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.