Following is John Vogt’s diary on his trip to Nigeria. He is now OK and back to California. Posted at his permission.
1 down; 2 to go
Things have gone well on my Nigerian adventure so far, but this has been the most rugged and remote place I have ever taught. Please read the attached file for an account of the trip so far. Although this is not a safe country, we feel safe. See the attached picture of the two police officers with machine guns who sit outside our classroom and house all day long and who accompany us wherever we go on those rare occasions when we are allowed to leave the school grounds. They even come, guns in hand and full police uniforms, to church with us.
Thanks for your interest and prayers, John/Dad
Nigeria Trip – January 4-27, 2013
The trip over the ocean was uneventful and on time although it took more than an hour to pass through passport control and customs after we arrived. Both went smoothly with no questions asked. We got a foretaste of what was to come from the Nigerian lady who sat between Prof. Cherney and me on the plane. She spent much of the trip singing praise songs quietly to herself.
We stayed overnight in Lagos before the plane ride to Uyo the next afternoon. The Ibis Hotel was near the airport and well secured with a high wall around it and uniformed guards at the gate. Even the bottom of the hotel’s pick-up car was checked with mirrors before the gate was opened. We discovered that the $205 reserved room had only one double bed. We were told that there were no rooms with two beds and no way to get a cot in a room. Ken went ahead and purchased a second room – offered to us at a special rate of $125. I was disappointed when I saw the large swimming pool because I hadn’t brought a swimsuit. We spend the afternoon and evening in the hotel since there was nowhere to go.
At the airport the next day four men insisted on helping us get check in – which did expedite things for us. We didn’t stand in the long line; one of the men jumped ahead with our passport and luggage, returned with a bill for $120 for overweight luggage, then brought our passports, boarding passes and baggage check. The four then told Ken that he needed to “make them happy.” A $3 tip for each seemed to do the job.
We arrived at the seminary and found it about like my stereotyped expectation. It’s up a series of dusty dirt roads with huge speed-bumps. It’s hot – in the 90s with little shade. The buildings sit in an open area with an orange dirt yard. Ken and I have a house to ourselves, each with his own bedroom and mosquito net over the bed. There’s no electricity except for three hours of generator power in the evening and no hot water ever. An iron fence secures our porch and front door. We are assured that all is safe because two police officers armed with automatic weapons will guard us by day, and a group of teenaged vigilantes also with guns will stand outside all day. “Don’t be alarmed if you hear gunshots during the night,” we’re told; “that’s your guards warning would-be intruders to stay away.”
Ken and I walked down the road 3 or 4 blocks to the small village, but were told later that’s a no-no and don’t do it again. We weren’t even allowed to walk the 100 yards to church. The two police men in full uniform even rode with us in a car to church and sat guard outside during the nearly three-hour service.
The service was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The pastor said it started already at 6:00 A.M. although we didn’t come until about 9:45. We arrived for the last 15 minutes of the prayer hour. Each of the approximately 150 people were standing and saying their personal prayers out loud, creating a loud chaotic noise. The service followed with about 90 minutes dedicated to taking the offering. About a dozen chances were given for the people to dance up to the front accompanied by loud music of keyboard and drums and place money in the bowl. It looked about like the chain dance at a wedding reception. Toward the end came a special offering for windows in the pastor’s home. One by one, givers came forward, made a little speech and announced their gift. That was reminiscent of the wedding-gift scene in Fiddler on the Roof. Most of the remaining time was spent in singing by groups and soloists and announcements by various members – with lots of handclapping, Praise the Lord’s and amens. We were there for about 3 hours of service during which we heard no Scripture readings, sermon, confession of sins, creed, Lord’s Prayer nor sacraments. The people seemed to enjoy the service, and to my surprise no one skipped out early.
During the day the students returned, and we met them one by one as they arrived. Also the seminary’s board of directors held a meeting and called us in to be welcomed. Dinner was chicken, yams and papaya. Supper was a bowl of popcorn.
Monday – The first day of classes went well. My challenge is to understand the African English; my age-appropriate hearing is probably part of the problem. Twelve students and instructor are crammed into a small room with no lights or air circulation. It’s warm, but students were attentive and involved. I’m using “the Weiser method” — let the students give a list of questions of things they don’t understand or want to discuss about the day’s reading assignment. There are lots of questions. The teaching challenge is to put some organization into the answering and to make sure all the important truths are covered.
In the afternoon Ken and I walked around the compound 20 times while the two security guards sat under the shade tree and counted our laps. 20 laps take about an hour. My goal is to add a lap a day. By the end of the walk we’re sweating profusely. My first stop on return to the house is to wash out the sweaty shirt in the bathtub. Today’s walk was different – it rained. They say this is the first time in months and likely to be the last time we will see rain.
Evening was special. The government electricity came on the first time. I’m told that it’s a true blessing from God if the electricity stays on all night, so we can run the ceiling fans over our beds. No luck; we were plunged into darkness at 8:30.
Tuesday – Falling comfortably into the routine. I had the best night’s sleep so far. Still no health issues and no mosquitoes. Although there are no mosquitoes so far, I wear long pants and sleep with pajamas to expose as little skin as possible since avoiding bites by malaria-carrying mosquitoes seems to be worth the discomfort. The lizard in my bedroom and mice in other rooms leave us alone. I had chapel. Since it was Second Christmas Day on the Eastern (Ukrainian) calendar, we sang “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and had a devotion based on Micah 4:1-7 and 5:2. Class went well.
The afternoon walk – 21 laps around the football (i.e. soccer) field. I finished Augustine’s City of God – ca. 1000 pages – in three days. Surviving well, but have LOTS of time on our hands with nothing to do except prepare for class, take our walk and read for about 8 hours. There’s no radio, tv, Internet and almost no contact with anyone apart from class. Ken who is handling the money has regular visitors, but they stay only as long as it takes to count out the cash. So far the only thing I’ve been asked for is an NIV Bible – by one of the students and one of the guards. I regret I didn’t bring some along from the ready supply of free Bibles in the U.S.
Wednesday – It cooled off to a pleasant 80’s or so last evening. For the first time I pulled a sheet over me during the night. The students closed the classroom windows and wore jackets or sweaters. They complained about how uncomfortably cold it was. By noon it was above 90 again.
The afternoon walk – 22 laps. One of the students climbed a tree by our house and harvested a couple figs the size of large coconuts. He opened one and shared some pieces with us. It tasted and had the texture of pineapple. Very tasty. A police truck with 5 fully armed police men, one wearing his SWAT team helmet arrived while we were walking. They joined our guards under the fig tree for a two hour break.
By the way, the names here are special. The female police officer’s name was Glory; one of the men was Israel. Among the student’s we have Saviour and Happiness. We’ve met Pastor Sunday and Elder Monday.
Wednesday is the weekly seminary service when a student delivers a sermon. It was a pleasant service about 45 minutes long. I’m not sure where they find the melodies to the very familiar English hymns they sang, but they certainly didn’t lack volume or enthusiasm.
Thursday – Good day of classes. Chicken pie with a cross on the crust for lunch. 23 lap walk. We asked to go into the market since this was market-day. Interesting stop – four rows of about 20 stalls each with lots of dried fish, large yams, periwinkles and colorful fabrics. I was told the palm oil soap was great for the skin, but didn’t buy any (yet). People were friendly, smiley, and didn’t object to getting their picture taken. I bought a dozen bananas for 30 cents. They were small but very sweet.
After the market our driver took us to his home. It was new, large and modern on a walled private compound with two houses. He had a TV with satellite dish, his own well, windows with screens, a door with bullet-proof glass, and said he was wired for air conditioning. Our driver said that that he sleeps outside at night to provide security for his grounds. It turns out that he is the son of the clan chief who died a couple years ago. An attractive ”memorial hall” (mausoleum) which holds the late chief stands just outside the front door, and a new one was being built on the grounds for the chief’s wife who died recently. We learned a bit about how things work in the village. There’s a clan chief who is head of the large extended family which makes up a large percentage of the inhabitants. There’s a “coocoo” who handles the traditional religion and medicine, and a village chief who serves like a mayor. The village chief in this community is a member of our Lutheran church. Families are to handle matters, if possible, through their clan chief, and only involve the government if it cannot be settled there.
The evening ended with the usual cold-water shower, which feels pretty good after a day of sweating.
Friday – a rough ; the allergies have kicked in. Perhaps the short rain we had a few days ago has caused some plants or flowers to wake up. Classes went well; one week down; two to go. Students asked if I would please give them some sort of written study guides (since “the Weiser method,” as I understand and am trying to use it, jumps all over the place with no clear indication of what’s important). Preparing such guides will give me something to fill all the free time Ken and I have each day. I worked on those guides until after 11:00 Friday night. In fact, the whole day passed without my needing to resort to Augustine to burn some time.
25 laps around the football field today. While we were walking, the elderly chief of the village stopped by to say “Hi.” Afterwards we sat under the fig tree and shared one of the giant figs with the two guards and a student. We learned that, as far as those men are concerned, Nigeria is already two countries – a harsh Moslem country in the north and a Christian country in the south. They think the country is just waiting for someone to figure out how to complete the division. They also told tales of violence against Christians in the north and even the assassination of its Christian governor. If I understood correctly, the Christians were told to pack up and move out and that most of them wisely did. We also learned that most of the students live 14 or 15 hours from the seminary.
Cultural notes: No one can give me a distance in miles or kilometers to his home; distance is measured in how long the travel takes.
“Good morning, Sir,” “How are you, Sir,” “May I ask a question, Sir,” “Let me carry your books, Sir,” “Thank you, Sir.” It’s a throwback to the old South which I grew up in (Florida in the 50s and 60s). By the way, we have not seen a white face since we left the airport in Lagos a week ago. The students have even offered to do our laundry, but we have politely declined their offer. I try hard to carry my own books to and from class, but don’t reject an earnest offer to help.
Saturday – no classes. We took a morning walk (26 laps) on a cool (upper 70s) and breezy day. This is winter in Nigeria – which really means that it’s the dry season. The temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year. One of the students commented on how cold it is today. We saw a man ride by wearing a winter coat like you’d see in Michigan this time of year.
The village chief, a dignified man who must be in his 80s, stopped by to say “Good Morning.” His outfit was a matching set of bright orange shirt and pants (about like a set of pajamas) and a red Santa Claus cap. An amusing combination.
We’re being taken to a nearby town today which is supposed to have an Internet “café.” If you have received this, it is evidence that we succeeded in getting on line.