Saturday, November 28, 2009


Seems like a while has passed since last writing. During October school break, we traveled to a beautiful rain forest resort in southern Nigeria with 3 other families. Traveling is always accompanied with various worries here in Nigeria, but overall the trip went well. The scenery was spectacular, the food was good and the children had a great time swimming in an amazing pool. It felt like we were living in the clouds while we were there. It was nice to see someplace new but would have been nice to stay longer. Maybe next time.

Upon returning to work, we were faced with the sudden and unexplained transfer of our friend/hospital superintendent, which created a fair bit of confusion at the hospital. In addition to being my direct supervisor, he and his wife have been a major source of support to us and were instrumental in arranging our being in Vom. It has been a difficult transition for everyone involved, particularly since the accountant was transferred at the same time. Coupled with the fact that funds have been delayed in coming to the hospital from the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Provision for AIDS Relief) program, the hospital has had a difficult time. The clinic staff has held together pretty well and I am still glad to be a part of them. The clinic attendant is often singing as she works. She is a good reminder to me to enjoy the moment for the things that I have. Here is a picture of her with 2 of her daughters. A bright spot is the long-awaited arrival of a new doctor, who hopes to establish a residency program at the hospital. He will also be the new satellite coordinator for our HIV/AIDS program and has already demonstrated that he has the energy and skills to tackle programming issues, so it will be nice to be able to work closely with him to improve the program. As the clinic staff capacity to run things has been increasing, I am now able to turn my attention to larger program quality assurance issues. It seems less and less likely that I will be able to shift away from the HIV/AIDS program to also do general public health work, but it still feels like good work and I look forward to eventually broadening out to a more public health approach in the HIV/AIDS program work.

Charlotte continues to do good work in the Tuberculosis Unit, although they will need to be looking at ways to ensure the work continues when she and her colleague are away. Apparently at a recent TB training in Jos that Char’s work partner attended, they used the Vom program a number of times as an example of how a program should be run. Just a couple of days ago a mother, father and child were all diagnosed with active TB, so there is never any question of whether the work is useful and needed. I sometimes envy Char’s more frequent interaction with the patients, since other than greeting the clinic patients as a group in the mornings, most of my interaction is with the hospital staff. A couple weeks ago we helped out with a medical forum for the Hope for the Deaf program, run by an MCC Colleague. It was fun to see Charlotte interpreting again (they use ASL here), bringing back memories of when I first fell in love with her while watching her interpret.

The children had their mid-term evaluations and are approaching Christmas break in less than a month. They are all doing well and continue to really enjoy school and friends. One of the kids, however, (I’ll let you guess which one) did come home with a sealed envelope (usually not a good sign) which requested we meet with the principal to discuss behavior issues in class. Nothing incredibly serious, but still not a fun thing for all involved. I guess we need to see such occasions as “growth opportunities”, right? There have been a number of recent fun activities based at the school: An international food fair, a crafts sale where we were able to buy quite a few Christmas gifts, the senior play, a performance of the Messiah (a wonderful ful chorus of 100+ strong voices), a music recital on Sunday, school Christmas concerts coming up… It’s a fun time of year, even without the cold and snow. (Yes, I do miss them, although I have heard it has been a long, pleasant and mild fall in Winnipeg.) Later today we will join some folks to celebrate US Thanksgiving.

This weekend is the anniversary of the Jos crisis from last year when hundreds were killed and we were trapped away from home, watching fires spread throughout the city. It also happens to coincide with a major Muslim Holiday. We expect the weekend to pass peacefully, but have learned to do a bit of emergency planning just in case. It must be a hard time for the people that lost family members and property- Easy to understand why such conflicts can repeat and escalate. It is also clear how important the peace and justice work of Mennonite Central Committee and others continues to be.

Kyra continues to grow and Westen has done a good job of training with her. He wants to try some agility training soon.

We continue to enjoy good family time. Conversation often includes ideas of God and we are thankful for the opportunity to be able to experience God in different ways each day. Although we treasure our new relationships and experiences here, we do miss our friends and family back in North America- Holiday gatherings and family reunions, Chicago friends reuniting there next summer, my parents’ 50th anniversary... I read something recently about “the terrible sadness of time” and place. I guess there will always be those bittersweet connections to other people, places, and times elsewhere.

Last weekend we went out to Vom for a hike to the top of the mountain (a favorite hike for us which we have posted photos of previously). My knee is in such bad shape now that I do not feel I can risk such hikes (which is a difficult transition for me), so I just stayed at the bottom of the hill and walked around chatting with people in the village while the group went hiking. I realized that I haven’t taken the time to do that very often. It was a lot of fun- I was asked to bless some newborn twins, played games with the 50-odd kids that hovered around where we had parked the cars, followed a scavenging young pig for a while, checked out the nearby spring/water source at the base of the mountain (looked pretty clean) and best of all, got a tip on a local food that will increase my “MAN POWER”. (Although I was not immediately sure of what the woman was referring to, her increasingly sly grin and the rising level of amusement in the group surrounding us soon left little doubt of what kind of power she was referring to. She did mention that it will also improve woman power.)

I don’t think I have posted on the blog a little encounter with a bunch of kids I had on a previous hike up the Vom Mountain that I had written up for a progress report, so maybe I’ll stick it in here-

A group of expats was visiting for lunch and a hike up Vom Mountain, a 2-3 hour round trip hike. We had invited two young Nigerian friends to guide us up the mountain, Dung (the former matron’s son- a geology student) and Paul (the assistant chaplain at the hospital). Although the hiking was fairly steep and required a bit of rocky scrambling, it was through beautiful countryside. The final payoff (in addition to some much needed exercise) is spectacular views across the village, hospital compound and open plateau as well as back into the rugged mountain regions reaching towards the Plateau’s edge. We drove through the village, parking next to a church tucked against the base of the mountain and prepared to set off. As usual, children began to quickly gather, word somehow spreading throughout the nearby area. As we set off up the trail more children joined- smiling, looking, sometimes touching, trying out their “Good afternoon!”s amidst much laughter, running ahead up the trail, back and forth, enjoying something new in their day. We were certainly a bit of an oddity, hiking up the path with no visible motive- no cattle to herd, goats to tether, wood to gather, fields to prepare, or village to walk to. Since my arrival in Nigeria, my feelings have varied during such times of scrutiny, although usually the smiles, children and adults alike, are irresistible and infectious. Our children often experience this differently, feeling uncomfortably on display. On this particular occasion I asked one of our expat friends whether it was safe for the children to follow us out of town without their parents knowing where they were, or whether I should ask them to return to the village. I knew that some villagers thought witchcraft was performed up in the hills; there were also some parts of the hike that could be a bit dangerous. My friend replied, “Do you think they would listen to you?” The thought had not even occurred to me that they wouldn’t! On their own initiative our Nigerian guides made a few perfunctory attempts to send the kids home as we hiked but only succeeded in momentarily slowing them. Later while at the back of the group as we turned to start the steep ascent to the summit, I stopped and told the children (only a dozen or so remaining by now) that they needed to return to the village, pointing back down the hill. They looked crestfallen but still with a glimmer of hope that I was not serious. I repeated myself firmly, with them likely not understanding my words but clearly understanding the intention. They turned and slowly started back down the trail as I said goodbye in Hausa- Sai anjima!- and turned to continue up the trail, thinking, “That wasn’t too bad.” After a couple minutes of strenuous hiking I paused to catch my breath and appreciate the view of the valley stretching into the distance. I was surprised to see that the entire group of children was cautiously coming back around the corner of the hill, looking up to see what we were doing. As I spotted them and shouted for them to head home, most of them scampered away again, but a couple stayed, willing to take their chances. After another short expenditure of energy up the side of the mountain, I turned to see what was happening. They were all now at the base of the hill, sitting on some boulders and intently watching our progress. It seemed that success would not come so easily after all, but I was sure they could still be reasoned with and once again instructed them even more firmly that they must return home to be safe. They seemed to be enjoying the interaction with increasing amusement. I resorted to flinging my arm towards the village with finger outstretched, pointing and shouting, “Go!” There was a pause as they gauged how best to react. The suspended moment was broken when a bold young boy of about 10 stepped forward and flung his arm melodramatically up the mountain, pointing and shouting, “Go!” in an altogether pretty fair caricature of my stance and voice. The base of the hill was quickly filled with animated children flinging their arms in all directions and firmly shouting instructions, then breaking into fits of giggling. I couldn’t help but break into laughter myself, which of course put a final end to any pretence of their following my instructions to return home. (I can’t help laughing even now as I think about it.) As we continued our slow ascent at the tail of the column, the children soon scampered around the side of the hill to reach the top before us. They hiked mostly out of my sight, perhaps in an attempt to preserve my feelings of authority. As far as I know, no one was injured and all returned home safely, as did we, hopefully having enjoyed their afternoon of verbal sparring as much as I had.