Lessons from Africa: Abuja to Jos.
[googlevideo width=”400″ height=”326″]http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4751126217610902448&hl=en[/googlevideo]This past July Rhonda and I joined Drs. Joel and Cindy Anthis and their family on a mission trip to Nigeria. It was an amazing experience. From our arrival in Abuja to our time in the bush with the Fulani tribe we were in a continual state (at varying degrees) of culture shock. But I wouldn’t have done it any differently.
When we first arrived in Abuja (the capital city of Nigeria and about a 3 hour drive from Jos), we were greeted by men and women in military uniform (or at least they appeared that way) and ushered into a line so that our passports and visas could be reviewed. It was hot and bugs hopped about on the airport floor. As I came to realize, you’re rarely “inside” when in Africa. Most places (all that we visited) don’t have air conditioners but rather open windows with screens. If it’s hot outside, you’re hot inside. More than the heat and the bugs and the uniforms, we were anxious about the unknowns. We had heard about the corruption and theft in Nigeria and weren’t sure whose faces were likely to threaten us, and we weren’t sure what was culturally appropriate to say or do. So for us, everyone and everything was a potential danger. It was a helpless feeling.
We were greeted by two drivers with two vans to help us transport our 21 boxes of supplies to Jos. We spent the first night in an Abuja guesthouse because it is unsafe to drive on the open roads at night. We didn’t sleep well and ate Powerbars for breakfast (which we brought just in case).
Not long after leaving the guesthouse I realized how thankful I was that we had Nigerians to drive us around. Traffic laws and lanes are suggestions at best, and there are LOTS of people in Africa. Many are in cars, many more on motorcycle, and even more are walking. The sheer volume of people was a shock. Everything seemed to be so chaotic about the drive. While on the one hand I saw how much some basic infrastructure could help this country, I also saw how our own infrastructure gives us a false sense of security about moving through life. Culture shock is like that. It’s as if you gain a sixth sense and can see things others can’t about the culture you’re visiting. And the exposure to the new culture suddenly gives you eyes to see new things about your own.
But it wasn’t just the traffic that lacked infrastructure, but the cities. Things we take for granted are sometimes in scarce supply in Africa. Electricity was available only during small portions of the night (sometime between midnight and 8am). Running water was available for those with a well, and not necessarily all year. As the dry season wears on the water becomes scarcer and scarcer. And the water that you do find is not safe to drink. Many homes did not have running water at all. As Americans we spend our time on entertainment. In Africa you spend your time hauling water. In America we go to the refrigerator when we want to get food out for dinner. In Africa you go to the market because you don’t have electricity to run a refrigerator from day to day. Life gets more complicated in that every day the basic needs can be a challenge. On the other hand life gets simpler because your focus stays on the basic needs. You realize that so much of our time in America is spent in pursuit of wants that we confuse as needs.
It gives you pause to ask, “What would my life look like if my “needs” didn’t have such a high priority? What would my goals look like? How would my children’s priorities change shape?”
Something to think about. Look for another lesson from Africa next newsletter.