Last Sunday a truly wonderful person died. Gill Edwards was my friend and mentor and I loved her dearly. She was an ‘earth angel’ and inspired many people. She wrote books such as ‘Living Magically’, ‘Life is a Gift’, ‘Conscious Medicine’ and more. She kept me going in dark troubled times. Without her support I would never have come to Nigeria. Gill taught me to ‘Follow my dreams and live with joy’. She taught me to look for the positive and find something to be grateful for every day. She showed me that without doubt life is eternal and the only reality is Love. Thank you, Gill. I know you are still with me and your love will stay with me forever. I believe that life is part of a much larger journey and so death cannot be a tragedy. Gill has moved on and I miss her earthly being but her spirit will continue to guide me.
So I will try to explain my ‘journey’ in Nigeria.......
My beliefs were sorely tested when I first came to Ilorin. My impressions of Ilorin were not good. Sabo-Oke, where we live, was often described as a ‘ghetto’-rather a rough area. Indeed it is not a picturesque place-rubbish is thrown everywhere and the cemetery is strewn with plastic bags, rotting food and excrement-human and animal. The ditches are little better than open sewers in places, lorries belch out thick black acrid smoke, generators whir and there is noise, noise, noise... My eyes are often sore with the dust and pollution and fresh air is a luxury. Poverty abounds. Polio victims beg, young children risk their lives begging at busy roundabouts. I saw children sitting for hours in dark dismal classrooms waiting for a teacher who never arrived. I saw children cower in fear of the kaboko (the strap) and Lea witnessed floggings in secondary schools. I saw children taking tiny tots to school down busy roads, five year olds looking after babies. I could not see God in these scenes.
Everywhere people go to the mosque or the Christian church. Religion has a powerful influence here. How else would people put up with their wretched lives? Religion offers the chance of a better life. Religion says just ‘trust’, put everything in God’s control. Missionaries build fine churches and offer salvation from hell. They tell people to repent and pray, cast out their devils and tell their converts God is in charge. All they have to do is pray-no action is required. So people remain helpless victims in the face of corruption and the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I know this is a very simplistic view and I am sure not all churches are like this but this is how it first seemed to me.
So how could God be here? How could ‘Life be a gift’? How could anyone ‘live magically here? What have these people got to show gratitude for and where is the joy in their lives?
But....... when I got past all my pre-conceived notions and looked beyond the squalor, of course, you are right Gill. God is in Nigeria. Life is a gift-yes, even and especially, in Nigeria.
I couldn’t find God in the churches but I did find him in the people. Nigerians have something we, in the west, have lost-joy, spontaneity, the ability to live in and truly appreciate the moment! The State School Improvement Team I work with face many difficulties and frustrations but I will carry their joy and laughter with me always. They have not forgotten how to sing and dance in celebration of life. At first I found the banter infuriating when I was training them but once I shed my British ‘stiff upper lip’ I found I too could be joyful! And the fun we had pretending to be chickens, a yam in a bag, five little ducks..... Oh how we repress our joy as adults in the West! Yes, training here is very noisy and can be frustrating but everyone joins in, shows appreciation and has fun!
Then I look at the children. They don’t want my pity! They run to greet me, laughing and tumbling in the sand, shouting, ‘Auntie Caroline!’ Some of them have to be tough to survive but the pleasure in their faces as they play with bits of wood and home-made toys. I have seen groups of them looking out for one another with a tough love but a love none the less. Yesterday, at the orphanage, the little boys were playing ball with Lea and they were so happy-it was moment I will always treasure. All they want is love. I still so desperately want the children to be able to play and want the carers to hug them more but Mrs Omolehin has love in her heart and is drawing in more and more support. Last year she was in two rooms with a few part-time helpers now she has a nursery room, a building for the older children, thirteen helpers and a bus. She, truly sees the positive. Her love attracts more love and I know that very soon the other buildings will be up and the children will be housed in family style accommodation.
Yes the classrooms are dark and dismal but times are changing. Thanks to the SSIT teachers are releasing and sharing their joy with the children. They are learning that teaching does not have to be a chore but can be fun. They are singing the phonic songs, pretending to be ducks......
God is here in the people. Love is in the families. Mothers with babies bound to their backs, work day and night to improve their lives. The poorest people here have given me the most-an extra egg, a bag of tomatoes from my neighbours, drinks at schools. There is much that is wrong and sad here but the day after Gill died I looked into the sky above Sabo-Oke and knew God was here. God/Love is what keeps Nigeria going.
I will miss you!
Yes, sadly Lea and I are returning home on December 17th as our family need us. It was a very hard decision and one we made in September. It had nothing to do with the trials we have faced recently although they have saddened me greatly.
The children playing with some of the toys Andrea sent. The rest of the money I raised I used to buy disposable nappies. Thank you everyone who helped me do this!