Monday, November 29, 2010

Visit to Nigeria, November 4-16

Our visit to Nigeria earlier this month was a little like a whirlwind - it went much too quickly. Indeed, we accomplished our main goals, to visit and work with our graduate students, but we certainly would have liked more time to visit friends and former colleagues.

Streets and roads of Jos near the Unijos campus

The trip started somewhat inauspiciously, because our flight was scheduled to leave Banjul around 2am, but did not leave until about 4.30. So we arrived late in Lagos and thus missed the connecting flight to Jos. With some coaxing of the airline staff, Adrian managed to change our ticket to fly to Abuja that same afternoon, and Mary McCain helped arrange for a taxi to take us to Jos. Although we left the Abuja airport at about 4pm, Abuja traffic was heavy, and we had not yet gotten to the stretch of highway leading to the Plateau when it was already getting dark. Needless to say, we were praying the whole way to Jos. Going up the Plateau there were numerous roadblocks to slow us again - we counted at least 20 before we got to Jos, even though the evening curfew is no longer in effect. The police or military at the checkpoints were invariably friendly, and the taxi driver was professional about his work, but we were really grateful to arrive at the McCains around 9pm! They greeted us warmly, and even had some food for us before we transferred to the house where we used to live on campus, just a few minutes walk from the McCains.

We were tired, since we had hardly slept the previous night on the flight from Banjul. But the next day with the use of our cell phones we lost little time to get in touch with our students, to let them know we arrived and were ready to work with them on their projects. It was Friday, so it was a day when we would not ordinarily go out, certainly not in the afternoon unless it was necessary for marketing and groceries to get us going. But on that score Mary really helped out by having us over for the hot meal.

Zaria Road

This double road is a wonderful new feature in Jos, finished in the last months, and passing through the city from north to south; it makes for a much smoother transition through the city.

During that day, Friday, our department hosted external examiners for master's students, and one of those defending was Wendy's former student, Sunday Gwomna, who had completed his thesis on Ephesians with Danny McCain. When he dropped by that evening with one of the elders of his congregation, we were happy to congratulate him. He in turn took advantage of the occasion to ask us to join him at his church on Sunday, and for Adrian to preach. It was not hard to agree to that request, especially on what would certainly be a festive occasion, at the completion of work on the thesis.

Adrian with pastor Sunday after the service

Sunday school classes between the two services, held outdoors

We joined pastor Sunday for two services, first the English, attended by about 50, most of them students, and then for the Hausa service, for which the hall was packed. Adrian's message on suffering as an integral and not abnormal part of the life of the Christian, was well-received. This was the congregation whose church, located not far from the university, in a predominantly Muslim area, had now been burned three times. So they were meeting in a community centre not far from their own location.

The entry to the community centre; the structure is made of local bricks, widely used.

But after the service pastor Sunday proudly showed us a new compound nearby, acquired by the church, with a much more secure wall. This will be the location of the parsonage and the chapel for English services, while they are rebuilding the walls of the older location.

Sunday, Adrian and Wendy, in front of the new gate

The new property will not be accessed until after Christmas time; but the high quality wall and gate are very important for this congregation.

The important thing is that we did get to work with most of the students for whom we came. Although Cosmos had presented his proposal in an initial seminar at Unijos, there was still much to be settled, and Adrian had a few sessions with him, to get this proposal for research on a stronger footing. He also was able to contact Dennis, who is now teaching in a city at some distance from Jos; since our last visit Dennis managed to present the requisite number of seminars, and was ready for upgrading, and is thus at the same stage as Wendy's student Rebecca.

To help prepare Rebecca for this upgrading procedure, Wendy especially helped her strengthen the theoretical framework, a segment of the first chapter, which needed some work. We had time to go through a few versions, and were able to complete this far more efficiently than through email; so Rebecca was especially grateful for our coming. When we had completed the bulk of the work we celebrated the event with herself and her husband Sam by going out for lunch in a restaurant not far from Bukuru, where they live on the campus of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria.

Adrian, Sam, Rebecca and Wendy

Wendy's other PhD student, Dauda, had in the meantime transferred the actual work on the thesis to a supervisor at the university of KwasuluNatal in South Africa. He had recently submitted the entire thesis for defence, so at this point Wendy only took the time for a careful reading, providing him some comments which will hopefully be helpful when the time comes for defence.

At the King's Bite: Danfulani and his wife, the external examiner, Wendy, Adrian and Kangdim

Elias Lamle, Danfulani and his wife

Our visit also gave a pleasant opportunity to catch up with Elias Lamle, whom Wendy had helped with his thesis on joking relationships among the Tarok of the Plateau, a thesis he had defended successfully at Leuven in Belgium this past June. We appreciated the invitation of colleagues in the Religious Studies department, Umar Danfulani and Jotham Kangdim to join them for supper, together with Elias and the external examiner for the department that day. At the moment Elias is still examining various options for work including a position in a center for peace and conflict studies, a position that would certainly allow him to implement the work for his doctoral studies.

Aside from the discussions with our graduate students we also discovered that our department of Religious Studies has a new name; it is now the department of Religious Studies and Philosophy. To date no faculty has been hired specifically to teach philosophy, though one recently hired Master's graduate does have a background in philosophy from St. Augustine's Major Seminary, where philosophy is taught for three years to prospective priests, before they begin the work in theology. We did take some time to talk with our former graduate students, who were hired in the department at the junior level, with the understanding that they acquire a doctoral degree which will help qualify them to teach philosophy. It is difficult, of course, for a student to write a thesis at that level, when they are lacking in the necessary preparatory courses. We tried to advise them on a program of reading; but we also knew that St. Augustine's does have faculty members well qualified in philosophy, and so we took the time to the visit with our former colleagues at the St.Augustine's Seminary, so that there might be the necessary cooperation.

Our friend and dean of the Seminary, Fr. Peter Kamai.was happy to receive some of our dictionaries and reference works for the Seminary library

On our last Sunday in Jos we attended the NKST Anglo-Jos service, one of the few congregations of the Tiv church which has an English service. Many of the Unijos students attend. It was wonderful to worship there again, and to meet former friends and colleagues. During the ethno-religious troubles earlier this year the church and parsonage had been attacked, and although the church did not suffer much damage, the parsonage was still without a roof. In fact in that neighbourhood there were whole streets of houses still without roofs, and with considerable indication of fire damage.

At the university one of the benefits of the recent troubles is that the university has finally put a solid fence separating the campus from the main highway, giving at least some slight protection for the campus residents when troubles arise.

Entrance gate and the new fence of the Permanent Site campus of Unijos

Although most of our days in Jos were packed, our last day was particularly interesting. Rather early in the day we walked over to the building which houses our department.

We hardly recognized the campus where we used to teach; many new buildings are being added.

Our expectations of meeting numerous colleagues were not disappointed, for this was the day when our faculty was to hold its election for a new dean. Our good friend and colleague Danfulani was standing for the position. Aside from the importance of the occasion for our department, we were happy for this chance to meet many old friends and colleagues gathered for the election, especially Gwamna as new head of our department. But it was special treat to meet Timothy Tseror, with whom we had worked in Tanzania; although he had stayed in Mwanza a year after we left, he was now back in Jos, teaching once more in the history department of Unijos. He invited us for supper that night yet, and honoured us by having pounded yam with a special meat soup!

Timothy's wife and his youngest daughter joined him for the second year he taught at St. Augustine's University in Tanzania, in Mwanza. It was a special treat for us that after we left he and his family was able to occupy the house given us, and which we had helped to furnish at the time.

On Tuesday morning we finished up what needed to be done at the house. Aside from work with students we had also taken the time to make decisions on a number of things we had left in the house in 2008, like books, thinking that our IICS colleagues who would be staying at the house could use them.

So it was time to do some "housecleaning". Alongside books and equipment we found materials for teaching that had only been collecting dust. Some of these we managed to pass along to our graduate students, some to friends and colleagues at Unijos and TCNN, and finally. some ended up in a smoky fire in the pit behind our house! It was really time to say goodbye! So, we were off to the airport shortly after 10.30am, in time for the Arik flight to Lagos, which arrived a little late, but this time it was not a problem, since the flight to Banjul was not scheduled to leave until 8pm that night; it actually left on time, and after a landing at Accra in Ghana, flew straight to Banjul - not stopping first in Dakar, Senegal as we had anticipated. So we arrived at 11:30pm, about 30 minutes earlier than expected!

Although we were tired from a rather hectic schedule of visits and consultations, we had enjoyed the cooler air of Jos on the Plateau, and really appreciated the opportunity of meeting many friends, along with our students, encouraging them, as well as being encouraged ourselves by the good things which are happening in Jos, in spite of the troubles of these past months.

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