Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Who Needs Words?

Isn’t this girl just the cutest?! I’ve posted numerous pictures on my Facebook page, but the one of her has generated the most comments. Her name’s Mercy, and she showed up at the clinic numerous times. I first noticed her when I left the clinic one day with Dr. Chris’s kids. She tagged behind them like a faithful puppy and I had to break the news that she couldn’t come with us. After that I started seeing her at the clinic with her mom -- she'd just walk up and take my hand. While I never heard her say anything, her sweet look spoke volumes and we became friends. See why I’m in love with Nigeria?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is Your Kitchen a Market?

I gave an Oprah magazine to Blessing that she shared with the students at her sewing shop. While I thought they would study the fashion section, they poured over EACH photo and headline. What is this? Is that a fruit? What is that? Then they came to an article about one family spending their food budget wisely by buying in bulk. The photo showed their bargain purchases stacked on the counter, table, and floor. What is that – a market? I had to explain to these girls who basically live day by day, meal by meal, that this was just an American kitchen filled with things one family purchased. Their jaws dropped and eyes widened in disbelief. I dreaded the question that wasn’t asked: Is YOUR kitchen a market?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Plastic Chairs & Checkers

Whoever says it takes money to have a good time on the weekend hasn't met my Nigerian neighbor/landlord Anthony. On Fridays after work he and a friend sit on plastic chairs outside and enjoy a few rounds of checkers on a battered wooden board. Who needs fancy things (or even a table!) when you have someplace to sit, a fun game, and a good friend?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

God's Gift

Welcome to the world, Nanchin! Meaning 'God's Gift,' she joins her parents Danny & Talatu and big sister Pangnan. Even though we're separated by the Atlantic Ocean, we're joined by our joy at Nanchin's safe arrival last Saturday at Faith Alive's new birthing center.

And the Writing Continues...

While in Jos I wrote every day. My 'studio' was a dining room table in our flat. Every evening I'd type my unedited ramblings, and some days I'd type responses from the 25 interviews I conducted. The result: a thick stack of papers.

Now it's time to merge that with the book outline I have, and then actually write in a style and flow that's interesting and inspiring to others. I need to stay focused and give myself some deadlines (argh, the dreaded deadlines!). I've heard from numerous successful writers that the process from book idea to actual publication can be lengthy, so I'm hunkering down for the long haul.

In the meantime, I'm open for coffee shop breaks with friends and family. :-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A New Normal

I have a new normal. As a Victims’ Advocate for the police department, I see many grieving people who just want life to get back to normal. It’s part of my role to help them focus on the future, on a new normal, after they’ve grieved the past. They’ll have a new personal time marker, as in ‘before …’ or ‘after…’, similar to how the world dates B.C. and A.D..

While my overall Nigerian experience is one of joy and not grief, I DO have a sense that there’s no turning back time. My marker is my first trip to Faith Alive in 2008. I no longer have an American life or an African life, but a single life and worldview that bridges the two. My first time back I really struggled with this (for at least six months!), but now it’s much easier to transition back and forth between the cultures (thank God!). It’s just simply part of who I am now. It’s my new normal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


You’d think after three trips to and from Nigeria that this transition home would be smooth. It DOES get easier each time, but it’s still bumpy. Maybe it’s just the jetlag, but right now I’m overwhelmed by so many THINGS.

Things I HAVE: a closet filled with enough shirts, pants, and skirts to clothe an entire village, a pantry stocked for a month-long blizzard, and a garden overgrown with weeds and mint (wait, mint IS a weed!).

Things to DO: pay bills for 24/7 electricity (unlike Nigeria), water, cable television, internet, texting, and our five-bedroom house for the two of us, as well as wash the village wardrobe, buy fresh food, pull the weeds, and clean the empty nest.

Things to BE (in random order): Victims’ Advocate with the police department, Mission & Outreach Center Leader at church, Coordinator of the Save-A-Life program, Writer, Disciple, Wife, Mother, Daughter, etc..

Ever watched the show ‘Clean Sweep’? People’s houses are so full of THINGS that the only way to clean is to take everything out, prioritize and organize, and then put in only the really important things. In the process, they make three piles: Keep, Toss, and Give Away. At the end of the half hour show, their lives are in order and they’re ready to start anew – hardly reality.

It’s going to take me longer than thirty minutes, but I hope to keep only the essentials, toss everything that distracts me from my relationship with God, and give away as much as I can.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Take it from this Kansas-bred girl, there really is no place like home. While Dorothy just tapped her ruby red slippers, Mark and I had to endure 62 hours of cancellations, delays, and outright incompetence (courtesy of Delta Airlines).

Complaints aside, the trip was well worth the travel hassles. We are so grateful to Dr. Chris and all those at Faith Alive who gave us the red carpet treatment while we were there.

On another note, one of the travelers from Abuja will be in Fort Collins later this week for a Peacock Convention (yes, that's right!). We plan to host him for dinner and learn more (one reason to keep checking this blog).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stuck in Abuja

No wonder people in Africa say 'God willing' after stating their plans. Instead of being in New York right now, Mark and I are at the Savanna Suites in Abuja. Our flight on Delta last night was cancelled due to 'mechanical problems' and we are rescheduled to fly out tonight, God willing. If not, we may see Dr. Chris in Abuja tomorrow as he prepares for his trip to the U.S..

We've chosen to view this extra time in Nigeria as a learning opportunity. So far we've learned two things. 1) Faith Alive treats us SO well; it puts the hotel to shame. For breakfast here I ordered eggs, sausage, and fruit, only to be told that their eggs, sausage, and fruit 'are exhausted.' So I had chips (french fries) and fried plantain instead and waited about an hour to be served. 2) Delta is not a good airline. I flew to Nigeria with a team from Nativity Church in Maryland, and they received almost NONE of their luggage. The airplane had also run out of toilet paper before landing in Abuja. Now we are going to travel for three days instead of the two long days we'd expected, and we don't have the things we need (shampoo, extra clothes, etc.). Kai!

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Denial

Kai,we only have two more days until we begin our journey back to Colorado! I'm in the first stage of grief. Denial tells me I could simply pack my Nigerian brothers and sisters in my luggage or just return in a few months. Others are also afflicted with denial -- Pastor Thomas scheduled me to give a devotion next week to which Dr. Chris replied "Obama has given us permission to use the presidential jet to fly Erika back for that!"

When reality takes over, I'll have to start saying my saanjimas (Hausa for see you later). God willing, I'll continue to come to Faith Alive until I'm an old woman who has to be wheeled out of the airplane!

Also God-willing, Mark and I will be home late Monday evening. After that, I hope to post a lot more photos on this blog (although this will be the ONLY one where Mark and I wear matching outfits!).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Celebrate Recovery

I attended Faith Alive’s inaugural ‘Celebrate Recovery’ class last weekend, and who should appear on the introductory video but the American pastor from Saddleback Church – Rick Warren. After nearly six weeks immersed in Nigeria landscape, people, and pronunciations, I was surprised to see a video that might be shown in my Colorado church. The recovery message is universal, but I’m not sure how the Hawaiian shirts translate.

Anyway, there’s a need at Faith Alive to offer healing from addictive habits, hurts, and hang-ups. At least ten staff members lead the class in addition to their full-time roles. One of our Save-A-Life patients is battling alcoholism and it was encouraging to see him at the class. Keeping him sober allows his anti-retroviral drugs to fight his HIV and fulfill his life’s purpose (which would surely please Rick!).

Computer Consultations

Mark has found his niche at Faith Alive and it's definitely not on the ground floor where I spend most of my time seeing patients in overcrowded conditions. It’s also not in the counseling department where people discover their HIV status (another of my favorite places). It’s on the upper floor, at a desk, in front of his laptop, working one on one with staff to increase their computer competency. Twenty staff signed up for his first overview class, but only six or seven came. However, they seem to love the drop-ins for personal training. He was so busy today that he worked right through lunch. Being the serving Nigerian wife that I am (ha!), I carried his lunch to the clinic. Mark wasn’t impressed that I carried it on my head because, unlike Nigerian women (even girls!), I had to hold onto the pot with my hands.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Answered Prayers

Fifty four boxes of lifesaving Save-A-Life medications have arrived at Faith Alive. Thanks for the prayers for safety and success. You'll see a VERY happy Dr. Chris in the photo, along with Pastor Thomas who works in the storage room.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lagos Update

Dr. Chris returned safely from Lagos and, with the help of the DHL delivery people, was able to convince the authorities to release the Save-A-Life medications. They wanted him to pay a fee (bribe?) but he refused, saying the medications were given to him for free and he will give them to his patients for free. If he pays then they will not be free anymore. We are expecting the shipment any day. To illustrate how random Nigerian flights are, his morning flight out was postponed seven hours because the plane decided to go somewhere else first. On his way home, he got to the airport at 2 pm and was able to take the delayed 10 am flight. We call this ‘Nigerian time’, meaning whenever you feel like it.

Soccer -- the Unifier

There are many things that separate Nigerians (Islam and Christianity, differing tribes, etc.) but one thing unifies them – soccer. We watched tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Tunisia, in the flat with Dr. Chris’s sister Grace and a Muslim couple visiting from Madiguiri. High-fives! Kais! Go green and white! Victory was so close, but we settled for a tie in the last minutes.

Now imagine a Nigeria where Christians and Muslims sit side by side cheering for peace, fairness, education, and healthcare. That would be a winning team.

Getting Down with Jesus

What members of Latter Glory Church lack in numbers, they make up for by praising God. We spent at least half of the first hour singing and dancing before they said ‘NOW let’s get down with Jesus.’ This was followed by an hour and a half sermon (I hope my pastors don’t get any ideas!). I’d love to get a CD of their Christian-reggae music, but preferably without the smothered microphones and booming loudspeakers.

I’ve deliberately attended different churches each Sunday, and find that they each have their own distinct flavor. Pastor Ben’s Church (that’s what we call it) included lively dancing and lasted about two hours. St. Theresa’s Catholic Church was very traditional until a live goat joined our crowded dance down the aisle (for a sacrifice of thanks); that service was just one and a half hours. Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) was a new congregation singing A Cappella and welcoming me to share the vision of Faith Alive. Latter Glory seemed to have the youngest congregation members, including Ann from the salon and Joshua from IT. In addition to Dr. Chris’s family, the neighborhood lady who makes beancakes each morning was also there. (Photo courtesy of Frank Lozano)

Anyone Hungry?

What do lions like to eat? Yes, people, but they also appreciate goats. We were honored with a personal tour of the zoo by Dr. Ben’s brother Solomon who’s temporarily working there. The highlight, as gruesome as it was, consisted of him throwing live goats over the lions’ fence (one for each adult lion, and a half a dead goat for the cubs). Fascinating, actually, but very sad to hear the goats’ last cries. Hands down, the best zoo tour I’ve ever had.

Speaking of eating (in Nigeria it’s called ‘chopping’), we are being fed very well. Generally we have what Nikki Burks calls ‘mystery meat’ to put on our pasta or rice. But Baba, our cook, also has some newer dishes. When I ask what’s for dinner, he jokingly says ‘ask the pot.’ We’ve had Shepherd’s Pie, Macaroni and Cheese to rival anyone’s (has hard boiled eggs in it), and Curry Chicken. He generally also offers us fruits (bananas, papayas, and pineapples) and vegetables (beans, carrots, and cabbage) to round out our diet. On special occasions we have pancakes for breakfast (and not made from a mix!). I asked one time if there was a special occasion for that, and he said he didn’t have enough bread for toast. Hmmm…I’m thinking of hiding the bread.

Saturday evening we ate at a very fancy Chinese/Lebanese restaurant. It’s aptly named Hill Station because it’s on a hill overlooking Jos. There are linen tablecloths, folded napkins, and warm washcloths to clean our hands with before dining. Quite a contrast to the surrounding poverty and hunger, but a welcome treat nonetheless. Our hosts were Clement (a lawyer) and his wife Kate (headmistress of Elim Elementary School). Clement had just returned from giving a weeklong training about advocating for children’s rights in the court system. They’re a well-matched couple with a shared vision to do God’s work.

The High Cost of Education

It’s back-to-school time for Nigerian children. American children sport first-day-of-school outfits and backpacks filled with sharp tipped crayons, notebooks, calculators, and Twinkies. Nigerian children, at least most of the ones I meet who are fortunate enough to even GO to school, sport overpriced school uniforms (mandatory) and have families whose ‘feeding money’ is depleted to pay for school fees and books. Let’s see, shall we eat this month or send little Musa to school?

Minimum wage at Faith Alive is 10,000 Naira a month, or 120,000 Naira yearly (double the national standard). That’s about $70 a month, or $840 a year (U.S. dollars). There’s no free education here, with the lowest yearly tuition, books, and uniforms costing at least N25,000 PER CHILD. Now figure a Faith Alive staff widow with three children of school age needing to pay N75,000 -- over half her salary. Let’s see, which one of my three children will I enroll in school?

I was losing heart until Mark and I visited Elim Elementary School today. The school founder and headmistress is Kate Clement, and she restored my faith that God IS providing for the poorest of the poor. The daughter of a widow who sacrificed for her children’s education, she invites area widows to bring their children to Elim at no cost to them (thanks to those of you who sponsor these children!). We met with seven widows whose children receive these scholarships, and they pass along their sincere gratitude. With Kate’s example, these children will one day have good jobs and ‘pay it forward’.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Kai, the Gen!

We've been hearing a lot of kais lately. I don't know how it's spelled, but frustration is understood in any language. Electricity in Nigeria is a MAJOR problem. The Nigerian Power Association (NEPA)is extremely unreliable (we're fortunate if it comes on randomly for at least an hour a day), leaving homes and businesses to rely on fuel-powered generators. Faith Alive's gen was broken again for the last few days, completely halting the lab, xray, and ultrasound machines. No surgery, no medical records, no pharmacy records, no internet (hence no blog entries for a few days). Some patients have waited for HOURS each day waiting for their medical tests. I met a woman with a CD4 of 8 who was waiting for her chest xray; we need to know if she has tuberculosis to know whether or not to start with ARVs or wait and treat for tb. Electricity also powers the well water that flows through our pipes. Without it, the sewage starts to back up and fill the clinic with stench. Kai!

We're praising God that the gen is at least temporarily fixed today. But the bigger problem remains. A new gen costs about $75,000 USD. Anyone know of a compassionate company willing to make a large donation? (Photo courtesy of Frank Lozano)

Fine, Thank You

Mark and I visited an emaciated, shriveled-up man whose tuberculosis and AIDS render him homebound. It’s apparent why AIDS in Africa was first called ‘Slim.’ The man is only about 40 years old, and has three children and a wife (who works outside the home). Their oldest daughter is about 12 and is his main caretaker. She calls her daddy ‘sir’ and bows a little curtsey before measuring out and giving him medications. The youngest is a boy of about 3 who wears a John Elway jersey (and no pants!). Their home is two small rooms – a living area and a bedroom with just a twin-sized bed and fortunately a mosquito net.

We also visited the Faith Alive Community School, Hwol Yarje, on the outskirts of Jos. Mark laughed and played with the children who ran up to greet and hug us. One boy had the honor of carrying Mark’s heavy backpack, increasing the boy’s place in the village pecking order. A precocious little girl wearing a ragged dress kept saying ‘fine, thank you’ to everything we asked her. It’s encouraging to witness the progress there in just the one and a half years since I first visited.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dr. Chris is in Lagos

Thanks to all of you who have been praying for safety and success for getting the Save-A-Life medications out of customs in Lagos. Dr. Chris left today for Lagos and plans to return Thursday. He'd scheduled me to go with him, but I asked to stay in Jos with Mark since this is his first time at Faith Alive. Your continued prayers for those lifesaving medications are appreciated.

How Is Your Donkey?

Mark and I are at different stages of learning Hausa, the most prevalent tribal language in Jos. He’s pretty good at sannu (hello) and nagode (thank you), while I’m feeling quite smug with my growing vocabulary. So confident that I’ve even been asking people at the clinic ‘How is your body?’. Imagine my surprise at their laughter – fortunately somebody politely explained that I’ve REALLY been asking ‘How is your donkey?’ At least it’s not as bad as the preacher in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible who mistakenly called the bible ‘poison’!

Also, I've learned (the hard way, again!) that husbands and wives in Nigeria do not call each other by their first names. It's especially disrespectful for a wife to call her husband by his first name because she is supposed to treat him like a semi-God. A title like 'sweetie,' 'my dear,' or even 'my Lord' are more acceptable. There's no question which one Mark prefers. :-)

He's now met almost all of the Faith Alive Family and toured the area. On Wednesday he’ll start meeting with Joshua to plan their computer training lessons for next week, and also go to Nigerian football (soccer) practice. Right now he’s practicing the American couch potato and missing his Fantasy Football draft.