THE RETURN

'There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.' - C.S. Lewis

It's our last day in Benin City, and after a joy filled morning spent with my friends at the cinema, it's now time to load our bags in the van and say our final goodbyes. As we do so, threatening storm clouds roll in and darkness settles upon the compound in the early afternoon. It isn't long before we are all cooped up inside the president's house as a vicious thunderstorm engulfs us. A battle rages on outside as one natural force tries to out-do the other. Gail force winds tear branches off of trees and lightning strikes at leisure, followed by loud reverberating thunder. We should have departed for the airport by now, and although I am dismayed at the thought of being delayed, I can't help but hope that our flight has been cancelled. I try to suppress any thoughts of flying in such conditions.

Shortly after, nature seems to settle down and we decide to make a dash for the airport. We lunge ourselves into the van and combat the sea of potholes and mud in an attempt to make it in time. Upon arrival, we unfurl our cramped bodies from within the muggy vehicle and launch ourselves, along with our luggage towards the entrance of the airport. We pass through security and find ourselves sitting in a large, cavernous and dim lit terminal. We learn that our flight has been delayed due to the storm, and pray to God that it arrives in time, as the runway is not lit and the airport closes at six. Darkness is descending more rapidly because of the sinister storm clouds and I am concerned that the flight will arrive in time for us to be ushered out and told to come back the next day.

In the meantime, I occupy myself by conversing with team members and observing people around me. I have been drinking so much water that I find myself needing to use the toilet, so I cross the sparse terminal to where the washrooms are located. I enter the women's and will my eyes to adjust to the dark interior as there are no lights. I veer left and choose a stall second from the end. When I enter in and lock the door with a key, I turn around to realise there's no toilet paper, so I proceed to unlock the door. The key doesn't seem to be working, so I try again, and again and again. Upon numerous attempts over the course of about ten minutes, I resign myself to the fact that I am an unfortunate prisoner inside a smelly toilet stall, in a dark washroom, in a loud and echoing terminal. As I devise an escape route, I realise there is just enough room under the door for me to slide out on my belly. Although it's less than ideal, I'd rather that than spend a night in here. I try not to think too much as I crouch down and pop my head under first, followed by the rest of me. I mentally pray that no one walks in right at that moment, but can't help but giggle at the hilarity of the situation. After all that effort, I fail to locate any toilet paper in the washrooms so I trudge back to my bags to retrieve some Kleenex before embarking on round two.

It has now been over an hour of waiting for our flight, and no one seems to know how long it will be. Airport staff can be seen standing out on the tarmac in anticipation of its indefinite arrival. It's not too much longer and we find ourselves standing in a 'line' by the gate as staff walk up and down checking our tickets. I can't help but feel a little nervous at the chaotic and somewhat panicked attempt to have us ready for when the plane arrives, and the feeling only intensifies when I see the plane taxi close up to the gate. All exit doors are hurled open the instant it comes to a standstill and passengers flood out in such haste, that I am concerned for their safety. Seconds later, I am just as concerned for my own safety and that of my fellow travelers as we are herded out onto the tarmac like animals and instructed to start embarking the plane at the same time as preceding passengers are exiting. I enter from the rear exit door and am instructed to 'sit anywhere' by the visibly stressed flight attendants. Locals seem somewhat unfazed by the proceedings, but the same cannot be said of me. I gaze around as people stumble into any seat and I begin fervently praying. People have scarcely sat down when doors are secured and the plane starts taxiing. Simultaneously, flight attendants make a quick show of life vests and that is about the extent of the safety demonstrations. Darkness has descended outside and silence engulfs the cabin as the plane perilously hurtles down the unlit runway. Loose seats rattle and shake about with every bump or sway and overhead compartments threaten to fall apart.  In a matter of ten minutes, our plane had landed, unloaded, reloaded, taxied and taken off. I'm not sure whether I should be impressed or extremely concerned.

Two days later, following our late but safe arrival in Lagos and after a wonderful Sunday spent exploring the city, our team arrives at the airport to take off towards home. It's late afternoon, and I'm struggling with some sickness. I'm tired, hot and weak from exhaustion. I just want to get through security and sit down at our flight gate. In order to enter the airport, we have to walk through a security checkpoint where we pass our bags and ourselves through a scanner. As I stand in line for check-in, a staff member summons me and instructs me to go to a booth where a man questions my visit to Nigeria and directs me to another line where a number of army personnel are standing behind a row of tables. When my turn approaches, I place my bags on the table and open them up for inspection. The first officer swabs my bags; the second opens them up and glances at the contents and the third actually sifts through them. Satisfied, they tell me to proceed to yet another line! Here, my bags are weighed, my passport checked and my tickets printed. Although equipped with a conveyor belt, it appears to be unused, so I watch as my bags are thrown onto a pile of luggage in front of the desk. Minutes later, three men approach the mound and transfer the luggage onto trolleys, before disappearing with them.

Our team assembles after the lengthy check-in process and advance to security. I am thankful that we can sit down soon and rest. I fill out a departure form which appears to have been typed in Word. I join a line to have my form approved. When it's my turn, I draw near to an officer who simply glances at it and points me to... another line! A stern looking officer, who has headphones in his ears, calls me and questions my reason for visiting. He stamps my passport and I advance to yet another officer who checks the stamp in my passport. The next procession is for security and I am about to pass out at this point. As I patiently wait, a pool of perspiration collects at my feet. An officer directs one person at a time to a single scanner, while an additional scanner remains inactive. I marvel at my restraint and surprise myself by not screaming when I am ordered to a desk featuring five idle officers. One of them barks for my passport and upon seeing that it is Canadian, questions if I've ever been to Canada. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I rejoice when I make it through the plethora of procedures, but my joy is short-lived. Upon arrival at my gate, I am utterly dismayed to find no seats.

I crumple onto the floor in exhaustion but when a line beings to form, I am near the front. A lady checks my passport and ticket and I pass through a door into a long narrow room behind frosted glass walls. A male and female line forms and we wait to be patted down. I move along to a woman who ask me to remove my shoes and pats me down, before progressing to a table where a male officer opens up by bags and removes all the items before replacing them. I rush to find a chair and collapse in it, where it will undoubtedly be a lengthy wait before we are allowed to embark onto the plane.

A GIRAFFE AMONG ZEBRAS

'If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise' - Johann von Goethe

It's obvious that this blog post is long overdue. It has taken me so long to finally sit down and write the third installment for my eMi trip to Nigeria. Writing does not come naturally for me, and one blog post can take me a number of days to write thanks to my perfectionism. This post has been written and re-written so many times, as I really struggled with some deep-rooted fears and insecurities during this trip, and I contemplated not writing about them. Today, I have decided to share my honest and raw reflections.

Upon being approached about participating in this second Nigeria trip to Benin City, to design the subterranean layout of a new state of the art campus for Benson Idahosa University, I experienced a lot of self doubt as to my ability to contribute to a team of five Civil engineers on a civil project.

The real work began on Monday and continued through to Friday when we shared our final presentation to BIU administration and the engineering consultants. Engineering Ministries International (eMi) was invited to ensure that their new 120 Hectare Okha campus would be equipped with high quality infrastructure. Despite repeated assurance that my presence and skills would be valued and put to use, I was left struggling with feelings of isolation and inadequacy. I was not able to assist as much as I had anticipated, and I began to drown in a world of unfamiliarity, frustration and self loathing at my lack of knowledge and ability. Though frequently reminding myself that I was not a civil engineer, I mentally rebuked myself for not meeting personal expectations and standards. Regardless of my own expectations, I did not feel that my presence was overly valued by the team, and on occasion a careless comment about my presence left me reeling with disappointment and anger at the unjust and dishonest representation of my being there.

In precious moments spent with God, I realised that perhaps my presence was not for the work, but rather for the people. I couldn't be what I wanted to be, because God intended me to be otherwise. A giraffe cannot be a zebra no matter how hard it tries. In overcoming my self-righteousness and being content with what and who I am, I was able to experience pure joy and contentment. I invested in relationships with individuals and made lifelong friendships. I now have two new sisters in Christ, Angel and Tanika, and was blessed by everyone that I met in Nigeria; from the drivers, cooks and nanny's to the President, his wife, and other staff of BIU. We spent evenings eating, talking, praying and sharing together. We played Dutch Blitz and Spoons together with members of a Christian band late into the night. We whined together when the power went off and as we began to melt like popsicles, leaving damp signatures in place of where we'd sat. Our last morning in Benin City was spent at the local cinema with Tanika, Angel, Berlin and Aileen watching 'Zootopia' and choking over tears of laughter.

My mom gave me a verse before I embarked on this trip, and it provided me with such comfort and assurance every day. 'I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip - He who watches over you will not slumber; ...The Lord watches over you - the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm -  He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.' (Psalm 121: 1-3 & 5-8) Though fear and doubt is crippling, I am so blessed to know that God is right there, lifting me up when I fall down and guiding my feet when I don't know where to go.

To be continued...

INTO THE UNKOWN

'When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.' - Psalm 56:3

The following day, I find myself yet again, standing amidst chaos in Murtala Muhammed Domestic Airport. This time, however, I really am in Nigeria. I whisper a silent prayer of thanks that we have two locals escorting us, who know how the ‘system’ works. They motion for us to pile our bags onto a scale. Two ladies in uniform feverishly attempt to orchestrate a crowd of restless and impatient passengers. I watch a staff member manhandle our entire team’s luggage onto the scale at once, in order to achieve a reading of their accumulative weight. After a physical struggle between man and luggage, they give up and withdraw our bags. They don’t seem to mind that their attempts were fruitless. They appear to be more concerned with maintaining their image and working through the mob of loud Nigerians. Our representative from BIU gathers our team’s passports, directs us to ‘stand aside’ and proceeds to the flight desk where a group of middle aged men are engaged in verbal warfare. I am convinced there is some sort of working ‘order’. The trick is to figure out exactly what it is. I conclude that someone needs to write a book for expats on African ‘line etiquette’. They come in all shapes and sizes! I think it should be called “Seamless Chaos”.

I am surprised when we are through security and seated in the terminal. Not a single person asked to look at my passport. We settle down in the noisy terminal for what could be a long wait. We are now on African time. Voices echo in the cavernous space and the announcer's futile attempts to make himself understood are comical. I glance around at my surroundings and chuckle to myself as I mentally read out the names of shops and eateries in the building. ‘Things Remembered Bar and Restaurant’ appears on my upper right hand side and ‘Hair Me Out’ to my left. We pass the time by getting to know each other a little better and after what feels like a couple hours, they announce that boarding will begin for our flight to Benin City.

A bus drives us out onto the tarmac and upon approaching our plane, a dreadful sensation consumes me. My heart rate increases exponentially as I execute a visual scan of the plane. It looks a little worse for wear, complete with scratches, dints and what appears to be giant, clear packing tape plastered across the plane’s nose. I reluctantly drag my feet off the bus and onto the blazing hot tarmac. We are directed into two lines, male and female, where we await a thorough pat down. Next, I proceed to a heap of luggage strewn across the tarmac and physically identify my bags to ensure that they are placed in the cargo.

As I settle into my rickety seat on the plane, I glance around at stained carpets and seats adorned with revealing tears. A team member sitting next to me exclaims that his seat belt won’t fit. Upon closer inspection, we realise his seat belt is only about 20 cm in length. I begin fervently praying for my life and that of the other passengers on board. It's worth noting that I have been flying since I was several weeks old, and I know the safety demonstrations off by heart. This time however, I pay special attention as if my life depends on it. “Bucko yo seat belt like dis, and den you do like dis and like dis…” My eyes follow the flight attendant’s every move like those of a hawk.  I also take extra care in mentally locating the exits and reviewing the safety card.

We sit on the tarmac for some time until the captain’s Eastern European accent announces that the flight has been delayed ‘due to security and operational issues’. Needless to say, my prayers rapidly become more ardent as my heart threatens to call it quits. A team member exclaims ‘give me a bike!’ as though to suggest that he could have cycled there by now. I don’t disagree.

Our arrival in Benin City is delayed by an hour or two, but we land safely around midday. We are driven by van to the home and secured compound of the Idahosa family. Our sleeping quarters are located within a semi-circular building, consisting of six bedrooms and bathrooms. The compound is surrounded by lush, green trees and grass and I acquaint myself with some familiar sounds and smells. The afternoon is spent resting and taking a brief tour around Benin City. On Monday, we begin the real work!

To be continued...

RETURN TO AFRICA

We are Africans, not because we are born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us. 

I am surrounded by Nigerians as I stand in line, or rather, amidst chaos at our boarding gate. Glancing around, I am convinced we are already in Nigeria until a solid Texan accent drifts through the intercom announcing that group one may approach the desk for boarding. I sigh deeply as I wait patiently for them to invite group five up to board our flight from Houston to Lagos, Nigeria. My mind is soon engrossed in observing the colorful conversations and exchanges between complete strangers. I subconsciously begin to repeat certain words in my head in an attempt to master their boisterous accents. I drown myself in the sound of their voices and flamboyant laughter. 

Once seated on the plane, I settle myself next to two burly Nigerian men for the long twelve hour flight. “I’m going home. I’m returning to Africa!” I keep repeating to myself, and an irresistible urge to hug and kiss every African on the plane overwhelms me. A heard of buffaloes charge around in my stomach and I try to contain my nervous excitement and anticipation. The hours pass by at a snail’s pace and I am unable to get much sleep.

At long last, breakfast is served and the Captain announces our decent. I am deeply relieved and my anticipation grows but I note that everyone on the plane seems to visibly tense. Passengers become silent as the aircraft begins its approach. The two men sitting next to me sit motionless and they begin to pray. I start to question what it is that everyone seems to know that I don’t. As the plane touches down and the breaks are engaged, the cabin erupts in a chorus of cheers and relieved laughter.  The man to my right exclaims, “Praise Jesus!” and the other next to him responds with a resounding “Amen!” He then proceeds to turn and face me with a giant grin on his face and ask how my flight went.

As per any routine flight, passengers are asked to remain seated until we reach our gate and the seatbelt sign is turned off. This is no ordinary load of passengers however! This airplane is carrying several hundred determined Nigerians. People begin to stand up and open the overhead luggage compartments. Flight crew are kept busy scuttling up and down the aisles trying to settle the chaos. Several passengers head for the lavatories and others proceed to withdraw their luggage and place it on top of their heads. Numerous nationals shake their heads and mumble in embarrassment.

We pass through customs without much hassle, other than the fact that one fellow team member forgot their Yellow Card. Standing at the carousel waiting for our luggage, I question how on earth we will manage to get to our bags as everyone is practically standing on the moving belt. There are no gaps in which to even see. After some polite and hesitant nudging however, our team is fully equipped and ready to exit the airport into a hot and humid Lagos. We have a representative from Benson Idahosa University guiding us through the chaos of traffic and people outside. Our team is lead to a parked van and we all proceed to pile our hot and tired bodies in.

As we drive through a sea of cars towards the Golden Tulip Hotel, I am completely captivated by my surroundings. A sense of peace and contentment consumes me and I find comfort in the familiarity. I am reunited with my Africa! It’s so foreign, yet so familiar. A young man casually walks across all lanes of traffic carrying a car windshield and I can’t help but grin. All modes of local public transport overflow with perspiring bodies. People hang out of windows and doors, and others suspend themselves from any seemingly secure object. I can’t help but think that these are the more fortunate ones as they are able to inhale some fresh[er] air. Men of all ages line the roadsides equipped with a petrol canister and rubber tubing to fill cars up with gas. The atmosphere is filled with an incessant chorus of blaring car horns. It appears as though any road rules that may have once been in place, cease to exist. There is no apparent speed limit anywhere and the use of signal lights seems to be a foreign concept as four lanes of traffic squeeze into two.

When we reach our hotel, I am relieved to be standing on solid ground once again instead of roaring through an ocean of threatening vehicles and exhaust fumes. The hotel lobby is cool and welcoming and soon we are shown to our rooms. I decide to soothe my aching, hot and tired body with a nice cool shower. As I visually scan my surroundings, I notice what looks to be a large insect or bug of some sort in the shower. Upon closer inspection, I find myself face to face with an oily, black cockroach. I start to laugh and instead of removing the specimen, I return to my belongings where I remove my camera to document this stereotypical ‘African’ experience. Shortly after, we experience a power outage and I am not disappointed. My first day is filled with the excitement of a cockroach in my shower and two power outages. I am content.

To be continued...

NIGERIA IN PHOTOS

Patiently waiting for our delayed flight to Benin City

Patiently waiting for our delayed flight to Benin City

Chaos on the tarmac

Chaos on the tarmac

Public transport

Public transport

God's light shining upon us

God's light shining upon us

Visiting the university's new site

Visiting the university's new site

Faculty of Agriculture building

Faculty of Agriculture building

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Site works for the new engineering building

Site works for the new engineering building

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Each concrete block and brick is made by hand

Each concrete block and brick is made by hand

Hand dug footing holes

Hand dug footing holes

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First formal meeting with Benson Idahosa University

First formal meeting with Benson Idahosa University

An animated meeting with the local engineers

An animated meeting with the local engineers

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Site visit around BIU's current campus

Site visit around BIU's current campus

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Four curious eyes

Four curious eyes

Berlin digging a hole for a percolation test

Berlin digging a hole for a percolation test

Discussing where the next hole will be dug

Discussing where the next hole will be dug

A security guard traveled with us everywhere

A security guard traveled with us everywhere

We had two curious helpers for the next hole

We had two curious helpers for the next hole

Spot the workers

Spot the workers

Retrieving samples for water testing at one of the wells

Retrieving samples for water testing at one of the wells

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A local looking over his heard of cattle

A local looking over his heard of cattle

Final presentation

Final presentation

Lekki Market woven mats

Lekki Market woven mats

Lekki Market, Lagos

Lekki Market, Lagos

Lekki Market, Lagos

Lekki Market, Lagos

Lekki Conservation Centre tree canopy walk

Lekki Conservation Centre tree canopy walk

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The team: (Left to Right) Aileen, John, Kevin W (Team Leader), Kevin P, myself, Berlin

The team: (Left to Right) Aileen, John, Kevin W (Team Leader), Kevin P, myself, Berlin

They found a life size chess set and played it

They found a life size chess set and played it

The oldest on the team challenged the youngest to a race and won!

The oldest on the team challenged the youngest to a race and won!

My new found friends, Angel and Tanika

My new found friends, Angel and Tanika

Angel

Angel

Tanika (an MK herself)

Tanika (an MK herself)

ACCENTS

I don't have one accent. It tends to drift according to where I am or who I talk to.

Those of you who know me will agree that my accent is hard to identify. It was recently described as a 'cocktail' to which I humorously agreed. What most of you don't know is that I have an arsenal of accents that I like to use depending on my mood or environment. I usually keep these concealed, but those who are fortunate enough to hear them would agree that it can be a whole lot of fun!

My younger sister sent me a guide on how to talk with a Nigerian accent prior to my cancelled Nigeria trip in January. I thought it might be a humorous idea to share this with you so we can all practice our accents together. I have missed being surrounded by a plethora of colorful languages and accents, and look forward to adding another accent to my collection.

  1. Gugu - Google
  2. Ozzband - Husband
  3. Ass na - Arsenal
  4. Pay pa - Paper
  5. Con son - Concern
  6. Eggs bugs three sixty - Xbox 360
  7. Magdonnas - McDonalds
  8. Save Johnny - Safe Journey
  9. Hoda shy knees - Order Chinese
  10. Behbhi - Baby

Sai wani lookachi!

TRANSITION

'When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me' – Psalm 94:18

Life can seem so incomplete without a plan. I place so many expectations on myself and become obsessed with fulfilling them, leaving myself disappointed and feeling worthless when I don’t meet those expectations. On nights when I feel restless and lost, I find myself frantically searching for something that will make me feel more valued and validated, whether it be a masters course, a job or a relationship. I have been feeling an overwhelming sense, lately, that my desperate search will never end. I thrive off of change. The thought of routine and living in one place frightens me, yet I sense that the only reason I keep moving is because I am searching for a reason to stay. I have the fortune of being able to travel and live in many places, however, what I lack is somewhere to call home. Perhaps that’s what I’m searching for? It never used to bother me so much because my family was my home. Now that we are scattered all over the world however, and I find myself living apart from them, I am floundering for something to hold onto.

Life has been so transient for the past two years, that I find myself yearning for a sense of normality. Unfortunately the prospect of moving again in a few months, and the lack of direction has been a struggle for me recently. My heart is pulling me in three directions and I have no conceivable idea of which way to go. In the meantime I am slowly chiselling away at the wall of defenses that is attempting to build itself around me again. As I continue to establish a routine, I have been searching for opportunities to be involved in the church and develop connections outside of work and home. I have joined a house church, volunteered to help with the branding and graphic design at church and have been praying about joining the worship team. Vulnerability is so difficult, yet I find it is when I’m vulnerable that I form closer bonds and friendships; ones that I haven’t had in over ten years. It remains a daily challenge to be myself, particularly with those other than Becca and Taylor. I still struggle with a deep-rooted fear of loss, and knowing that I may no longer live here in a couple months frightens me.

My time at work is divided between developing the Mexico project and preparing for a trip to Nigeria! My previous project trip to Nigeria in January was cancelled due to security risks in the country, however, I have since been asked to join a team of engineers on another trip to Nigeria on a different project. Unlike the previous assignment, we will be working on developing another campus for Benson Idahosa University in Benin City, Nigeria. While the security remains an issue, we will be living on a secured campus site in the city where we will be safe. My tickets have been booked and we leave on March 31 and subsequently return on April 12. Often the most exciting things in life are unexpected, and I am excited to see what God has in store for me on this trip. While this trip presents some challenges in regards to juggling two projects and transition, I believe God has his hands in it all. I continue to pray for guidance and strength.

I would appreciate prayer as I continue preparations for Nigeria. Pray for safety, health and strength on the trip. Please be prayerful that my fear doesn’t hinder me from getting involved and pursuing opportunities and relationships in Calgary. As our Mexico project develops, we have encountered some setbacks, so prayer for clarity and patience would be appreciated. I feel very overwhelmed at times with the scope of work, but I am reminded of the ministry we are working for, and this unique work that God has blessed me with.