Monday, December 28, 2009

Get Me to the Church on Time!

Bayo and I were married 13 years ago today. I was an hour late to our wedding due to circumstances beyond my control. Hmmm, I 've never put it that way before. It's completely true, but now having lived in Nigeria for 14+ years, I certainly wouldn't make the mistake of only having Plan A as I did on that day.

Here's the scoop: Bayo had made arrangements with a friend of his to pick me up from my house at 10 a.m. and get me to the church in time for our 11 a.m. wedding. Well, it was the 4th Saturday of the month and there was enforced city-wide sanitation from 7-10 a.m. This means "Stay home and clean your compound. No driving allowed." Ok, we knew that so we figured the driver would leave his house about 10 and pick me up about 10:10 and get me to the church by 10:25 or so. No problem.

Well, what we didn't count on was that the driver had not prepared the car beforehand. You can't carry a bride to the church in an undecorated car! So at 10 a.m. he went out to the market to buy ribbon and tape, etc. so he could decorate the car.

Meanwhile, my bridesmaids and I had left my house and were standing out in the driveway of my compound looking for the driver.(I didn't have a car at the time and didn't drive in Nigeria.) Thankfully a friend happened to drive through our compound "just in case we needed anything." Yes--get me to the church in time!

Finally we arrived at the church compound. Then we all had to quickly get dressed and get our hair done. At the stroke of noon, I walked down the aisle. Of course, Bayo was in a panic over what had happened to me. All the guests came on time to our wedding since it was a bature (white person) getting married, and we are known for keeping to time--ha!

But I guess that was just part of my immersion into the culture as I joined the vast majority of tardy Nigerian brides!

Born on Christmas Day

Yesterday at church the pastor asked for anyone with a December 25th birthday to stand up. Five people stood up. Then he asked their names. The three men were: Emmanuel, Christian, and Josiah. The two women were: Emmanuella and Christiana.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Time to Rest

Everything is breaking down around here:
  • The quilt machine went down on Saturday while we were trying to get a few final orders done for the U.S. I hope it's just a blown fuse or two.
  • The generator also gave out the same day.
  • Internet went down Mon, Tues, Wed.
  • And our family all has colds of one degree or another.
I think the message is clear: it's time to rest our machines and our bodies!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

An Eventful Saturday: Part II

After the orphan Christmas party, I rushed home, changed into wedding attire and got to the reception venue about 3 p.m. The wedding had probably started at 11 a.m., and the reception hadn't even started by the time I got there. When the bride and groom made their grand entrance, I couldn't even get close enough to get a good picture. We'll just have to settle for a shot of some of the 10 bridesmaids and 8 groomsmen.

There was a live band playing really good Nigerian dance music. Lots of 'talking drums' too. Sorry, no photo of that this time. Have I ever mentioned that ALL Nigerians are really good dancers? They dance with confidence as these fluid moves flow out of their bodies. I've come to the conclusion that they acquire their rhythm by the time they're 3 years old; hence, it's impossible for someone like me to ever catch up.

The reception hall was packed. Lily and I had some great seats against the wall so we could really see everything that was going on. (Bayo was taking care of some ministry details and the boys were in the pool.)

The 'satellite dish' headtie is ever-popular at events such as this. I was even wearing a red one myself. I'll have to get a picture the next time.

And Lily's friend was the "little bride."  Lily thoroughly enjoyed everything about the reception.  She soaked in every detail.

An Eventful Saturday: Part I

Today Mashiah Foundation hosted its annual Christmas Party for orphans and vulnerable children. Over 200 children were in attendance. Here's a shot of a few of them.

Ameh, the director of Mashiah Foundation's OVC (Orphans & Vulnerable Children) Program, is arranging the gifts of clothing/fabric.

A local chief helped with the presentation of the gifts of fabric.

This girl appears to be quite pleased with her gift.

Another very pleased girl!

We had plenty of rice to 'chop' (eat).

What's a party without a soccer game?

After a brief stint on the soccer field, Ameh was back to the sidelines.

It was a memorable day for all involved. Now the orphans will feel like they have been able to celebrate Christmas this year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What Women Married 10+ Years Know

During this holiday season our Women of Hope quilt and sewing shop sees more male customers than usual.

One man ordered about $40 worth of 12" x 12" squares of all kinds of fabric for his wife's birthday. She's a quilter who keeps her work handy and hand-stitches her quilt blocks wherever she is. When he ordered the squares, I thought, "What an observant husband he is to give her such a perfect gift!"

Another husband ordered a cushion that will keep his wife more comfortable when she's working on her computer in bed. What an observant, thoughtful husband!

And yet another husband said to me, "You know that quilt you made for those people who left a couple years ago? I want you to make me one just like it. My wife loved that quilt. Now, not a word to my wife."

As I complimented these men on their keen powers of observation, they each revealed that...well, their wives had made some pretty direct hints about what they would like. But I do have to give them credit for actually remembering and following through on those not-so-subtle hints.

I can't even remember ever playing the hinting game in our marriage. I prefer the direct approach. Three years ago a friend was selling her gorgeous set of Winterberry Christmas dishes. I said to Bayo, "Honey, what would you think if I bought this set of dishes and called it my 10th anniversary present?"

"Sure, go ahead."

Maybe it's not romantic, but it sure is practical.

Come to think of it, that anniversary gift served for our 11th and 12th anniversaries as well. I'm still pretty tickled with those dishes so I think they can cover for our 13th anniversary in a couple of weeks. That sure was a great gift, Bayo!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Tonight I asked Tobi to select a book for me to read to all of them. I gave him three choices:
* A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (children's version retold by Anne de Graaf)
* The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
* Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Well, he chose none of them. He got out three other Dickens books and said, "How about Oliver Twist or David Copperfield or Nicholas come all of these books are so sad?"

Ok, so I made an executive decision. "Let's read, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." (See sidebar.)

Well, they didn't think they'd like it, but they were rolling off the couch and emitting deep belly laughs by the time I had finished the first chapter. In a nutshell, the story is about six straggly rag-a-muffin siblings who bully their whole school. They start coming to church because they heard about all the refreshments there. Then they bully their way into getting the six main parts in the annual Christmas pageant. They end up bringing a fresh perspective to the 'greatest story ever told' as they hear about it for the first time.

We read for so long that we got hungry. So we got out a snack, and I resumed reading, but that didn't go so well. We just about had a couple of choking attacks and milk-through-the-nose episodes. We stopped eating and returned to the living room. During one paragraph where I couldn't even get the words out because of laughter, Bayo came out of his office (where he was working diligently on his end-of-term paper) and said, "You people are making too much noise!"

I rejoined, "Sit down and enjoy the story with us." And he did.

An hour past bedtime, I closed the book and said, "We'll finish the last two chapters tomorrow. The kids disappointedly shuffled off to bed. I read this book to them about 3 years ago, but I think they were too young to appreciate it. This time my 6 & 9 year-olds really got the humor. And my 4 year-old would chime in with belly laughs half a second after the older two.

I have a feeling they'll ask me to finish the last two chapters at breakfast, but that could be dangerous.

It looks like this book will become standard December reading in our household.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Feliz Navidad!

Lily, David and I ran a few errands this morning. While we were shopping in a Lebanese-owned grocery store, we heard "Feliz Navidad" on the piped-in music system. That struck me as funny: I'm an American living in Nigeria, shopping at a Lebanese store, listening to a song with Spanish in it. Lily & David had never heard the song, and before I knew it, David was dancing in the aisle! I guess it does have a catchy beat. For the rest of the day, I've heard Lily singing it around the house.

The next song on the playlist was "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." The only 'white' Christmas we'll get around here is a blanketing of harmattan dust which will cover every possible surface.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Reason Why I Love Living in Nigeria (#2)

Fresh, real peanut butter.
Ingredients: peanuts, nothing else.
Made: in the last couple of days.
Cost: $6.67

Peanuts, which are called "ground nuts" here, are grown in abundance in our state: Plateau State.

I bought this peanut butter at a little market that caters to international customers. I've never known a Nigerian to have a large supply of peanut butter in their home like this, or to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Nigerians often buy a small amount of peanut butter which has been ground up with some hot pepper. Then they dip a raw, bland vegetable called a garden egg or yallo in the peanut butter for a tasty, satisfying snack.

Nigerians eat peanuts for a snack. They also put some of their peanut butter in one of their soups (very tasty!). But probably their greatest use of the peanut is for ground nut oil. Oil is used in nearly every type of cooking here.

Weddings, Continued

The other night Bayo was stretched out on the couch when he suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, I forgot to go to a wedding last Saturday!" I didn't even have that one on my radar. Then he continued, "I have a wedding that I MUST go to this Saturday." We don't know the couple, but we are very close friends with the brother of the bride.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mom, How Come Sundays are Always Sunny?

Just thought I'd share how the kids and I spent last Sunday afternoon.

What's this I'm hearing about a snowstorm in the U.S.?

Alright, to tell you the truth, the water was actually pretty cold, but the sun sure was warm. Middle of the day temps reach 80-90 degrees F. Nightime temps dip down to 55-60.

I sure didn't mind a deserted pool all to ourselves.

Oh, and David, every day is sunny during dry season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

'Tis the Get Married

Today I was chatting with one of my colleagues about the blitz of wedding invitations that arrive every December.

"So Sarah, how many wedding invitations do you have for December?"

"Let me see...I have two on the 12th, two on the 19th, and one on the far."

"Well, I only have four: three on the 19th and one on the 26th." Then I joked, "Who are we to talk--we both got married in December!"

The main wedding season in Nigeria is during the dry season--simply because it's just a lot easier to plan a wedding when you know you can count on the weather being decent. So, the invitations start rolling in October through April.

It's funny, in the first 18 years of my life I can only remember going to two weddings. Now, not a month passes without at least one invitation. Why is that? Well, we're living in a metropolis of over one million people; we know a lot of people; but perhaps the biggest reason is simply that weddings here are huge social events involving many people who may not even know the couple.

Of the four invitations we have for December, I only vaguely know one of the grooms and none of the brides. How's that? For three of the couples, I'm closely connected to one of their relatives. This is standard protocol: you go to the wedding to show support for your friend as well as their extended family. It doesn't matter how many invitations are issued. There is no such thing as an RSVP or a limited number of place settings. By the way, 'RSVP' and a phone number appear on every invitation, but it doesn't mean RSVP. What I can gather is that you can contact this person if you have any questions; alternatively it could be the name of a prominent person who will be at the wedding. Or, as Nigerian jokers like to suggest: it stands for Rice and Stew Very Plenty--which is true.

When I was getting married, my Nigerian maid-of-honor came to my house and said, "Give me one of your invitations. I'm going to give it to my aunt." I thought that was strange since I didn't know the aunt, but now I know it to be a very normal thing.

Sometimes I get confused when I go to the U.S. One summer when I was driving around Iowa visiting churches, I heard about two weddings which were taking place in two families that I'm close to. In my mind I started trying to figure out how I could work the weddings into my itinerary. About a week later, I suddenly realized: I'm not invited--and that means something in the U.S.! In Nigeria, anyone can go to any wedding without receiving an invitation.

I don't go to every wedding I receive an invitation for, but I'll try to make it to a few this December in order to show support for my colleagues. I know my boys won't join me, but Lily never passes up a chance to go to a wedding.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Balancing Act

So much to do--and I love doing it all! The past two days, I have done nothing but hands-on sewing instruction with the the detriment of my other work. But we have a lot of orders to concentrate on, and we want to make sure that we don't disappoint our customers.

I enjoy getting the women to reason with me through the sewing process.
  • If we cut the curtains this way, then the leaves will be going sideways. But if we cut it the other way, the curtains will not be wide enough. How can we fix this?
  • Can you figure out how we're going to sew these angel blocks together? (Diagonal rows--she got it!)
  • What size are we going to cut the border pieces in order to get the pillow to be 14" square?
I really love getting absorbed in the creative world of's just that the other demands of ministry are putting on heavy pressure these days.
  • Write a report on November activities.
  • Prepare a budget for 2010.
  • Work on strategic planning for 2010.
  • Update the website.
  • Proofread this document.
  • Etc.
I don't mind doing these things. They are all good and very necessary. It's just that I struggle with how to divide myself and get it all done.

There are 12 of us who work in the sewing program. Everyone has their own job description and their own specialty. They all help to carry the load. It's just that there are some things that take more of my time and effort--especially when it comes to new projects.

I make it a point never to say: If I want it done right, I'll just have to do it myself.
But, it is true that if I want it done right, I will need to give step-by-step instruction and guidance so that the next time they can do it by themselves. This takes T-I-M-E.

But here's what it looks like in the end:
On Monday at 4 p.m. we gave one of our top quilters fabric and about 3 minutes of instruction on a queen-sized quilt. Today, Wednesday, the top was finished, and she loaded it on the quilt machine and quilted it herself. On Thursday morning, she will submit it to quality control. I can tell you right now: it won't have a flaw. This is the result of instruction and guidance in the beginning stages. (Isn't this where we hope to get as parents?!)

As a side note, about six months ago we gave the above quilter a loan so she could have abdominal surgery. Without this progam, she had no other way to get that amount of money. Today she paid off the balance of her loan in cash. Whenever we have given someone a loan in the past, they have worked it off. This is the first time I have ever seen someone pay off their loan in cash.

And so, the balancing act will continue, but I've come to realize: that's just part of life!