30 November 2014

The great escape meets divine appointment

I had put the kids to bed tonight and was closing the windows when I noticed that the screen had been pushed out a ways on one of the windows. I didn't think much of it and shut the window. I fed the cats and sat down at my computer. Normally, within five minutes of having sat down, I will experience the remarkable joy of having Tinkerbell climbing on my desk, up my back, nuzzling my chin, etc. She didn't come. I was surprised and called her and Joey. They didn't come. Now, OK, cats don't come when called as dogs do, but still... I noticed they weren't eating their food, which is also unusual. And that's when I looked at the pushed-out screen again. I went over to the window, opened it, and wiggled the screen. Yes, the cats could definitely have fit through that gap.

My heart sank. My cats were outside in the dark. They'd never escaped at night before, and I didn't have any idea how long they'd been out. I left the window open on the off chance they could climb back in (which now seems silly, as the window is several feet off the ground and has no outer ledge). I changed into sweat pants and put on a jacket and my flip-flops to go searching. I had no idea how long it would take or how far they might have gone. I let Timothy know I was going outside and would be back soon.

Tinkerbell came as soon as I called her after stepping outside. But I'd left that window open in the house, so I couldn't put her inside. I had to hold her while I kept calling for Joey. That rascal did not come quite so quickly.

A lady was passing by in the parking lot (we live in a large apartment complex) and said hello, then asked if she could use my phone. I said sure, but she realized I was trying to find my cat so helped me round up Joey. He finally appeared, and we cornered him. So I had two very squirmy cats in my arms. I dashed into the house, told Timothy they were fine, ran to shut the window, and then let the cats down. I dashed to get my phone and went back outside, keeping Tinkerbell away from the door. (She attempts escape at least twice a day.) The lady used my phone to call her daughter, who lives in my complex but "was sleeping." She left a message, telling the daughter she'd be at the BP down the street. She then said she "walks," and that her daughter wasn't letting her in. She went off on a long family history, most of it confused and repetitive. I gathered that she had moved down here recently from Indiana to watch her three grandchildren so her daughter didn't have to pay for day care. But her daughter's boyfriend was making up lies about her, so her daughter wasn't letting her in the apartment. She kept repeating that she'd just found out that they had taken the oldest grandchild back to Indiana, "maybe in a cop car," and that he had beat her up. (He is eight.) At some point, I offered her food or a cup of coffee. She came in for the coffee and continued her story--really more of a rant. She was calm and kept saying, "But I'm OK. I'm fine. I'm not crying." She asked me twice--in the midst of her tirade--to pray for her. I offered her a coat--which is funny in itself, and here's why:

I have a coat that my mom gave me--a really nice one--that no longer fits well. It doesn't button when I wear layers under it. I'd put the coat in my give-away box but had hoped to find someone to give it to instead of just taking it to Good Will. This morning at church, Pastor Jeff said many things of great import, among which was that one of the best ways to avoid the love of money is to be generous. During the sermon, I thought about that coat and tried to figure out a way I could give away the coat to someone who really needed it. While I didn't get a miraculous answer, I figured I'd know the right time and the right person when that time came.

And this was it. Tonight when that lady came into my apartment and told me all about her family drama, I knew she needed that coat. She was thin, and I knew she had no real place to go, that she would rest in a nearby hotel lobby until they made her leave. She didn't initially accept the coat but then agreed to take it. She put it on and reached in the pockets, to discover that I'd left gloves in the pockets. We were both surprised, but I told her to yes, take the gloves, too!

Timothy poked his head out of the bedroom to see what was going on, and she finally said she would go and let me take care of my kids. I asked her her name, and she told  me Lisa. I said that before she left, I wanted to pray with her. If you know me at all, you know this is so not me!! But gosh, Pastor Jeff always talks about meeting people all over town (especially at Panera :)) and praying for them. So I figured I'd give it a try. God is pretty darn amazing, and I know He was here with Lisa and me as we prayed.

Pray for Lisa. She's recently divorced from her husband of almost 30 years and is going through a lot of family drama. And right now she is out there "walking" in the cold with no where to go for the night. At least she now has a coat and gloves.

Don't misunderstand; I'm not writing any of this to toot my own horn. I'm not special for entertaining a stranger. (Some would call me downright foolish!) I'm not a super-Christian for praying with some lady facing a lot of anxiety and worry. I'm just excited that God is so big and works in so many ways! If the cats hadn't escaped, I wouldn't have met Lisa and given her my coat. Maybe someone else would have reached out to her. God uses so many people in so many ways! But I'm thankful tonight that I got to be part of what our faith is all about: love.

26 November 2014

A harmattan Thanksgiving

It rains every day through July and August. Then the rain tapers off in September. By October, the air is thick with un-rained water--thick and warm. Not like everywhere off the plateau. Not like Lagos or Port Harcourt. In those cities, when you take a breath, you feel as though you might drown; that's how thick the air is with hot moisture. Jos isn't like that ever, but the closest it gets is in March-April and again in October. That's when you cringe every time you see a baby bundled in four layers, including a knitted cap and mittens. In October, you sigh heavily whenever the electricity goes off because it means the ceiling fan won't be stirring up the wet air. And in October, the students always ask the teachers--every year without fail, "Why aren't there fans in our classrooms?" Every October.

Then you wake up one day in November, and the world has changed overnight. The sun rises as it does every morning--at almost the same time year-round--but shines weakly. You say, "It's trying-oh." The air is still thick, but overnight the moisture has evaporated. In its place is fine reddish brown dust. The windows were left open at night--as they almost always are, and besides, you can't really shut them because they're slatted and not designed to seal--and you can see the thin layer of dust covering the windowsills. If you were to take a napkin and wipe the table, you would see the reddish tinge on the napkin from the dust that has settled overnight. 

The harmattan has come in. 

It happens overnight, while everyone is sleeping. It steals in and permeates everything. Yesterday was hot and humid; today, the temperature has dropped 20 degrees. There is a morning chill. When you step outside, you notice the difference immediately. Dust hangs in the air like fog. When the sun rises and sets, it does so at a horizon clouded with dust--so much so that the sun disappears a full half hour before it actually sets. The closer it gets to the horizon, the more orange it looks, murky.

And people start getting sick. They say it's the change in weather. It messes with their sinuses. Allergies. A few of the Americans with asthma begin to struggle just a bit more to be able to breathe. 

As the days go by, the temperature continues to dip. It never freezes, but it lowers down to the mid-40s at night and mid-60s in the daytime. It's cold in a land without central heating. Most people bundle up and huddle around the fires along the street--vendors selling kosai bean cakes and fried yam. Everywhere people drink "tea" out of insulated mugs or thermoses--maybe black tea with lots of milk and sugar, maybe Bournvita or Milo hot chocolate, also with lots of milk and sugar. 

And everywhere, dust: a reddish brown film on every surface, inside and out--in your hair and on your skin. Everything dries out. The rivers turn to trickles. City water in the tap is off more than it's on. Your skin becomes chapped and cracked. When you use your fingernail to write, "DRY," on your leg, the word stays there for an hour.

This is November: the beginning of harmattan.

And while the word "Thanksgiving" means a great deal here in Nigeria, it doesn't refer to a single day of the year or to turkey dinner with the extended family. Nor does it refer to football or pumpkin pie. "Thanksgiving" refers to any church service centered on gratitude, of which there are a fair few. "Thanksgiving" refers to an offering taken up out of this gratitude. Though there is little electricity and even less running water; though meat is too expensive to eat except on special holidays; though children are struck down with cerebral malaria, meningitis, and typhoid; though peace is a thing of the past in our city; even yet we are all grateful, thankful--for life, for Jesus, for the family we do have.

"American Thanksgiving" is just another Thursday in November. Even at the Christian school where the missionaries send their children, classes are held as usual. There is no turkey dinner. Seniors scramble to prepare for their opening night of the senior play. Around town, different groups of expats have potluck suppers--probably with chicken and maybe with yakwa sauce instead of cranberry sauce. There may be pumpkin pie, but it will be from scratch, and if there's apple pie, it will have cost dearly at over $1 per apple. This is "American Thanksgiving" in our city.

And we Westerners celebrate it. Even the non-Americans join in the festivities, for who wants to be left out of a feast? There is prayer and probably a time of sharing. For we're all thankful. We're thankful for the days we do have water and electricity. We're thankful for safety on the roads and in our homes. We're thankful for anti-malarials and vaccines. We're thankful even for the harmattan to cool off the air. We're thankful that God brought us to this place, this time, and we are thankful that our lives are richer for it.

This is our harmattan Thanksgiving.
Photo courtesy http://pilot-blogbook.com/2007/01/harmattan-daze/

10 November 2014


As of last week, I have lived continuously in one state for four years.

You might not think that's anything special, but maybe you'll understand when I give you another piece of information:

The last time I lived in one state continuously for four years was from 1987 to 1991.


It's true that I lived in Illinois for a total of 4-1/2 years, but they weren't continuous, as I took six months off of college to return to Nigeria when I was 19. Equally, I lived in Nigeria a total of nine years but not ever continuously for more than 2-1/2 years, since we took year-long furloughs, and I came to the States for college.

This is the first time since I was nine years old that I've called one state "home" for four years in a row.

Not that Georgia will ever actually be "home," but I guess I feel as comfortable here as I ever did in Illinois. I've become familiar with the culture, with the highways (at least in east Georgia), with Georgia-isms. I love sweet tea (is there any other kind?) and fried catfish. Heck, my daughter was born here (although technically I guess she was born on federal land). Timothy has lived here most of his life.


When I was little, spending time at my best friend Laura's house in Nigeria, I loved their Southern ways. Laura's dad is from Louisiana and her mom from Georgia, so Laura had Georgia Bulldogs paraphernalia (even though none of them were into sports). She wore Atlanta Braves t-shirts and baseball caps. At her house we ate grits and sometimes even biscuits and gravy. I learned to say "y'all" and "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am" at her house. When we were teenagers volunteering in the hospital, I first learned about MCG (the Medical College of Georgia, which is where I now work) as she talked about maybe going there some day. We would sit on her mom's bed and fold clothes while we watched Star Trek: Voyager, and Laura would remind me that she'd been born in Springfield, Georgia, in that very bed, which had been shipped all the way from the States. Laura's family was my second family, and I loved being Southern by proxy.

And here I am, living in Georgia. Who'd've thunk? Four years. Wow.