Sunday, September 16, 2007

Back Again

Although it has been over a month since I have been home, and I have been at college for almost a month (!), I never stop thinking about my trip. My roommate, katerina, never stops hearing about it and I look at my pictures at least once a day. I feel like the energy and love i felt in both Ghana and Nigeria have given me a new strength and happiness that are with me all the time.
When I came home I presented on my experiences at my church. In the presentation I explained what is happening in the Niger Delta Region more thoroughly. Here it is:

Welcome and thank you all for being here this evening. I am very happy to have this opportunity to share my experiences and lessons from my trip to Ghana and Nigeria with all of you.
I traveled with 5 other tripmates from high schools in the Sacramento area. For our team name we chose Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a concept in African Philosophy. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. Given the vast racial, cultural, religious, educational, and socio-economic differences apparent not just in different African societies but the world over currently, the concept of Ubuntu is really rather relevant. It is far too easy to go into the 'us and them' mode. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of judging a different people by our standards or by sticking to certain established stereotypical notions. If you instead regard someone as a fellow human being, all individual quirks and differences taken into account, there is perhaps a greater chance of achieving understanding.
With the goal of understanding in mind I want to give an overview of both Ghana and Nigeria and share special moments I had in both countries.
-Nigeria is the most populous country in all of Africa with an estimated 110 million people. It was a British colony and earned independence in 1960. Since that time various governments, some military, some dictatorial, and most just corrupt have ruled the country. There are three main regions: Ibo, Hausa, and Yoruba and over 250 ethnic groups all totaled. The ibo people are almost exclusively Catholic, the Hausa almost exclusively Muslim and the Yoruba a mixture of Christianity, Islam and traditional religious beliefs.
-Abuja is the Capital and located in the center of the country so as to prevent one ethnicity or religion from gaining more power than the others. It is a developing city containing freeway overpasses overlooking lush green jungles and new skyscrapers, symbols of African modernization. Abuja was the first city that I visited. Before the trip, my uninformed opinion of Nigeria was that there was no diversity, because unlike the united states, the same people have been living there for hundreds of years. Soon after my arrival in Abuja I noticed Muslim students learning side-by-side with Christian students as well as many different tribal scars indicating different ethnic groups. Although there have been ethnic conflicts in the past, several times I was told that they all share being black and this makes them all brothers and sisters.
-The Nigerian government has money from oil, which accounts for 95 percent of the country's export earnings and 80 percent of its revenue.
The problem is that this money does not reach the people. In Nigeria, despite its vast resources, 70 million people still live on less than a dollar a day. There is wealth in the country, but it is concentrated to an elite few, most of who are involved in the government. I heard one lawyer say that the only way to get rich in Nigeria is to get into politics. Corruption affects the every child and the entire nation. Despite these problems, Nigeria is rated the happiest country in the world. When I sat down with the Minister of Education of the Imo State and asked her what the largest problem facing the education system is today, she told me that the problem is not that there aren’t enough teachers, in fact they have teachers that are still unemployed, rather the problem is that the government won’t allocate the funds to education to pay for the teachers and school supplies that the schools need. As a result most classrooms have 50-1 student to teacher ratios. I visited Garki government secondary school in Abuja, the school had 1500 students and 14 teachers. When I left the school I wasn’t left with the view that it was a pathetic school at all. If you look only at the disheartening facts of a country, you can’t get a full idea of what life is like there. What stuck with me was my interactions with some students from the student government that accompanied us on our tour. They were the nicest people I had ever met. I talked with several girls and guys my age and we communicated about family(they had large families too), hobbies, school, plans for the future, our lives etc. there was something so powerful about us connecting in that way- it was as though all of humanity was strengthened by our communication, connection and love. Merchandise
-After 6 days we left Abuja and drove 8 hours to the Capital of the Imo State- Owerri. Owerri was like many other Nigerian cities I saw- overcrowded and dirty. Globalization has caused this all around the world. Countries whose main industries were largely subsistence farming have seen mass exoduses of people moving from rural areas to urban areas in the hopes of finding different forms of work. The problem in Nigeria is that the cities simply do not have the established infrastructure to support the newly populated cities. The highlight of our stay in Owerri was a Children’s Cultural Carnival being held at the local stadium. When we arrived our van was completely surrounded by loads of children waving and smiling and excited to see us Anochas, or white people. For about 30 minutes I got to interact with a group of about 20 kids. They were beautiful. They asked me questions about my life and about the United States. I got a huge group hug at one point and I just wanted to melt from happiness and love. They were so full of hope and optimism. They sang me their national anthem and said their pledge of allegiance. It was beautiful to hear such pride and love of their lives. I asked them if they were happy and they all shouted back a thunderous YES. It really made me have a different take on everything that I was seeing. I realized that the people here are so much more than the infrastructure they live in. I felt privileged to be the one to give the children a moment of joy and excitement. I felt that that moment made my life worth it. The event was children from all over the state competing with performances of traditional dance and drumming. Inside the stadium, before the competition started we watch for 20 minutes hundreds of kids playing on the field of this stadium. They were so happy playing soccer, doing gymnastic tricks, walking hand in hand with their friends. Inside that stadium all the struggles for survival, problems their families face were gone and they were simply able to have childhoods and be 100% carefree. The performances were vibrant and inspired hope into my heart.
-After owerri we went to Ehime, a small rural village 45 minutes outside of Owerri. During my stay here I got to teach a junior high class and teach them activities and games. We had two homestays which were also very amazing and I got to attend a 3 hour Catholic mass all in Ibo. It was really neat that even though it was in a different language I could always tell what part of the mass it was. Several times in Ehime I got time just to play with kids and it truly was beautiful seeing how eager and enthusiastic they were to be with me.
-After Owerri we drove to the most dangerous part of Nigeria- Port Harcourt. My 18th birthday ended up being the hardest day on the trip in terms of seeing living tragedies. We visited the NGO Movement for the Survival of the Oguni People to discuss what’s happening in Port Harcourt. What’s happening is Shell Oil Company and other European and American Oil companies pay a small fee to the Nigerian government to take millions of barrels of oil from the land without owning it. The oil companies bribe the politicians so that there are absolutely no environmental regulations on the process of taking and refining the oil. IN my first night in Port Harcourt I saw the horizon still bright long after the sun had gone down. What I was seeing were the Shell gas flares. Gas Flares are vertical stacks or chimnies found on oil wells or oil rigs, and in refineries, used for burning off unusable waste gas or flammable gas and liquids released by pressure relief valves during unplanned over-pressuring of plant equipment.. At the NGO they told us how the Oguni people, with a population of less than 1 million, have had their means of subsistence- farming and fishing- pretty much completely destroyed because of the horrible environmental damage that Shell has done. In Nigeria most people collect water in huge containers with large holes on stilts that collect rainwater. From these plastic tubs are pipes that go down to ground level with faucets. Everyone in the community goes to the faucet everyday and gets water for drinking, bathing, dishes and everything else. A lot of people have died because the environmental impact and destruction has caused acid rain contaminating the water used for all purposes. Because the environment has been so thoroughly trashed, respiratory problems and birth defects are plaguing the people as well. What’s most disturbing is how Shell takes advantage of Nigeria and acts in a completely different way than it does in the other countries that it drills oil in simply because the politicians are bribe-able. Peaceful attempts were made to call attention to the atrocities Shell is committing, including a non-violent protest with a quarter of a million people, but no responses were issued. This has prompted several rebel groups to use violence and kidnappings in order to call global attention to what is happening. This has caused the area to be very unstable and dangerous. The government fights against the rebels defending the oil companies and just this week killed 70 men fighting for Shell to acknowledge what they are doing to the Nigerian people. After talking to the NGO we drove about an hour to see the communities affected. What we saw was sickening. We saw huge fields of crops swimming in oil because of unfixed pipe leaks, as well as roads covered in oil. The worst part was a field full of oil because of a spill completely on fire. The smoke/pollution was billowing off like a volcano into a huge tower above the entire community. There were several of these fires. The smoke was as black and concentrated as the hearts of those who let this happen. We were able to walk right next to one of the fires. The air quality was so bad I couldn’t even stand it for the five minutes I was exposed to it. The hardest thing was that there was a house not even 20 feet away from the fire. There was a small toddler girl standing in front of the house. I struggle to grasp how humans can subject each other to that for money. Every human deserves the same rights. I ask every person here not to buy Shell or Mobil Oil ever again. The inconvenience it may cause you to drive to another gas station is nothing compared to the possible extinction of the people who live on the land that is being raped by Shell to provide us with the oil we are so addicted to. Being among those living the nightmare made me realize and consider how behind every tragedy heard on the news are the people who live it everyday. Right now, even though I am comfortably back in the U.S., this is still going on.
After leaving the fires my faith in humanity wasn’t faring well. But once again the love and spirit of the Nigerian people showed itself. After a somber drive we went to a secondary school to talk with the students about their lives. We were welcomed with a large reception including 100 or so students coming just to be with us even though they had already started summer holiday. At the reception there were welcome songs and dances performed by the students. Then they brought out a birthday cake for me and sang happy birthday. I was overwhelmed with the effort made for me by all the students of this school. The love and kindness showed to me at that school was the best birthday gift I could have asked for. At the end of the day I knew that the heart of life is good.
The next day we left for Ghana, on the way to the airport I smiled at a little girl standing on the side of the freeway. It was not surprising to see her because vendors walk down all the lanes of busy streets selling plantain chips, sods, boiled peanuts, rat poison, fabric and many other random things. As soon as I smiled at the little girl, she and her brother glued themselves to my window, put out their hands and asked for money. I really didn’t know what to do- I could rationalize either choice. I decided to give them the remainder of my naira (the Nigerian currency). I only had about 50 cents an when I gave it to them they were so ridiculously happy. They went skipping and running towards their parents with their arms, victorious in the ari. I thought of the Tolstoy quote, “ I shall not eat my own piece of bread until everyone has a piece of their own.” It seemed to sum up what I have to do with my life. Our culture has taught us that begging is wrong and unnecessary but seeing the smiles of the hungry children told me that nothing else matters but helping strengthen humanity through all the compassion and love possible.
Upon leaving Nigeria my overall impression was that it is a work in progress and I have northing but hope for the future.

Ghana and Nigeria are two very different countries. This is one message I want to emphasize. Africa is a massive continent with 53 countries, each with its own unique path and history. Ghana was also a British colong and the first African country to earn its independence. Ghana earned independence under the leadership of its first president, Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah took his power and did many good things for Ghana. But her, like many other African leaders, took advantage of the power and essentially became a relatively benevolent dictator. He was eventually overthrown by a coup d’tat leading Ghana into military rule before eventually becoming the stable democracy it is today. Ghana and South Africa are the two most developed nations in sub-saharan Africa. 94% of people in Ghana still live in rural areas and 80% still work in subsistence and commercial farming. Education is free up until High School and it is estimated that 80% of children attend school. Ghana is also one of the few nations on its way to meeting the millennium development goals established by the U.N.
From these figures you can see the future of Ghana is bright. However, commercial amounts of oil have recently been discovered. All eyes are on Ghana to see if the curse of the Black Gold will plague them as it has Nigeria.
The first city we went to was the very developed city of Accra, the capital. Unlike Nigeria, Ghana is a very tourist friendly country.
One of the highlights of our week and a half in Ghana was a home stay we did in a village outside of Kumasi. When we arrived in the village, about 50 people including adults, children, drummers, singers, dancers as well as all of the chiefs and the local king came to the equivalent of a “city hall” to host an entire ceremony to welcome us. First there was drumming for the entrance of the king. A lot of the chiefs did their own dance in the center of the courtyard. There was a welcome speech an we learned about how the sovreighnty of the chiefs and local government is respected by the federal government. By far the best part of the event was when everyone got up including all of us and danced to a powerful drumming and singing group. The energy surrounding the group was powerful making me feel invigorated and full of life. We danced for 20 minutes with the locals under the raining sky.
There were two other experiences in Ghana that touched me profoundly. The first was a visit to an Orphanage. It was located an hour outside of the medium sized city of Kumasi. The combined school/orphanage consisted of 4 open rooms and a kitchen. The rooms were very small and packed tight with bunk beds. 12 girls slept in a room smaller than mine at home. The kitchen consisted of pot and pans and dishes sitting on the floor in a room. While there I taught a group of boys some games like Simon Says and we played hide and seek and hung out. Once again I asked the kids if they were happy, they said Yes and I could see it in their faces and eyes that it was true. One particular boy- Fatowa- who was eleven years old clung to me the whole time. He was so sweet and he had such a beautiful smile. He had been at the orphanage since he was 5. What touched me the most was how much he needed love. I loved giving it to him and I felt like he was my younger brother. I thought about what it would be like not to have my parents and I couldn’t imagine being as happy and kind as the kids were.
The second experience was visiting a Non-Governmental organization- Assemblies of God, Ghana Relief and Development services- lifeline project. The purpose of the organization is to take women and children off the streets. It takes homeless/struggling girls ages 15-1 and trains them with job skills such as sewing, cooking, hair, nails and tie-dye. These are girls of the slums who can’t afford secondary school. It also provides daycare for the working mothers of a shanty-town nearby. The children would have otherwise been left in the shanty towns all day by themselves. The facility had about 300 toddlers and young children with 6 teachers. Although it was chaos, the kids were still getting pre-school education and two meals a day. Being bombarded with kids wanting to hug me and seeing the joy in their faces really affected me. I was taking pictures and the flash of my camera went off. About 20 kids all started shouting with excitement and I saw the happiest faces I have ever seen, simply because of the flash of my camera. I want nothing more than to work with kids abroad. These children were in the worst place in society- born into poverty, but potentially saved by this NGO. I had an overwhelming happiness at the beautiful souls of the kids.

When I reflect on what I got out of this experience I know that I will never be the same. I am inspired to go back and work with NGOs and work with children. When I think back on Ghana and Nigeria I will think of beautiful life. The faces and people I saw were full of life. While in Nigeria I was talking to a local about suicide. He told me that people here would never commit suicide bcause nothing is more precious or loved than the gift of life. They said suicide rate are almost non-existant. No matter how materially poor and struggling someone is, there is still happiness and joy in their life through their community and family. I do not want their happiness to justify inaction in response to poverty, but as a catalyst. Just because people are happy does not mean they don’t deserve to live lives with the threat of starvation or disease. The people who love life have the right to live just as much as any other human. You do not have to travel the world to make a difference. Just take every moment you can to embrace those around you and treat everyone you meet with the love that every human needs and deserves.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

Home Again

Well, I have been back for a week now and it has been nice, bizarre, hectic and stressful preparing for college and readjusting to life in the U.S.

On the flight back from Amsterdam to Minneapolis I found myself sobbing, weeping for many reasons. Everything that I had seen, both beautiful and sad made me never to want to leave Africa. It is hard to quantify how wonderful this experience was because it affected me on so many different levels. My first day back I was looking at the streets and buildings and it seemed to me like I was in some kind of strange Utopia. I know that all areas of the United States aren't beautiful or perfect, but I just couldn't believe that there is an entire nation of people living with such immense luxury. I used to consider myself middle class but i realized that our standards of "lower class", "middle class" and "upper class" are completely different than the rest of the world's. my room seemed huge and ridiculous.

On the trip, while sitting in the many hours of travel in our van I would look out the window at communities, villages and the vast green African landscape. When I saw something that was interesting or that you just wouldn't see in the U.S. I would write it in the last page of my journal.
Here it is- some of these sights were part of my everyday reality, others one time wonders:
-Huts made out of sticks, mud and tin. Not larger than my body height
-Boys playing soccer at school, one of them naked- I have no idea why
-a little boy in the rain selling ground nuts, a large tray of them perfectly balanced on his head
-a lady running up to our van on a side-of-the-road bathroom stop and marvelling at my "long nose"
-Men making cement blocks in outdoor workshops with no shirts on and all of them were ridiculously buff
-an entire alley flooded like a river
-guys always peeing on the sides of buildings and roads
-guys hold their crotches like no one's business and no one cares
-guys hanging on and hanging out of moving cars in Lagos because the small vehicles are stuffed to their capacity
-guys playing football (soccer) on a dirt field underneath the overpass of a freeway
-Public service announcement billboards: Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds
- waving out the window at a little girl and seeing her face light up and wave back
-a little boy getting a bath in a bucket, wave excitedly at us
-when you drive past a town, people are always outside. i can have a glimpse of how people live because they are outside all the time- cooking, carrying, playing, working, selling and just hanging out
-mothers are able to work with their children. all the mothers that sell food on their heads do it with their kids with them the whole day. the babies on their backs will sleep or just observe the world silently
-kids rolling tires and running beside them down hills and streets
-a lot of coffin makers- coffins are made out of wood so the soul isn't restricted by something unnatural.
-kids breaking rocks with hammers as a job- age 10 and 7- i made eye contact with a child and i saw the saddest eyes
-topless middle aged women (only 2) in rural villages
-2 toddlers (one girl, one boy) and a young boy doing races on the street of a city at 6:30am before the city has come to life.
-the same kids- the older boy drumming with 2 pieces of plastic on all the surfaces of the deserted street and the little girl and boy dancing to it.
-beautiful wise trees with their roots exposed from erosion
-tons of businesses/cabs with religious names- Fear God, Jesus is Savior, God's Time is Best Enterprises etc.
-kids pumping water at wells
-young boys playing table tennis on the ground because they don't have a table
-girls holding hands, men holding hands, just hanging out- totally not taboo here or considered to be homosexual at all
-women sweeping their front porches with their branch brooms
-tall trees with their entire trunks covered in green vines like a fur coat
-women and everyone in villages cooking in cauldrons over fires
-teams of men cutting grass with machetes
-kids playing football in alleyways

Everyday on the trip I wrote in my journal. Because I wasn't able to go on the internet that much, I am going to post some of my journal entries with pictures.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ehime and Ghana

Well we finally made it to Ghana! We arrived in Accra a couple hours ago and so far I can already tell that it is going to be A LOT different than Nigeria. Personally, I was really sad to leave Nigeria, but I don't think many of my trip-mates felt the same way. Ghana is much more touristy than Nigeria and our program here reflects that. Nigeria was really about personal interactions and looking at social issues. We couldn't even find any postcards in Nigeria and already in Ghana we have. I didn't get to see much of Lagos, but it was definitely the most western of anything we saw in Nigeria. We did see a lot of slums in the same city we went to a shopping mall full of foreigners and the rich elite. The shanties in Lagos were different than the ones we have seen in other areas of Nigeria because they were over the water. All of them were built on stilts over a lagoon. People navigate with canoes. It was a pretty crazy sight.

One of the highlights of this trip so far was when we went to Ehime. Ehime is the village that the head of the foundation is from. it is also where he built a secondary school (the first school to be built in the area in 17 years). The rural parts of nigeria where still most of the population lives is AMAZING. Sparse properties which contain several generations are planted within the palm tree forests. It truly was the picturesque/stereotypical rural village that most people think constitutes all of Africa- red dirt paths and lush green. We stayed there for four days at the parish priest's house (in iboland everyone is Catholic, if you have read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart then you understand). We got to do short home stays here in which someone our age took us to their community and we hung out at their houses and met all the neighbors. It was really amazing just getting to be with families, with the people, in their element and seeing exactly how they live. The communities were beautiful and so nice and peaceful to be in. All in Ehime I just couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful place. My home stay girl, Prisca, was so nice. She picked me up from the priest's house and as we made the walk to her village (there are 5 smaller communities within the Ehime area) we gradually picked up more and more kids who walked with us. The highlight for me was getting to hold a baby on my back like the women do here with a cloth. Her English name was "good news" and she was 2 years old. With her on my back I walked to Prisca's house. I met her grandmother, very sweet grandfather, and mother. We played with the gifts we gave them: jump rope, bubbles and crayola color explosion kit. We also ate ground nuts (boiled peanuts) which I am now SO addicted to and performed the Kola Nut ceremony. The ceremony is done all over Ibo land and you do it whenever you welcome a guest into your home. I have two different views of poverty now: poverty in the city and poverty in rural areas. In the judgments of Americans, everyone in this village is extremely poor. the houses are simply stacked cement blocks, maybe with a later of stucco on the outside, a lot of the children's clothes are rags (American cast-offs that are falling apart), but I really don't even view it as materially poor. No one seems to mind or care too much about the clothes, the houses are small but they really do provide the shelter need. The property has space, yards, courtyards, and almost everyone grows the food they eat, or they buy it directly from someone close who did. The house we stayed at was not nearly as comfortable as what we have in the U.S., but it really hasn't bothered me one bit. There were holes in the ceiling, tons of moldy walls and generally dirty walls and floors. But really, none of this has bothered me one bit throughout the trip. During the home stay I just wasn't appalled by the facilities, I have seen much worse on this trip. I feel like anyone still living in a rural area is still doing well because they don't have to live in the crowded, dirty cities. I could totally see myself contently living in a place like this. Any who, once we got to their house it turns out that Good News had fallen asleep on my back. We went around the village and I met a lot of people in the community. They were all ridiculously welcoming. It was really neat to meet old people who have lived there their entire lives. Most didn't speak English and one was even blind, but they always said welcome and asked me how I was doing. One lady told me to tell my mother and father that she hopes they are doing well. I was so happy just to be there with everyone! I find myself constantly wanting to rate my experiences here on my "best of my life" list and I simply can't rank any more.
Also in the village we played a football (soccer) game with some local kids. That also ranks high on my list. We were all really nervous about playing because the kids here eat breath and live soccer. We played on the church/community field and we played during a gorgeous sunset. The energy and ray of the orange sun were palpable. I almost felt I was having an out of body experience I was so happy. There were tons of people on the sidelines. A lot of the entire community came out to watch the game. On my team were all of our group and about 4 guys from the community and 2 girls. Jesse was a really good goalie, but the rest of us sucked, we only kind of held our own because of the locals on our team. The game was close and at one point we were actually winning. I was goalie for a little bit, but they scored on me and then with shame I switched positions. The game ended with the score 4-3, us losing. The best part of the night was after the game when tons of kids surrounded me and we played a giant game of Simon Says. they never really grasped the concept of only doing something when "simon says", so it reallly was a game of "imitate annie doing weird, funny things". the kids loved it and were totally cracking up and smiling the whole time. i played with them for a really long time and gosh it felt so good!
Being around all these wonderful children truly makes me want to spend every second of my life helping them and loving them. EVERY child here brings out that feeling in me. i would really love to be a teacher here, but i question whtether it is my right/role. visiting schools i have learned that there are able teachers lining up for jobs, that really need jobs, but they can't hire them because there aren't enough funds. i know that next summer i want to intern with an NGO. i know i don't have to figure out right now what i want to do with my life, but being here makes me just want to be able decide on something as a way of coping with the hard things i see.

have to go, time is up! as always, a million more things to say.
Can't wait to see Ghana tomorrow. especially accra because NYU has a study abroad program here that I can do my junior year!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

my birthday and more

As always, i don't know where to start when i write these because there is simply too much to write and not enough time. first off- i am so happy here. i seriously don't want to go home because i feel like i am truly LIVING. i can't even say what all of this has meant to me.
a few recent highlights:
-yesterday we flew from owerri, nigeria to lagos, nigeria so that we could fly to ghana. we missed our flight and so we are in lagos for today and then fly out tomorrow night. the flight was AMAZING though. when we first flew into abuja it was night and so we really couldn't see anything. the view from the sky seriously took my breath away. there were rivers that winded like coils and green as far as the eye can see. the cities here are sparse and the rest is just green. i know i already talked about this in my last blog but it seriously is so beautiful and powerful and wonderful and every other adjective.
-my birthday was the most memorable day of my entire life. We were in Port Harcourt at the time, which if you don't know, is one of the most dangerous cities in Nigeria. after i turned 18 at midnight I got to call home for about 5 minutes and talk to danny. it made me so happy! we had about 5 different things planned for the day so i knew the day wouldn't be focused on me, which i was fine with. Our first activity was to meet with the organization MOSOP which stands for MOvement for the Survival of the Oguni People. On our way to the organization it was raining hard and the traffic was horrendous. getting anywhere in port harcourt takes at least an hour because of the poor conditions of the roads and lack of traffic signs and rules. the day took a hard turn when we were sitting in traffic with the water rolling down the windows and we look outside and see the saddest thing I have seen in all my life. There were about three kids standing on the center divide ranging from ages 3 to 7. one of the little boys, the youngest, only a toddler was naked with a picture of himself naked around his neck. the picture was there so that everyone could see his birth defect or illness which caused his stomach and body parts to be extrememly swollen. he stood next to our car and looked up with his crying eyes asking us for money. their mother was sitting down, dry, underneath an umbrella nearby. it just killed me to think of the life this boy has to live. i don't want to blame anyone- his mother, his country. i just want to think about the right of every human to life a decent life. i cannot pretend to understand their condition or rationalize anything in any way. all i know is that he did not have shelter and because of where he was born he does not have access to medical help. i wanted more than anything i have ever wanted in my life to pick him up and love him and care for him and take him home with me. i sat there, comfortable, dry in a nice van thinking about why i should get to live a happy, comfortable life while people here struggle everyday to survive. i have come to the conclusion that almost all of the issues in the country stem from the government. the government has plenty of money they just choose not to spend it on education, the cities and social services. After driving away and arriving at MOSOP we all found it hard to function. we sit down and we learn about what is happening in the Niger Delta with oil. A general overview that is not sufficient is that Shell Oil is exploiting the entire area. they do not pay the government or the people a fair amount for the oil they take and the environmental effects of what they are doing are disgusting and disturbing. i am about to be kicked off the computer so i will shortly summarize the rest of the day. i promise to write more later: we got to go to where the oil companies drill and see leaking pipelines that have caught on fire spewing volcanic amounts of pollution into the air every second. we saw families living less than 50 feet away from the fires. we went to a school and they surprised me with a birthday cake and celebration. i can't write more but it was definitely a day that brought me into adulthood.

i love everyone

visit and don't buy shell oil ever again!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

so much to process!

Wow. I haven't had any time to go to internet cafes and even when we do go the internet is so slow that it is hard to contact people. just one more thing i realized i took for granted in the U.S. I have been thinking a lot about the U.s. while I have been here. When everyone told me that it would make me appreciate the u.s. a lot more i thought that there was no way that could be true. i was wrong though. being here has really made me realize that almost all of my problems with the U.s. really don't affect me at all- they are mostly political or philosophical. the fact is that every person in the united states has the opportunity to survive. it is seriously a powerful thing to be able to have a stable government, clean streets, strong infrastructure, minimum wage, free schooling, trash pickup. i am currently in Owerri, Nigeria. it is a city with a very large population, but you can't tell by the way the buildings look. the gutters are completely full of trash and oil. there is no trash pickup, everyone burns trash piles which is really bad for the air. the air quality is so bad because there are no standards that the cars have to pass. we have pretty much three or four power outages every evening. yesterday we took a ten hour bus ride from abuja to owerri. i pretty much stared out the window the whole time. it was a really neat way to see different social climates of nigeria. there were rural villages and the rest of the time was just huge, massive, immense spans of green. green as far as the eye could see and huge white clouds.pretty much everything i see does this for me- I see the beauty of community and love- and the tragedy of people fighting to survive. We drove by communities that looked perfectly happy- houses made of cement, happy children running around and going to school- poor on our standards, but still surviving. everywhere we go people are in groups- along thee drive i would see groups of guys, groups of girls, group s of children, socializing, laughing, playing. however most cities are very dirty and children are running towards the vehicle trying to sell eggs, bread or calling cards. we passed countless cities composed of vast stretches of shanties and the community relying on the income of people driving through. the thing i am least accustomed to is the dirty cities. i remember mr. drew my english teacher saying that when he went to mexico he would sometimes question why there was so much trash on the streets and everywhere. i know that there simply isn't the infrastructure in the cities and this is absolutely no reflection on the people living in the cities. the rural areas were a lot cleaner

today we went and had a meeting with the minister of education of this state. she invited us to go to a national children's carnival. we decided to go and pulled into the stadium that it was held at and our little van was immediately surrounded by tons of children. we unpiled and each person was surrounded by about 30 smiling faces telling us how welcome we are and how happy they are to see us. i took about a million pictures because kids here really like that. We talked for about 20 minutes just with tons and tons of little kids in their school uniforms. they all said that they are very happy and love school. i asked them what they want to do in the future and they all said they want to go to university and become doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, lawyers. it was really beautiful and it made me think about how much i wish i could guarantee that they could all do the things they want to do. i have never received so much love in my entire life. they asked me what my name was and i said annie and i immediately heard a huge chorus of ANNIE. i asked for a hug and i had 40 children all hugging me as hard as they could. we talked about the u.s. and their favorite activities. they sang me their national anthem and said their pledge of allegiance. it made me cry to hear how much pride they have in their country and their lives and families. we eventually made it in the stadium but it was hard to move with so many people surrounding us- the security had to clear the way. we got to sit in the area reserved for dignitaries next to traditional rulers, ministers of education, the equivalent of all the important people in the education sector of the government. there were several thousand children participating in this event from all over the Imo state. the event is not really a carnival at all in our terms, but more like our equivalent of a marching band parade competition. each school has a traditional dance and performance team. the groups paraded around the track and performed when they got to the front. the dancing and drumming were AMAZING. i couldn't believe how good the smallest kids were! it was really beautiful to see them preserving their culture and doing traditional practices. we were truly treated as guests of honor- i couldn't believe it. it really just makes me think about how impersonal my community is back home.

i have SO much more to talk about such as the protests and police violence i saw in the capital over a governors corruption trial (that i got to witness), sitting in on the nigerian senate, meeting with an NGO about women's rights, going to two crazy intense markets, being proposed to about a million times, going to 3 hour church wearing the dress of traditional nigerian women, meeting with the chief imam of a HUGE mosque and so much more. i don't have time for that now so my last words will be wish me luck on everything i still have to experience and see.
i have so many ideas on programs and things to do to help when i get back to the u.s.


in this city being white automatically makes me a celebrity. EVERYONe either stares, smiles, or waves. it really has made me think about what it means to be white. i am looking at africans so much much that white skin is actually looking very odd. i swear, the smiles of everyone and the millions of times i hear "you are welcome" everyday overwhelms me. i can't believe how many times i have made eye contact with someone and smiled and that was enough to fill their hearts with joy and smile or laugh back. thinking about america's view of africa saddens me. people just don't have any idea how people live their lives. i few sights i see all the time:
-motorcycles fill the road instead of cars a lot of the time. i saw today a motoccyle with three children on it and two parents
-people carrying things on their heads. they pretty much don't carry things any other way. i am really amazed/fascinated by this all the time. today i saw a woman with a forty pound bag of rice on her head like it was no big deal.
-women carry babies on their backs fastened by a cloth that wraps around the baby abd ties in the front. there are tons of children here and families typically have a lot of kids. any time i see a mother with a baby on her back it just melts my heart because it is so beautiful. i pretty much go crazy at the site of any child. they are so innocent, sweet, good natured and response to the children has confirmed my desire to teach in africa and adopt. i think my experience with the kids today at the carnival was the happiest moment of my life.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

first days

I only have 7 minutes to write as I am at an internet cafe. Well I have no idea where to start because I have already had SO many experiences, thoughts, interactions, feelings in Africa so far. To put it simply I am having an amazing time. A brief list of things that have happened:

-Arrived in Abuja, Nigeria after 24 hours of flying- it was 8pm here and only noon at home. Crazy! The time difference has not been hard at all. The first night I slept like a baby. We are staying at the guest house of a church.
-Yesterday we went and toured a secondary school (junior and high school). I was really interested in the education system and this has only confirmed my desire to teach in Africa later on. I was very surprised to learn that there were only 14 teachers at the school for 1500 students. The facilities were very limited. I do not want to give negative images that everything is dirty or run down (even though that is what some people might see) because the people are the nicest I have ever met. At the school student government members helped with the tour and I the best thing was just talking to them about life. the connection between us was so beautiful and I couldn't help but think that all of humanity was strengthened by our friendship.
-This morning we went to an orphanage outside of the city. i do not have enough time to write about it but lets just say i am definitely adopting orphans when I am an adult. it was so hard to leave and the beautiful, happy faces were burned into my heart forever. it was really cool- i let the kids take a bunch of pictures with my camera and they were so excited and the pictures are amazing.

i could write forever (i wrote 7 pages in my journal about just yesterday)

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Day After Tomorrow

I can't believe I leave the day after tomorrow. As I anticipate the journey that is about to come, I reflect on the journey that it took to get me here.
It all started about four months ago. I walked into Model United Nations and my friend Sachi was looking at a flyer. I saw the words "Ghana" and "Nigeria" at the top and wanted to know what she was looking at. I asked her about it and she said it was a one month trip to Africa over the summer. That was all I had to hear and I was hooked. I remember my heart started beating fast as I realized that my opportunity had finally arisen. I wrote down the website and the rest of the day could think of nothing else. I came home and after looking at the website was convinced that I was going to go to Africa. I told my mom and instead of saying "We don't have that kind of money" she said "You can do it Annie, I know you can".
Well it took bake sales, shirt sales, button sales, letters, meetings, speeches, posters, hundreds of hours of babysitting, scholarships and the work of the entire community, but I raised all the money for my trip and even enough to buy a good camera.
So... Here I am! About to leave the country to go to the place my heart has called me to for at least 5 years- Africa. I feel so blessed to be living my dream. I can't think of any other adventure I would rather be starting!
Wish me the best, pray for me and know that I couldn't be doing any of this without the support of everyone who helped me get here.