Our last day in Kaduna our group split up and visited different churches for their Sunday services. After the church services we were taken to Kaduna’s only Chinese restaurant for lunch. After lunch we packed and started our trip back to Abuja. En route to Abuja we stopped at the Kateri clinic, although this clinic is small, it offers vital medical services to an underserved poor rural community.
On arrival in Abuja we checked into the Sheraton Hotel for one night. The reason we use the Sheraton is because of its proximity to Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport.
On Monday 23, we checked out of the Sheraton and were driven to the airport for our early morning British Airways flight to Boston, via London.
After a late breakfast we were taken to Jacaranda farm and retreat center of the Diocese of Kaduna.
This farm produces numerous fruit crops and has commercial grade chicken and egg production for the local market. The retreat center has numerous buildings that can accommodate large gatherings, there is a dining hall and kitchen, and several dormitory buildings some with private rooms.
After breakfast in Gusau, we met again with the Bishop and the Diocesan School Committee to discuss with them what we planned to do on our return to the USA, assuring them that we would:
We finally arrived in Kaduna in time for supper.
Rural Schools Part 3
During the visit, our team visited several rural primary schools in Zamfara State. The visits to these outlying churches were on week days; we were surprised by the number of parents took time away from their jobs and farms to come and meet with us.
We told the people about the mission of Africa Education Partnership, namely, to promote quality educational opportunities for the children of the region. Our first project is the building of Graceland International School, in Gusau.
One of our forays into the rural hinterland was a trip to a church/school in Sangeiku in the district of Kaura Namoda. It took us 4 hours to get there over rutted tracks that passed as roads. The sight of camels transporting goods was an indication that we were in the Sahel, the semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert.
Each church we visited had a small primary school to teach the basic reading, writing, and math. It is anticipated that qualified students from these rural schools will attend the Graceland International School in Gusau.
Today we will visit with three different churches/school. The first church is over an hour's drive further north than Gusau. For any of you following our journey on a map, this means we were headed towards the Sahara desert, and we could tell. Until this point, we did not have to request the air conditioning in the car, but we broke down on this trip. I suppose if you visit the Arizona desert in the middle of summer you might get a taste for how hot and arid it is, but I believe that this was hotter and drier than even Arizona at its worst.
The further north we drove, the more palpable the harshness of the landscape. How people settle and live here, I do not know. However, Zamfara State has done a wonderful job of putting in a main highway (two-lane), and running electricity to many. What was absolutely remarkable were the cell phone towers in the middle of nowhere, they are huge, brand new and in impeccable condition.
And so here we are in the northern part of Zamfara State, closer to the Sahara than I will probably ever be in my lifetime, and we had perfect cell phone reception!! Indeed, there was not even any electricity or running water in most of the villages we passed through, but the cell phone reception was perfect!
Now, what is amazing, and I mean amazing, is that the people we met not only had left their jobs and businesses to greet us, in every single case they had gone to great expense to provide gifts of food and beverages for us to eat after our meeting. We were treated as royalty in every place we went. It brought tears to my eyes to see how excited these folks were to meet us and spend some time together.
Mafara, - St. Michael's
This church was a welcome sight after a very long drive in the hot, arid temperatures. It was impressive to see the development taking place as we entered the town. As with any newer community in the USA, Mafara has new homes under construction, the center is very clean,especially by Nigerian standards.
In Marfara, the streets are relatively clean, the shops are modern looking, and the town is clearly developing in large part because the main road has been put into place and electricity brought to the town (not to mention the great cell phone coverage!!). Yet, in spite of all of that, there is still no running water. Anyone needing to use the facilities was out of luck!!
St. Michael's has about 92 members. The hospitality shown to us was wonderful. They went to great lengths to buy beverages similar to what we would see in America; Coke, Schweppes tonic water, and of course, our standby, bottled water, which we have been surviving on since we landed.
Bakura, "St. Peter's
St. Peter's only has to a small building in an as yet undeveloped portion of the village.
I got some excellent pictures and video here to give you a feel for how difficult these conditions are, and yet how African the landscape around this church is.
The people at all of these churches are fun, funny and just so proud to be practicing their faith. There is something so profound about seeing people so dedicated that puts life into a different and proper perspective.
The last church of the day was perhaps for me the most amazing. It was the smallest building, in a well settled town with perhaps the least harsh conditions of the three churches we saw today. But the energy in that small space would take your breath away.
As we entered, the choir was practicing, and every single member of that choir could enter American Idol and be a hands down winner without even proceeding to the Hollywood session! I was moved by their energy, talent and strong voice. You will be, too, when you see the video here, here and here.
The Pastor of this church is Ishaku Audi, and the church has about 100 members. I don't know how they all fit into this space when they all attend (and in these churches, the attendance rate is extremely high " one does not make these sacrifices and then stay away). This church is very far along, in that the pastor has a house (rectory of sorts), and the membership is large for the space and very dedicated. After listening to this choir, sing in both English and Hausa.
The next few days were spent visiting numerous rural Anglican churches. Bishop John's priority is to see as many churches planted in his diocese as possible. We were encouraged by the churches and the pastors and evangelists we were able to visit. Although our visits were during the week, some of the members turned out at every church. At each stop we were given a warm, enthusiastic welcome, some refreshments and greeted with some wonderful singing and dancing.
Monday February 16: Rural Schools
It is 4:45 a.m. local time on Monday, I hear the morning wakeup call that precedes the first call to prayer at the local mosque. The wakeup call and all calls to prayer are broadcast over a loud speaker system, and although I have been awake for some time now, due to jet lag, it woke me up yesterday, as it is intended to do.
After breakfast we saw two churches and the primary schools attached to them. We also visited the site of the future “Graceland International School”, the main reason for our trip.
Kotorkoshi - St. Mary's
The first Church we visited was St. Mary's in Kotorkoshi. What impressed us the most when first seeing this church is that a primary school was in session right on site.
Kaura Namoda -St. John's
The last church of the day was again the most impressive of the day. It was a fairly long distance from Gusau, again north but on a different road.
The plan for the remainder of this week is to visit different churches and the schools attached to them.
Gusau - Graceland International School site
We finally had a chance to see the empty plot of land where the future Graceland International School will be built. The property is right in the middle of a rapidly developing middle class and professional community, that currently has no other school planned.
We were woken at 5 am by the dawn call to prayer from all the neighboring mosques:
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar: God is great,
I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship but God;
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God;
Hasten to prayer, hasten to prayer.
Prayer is better than sleep, prayer is better than sleep.
The call goes out 5 times a day, the last after dark; it is a regular reminder that Zamfara State, like the other the northern states of Nigeria, is overwhelmingly Muslim.
After breakfast, we were taken to the Cathedral Church of Christ the King. The Cathedral compound consists of the Cathedral itself, a community center and several other buildings including a primary school and two smaller churches, one Igbo speaking, the other Yoruba.
During the Cathedral Church service, we each brought greetings and explained the purpose of our mission..
Lunch, rest, supper and back to the Cathedral to discuss with the board of the Diocese and their Education committee...our decision to partner with them to build Graceland International School was a focus of discussion. We were very encouraged by the evident enthusiasm for the project and the thoughtful comments and insights that were shared by the community leaders.
Why this project is important
Like parents everywhere, these folks wish to provide a quality education for their children, in an environment free of ethnic, gender, and religious discrimination. Our Nigerian partners recognize that girls need to have the same opportunities for a quality education as boys. Our partners also recognize that having an educational milieu that is free of discrimination ethnically and religiously will help to promote peace in the society at large.
Graceland International School will therefore accept students from every background. The school will aim to offer a high academic standard, an environment that fosters understanding between different ethnic and religious communities.
Graceland International School building committee
After returning from church, we all rested a bit. We returned to the church at 5:00 for a meeting with the school building committee - those interested in building the secondary school. This was a very fruitful meeting. We explained our purpose in gathering data to build the school, and listened as the building committee described their vision to us. It was really a wonderful meeting, and as tired as the Americans were, I think we all communicated nicely. We left the meeting to return to Bishop John's house for dinner feeling very satisfied by the enthusiasm of the Diocese for our mission.
Upon arrival in Abuja, we needed to pass through immigration services, collect our bags and then pass through customs. All went smoothly (although it took a very long time to get through immigration), until we attempted to collect our bags. The number of bags we had was staggering, because each of the ten of us had both one checked bag of our own, and one additional checked bag filled with donated prescription medications and supplies for the Kateri Medical Center. As you might imagine, the odds were against us with so many bags, and two of the bags could not be located at the airport.
My first experience with Nigerian authorities, and so far, thank goodness, my only experience came as I was attempting to video tape our group in the airport - just so that those reading the blog could get a sense for how many bags there were for us to collect, and just how chipper we all looked after 17 hours of travel and waiting in the immigration line.
That exercise didn't go so well. I was immediately approached by an airport official who demanded to take my video camera, he wanted me to show him the picture I had taken, and to see my passport. It's a new camera, one of those miniature Flip brand video cameras, and I had not had much time practicing with it before I left. What I didn't realize, is that I never turned off the camera and most of the incident is at least audible, although the picture jumps around. O.K., so no taking pictures in the airport. Fortunately, my video camera was returned to me.
The Flip camera is something I highly recommend. It takes up to 60 minutes of video at a time, and makes it simple to post the videos to YouTube.
We got through customs without interruption for reasons I will not discuss here. Outside of the airport is a different matter. We had a team of porters assisting us with our bags, to get them from baggage claim onto the pickup truck and the van we took to Kaduna. These guys were very friendly, and hammed it up for the camera. I would estimate that we didn't get on the road until at least two and a half hours after we first landed, if not a bit longer. A very involved ordeal to get ten Americans into the country and on their way!
Peter's Perspective - The first impression of Nigeria is heat and dust, my L L Bean pocket alarm clock showed the temperature in the arrivals hall to be 90o F. Some of the staff of Bishop Josiah of the Anglican diocese of Kaduna met us. The sky outside looked overcast, until one realized that it was a smog of smoke from burning grass, trash and dust; a toxic mixture that irritated the eyes.
Our 30 pieces of luggage; 10 large duffle bags of medical supplies for the Kateri clinic, 10 personal bags and 10 pieces of hand luggage were loaded into the back of a pickup. Most of us squeezed into a small passenger van, the rest into the cab of the pickup with our overflow baggage.
After leaving the airport we "endured" the two-hour automobile ride to Kaduna. I use that word because I had experienced nothing like it before in my life, and wasn't quite ready for the experience after 14 hours of airplane travel. We were picked up by two of Bishop Josiah Fearon's drivers, one driving the pickup truck, and the other driving the van. Most of the luggage was piled high on the pickup truck, and then tied down with a tarp on top.
The van followed the pickup, and I soon learned three things - there is no posted speed limit in Nigeria; the luggage was just barely tied adequately; and, it would appear, it is common practice to follow the vehicle in front of you leaving nothing but a few fractions of an inch. Mix this with the vast number of people on foot and scooters who are also on the highway, and Disney has no thrill ride that could match the ride from Abuja to Kaduna!
Needless to say, if I had not already been awake through the 14 hours of travel, and several hours of waiting at the airport, the ride may have been more of an adventure. In this case, however, it was two hours of saying prayers I haven't recited since my days as a practicing Roman Catholic!! And that was just the highway; "the ride through the city of Kaduna was a chaotic mix of scooters, hand carts, and speeding vehicles, goats and donkeys."
I taped the final fifteen minutes of the ride. The video will give you a sense for how fast we were going on the highway, how the load of luggage had shifted dramatically to the left on the pickup truck to the point where I was convinced we were going to get a suitcase hurled at our vehicle, and what a miracle it was to negotiate through the streets of Kaduna without losing either luggage or life. Oh, and you can also see some of Nigeria.
The most amazing thing about the ride was to see the road-side stands, right on the edge of the highway, together with the vast number of people who were shopping or just hanging around the stands chatting with friends, cross the highway, and ride scooters on the highway, all while automobiles are racing by at speeds that are rarely slower than 80 MPH. Amazing is the only word for it.
We set off on a hair-raising 2-hour drive to Kaduna. Imagine the Merritt Parkway but no limited access, with trucks, most piled high with goods; often with livestock and people sitting on top of the goods. Then there are the cars, the small 2-stroke motorbikes with passengers, pedestrians along the sides, some attempting to cross, goats, donkeys and cattle meandering along the sides or being drive across the road. The vehicles moving in excess of 80 miles per hour, tail-gating and overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic. At various points, roadside markets slowed our progress only somewhat.
The traffic in Kaduna and Gusau is something else. Imagine the streets of any average US town, but lined with shops and market stalls, right on the verge, choked with chaotic traffic, every driver doing his or her best to avoid the others, the goats, cattle, handcarts and pedestrians. This is Kaduna and Gusau. Turn into a small side street, stop in front of a walled compound, the gates open and you're in the garden of the home and guesthouse of Bishop Josiah Idowa-Fearon of Kaduna. We were warmly welcomed by Bishop Josiah, given brunch and had a rest.
On to Gusau: Don Ghostlaw, Bob Chagnon and myself left the medical team for another 4 plus-hours hair-raising ride to Gusau, the capital of Zamfara state. We arrived after dark at the home of Bishop John Garba Danbinta, Anglican Bishop of the diocese of Gusau, his wife Helen and their children. Bishop John and Helen (known as Mama Gusau) are gracious, welcoming hosts.
Three of us (myself and Peter Dewberry from St. Peter's, and Bob Chagnon from Trinity) broke off from the group to come to Gusau to visit with Bishop John Danbinta, and to investigate building a primary/secondary school that will be sponsored with the help of St. Peter's. The remaining seven remained in Kaduna to help out at the Kateri Medical Center sponsored through Trinity, and to get involved in church planting with Bishop Josiah.
Our drive from Kaduna to Gusau involved two automobiles, with speeds that topped the ride from Abuja to Kaduna, and with following much more closely the automobile in front of us - at time mere inches. Of course, I ended up in the passenger seat for this excitement, now more than 24 hours after I had first awakened to start the trip.
We arrived in Gusau at approximately 7:00 p.m. local time on Saturday evening, just as it got dark. When we arrived at Bishop John's compound, we were greeted by many people who had been anticipating our arrival - not only Bishop John's family, but a wonderful group of Christians - priests and laity - who are part of Bishop John's diocese. We were treated by Bishop's wife Helen and their daughters to a delicious meal, and spent the remaining time that evening in good group discussion. I had read something while preparing for the trip that soon became clearly evident - one visits Nigeria for the people. Everyone welcomed us with open arms.
Ten people from five different United States regions of the USA boarded a British Airways flight to Abuja Nigeria via London.
Our group was comprised of pastors, doctors, nurses and even two lawyers. Seven of the ten spent their time between Kaduna and Kateri, where a medical center has been established, funded by Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, Connecticut.
Three of us, including two of us from St. Peter's Episcopal Church in South Windsor, Connecticut, and one from Trinity traveled another four and a half hours north to Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State. There we met with Bishop John Danbinta and the building committee to explore building a primary/secondary school in Gusau.
Read on for more about the trip . . .
We all met on Friday morning (the 12th) at Logan in Boston. Some of the group were already in Boston, and others were driven to Boston very early Friday morning. Our flight involved two legs, one from Boston to London, Heathrow, and the second from Heathrow to Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria. Each leg of the flight was over 6 hours, with about a two-hour layover in Heathrow. The remainder of our journey was by auto, first two hours to Kaduna, and then for three of us an additional three and one half hours further northwest to Gusau.
There were ten of us on this trip, two from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in South Windsor, three from Trinity Episcopal Church in Tariffville, and the remaining four from different parishes, including one from Texas. Our group is quite diverse, and we all took an immediate liking to each other when we met over the course of several months prior to the trip to discuss logistics. Our total travel time from Boston to Abuja was 16 hours, including the layover in London.