When we went to Nigeria, we had been living in Ohio. I was a preacher’s wife there. I had one little boy that was two years old. We also had a Japanese exchange student who stayed with us for a year. I had wanted to be a missionary in Japan, but it had fallen through. There was an add in a Christian newspaper advertising for teachers in Nigeria. When I was asked to go to Nigeria, I had reservations because I had never thought about being a missionary in Africa. I wanted to go to Japan. I had a hard decision to make. Did I really want to be a missionary? If I did, I would go wherever the door was open, and I really did want to be a missionary. God is the most important thing in the world, so of course I would go to Nigeria. My mother didn’t approve at all. We had lived in Morocco when I was growing up, and she didn’t want me going back to the African continent at all, but we made the decision to go, and it made my mother mad. We went to a Mission’s workshop at Abilene Christian University with other people going to Nigeria to prepare ourselves. We met other people planning on going to Nigeria as teachers. There was an older couple going with us who used to be missionaries in the southern part of Nigeria, but we were all going to the northern part of Nigeria, where Christianity was barely there, but there were lots of Muslims and what Nigeria calls “pagans.” The pagans are the people who followed the ancient traditional religions in Nigeria. The believed in the Juju, the voodoo of Nigeria. Some went so far as had human sacrifice. It was illegal, but they still did it in secret, and the authorities knew, but felt helpless. Many used to be cannibals, and yes, I met a woman who used to be a cannibal when I was there. At the Mission’s Workshop, we learned that we would be washing our clothes in the bathtub. We learned about prophylaxis, a kind of medicine we would have to take the whole time we were there because of the Malaria. Everyone’s schedule was a bit different. Some of them would be going six months before we got there, and there were two young couples who went and left before we got there because they decided life was just too hard. One couple got off the plane, checked into a hotel, freaked out, and got right back on the place and left after a weekend. Another couple lasted a little longer, but the wife lost her ability to walk. Her husband was carrying her everywhere, but the doctors couldn’t find the problem. When they left, she was able to walk again, so they decided it was psychological. We were walking into a hard country for Americans to go. My mother may have been right, but we went anyway.
When we got off the plane in Kaduna, Nigeria, Patty and Reese, the older couple, were there to meet us with their van. There was a harmattan outside. Sand was blowing in the air so thick you could hardly see, and it was really hard to go outside. We drove by a big mosque with a high wall around it, and it made me think of Morocco. We went to a rest house. Rest houses were not hotels. They had been started by missionaries, and missionaries often stayed in them when they traveled in Nigeria. At the rest house, we got a room, and there were mosquito nets over the beds. For my two year old son, there was a crib made like a screened in box for him to sleep in that kept the mosquitoes out. After we slept, we at breakfast at the rest house. There was a huge dining hall. There was a long table where everyone was lined up waiting to get their food. They were serving a kind of porridge. I think there were other things on the table, but none of it looked good to me and I knew I couldn’t eat it, but maybe I could eat the porridge. I had never eaten anything like the porridge, and haven’t eaten anything like it since. It tasted like it was made out of whole wheat or something like that, and I didn’t like it very much. I didn’t finish the porridge. In fact, I didn’t eat a lot when I first got to Nigeria at all because none of the food seemed to appeal to me. I accidently lost weight.
Patty and Reese said our house wasn’t ready, and they took us to their house, at another school in another town. All the schools had compounds where the teachers lived. They were extremely fastidious about cleaning everything, and they had one room in their house they kept just where they hung the wet clothes after Patty washed them in the bathtub. Craig, an elder’s son and auto mechanic’s teacher from Arizona or New Mexico somewhere was there too. Patty and Reese cooked a meat for all of us, and it was good, but I don’t remember what they made. We went for a walk with Patty and Reese, and they showed us a church building close to their house where they had been going. They told us the people there did everything like they were used to, but that for communion, there was no grapes or grape juice, so they were serving a kind of Kool-Aid. Grapes don’t grow in Nigeria. A lot of fruit grows in Nigeria, but if it grows in a cooler climate like grapes, apples, and strawberries, the Nigerians have to import it if they want it. You can buy bananas on every street corner, and there is actually so much fruit growing there are fruit trees everywhere. One man said he didn’t think the Nigerians would every starve because the food was literally falling off the trees around them. There were open markets everywhere that sold fruit, vegetables, and peanuts. Nigeria used to be the world’s number one producer of peanuts until they began exporting oil, and they began putting more emphasis on the oil. They are an OPEC nation.
At first, Patty and Reese put us in the house with Craig because they said he lived closer to our house and our house wasn’t quite ready. Craig ate a lot of store bought cookies and Coca Cola. Since I was staying there, I began cooking regular meals for everyone. There was a banana tree in Craig’s back yard, so he never had to buy bananas. It was the rainy season. I had to wash the clothes in the bathtub, but it was hard to get them dry because there was so much rain. I learned I had to wake up early and get the clothes on the line so they could dry by 11:00 in the morning because it always rained by 11:00. My two year old son was potty trained, but he reverted. I had no diapers, and I was in trouble. I began putting his dad’s white t-shirts on him as diapers until I could re-potty train him. Patty had put a lot of pressure on me about keeping Craig’s house clean, so I was mopping the floors with bleach, cooking, washing dishes, etc. I was working hard. My husband and Craig went to our house when it was available, but they wouldn’t let me see it. Everything was dirty and broken, and they were afraid when I saw it I would want to turn around and go home. They had to fix the hot water heater. They had to clean the house a bit they said before I saw it.
When I went over to our house, it was still a disaster!! The walls in the kitchen were black from smoke because the person who lived there before didn’t have a stove, so they built a fire in the middle of the kitchen floor where they cooked, and we had to paint the kitchen. The bathtub had an inch thick of black mold on it, and I spent one afternoon scrubbing the black mold off the bathtub. The walls were black and grimy with fingerprints, and I spent a lot of time washing the walls because my husband didn’t want to pain the whole house. The toilet seat was broken. Evidently, many Nigerians didn’t know how to use an indoor toilet, so the people who lived there before had stood on the toilet to use it and broken the seat. We finally got it clean enough to move in, and I had worked like a dog to get it clean. Craig and my husband also had to fix the refrigerator because it didn’t work either, and soon after we moved in, the person who used to live in the house came and took the stove away because they said it was their stove, and they had just left it in the house. We didn’t have a stove, so we had to petition to the teacher’s ministry to get a stove. It took several trips to the teacher’s ministry to get anything done because they were all looking for a bribe. They thought if they said, “Come back tomorrow” long enough without giving us what we needed that we would eventually cave and bribe them to get what we wanted. However, we didn’t cave, so it took quite a while. A Canadian teacher from our school said when she went to the teacher’s ministry to get anything, she just took bottles of wine with her, and all the doors opened for her, but we weren’t willing to do that. The first night, we slept in the house, we didn’t have mosquito nets yet. They told us we didn’t have to have blankets, but it was cold, so we all slept under the light jackets and other clothing we had bought. During the night, I think it was a lizard, fell on me, and I was so shocked that it woke me up!! I knocked it off, but when I turned the lights on, I couldn’t see anything, so I am not really sure whether it was a lizard or something else. Come to find out, if we had been sent to another part of Nigeria, we didn’t need blankets, but we were on the Plateau. The Plateau is the vacation spot of Nigeria because it is the coolest place in Nigeria. It stays between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit all year. The houses are made from concrete, so it was always ten degrees cooler inside than outside. The rest of Nigeria was like a sweltering oven, but we were in the only place that basically had perfect weather all year.
The next day, we bought mosquito nets and blankets. We had bars on our windows so people couldn’t get in, and we also put screens on our windows to keep the mosquitos out. There were lots of mosquitos everywhere, and malaria was a problem, so we were also taking our prophylaxis pills everyday. One of the the walks we took with Patty and Reese, we passed by a doorway, and they said a woman in there had died of Cholera, and that we needed to stay away. They explained that with Cholera, you get diarrhea that is so bad that you can’t get enough liquids in yourself to counteract the dehydration, so you die, They also said Cholera was very contagious, so be careful because they were trying to stop a Cholera epidemic from starting. Diarrhea became a normal thing in Nigeria for us even though we didn’t have Cholera. Everything bothered our stomachs.
We went shopping once a week. We went to the fruit and vegetable market in Jos where you could also buy peanuts and bought lots of fruit and vegetables. Bananas sold on every street corner. I tried making peanut butter with the peanuts, but wasn’t very successful, but we found a missionary’s son who made good peanut butter and bought it from him. We bought beef at the beef market. We had to wake really early because they got up and killed the cow, then put it on a big wooden table outside. When you went there, you just had to tell the man what part you wanted cut off, and he cut it off and gave it to you. I was the butcher after that. I took it home and made steaks, roasts, and ground up hamburger for us to eat. My husband found a chicken farm where he bought baby chicks, and we raised the chicks so we could have eggs and chickens. We had a maid’s house in back of our house, and we kept the chickens out there. We bought bread, and then we found a stick baked into the bread, so I began baking all our bread to make sure it was clean. We often went to King’s Way, a big chain of department stores throughout Nigeria. We tried to buy meat there, but ended up with some really strange stuff, and we have no idea what we ate, so we gave up buying meat at King’s Way. We had trouble finding milk, so we bought Nido, a kind of powdered milk. It was so good I could make not only homemade pudding and ice cream with it, but I also made cheese and yogurt with it. We looked for shortening, but there was none. However, there was a big can of margarine, and the can looked like an American shortening can. I used the margarine for shortening and for butter. Eventually, we learned that if we wanted milk we should have bought it from the Fulani. The Fulani were what the Nigerians called “the black whites.” They were mulattos, and they had migrated into Nigeria from the north. They were herdsmen who followed along behind their cows.
Besides King’s Way, there were another couple of small grocery stores close to King’s Way where were also shopped. One of them always had imported oatmeal, so we ate a lot of oatmeal. The owner of that shop was quite funny!! We were in there one day, and the owner was talking really loudly on his telephone. He wanted everyone in the shop to know he had a telephone. You see, not many people in Nigeria had telephones. We didn’t even have a telephone. The man had made enough money to take his haji, and he was rich and wanted everyone to know it. The haji is the once in a life time trip all Muslims want to take to Mecca, and in Nigeria, once they take their haji, they are known as Al Haji, and he was Al Haji and wanted everyone to know. It was difficult to find anything premade, but we could get basic things, and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking with very basic things.
We also went to restaurants. Our favorite was at Hill Station, a hotel with a restaurant in the bottom. There were wooden arm chairs with big cushions. Four arm chairs were pushed up to a kind of coffee table. There were several in the dining room. There was also a big aquarium full of beautiful fish. We went there to eat meat pies and drink Coca Cola. The meat pies had meat, potatoes, carrots, and gravy in them. They were quite good!! My two year old son missed McDonald’s in America, but he like Hill Station and began calling the place “Duca Duca’s” which is what he called McDonald’s in America. Sometimes, we walked outside and let him swim in the pool at Hill Station. There was also a monkey they kept in a cage outside there we always took him to see. There were lots of monkeys in Nigeria, In America, if you are driving down the road in the country, you often see deer, and in Nigeria, it is not deer running across the road, but monkeys.
Another restaurant we frequented we went to out of necessity sometimes. It specialized in boiled eggs. Still another across the street from it served red rice with chunks of roast beef it in, and it was good, but you had to be careful because they had not taken all the rocks out, and you didn’t want to break your tooth. Another one we went to occasionally specialized in scrambled eggs and homemade French fries. Except for Hill Station, these places served Coca Cola, but none of t was cold. Next to Hill Station, there was a Chinese Restaurant, , but I never had a chance to eat there. Along the streets, there were ladies who sat and roasted corn. You could buy roasted corn on the cob that was delicious and just continue about your business. The ladies just laid the corn over open fires. There were also women cooking in pots over open first along the road. Those ladies were cooking cosey and yam chips they served in newspaper like the English had done with fish and chips. Cosey are fried cakes made from ground beans, and yam chips are not made from sweet potatoes. Yams are actually long white roots that taste a lot like potatoes, but they are starchier. They cut them up and deep fat fried the yam chips and cosey, and they were delicious!! Sometimes, I cooked the yams at home. Sometimes, I used cooking bananas and sliced them up and fried them in butter. They were good too.
The only other country besides Oklahoma where I saw okra was Nigeria. A couple from church had invited us for lunch. They served us a very slimy soup. The thing that went through my head was, “Oh no! They are like the Japanese, and they have served me raw eggs again!!” I wanted to ask what was in the soup because I wanted to know what I was eating, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I asked for the recipe. When she gave the recipe, there was okra in the soup, and that is why it was slimy.
The church in Jos was made up of people from the south who had come there for work. Since they were from the south, they were having trouble reaching out to the people in the north because it hadn’t been that long since there had been a civil war between the north and the south in Nigeria. The church met in a room in front of one of the couple’s apartments. The room was kind of small with dirty concrete floors and low benches to sit on. They had a blackboard at the front. They would make a list of all of all the items of worship, and after they sang, prayed, had communion, etc., someone would get up and check it off the list. The church was made up more of men than women because the women stayed at home working so the men could go to church. However, the first Sunday we were there, they took us out to eat. While we were waiting on our meal, I got a surprise. The waiter came to ask what everyone wanted to drink. All the women ordered Coca cola, and all the men ordered a beer. I had never seen a church that drank together. The church had trouble getting communion wine. Wine was sold, but they didn’t want to use just any wine. They wanted communion wine. As I said before, grapes don’t grow in Nigeria. We were several weeks at one point without communion wine because they ran out before they ordered more. At one of the men’s meetings after church, after the communion wine came, they wanted to congratulate themselves for making good decisions, and they all used the communion wine to toast their decisions. Attending that church was a whole new world to me. All the women had to wear something on their heads. If a baby cried in services, the woman would just disrobe from the waste up and feed her baby on the spot not caring if anyone saw. It was a bit shocking the first time it happened, but I had to learn to live with it. It was a different culture.
One of the big deals in Nigeria was water!! At times, during the dry season, they rationed the water. If we drove over the river, the river bed was dry because there hadn’t been any rain. People would be out in the middle of the dry river bed digging trying to get water. At our house, since the school rationed our water and only sent it a couple of hours in a day, I woke up early while the water was on, made sure the bathtub was clean, and filled the bathtub full of water for us to use all day. If I washed dishes, mopped the floor, cooked, flushed the toilet, washed my hands, etc. I had to dip water out of the bathtub. On a regular basis, we weren’t supposed to drink the water for fear of things like Cholera. I boiled all our drinking water. We had a water filter. It was a big metal container with several compartments. One compartment had large chalk pieces in it for the water to filter through and take the impurities out. I poured the boiled water in the top, and then just gave it time to go through the water filter, and then there was a spout at the bottom where I put the water into glass bottles, and I put the glass bottles in the fridge to get it cold. At one point, we didn’t have our own filter, so I would go to Craig’s house and borrow his filter. I took my two year old with me. I took a back pack full of glass bottles, and we went in front of the school compound where there was a Nigerian taxi stop. There is a taxi system all throughout Nigeria that is like a bus system. Sometimes, the taxis are station wagons, and other times they are mini busses, and everyone rides together like in a bus. The station wagons were so crowded the people were just pushed up together almost sitting on one another. My son and I went to Craig’s house at the next school, so I could boil and filter the water. Then I had several glass bottles full of boiled and filtered water in my back pack and a two year old son by the hand, and I caught another Nigeran taxi and went home. Those glass bottles were extremely heavy! Sometimes I wondered if I was going to make it.
The glass bottles came from a kind of drink we often drank in Nigeria. We bought the bottles with fruit juice concentrate in it. You would pour a little of orange or some other flavor of concentrate in the bottom of your glass, and then fill it the rest of the way with cold water, and it was really good. Our front yard was full of lemon trees, so I used the lemons and made us lemon concentrate to use like the orange concentrate, and it was good too.
When we went to visit another teacher friend who lived off the plateau where it was extremely hot, he never got water at his house, He had to carry all his water from a big pump in the village. When they turned the pump on, all the people were there with their containers. He brought water and filled his bathtub and took a bath, then he would leave the water in the bathtub and use it to fill up the back of the toilet so he could flush his toilet. Electricity was sketchy in Nigeria, and sometimes we lost our electricity for a week at a time, but this guy hardly every had electricity. He was lucky, though, and had a gas refrigerator, so he never had to worry about his food going bad. The first time our electricty went off for a week, I was at a loss and all my food went bad. A group of Nigerian students moved in this teacher’s house with him and lived with him. There was a storm one time, and the Nigerian students got all excited because there were huge bugs with huge wings flying around the back door of the kitchen. They put a frying pan on the stove, put oil in it, and began grabbing those bugs and frying them! They thought they were so delicious!!
This is not the only strange thing I knew about that they ate. I went into my back yard once where there was a huge field. There was a guy out there with a strange wooden contraption. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was catching rats to eat. I was really surprised. After that, I remembered seeing people standing along the road with dead rats holding them up by the tail. They were selling rats to eat. Thankfully, no one ever offered me a rat. They also stood by the road like that selling fish to eat. Another strange thing I saw were men with red mouths. They were chewing on a kind of bean or fruit or something they called qat. They chewed it like chewing tobacco. I always had this theory as I traveled that the people were human beings, and if as human beings, they could eat something, I could too, there are times, if they had offered me, I really didn’t want it.
Something they sold at the market in Bukuru, the town outside of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, was a kind of shish kabab with chili spice all over it. There was a man who cooked it on an open fire there. He really dosed it down in chili spice!! It was good, but it was extremely spicy! We went by it one day, and my two year old said he wanted some. I tried to explain to him that it was spicy, so he probably didn’t want it, but he just kept insisting, so I bought him some. I thought, “He will take one bite and know I was right. He won’t eat it.” However, he took one bite, he screamed, and then he wanted more! He just kept eating it and screaming. I couldn’t talk him into stopping. He said he liked it. Needless, to say, it was difficult, but we were all having an adventure.
The Nigerians were having an adventure with us there too. The boys from the high school figure out that I had Bible correspondence courses, and they wanted them. They knocked on my door from early morning until late at night after we went to bed wanting those courses, and they were wearing me out. Finally, I told them they could only come between certain hours in the afternoon. Immediately after school, they began lining up outside my front door. I had a long buffet right inside of the door with all the courses neatly stacked and sorted. I had a notebook where i kept records of what they had done and what they hadn’t done as well as their scores. They filed in as I gave them whatever course they were one. They took the courses outside and sat all around my house doing those Bible correspondence courses. About 29 of them became Christians because of those courses. There was a lot of teaching to be done!! We baptized in a pond behind our house that had brown water where the boys took baths and did their laundry. Yes, we even baptized Muslims which didn’t always go over big. Initially, we had a Catholic principal who encouraged the courses, but when he left, a Muslim principal took over and he began beating the boys with a whip when they were baptized and threatened to beat any of them with a whip if they came back to my house. Some of them went on to the church in Jos. When those boys came to study, often they stayed asking questions about the Bible and ended up missing their evening meal in the cafeteria. When I figured out they had done that, I began offering them food. I learned that they really liked mackerel. In Nigeria, they sold cans of mackerel packed with the bones still in them in tomato sauce, and if I gave these guys the cans of mackerel in tomato sauce, it was like giving an American kid a pizza. They loved it!! When they ate breakfast with us, I served them cream of wheat, and they enjoyed that. In the Ohio Valley, we had learned about cocoa wheats, a kind of cream of wheat with cocoa in it, and so sometimes, I served them cocoa wheats, and they enjoyed that too.
We also had missionaries from the south who came north to work among the people. They stayed at our house. I was so happy to have them I made a nice big meal for them. I made roast chicken with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade bread, vegetables, and a desert. They were thrilled and ate up!! However, it was all a big mistake! I made every one of those guys sick. The next day, they all had diarrhea and couldn’t move. Nice American food was just too rich for them just as a lot of the Nigerian food had messed up our stomachs, our food messed up their stomachs too. I learned an important lesson to be very careful what I serve to foreigners after that.
We ate at our neighbor’s house with her often. She was not Nigerian. She was from Pakistan, the Islamic Religious Knowledge teacher at the high school. She was a marvelous cook and always invited us to eat. She made a lot of vegetables with curry, turmeric, and spices like that. She also served us what Americans call “pocket bread.” They are made in a frying pan like tortillas, but they are like pillows and empty. When you eat, you tear them open and put the other food inside of them to eat. Her name was Azura, and she explained to me that she was not a radical, just a Muslim. She wore short sleeved shirts, and she knew the other Muslims would condemn her for it. When there was a radical Muslim sect moving through the country, she warned me telling me that if they found Christians, they were going to kill them. They found those radical Muslims at the road block less than a mile from our house and arrested them. After we left Nigeria, we heard the Muslims were going around burning church buildings.
Nigeria was an extremely unique place. At times, they served us fried chicken, and I have heard that since we left, there are those whose have opened up a chain of fried chicken restaurants. Nigeria continues to develop. The people in the south where there are Christians are richer than the Muslims in the north. Many southern Nigerians have traveled outside of the country to go to school because they have money. Many have gone back and tried to improve things for their country men. They are making progress even now. When I was there, one of our friends from church had been to America to school. He went on a Nigerian government program where the government pays them to go to school outside of the country, and they have to come back and work for the Nigerian people for a couple of years. He became a Christian when he was in American studying, and he ended up opening a school of preaching in Jos after we left. We were supposed to be in Nigeria for two years, but the government ran out of money and stopped paying the teachers, so after a year, there was no salary, and we left while we still could. There is probably so much more I could say about Nigeria with food because I made everything from scratch from mayonnaise to noodles, to sauces, and cheeses. If someone goes to Nigeria as a missionary, they just better get read to cook very, very basic. Perhaps even take cooking lessons or something before you go. There are no box mixes or anything like that. One convenient thing was that we didn’t need a doctor’s prescription if we needed medicine. Even antibiotics could be bought at the drug store without a prescription.
When we left Nigeria, we went to Ohio and to West Virginia for a while, but eventually, we headed for Texas because there just weren’t any descent jobs there, and my parents lived in Texas. My mother never really got over me being a missionary. She tried, but she didn’t like me leaving the country at all. She may have been right about Nigeria, but I think about all the teenage boys I taught about Christ, and I can’t think it was a mistake. After living in Texas long enough to get my masters and my husband also getting his, we went to Romania as missionaries. We thought about going back to Nigeria, but we couldn’t get a missionary visa, and there was someone at Abilene Christian University offering to sponsor us if we went to Romania. Romania was just opening up as a mission field then, and I was offered a job as an English professor in Sibiu, Romania, so we decided to go. I was so sorry that we had only stayed one year in Nigeria.