Sunday, February 7, 2010

"Out of Africa:" Lagos

Last Fall, Bishop Hilary Okeke of the Diocese of Nnewi in Nigeria paid a visit to one of his priests who is working here in the Archdiocese of Regina, Fr. Callistus Ibe. At that time he said to me: "Why don't you come to Nigeria and see what the Church is like there." As it happens I had been thinking about that. We have a number of African priests working in our diocese and I thought that it might be helpful to me in better understanding not only their culture, but also their Church. I knew that the Catholic Church in Africa is a strong and vibrant church and is growing rapidly. To make a long story short, I accepted his invitation and this past week I set out for Africa with Fr. Callie travelling with me.

We were warmly greeted on our arrival in Lagos after about 25 hours of travelling from Regina to Toronto to London, England and finally to Lagos on the coast of southern Nigeria. We were met at the airport and brought to a hostel for priests who are passing through Lagos run by the Sisters of the Apostles. I was glad to get to my bed which was quite comfortable and there was an air conditioner in the room which was great since the temperature was around 30 degrees and quite humid.

The grounds were a quiet haven from a world outside their gates which was noisy with the din of what seemed to be thousands of cars and people who were going about their business with great gusto.

Part of the group who welcomed us were Fr. Callie's sister Mary and her husband Gilbert who are on either side of Fr. Callie who is in the middle with a very appropriate shirt on.

The difference in culture and way of doing things was quite astounding. Lagos is a city of close to fifteen million people,one half the pooulation of Canada. I think that they all own cars and all those cars were on the roads driving all around us. The highway going through the city would have three lanes marked and at least four lanes of traffic using it, all with their horns blowing. To add to the excitement, motor bikes were winding their way through the traffic, also with their horns blowing. When the traffic slowed a bit street vendors made their appearance, walking in between the lanes of moving traffic with large boxes of potato chips, bottles of water and juice and whatever else they felt they could sell, some of which they carried on large trays balanced on their heads. As if this is not enough excitement, there are lines of people standing on both sides of the highway darting across throught the traffic which was again rocketing along at high speed. Not for the faint of heart, driving in Lagos, Nigeria.

Just on the side of the highway would be business, such as the United Benger Motor Dealers shown here.

And this car dealership shown here with the office under the deck roof. Very little overhead cost here!

Here is what I thought could be comparable to a strip mall in Regina, with several small business in a row.

And this, Fr. Callie informed me, was a bus terminal. On our hour journey through the city traffic, we saw not just a few of these small businesses, but hundreds of them with thousands of people using them to buy the goods they needed. I found it all simply amazing.

The hostel for priests, as we found out, turns its power off at around midnight or so and leaves it off all night. Which is a great energy saver, however as a result the fans and air-conditioner also stop. So we moved to another place in a newer residential part of Lagos. You can see some of the houses and also a mosque with its minarets in the centre background.

There too, people set up a spot to do business wherever there is a spot, even in the middle of a new road that is being built there.

As you can see, traffic is snug. Close enough to read the stickers on this public transport van: just at the bottom of the rear window is the name "JESUS." I had noted many religious words, prayers etc on the cars and vanss driving the streets.

And here's one of the young sales ladies I had mentioned earlier, who travelled in between the lanes of traffic selling a variety of wares. So our first day or so in Africa.

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