Alicia's News

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Sick. . .

Before I came to Africa someone told me that I should expect to get sick and expect to get robbed. That way I would be pleasantly surprised if I made it home without exeperiencing either. So far I have avoided robbery, but sickness polluted our whole house a couple weeks ago. One intern got malaria, another a sinus infection, and I was left with some sort of bacterial infection that I tried unsuccessfully to ignore. Working with people living with HIV, who deal with malaria regularly, I felt guilty complaining about a minor upset stomach. So I continued to work, thinking at the end of each day I would feel better tomorrow. When it got to the point that I was no longer functioning well at work, I put myself to bed and started myself on Cirpo. The doctor that came to the house said that often times it is hard to pin point exactly when an infection begins because things can linger in your system until D-day (dystentary day) arrives. Thankfully the Cipro cleared up the infection and I am back to normal!

So much has happened over the last few weeks that I wish I had recorded in my blog, but being so sick and fatigued made it difficult to make time to write. Maybe when I return to the US I can post some of the more memorable stories. Yesterday was my last day in Jos - it was full of goodbyes and last visits. . .this morning I am leaving to take a 12 hour bus to Calabar, the southern part of the country. I look forward to seeing the country from the window of the tiny crammed bus, and hopefully seeing some waterfuls and forests once I reach Calabar. I wanted to experience more of Nigeria's natural beauty before returning home.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

My Project

Coming to work at an HIV clinic in Nigeria, I assumed that most of my work would be assisting in the treatment of patients. The first few days, I was afraid that my lack of a medical background might inhibit my ability to make a contribution during my time here. I would have never expected that my social work studies in Management and Planning would develop into such a significant project.

The construction of a new hospital building, as well as the relatively recent introduction of PEPFAR funding has rapidly increased Faith Alive’s growth as an organization. As a grassroots organization that survives on donations, Faith Alive is typical in the sense that there is a strong sense of community, but there are not many formal processes in place. The current expansion and transition into a new building has highlighted a need to develop standardized procedures in order to handle the high volume of patients.

During our initial tour of the clinic in June, Dr. Chris mentioned that staff trainings were scheduled for several weekends in July in order to begin developing standards of care and improving communication between departments. A few days later, I found myself meeting with the Program Manager of the clinic in order to begin planning the workshops.

We conducted the first training last weekend, and we received incredibly positive feedback from everyone that attended. I had been nervous standing up in front of doctors, nurses, and other professionals to conduct sessions on leadership, team building, and protocol development, but the staff was extremely receptive. I never imagined myself doing PowerPoint presentations and preparing group activities in Nigeria, but then again I had no idea what to expect when I decided to come work here.

It was interesting conducting a training in Nigeria, especially considering all of the different cultural aspects that shaped the day. At 8:00 a.m., when the training was scheduled to begin, the room we were using was completely empty. Around 9:30 a.m., when about half of the participants had arrived, we decided to start. We ran a power cord from the generator to the second floor of the hospital to set up the PowerPoint since the building is not yet equipped with electrical outlets. We used two wooden flip charts and folded together thin sheets of cardboard to make folders of handouts and materials for each participant. For lunch, a local woman cooked up a huge pot of jellof rice and fried chicken and we served everyone ate at least four cups to make sure they were energized for the afternoon session.

I was so impressed with the staff – they were so engaged and eager to learn, and participated fully in all aspects of the training, even after the heavy lunch of carbohydrates and lack of air conditioning. At one point we stopped the training to pay our last respects to Marjua, who had lost her battle with AIDS the day before. When Dr. Chris asked us to go downstairs to the entrance of the clinic for a short prayer, I was shocked to see Marjua’s body draped in cloth and laying on a board in the back of a pick up truck. The staff surrounded the vehicle and prayers were said in both Hausa and English. After a moment of silence, everyone returned to the training room and we continued with the presentation, and I was amazed, again, at how easily death and dying are accepted as a part of everyday life here.

The highlight of the training was a speech by Dr. Chris, who re-inspired the staff to truly live the vision and mission of Faith Alive by telling his personal story of struggle. Growing up in poverty, he pledged that if he received an education he would dedicate his life to serving the poor and providing free medical services. Dr. Chris is a visionary, and his charisma and energy set the tone for the entire training.

Given that I did not expect my work experience to have much correlation with my graduate studies, it has been so interesting to apply my Management and Planning courses by analyzing organizational procedures, interviewing staff on their perceptions of current management, and work with staff on developing protocols. Faith Alive is fortunate to have such a dedicated staff and I feel privileged to be a part of planning during this time of transition.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Nurse for a Day

I ended up at Plateau Hospital by accident; the prenatal nurse that I have been working with over the last few weeks told me that she needed to go see a patient that they had transferred to the government hospital, and she invited me to go along. Curious about the practices of other Nigerian hospitals, I accepted the invitation and helped gather the medications to take for her treatment.

As we waited for a motorbike taxi, the nurse, Gift, explained that this patient had been placed in Plateau Hospital because her advanced AIDS required on-going treatment and there were no beds currently available for patients at Faith Alive due to the construction of the new hospital. Although the patient was technically under the care of the nurses at Plateau, Gift insisted on visiting twice daily because she did not trust the nurses there to treat her adequately.

As soon as I set foot in the hospital, I understood Gift’s concern. Dingy walls, peeling paint, and the smell of stagnant air and sickness hovered around the patients. Without resources, it is unfair hold the hospital accountable for practices such as drying bed linens on the bushes outside the ward, or lying patients on blankets in the hall when the beds were full. But lack of resources do not explain what I saw when I entered the room where our patient, Precious, was sleeping.

Precious must have heard us come in because she lifted her bandaged head slightly and tried to turn towards us. From the doorway, I could see that she was naked with a thick blanket only covering the lower part of her emaciated body. As I moved closer, I could see that dirty gauze was haphazardly taped over the oozing sores on her arms, her head, her withered breasts. Her sheets were filthy, covered in the same dried blood and pus from infections that AIDS had invited into her skin.

I smiled at Precious, but found it difficult to speak as I watched Gift explain to Precious’ twelve-year-old daughter and caretaker how and when to administer the new medications we had brought. As we were leaving, I asked why the sheets hadn’t been changed and why the bandages were so dirty. Gift said there were no linens and no gauze, and that the staff at the hospital didn’t want to touch Precious anyway because her AIDS was so advanced, and because they were afraid.

The following day I found Gift at the clinic in the morning and told her I wanted to go back to the hospital to see Precious, but before we went I wanted to buy gauze and a clean sheet. If nothing else, I wanted this woman to be able to rest with dignity.

When we entered the room at Plateau Hospital, Precious was standing, naked, struggling to move towards the corner of the room. When she saw us, she smiled and her eyes brightened for a moment before returning to the arduous task of moving. I realized that she was making her way towards a small plastic bucket in the corner, and soon she had positioned her skeletal frame over it in order to relieve herself. Her daughter then handed her tissue and put a lid over the bucket, and Precious stood for a while, resting.

Gift began speaking soothingly in Hausa to Precious, explaining that we were going to be changing her bandages and needed her to stand for a while longer. I wasn’t prepared for the sight of such deep, exposed wounds or for the sharp inhalations and clicking sounds that Precious made to cope with the pain as we tried to slowly separate old embedded gauze from her sores. But she did not cry. She looked me straight in the eye as I taped the clean bandage on her thin arm, her chest heaving with short shallow breaths, but she did not cry. I felt my own body shaking, but I refused to show that woman tears that could be interpreted as pity. I forced myself to hold her gaze with dry eyes and hoped that in them she would see only admiration of her strength.

We left Precious exhausted, but in a clean bed with clean bandages. We said goodbye and were already halfway out the door when I heard her say softly, “Thank you.” I could not longer hold back my tears.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

LIfe is all about connections. . .

Nigeria is the second most corrupt country in the world, so who you know here makes all the difference. We learned this lesson first hand on a weekend trip to Yankari, a small town about three hours north of Jos that is known for its natural hot springs. Had we traveled alone, we would have stayed in the huts at the Wikki Park, which the guidebook describes as “barely habitable”. Instead, we traveled with the American head of the Institute of Human Virology in Nigeria, whose work implementing ARV drug treatment programs throughout the country has resulted in some significant governmental connections.

For the entire weekend, we were honored guests of His Excellency, Alhaji Ahmadu Mu’azu, Governer of Bauchi State. About five years ago the President of Nigeria announced that he would be traveling to Yankari for the first time, and the state responded by promptly erecting a palace to ensure that his stay in Bauchi was a luxurious one. Since the visit, the massive structure is utilized only for special guests. . .such as the group of interns from Faith Alive who happen to be traveling with a very well-known and well-respected doctor.

In a town that had no running water and rarely any electricity, we explored the huge rooms, and enjoyed hot showers, air conditioning, our own bedrooms with flat screen televisions and personal bathrooms, and full feasts served three times a day by servants silently standing around waiting to attend to our needs. On the last night the Governor sent his regrets that he had been unable to see us while we during our stay in his house in Yankari, but extended an invitation to dine with him at his mansion in Jos. In honor of the event, he sent his private tailors out to take our measurements, and first thing the next morning we were all presented with different, custom made Nigerian garments.

There were moments over the weekend when I felt slightly guilty about absorbing so much luxury, but mostly I just enjoyed the experience of being pampered in such a naturally beautiful spot. We spent the mornings exploring the national park on safari, and both days we found families of elephants! The first day a rather angry looking elephant started to charge our truck. Thankfully our guide knew some sort of voodoo command that stopped the elephant in his tracks. I hadn’t expected a few words in Hausa and a raised hand to stop an elephant, but he had turned and gone back to join the trail of mother and baby elephants that were crossing the stream.

After soaking up the sight of baboons, water bucks, monkeys, swarms of butterflies, and other African wildlife, we would spend the rest of the afternoon lounging in the natural hot springs, laughing as the baboons stole people’s clothes and carried them up the trees, and agreed to our picture being taken by Nigerians who were fascinated by the white people in their hot springs.

Nights were spent on the enclosed balcony, listening to the jungle sounds; the chirping of the insects, calls of the birds and the scurrying of lizards under our chairs. I could have easily spent the rest of my time in Nigeria relaxing in Yankari, but the needs at Faith Alive called us back to the reality of bucket showers, full days of work at the clinic, and the noises of the city. My heart truly is in the work I am doing here, but I can’t say I minded being an honored guest for a weekend!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cooking with Amaka

In cultures throughout the world, people connect by sharing conversations over meals. Until a few days ago, most of my meals have been spent in our house with the other interns, or out in the city exploring some of the local restaurants. Last Wednesday, Amaka, a student at the Faith Alive sewing school, invited me and another intern to her house to learn how to make jellof rice, a traditional Nigerian dish. The day before she had miscarried afte four months of pregnancy and wanted company and distraction to forget her loss. Being HIV+ she had known that her body might not be strong enough to carry the baby to term, but she had hoped and prayed, and the rest of the woman at the sewing school had placed their hands on her belly in blessing, as if they could transmit their own energy to give Amaka's unborn baby strength. She lost her baby two days after the celebration of her own birthday and the laying of hands; highlighting the delicate relationship between life and death, hope and loss, that accompanies her daily struggle of living with HIV.

We met at the clinic early, around 10:30, and walked to the Muslim area of town where the market is a maze of stalls and dirt pathways. Unlike the main market, the Muslim market is interconnected with tarps and tin roofs that cover the sky between sellers, creating the illusion of a forgotten city that seems to have no entrance or exit. Amaka led us through the labyrinth, selecting hot peppers, green leaf, thyme, rice, onion and tomato. Our last stop was at the meat stall, where I silently cursed the enclosed market area that I had found so alluring only moments before. The enclosed spaces refused to dilute the pungent smell of raw meat that hung so heavily among the flies in the air, and I found my appetite wavering. Thankfully we were soon retracing our steps and once again walking in the open streets towards Amaka’s house.

The process of cooking jellof rice seemed relatively simple, as there were only a few ingredients involved. I realized the error of my assumption when my friend was assigned the task of crushing the hot peppers to the point of pulverizing the seeds with a wooden mortar and pestle. I sat on a small stool in just outside the kitchen area that was too small to fit more than the pot of water boiling over a charcoal fire. Using a small metal tool with hand crank, I ground the tomatoes and onions into a paste while Amaka opened a tin can of tomato paste with a knife.

After hours of preparation, we finally enjoyed the delicious spicy rice and meat around 3:00, right around the time that the thunder and daily afternoon rain started pouring down. Huddled together in her small common area that was dark from lack of light and black clouds outside, I was grateful for the slow process of cooking that had allowed us to sit and hear stories of Amaka’s life as we waited for the water to boil,the rice to cook, or the meat to fry. We made her laugh with our reactions to the complex method of food preparation in Nigeria, and in the process momentarily distracted her from the grief of her lost baby. She in turn shared her life, her kitchen, her talent of cooking, and reminded me of the value of simply living and sharing meals with friends.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Clinic

Most mornings I wake up to the gentle sound of women singing as they sweep or pull water from the well. Other mornings are less pleasant; I wake up to the sound of an over zealous street preacher screaming about eternal salvation. Either way, I am always roused from sleep before sunrise and spend the cooler hours of the early morning reading or writing in bed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my mornings are going to be slightly different – I made a friend named Hannaku and she invited me to play on her soccer team before I go to the clinic. I have already played one game, and I couldn’t make sense of any of the pigeon English that was being thrown around on the field, but it was still fun.

By the time I arrive at the clinic, most of the patients are already piled onto benches, waiting. Some look exhausted, as they are sick and have traveled long distances to receive the free services at Faith Alive. Others meet my eyes and smile, greeting me in the customary Nigerian fashion by saying, “You are welcome.” All around the patients waiting there is commotion and the environment feels chaotic.

Most of the commotion is the result of an on-going construction project. Faith Alive was founded ten years ago by Dr. Chris Ishichi and his wife Mercy, and last year they received a sizable donation that allowed them to move from the small building they had been using and construct a real hospital. Construction was well underway when an electrical fire broke out a few months ago, destroying the original clinic, part of the new hospital being built, the majority of the medical records and a significant amount of ARV [antiretroviral] drugs. Rather than close their doors, Dr. Chris moved their operations into the partially completed hospital structure and continued seeing patients.

During my first few days at the clinic I was unable to comprehend how doctors and nurses could consult patients when there was a constant racket of hammering and sawing, smells of paint and turpentine in the air, and shouts from the constructions workers trying to communicate above the din. After spending some time there I realized that the dedication of the staff and the extreme need of the patients helps carry everyone through this time of chaotic transition.

Yesterday I sat in on the prenatal clinic and had the opportunity to survey women coming in for treatment. The women were so beautiful, and I hated that they had to be seen in a room with so little privacy. One doctor, two nurses and three treatment support specialists were crowded into the room seeing HIV patients, while the prenatal nurse and I squeezed into the corner where we had one table and a make shift partition to examine the pregnant women. The only technology the nurse used were her hands to feel for the position of the baby, and a tin cone-shaped object that she placed on the women’s bellies in attempt to locate a heartbeat. Women were advised to eat well and pray for a healthy birth, but most of the women who came in had medical records showing that they had lost babies and children in the past. The women with HIV are especially vulnerable despite their participation in the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission program because their bodies are so compromised by HIV.

After we had examined the last woman, I sat for a while on one of the concrete benches outside and watching the laborers as they scramble to finish as mush as possible before the 10 year anniversary celebration next weekend. Women work as laborers as well, and are hired to clear out the debris of concrete and rubble. They do this by scooping the rubble into large tin bowls and carrying them off the construction site on their heads. There are always groups of men hopefully waiting outside in the event that a laborer is injured and needs to be replaced. My mind kept wandering back to the pregnant women and their unborn babies, and I began to understand why Nigerians rely so heavily on their faith. In a place of so few resources and so much uncertainty, there is little left to do besides pray.

Walking to and from the clinic is one of my favorite times of the day because every small child I pass along the way waves frantically and chants “oy-i-bo, oy-i-bo, bye-bye”, as if the site of a white person is the single most spectacular event of their young lives. The irony is that I pass by at least three times a day, yet every time the children get equally excited. They lifted my spirits as I walked back to the house for dinner, and as usual I felt like a celebrity waving to half-dressed toddlers on both sides of the street and letting their chants follow me home. The baby goats that roam the streets eating from the piles of trash are also cute, although I have begun to look at them differently because a goat is so often waiting for me on my dinner plate.

The clinic is slightly less busy than usual due to the construction, so I have some extra time between projects to roam around the different areas and chat with people. As I go from room to room, I try to balance my contradictory emotions of awe for the work that is being done, and despair for the overwhelming and seemingly impossible task of treating a virus like HIV in Nigeria.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Marketplace

Marketplaces tend to conjure up idyllic images of fresh fruits and vegetables and peaceful afternoons spent chatting with the sellers. For me they are one of the aspects of developing countries that are easiest to romanticize because they usually offer such an array of exotic sights and smells. This is not the case with the marketplace in Jos.

On Friday I walked to the market with Blessing, a former patient of Faith Alive, and on the way she shared bits and pieces of the story of her life. Forced to marry at sixteen, Blessing never had the opportunity to attend school or pursue her own dreams. When her husband died of AIDS, she was left with two small boys and no means of supporting herself. Although her in laws took them in for a while, they were verbally abusive and discouraged her from seeking any treatment when she became sick and emaciated. “I think maybe they just wanted me to die too”, she explained matter of factly.

Thankfully the pastor of her church referred her to Faith Alive. After receiving ARVs and regaining her strength, she enrolled in Faith Alive’s Sewing School in order to learn a new skill. Graduating from the program entitled Blessing to her own sewing machine, courtesy of FA. She now runs her own shop and shares her talent with other women by teaching them how to sew so that they too may become empowered and independent.

Our trip to the market together was planned so that I could select the cloth she would use to make me a Nigerian dress. Going with Blessing guaranteed that I would be given a fair price for the fabric, rather than the “oyibo” (white person) price. Instead of the peaceful stroll I had anticipated, the market trip required the use of survival tactics in order to dodge the constant onslaught of motorbike taxis and cars. Since Jos rarely has power, there are no traffic lights and the motorbikes and cars travel in packs and swerve within inches of each other. Blessing held my hand repeatedly to run across streets when there was an occasional break in traffic. I appreciated her guidance because the excessive honking, intense heat, accumulation of black exhaust, and the thousands of market stalls spilling into the streets left me pretty disoriented.

As we weaved our way deeper and deeper into the market, I noticed that there was not much food being sold. Every once in a while a blanket with a few beans, some carrots, and a cabbage or two would appear, or a seller would pass by with carrying a large bowl of goat pieces on his head, but in general the food stalls were overshadowed by an abundance of stalls containing fabrics, plastic containers, cheap clothes, shoes, or other trinkets. When we found someone selling some mango and banana, I wanted to buy out her entire supply. Instead, I opted to try something new and uniquely Nigerian. Although it was difficult, I resisted the fried locusts : ) and decided to go for a “grape”. The grape was actually an incredibly bitter version of the grapefruit with hardly any juice. Blessing laughed at me as I struggled to peel the tough rind, saying that I should wait and use a knife. Her laughter continued as I tried the fruit and made a horrible face.

The marketplace in Jos was more stressful than relaxing, but I did leave with a pile of orange, yellow, and pink material that Blessing will transform into a beautiful Nigerian dress and head wrap. She said it will be ready by Wednesday, which means that the next time I attend church services I will add to the colorful display of people congregating. I can’t wait!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Orphanage

Before coming to Nigeria, my friend’s grandmother warned my very seriously, “Now you be careful that you don’t fall in love while you are there!” I wish I could say that I heeded her advice, but on Thursday I fell hopelessly in love with a five-month old baby named Simon at the government run orphanage. Simon is one of ten children currently at the orphanage, and all of them--Gloria, Precious, Peter, Moses, Lazarus, Emmanuel, Salemay, Abel, and John--left permanent imprints on my heart.

I almost collapsed from exhaustion after spending only one day in the nursery full of children, and I didn’t do nearly as much work as the two women that run the place all day, every day. Bath time and meal time were the most impressive aspects of life at the orphanage. Each child is bathed twice a day and rubbed down from head to toe with Vaseline to keep their skin soft, and baby powder to prevent rashes. The children are bathed in order from youngest to oldest, and the two minutes that each of them spend in the bucket being scrubbed are filled with howls of resistance. At first I observed, thinking that if I learned their bathing method I might be able to step in and take over to give the women a few minutes to relax. Casually dipping my fingers in the bucket, I was amazed to discover that the water was almost scalding hot!
I couldn’t hide my surprise and the matron laughed and laughed when I suggested that maybe the babies were crying because the water was too hot. Swinging Moses around by his wrist to scrub his backside she said that this was the tribal way; that the hot water would make the babies grow strong. I couldn’t argue with a woman who was twice my size with the traditional tribal designs etched deep into her cheeks. Undoubtedly she had had been bathed in scalding water herself, and she was clearly strong, but I couldn’t quite let go of my opinion that the babies may have preferred to acquire their strength in lukewarm water.

As soon as I had gotten the hang of the system, I jumped in to help dry the babies and apply the Vaseline. Being the one to offer a mostly-dry towel and refuge from the scrub brush and bucket, I was awarded with contented gurgles and finger sucking. I tucked each child in a cloth diaper, dressed them, and placed them in their respective cribs. All except for Simon. Once I had taken care of the rest of the children, I couldn’t resist letting him fall asleep in my arms.
In addition to the bathing, all of the clothing for the ten children has to be hand washed everyday. The single rope that serves as a clothesline is a testament to the insufficient resources provided by the government to care for these children. Only a small portion of the clothes fit on the line; the rest are strewn on the dirt and gravel in the middle of the orphanage compound to dry.

When they are not hand washing clothes, the women can be found crouched on the cement area outside the nursery, crushing peanuts and dry corn with a single glass bottle or with their hands. Three separate piles are made, one of crushed peanuts, one of corn, and one of rice. Once the ingredients are prepared, they are cooked in a large pot and dished into a communal bowl that is placed on the floor of the nursery. All of the babies except for Simon and Precious have learned to sit up by themselves, and they all scoot or crawl over to the bowl and happily dip their fingers in the mash. Although I was admittedly curious about the taste of this painstakingly prepared concoction, I resisted sampling the generous handful that Peter offered me. Instead I fake-gulped it down, and returned the sticky mess back into the bowl when Peter wasn’t looking. Peter was delighted by the game and by the time the bowl was empty I almost believed I had contributed to finishing the mash.

I left that day amazed at the strength and compassion of the Nigerian women who work for next to nothing, with almost no electricity and no resources, and yet they care for these children as if they were their own. Given the limited resources they have to work with, the children are in very good condition. The only child that was not healthy was John, who was abandoned in front of the orphanage last month. Although he is three years old, he is comparable in size to the other babies. With listless eyes, he would watch as the other children played and his painfully fragile limbs expressed his suffering and depression. Hopefully, his withdrawn demeanor and refusal to speak result from neglect and malnutrition rather than HIV. Although he has been tested, his status is not yet known.

The women at the orphanage care so much for these babies, but given that there are ten children with new children always arriving, they cannot give each child the attention and stimulation he or she needs to grow to full potential. While I am here, I will do what I can to help these babies, even if it is just offering my arms to hold them.

And if I am lucky I will find a way to sneak out of the country with Simon!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sunday Services

Nigeria is an extremely religious country, and both the Christian and Muslim groups practice thier religions devoutly. For Christians, the majority of the day on Sunday is spent in church at services. On most Sundays, the interns and volunteers at Faith Alive Foundation (FA)attend one of the local churches in Jos, however last Sunday we all loaded into the FA van and headed to one of the small village communities about 45 minutes outside of the city. The bus was packed full with members of FA's HIV support group, People Living Positively. They were attending this particular service in order to do an awareness campaign where they share their stories in an effort to reduce the stigma of HIV.

Leaving the city for a morning was a welcome change of scenery, and I enjoyed the views of the landscape as I tried to imagine what a three to four hour church service in this hot weather would be like. The road was lined with small trees and shrubs that did not hide the wide open green spaces stretching out from the van window as far as the eye could see. The early morning African sky was peppered with wispy white clouds and emanated a cleanliness that one forgets exists when living amidst the pollution and congestion from all the cars and motorbikes in Jos.

The church where the service was help seemed perfectly situated in the green open space with only one other small building adjacent. Only the villagers in their brightly colored dresses and patterned head wraps interrupted the solidute of the small cement church. From the outside, the structure appeared the same as any other Nigerian building, with its white-washed cement walls and tin slanted roof; however, a few steps inside the church revealed the vibrancy and warmth that those cement walls concealed. Rows of wooden benches were lined closely together, allowing more people than one would have ever believed possible to fill the space from the back and the sides, facing the center where they could best direct their prayers and energy to the altar.

Services began with a short prayer in Hausa, one of the main native languages, and almost immediately erupted into energetic song, filling the room up to the rafters that were constructed from long, thin branches. Although there were no screens or doors, the music resisted leaving the church despite the breeze that might have carried the sound away. Rather, the clapping and singing and pounding of the drums reverberated off the walls and contained itself within the church, growing in intensity until the pulsing of the drum vibrated through every part of my body. Everyone was one their feet, dancing their prayers, and the music connected us all to each other and to the central energy source of the rhythm and melody of music.

Despite the length of the services, the passage of time was barely noticable due to the hypnotic singing and chanting of prayers in Hausa. Throughout the service people made small monetary offerings by dancing down the aisle conga-line style during the specified songs and circling back to their seats. The woman in front of me was wearing one of the largest most elaborate head wraps in the church, so I joined in the swaying and stomping in order to peak around her head for a better look at what was happening at the front. I wouldn't have wanted to miss what came next.

The support group filed out of the benches and made its way up to the front and congergated to face the community, all the while singing in English and repeating the words, "I choose to live in joy and happiness and I will not live in pity. I will not live in lonliness." Their words were powerful and it was difficult to comprehend looking at their radiant faces that they were all living with HIV and struggling with the viurs. One by one the members began to tell their stories. Although they were expressed in Hausa, their courage and strength was still communicated. The most powerful testimony was from one of the members that was from the small village community originally, and was sharing for the first time that she was HIV positive. In Nigeria, there is an incredible amount of stigma towards those who become infected. Women whose husbands become sick and die are often blamed for the death (eventhough the infection is most often a result of male infidelity), and his family takes all of her possessions, disowns her and leaves her with nothing but her children and her shame. This woman shared her story and asked for acceptance in the hopes to reduce the stigma, communicate the message that AIDS is real, and give others in her village the courage to go and get tested to find our their own status.

Having such an inspirational Sunday made me even more excited and anxious to start work on Monday. While the same level of faith and strength is apparent at the clinic, there is also much sadness. Of all the people that were tested at the clinic today, only one received a negative test result. I have so much more to share about sitting with the patients, making home visits, and trying to grasp the reality of living with this disease in Nigeria. The resources are so few and the amount of drugs so inadequate. There are currently only 2,000 people receiving ARV drugs, and 5,000 are on the waiting list. Next time I write I will focus on the work I am doing at the clinic, as it seems like this first week will be spent orienting myself to all the different areas and aspects of Faith Alive.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Now that I have recovered from the journey, I can do my own blogging and hopefully sound slightly more articulate. A big thanks to Joey for getting me started, although I was hoping when I emailed him that he was going to make me sound a little more intelligent before posting. Apparently he decided to do the word for word thing, despite my exhaustion-induced caveman stlye writing. . .oh well.

I am not sure where to begin. . .we aren't officially starting at the clinic until Monday because Dr. Chris thought we would all be better off if we took a few days to adjust and recover from our travels. So you will have to wait until next week for the more intense and inspiring stories. For now I will just report on the essentials, like the food, the living arrangements, and first impressions.

I am so impressed with our apartment! There are six of us staying in a four bedroom place - a public health nurse from California, a couple that has been doing research and is leaving in a week, and then us three Berkeley students. We pulled names out of a hat for who got their own room and I won - so after getting over a few twinges of guilt, I am really enjoying having my own bed and my own space. The only real inconvenience is the electricity, which shuts down without any warning, so having a flashlight handy at all times is a necessity. The "running water" rarely runs, so we mostly take bucket showers, which isn't bad because it is so hot here. But over all Dr. Chris and the Faith Alive Foundation pamper their interns by having drivers available to take us anywhere, cooking all of our meals for us, and making us very comfortable.
While the meals are so generous, I am already missing the sight of fresh fruits and vegetables - most of all my beloved grapes. Today we had fried pancakes for breakfast, noodles with goat for lunch, and couscous with goat for dinner. The cook, "Baba" is this adorable man who goes out of his way to not cook "American" food because they think we can't handle the Nigerian spices. I don't think I will be the one to break it to him that goat doesn't exactly qualify as the standard American meal.

It is so nice to be able to communicate with people so easily. There are over 250 languges spoken here, but everyone (in the cities at least) speaks English. Most everyone speaks Hausa as well, which I hope to pick up a little before I leave. I already know the word for "white girl" because quite a few kids yelled that in my general direction when we were searching for the market. The women's clothing here is amazing, and thanks to the sewing school at Faith Alive, I can get myself an outfit made out of the colorful fabric. If I do that and master the art of carrying huge baskets on my head, I just may blend right in.

I feel very at home here, and I am anxious to start working, but my time in Peru has taught me patience. So I will take advantage of the next few days to rest and observe and relax so that I can be fully present to the patients at the clinic when work starts on Monday.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I Made It!

I made it. We have made a quick stop to email out our "I am alive" emails before we go eat (hopefully something no too gross) and then I will sleep for hours on end. I am relying on Joey to drop in my emails to this blog because I hadn't yet mastered it before I left. [Even though Joey had been riding me for weeks to get comfortable using blogger. As per usual, I ignored him.--JS]

Here are the details of the journey, so far: A ten hour flight from SF to Frankfurt, followed by an eight hour flight to Abuja Nigeria via Port Harcourt. Tomorrow we pick up two other interns from Berkeley and head to Jos, which is four hours outside of Abuja. Jos is where I will be working.

I am so tired, I cannot even function. I was just trying to write something about arriving at sunset and the beauty. Can't. I need to sleep.