Friday, November 28, 2014

A Transformational Thanksgiving in Nigeria

It is the wee hours of Thanksgiving in America, but here at 7:30 a.m. Jos, Nigeria, I am chugging a bottle of “F.A.M. Vita” vanilla yoghurt in a dark guest house room without power. The pervasive, acrid smell of campfire smoke – people still cook with fire here and you can drive down the street and see garbage burning – lingers with me, as always. Outside my open window I can hear the noise of the bustling city: cars and three-wheel motorized buggies zipping down the street, horns honking, people talking and someone on an air horn announcing something. I am thankful.

I am here on a mission trip with the Transformational Education Network. I have traveled with our CEO, Joe Gallop, who presented at a symposium yesterday and discussed technology and transformational education. More than 100 educators and students attended and both Joe and I are very pleased with how things went. The Lord truly blessed it and I met a young man with a communications degree who I hope will help me with gathering photos, video and stories from here in Jos at the school we partner with, E.I.C.T. that I can use in my TEN3 communications.
Today we will be attending a workshop where Joe will speak on “Essential Values in Transformational Education.” It’s the first of a two-day workshop and we are looking forward to seeing what the Lord will do today. Yesterday went very well and we were able to connect with a number of educators interested in the Transformational Education Network curriculum and our method of education. One of the things that appears to be coming out of this trip is forming a network of schools – private, government and others – that can act as a forum and exchange of information, ideas and solutions to help achieve transformational education. Our role will be as facilitators and advisors and we will be working on how best to accomplish this exchange of information.

Tomorrow I will be traveling several hours with an American missionary named Eric Black to his post in Billiri in Gombe State. I should say that Lord willing, I will go. I have to check with the SIM security director to discuss whether I should go due to concerns about safety in that area. I think everything will be fine and it will be good to travel with Eric, meet his family and learn about the education center he is operating in Billiri.

After I return, probably on Monday, Joe and I will be traveling to the communities of Zonkwa, Kwoi and Kubacha (I think I got those right) southwest of Jos in the neighboring state of Kaduna to explore the potential for launching TEN3 computer training outreach programs. We also were invited by one of the educators at the symposium to visit her private secondary school here in Jos, so it looks like we will be heading over there as well.

As for my general experience here in Nigeria, I have to say I have met some wonderful people. They are universally friendly to me, greeting me with big grins. Whenever we exchange greetings people often reply with “Welcome sir. Thank you sir. Welcome sir.” It makes me smile. The traffic is crazy, the police are everywhere and they carry AK-47s. It’s the dry season here on the Nigerian Plateau so it’s dusty, hot during the day in the 80s (I’m not complaining!) and cool in the night down to the 50s.

On the 4-hour plus drive Monday morning up to Jos from Abuja, where we landed Sunday evening and spent the night, we traveled through at least a half-dozen and probably closer to 10, military checkpoints. Soldiers with AK-47s manned the checkpoints, I’m assuming because the area has seen its share of Muslim-Christian conflict. Boko Haram, the Muslim terrorist group, operates in the area occasionally and more than 100 people were killed earlier this year when they set off bombs in the bustling outdoor market that’s several blocks from the compound where we are staying here in Jos. Mostly we were just waved through the checkpoints, though a few stopped us simply to chat, it seems. One engaged us in conversation and our driver, Audu, asked the soldier if he was born again. We talked about being born again, Jesus, salvation and he said he was born again. He was quite offended we didn’t have our Bibles with us in the car – they were in our luggage in the back. I’m glad he didn’t shoot us. (Just kidding!) At another checkpoint a soldier asked Joe and me where we were from. When he found out we were Americans he said he wants to go there someday. What he really wanted, though, was for us to bring him a white American wife. I told him I could see what I could do and maybe make that happen. He got a big grin and then reached in the car and we “pounded” fists. It’s the first time I’ve ever pounded fists with an AK-47-toting Nigerian soldier manning a highway checkpoint. I have to admit it was a pretty special moment.
I have many more stories to tell, but we’ll save those for other times. Blessings to you all this Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Adventures in Parenting, Vol. 1. `Hey Dad. Where Are You?'

Let's see...a Taco Bell run or this sunset?

Do you ever get to a late Sunday afternoon, take stock of your life, check your mutual funds, contemplate the meaning of life, wonder if anyone working on Wall Street who engaged in shady mortgage fraud and insider trading deals has a soul ... and weigh whether it's worth it to cook dinner?

There's something about fixing Sunday night dinner that I find particularly agitating. Even daunting, repulsive and annoying. And I'm a dude who loves to cook. I can't put my finger on exactly why I don't like to cook on Sundays. After shedding my pastor duties after church I tend to "check out." You might find me in the garage piddling around making a coffee table. Sometimes I nap. I might take a jaunt to the store and act like I'm shopping for the week's meals and blow it all on ice cream and non-essentials like fancy coffee creamer and crazy cheeses made in Holland. Does this make me a bad person?

I mean, I'm usually a pretty good guy. I recycle. I put my shopping cart in the cart corral in the parking lot instead of in the space next to the van, even in hard rains. I clean up the lint screen in the dryer. I yield in the traffic roundabout and stop for pedestrians trying to enter crosswalks. I buy Julie raspberries because I know she loves them even though they're really expensive this time of year. Really expensive like cheeses made in Holland.

So we got to Sunday afternoon just before 5 p.m. and there were all these kids looking really, really hungry. The thought actually crossed my mind to cook something. The other thought I had was that they wouldn't starve if they didn't have dinner. I mean, we have bread and peanut butter in the house. But then I'm not going to eat a p.b. & j sandwich for dinner ... so I was faced with what's known as a "parental dilemma." You know the one. Where you have to decide if it's in the best interests of your family to eat at Hardee's or Taco Bell. I had a hankering for a burrito so the choice was fairly easy.

I got the lowdown from everyone of what they wanted from Taco Bell, loaded Seth in the van and took off down the street ... except I glanced at the sky and it was on fire. It's a three-block run down to the beach from my house and my intention was that I would race down there while obeying all traffic laws, snap a sunset photo and then get to Taco Bell before my children suffered privation leading to acute starvation and other health-related issues.

I got to the beach, told Seth to sit tight, ran out to the shoreline, snapped a photo and ran back to the van. Piece of cake. Except I knew that the show was just beginning. It would be a monumental sunset because literally the sky was aflame ... so I fetched Seth out of the van and we frolicked on the beach while I documented our interlude via my iPhone. Yes, I had total disregard for the well-being of my family. Yes, I got a phone call from someone high up in the Sabo household who was surprised to learn I had not even made it out of the neighborhood.

But I got some killer clicks.

Seth gets photo-bombed by the sunset.

Ultimately, I made it to Taco Bell. No one in the Sabo house had starved. They appeared perplexed at how long it took for me to make a Taco Bell run considering it's literally a few minutes away. But hey, boy did Seth and I make some remembories, as Evie used to say when she was a little girl.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Driving Through A Traffic Circle Is Easy. Or Not.

You probably didn't know this, but Gloucester is home to one of the great mysteries of the universe. No, it doesn't involve the 17th century grave site of America's original revolutionary, Nathaniel Bacon, which has mysteriously eluded discovery for more than 300 years. Neither does it involve the origins of the native residents of Guinea down in Gloucester's swampy southeastern peninsula, a legend of multiple explanations that includes vague references to descendants of Revolutionary War-era mercenaries hired by the British who stuck around by hiding out in Gloucester after the 1781 surrender at Yorktown. Rather, the great cosmic mystery in Gloucester is something that confounds hundreds, possibly thousands of people each and every day.

It's negotiating the traffic circle, or roundabout ,at the "Wal-Mart intersection."

Say you want to live on the edge and literally gulp down adrenalin by the bucketful. Why, you would be wise to try and traverse the roundabout several times. You would cheat death. You would have to have your car insurance agent on speed dial. You would wonder how something seemingly so simple flummoxes motorists who apparently either can't read a "Yield" sign or just plain don't care.

Let's review the rules and regulations of traffic roundabout etiquette. Surely it must be a manual on the order of "War and Peace." Right? I mean these things are complicated, right?

Um, no. The operative word is "yield." Apparently people don't know what the word means because everybody I know has a "Wal-Mart roundabout" horror story. Or two. Or a million.

One time I was meandering through the roundabout when a young kid in a jacked up pickup barreled in, nearly making my old Volvo four-door sedan a hatchback. I laid on the horn, rather liberally I might add. We were both heading the same way coming out of the roundabout and he stopped in the middle of the road's right-hand lane in front of Chick-fil-A and gestured to me. I pulled up next to him and with the passenger's window down and politely informed him that he was supposed to yield to the vehicle in the roundabout. Which would be me in my Volvo.

He informed me in rather colorful terms that I was supposed to yield to him. I hesitated before replying that the "Yield" sign was directed at the vehicles entering the roundabout, which he clearly was. For example, if you approach an intersection and there is a stop sign that you can clearly read on the side of the road to your right, I'm pretty sure that means you are supposed to stop. It would not be a stop sign for the cross traffic, in other words. In this case, the "Yield" sign is facing traffic approaching the roundabout -- not the traffic in the roundabout -- and is on the right hand side in clear, even plain view. Which motorists should take to mean that they better yield.

Except for the young buck in the pickup who, in even more colorful terms, disagreed with my sign-reading suggestion and thought it would be a good idea for us to pull in the Chick-fil-A parking lot to settle things. Needless to say I proceeded on to Wal-Mart while he simmered in his road rage over a chicken sandwich.

So here's the deal Gloucester drivers and motorists who wander in and have nearly hit me from locales far and wide, such as Maryland or North Carolina: If someone is in the roundabout, they have the right-of-way. It's that simple! As you approach the roundabout, from any direction, slow down, observe the traffic that may be in the roundabout and then proceed into it when you have an opening of appropriate length. Traversing the roundabout shouldn't be the equivalent of a shark circling its prey, because that's how it feels sometimes when you are in the roundabout.

For a glimpse of a street-view of our famed roundabout, here's a link: Roundabout o' death

Monday, November 3, 2014

Parenting Hazards 101: Tiptoeing Through The Toys

The parental equivalent of walking on hot coals.

I think I may need surgery. For the millionth time I have stepped on a toy, causing what I perceive to be irreparable damage to my foot. You would think after 25 years of stepping on 14 kids' millions or billions of toys I would have learned my lesson and taken proper protective measures. Yes, that's right. I should be walking through my house with steel-toed boots. It's every parent's nightmare: You are walking along engaged in something else -- say an iPhone where you are stalking someone on Facebook checking the weather or catching up on the stock markets in Asia -- and you make that fateful step.

A Lego.

A Thomas the Tank train engine.

A Barbie dolly's high heel.

A Lightning McQueen race car.

A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

A toy gun, a Paw Patrol ATV, a Planes "Dusty" airplane, a dress up high heel, a toy earring, any of a thousand different action figures, a toy fork, a Mr. Potato Head nose, a trophy from the youth soccer team, a battery, a light saber, a building block ... I think you get the idea.

I believe if I were to go under the knife a surgeon might find tiny fragments of toys embedded in my feet. Who knows, a surgeon might find enough Legos to make a house.

I bet if upon my demise I were to be mummified, a couple of thousand years from now archaeologists who would stumble upon my remains would puzzle over the collection of tiny plastic building block type things that appeared to have been deposited in the soles of my feet. I envision someone obtaining a Ph.D. writing a paper ascertaining the meaning behind it.

It's one of the great hazards of parenting. Every day we run the gauntlet of toys on the floor, hoping -- praying -- we won't take that fateful step. Of great concern is the nighttime "walk of death." Anyone with hardwood floors knows what I'm talking about. You are on your way to the bathroom in the dark of night, tiptoeing past the kids' bedroom to not wake up the baby and then it happens: You have stepped on Lightning McQueen and it's like they've dropped the green flag at a NASCAR race. The car slips out from underneath you and you are literally flying through the air, half-awake and trying to contain your bladder, and knowing that above all you cannot utter a single sound for fear of waking the baby and you land not just with a bone-crunching thud, but right on top of Luigi, Guido, Mater, Sally, Sarge and Fillmore, who are now embedded, possibly permanently, in your backside. Some people get tattoos. Parents get toys affixed to their bodies, though not by choice. Above all, remember you cannot utter a sound. You must suffer in silence.

When I see a parent limping, my mind automatically thinks, "Oof. That looks serious. Bet they stepped on a Lego." Short of getting rid of all the toys in the house -- I've thought of that more than once -- I don't know how to properly take preventive measures. Other than checking online with the iPhone for deals on steel-toed boots. During which I nearly broke my foot stepping on Thomas the Tank while on my way to fetch my credit card.