Africa! Scenes from movies like “Out of Africa” floated through my mind. A lifetime dream was coming true. As a requirement for seminary, my husband had to have a transcultural experience. A fellow seminarian, Joseph, was from Nigeria. He wanted to take some folks there to lead a Vacation Bible School at an orphanage he had started. My husband and I and one other couple volunteered.
After 36 hours of exhausting travel, we arrived in Lagos two days ahead of our luggage. As I trudged along, the first sight to greet my bleary eyes was an armed guard yelling at a group of passengers. I tried to make myself invisible, a little difficult being one of only four white faces in a sea of black. (Was I ever glad we made a will to care for our two young boys!) Fortunately they ignored us. We made our way to an old VW van, sans AC or seatbelts that would be our transportation for the next two weeks. Into this decrepit old vehicle we crammed eight adults, including our driver and two armed escorts, plus all of our luggage. Who needed seat belts? We were packed so tightly, we weren’t going anywhere!
I couldn’t wait! Maybe now I would see the Africa of my dreams. Now understand, I am a person terrified to even watch a rollercoaster, let alone ride one. They are a walk in the park compared to driving in Nigeria. Aside from no road signs, traffic signals, or street lights, and six lanes of traffic crammed into four, the city roads aren’t too bad. Once outside the city, it is even more exciting. Huge chunks of road would be missing leaving large, mean looking chasms. The really fun part was for drivers to see how fast they could go and still avoid missing these holes, all the while playing chicken with the oncoming traffic. (Did I mention I was glad we made a will?)
It also took three times as long to get anywhere for two reasons. First, Nigerians have a very different concept of time and schedule than we do (which accounts for us missing our flight back home, but that’s another story). Also, it is a social faux pas not to stop and see people you know, no matter the time of day or night.
Everywhere we went, we were treated like royalty. Long speeches were made welcoming us. We were greeted with hugs and tears by those who remembered the white missionaries from the ‘70’s before they were expelled by the government. Children who had never seen white people before would run after us shouting, “Onyibo”, meaning albino.
Now, we white folk could learn a thing or two about worship. Their church services lasted around four hours with much pomp and ceremony, exciting music, and dancing down the aisle to give their offering. Even being awakened early in the morning by the Muslim chanter calling the faithful to prayer seemed an awesome way to wake up.
The beautiful children lived in a clean concrete building with no running water or electricity. We had brought art supplies, toys, and clothing from our churches. If they had any toys at all, it was something they had made from scavenged trash. It was wonderful watching them color, play soccer, and learn to play American football. We enjoyed teaching them Bible stories, singing, and playing games. Even the older children loved the simple fingerplays and games because it meant being touched and loved by an adult. At the end, we put on a program for the entire village.
As for the wildlife, well there were the ubiquitous goats and chickens roaming everywhere, sitting on cars, just part of the crowd. One night going back to our room, we saw something sitting outside our door. Just as we got there, a chicken flew up into our faces. Lizards slept in the room with us, fortunately not in our beds. In the evening, we would debrief under a large cashew tree filled with fruit bats. They made a lovely almost flute-like sound as they soared off into the night. But, sadly, no lions, or tigers, or bears. Oh well.
Despite all the inconveniences and differences in culture, I told my husband that if he should decide to become a missionary I would be right there with him.
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