Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stuff I Learned on My Trip to Nigeria and Cameroon, 10/26 - 11/3, 2011

·        Richard Inyang, my Nigerian travel companion, is a very loyal friend; and his sponsors, the Northern Light Church of Christ, are very generous.  A head shorter than I am, Richard carried me to the third floor of the hospital on his back.
·        The people at the Ikop Usen Church of Christ and at the nearby Palma memorial Hospital were very glad to see me.  The last American who had been scheduled to visit them had cancelled because of security warnings.  They were anxious to use my visit to invite American visitors again.  The hospital needs new mattresses.  I don't know what else.
·        Because of the reception we got from the Ikop Usen church and the Palma Hospital, I say that at least in their eyes the trip was a success.  The church gave us each an expensive looking authentic African set of clothing, and the hospital gave me a large woven hanging with my name and the date on it commemorating our visit.  Richard's parents killed a goat in our honor and fed the whole church Sunday after church.
·        African countries are not much like Haiti.  The Black/White relationships are different somehow.  I can't really put my finger on it.  Not necessarily better or worse in general, just different. It would take a lot of study and is probably not worth it.  Relationships are what they are.
·        Take cash money - cash cards and credit cards are not reliable.
·        Take a watch.
·        The speed boat ride from Nigeria to Cameroon was very crowded with cargo and passengers.  They fill them up, then add 5 or 6 more people.  The sun on the water, two degrees above the equator, was gruesome, especially for a 70 year old.  I will never again complain about the leg room on airplanes.  The round trip boat ride threw my sodium levels way out of kilter.
·        Cameroon officials, at least the one I met, are rule followers, if not people who make up rules.  I believe that in another place, they might have let me fly back to Nigeria for health reasons rather than put me back on the four hour speed boat ride.
·        Being deported is not a pleasant experience.  We spent the night in the immigration office on the docks.
12 hours in or near coma status

·        Being nearly in a coma, and speaking to people for whom English is a second language made it hard for me to communicate to the staff of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital that my problem was one of very low sodium chloride levels in my system.  It was also difficult for them to obtain the cortisone supplements I needed.  The people, however, were friendly, concerned, and solicitous.  At one time I counted six medical professionals gathered around my bed.
·        Coca-Cola is harder to come by in Nigeria.  
I remember very little of this
·        Delta Airlines' people are friendly and well organized.  Their seats on the 11.5 hour overnight flight to and from Nigeria do not incline as far as the domestic flights, but they served two meals and a snack.
·        Don't expect people overseas to know the phone access code for the US.
·        In Nigeria the airports, roads and cities are more modern than Haiti - the villages not so much so.
·        If you travel with Richard there is no need to take along two novels.  He moves fast and steadily
·        Start international trips with the conviction that nothing is unexpected.   Therefore, I was not really surprised when Richard could not arrange to fly from Lagos to Ugo as planned and we had to go the following day; when neither Richard nor I could access our money through our credit or debit cards; when I lost one lens from my glasses; when the speed boat ride was so hard; when my immigration to Cameroon was denied at the dock; when I kept losing things, among them my hand lotion that could have prevented the sunburn I got on my face on the speed boat rides, the book I was 3/4 finished with, and even the other half of my glasses on the plane home, but another passenger found them and turned them in; when I figured out that what I had brought along was Kaopectate when what I needed was Imodium A-D (look them up); when I ended up in the emergency room of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital; and when my cell phone started buzzing and refused to turn on - grave yard dead.
·        There are no coins in Nigeria - just paper money.
·        Life is not necessarily something to hold on to.
·        God is still good and is still in charge, even half way around the world.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Eagan Church at Feed My Starving Children 11.7.2011

The labeling crew
Sue McNamara filling packets
Several affiliated with the Eagan church went to make food packets at Feed My Starving Children Monday night.  It was great fun!  Some of us labeled the packets; some filled them with four ingredients, sealed and boxed them; and some of us worked the warehouse, keeping ingredients handy and weighing, sealing and palleting full boxes.  Along with other groups, in an hour and a half, we filled 61 boxes.  That is 13,176 meals that will feed 61 children one meal a day for a year!  Afterward most of us retired to McDonald's for dinner or ice cream.

Margaret sealing packets
If you cannot attend one of these sessions (we go 3X a year), or if you prefer not to, you can still help by contributing to purchase of ingredients.  $20 will buy enough to feed a child for almost 3 months.  $50 buys one box of food and $90 will feed one child for a year.  93% of all donations go directly to the feeding program.

Charlene adding veggies to the packets

Shalee and Mike filling the bags

Tommy and David keeping empty boxes handy

Tommy keeping the work tables with enough soy

Dave, still showing up, enjoying a shake after

Part of the crew at McDonalds

Nigeria and Cameroon

To the faithful, loving, longsuffering supporters of my trip to Nigeria and Cameroon:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your love and support.   I am now safe and well.  Whether the trip was a success or not, you will have to judge.

This is of course not a full account of everything we did.  My hope is that it is enough to give you an understanding of what we did accomplish and why we came home early.  I will also attach (or enclose) a copy of a second document, "Stuff I learned on my trip to Nigeria and Cameroon" that may help you further understand.

Richard Inyang and the goals of our trip
I was traveling with my friend, Richard, who is a native Nigerian and was a long term missionary to Cameroon.  This was essentially his trip and I was there to support him.  Richard is currently the preacher for the Roseville church in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  He has not been at Roseville long, but he is doing a marvelous job connecting with churches in the area and reestablishing connections between the churches.

Our primary goals for the trip were two.  The first goal was to visit Richard's home congregation in Ikop Usen, Nigeria, preach there and visit the Palma Memorial Christian Hospital nearby.  The Ikop Usen Church of Christ is reported to be the first church of Christ in western Africa.  The Palma Memorial Hospital is supported by African Christian Hospitals of Searcy Arkansas.  Our second goal was to go to neighboring Cameroon and conduct a three day seminar, then to visit local churches, giving them encouragement and teaching.

Ikop Usen
We visited the hospital and people were delighted that we had come.  There I was presented with a woven hanging with my name and the date woven into it acknowledging my visit.  Richard preached at the congregation Sunday morning and I taught the class.  Richard's older brother wanted to be baptized.  This thrilled Richard in particular because Richard had been "preaching to him" for decades.  About a dozen of us left the church to go down to the nearby river for the baptism and, when we returned, the church took the Lord's supper together along with the new brother. 

After the service we took a lot of pictures.  Everyone wanted to be photographed with the visitors from the United States.  They explained that the last person who was scheduled to visit, someone from a well known preaching and missions training center, cancelled because his bosses thought it was too dangerous for him to be there.  The Ikop Usen church wanted to use the photos of me to illustrate that a white man can indeed go there and come away unharmed.  Afterward they presented Richard and me with an expensive looking set of authentic, traditional African clothes and then Richard's mom and dad invited the whole church to their house where the night before they had killed a goat in honor of our visit!

Why we didn't do the workshop in Cameroon and came home early.
Our plan had been to travel to Cameroon on an overnight ship, but the ship that was supposed to go the night we needed to travel "was broken" and the next one was three days later, after the seminar was scheduled to start.  We decided to travel on a speedboat, a decision that, in retrospect was a mistake for me to accept.

In 1994 I had surgery on my pituitary gland which controls the hormone system throughout the body.  As a result I have to supplement the salt and the cortisone in my system with pills.  Normally this is not a problem for me and does not limit my activities in any way other than I need to keep the pills nearby.  The speedboat ride was open to the equatorial sun.  Cameroon is about 2 degrees north of the equator and, for comparison, Minnesota is 45 degrees north.  Since my luggage was stowed I could not get access to my medicines or to water and, frankly, I didn't recognize the danger to myself.  The hot sun depleted the water in my system as well as the sodium levels.  When we arrived in Cameroon, I was weak and wobbly.

Richard had been advised by someone in Nigeria that I would not need a visa from the Cameroonian Embassy, that we could appear at immigration and get our passports stamped, and indeed Richard had travelled that way for years.  The Cameroonian immigration official, however, informed us that was only true if your home country bordered on Cameroon.  We had made a grave mistake: I needed a visa, which could only be issued while I was in my home in America.  I was denied admittance; we would have to spend the night in their office (on a bench); and we would be placed back on a speedboat the next morning (deported).  I tried to explain my medical situation to him and asked for permission to fly back instead.  The official said that he doesn't write the rules, he just enforces them.  By this time it was after closing hours for everyone and there was no one to appeal to.  The next morning we left before anything opened.  I did call the American embassy in Cameroon and was told that they have very little influence over the Cameroonian immigration department.

At that point I felt sure that a second boat ride might be seriously hgarmful, but could see no other option.  I did not want to end up in a Cameroonian jail for an extended time.  So we rode back to Nigeria on the open speedboat.  I took extra salt and steroids before and after the boat ride and when we got back to Nigeria I was shaky, but seemed generally okay. 

The Nigerian Teaching Hospital
That night, however, I asked Richard to share a room with me.  Before the night was over I was woozy and was not making a lot of sense.  I could not answer most questions.  Richard and our driver got me up and took me to the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital emergency room.  This is a different hospital than the one mentioned above. 

I was admitted to the hospital and Richard carried me on his back to the third floor.  There were no elevators.  By that time, the only thing I could tell the medical personnel was "sodium chloride and cortef (a brand of steroid)" and to point to the medic alert bracelet on my wrist.  I remember very little of my stay there other than a very nice young man accompanying me to the bathroom numerous times, and at least once realizing that about six medical personnel were gathered around my bed.  Later I asked Richard how long I had been there and he said 12 hours.

At that point Richard made the decision to take me out of the hospital and return me to the states for further treatment, almost a 24 hour ride counting layovers.  It was a good decision.  By the time we got to the airport, I was feeling the effects of the sodium chloride I had been given IV.  I likely would have been okay to return home alone, but to Richard's credit, he was going to accompany me home, postponing the seminar in Cameroon and other visits there.

We have now arrived home safely, having been here about 48 hours.  I have given a copy of the Nigerian hospital report to my endocrinologist and have an appointment Monday

My major regrets are three:

1.  That the money you spent to get me there did not result in the work being done in Cameroon as well as what we did do in Nigeria.  I will always wonder what more could have been accomplished had I been admitted to Cameroon.  I was excited about the seminar and about the visits to the small country churches.  I am disappointed.

2.  That I was not alert enough before the trip to go ahead and get a Cameroonian visa in spite of the advice we had been given from people in Nigeria,  I should have been smart enough, and cautious enough to take that precaution.

3.  That I was not cautious enough about my own medical condition to refuse the speed boat ride.  Frankly the speed boat ride sounded like fun.  It was not; it was too crowded and was extremely uncomfortable.  My medical condition has been so well under control by my excellent Health Partners physicians that I almost never think of it.  I should have.

What's next?
If any of you want part or all of your money back, please let me know.  Those of you who know me well, know that I will pick up and move on.  In the movie "Batman Begins," the young Bruce Lee has fallen into a well (with bats).  After Bruce's rescue, his dad asks him, "Bruce, why do we fall down?"  Then, after a pause, he answers his own question, "So we can learn how to get back up."  I guess that is where I stand today, ready to learn from my experience and to look for the leading of the Spirit of God.  God has a plan for Nigeria.  He has a plan for Cameroon.  He has a plan for Richard.  He has a plan for me.  And He works all things together for our good.  God is in charge.  Satan did not win.  And he will not win.  It is exciting to live God's life.  Each day is a new adventure.

Thank you.
Thank you again for your love and support.