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African Journal #10: Jos With The Most

Posted Feb 19 2009 6:31pm

April 27, 2008

Coming Together For Greater Reasons

So much has happened the past week, it would be so hard to sum this up in a short and sweet entry. Let’s put this simply: it was a bittersweet time I had spent in the Plateau State city of Jos.
I bid Jane and Akwanga adieu and hopped into a car with Julia and set off for Jos. Julia McGeown is a VSO volunteer based in Jos, works for the special needs school, Open Doors, and hails from England. She specializes in speech therapy for children with speech challenges as well as teaching children who are mentally retarded how to speak simple words to communicate. I wanted to visit Julia and Sebastian, another volunteer from Germany, and I went to Jos for another reason – to meet with the Deaf community and to speak at a meeting of Nigerian sign language interpreters. So it promised to be a busy week!
Once Julia and I got to her house which she shares with Sebastian, I was greeted by another cute housemate – Crumpet, a mixed-breed, white haired & patched African cat that Julia adopted in her first few months as a volunteer over a year ago. Crumpet is truly a house cat, he ventures outside the door just for a little bit, but prefers to stay in the security of the house – and away from the dogs that reside in the neighbourhood. I’m a cat lover and I think Crumpet felt that vibe, too, so he warmed up to me much to Julia’s surprise. The cat wasn’t very affectionate with strangers – rather, it would run away and hide. So it was a good thing I had won him over!
The next day promised a visit to Open Doors for the entire morning, and an afternoon of craft shopping in Jos. I met with Professor Joanne, a batura (white woman) who has lived in Nigeria for a long time, and she is the principal for Open Doors. Open Doors has classrooms for children who are severely to mildly retarded, physically challenged (Cerebral Palsy), autistic and learning disabled children. There are no Deaf children at the school, they go to the Otana School for the Deaf in town. Julia took me to visit the Level 1 class after my meeting with Prof, and when I got in the door of Level 1, a small boy hugged me, and grabbed my cane and went off. It was David, a 4 year old boy with Down’s Syndrome. I met other children who were between the ages of 4 to 6, some with severe mental retardation, some with C.P. and Down’s. Julia took out some flash cards, and the kids could pronounce words such as ‘goodbye’, ‘hello’ and so on. They were given instruments and we started singing these words on the flash cards, and played some pretty loud music that really probably didn’t make sense, it sure wasn’t the orchestra. When I tried to show David how to beat the xylophone, he whacked me in the middle of my eyes with the drumstick – ouch! Then he proceeded to beat me up with the drumstick (it was harmless and plastic) so I just moved my seat away and played some jingles with Miracle, a small girl with severe cerebral palsy. She had one of the most beautiful smiles I’d encountered in my life and it was easy to understand why her mother called her Miracle.
My visit at Open Doors continued, I ventured into Levels 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 to meet a variety of students with disabilities, and they welcomed me with smiles and handshakes. Break time came, and Julia offered some tea and biscuits. An autistic teenaged boy named Neneameke came in – he snuck up behind me and grabbed my biscuit! I eventually got it back, and guarded my tea with care. What an eventful morning it was, and especially my visit ended with good news – the Prof had gotten me an invitation to attend a conference on Disabilities in the Media, in Abuja for the following Monday and Tuesday. She had connections, and pretty soon, many people organizing the event were happy to have me participate. It’s so great to network here in Nigeria, and I am pleasantly surprised at the growing number of important people that have crossed my paths. The more people I keep in touch with here, the more likely my work will be successful!

The lunch at Afri-One bakery was delicious – and I finished it off with a generous helping of mint chocolate ice cream. If you’re ever in Jos, this is a must-go place – the ice cream is really heavenly. Julia and I set off to meet Sebastian at his store, he volunteers as a Information Technician for an arts and handcrafts place that imports and exports local-made art to the States and Canada, as well as a small shop where tourists come in and buy real Nigerian crafts. I had some money left over from my salary and I was in the mood to buy several pieces of art for the house in Kebbi to spice it up. I bought beautiful handwoven straw bowls; a wooden hand painted African motif basket, fridge ornaments of Nigerian women in their exquisite dresses, a plate for hot dishes, and some beautiful handmade cards with elephants, giraffes and butterflies. Makes for great greeting cards to friends and family. The most wonderful thing happened – there was a herb shop next door, and having not had any fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, parsley, tarragon, rosemary) where I live in Kebbi, I was on cloud 9 when I saw the gardens! I bought a bag full of herbs and could not stop smiling like the Cheshire cat! Some cheap earrings were bought, then we were off to Julia’s home where we would just chill all night with Crumpet, have delicious omelettes with herbs for dinner and some quality time viewing the others’ pictures. Julia had worked in New Zealand, traveled Thailand solo (just like me!), vacationed in Ghana and a state south of Nigeria, Calabar. It was amazing to see the pictures and it made me want to book a trip to Calabar and Ghana in the new Year.

I didn’t really sleep soundly, the mossies kept at biting me and the faint breeze of Jos wasn’t enough to cool me off. In the morning, I walked in on Julia and Sebastian – and they didn’t look happy. Turns out, Crumpet had snuck into the kitchen and broke through the plastic wrapping of rat poison and ate three packets. Crumpet had become very sick and was shaking terribly – Julia was wracked with guilt for not getting rid of the rat poison when Crumpet moved back in (long story, but Crumpet was moved around several homes when Julia moved to another place with a roommate who was allergic to cats and had just returned two weeks ago). The search for a vet was fruitless, driving around town turned up no hits in their search for an animal doctor and Crumpet was breathing irregularly and shaking. They returned home as I was having my coffee and toast, and I saw Crumpet hobble off to my bedroom, unable to walk with one of his legs. It was so sad to see, and we were all very worried, and Julia didn’t think he would make it. Three packets of rat poison was surely lethal. Sebastian and Julia found a vet on the phone, and as per his advice, Julia fed Crumpet some palm oil through the mouth with a syringe with no needle. Crumpet was hiding under my bed, so I decided to lie down on the floor and try to comfort him. It was one of the most horrible sights I’d ever seen in my life – this cat was dying from the poison in the most horrid way. He gagged, limped, convulsed – and his tongue was stretched so far out. I started crying because it was so hard to see him suffer and wanted him to die right away rather than prolong this terrible side effect. Of course, we all wanted him to survive, but it was inevitable Crumpet was going to die. I became very emotional and continued crying – one of the reasons was because the night before, Crumpet hopped on my bed, stretched himself and looked at me. I told him – I am adopting you. Julia was going to leave in July and I told her I would take Crumpet in and bring him to Kebbi. Now that was not going to be possible, he had a few hours to live. Julia was devastated, and Sebastian was heartbroken and wanted to do something for Julia and the poor feline. I had to leave Julia with Crumpet in my bathroom (attached to my bedroom inside) while I went out to meet the Reverend Athenasius Dapul, who is hearing but has been involved with the Deaf community extensively in Jos. Sebastian drove me to Afri-One to meet the Rev, and I was off with the Rev to a meeting room full of Deaf people and educators for the Deaf who were eager to meet this Deaf Blind batura from America. I really was not in the mood to meet people, much less smile, because my mind was on poor Crumpet. I gave a short speech to the audience and greeted everyone, and bumped into some people I had met in Jos in March. When we were done, the Rev took me to his church 20 miles out of Jos, and when I got there I was surprised to find that there were no Deaf people, only 50 hearing people. The Rev sat me down and started his sermon – without sign language? I attended church growing up til my late teens, but one of the things I hated about church was lack of interpreters. It brought back bad memories of having to sit in the front pew not understanding anything and had to sit still for a full hour or so. I wanted to leave the church to go outside and text my friends, and Timothy, the interpreter. Timothy was supposed to meet me at the Deaf meeting but he was late getting in from Abuja, so the Rev took me in. I didn’t want to be rude, so I just sat in the front pew like a good Christian girl and daydreamed. Finally, after an hour inside the dark church, the Rev dropped me off home. It was a sad homecoming – Crumpet had died from fatal poisoning. He was laying in my bathroom – and no one wanted to move him. So we all went out to the Bacardi Lounge to have some pizza, beer and some laughs. It was a good time for all of us to try to forget the sadness for a little bit, and enjoy my visit in Jos. When I got back to the house, I truly did not want to sleep in my room – there was Crumpet, lifeless in the bathroom. Mattress was brought out to the living room and I suffered at the wings of the mossies, once again and dreamt of Crumpet.

Early in the morning, I had a visitor – a Mr. Jurmaine, who is an educator for the Deaf and is keen on working with the state to develop programs for Deaf Blind children. Prof, Julia’s boss, told him about me and he was so eager to meet me so he came over for tea and we talked about his network, how he came to want to work with DB children and we agreed to meet again during the summer and plan a meeting with other educators who want to develop the same program.
I went off to the University of Jos with Timothy to attend a meeting hosted by the Association of Sign Language Interpreters in Nigeria (ASLIN). They invited me to be the keynote speaker, talking about what kind of interpreter agencies there are in America (RID, local and state agencies, freelancers), the Code of Ethics, how money is funneled from the government and private sectors, and so on. Around 20 people attended, most were interpreters for the Deaf and around 5 were Deaf, wanting to become Deaf Interpreters. I promised them I would develop a dossier of people in America who would help them take off. ASLIN is not an official agency, however, they are working hard to ensure it happens. Also, the University of Jos has a department for Special Education and a lot of people go there to become educators for the Deaf. Now, the U of Jos is seeking to develop ASL classes, and a field for interpreting. If you know anyone that could contribute to this progress, please email me.

After the meeting, I rode the motorcycle to meet Julia and Sebastian at the gate. They had just gone up the barren valleys of Jos to bury Crumpet. We were ready to set off for Abuja, where we would indulge in the annual Queen’s Day festivities at a posh apartment building hosted by the Dutch embassy. The Orange Party was definitely one of the best highlights of my time in Nigeria… I’ll save that for another journal entry.

Life can be so random: it can either go cruelly or peacefully. I hope I go peacefully, and without conflict. Rest in peace, little fella.

Tactile love,
Coco

April 27, 2008

Coming Together For Greater Reasons

So much has happened the past week, it would be so hard to sum this up in a short and sweet entry. Let’s put this simply: it was a bittersweet time I had spent in the Plateau State city of Jos.
I bid Jane and Akwanga adieu and hopped into a car with Julia and set off for Jos. Julia McGeown is a VSO volunteer based in Jos, works for the special needs school, Open Doors, and hails from England. She specializes in speech therapy for children with speech challenges as well as teaching children who are mentally retarded how to speak simple words to communicate. I wanted to visit Julia and Sebastian, another volunteer from Germany, and I went to Jos for another reason – to meet with the Deaf community and to speak at a meeting of Nigerian sign language interpreters. So it promised to be a busy week!
Once Julia and I got to her house which she shares with Sebastian, I was greeted by another cute housemate – Crumpet, a mixed-breed, white haired & patched African cat that Julia adopted in her first few months as a volunteer over a year ago. Crumpet is truly a house cat, he ventures outside the door just for a little bit, but prefers to stay in the security of the house – and away from the dogs that reside in the neighbourhood. I’m a cat lover and I think Crumpet felt that vibe, too, so he warmed up to me much to Julia’s surprise. The cat wasn’t very affectionate with strangers – rather, it would run away and hide. So it was a good thing I had won him over!
The next day promised a visit to Open Doors for the entire morning, and an afternoon of craft shopping in Jos. I met with Professor Joanne, a batura (white woman) who has lived in Nigeria for a long time, and she is the principal for Open Doors. Open Doors has classrooms for children who are severely to mildly retarded, physically challenged (Cerebral Palsy), autistic and learning disabled children. There are no Deaf children at the school, they go to the Otana School for the Deaf in town. Julia took me to visit the Level 1 class after my meeting with Prof, and when I got in the door of Level 1, a small boy hugged me, and grabbed my cane and went off. It was David, a 4 year old boy with Down’s Syndrome. I met other children who were between the ages of 4 to 6, some with severe mental retardation, some with C.P. and Down’s. Julia took out some flash cards, and the kids could pronounce words such as ‘goodbye’, ‘hello’ and so on. They were given instruments and we started singing these words on the flash cards, and played some pretty loud music that really probably didn’t make sense, it sure wasn’t the orchestra. When I tried to show David how to beat the xylophone, he whacked me in the middle of my eyes with the drumstick – ouch! Then he proceeded to beat me up with the drumstick (it was harmless and plastic) so I just moved my seat away and played some jingles with Miracle, a small girl with severe cerebral palsy. She had one of the most beautiful smiles I’d encountered in my life and it was easy to understand why her mother called her Miracle.
My visit at Open Doors continued, I ventured into Levels 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 to meet a variety of students with disabilities, and they welcomed me with smiles and handshakes. Break time came, and Julia offered some tea and biscuits. An autistic teenaged boy named Neneameke came in – he snuck up behind me and grabbed my biscuit! I eventually got it back, and guarded my tea with care. What an eventful morning it was, and especially my visit ended with good news – the Prof had gotten me an invitation to attend a conference on Disabilities in the Media, in Abuja for the following Monday and Tuesday. She had connections, and pretty soon, many people organizing the event were happy to have me participate. It’s so great to network here in Nigeria, and I am pleasantly surprised at the growing number of important people that have crossed my paths. The more people I keep in touch with here, the more likely my work will be successful!

The lunch at Afri-One bakery was delicious – and I finished it off with a generous helping of mint chocolate ice cream. If you’re ever in Jos, this is a must-go place – the ice cream is really heavenly. Julia and I set off to meet Sebastian at his store, he volunteers as a Information Technician for an arts and handcrafts place that imports and exports local-made art to the States and Canada, as well as a small shop where tourists come in and buy real Nigerian crafts. I had some money left over from my salary and I was in the mood to buy several pieces of art for the house in Kebbi to spice it up. I bought beautiful handwoven straw bowls; a wooden hand painted African motif basket, fridge ornaments of Nigerian women in their exquisite dresses, a plate for hot dishes, and some beautiful handmade cards with elephants, giraffes and butterflies. Makes for great greeting cards to friends and family. The most wonderful thing happened – there was a herb shop next door, and having not had any fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, parsley, tarragon, rosemary) where I live in Kebbi, I was on cloud 9 when I saw the gardens! I bought a bag full of herbs and could not stop smiling like the Cheshire cat! Some cheap earrings were bought, then we were off to Julia’s home where we would just chill all night with Crumpet, have delicious omelettes with herbs for dinner and some quality time viewing the others’ pictures. Julia had worked in New Zealand, traveled Thailand solo (just like me!), vacationed in Ghana and a state south of Nigeria, Calabar. It was amazing to see the pictures and it made me want to book a trip to Calabar and Ghana in the new Year.

I didn’t really sleep soundly, the mossies kept at biting me and the faint breeze of Jos wasn’t enough to cool me off. In the morning, I walked in on Julia and Sebastian – and they didn’t look happy. Turns out, Crumpet had snuck into the kitchen and broke through the plastic wrapping of rat poison and ate three packets. Crumpet had become very sick and was shaking terribly – Julia was wracked with guilt for not getting rid of the rat poison when Crumpet moved back in (long story, but Crumpet was moved around several homes when Julia moved to another place with a roommate who was allergic to cats and had just returned two weeks ago). The search for a vet was fruitless, driving around town turned up no hits in their search for an animal doctor and Crumpet was breathing irregularly and shaking. They returned home as I was having my coffee and toast, and I saw Crumpet hobble off to my bedroom, unable to walk with one of his legs. It was so sad to see, and we were all very worried, and Julia didn’t think he would make it. Three packets of rat poison was surely lethal. Sebastian and Julia found a vet on the phone, and as per his advice, Julia fed Crumpet some palm oil through the mouth with a syringe with no needle. Crumpet was hiding under my bed, so I decided to lie down on the floor and try to comfort him. It was one of the most horrible sights I’d ever seen in my life – this cat was dying from the poison in the most horrid way. He gagged, limped, convulsed – and his tongue was stretched so far out. I started crying because it was so hard to see him suffer and wanted him to die right away rather than prolong this terrible side effect. Of course, we all wanted him to survive, but it was inevitable Crumpet was going to die. I became very emotional and continued crying – one of the reasons was because the night before, Crumpet hopped on my bed, stretched himself and looked at me. I told him – I am adopting you. Julia was going to leave in July and I told her I would take Crumpet in and bring him to Kebbi. Now that was not going to be possible, he had a few hours to live. Julia was devastated, and Sebastian was heartbroken and wanted to do something for Julia and the poor feline. I had to leave Julia with Crumpet in my bathroom (attached to my bedroom inside) while I went out to meet the Reverend Athenasius Dapul, who is hearing but has been involved with the Deaf community extensively in Jos. Sebastian drove me to Afri-One to meet the Rev, and I was off with the Rev to a meeting room full of Deaf people and educators for the Deaf who were eager to meet this Deaf Blind batura from America. I really was not in the mood to meet people, much less smile, because my mind was on poor Crumpet. I gave a short speech to the audience and greeted everyone, and bumped into some people I had met in Jos in March. When we were done, the Rev took me to his church 20 miles out of Jos, and when I got there I was surprised to find that there were no Deaf people, only 50 hearing people. The Rev sat me down and started his sermon – without sign language? I attended church growing up til my late teens, but one of the things I hated about church was lack of interpreters. It brought back bad memories of having to sit in the front pew not understanding anything and had to sit still for a full hour or so. I wanted to leave the church to go outside and text my friends, and Timothy, the interpreter. Timothy was supposed to meet me at the Deaf meeting but he was late getting in from Abuja, so the Rev took me in. I didn’t want to be rude, so I just sat in the front pew like a good Christian girl and daydreamed. Finally, after an hour inside the dark church, the Rev dropped me off home. It was a sad homecoming – Crumpet had died from fatal poisoning. He was laying in my bathroom – and no one wanted to move him. So we all went out to the Bacardi Lounge to have some pizza, beer and some laughs. It was a good time for all of us to try to forget the sadness for a little bit, and enjoy my visit in Jos. When I got back to the house, I truly did not want to sleep in my room – there was Crumpet, lifeless in the bathroom. Mattress was brought out to the living room and I suffered at the wings of the mossies, once again and dreamt of Crumpet.

Early in the morning, I had a visitor – a Mr. Jurmaine, who is an educator for the Deaf and is keen on working with the state to develop programs for Deaf Blind children. Prof, Julia’s boss, told him about me and he was so eager to meet me so he came over for tea and we talked about his network, how he came to want to work with DB children and we agreed to meet again during the summer and plan a meeting with other educators who want to develop the same program.
I went off to the University of Jos with Timothy to attend a meeting hosted by the Association of Sign Language Interpreters in Nigeria (ASLIN). They invited me to be the keynote speaker, talking about what kind of interpreter agencies there are in America (RID, local and state agencies, freelancers), the Code of Ethics, how money is funneled from the government and private sectors, and so on. Around 20 people attended, most were interpreters for the Deaf and around 5 were Deaf, wanting to become Deaf Interpreters. I promised them I would develop a dossier of people in America who would help them take off. ASLIN is not an official agency, however, they are working hard to ensure it happens. Also, the University of Jos has a department for Special Education and a lot of people go there to become educators for the Deaf. Now, the U of Jos is seeking to develop ASL classes, and a field for interpreting. If you know anyone that could contribute to this progress, please email me.

After the meeting, I rode the motorcycle to meet Julia and Sebastian at the gate. They had just gone up the barren valleys of Jos to bury Crumpet. We were ready to set off for Abuja, where we would indulge in the annual Queen’s Day festivities at a posh apartment building hosted by the Dutch embassy. The Orange Party was definitely one of the best highlights of my time in Nigeria… I’ll save that for another journal entry.

Life can be so random: it can either go cruelly or peacefully. I hope I go peacefully, and without conflict. Rest in peace, little fella.

Tactile love,
Coco

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