Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

Archive for April, 2009

Unusual Pictures from Benin Republic

April 17, 2009 5:38 am

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Car load of fabric on its way to market.

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Termite hill in Pendjari National Park.

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Pinapples in the baskets and  in the bags; pinapples everywhere!

dscn0707Local fuel depot. The glass jars contain various amounts of fuel: 1 liter. liters and the large glass bottles 25 liters.

dscn0928A large truckload of charcoal.

dscn5684Elegantly dressed ladies.

dscn0948One way to transport a bag of grain.

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Bags of mangos headed to market.

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Please note the sign says “Buses Welcome”.  This is the stilt village; all trasport is by boat.

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This motorbike is carrying a bed (headboard, footboard and rails, 4 chairs and a table!

“Go West Young Man” – Exploring the Benin Republic

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We rise at 5am on Good Friday to meet our group of 8 and to drive west from Nigeria to the Benin border, an early start to avoid the Easter Holiday traffic.  We were up and ready to go, and so were 5 others, but one member never showed.  We waited until 6:15am and finally drove to his apartment and banged on his door.  Apparently a late night of imbibing had him a bit unprepared for the trip.  With our best-laid plans already in shambles, we dragged him out of bed and designated him as our trip’s “whipping boy”. Two hours later we made it to the border in the midst of heavy traffic and a very large crowd.  At the Nigerian-Benin border there are a series of stations, (tables), that you walk through outside, while carrying your bags with you.  Each station does one small part of the process, and then directs you to queue up for the next.  There were so many people that the noise level is quite high, the heat of the day beats down on you, the street hawkers/vendors are in your face, and chaos is everywhere. It took 1½ hours to get everyone through, with a small dash (tip) at the appropriate places to speed up the process.  We are a diverse group: Italian, American, Trinidadian, and British, 3 women and 5 men. After successfully negotiating the border, we met Grace, our Benin-native tour leader.  While in Benin, we would call a small 12-person van our “wheels”, and our trip started well enough on a modern toll road.  As we drove west into the large city of Cotonou, (named for “near the lagoon of death”, it was believed that it was here that dead souls traveled to the sea), we enter the land of round-a-abouts (traffic circles).  Your cruise along and then must slow down for a crowded, congested round-a-about.  Cotonou is the largest city in Benin and very similar to Lagos: crowded, noisy, lots of cars and motorbikes, and dusty, with plain concrete buildings.  Benin, as a country, only has a population of ~6 million people, and most of them are in the south near the coast. While Grace exchanged money at a bank, (unit of currency is the CFA – the Benin Franc.  ~450 francs = $1), we headed to a local bar and had our first beer – Flag Beer – cold and local. 

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Barbara, Scott, Rocky, Jonathan, Antonio, Jill & Darren

Then we began the long journey north in Benin, losing traffic and any decent roadways as we went.  We traveled through many local villages stopping to stretch our legs and ended up eating lunch at a local ostrich farm in the town of Dassa. 

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This time of year, in southern Benin, is the beginning of the rainy season, but we saw little evidence of anything but “dry”.  As we continued north through the villages in the early evening we saw several pilgrimages of men and women, (in the middle of the highway), celebrating the holidays with a person carrying a cross.  We eventually arrived in the north of the country at our “hotel” in the town of Tanguita, in the dark at ~10pm.  Hotel Baobob is a series of round one-room huts with an outdoor reception and dining area. 

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We were welcomed and commenced to drink all the beer and gin that the bar had stocked, while eating a locally prepared chicken dinner. The rooms that night were hot, stark and spartan – but we slept like babies in our mosquito-netted, floor-fanned comfort. 

 

We were up early for breakfast at 5:00am to continue north into Pendjari National Park, a nature reserve on the border of the countries of Togo and Burkina Faso. 

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It encompasses plains, savanna, mountains, lakes, the Pendjari River and a forest, and is home to the largest variety of wildlife in West Africa, including lions, elephants, cheetahs and hippos.  We drove on red dirt roads the whole way, rarely seeing any other vehicle.  Our trip now was with 3 people, plus a driver, each in one of 3 land-rover jeeps, equipped with an additional bench seat on the roof! 

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Rocky and Jill riding topside!

All locals travel here by foot, or the occasional motorbike or bicycle.   It was blistering hot ~40 degrees C or 104F, as the rainy season comes much later to the area in northern Benin.  However, even with the heat we saw an African elephant, lots of birds, baboons, chevalier and roan antelope, kobe, hippos, waterbuck, deer, stork and crocodiles.  We all took turns riding on the roof seats, (a great viewing area), and red dust accumulated everywhere! 

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We returned to our hotel for dinner and entertainment by some of the local women.  They performed native dances and sang for us, making us participate with them and feel very welcomed.

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Our original plans had us visiting a local village the next day, but we enjoyed Pendjari Park so much, we rehired the jeeps and drivers, and we were up early to go back and see some more animals.  This morning when we entered the park we saw a herd of forest elephants.  They are darker gray and smaller in size than the African elephant.  They also have a longer trunk and straighter tusks.  We saw fervet monkeys, buffalo, deer, small monkeys, baboons, antelopes, and birds. 

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A buffalo herd.

We watched as the Park Patrol began the burning of the bush, to control the forest’s growth. 

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We walked across the river border into Burkina Faso, which has an adjoining animal nature park bordering the Pendjari Park to the north. 

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At the Benin/Burkina Faso border.

After lunch, we started our journey back south and stopped just outside of the park at a local village, Tanougou, where there was a wonderful natural spring waterfall.  We hiked to the end of the road where there was a small pool, but our guide said not to swim here, and we were directed to hike up more rocky terrain to the upper waterfall where there was a big, beautiful pool.  It was a cool and refreshing swim.

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After a bit of shopping with the village locals, we traveled further south until we stopped for the evening in Natitingou, at the Tata Somba Hotel.  After removing layers of red dirt, we headed to a small, local restaurant that Grace had reserved for us, where we had local kabobs, rice, the world’s best fries, veggies, wine, beer and water.  The women all wore local dress and some even had their babies on their backs as they cooked and served us.  We danced to local music videos, avoided a few raindrops, and had a most wonderful evening.

 

The next morning we continued our journey south on to the town of Abomey.  Here we visited the region’s museum and learned the history of the 12 kings of Benin and their kingdoms, which spanned from the early 1600’s until 1900. 

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The 12 kings geneology.

We were able to tour 2 of the king’s original palaces that are still remarkably preserved. Each king was represented by a set of symbols, and each had his own custom ceremonial throne, (one was built on the skulls of his enemies).  These kingdoms conquered much of this area of West Africa, and flourished by capturing their enemies and selling them to European Slave Traders in exchange for weapons and cannons.  This is also the origin of the original Amazon Women Warriors, which was an innovation of one of the kings to conquer a larger region.  It was a series of brutal and bloodthirsty reigns, which propagated the kingdom until the arrival of French Commander Dodd, who conquered the kingdom in 1900, and banished the last king to Libya.  At the historical site, we saw native blacksmiths and weavers at work and shopped the Benin traditional appliqué art.

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The 12 kings thrones and alters.

 

We then headed to our hotel, Auberge de Abomey, where our group had booked all of the hotel’s rooms – 6 of them.  We had a splendid French dinner out on the porch, hooked up one member’s iPod to some speakers and had an evening of music, dance and conversation.

 

In the morning, we were up, (not so early this day), and continued our journey south towards the border.  Along the way we began to run into traffic again and were delayed when a tanker jack-knifed across the road.  This appears to be a very common occurrence in Africa where there are hills, as many of the large trucks’ brakes do not work going backwards. If the truck loses power going up a hill and then begins to roll backwards, they lose all control and jackknife onto the side of the road.  Nigeria, Kenya and Benin roads on hills are littered with the skeletal wrecks of these occurrences.  Luckily for us, in this case, the Belgian Army was on maneuvers here and quickly built a dirt road around the vehicle allowing us to continue or trip while only losing 45 minutes. 

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These trees with red flowers were just beautiful!

On the outskirts of Cotonou we turned east to Lake Ganvie where we boarded a boat and started a 30-minute journey to the middle of the lake to the Ganvie stilt village. 

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This village was founded during the slave trading days when the local fisherman were seeking refuge from the Abomey rulers and the European slave traders.  It is a fishing village today of 30,000 people, built on stilts in the shallows of the middle of this large lake.  We ate at a local stilted restaurant “Hotel Germain”, (buses welcomed?), having smoked fish and salads.  The locals here stick branches into the waters creating local habitats for fish, (each “plot is typically 5,000-10,000 sq yards).  After a period of time, they surround the habitat with nets, trapping the larger fish inside.  They then wait, allowing the fish to grow within this habitat before climbing inside and manually removing all of the habitat sticks.  This then allows them to close the area’s nets and capture all the fish that were inside. 

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After a boat ride back to solid ground it was then back to the Nigerian border.  The noise and traffic congestion was a reminder that we were heading back to Lagos.  After going through the now-familiar series of border stations, we walked across the border and we were met by our auto drivers and our mopo, (motorized patrol), security escort.  Mopo took the lead with sirens blaring and lights flashing to escort our little convoy through the twenty-plus Nigerian checkpoint stops as you navigate the Nigerian countryside.  It was nice to whiz right on by these stops, and 2 hours later we were home.  

 

Additional Pictures:

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Black Market Petrol.  When the electrical power goes out  these little road side shops are where you buy your fuel. It is double what the gas stations charge, however, you really have no choice.

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We bought petrol twice this way; 25 liters the first time and 15 liters the second.  Your engine does backfire once in a while with this fuel.

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A boat full of empty 50 liter petrol cans headed to Nigeria to get petrol on the black market.

Sailing & Carnivale in Brazil

April 5, 2009 10:36 am

Although this is a blog about our experiences in Africa, we think of Brazil as a “sister” country to Nigeria.  After all, they were connected millions of years ago before the continents rifted apart.  And if one is going to visit Brazil, what better time than at Carnivale, and what better way then by sailing the coast between San Paulo and Rio de Janiero!  So, for the last 2 weeks of February, Rocky and Julie flew from Lagos, Nigeria, through the U.S. to South America.  We planned this trip as part of a group of 16 wonderful friends, and bareboat chartered 2 monohull sailboats, (47’ & 41’), and 1 catamaran, (44’). 

brazil20090215_38Wakia (our boat)

We spent 3 days getting from Lagos to Rio de Janerio via Houston, where we could spend some time seeing old friends, and gathering a few supplies for the trip.  After arriving in Rio, we took chartered vans to the marina in Angra dos Reis, (the “Area of Kings”), provisioned the boats, and left looking for adventure and discovery.  On Day #1, as we crossed the warm waters of the bay looking for wind to fill our sails, we encountered a very large school of dolphins (~50). As we motored along the dolphins dove and rode the waters next to the hull off the boat.  Then the dolphins started jumping and splashing us, and showing off for our cameras.

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It was an hour of fun for them and us, and was a positive omen of the good times to come on this journey!  We will not recall all of the adventures of the trip here, but simply summarize our impressions and highlights of the country.

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Brazil is lush, green mountainous country with a rocky coast and row upon row of mountains rising on the horizon inland.  Although it was raining on the day we arrived, it soon got sunny and hot (~95 degrees F), and remained that way the entire rest of our trip.  There was not much wind in the mornings but we had some fine sailing in the afternoons. 

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 Evenings on the boat were cool, although the temperature onshore remained hot and humid.  With the wonderful weather, we took every opportunity to sight-see villages and anchorages along the coast and to snorkel among the rocky shores. 

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During mornings, we ate breakfast either ashore or collectively on the boats at anchor.  We would then head off to a new location where we would meet up for lunch, either at a beach or anchorage. 

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Afternoons were spent sailing until dark, when would usually “raft” the boats together in a new-found bay and either eat dinner ashore, or collectively grill and “socialize” until the wee hours of the morning. Every day was a new collections of sights, places and experiences, interspersed with a few special stops described below.

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Parity – One of the first locations we wanted to visit was a very old town at the southwestern edge of the area called Parity.  This was the original port village from which silver and riches were taken from the country back to the old world in the east.  The city has preserved the “old town” area, where motor vehicles cannot travel; where the roads are laid with enormous cobbles; and where even the donkey carts struggle to navigate the streets.  It is a collection of shops, open markets, restaurants and churches, each constructed or restored to its 16th-17th century status.  We took slips in a nearby marina, and spent the day exploring the town,

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enjoying the sights and sounds from an outdoor café overlooking the bay, and starting our shopping.  During the evening, we ate seafood and beef at a wonderful family restaurant, highlighted by local wines and friendly service.  Our sadness at leaving this town was only highlighted by the fact that we wished we had made it back there, but the rest of our adventure lay to the northeast – toward Rio.

 

Angra dos Reis – After a few days and nights exploring the western coast of the bay, and the bay side of Isle Grande, (an enormous island that protects the entrance of the bay), we stopped back at the marina to port for the night, update our supplies for the upcoming long journey, and to secure final approvals to take the boats 90 miles to the east to Rio.  The Verolme Marina operates next to a large shipyard that was working on two enormous jackup drilling rigs to be used in the booming oil & gas industry off the coast here. 

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This port town also serves as the national oil company’s, Petrobras, center for offshore operations, and therefore, the city of Angra is a vibrant, growing community.  While we were there for the night, we decided to travel via taxi into the central part of the city for dinner, (the cab driver’s brother’s restaurant?), where we were left at a local seafood restaurant in the middle of town.  We took a table outside in the courtyard overlooking the street, ordered our meals, and were pleasantly surprised as a “Blocko” can passing by us! 

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Blockos are carnivale street-parades that are usually founded by a neighborhood group, who arranges traveling musical entertainment and a large number of costumed Samba dancers, and are joined by revelers singing, dancing, and traveling down the street.  Everyone was friendly, joyful and entertaining – a small slice of the local festival season, as seen from a local point of view.

 

Rio de Janiero – The long journey to Rio starts with an anchorage the night before at the eastern most bay of Isle Grande.  Since there are no ports between Angra and Rio, we needed to plan for a trip that would leave as much margin as possible for potentially unfavorable conditions or equipment breakdowns.  We estimated that the trip would take 10-14 hours, and that we would convoy the boats together up the coast.  We left anchorage at 5:00am, and for the first time on the trip, everyone stayed alert, (and sober), for the day’s journey.  However, all went well, and it was a remarkable hour at 3:00pm as we motored along Rio’s famous beaches of Barra, Sao Conrado, Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana, waving to the throngs on the shore. 

5179-cat-copacabana Our Catamaran sailing past Copacabana Beach

We then spotted the world famous landmark of Cristo Redeemer on Corcovado above the city, rounded Sugarloaf Mountain and sailed into Marina Gloria to our slips in the city. 

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From here, we spent 4 days in the city, exploring the beaches and restaurants, shopping and seeing the city’s famous sights.  The beach is everyone’s favorite destination, and Brazilians spend as much time there as possible with as little on as they need.  Although the beaches are numerous and very large, there is barely room to walk to make your way to the water.  Other highlights while there included a marathon jeep tour, which took us through the sights in the city into the middle of another Blocko in the area of Saint Teresa, allowed us to visit Cristo & Jardin botanical gardens and waterfall, and allowed us to watch the landing of parasails off the mountain onto the beach. 

3732-aquaduct-church  Aquaduct and church (the triangluar structure)

5220-beach-crowd Copacababa Beach – a mass of humanity

5307-amazing-sand-castle An amazing sand castle

On Sunday night before Mardi Gras, we all traveled from the marina via Rio’s excellent subway system to the Sambadromo, a dedicated facility just for Carnivale’s Samba competition.  The competition involves 12 Samba Studios that compete on two nights, (6 each night – Sunday and Monday).  They have ~75 minutes each to “present” themselves to the judges and the crowds of 10’s of thousands in the Sambadromo stands, (and 100’s of thousands outside), that have gathered.  Each Samba Studio’s presentation includes traveling up the Sambadromo 8-lane-wide avenue, with ~6 huge, animated, elaborate floats interspersed each with groups of ~500 Samba dancers in ornate feathered costumes, all while the same 30 second Studio samba theme booms over the speakers. 

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During the presentation, everyone stands, waves the Studio’s flag and sings their theme’s words in their support.  The presentations start at 9:00pm, and at ~85 minutes each, with ~15 minutes between each, take until daybreak the next morning.  We left before the end at 5:00am, and the crowd had lost little of its numbers or energy level!  It was definitely an experience like no other in the world!

 

Porto Frado – We regretfully left Rio for the long day’s journey back to Angra dos Reis.  After an uneventful return, we did, however, have time to explore a few other interesting ports, one of which impressed us most, was a resort at Porto Frado at the southwestern end of Angra.  By this point, our boat was on our own, and so we decided to explore some poorly defined areas on the map.  The resort at Porto Frado is recent, and is now home to one of the most impressive collection of opulent yachts that one is likely to come across.  Apparently, wealth, (legally or illegally obtained), is difficult to export from Brazil, and so many of the areas wealthiest opt to purchase ridiculously huge, (100’ to 200’ long), custom yachts, outfitted with every convenience known to man, to which they helicopter in for a day’s relaxation or evening dinner.  We, on the other hand, took a mooring ball away from the dock, but ate dinner at their local dockside restaurant, people-watched, and toured their facilities and shops. 

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 From there, we sailed back for a last night at port in a little fishing village on Isle Grande, where we purchased ~10 lbs of fresh shrimp.  With the last of our veggies and grilled on the barbeque, we ate our final dinner in Brazil, as we watched the sun set over our stern behind the mountains on the mainland. 

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Tomorrow, we would return the boat, and begin the long series of flights back to Africa.

 

 

Carduso Catholic Project

April 3, 2009 9:06 am

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I also had the opportunity to visit another American Women’s Club (AWC) charity – the Carduso Catholic Women’s Center.  This charity is also on the mainland in an area called Ajenunle. The Women’s Center is part of a large complex which includes a clinic, a laboratory, a nursery school, a primary school, a high school, the nunnery, the priests’ home, a large catholic church, a public library and the Women’s Center. 

The Women’s Center is a vocational training center for women.  There are morning and afternoon sessions currently with ~ 300 women enrolled (no woman interested in bettering herself is turned away).  They are taught the skills of cooking and baking, housekeeping, sewing and knitting.  The Women’s center makes the uniforms for the school children in the primary and secondary school as well as some items for a small shop. 

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Today when we arrived at the schools, the nursery and primary school were celebrating Cultural Day.  Unknownst to us we were the guest of honor! 

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Quite a surprise – however, we had come with gifts in kind including stuffed animals for the nursery students. 

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We also had personal care items for the Women’s Center, notebooks for the schools and food for the student’s kitchen.  This is a very organized campus run by Sister Bernadette, PhD, who trained at Berkley in California and has been here for many years. Sister has the help of 3 other nuns.  We watched the nursery school students sing and dance for us, toured the entire facility and meat by cooked by the women’s center students. 

dscn0606  Mrs Adakpo Head Teacher

 

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The school is especially proud of their Library, the computer center and the chemistry Lab.  This complex while huge was clean and orderly and because of its size is supported by numerous groups around Lagos. 

dscn0681  The sewing classroom

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This facilty does not consider themselves needy or poor.  Monthly they take up collections in the church for the less fortunate then they – note the St Vincent de Paul boxes out side the church.

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Beth Torrey Home for Handicapped Children

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Today I made the journey to the mainland to visit one of the American Women’s Club (AWC) charities.  We actually went via bus with black out curtains donated by Mobil Oil for the morning. The driver was in a coat and tie with an armed guard in the front passenger seat. The adventure began when the driver missed the exit and took a shortcut down dirt streets lined with people not vehicles.  It was barely passable.  However, we made it to our destination via this colorful route. 

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The Beth Torrey Home is in Apapa, an area near the port of Lagos. 

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This home has 17 mentally and physically challenged children cared for by a staff of 7.  The children greeted us with song, “Welcome to the home of the Lord”.  

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AWC supports this charity with in kind gifts (mattresses, toys, clothing and food) as well as by paying the salaries of the workers.  Several of these children recently participated in the Nigeria Special Olympics and proudly showed us their photo album of the event.  We toured the one building facility and met with all the staff. 

dscn0567 One of the bedrooms

They have electricity via a donated generator.  As we toured the kitchen I noticed a freezer that had a plaque on it stating “Donated by Shell Nigeria Petroleum” (Rocky’s employer).  It was a very clean environment with caring staff. 

dscn0570 The outdoor kitchen & laundry

The staff and children were greatly appreciative of the personal care items that we brought today as well as the 100 pound bag of rice.  The AWC in coordination with another group has helped the home purchase a new 3 building facility (living quarters and learning complex) which they hope to move into shortly.  Hopefully I can visit the new complex and show it to everyone.

 

dscn0571 The head mistress Mrs. Opie and her assistant.  One of them is in the home 24 hours a day caring for the children.  Mrs. Opie has been here 27 years.