Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crisis Makes You Creative

During our days of 24-hour curfew, I really enjoyed the challenge of having to make meals from whatever I had on hand at the moment. This was about the only kind of mental challenge I was up for in the midst of listening to gunshots echo throughout the city. During crisis periods, I find that my brain kicks into survival mode and just focusing on taking care of my family. If truth be told, I think my family gets better meals during crisis periods.
Stew (pork, carrots, potatoes, celery, barley) & Pumpkin Bread

I still had cookie dough in my fridge from December. I never got around to finishing making Christmas cookies. If it weren't for the crisis, I probably would have thrown it away.

I made English muffins for the first time in my life! It wasn't hard at all. Next time, I'll make it even easier: I'll just dump the ingredients in the bread machine and after it rises once I'll roll out the dough and cut the circles.

Lemon Meringue Pie--we had lots of lemons and eggs on hand, so why not?

We still got to have our Friday family favorite: pepperoni pizza. I usually have all the ingredients on hand.

My kids are pretty good at keeping themselves busy. To my delight, I peeked around the corner one day and saw Lily and David having their own little picnic.

Happy Survival

Nigerians are so conscious of marking significant time changes. For example, they are extremely conscious that a new week starts on Sunday morning. In the same vein they are very aware of a new month. And then, the most important of all: transitioning from one year to the next.

Many of my Nigerian friends spent New Year's Eve at a church service--and I don't mean playing games and having a party as we sometimes did. They were at an all-out worship service thanking God for keeping them alive duirng 2009 and then praying in the new year with all its fresh hopes and dreams. Even Nigerians who aren't religious during the year can often be seen attending such 'Crossover' services.

Nigerians really want their January to start well. I was reminded of this when two of my colleagues had a petty argument, and one of them said, "I won't let you spoil my January!"

I think the riots in January surprised us all. We weren't expecting them at the beginning of a fresh new year. That's the kind of thing that happens near the end of the year. In 2001, we had riots in September (four days before 9/11). In 2008, we had riots in November. Nigerians tend to expect bad things to happen in the '-ember' months.

So, as from January 1, we were all going around greeting each other with "Happy New Year!" This can continue for many months until you have seen your repertoire of friends and colleagues and given all of them this greeting. 

Well, I think the "Happy New Years" have been cut short this year as I notice the new greeting in town is "Happy Survival!"

The Aftermath

I'm sorry for my absence. I know people are wondering about the status of things here. The actual fighting/riots lasted from Sunday, January 17 through Wed, January 20. Are things settled? On the surface, but not really. We have a heavy military presence with numerous checkpoints. We now have a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew which probably won't be relaxed for at least a month.

We were not directly affected, but now I'm starting to notice the residual effects. I feel iritable. I can't focus on projects that require thinking (like blogging). I need more space when the kids have their petty arguments, etc. While chatting with friends today, they all shared similar stories.

Many people in Jos were so horribly affected during the riots. The death toll varies according to which account you read. Over 500 people lost their lives. Approximately 20,000-25,000 people have been displaced because their homes were burnt.

When the 24 hour curfew went into effect, one of our houseworkers was with us at the time so she stayed with us for the duration. She later heard that her family home was completely burned; nothing was left. Her family got out in time and took refuge in the police barracks for five days.

Two of the ministry staff members had their homes torched. One of them lost her home in the 2008 crisis. They rebuilt in the same place (some of the blockwork was still standing) and moved back in the middle of 2009. Now the house is demolished once again. How was it possible that she was smiling on Monday?

One of our HIV+ women lives at the epicenter of where the riots started. Her home was burned in 2008. And you guessed it--it was burned again in 2010. She came for Bible study on Monday. She was smiling.

How can these people smile? And I don't mean a forced smile, I mean a radiant smile. Part of it is, they are just so grateful to be alive and to still be with their family members. Another part of it is: they're survivors. They rise above the problems around them. And still another part is their faith which sustains them.

There were some atrocities which are so terrible that I don't want to mention them here.  If you do a Google search, you can find more than enough.

So, I'm dealing with a little residual stress from the whole experience. Let's put it in perspective: So what? We experienced absolutely nothing compared with many people. I, too, am resilient, and I will be a survivor like my Nigerian brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Well, in case you haven't heard it yet, our fair city of Jos has been embroiled in violence since Sunday afternoon. At first we thought it was an isolated incident that would blow over, but rather, the situation continued to escalate. It got so bad that a citywide 24-hour curfew was announced about 9 a.m. today. That's serious.

I won't go into the background of the violence on this blog, but if you Google "Jos Nigeria violence 2010," you'll find plenty of reading material.

This is the third time our family has had an experience like this (2001, 2008, 2010). So how do we handle it?

Watching videos in our house is generally a once a week occurence, but on riot days, my default mode is movies for the kids. After David and Lily had watched their fourth movie, I told them to go run around outside for awhile. When Bayo saw them outside he said, "Go back in the house and watch another movie!"

With puzzled looks, they said, "OK, Dad."

Aren't there other things to do in the house besides watching movies? Well yes, but the movies tend to drown out the gunshots, which is what I want.

Tobi spent the whole day playing computer games with the other compound boys.

Bayo has all kinds of on-line assignments to get done, but he's had a hard time focussing with all the extra-curricular activity going on.

I feel like I should somehow be productive on these riot days. Generally, I find that I can't really do mental tasks on days like this. My main focus is to be creative in the kitchen. With a 24 hour curfew that means I can't buy anything. Whatever I'm going to feed my family has to come from whatever I can find in the house right now. By the way, I'm cooking for 5 extra people now besides my own family.

What do I have on hand:
wheat cereal
4 lbs. of meat
canned pizza sauce (homemade)
28 eggs

I have a few bits and pieces of other things, but nothing substantial. Just knowing that I can bake bread for about 3 weeks straight brings me solace. Also, we have an orange tree which will help take care of our need for fruit. I figure I can feed my household for about 10-14 days. They wouldn't be thrilled with all of it, but it would be edible. How does meat and oatmeal sound?

Anyway, we believe this curfew will be lifted within the next day or two, and then we will be able to buy more supplies. I do enjoy the challenge of making the most of every single item in my kitchen and providing balanced meals for my household at the same time.

However, while I look at this as a creative challenge, I know there are thousands of people who were caught unaware today with just a few meager provisions in their homes. Many people buy their food provisions daily. Many people (laborers, taxi drivers) work for a daily wage. If you don't work, you don't eat. People who earn a salary are paid between the 25th-30th of the month. That means both money and food supplies are very low for many people right now.

Then there are those people who fled their homes today to take refuge in public places. Will there be food and water for them there? Generally not.

Bayo says hunger will force this violence to come to an end soon.

Meanwhile, we hope, pray and wait.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Just before Christmas I wrote briefly about our generator and quilting machine both having breakdowns.
After all of our meetings and inventory-taking last week, we got around to trying to get these two very essential machines fixed.

We called in the generator repairman. His diagnosis: our engine is shot. Cost estimate to repair it: $200 more than it cost to buy the generator one and a half years ago. My response: I think we'll get a second opinion. We're still waiting to hear from the second repairman. If we discover that we can't fix this gen, then maybe we can get a new one for less than the repair would cost!

A generator shouldn't be worn out after a year and a half, but we have really overworked that gen. It basically runs 40 hours a week plus sometimes more on the weekends when we have urgent orders to finish. But I think the real problem is that we have been using one and sometimes two irons while operating the gen. What are we going to do? We sew, and ironing is a crucial part of sewing. The answer is: we have to go back to charcoal irons. Ugh. It takes a great deal of care to make sure the charcoal iron is not too hot and that ashes don't get on the cloth, but we have no other alternative at this point.

The quilt machine can only operate with the generator's power. Even when we have electricity, the voltage is not high enough to carry the machine. So, we loaded up the generator from our home and took it to the workshop so we could do some trouble-shooting. First we changed the fuses; to our dismay, this did not solve the electrical problem. By this point I had reached the end of my technical know-how. We read the manual some more and fixed a few loose connections, but nothing worked.

Here's my diagnosis: the generator and the quilt machine went on the fritz at basically the same time. I think the malfunctioning generator caused an electrical problem in the quilt machine.

I've just sent out an SOS for quilt machine electrical parts to Mom and Dad. And now I'm doubly glad that they are coming next week. This project just moved to the top of their to-do list!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Thirteenth Day of Christmas

Well, it's the 'Thirteenth' Day of Christmas today. I guess a more appropriate name would be Epiphany. I decided it was time to take down the tree and the few decorations that we have around.

However, the Christmas dishes will remain for the next month or so. Actually they're not overtly Christmas--just greenery with red berries. My sister-in-law says that as long as there's snow on the ground she uses her Winterberry dishes. I think that's a good rationale. Maybe my own will be: as long as it's dry and dusty, Winterberry it will be.

Actually our Christmas will be continuing for quite awhile. We just received our first Christmas card in the mail yesterday. Then the kids got a beautiful Christmas picture book in the mail today. (At first I was afraid it was an advent calendar!) I know my mom has already shipped some cards, and we look forward to receiving those soon.

My parents will arrive in a couple of weeks, and I'm sure they'll be bearing gifts. They were supposed to come at Christmastime, but their plans changed. I dreaded telling Tobi. When I eventually shared the news, his face dropped for a few seconds, and then he said, "If they come in January, will they still bring Christmas presents?"

The only Christmas decoration left in the house is the wrapping paper and bow on my home office door. I had such high hopes of what I wanted to do with the kids during the month of December in our 'Christmas Room,' but they didn't come to pass. I thought I had a second chance with the Twelve Days of Christmas, but that didn't work either. Maybe I'll leave that wrapping paper up for another month or so and see if the kids and I can still do some fun activities in our Christmas Room.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Story of Love 71 Years Ago

My maternal grandparents, Edith  (of Danish descent) and Olav (of Norwegian descent) married on January 4, 1939. Theirs is a simple love story which paints a picture of the Depression era in the U.S. Olav died in January 2007, shortly after they celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.

The above photo was taken recently, just before Edith's 90th birthday. She is holding her first great-great-grandchild.

The following is an excerpt from a family history I compiled in 2002. My grandparents both have meticulous minds for details, and they were also record-keepers.

Olav and Edith first met at a neighborhood party when Olav was 17 and Edith was 14. They saw each other periodically over the next few years. One evening when Edith was 17, Olav came and took her out to the movie Shangri-La in Albert Lea, MN. On the way home, about a half mile from where Edith lived, Olav parked and said, "If I ever get suitable employment, do you think you could spend the rest of your life with me?"

Edith responded, "I think I could." The date was November 2, 1937.

Olav's main goal was to find work so he could provide for his bride-to-be. In February 1938, he worked for his brother Ing in the woods of northern Minnesota. They cut tamarack trees for firewood and cedar trees for fenceposts. They did most of their work with curved Swede saws. It was swamp country so they only worked during the winter when the ground was frozen. In order to get water, they would break the ice over a ditch and fetch it out with a bucket. When spring arrived, the peeled the cedar fenceposts and sold them. Olav worked for his room and board, nothing else--a common occurrence during the Depression.

Later Olav spent time in Crookston, MN with his brother Adolph accompanying him on trucking trips to the Twin Cities. In the spring of 1938 Olav started driving for Adolph. Olav picked up cattle from various farms in the area during the day and then started driving to South St. Paul by about 5 p.m. He delivered his load in the morning and then thoroughly washed out the truck. After that he spent the day picking up freight throughout the Twin Citites, and by nightfall he would drive his load to Crookston. In order to make the trip profitable, a return load was essential. When he arrived in Crookston, he unloaded the truck. He often worked for more than 24, or even 36 hours, at a time without sleep. Occasionally he would take a catnap. When he started driving for Adolph, he made $7 per round trip. Later he made $8 per trip plus road expenses.

All this time Olav was living 350 miles away from his fiancee. He bought a 1928 Model A roadster in 1938 for $50. He used it to make one trip to Frost, MN to see Edith. This was the only time they saw each other during their engagement. After he returned to Crookstron, he sold the roadster a month later for the same price.

During their engagement period, Olav accumulated about $65 which he used to furnish a place for his bride. He bought a bed, a table, and chairs. He would often hunt for bargains on household items such as the iron he bought for firty cents. They still have the solid maple dresser that Olav bought for $2.50.

Edith kept busy during the engagement year by doing housework for others in the winter and helping on the farm in the summer. She did housework for a family in which the husband was blind and the wife had heart problems. She had Thrusday afternoons off, and was paid $3 per week. She worked for three other families for a short period of time. She spent her hard-earned money on clothes because she did not have many.

In early December 1938, Edith made plans to travel to Crookston in preparation for their marriage. She took a bus to the Twin Cities and Olav picked her up there in the truck and drove to Crookston. Edith stayed with Ing and Myrtle until she and Olav married just a month later. They had planned to marry on Edith's parents' anniversary (December 30), but Olav had the opportunity to make a few more trips to South St. Paul with a deadline of January 1, so they postponed their wedding a few more days. Olav completed four round trips from Crookston to South St. Paul. The distance each way was 320 miles and his driving speed with 35 mph. He literally worked around the clock during these trips, stopping only for short naps. Olav joked to the man who needed the urgent shipment of cattle: "You sure loused up our wedding plans!" The generous man then gave Olav a $10 bill as a wedding present.

On January 4, 1939, the Lutheran minister was out of town, so Olav went to see the Presbyterian minister, Pastor Hibbard, to see if he would marry them that night. Pastor Hibbard's wife and daughter were the only witnesses. Edith wore her only nice dress which was wine-colored with a matching lace vest and shoes. She still has the dress. Olav wore his only suit which he had purchased in St. James, MN. After the ceremony, their wedding meal consisted of a hamburger and coffee in the railroad depot cafe in Crookston. The honeymoon was short-lived as Olav took off on another trip to South St. Paul the next morning.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Water is Life

I never knew how precious water was until I moved to Nigeria.
The slogan on the water trucks says:
Water is Life.
I never knew that...until I experienced the scarcity of water.

We get city water about once every two weeks...or three weeks...or four weeks....there is no set timetable.

When it comes, it comes.

At the end of 2009, we didn't have much water at all. We haven't used our washing machine in weeks, but have handwashed clothes instead. Near the end, we were even doing bucket baths to conserve water.

On January 1, we decided we couldn't wait for city water any longer, so we hired a water tanker to come and fill our tanks.
What sweet relief.

When we came home from church today, city water was on --I guess we didn't need that tanker! We topped off our tanks, and pumped to the up-tank, and the city water just kept coming and coming. Usually it runs for a couple of hours and then stops--maybe even before the tanks have a chance to fill. Today it ran for at least 6+ hours.

Let me tell you, we enjoyed that water!

No, the water is not really that dirty, although it was kind of rusty looking. Just notice the dusty landscape that the kids tracked into the water.

My water tanks are full and my heart is full of gratitude.