellphone throughout Jos and further. One community had pulled a large bus across the road, blocking access to their neighborhood and fired a volley of shots to keep people away (which is what we had heard). So even though there had been no actual violence, it can be seen how high the tension remains and how close the fear remains below the surface of everyday life. On the way to and from school in Jos each day we pass through more than half a dozen police/military checkpoints.

Christmas is soon arriving here, although it still feels like late summer in many ways. Christmas without snow and cold will take some getting used to. I miss the crisp crunch while walking down the sidewalk, the glow of Christmas lights, taking the kids ice skating at the pond in the park, snuggling up on the couch in the den with a good book and the gas fireplace going, getting together with family and friends, egg nog, the smell of the Christmas tree, the climbing heating bills (oops- guess I don’t really miss that).

In spite of a hard couple of last weeks we are still grateful to be here in Nigeria, though. We have many new friends and continue to receive much support from friends and family back home. Charlotte does not mind the absence of cold in the least. The children have an excellent school, establishing relationships with other children from all over the world. The countryside here on the plateau is absolutely gorgeous with its beautiful spreading trees, rugged mountains, piles of precariously balanced huge boulders scattered across the landscape as if God were playing a board game and decided to leave the pieces out afterward, the fields everywhere with ripening crops and groups of villagers coming together to harvest each different crop as it is ready- the potatoes and yams, the maize, the acha, and now the guinea corn; the hundreds of children in their bright school uniforms filing along the side of the road on their way to school each morning. Even the bustle of the city has its appealing rhythm, with the frantic traffic and amazing loads being transported, the yellow fevers(traffic police wearing yellow jackets, controlling intersections in place of traffic signals) with their white gloves wildly flapping directions, the street hawkers selling everything imaginable at each stop(belts, rat poison, monopoly games, world maps…), people everywhere bustling, fruit stands, and the markets. The markets are the place I feel a wonderful “otherness” of Nigeria most acutely- with the press of people and amazing combination of sights, smells, sounds and jostlings. Vendors and other people we meet in the course of the day are overwhelmingly gracious and welcoming to us- we often receive wonderful smiles and greetings just for being here and trying to speak a few words of Hausa. Children often follow us, both fascinated and a bit scared of us, usually breaking out in group giggles when we pester them back. MCC and our country reps and staff support and provide for us very well.

We both look forward to starting work in January, feeling our way into new positions, but confident that we will have meaningful things to both give and receive in our work. Our family spends time together here in different ways than we did in North America and we have opportunity to talk about important issues in a different context. Attending a Christian school alone (which also enrolls those of differing faiths, such as Muslim), where most have a more conservative theology constantly sparks wonderful conversations with the children. It is exciting for us all to deepen our understanding of and relationship with God and our world together.

We also have much to learn about what our Mennonite background means in this setting, and our belief that violent solutions can only perpetuate violent systems. The country program review recently completed for MCC Nigeria identified the peacemaking lens as a critical, unique component of our presence here. Given the violent events of the last couple of weeks here, not unlike events that happen continually around the world (and it is easy to forget to include the structural and sometimes hidden violence occurring in North America), there is much work and learning for peacemakers.

Thanks for continuing thoughts and prayers. We also think of you and the work and lives you are all carrying on with elsewhere. It is comforting to think that we are connected and part of the same fabric of being and efforts towards wholeness.

Ku gaida ma iyalinku. (Greet your families.)


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


In the wake of the 2001 riots, the awaited Plateau State local government elections of this November 27th came with underlying skepticism of what would unfold in the following days. “No movement” was declared to prevent people from gathering and causing disturbances on Election Day, except for those attending to the polls on foot.

We ventured into Jos the next morning unaware of events that had transpired during the night. On arrival at the children’s school we were met with “No school today” signs posted on the gate and the principal stating that some youth were rioting and burning tires downtown.

We proceeded with our children to the Mennonite Central Committee house on a walled compound in Jos. We, along with the Hartman-Souder family, were shortly joined by Matthew, our Nigerian co-worker, who informed us of the escalating violence occurring in north Jos. It was best for us to stay put.

As the day unfolded we began to get reports by cell phone of the devastating destruction of homes, businesses and lives occurring mostly in the northern communities of Jos. From a hill on the compound we could watch the plumes of black smoke appear in succession starting in the west and moving throughout the day to the east. In the middle of the day we witnessed some fires just beyond the compound wall with families fleeing their community. Gunshots were heard throughout the day. We encouraged our children to stay inside the house.

During the day we had heard a colleague/pastor’s home had been burned down. A family arriving to the compound guesthouse had fled their home and informed us they had lost a friend, who was struck from behind. An MCC partner/colleague was trapped in her home and unable to leave to travel to Senegal for an HIV/AIDS conference there. A man on the compound was told the military barracks’ mortuary nearby had closed its doors because it was full. A classmate of Tanner arrived on the compound with his family (Christians), fearful of returning back to their home. A neighbouring Muslim family had hidden them in their home while rioters tried to find them. Many similar stories of hope have since come out, of neighbors and neighborhoods protecting neighbors of differing religions from rioters, refusing to participate in the violence against innocent people.

I was weak in the knees, reminded of the same uneasy feeling following the 9-11 attacks in the US. Although attempting to remain calm, especially for the children, we all felt the noticeable stress and tension. We knew we were safe but there was the unknown, unsure feeling wondering whether the situation was under control, if reinforcements had been brought in, or if the wounded were being attended to. Reliable news about what was happening was hard to come by. At times we were even unable to send or receive text messages by cell phone. Phone batteries and air credit were running low and needed to be recharged.

We hunkered down for the night and had a community meal with two other families on the compound. It felt good to gather together. Brenda H-S made a “comfort food” dessert with M&M’s (a rare treat here). We had oranges that the children had picked from the trees earlier in the day. After dark, the red glow of fires burning could be seen in the distance. The night was unrestful with dogs barking and gunshots heard in the distance. The early morning Muslim calls to prayer were regretfully absent.

We awoke to news of more concentrated riots in northern communities. The fires began again with smoke seen in the far east and moving back towards the west. Once again fires appeared in the neighbouring community over the compound wall with families fleeing to safety. Smoke started to billow into our compound causing greater anxiety for our safety. Other families were becoming more concerned, feeling a need to leave the compound. Some teenage boys living on the compound (boys our children knew and played soccer with when we lived on the compound for our first weeks in Nigeria) began sharpening machetes and fashioning spears, fearful that people may jump over the compound wall and threaten their families.

Thinking the roads were secure enough to travel on this end of town, we attempted to return to Vom that mid-morning. On our way to the gate, two men strongly urged us to obtain a military escort for the trip rather than trying on our own. At the same time we received a call from Matthew stating that another 24-hour curfew had been issued, effective immediately. I was saddened to not be able to return home, but yet relieved to not venture out onto the roads not sure of what lay ahead.

We returned back to Mark and Brenda’s house. The fires nearby had gotten smaller and the boys had laid down their machetes. During the day we ventured to the top of the hill and looked over the city towards the north. We were one with other groups of concerned people perched on surrounding hills, watchful, waiting for peace. Throughout the day people were slowly migrating back to their homes from the military barracks where they had sought safe haven. At times we would receive word that some MCC friends/partners were still in danger or could not sleep in their homes for fear of being burned out or attacked at night.

Before supper, Randy received a call from friends in Vom stating that our house had been broken into. We soon discovered that our laptop and cash were missing. We were disheartened. Although this invasion was minor in comparison to what other families were experiencing in Jos, our inner sense of trust and security was a bit shaken.

That evening Randy and I made tortillas and Brenda made beans and eggs, one of our favourite meals. After supper we received a text message that the US and British High commands would provide an escort for anyone wanting to voluntarily leave to Abuja (the capital). At the same time, word came of possible planned attacks on churches Sunday morning. The night once again was restless with absence of the morning calls to prayer.

On Sunday, after curfew was lifted, we ventured home to Vom with Matthew and Mark H-S graciously accompanying us to assess the damage to our home. We picked up a welder and our contractor and repairs/reinforcements were made. Our family was able to feel less shaken and further removed from the insecurities of Jos.

Tensions remain high in Jos, although the violence has been suppressed with the heavy military presence in the city. The children’s school resumed today after a week and a half suspension.

It has been said that the struggles in Jos exist between the Muslims and Christians, although the conflict is much more complicated than that and involves politics and power. It has been said that hundreds of lives have been lost and thousands displaced. But what I have seen on the faces of two young men recovering in the Vom hospital from bullet wounds is quiet fear and horror of what they had experienced and seen.

The atrocities and pain felt by many will need to be our common ground so that we may rebuild our hope and restore peace and safety for all. May our faith in God and humanity sustain us as we reconcile the suffering felt by many.


Monday, December 8, 2008


Hello. Just a note to assure people that we are safe. Jos has experienced some difficult unrest the past week and a half, with considerable loss of life and property. While we were trapped in Jos due to travel restrictions, our home in Vom was also broken into and we lost our computer. Friends and neighbors have been very supportive of our family through everything, but our problems are very small compared to many others who have lost much more. Although a heavy military presence has brought relative calm for now, tensions are understandably still quite high as life starts to return to some semblance of normal. Mennonite Central Committee continues to work at relief and peace efforts through their partner organizations. We hope to post a blog sometime soon with more details. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, both for us and for all those affected.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting along

Sannu- It has been a while since our last entry. A few weeks back we spent a weekend at Miango Rest Home. It is a beautiful setting and only about half hour away. The weekend was peaceful and restful. They provided us with wonderful food and had activities for the kids. They played tennis, ping-pong ball, and miniature golf. We saw a chameleon for the first time. Quite an odd little creature, especially with its eyes rotating in different directions from the other one. It walked very slowly. The kids also said they saw a snake and it was standing up from the ground about 1-2 feet. I said latter that if it is standing up from the ground then it meant that you were too close to it. The girls had one of their friends from school along and the kids also met some other children at the rest home to play with. When we returned, the following week we had water working at our house and a small solar-battery run fridge. That was wonderful. It’s amazing how simple things back home that we take for granted make life so much easier here when it’s available. Needless to say the fridge stopped working because it drained the battery. So now the plan is to set up solar panels. Language study is keeping me busy. Every so often my head gets so full and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to communicate in sentences that convey a clear message. The kids are enjoying school and seem to be doing quite well. We like our home and the compound. The kids have found some local children to play soccer with. We visited another church last Sunday. It was about a half hour walk through the village and then up a hill. We were the first ones there because we did not know what time it started. Some curious children told us that they had gone to tell the pastor we were there. About half hr later the service started mostly in Hausa. It was a very lively church with lots of singing and dancing. The different choirs are great with their traditional instruments. At the end of the service many of the members welcomed us and the pastor offered us some minerals(pop). He then walked back down with us to our compound. Just found out today that he and the other pastor of the church are coming to visit us this evening at our home. MCC Nigeria has hosted a serve and learn group this past week and a half with doctors and nurses from US and Canada. We joined them yesterday evening for a cultural experience of some Nigerian dancing and singing. Randy and I offered to help the cook prepare the meal for the event. So yesterday we spent the afternoon cutting up fruit and watching them cook the meal over a fire for about 100-200 people. It was an interesting scene with dogs, a cat and chickens roaming around the cooking fire and listening to the mom and her daughters speaking in hausa. If they needed water it was carried in a bucket from the well on the other side of the house. Dishes were done on the ground and I watched one daughter grab some ruff sand to scrape off the bottom of a pot. They did not have any electricity at the time so another daughter took some of the coals from the fire and placed it in a metal iron to get the mom’s dress ready for the evening. She was singing in a group at the event that night. After the food was ready we assembled it into smaller eating containers on the kitchen floor. We then loaded the food and people into the pick-up ready to go when we discovered we had a flat tire. We all got out and changed the tire-got back in and then the new tire went flat. We called for someone to pick us up and then we all squeezed into a smaller vehicle. We felt at home in Nigeria. This morning we picked up our dog. We have decided to name her Kyra—a combination of our last 2 dogs Kiva and Kyr. It will be a challenge to keep our kids on task with their school work with the addition to our family. Culturally though a dog is considered a watch dog or a meal. We have seen women on the side of the road selling dogs for meat. I look forward to having another companion for my and westen’s walks in the morning. Happy up-coming US Thanksgiving-may your travels be safe-charlotte

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October Birthdays

Sannu-greetings- this past month has been a month of birthdays. Westen celebrated his 13th birthday on the 12th. We went out to a nice restaurant that served Chinese and middle eastern food. There was a man there who made leather belts-so westen ordered one and then received it a week later. Later that evening we had chocolate cake with chocolate icing. The next weekend was Kezia and Riana’s 9th birthday. There were 3 other girls from their school about the same age celebrating about the same time so a big birthday party was organized with mrs Harley (their teacher) leading some organized games. I found some African shirts for them and some watches for their birthday. Then I celebrated my birthday this past weekend (you can guess my age). I found some clothes for myself and we went out and had pizza with mark and Brenda and their family. The kids and I all thought of our family and friends back home and wished we could have shared our birthdays with you all. We seem to be sleeping better at night as a family now. The girls, i think, are finally staying in their bed for the whole night. The night noises do not seem to bother me as much and i think our family is finally getting into a routine. Westen and i get up early and set out for our morning walk at about 5:45 am. The sun is just beginning to rise and there is a low fog in the air. We then get our breakfast with the family and then we journey into jos for school. Randy and i are in intense hausa language study. It is difficult at times to let go of our English language with its grammatical structure and syntax and take on a new language with its tonal nuances and relational pronouns. We have a great teacher who is very patient with us when we goof up. Our house is basically set up in vom. There are a few things we need like adding some counter top in the kitchen and furniture items such as a bigger bed for randy and i that are being made by a carpenter. The evenings at home are spent studying and we are in bed by 8:30pm. We are slowly meeting other families on the compound and have started to go to a local church in Vom. The services there are about 2 hours long. The kids did quite well today. Anyways- yauwa-sai an jima—means- good-bye- until later---charlotte

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Moving to Vom

Hello! Thanks to those who have responded to our blog entries. Since we are only able to access the internet sporadically, I have switched off the “comment” function. Instead, please just e-mail us at so that when we check e-mail it will download onto our computer and we can then let everyone in the family read it back home. Thanks!

We have started moving things out to Vom this week and hope to be spending the night there by Thursday. Getting a workable water system is the priority. Apparently the hospital compound’s pump is of a sort that requires fairly good quality electricity (a “3-phase” pump if I got that right) but the local power company has trouble providing enough electricity because their hydro dam has silted in enough that the flow is now inadequate. So the pressure is lacking to fill our tank which sits on an elevated platform in the back courtyard. Yesterday they were installing an additional tank that sits on the ground which will hopefully be able to fill with the available pressure. A pump will then be used to transfer that water to the elevated tank (hopefully we will have electricity often enough to run the pump).

We have been spending a fair bit of time with the kids this week catching up on some extra school work during their week break. I think they are doing pretty well considering that they missed the first quarter of school. Every time that they have any symptoms of illness (e.g. a rash or stomach ache) I am always wondering whether it could be something serious like malaria or typhoid- a bit nerve-wracking. Riana has had a fever, diarrhoea and a belly ache today, but the malaria rapid test kit we did was negative. If she has not improved by tomorrow we will have her checked at the local hospital.

Language study will start next week and go through the end of the year. It is so nice that MCC allows us this time to become oriented to our new home without having to dive right into work, which will carry its own set of new adjustments.- Randy

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Visit to Vom Christian Hospital

Hi---we have been here now 3 weeks and in some ways it seems like 3 months. The kids have started school this past week and so far seem to be enjoying it. The night before their first day we all had trouble sleeping. Westen was told that he tested into grade 9 algebra so he was scared about what that might mean—mostly more work. The girls, mostly Riana, were worried about meeting new people. That night also seemed really noisy with animal sounds and car horns. At one time Randy said I jumped on top of him in bed thinking there was someone in the room with us. Funny thing is that the next day when we came home during the day we found a live chicken in our house. Patience, our house keeper, said it was there when she showed up in the morning and thought we bought it for supper. We then wondered if it spent the night with us and maybe that’s what startled me. Evenings are now spent with the kids and their homework. We are working hard at establishing good study habits due to the expectations of the school. We went out to Vom this week and looked in on our house. It’s coming along good. Hopefully we will be moved in by the end of next week. Today we bought a dog-really a puppy- to keep us company in Vom. (It will stay with its mother for 6 more weeks yet.) The kids are looking forward to having a pet to play with. We also had formal introductions at the Vom Christian Hospital. We met some senior staff and had a tour of the facility. The work environment is quite a contrast from what I’m used to. I somewhat expected the very basic approach to medicine, but was still struck by how limited their resources are in any type of medical equipment. It looked like to me that most of their lab work is done by hand—did not see any fancy equipment. The x-ray dept looked very archaic and still used a dark room to develop their films. One of the physicians at the hospital needed to aid a delivery this past month due to complications with the baby. The head had emerged but the body was still wedged in the canal. After a c-section was performed, much to their surprise they pulled out a 2- headed fetus which had died in process. Our jobs do not start until January but we will be living on the hospital compound and will hopefully become more familiar with other staff members also living on the compound. It will be sad to move further away from Mark and Brenda and their children Valerie and Greg, we have really enjoyed our time with them and hope to continue developing our friendship. It will be great to start Hausa language study soon- with the many trips to the market it will become handy. Also with the patient care at the hospital, I expect I will need a better command of the language. Anyways our days are still busy with shopping for household items and getting to know the city of Jos.---take care--charlotte

Village Visit

Village Visit
September 26-30, 2008
The Gesell Family

Westen (age 12)
This morning we got up in Jos at about 7:30am -8:00am, as usual (if you can call it that after six nights with MCC here in Nigeria). After half an hour of getting up, making beds, stealing some extra sleep, and eating breakfast, we (or I) were pretty much ready to take on the day ahead of us. The rest of the morning we spent playing games (soccer and Rukshuk).
Then about 10:30, Matthew, Brenda and Mark came with the big white van. Fifteen to twenty minutes later we left for our 5 day village visit. At midday I found myself standing on the road side about 10 meters away from a one storey structure that sat beside a tall looking cornfield. On the inside were low set ceilings that joined with about 10 smallish rooms. All this was attached in a square around a concrete courtyard with a deep –by my standards- a well in the middle. After it dawned on me that this would be different than I thought it might be (like large air-conditioned rooms with a tall chain-linked fence surrounding it-heck who knows maybe even a flat screen TV or two). I decided to just buckle done and see what happened.
It wasn’t bad! We sat in the courtyard under the sun. Luckily we were in the shade. We just talked for about a hour and a half. Frankly I’m amazed that people can do that. At about 2:30 pm we had a sort of stew with potatoes and fish in it. It was pretty great! During the next hour or two we wondered over to visit the pastor and the village chief. Apparently one of the chief’s cousins died. So there were a lot of people there. I think I used the term sannu (hi in Hausa) more times then I just said hello in English in the past week. The chief himself seemed like a jolly African man (who refreshingly spoke very good English). The only other people who spoke good English were Isaac (the father of the family who was hosting us) and his son and a few others who we met. After that we walked back to the church where the pastor lived and had prayers in I think Hausa. An hour later we headed back to the family building/ family compound for a bucket bath and supper before heading to bed. For supper we had a mash potato type thing with sauce and chicken on it. That was good too!
I thought that people in Nigeria weren’t as worried about hygiene. But in the village they take bathes twice each day. On our first day in the village, we went to bed at 9:30 pm, looking forward to getting up at 6:30 in the morning. The second day was great. First of all I would like to clear this up. The meals were not good. They were amazing. I really don’t think I fully realized the amount of work put into them though. For breakfast we had these beautiful greasy chips (french fries). They were cut out of potatoes in irregular slices, and if we felt like it we could put them on slices of bread. Instead of water we had a sweet tasting Nigerian version of hot chocolate. The tea was hot enough to last the meal. We had breakfast at 7 am. Isaac’s wife got up at 5- yes in the morning- to begin preparations for it. A little bit after breakfast we took a walk to the market. It was a pretty long walk, but in hindsight it did not seem like a big deal.
When we got there the market looked almost like I thought it would: with the area between the many booths packed with people. After some first impressions we walked into a cluster of low lying buildings to meet the chief of that area of the village. He seemed like a dignified 50-60 year old man who took pride in what he did. While we were walking around the market that day we were drawing attention in the form of a horde of some children. My mom was already pretty popular among them because she was giving out handshakes and high fives for the last 15 minutes or so. During our time at the market we bought a hard plastic green soccer ball. It was twice the size of my fist. It would get a lot of use in the next few days. We then headed back to the compound after buying some sugar cane and peanut/ball/rock/things. When we got back to the compound the first thing we did was play soccer for about 2 hours. After having lunch I think we played more soccer. At about 6:00 pm we took the game to the church for about a half hour, than we came back and ate supper.
One thing I noticed about people in the village, compared to North Americans, is that they take much more time to greet each other. The rest of our village visit passed by in a blur. We spent it playing soccer and eating and generally having a good time. One morning we went for a walk and found a stream running through a ravine. Finally on the last day Mark, Valerie and Greg came. Earlier that morning I ate so much that I really did not want to think about lunch. Isaac hosted a farewell prayer. About 15 minutes later we put our tiny mango tree that we acquired into the van with all our other stuff and drove back to Jos.
In conclusion I think the people in the village work a lot harder than we do. Therefore, I think they appreciate things a lot more as well. Things such as family, water and god being with them always are very important to them. I feel very grateful that they took us in so graciously.

This was quite a journey. We have felt so honoured by the hospitality of our host family Isaac and Elsina and their son Longji. From the moment we arrived the respect and awe we received was quite humbling. The greetings one receives and then gives in Nigeria is such that we are all special and equal in god’s eyes.
Our first day was spent meeting the local people and neighbouring church. Although we share the same curiosity in one another I would hope that we would leave the same high esteem they bestowed upon us. The reverend at the local COCIN(Church of Christ in Nigeria) church and members shared their prayers of our safe journey and visit in their village. We also visited a village family where a funeral was held. Custom is for sympathetic friends and family to arrive soon after the death of the member and then to stay for weeks after.
The next day was a visit with the women fellowship. What fun it was to listen and watch them sing and dance with praise to god. Soon after, we walked to the village market with many special greetings along the way. The children were a special treat with many smiles and curios eyes. We met the village chief-what an honour, we were graciously received. On our return back we stopped at the big rock with a panoramic view of the surrounding area. We could see many vegetable plots, corn and neighbouring villages. Longji also showed us his own corn crop with pride. The girls then had their hair braided with about 15 children watching-what a sight, while the rest of us went for a walk with Isaac and Longji to see a near- by pond- created from mining rocks.
The next day we attended the COCIN church. The service was filled with singing, dancing and many prayers to god. We were honoured as guests by sitting at the front of the church with the pastor and elders throughout the 2 and a half hour service. This gave us a good view of the many choirs and singing groups from the young mens’ band to the old lady’s choir. After the church a blessing was given to a motorcycle bought by a local man for safety. Motorcycles are used as taxis in Nigeria. The owner then gifted us with rice and Kunu (a fermented corn drink). After church we journeyed by van to a near-by village and saw a crater-filled lake caused by an old volcano. On our drive back we first stopped at a local hospital where patients were treated by a bone setter. Most of the orthopaedic injuries were caused by motorcycle crashes. The patients were grateful for our visit as we listened to their stories. In Nigerian hospitals family brings the needed items such as blankets, clothes and food for their sick ones as they stay in the hospital. The clothes and food are hand washed and made on the grounds of the facility. Next we stopped at a village where Isaac was born. We witnessed groups of men playing checkers and an indigenous game with small rocks. Randy took pictures of them with the digital camera and they were surprised to see themselves in the image screen.
The following day we drove to another village. On the way we stopped at the side of the road next to some soft rolling green hills. At the village we went to the market and bought some bananas and peanuts. Our kids also liked chewing on the sugar cane. When we returned we visited a neighbour family member who showed us their grain storage bin and some old huge slabs of rocks where their forefathers would sit in their leisure time.
The last day we travelled to another village with a local taxi. There were about 12 of us piled into a small station wagon that looked like a smash up derby car. We visited a local Health Clinic where they had a recent newborn delivery over night. Many people sat outside waiting for blood tests, meds for ailments such as TB, and other health concerns. We then stopped again at another market where we saw many items being sold such as clothes, shoes, grains, oils, dried crayfish, fermented corn, school supplies, fabric, fruit and vegetables. After our last meal we expressed our gratitude for our stay with many thanks. The village in return brought many bags of Irish potatoes just harvested from their gardens. We were richly blessed with their kindness.
Although our lifestyles are worlds apart, I was struck by the wealth in their hearts, and beauty in their simple every day existence. These people truly lived off the land. The village visit gave us a kick start to Hausa language and culture. We saw how the women and men shared household chores and worked the land. We watched how they provided a means for their family in selling their crops, making food items or materials such as rope from okra plants for sale. We listened and watched how they celebrated life with Longji playing drums, Happy (a cousin) singing songs and many of us dancing to Nigerian music. I was struck by how strong the women are in carrying their children on their backs along with huge tubs of water on their heads. Watching old women walk for miles on the street in bare feet, and daily chores of hand washing clothes and floors and preparing and drying local crops for the season. Many of the young children would also share tasks such as peeling potatoes, plucking feathers of a dead chicken or like Kernan(age 6) throwing laundry on the cactus plant to dry.
Our family experienced new sights, smells, tastes and sounds. Our children were well received by the local children-playing soccer, skipping rope and laughing together in learning a new language. We greatly appreciated our hosts Isaac and Elsina and Longji for a wonderful village visit and can now call this place our village.

Kezia (age 8)
In the village we stayed at a family compound. The people at the family compound spoke Hausa, but after a couple of minutes some other people came that spoke English and their names were Isaac and Elsina and Longji. We stayed there for a couple of days. The next day some people came and braided me and my sister’s hair. In the morning I took a bucket bath with warm water. The next day we went to Isaac’s church. At the church we met lots of people. At the church we got to sit up at the front. There were about 150 people. The church service was about 4 hours long, but we only went for the last 2 and a half hours. One morning we went on a walk to a valley and saw a big centipede. What I enjoyed was playing with some friends, going to the market, playing with the skipping rope, getting my hair braided and dancing to Nigerian music. How I felt when I got there was kind of scared because I did not know any of the people. But after a while I was having lots of fun and it really was not that bad. How I felt when I left was sad because I was going to miss all my friends and the stuff we enjoyed. That was my village visit.

Riana (age8)
We arrived in the village at 12:00. When we got there we unpacked. Then we saw our rooms. They were very nice. After a couple of minutes we sat down on a bench. We learned how to count to 100, but I could only count to 30 in Hausa. After a while we met Isaac and Elsina. They have 1 kid named Longji. After we met them we had lunch. After we had lunch I met some friends. Isaac and Elsina are taking good care of us. While we were there we learned how to take water from the well. After one day me and my sister got our braided it took 2 and a half hours to get our hair braided. Then we went to play football at the field and then we came back and had supper. Then we went to bed. When we woke up I was writing in my journal. After I was done writing we went to church. A lot of people greeted us by singing. It was very nice singing. Then my dad introduced my family to the church. We were invited to sit in front of the church for the whole church service. After church we went back and had lunch. After lunch we played football again. We had supper after we played football. After we ate supper we went to bed. I had a great sleep. While we were at the village we went to many markets and other villages and health centers. The best part was eating sugar cane from the markets. We also did a lot of walking and saw some lakes and hills. When I woke up, in the last morning I helped my dad and the family peel potatoes for breakfast. Before we had breakfast me my dad and my sister went for a walk to a valley.

On the way there saw some pigs. After awhile we came back and had breakfast. That night we danced to music, it was very fun. Before we left a lot of people from the village gave us a lot of potatoes. I had a great time at the village.

Our family was hosted by Isaac and Elsina and their 16 year old son, Longji, and nieces Happy (16) and Kernan (6).
This is a farming village Isaac estimated to have about 5-6,000 people including the surrounding area. A few generations ago Isaac’s people moved to this area and he was able to show us the locations where their family had lived during the last couple of generations- Near the top of the big rock, across the valley, and finally near the main road for easier access. Although the tie to the land and people is strong, Isaac said he would still move to Jos (as would and do others) for better job opportunities.
The family compound was built just off the main highway in the 1990’s and they had some extra significant upgrades done in preparation for our stay- pouring concrete floors in the rooms previously used for storage and running wires for lights into these rooms. One side of the compound contained rooms that had been meticulously swept and washed before our arrival for us to sleep in, along with a room to store potatoes. Last year they had also added a septic tank (one of 3 in this part of the village) and an indoor squat latrine/bathing room. Isaac said almost no one has pit latrines and people just use the bush. The interior courtyard had been paved over with a tree left to provide shade and the leaves were used in cooking. A well in the courtyard provided water for the family and neighbours, although drinking water was obtained at the COCIN church a 5 minute walk away at the community borehole/pump funded by MCC. It was a picture of grace watching the women arrive each morning to fill their oversize enamel basins from the well, pairs of women bending and lifting the basins onto their heads and then smoothly filing out. The family’s sleeping rooms and parlour were housed to one side, with the adjoining side containing a kitchen room plus a room keeping the goats, chickens and firewood. No electricity runs to Bwonpe yet, although poles had been placed some years before but wires not run when the project faltered. The family has a small generator that they ran after dark, making bedtime preparations easier.
We arrived amidst prayers and we left with prayers. Given my expectations of our having very different theologies, it was an unexpected and joyful gift to feel such a spirit of connection in God. The earnestness and clarity of the prayers of thanksgiving for our safe arrival, and hearing of the prayers offered for us since their hearing of our planned stay in the village was very moving.
The family and community welcomed us in a manner that added an entirely new layer of meaning to the word “gracious”. I am quite sure that I have never in my entire life been (and am unlikely to ever be again) greeted so many times. Indeed, the warmth and sincerity of a single greeting would cover those of an entire week in Winnipeg (not an unfriendly place, but clearly on a different level when it comes to greeting). The gift of opening themselves, their home and community was so openly given it was almost overwhelming at times. On occasion I found myself neglecting to make greetings with the sincerity that was deserved, with some people likely having made long walks to come just to greet us at the family compound. The first morning people were already arriving to greet us at 6:30 as I came out of the latrine! An element of suspense was added to latrine visits by virtue of its being set just off the family courtyard, shielded only by a hanging piece of cloth. The first afternoon I had arrived in the village already feeling the effects of a case of giardia and the courtyard had been steadily filling with neighbours and children coming to greet us. I decided to wait until people had left, a poor decision in retrospect given that the only times the courtyard would ever be empty would between 9:30 PM and 5 AM. The courtyard continued to fill, as did the intestinal pressure. I will only say that complete disaster and injury to innocent bystanders were only averted by an exceedingly gentle and controlled peristaltic release timed to the hearty laughs Charlotte was eliciting as she attempted some Hausa greetings. In retrospect perhaps there is something to be said for just using the bush toilet, public health concerns aside.
One of our first visits was to the pastor of the local church. Midweek prayers had been rescheduled to Friday evening (I suspect for us) with the topic surprisingly being “stress management” where people were encouraged to take time for themselves from their busy daily schedules. The services were in Hausa with Isaac giving a synopsis afterward. We also walked to the local chief’s house to join in the community’s condolences for the loss of a family member. Other greeting visits included another village head, the pastor there and Athanasius’ father. (Although we did not catch him the two times we tried, he later came to greet us at Isaac and Elsina’s home.)
Isaac and family were willing Hausa teachers and we did our best to learn the greetings (although there always seems to be more to learn) and some other basic language skills like counting. Our greetings often caused great laughter. All the children learned quickly and Tanner became a community favourite with his willingness to engage in greeting, always ending with a “Yauwa” delivered with a dramatic flair.
Markets are held every day it seems at different villages. We enjoyed them all- lots of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes- exciting and usually (but not always) pleasant. The children especially enjoyed the sugar cane and I tried some Kola nut. (I’m not yet sure the bitterness is worth the slightly sweet aftertaste it leaves behind.) It was fun watching Charlotte shake hands to lots of grins and laughing with all the children who always followed our course through the market. Inevitably one would run away, afraid of Charlotte’s offered hand. Isaac admitted that parents will sometimes tell the children that if they don’t behave, the white people will take them away. On the way back from market Isaac pointed out the long grass marking where his grandfather was buried- Isaac said that the possibility of spirits returning keep people away from graves generally. An exposed solid rock hilltop provided a breathtaking view of the valley below, filled with homes tucked between cultivated plots and natural land formations. Although I had assumed that the land was naturally fertile enough to support such intensive farming, I was told that fertilizers are very necessary and quite expensive. Apparently the introduction of non-indigenous maize (corn) has exacerbated this. Isaac did show me how they plant different crops together, with potatoes being planted between the maize stalks and beans planted to climb the stalks (half-remembered facts of “nitrogen fixing” come to mind). Isaac also pointed out the thorn trees that are left in the fields to enhance the soil quality.
Sunday service had us honoured up front on the raised dais. The singing groups were fun, with the youth band getting everyone up dancing while offerings were paraded up front. I just hope that the smaller children were not too traumatized from seeing an overweight Mennonite bature (white person) “grooving” up front. I was honoured to offer the congregational blessing to the potatoes and maize that had been laid at the altar as an offering of first fruits of the harvest season. A blessing ceremony was also held after the service for a machine (motorcycle) that had been purchased by a congregant, praying for safe use and service to God. I was very happy to see this very practical “public health intervention”, given the extremely dangerous nature of the combination of poor road conditions, active and varied roadside activity, aggressive driving habits of Nigerians, and motorcycles and cars constantly weaving in and out of each other. I love to see theology and health mixing it up. One village woman was particularly happy to see us with four children (a “Nigerian family”), going on at fair length about the western practice of family planning being imposed/adopted in Nigeria. I wasn’t sure what to say.
Isaac used the church van and a driver to transport us on a couple of sightseeing outings. The surrounding country with its winding roads, steeply climbing hills covered in green, and deep gorges carved by rushing water were very beautiful. I was impressed when we stopped to greet some Fulani (Muslim) friends of our hosts along the road. Isaac said that relations are very good during times of peace, but can become strained during times of conflict when it is easy to become suspicious of neighbours, particularly those that are nomadic and with whom connections are not so good. After visiting a nearby volcanic lake and hearing some of the many stories surrounding it (e.g. the medicinal qualities of the water) we went to visit a traditional bone setter compound. A couple of dozen patients filled the rooms, with family members coming to support them until they recovered enough to return home. Some had accompanying X-rays showing severe breaks, most caused by motorcycle crashes. Isaac reported that results are very good and people come here from very away to receive treatment. It felt a long way away from an orthopaedic floor in North America. When we visited the COCIN church clinic later, the community health workers said they do work with the bone setters to help with pain meds, labs, and antibiotics when necessary. It was interesting discussing the treatment of TB patients at the COCIN clinic, and we were able to greet a young mother who had just delivered at the clinic early the morning of our visit. They do a lot without a doctor present at the clinic.
The difficult moments I remember include understanding that men and women usually eat separately, dark rooms, worrying about our children being too rambunctious at times that might not have been appropriate, being afraid that our hosts would be offended by Charlotte and I having disagreements (i.e. feel that they had somehow let us down), often wondering how our hosts were feeling about our stay, and learning to accept being constantly and graciously served while doing very little ourselves.
The most enjoyable moments include refreshing bucket baths with water drawn directly from the well, morning and evening; awaking to the sound of the courtyard being swept, Happy softly singing, and the smell of the kitchen wood fire; the sound of rain on the metal roofing; the amazing display of stars and milky way in the dark night sky (is it possible for the sky to be bigger here than back home?); watching our children play football, jump rope, dance and laugh with the other children; trying new foods, chips (french fries) for breakfast (everyone knew the children loved this); market visits; learning Hausa phrases; and the sense of community life. (Charlotte and I have often enjoyed and been challenged by living in community.) The greatest benefit was the unexpected friendship and connection to our host family and community. We were told repeatedly that we are now to consider this our Nigerian village home, something that all Nigerians have. Just spending so much time hanging out with folks adds a level of ease to being here. The small glimpse into village life also broadens my understanding of how most people still live in the country.
Although we had discussed our upcoming village visit with the country reps, we had not heard other village visit stories at orientation and had not actually given much thought to the visit ahead of time. In some ways it was kind of nice to go a bit naively, as well as not to have had heavy expectations placed on us by the CR’s. This worked for us since our visit was well prepared and organized. We were well cared and provided for, with our hosts trying to put us at ease in every way possible. The duration was fine with the five days certainly never leaving us bored- maybe a day or 2 longer would also have been fine given the number of things that Isaac wanted to do and see. (We were lucky to be in the village at a time when Isaac and Elsina had most of the days off from work anyway.) I am very grateful to the MCC staff and host family and community for having provided this opportunity.
One of my favourite memories of our time in Bwonpe will be the many people coming into the compound the day of our departure, bringing us gifts of over 200 pounds of freshly dug potatoes. Now we can enjoy chips for breakfast long after leaving and remember our new village.

Tanner (age 11)
My trip to the village was really fun. The first thing we did was eat lunch. The lunch was very good. Then Isaac showed us around the village. After that we had supper. For supper we had mashed potato stuff with a stew. The next day we had a hot chocolate mix thing and chips for breakfast. We met some more people and had the same lunch and supper. I liked everything that we ate. The next day we had the same for all the meals. We met some more kids and me and Westen played soccer/football with them. On Saturday we went to the market, I liked the sugar cane the best. On the way back we stopped and rested on a huge rock. I really liked it. On Sunday we went to church. Church was 2 and a half hours long. The next day we went to a lake. On the last day we went to another market. When I first came I felt shy and when we left I did not feel shy at all. I learned a lot of Hausa there. I especially liked the greetings and learning how to count. I liked everything.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nighttime Adventures

Hi to all- this past Sunday we had the opportunity to visit a Nigerian Christian church. The church sits in a community where Muslims and Christians coexist in close proximity with one another. Apparently it was one the few communities where people refused to fight in the riots of 2001 where many people died. The church has a large congregation with young and old, families and expatriates. After church our girls went to a future classmate’s house with Valerie (daughter to Mark and Brenda). It’s so nice that the girls have already found some friends- it helps with them sleeping better at night. Speaking of nights-yesterday evening we got home and the girls found a huge cockroach, it took some time but our hero Randy finally conquered and squished it. So later when randy and i went to bed, we were settled under our mosquito net when just at the same time the generator was turned off-we discovered a huge cockroach inside inside our mosquito net over our heads. About 2-3 inches long. Needless to say it did not take long for us to wake up our neighbour to turn on the generator so we could have some lights on to tear our bed apart and find that bleepin’ cockroach. Randy said that one time it even leaped onto his head- I’m laughing hysterically while typing this with tears in my eyes. What a relief when we finally found it on our bed frame and randy smashed it with a shoe. With that to the beginning of our night-it took some time to fall asleep. We had a great rain storm after the cockroach incident to cool the night down. Nights are still trying especially last night with the cockroach and then–we got woken up early with Tanner fainting and smacking onto the concrete floor. Yesterday he started with a rash-not sure yet what caused it –but it progressively got worse with red welts all over his body. Then in the morning he was complaining of stomach pain and head ache. So we just happened to meet a doctor we will by working with in Vom so we called her and she was very helpful in getting tanner some blood work done and meds. Results were normal- with no malaria – probably just an allergic reaction to something. Today we got a chance to visit a local hospital and drive through downtown. I’m still amazed at the means in which people, animals, motor bikes and cars all co exist on the streets with no traffic lights and few traffic cops to direct vehicles. We still mostly live with the city water and electricity off. We have a water tank outside our current house to use for toilets, dishes and baths. The electricity came on for about 20 minutes today. We have a young housekeeper that works for us now while we are in jos. today she did our laundry, cleaned house and watched our kids for a few hrs. The kids loved it, she played games with them and the girls had fun helping her with the laundry. Interesting when i cant get them to even put their dirty clothes in the basket back in wpg. In the next few days we will be making a village stay about 1-2 hrs from jos. I’m surprisingly looking forward to it. Bye for now- i have great hopes that i will get a good night sleep tonight.---charlotte

Saturday, September 20, 2008

We've made it to Nigeria!

Hi to all- well we have finally arrived. We a had ruff start with our change in flight due to hurricane Ike in Houston, so we re-routed 2 days later through Dallas . That though gave us a few more days to relax in Albuquerque with Steve –randy’s brother and his wife Gail. The plane flight was long with short layovers. It was strange being at the Frankfort airport and not being able to experience the city-was way too exhausted anyways so crashed on some benches. The kids have done well so far with the time changes and experiencing new sights, sounds and smells. We arrived in Abuja the capital of Nigeria and were welcomed by Mark –our MCC rep and Matthew one of the MCC workers. Our first night was great in a hotel-we all had a shower and slept well. The next morning was our 3-4 hr journey to Jos. One of the vehicles broke done so Matthew had to stay back and the rest of us and our 12 suitcases plus carry on bags piled into one vehicle. That was quite the journey. It will take me awhile to get use to the traffic on the roads. There are really no divided lines between lanes. Cars just weave in and out between and around other drivers, telling other people they’re coming close by honking horns. When we got out of the capital we were inundated with motor bikes all over the place. Apparently in the capital they are not allowed. They also weave in and out of traffic carrying move then twice their weight—many picturesque moments like motor bike riders carrying huge logs, suitcases and other building materials. At times on our journey we would slow down in small villages and the local people would come up to our windows selling fruits, nuts, cell phones, drinks, and vegetables. One time Riana was by the window and some kids were grabbing and pinching her skin on her arm and tugging on her dress. She was just laughing and the kids outside the car were laughing too. It was quite the sight. I was surprised that she handled it so well. Once in Jos we unpacked some of our stuff into the temporary house on the compound where MCC is located. The kids have found some local Nigerians to play sports with outside and the girls were so excited to see Valerie –one of the children of Mark and Brenda-MCC reps. The kids have had a chance to see their school and seemed excited about going there. Last night was a long night. Jos time is 6 hours ahead of Winnipeg. The girls did not want to sleep on their own so I slept in the room with them. Riana and I could not fall asleep- it will take some time to get used to the noises of Jos- music playing, dogs barking, car horns and then you have the early morning, about 5:30, prayers over the loud speaker. I also was having these small anxiety episodes where I could feel myself falling asleep but would feel like I was shaking on the inside. I don’t know if that was jet lag or Jos lag. Today we went out to Vom to see the house and compound where we will eventually be living-in about one month. It’s a beautiful setting with lots of guava, mango and avocado trees. Our kids seemed excited about it too. Anyways in the midst of all these new experiences I think of our life back in Winnipeg and the friends and family we missing already. So far I think I am adjusting well to the different way of life here considering that the electricity and water has been off longer than it has been on, I took a cold sponge bath this am and I am learning how to use a cell phone for the first time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Getting ready to leave for Nigeria

We’ve had a wonderful summer, starting with our orientation to Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pennsylvania, the first part of July. We traveled from Winnipeg by train and were able to stop and see good friends in Ohio along the way, as well as seeing friends and relatives while in Akron. It felt good to renew meaningful relationships and update each other on where we are in our life journeys. The MCC orientation lodging, grounds, food and discussions were all wonderful. Lots of new friends for all of us. There is an amazing support structure in place to help our family’s transition to Nigeria.

The rest of the summer was spent wrapping up work and wrapping up boxes in between spending time with family and friends. My parents and brother and wife visited us in Winnipeg- we enjoyed our annual fishing/camping trip. Our Winnipeg neighbours, church, and work communities all gave us nice send-offs. We moved to Winnipeg four years ago to spend more time with Char’s family and it was especially hard to say goodbye to our frequent, easy visits with them. The house has been rented to a family that we hope will enjoy it while we are away. (It was important to the kids to have the home to come back to.)

The last 2 ½ weeks have been spent in northern New Mexico, first at a folk festival we have loved over the years, then seeing friends in Santa Fe, and finally with a Miller family reunion at our parent’s cabin. The energy of 14 kids running around made for quite a week. My younger brother without kids has termed such gatherings “Miller-mageddon”. (“But in the good sense,” he says.) There were also plenty of relaxing times with lots of meals prepared over the open fire. The New Mexico landscape has a way of opening the soul. Our family has a very wide range of spiritual paths as we live out our relationships with God and we are all passionate; so we were provided a good opportunity to flex our “diversity appreciation” muscles in preparation for moving to Nigeria. We are blessed to have the support of our families in our lives.

While traveling to Albuquerque today where we will depart from, Riana asked again, “Why are we moving to Nigeria?” (Leaving friends and family behind is still hard.) That gave us a chance to review again what MCC work includes: Relief, Peace and Justice, and Development work, with transformation for all involved. After the discussion we summed up our move to Nigeria as part of our exciting, sometimes painful, and ever-evolving, wondrous faith journey.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


In preparation for our move to Nigeria we have created a blog to make it easier for us to connect with folks. Although we're not sure how to use it yet, we hope it will be a good tool to share photos and updates as a means for generating some back and forth discussions. Please send any tips or suggestions you have. Our new e-mail address will be Thanks for your interest!