Thanksgiving Thoughts (11/29/2019)

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving and are enjoying Black Friday. As Americans, we have so much to be thankful for but may not really be aware of how fortunate we are. That point was driven home to me recently.

On Monday I returned to the United States after spending two weeks in Nigeria. I was conducting a series of teaching workshops for the faculty at the College of Animal Health and Production Technology near Jos, Nigeria. This college has 1,600 students and 150 faculty. The leadership of the College mandated that all faculty receive training in teaching methodology. So, I was there to conduct a teaching boot camp for the faculty. I taught half of the faculty one week and repeated the training for the other half of the faculty in the second week. By sharing some of my experiences perhaps you will be more thankful for what you have at this Thanksgiving season.

The Administration Building at the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Vom, Nigeria

In the school in which you teach what would you think if the electricity went out 3-4 times a day? That occurred every day I was there. Fortunately, the college owns a generator and they crank it up when the electricity goes out. You could be in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation when the power goes out.

Speaking of PowerPoint, 82% of the faculty indicated they do not have the technology, such as computers and LCD projectors, to use PowerPoint. And if they did, about 50% of the faculty have never used PowerPoint or have limited experience. In one lesson I had a non-linear PowerPoint Jeopardy type game and divided the faculty into two groups for a little competition. The faculty got so excited they were shouting and hollering and applauding when their team came up with the right answer. My objective was to acquaint them with the technology, but they insisted I show them how I created it. You would have thought I had brought fire to a village that had never seen fire.

The Provost (lady) and Deputy Provost attended the teaching workshop. This showed the faculty they were serious about improving teaching. The Deputy Provost has a law degree and stated he would frame the Pedagogy Certificate he received at the end of the training and hang it next to his law degree. We did a number of small group activities since the traditional mode of teaching is to sit up front, lecture for the entire class period, ask no questions and tell students who ask questions to see you after class. The Provost and Deputy Provost are pictured below.

When was the last time you were stopped at a police or army checkpoint as you were driving to school? Every morning on the way to the College, there would be 1-2 police checkpoints to go through. On the five-hour drive from Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, to Jos there were 15 checkpoints (I counted them). Some were military, some were state police, and some were local police. It gives you an uneasy feeling. The soldiers or police were nonchalantly holding AK47s in their hands. I am not sure what the purpose of the checkpoint was other than to send a chill down your spine.

 The checkpoint I went through every morning.

When you approached a checkpoint, the traffic would back up. Your car would then be mobbed by youngsters and adults selling bananas, bottled water, peanuts, sugar cane, raw milk, etc. My driver (Blessing) and my assistant (Justina) purchased roasted corn, fried tilapia (the entire fish – bones and all were fried), cabbage, and variety of other items from these vendors. I passed.

People selling things at a different police checkpoint.

In addition to police checkpoints slowing you down, the roads certainly will. The major highways were full of potholes. If you were following behind my driver you would think he was drunk. He would swerve all over the road trying to avoid the potholes.

If you look closely you can see potholes in the road. This is a major highway.

In Nigeria it seems that the horn is the most used accessory on the car. The brakes and turn signals are rarely used. The traffic is typically congested and there are often traffic circles in the major cities. So, you just honk your horn, shut your eyes and go.

In America we rarely think about the safety of our food. I was told before going to Nigeria if you can’t boil it or peel it, don’t eat it. This was probably good advice. Also, you don’t drink the water or use ice in your beverages. You drink only bottled water and even use bottled water to brush your teeth. Why?

In Nigeria it is common to see men (and women) urinating and taking care of other bodily functions out beside the road. On the journey from Abuja to Jos and back, my driver stopped twice to “ease” himself beside the road. When it rains this material makes its way to the streams and rivers. Cattle also walk through the streams and rivers. People bath in the rivers and in some places get water from the rivers to drink or use in cooking.

If you look closely or enlarge the photo the herder is crossing the stream with the cattle. He is just to the left of the green post in the upper quadrant.

Since there is no central water distribution system where I was, there are water storage tanks sitting on stilts above many businesses and the nicer homes. Some water is pumped into these storage tanks from underground wells but you really are not sure where the water in the tanks comes from. The water might be trucked in from a local river. Gravity flow brings the water into the houses and businesses.

Water storage tanks

There is no trash collection system as we know it in America towns. People just dump there refuse along the road. From time to time it is burned. I often saw people with sticks poking through the rubbish piles. I don’t know what they were looking for. I even saw stray goats exploring the rubbish piles.

A typical rubbish pile along the road. There were hundreds.

In the city of Jos (population 900,000) I saw only one supermarket as we know them. The great majority of the commerce was conducted from small roadside stands. You could purchase anything from caskets to clothing to food at these roadside stands. There was a lot of food sold along the roadsides. You could also see people butchering and selling meat in roadside stands.

Want some fresh meat?

Need a casket?

Typical roadside shopping.

I was very interested in the agriculture. Nigeria is a leading producer of sorghum. However, the sorghum is much taller than what we grow in America and is typically harvested by hand and piled up where the workers then beat it with a stick (called flailing) to dislodge the grain. I am sure there must be combines somewhere but I never saw one.

The cattle were intriguing. First, there are no fences. Each cattle herd has a herder or two who guide the cattle along and keep them out of the roads. Most herders are young. The cattle appear to belong to the Bos Indicus family, are white, and typically have a healthy head of horns. I could not stop taking photos of the cattle.

Even with the abject poverty of the county, the people were very friendly, courteous and warm. They are happy and enjoy life. They are living proof that you don’t have to have a lot of material goods to be happy.

I have been on international speaking and training assignments in Europe and Malaysia but I have never been to Africa. This was an eye-opening experience. As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for the things that we take for granted such as a safe food and water supply, electricity, good roads, freedom to travel, the technology we use in teaching, modern agriculture, and the basic amenities of life. As Americans, we are indeed blessed.