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Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Couldn't Look Away...

Before moving to Lagos, I had always lived comfortably. I had never really experienced much hardship.  When I lived in New Orleans, I had my first taste of poverty while I was teaching kindergarten to children who lived in housing projects just outside of New Orleans.  Talk about culture shock when I started my very first teaching job!!!  I was a white girl in a 99.9% all black class of children.  Not only was I looked on  as an outsider, but I felt like one, too. Even though I cried every night for the first year because I just didn't think I could ever get through to those children or make the parents trust me that I was there to really help their children.  ( I am not exaggerating about the crying every night...just ask Guy...and I think there was a bag of mini snickers bars consumed nightly also.), I learned so much about the culture of the children living in the projects and about myself in the process.  I learned that the children there even though they came from somewhere different than me really needed the same things I needed when it came right down to it...acceptance, understanding and love. And if I would have given up after that first year, I would never have gotten to work with a fabulous teacher who was a great friend to me  I started to realize that I could live somewhere I didn''t understand, and I could learn so much in the process.  Pretty soon, parent conferences in the drive thru of Wendy's didn't seem so odd.:)

In a way,  living in Lagos has been very similar.  Things here are very different than what I was used to.  Things like the power going out all the time and not having water in the water tanks are starting to seem like second nature to me.  And although I am definitely getting used to so many things I see here everyday, I am still having trouble seeing this...

I know the picture isn't the greatest, but beyond the fishermen is a shanty town just past the Lagoon.  Many people come to Lagos in search of a better life and have nowhere to live so they become squatters on what is essentially government land or land that does not belong to them.  They build small shanties which have no running water and often flood when the tide changes (although I have seen some shanties with stilts).  There is nothing to say that the next day the government won't come through and bulldoze the whole place to the ground. And, yes, that really does happen.

Yesterday, I took my kids over to a new compound to visit with some friends.  The pool there was gorgeous.  It was right by the lagoon, and just past the shanty town, you could see the ocean.  My kids were playing happily under the African sun, and as I was looking at them play I couldn't help but notice the shanties just across the water. It hit me.  Why am I in a life which can provide for my children?  Why have I been blessed with not having to worry day to day where my next meal would come from?  Why have I never been faced with telling my children there may not be anything for them to eat that night?  There is no answer and I really don't know why I was born into such a different world from them.

After living here for a while, I hate to admit it, but I have become a little desensitized.  I'm happy that I realized how blessed I was last night when I was watching my children play.  Maybe that is why when I was taking the kids over to the Palms mall to watch a move today after the baseball game and I saw a rail thin man in the traffic begging for money or food, I just could not see past him.  I have seen him several times before and I have given him a granola bar once and an apple another time.  He is always grateful whether he gets anything or not.  I have been told by several different people never to give anything because your car will be "marked" and next time there will be more and more people coming up to you.  But, today, I didn't have any food to give him and I couldn't reconcile that I was in an air conditioned car and able to take my children to a movie and look away when I saw a starving man in the street.  In a split second decision, I whipped some money out of my wallet and gave it to Fatai and told him to give it to that man.  Fatai looked at the money and at me and told me it was too much to give, and for the first time I yelled at Fatai and told him to just give it to the man.  The man took the money and told God to bless me and keep me, and I couldn't even look at him because I was ashamed.  How many people do I pass by each and everyday who are like him and I haven't even noticed them????

 I am not writing this post to show that I gave money or anything like that, but living here is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Sometimes, I look around and wonder if this place was forgotten because of all the poverty and desperation I see all around me every day. But, then, every now and then, there is a glimmer of hope.:)  I am glad I felt that way today. I am glad I haven't started not to notice the poverty. It is what helps to keep me grounded, keep things in perspective, and helps me remember all of my own blessings.  I am glad that today I couldn't look away...


  1. I like this post. Sorry i don't have anything more intelligent to say. You can blame that on lack of sleep thanks to this torture chamber called med school.

    1. Hi Madame Sting, Thanks for your comment. It is hard sometimes to see all of the poverty here. Thanks for reading:) m:)