Final breakfast at the Four Villages, then a debrief of yesterday’s meetings with the chiefs and district officials and discussion of next steps. General agreement that meeting was very successful. Sola has already done a draft of an RFP to Alex Eduful regarding inspections and recommendations regarding existing wells.
Pack and load the cars to head for services at Dr. Annie’s Pentecostal church. On an earlier trip, Carol and I had attended another Pentecostal church with the Kipharts and Peter Eduful. Dr. Annie’s was much larger and more modern, highly amplified music blaring and two large screens flashing words. I got busted for taking pictures, though I’d cleared it with Dr. Annie, but not before I took a few.
For attendees, who are very moved by the words and music, the message is of a very personal savior, reflected in hymns with words such as:
How can it be
That Thou my Lord
Sung repeatedly at high decibels, led by a woman, with much hand waving and other movement among the congregants.
When the pastor takes over he referred to the events of this week and the court decision upholding the election. Some people stocked rice and food, some made plans to leave the country, he said, but peace had prevailed, not because the politicians brought peace, but because The Lord brought peace. Many amens and hallelujahs. His sermon involved a rather obscure passage of the Old Testament, book of Samuel, in which the crippled son of Jonathan was restored to his inheritance by King David. The pastor managed to construct some 45 minutes of preaching around this story. Not my cup of tea, but the congregation seemed to like it. Dr. Annie, her daughter, Saint Anne and Joe and Ida were clearly into the service, but as to the Chicago group, not so much.
We left for Accra at about noon and drove for almost five hours on roads that sometimes were very good, and other times not. Overall, the road is decidedly improved over what we encountered several years ago. We passed through many towns with their familiar assortment of foods and wares for sale. I got lessons from Sola on the operation of the pharmaceutical industry and the roles of CROs ( Contract Research Organizations) in that process. He and Dick have talked about forming a CRO for West Africa.
Arriving at the airport at 4:45, four hours early for our flight, we checked our luggage and walked to the Landings restaurant, not far from the airport. Service was extremely slow, but the food was quite good. We went there to meet a friend of Funmi (whose name, the Kipharts and I learned after two years, is actually pronounced,”Foomi”) who she had taught at the U of C and who was practicing at the largest hospital in Accra. Funmi’s friend arrived late, with her 10-year old daughter, so we could spend only a very short time with them.
Walked back to the airport, cleared immigration and went to the business class lounge for a while (the Kipharts and Olopades snuck me in). Flight to Frankfurt took off just a little late, and I’m doing my last post now, in steerage. I think I’ve concluded that the main reason to fly business class may not be the roomier, more comfortable seats, but the special, shorter lines for everything, and club access. When you travel with Funmi, though, you get into clubs anyway, so that advantage disappears. After a 3-hour layover in Frankfurt (again admitted to the business class club), we fly United to Chicago, arriving at 10:30 tomorrow morning. Wish I could have slept like these guys.
Now for a few reflections.
Overall, amazing. Best of four wonderful trips to Ghana, in large part because it included Nigeria, for the first time.
Nigeria. Going there with the Olopades was fantastic. On the one hand, we had the royal treatment of being escorted guests of the Governor of Ekiti State. On the other, we had the very personal experiences of meeting both Funmi and Sola’s mothers and seeing their homes. We met fascinating people, ranging from young professionals to friends of the Olopades to university professors to governmental officials. We saw market women celebrating and kings given SUVs. We made contact with people with whom the Kipharts and Olopades (with us as minor participants) probably will have continuing contact/projects. Barbara, from Root Capital, certainly falls into that category.
We began to get a sense of the power of Nigeria, as the largest country in Africa. It’s been said that if Africa is shaped like a gun, Nigeria is its trigger. And we saw, up close, the governor of Ekiti State, who has the potential to emerge as a national force in Nigeria. He uses his initials, JKF, which for slightly dyslexic old farts evokes memories of JFK. JKF even has an attractive, bright, fashionable wife in Bisi. This may be jumping the gun a bit, because Ekiti State, at 2.7 million people, is a very small part of Nigeria (but it is larger than the country of Botswana in population; had to sneak one last fact into this reflection). We emerge with a more realistic picture of the country as a whole than that portrayed in the US press. The violence in the North does not pervade the whole country. There are areas in which Muslims and Christians live together in peace, including in Lagos.
Ghana. Seemed odd going to Ghana and not being under the constant guidance of Peter Eduful. We all missed him. It was wonderful to see old friends–Joe, Ida and Daniel Kwarteng, Dr. Annie and Saint Anne, Alex Owasu, and the two chiefs we met with from Bonkwaso and Abesua. Witnessing the growth of the pineapple farms was very impressive, but I definitely missed going into villages the way we have on our prior trips. Because of the focus that the Olopades provide, the trip was more productive than prior trips, especially connecting with new partners at KNUST and KATH (most notably Dr. Daniel Ansong). It’s always a pleasure to meet new people, like Dr. Annie’s son, Robert, and Emily, the U of C med student who is doing a project with Dr. Annie, and to get unexpected surprises, like connecting with the Taylor family. For me, it was also a great pleasure to spend time with Peter’s oldest son, Alex, who I’d met only very briefly before.
I enjoy the photography I’m able to do on these trips and, from that standpoint, the trip was okay, but definitely not great. The more productive a trip and the faster the pace, the less opportunity for the kind of photography that I enjoy. Taking pictures at or after a meeting is, well, dull, but I do recognize the need to do some documentation of the trip. And, as photography was not at all the primary reason for the trip, in any case. I’ll be quite content with whatever limited number of decent photos may emerge.
We all come away from this annual trip enriched by the tremendous amount we learn, both substantively (most of which I’ve already forgotten) and about life (at least some of which I hope to retain). Funmi referred to her Chicago family and her Nigerian family on the trip. And we all certainly feel that we have a Ghanaian family. It’s this strong, palpable sense of family that makes these trips so special. The Kipharts, Olopades and Kanters just plain have a good time together.
Susie often talks about the Great Weaver, a reference to whatever force has made all of this happen and develop as it has over ten years, and brought everyone together. I have to admit, Susie, that I’ve felt that this was a bit corny. But I also have to admit that I’m now in serious danger of becoming a believer. When you think about, see and feel the remarkable set of circumstances and connections that has made all of this possible, it’s hard not to believe that there’s some force at work. Carol and I are incredibly grateful to be a small part of this beautiful tapestry.
Breakfast at the inn, and then a couple hours to talk about strategy, going forward, including development work for Global Health, the approach and the story to be told. A young woman, carrying her son and a large bowl of cauliflower, passes by, as we talk.
Drive over to The Golden Tulip for a lunch with 16 people, including, in addition to those mentioned on previous days, the chiefs of the remote villages of Abesua and Bonkwaso, who we’d visited on several prior trips. Dick has a special fondness for the Abesua chief and the chief of Bonkwaso and I have a special relationship, developed over our having seen each other for four years. He is referred to as Nana, and he calls me Nana II.
Also involved in the meeting were Gabriel Barima, the district chief executive from Moncraso, the district in which those villages were located and two officials from the water and sanitation department of that district.
The meeting over lunch lasted three hours, with communications with the chiefs translated (though they both speak and understand some English). The district officials spoke English quite well. There was a candid exchange of plans and needs on both sides, and many questions asked and answered. These chiefs and village officials seem to be very good prospective partners, because they all “get it”, and seem quite willing to contribute to the effort. Seems quite likely that we’ll work together, though exactly how will need to be worked out.
Talking after the meeting to Alex Owusu, the contractor and friend of Peter’s who we’ve been with each year, he asks about Carol and I explain that she had to go home after Nigeria. He asks me to “snap” a picture of him to show her, and tells me that he remembers the dance we did and does a few steps. He’s referring to the Israeli dance to “Mayim” (water) which we taught the villagers at the dedication of one of the wells Carol and I donated. He says he also has the cover (the challah cover) that we gave him, purchased at the Jewish community we visited two years ago. This is a very nice moment for me, symbolic of the real and continuing relationships we’ve formed in Ghana.
Back to the Four Villages, where Susie had invited a family to stop by, the parents of the husband of which Susie knew from church. We expected a short visit, but they wound up staying four and a half hours and being included in dinner. Kristin and Buck Taylor live in Montana, though Kristin grew up in New York and Buck in Chicago. They had brought their 10-year old daughter, Kendall, and 12-year old son, Ben, for a 3-month stay in Ghana. Also joining the Taylors was a 35-year old Ghanaian man named Kodua, who ran an NGO relating to health services.
Buck, a public health person, and Kristin, a lawyer interested in sustainable development, will volunteer here, and the kids will go to school. This is the third extended trip the family had taken, the others being to Ecuador and to some Southern states in the US. All of the adults told the kids that they were so fortunate to have this experience, and, though they miss their friends and soccer, Kendall and Ben seemed reasonably content (or, at least, resigned). I grabbed a seat near Kendall at dinner to chat her up.
Another large dinner served on the porch of The Four Villages, with about eighteen people, including the Taylor party. The Taylors had wanted to get together with Dr. Annie and Joe Kwarteng while they were in Ghana, so the dinner provided them an unexpected opportunity to meet Annie and Joe in person. Food was excellent and conversation good over dinner. We concluded the evening by going around the table with everyone giving comments on the trip that we unanimously agreed was fabulous. There is a warm, family feeling between the Chicago and Ghana groups, exuded in everybody’s comments. Funmi says that we need to get dates on the calendar for next year’s trip. As Dr. Annie leaves, she gives me a painting as a gift for Carol and Annie’s son, Robert, who is just starting a residency and who I’ve met for the first time on this trip, rolls it for me and goes down to the car to get a rubber band to secure it.
A productive, but not a photogenic, day.
We set out early for the four-hour drive to Kumasi, passing through towns lined with roadside shops, many bearing religious names. Here are a few: Christ is the Almighty God Plumbing Works, God First Catering Service, Everlasting Glorious Furniture Store and Amazing Grace Super Market.
I am riding with Joe and Sola. We talk some about yesterday’s big court case announcement, involving the contest of the legality of the Ghanaian presidential election. There had been fears that the decision, eight months in the waiting, might provoke violence. The court upheld the validity of the election of Mr. Mahama, finding that any irregularities were not widespread, and would not have affected the outcome. Happily, the other side accepted the outcome of the election, and so there was no violence.
I learned about Sola’s decision to join Funmi in Global Health at the U of C. He had been a tenured professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, where he’d been on the faculty for nineteen years. While their kids were in school at home, Sola and Funmi had made a decision to remain in their positions, but now that the kids were older, Sola decided to leave his tenured position to become a Professor at the University of Chicago in order to join Funmi in developing the Global Health Initiative there. I talked with Sola about the difficulties of being mentored and advancing as the sole Black doctor at UIC, which paralleled what I knew about the advancement of minorities in large law firms. We compared notes about the process of our leaving secure positions to strike out elsewhere.
I am going to conflate two meetings, because the issues and results were similar. The Global Health Initiative has developed formal relations with some fifteen hospitals and universities in many countries around the world. (They have one with Ibadan, in Nigeria.) These relationships are formalized with a Memorandum of Understanding that sets a template for future projects, each of which must be agreed to in a separate written agreement. They had proposed signing MOUs with two related entities in Kumasi, KATH (Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital) and KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology). We met separately with doctors and administration people, and it’s clear that both MOUs will be signed in short order. Sola handled both meetings very skillfully. Several months ago the U of C had sent a team of three Global Health students, which combined with three students provided by KNUST, evaluating wells built by the Kipharts and it’s this work that led to the MOUs.
We drove to the Kumasi Maternity and Childhood Clinic to see Dr. Annie, who runs the clinic and who the Kipharts have supported for many years. Dr. Annie is an amazingly energetic, compassionate and engaging person, who is from Madagascar and received her medical training in the Ukraine.
At the clinic, we saw Emily, a first year medical student at the U of C, who was spending three weeks at the clinic on a project through the Global Health Initiative. Each time we return to the clinic, we see many improvements, but none have been more dramatic than the beautiful new lab, funded by a foundation in Spain called Grifols, which came about because of friendship and investor relationships between Dick and Grifols.
Drove to The Four Villages Inn, our home in Kumasi, where we were greeted by Chris, the proprietor. Chris’ Ghanaian wife, Charity, is in Canada, visiting their kids. The Kipharts, Olopades and I met with Alex Eduful, the eldest son of Peter Eduful, who died suddenly about a year ago. This was a tremendous blow, both personally and to the work the Kipharts are doing in Ghana, because Peter was the indispensable point person for all of that work. The meeting, to gauge Alex’s interest in aiding in continuing that work was delicate, because the whole approach to the work has changed now that it will be done through the Global Health Initiative. The Kipharts were very clear about the changes. The meeting went well, and Alex is to prepare a proposal for the Olopades, for analysis of the 78 wells the Kipharts have built in Ghana, based on what we discussed.
As the meeting ended, the rest of the fifteen people invited for a dinner with us on the porch of the inn began to arrive. Most of them are people I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog, so I won’t go into the list now. Dinner was quite excellent, and ended with another happy birthday song and cake for Dick, as today is his actual birthday. After the guests left, our “gang of five” debriefed the day and discussed follow up action.
Great breakfast with Kipharts, Olopades and Barbara Ghansah, who is in charge of operations for three West Africa countries, including Ghana, for Root Capital. Root was formed by Willy Foote, a young friend of the Kipharts, and has made $300 million in loans to people in Africa, South America, India and elsewhere. The loans are not micro loans, but are to sources who could not get a conventional loan and who produce a social good, whether through providing employment to people or otherwise. Much of Root’s work is in agriculture. Dick thinks Willy is fabulous, and talks about him all the time.
Barbara is a young, former banker, who clearly knows what she’s doing and is sensitive to the cultural issues that make doing business in countries challenging. She is definitely interested in/planning to go to Nigeria with Root, and is looking for the right connections. We were excited to tell her all about our experience, both in Ekiti, with the minister of agriculture, and at Idaban University, with the agriculture faculty members. Something good is going to come of this, though it may take a while. Very exciting meeting.
We drove to the pineapple farms that Dick and Joe own, with Joe and Daniel, and saw the fabulous development that’s been going on there.
Joe is very proud of what has been accomplished and is focused on reaching break even, which he thinks will be accomplished next year. Daniel is far more aggressive and wants to expand more quickly than Joe, utilizing more of the 2,500 or so acres they have under contract. Dick is inclined to be aggressive, too, but places great stock in Joe’s opinions.
We met with a couple groups of workers in different areas of the pineapple farm, each meeting starting with a prayer.
This was not a show for us. Joe is very religious and these prayers are done daily. The prayers are punctuated with “amens” and “hallelujahs”.
Joe introduces all of us, and gives the workers pep talks, telling them that they don’t have to ask for wage increases, “the farm will tell them” when to increase wages, as it becomes successful. Dick tells Joe (out of the workers’ earshot) that he thinks they should give employees a bonus at Christmas, based on the number of months they’ve worked. Apparently, both “the farm” and Dick are able to make those economic decisions. We watch the workers who are joyous, singing as they work. Again, this is not for our benefit; it’s how they do it every day.
We also drive to an area of the farm which has been planted with almost 100 acres of mangoes.
We go next to three villages to dedicate wells that have been donated in gratitude for the cooperation the chiefs have given Joe in the pineapple operation. There are short speeches (Joe has made it clear that we have very limited time), considerable greeting and hand shaking with chiefs, linguists and queen mothers, among others, and, finally, ribbon cutting to inaugurate the wells.
Cute kids hang around the area of the ceremonies.
Interestingly, the three villages seem to have their acts together to different degrees, from the first (least) to the third (most). Sola reported that the first chief tried to talk to him about moving to the U.S. Sola advised him to focus on improving things here in Ghana.
We drive to the school for the deaf, which we’ve had very moving visits to in the three prior years. Joe and, his wife, Ida, have been very active in the school, and the Kipharts have supported it financially. This time, school is not in session and we are stopping there only so that Dick and Susie can be interviewed for a video that’s being made to promote this and other schools that have school farms to teach kids agriculture.
After the interviews, we drive to the comfortable Elmina Beach Resort, at which we’ve stayed three times before, check in and relax (blog) for an hour and a half before dinner. Conversation at dinner, which includes Joe and Daniel for most of it, centered on strategy for various meetings we are having tomorrow. Funmi had to leave for a phone call, the Kwartengs left and, after a while, the Kipharts, Sola and I were walking out of the restaurant when we ran into Funmi, who said we had to return to the table, because she needed a consultation. We spent forty minutes discussing a difficult personnel issue at the U of C, settled on an approach for Funmi and finally all left the restaurant–for real. This trip is great, even when we’re talking about matters completely unrelated to the trip, speaking of which, we also had a discussion of the merits of match.com (the consensus was very positive). (During dinner, Dick got an email from Willy Foote, who’d been in contact with Barbara, and expressed interest in our Nigeria experience.)
Awoke early and utilized something I learned earlier in the trip. When you see a bucket in the bath tub, you can use that for showering. Cuts down on the singing a bit, but certainly conserves water. Though HLF House (Healthy Life for All) is unlikely to be a target for a Four Seasons takeover, it works well for a night, saves hotel bills and is a great facility for the Global Health Initiative (GHI).
My two problems on awakening were lack of Internet connection and wet laundry, in the scheme of global health issues, those are not all that serious. The first has already been solved, courtesy of Christine, who is in her final year of medical school at the University of Chicago and doing a second stint in Nigeria through GHI. Her work is dealing with the economic impact of catastrophic illness as it relates to the economic barriers to providing good care. This is a perfect example of the interdisciplinary approach that the Olopades take to global health. The second problem requires figuring out what to do with wet laundry en route to Ghana later today. Another cultural disconnect was my assumption that when the staff at HLF said they’d do the wash, they’d then just throw it into the drier.
This day, or really half a day was packed with meetings/tours. I won’t give you details of them all because I didn’t fully understand all of it and couldn’t possibly remember it all, if I did. We started at the teaching hospital of Ibadan University, with which GHI partners. We saw the lab where DNA was gleaned, frozen and sent to GMI for compilation and analysis. The head of the lab explained the expensive new machinery and process.
The work is designed to identify genetic differences in various populations who have breast cancer and other diseases with a view to developing appropriate medication and interventions specific to those populations. Multiple disciplines are brought to bear on the process, including microbiology and pharmacology, and we are introduced to all of the people in the lab doing the work.
From there, we went into a larger room, where again we discussed the work being done by Ibadan and GHI. Among the more interesting discussion was that by an OB/GYN doctor, Dosu Ojengbede, who had been doing work in combatting high maternal death rates due to hemorrhaging because of the inability to stem the bleeding before help could be provided. This was a particular problem in remote rural areas, and acute in the northern, Muslim areas. Dosu hit on the brilliant strategy of educating the imams and, through them, reaching people who needed the help.
Dosu had a polyurethane wet suit designed and contracted with a Hong Kong company to manufacture them. They cost less than $200, but, because they can be reused, the cost per use was about $5. The suits, of which he brought an example, look like scuba diving wet suits, with modifications designed to push the blood of the birthing mother up into her body, rather than letting it drip out. Another very simple clear bag allows people to collect blood and through colored markings on the bag, so that people don’t need to be able to read or figure out numbers, shows when certain danger levels are reached. Dosu discussed other interventions being made, which I won’t go into. All of this is very exciting.
After this meeting, we returned briefly to the house to collect our luggage and, in my case, pack some still slightly damp, but now ironed, clothes. From there we rushed off in our van to the office of the Vice Chancellor, who had thrown last night’s party, arriving some twenty minutes late. The Vice Chancellor had assembled a team of about 8-10 deans and professors who focused on agricultural matters. A simple lunch was served while we talked. Included in the group was an American professor, who had married a Nigerian doctor and moved here forty years ago. She took a sociological approach to agriculture and had outspoken feminist views that she was not bashful about sharing and confronting the men around the room with.
These various meetings give us an appreciation for the strong relationship the Olopades have established with many people at Ibadan, the fascinating, interdisciplinary nature of their work and the esteem in which they are held by everyone there. It’s a unique opportunity to witness global health in action.
We discussed many aspects of the work the Ibadan professors are doing in farming, both crops and catfish. The Kipharts are very interested in agricultural issues, and knowledgable about them. I was able to raise a couple questions about catfish farming, because I’d represented an insurance company/client in their investment in a catfish farm in Florida some thirty-five (or more) years ago.
We rushed over for a quick tour of the catfish farm, and, afterwards, were presented with a bag of gifts by the Vice Chancellor as we entered the van to the airport. We sped off, led by a truck with siren blaring (we still have the truck, but, alas, have lost the armed guards. At one point, we had a team of nine looking after us, but were down to only six now.). We had a harrowing ride, weaving in and out of traffic and avoiding potholes, as we tailgated our escort. It felt a bit like being in a video game in which the object was to reach an airport, driving as fast as possible, while staying as close as possible to the vehicle in front of you and avoiding car and pothole obstacles popping up suddenly in your way. If you make it safely to the airport, you get to play again some other day.
We get to play again. Lagos airport is crowded and we endure the usual delays and indignities, but make it on time for our short, 45-minute flight to Accra. I’m the first of our group to make it through customs and collect luggage, so I go out to the lobby to see Joe Kwarteng and his son, Daniel. Warm greetings from both, including a big hug from Joe. We chat while waiting some time for the others to make it through. More warm greetings between the Kwartengs and the Kipharts and Olopades. These are nice moments, evincing a strong friendship and family feeling that exists between all of us.
Interesting extraneous fact: Sola used to play cricket on the Nigerian national cricket team.
A van from the Golden Tulip takes us new arrivals the less than ten minutes to our modern hotel, while Joe and Daniel, who drove in to greet us from Cape Coast meet us there in their car. A ridiculously long and confused check-in process resolves itself and we go to our rooms. Twenty-five minutes later, we meet the Kwartengs in the lobby and go down for quite a good buffet dinner. The Olopades are meeting people from the pharmaceutical company, Navaris. They introduce us to the Navaris people, but we eat separately.
The Kipharts, Kwartengs and I spend most of our dinner discussing the pineapple farm in which Joe is a partner of Dick’s, and which, Daniel, a business school graduate, is running with great enthusiasm. We also discuss the problem of how to get young people interested in the less-than-glamorous field of farming. After the Kwartengs leave to drive back to Cape Coast, the Kipharts and I discuss how amazing the Olopades are, and how privileged we all are to be able to take this kind of trip together.
Up to the room to shower and collapse.
Started with breakfast at the hotel with Funmi’s cousin, Ayo, who is a lawyer and one of twenty-six members of the Ekiti Assembly, which is akin to our House of Representatives. He seems very committed and in tune with the governor’s program. Ayo will be visiting the US next month and we hope to see him in Chicago.
En route to Ibadan, Funmi got a call that there was a meeting of kings that the governor wanted us to attend. We drove to a sports stadium, where a huge crowd had gathered for an event for the Council of Traditional Rulers, an attempt by the governor to reach the grass roots through the local kings. The stands were packed with kings and their wives in very festive dress.
Lining the field were some 100 new SUVs, which were to be gifts to the kings from the governor. Speeches were made, a popular comedian MCed and music was played at what turned out to be quite a spectacle.
We drove on to Okeigbo, where a farm house Sola’s father had built for him more than thirty years ago is located. The house is large and solid, and has mountains in the background. Sola has never lived there and has somebody take care of it for him. As we drove away from our short visit, Sola said, touchingly, that he felt his father’s presence in the house.
We stopped at Obafemi Owolow University, which the Global Health Initiative at the U of C partners with. As the doctors were on strike, there was nobody to see and, despite Funmi’s incredible presence all over the world, it took us half an hour to get into a bathroom. Comforting to know that there are some limits to her powers.
Driving on, we came upon the obelisk, called Opa Oranmiyan, in Ile Ife, where the first human is reputed to have existed, the obelisk being the staff of one of seven warrior sons. Our chief security aide, Moses, says that the staff, miraculously, has grown larger, but Sola appeared a mite skeptical about that report.
I transferred to a car with Carol (and, of course, a driver and guard) to ride about an hour to a spot on the highway where the van pulled over. I transferred to the van and we all said goodbye to Carol, who was driven on to Lagos for her flight back to Chicago. It was great having her and we’ll all miss her for the rest of the trip, especially me.
In Ibadan, we drove to the house that the Global Health Initiative uses as its headquarters in Nigeria. There, Sola met with a team of about a dozen students in various disciplines, who were doing research on the impact of distributing small metal ethanol-burning stoves to be used in cooking in lieu of burning wood inside, which creates horrendous medical problems, and some 4 million preventable deaths annually due to indoor pollution.
Later, we saw the compact stoves, which can be bought for as little as $20, and Sola thinks may cost even less in the future. The students seem motivated and energetic, and Sola praised their work.
Next we drove to the home of the Vice Chancellor (President) of Ibadan University, a very prestigious school that claims the Olopades as two of its distinguished graduates. While we expected only a few people would be attending, in fact it was a lavish affair with fifty people who constituted deans and elite professors at the university, with live music during dinner. The Vice Chancellor was unstinting in his praise of the Olopades and the Kipharts. Conversation over dinner was very interesting, and both Dick and Susie gave brief remarks after dinner. Clearly, the university is hoping for projects with the Kipharts in the future.
Back to HLF House to blog and sleep.
Breakfast at the hotel, then waited outside for our escorts, who were late. Struck up a conversation with a woman dressed in a stunning native dress. Turned out that she was a doctor, had a practice in Connecticut and was developing one in Ekiti, and knew that her husband was a classmate of Funmi’s, thus confirming once again that everyone knows Funmi. (He was also a classmate of Sola’s, but did not know him. Sola explained that he was a partyer and cricket player, so did not know studious types, but that Funmi bridged the gap between the two groups. Sola also told us, later in the day, that as a young man, he’d traded his car for a motor bike. One would not predict that Sola was a wild and crazy party guy, knowing him today, but I guess you never know, do you? We run into our hotel doctor/friend again at the market outreach event later in the morning.
Our car came and drove us to the governor’s house, where we met with Debo, the minister for trade and innovation, and a couple other ministers for long discussions on education, teenage pregnancy and a few other topics. To be honest, I’m a bit hazy on the discussions, since I was busy finishing and posting yesterday’s blog. We, the Kipharts and the Olopades had taken Debo and his wife to dinner at a Mexican restaurant when he visited Chicago a month or so ago (the meeting arranged, of course, by Funmi).
After the meeting we were driven to a “market outreach” event at a Women’s Market, arranged by and attended by Bisi (Erulu Bisi Fayemi), the governor’s wife. It’s tough to describe the event, since it seemed part to support the market, part religious, part music (drumming and singing), part dance, part colorful fashion show (each group wearing a different color/patterned dress and head scarf), part speeches ranging from financial matters to health. The event was infused with incredible spirit, energy and enthusiasm. One of the speakers was the leader of the women marketers, who complained in addressing the governor’s wife that she (the speaker) had not been adequately informed and included in planning the event. When the governor’s wife spoke, she praised the leader for her candor and led the group in giving her three cheers. Evidently, speaking truth to power occasionally pays off. The market women hold significant economic power and are a force to be reckoned with. This event clearly will be among the most memorable of our trip.
We sped off, winding rather crazily with our escort’s siren blaring from time to time. Funmi assured us that this was not typical Nigerian driving. They were driving us this way “because they could.” Our protocol people seem hell bent on getting us to our next spot, dead or alive. (Speaking of roads, here’s an extraneous observation I should have made a couple days ago. The highways from Lagos to Ibadan were loaded with hundreds, probably thousands, of oil tanker trucks carrying oil from the eastern oil fields.). Wherever we go, we are accompanied by two men in uniform, with rifles. When I asked Sola about the need for this, he explained that we were guests of the state, and they wanted to make sure we were safe from kidnapping, as we might be a ready target (especially if we had been traveling up North, which we are not). I guess this is comforting, or maybe not.
We were joined in our van by the Minister of Agriculture, Babajide Arowosafe, who was formerly with the United Nations in development, the permanent secretary in that ministry, Mike (I may have made that name up. Permanent secretary is the highest rank one can attain in the civil service in which Mike had served for more than twenty years. The idea of permanent secretaries is to give the ministries continuity beyond the term of a particular governor.), and a consultant to the ministry, Miles Gaisford, who was from Zimbabwe. All of us were extremely impressed with the three agriculture people. Unlike the government officials we’d met in Ghana, these people seemed very bright, knowledgeable in their areas, with well thought-out and practical plans for moving Nigeria’s agricultural world beyond subsistence farming. They had built a dam, which we visited, come up with a plan to help farmers by depositing some $10,000 in an account for each on which they could draw for seed, supplies, etc. in a way such that expenses were paid directly, i.e. the farmers did not have access to the money themselves, negotiated land development deals with foreign countries and induced some talented young people with engineering degrees to go into farming, rather than engineering. The ministry is aiding the farmers in forming cooperatives that will give them both buying and selling power. In Miles, they had hired somebody with broad experience, who seemed both knowledgable and willing to listen to others.
We went to see the dam, then drove on to see some cassava that had been planted, together with maize that produced two crops a year. The cassava was part of an expansive land area.
The region is lovely, physically, with mountains and rain forest areas. Infrastructure needs work as many of the roads are bad. However, the time spent driving is not wasted, as it gives us an opportunity for discussion with the minister, secretary and consultant, both on what we’re seeing, what the long-term plans are and matters extraneous to agriculture. For example, in talking about attracting industry to Nigeria, the secretary told us that one major obstacle is the lack of sufficient and reliable electrical power.
From the cassava area, we drove to a place where a cooperative of farmers was growing rice, and processing some of it themselves in a small wooden building. We had a chance to talk to the farmers and to see the processing facility.
Processing rice and other commodities is very important to the ministry’s plans, because processing adds greatly to the value and therefor the profitability of the operation. Where product is sold raw, most of the profit inures to the benefit of the country doing the processing. We drove a short distance to some of the rice fields where, donning heavy rubber boots, we walked to the muddy fields and heard about the planting and harvesting.
We drove to an area of both natural hot springs and cold water streams. Recently a resort has been constructed and a long wooden pathway has been built through the very pretty area of trees and other vegetation up to the springs. This would be a pleasant area to come to relax and get away, as Funmi and Sola have done a number of times. It also looks as if it would have been a nicer place to stay than The Fountain (I think my initial B- grade was probably a bit generous).
Back to our hotel for a quick shower and change into the fancy clothes we’d been told to bring. We all looked pretty spiffy, if I say so myself, especially Funmi in her dress and spectacular head scarf.
Over to the governor’s compound where the new Ekiti Knowledge Zone project was launched in a large conference room with people seated around a square table. Much preparation and thought has been given to an ambitious (some might say very unrealistic) effort to convert Ekiti, over a generation or more, into a sort of Silicon Valley of Nigeria. Long introductions of the steering committee were made. They are an impressive and diverse group of people, and include Funmi as a member. (An aside here on diversity. We and the Kipharts are adding great diversity to the areas in which we travel. Other than Miles, we are the only white people we’ve seen. Funmi told us that the people who gathered at Mama’s house, and probably many others we’ve encountered, have never seen a white person before.). Several speeches were made, including a couple less-than-impressive presentations by consultants to the committee. The governor formally launched the program in a rather short keynote speech. Photos were taken and then we lined up for a buffet dinner, definitely not lavish, which we ate at the conference tables. This was not the fancy event we had anticipated.
After dinner, Carol and I reconnected and chatted with the deputy governor, who we had sat next to at the dinner the other night, and who had been in education prior to her present position. We both like her, as she appears to have a great sense of humor and a real twinkle to her. We’ve told her that she must come to visit us in Chicago. She and the governor are elected as a pair, in the manner of our president and vice president, and she is confident that they will be reelected next year for another four year term, though she says that they need to be careful that the election is not stolen from them.
Dick, Susie, Carol and I are all filmed, responding to a question about our impressions of Ekiti. At the end, the four of us are asked to put four fingers up on each hand and move them forward and back towards the camera in a signal that the governor should be reelected to another four-year term. It was a surprise to us to learn that in only two days in Ekiti we’d become political operatives.
After exchanging goodbyes and thanks with the governor, we are driven back to the hotel.
Up early for a 7:00 departure.
Our time in Lagos was great, clearly highlighted by the people we met. I don’t feel that I have a very good sense of Lagos, as a city, though. All of the Nigerians we’ve met describe it as a vibrant, fast-moving, aggressive city on the order of New York. While I believe them, we did not really experience that ourselves.
We were picked up at the hotel in a van, sent by Ekiti State (of which, more later). In the SUV were a driver, guard and protocol officer. Another truck escorted us on our travels, siren sounding to clear the way. This entourage would accompany us until Tuesday.
Drove to the mainland portion of Lagos to the complex in which Sola’s 82-year old mother lives. Sola explained that the entire area around the buildings was completely empty when his father built it. Sola had been unaware of the project until his father took him there to show it to him, after it was completed. We walked a block, where Sola showed us a badly overgrown foundation for a building that was to have been a hospital that his father was building for him at which it was anticipated that he would practice after he returned from medical studies in the US. While Sola and Funmi were over studying, though, a military coup occurred, they did not return and the hospital was never built. A sign saying, “This land is not for sale” stands outside the property to deter people who do not own the property from purporting to sell it to another. Sola has thought about selling the property, but can’t bring himself to do that, because of what it was to have been.
We went up to the apartment to visit Sola’s mother and saw the obviously warm and tender relationship they have. At our request, his mama sang Sola’s Oriki, the praise poem that she sang to him as a boy, and still sings to him each time they talk. One of his sisters joined in the Oriki, then set out the brunch she had prepared for all of us, a task for which, as a caterer, she’s particularly well suited.
After saying our goodbyes, we set out on the long, 5-hour drive to Ekiti State, where Funmi grew up. We’d been warned that the roads were bumpy and bad, and they were, by US highway standards, but were far better than many we’d encountered in Ghana on past trips. The first several hours were flat and the roadside resembled a somewhat more urbanized Ghana, with open stalls selling various items, and assorted goats and cows grazing from time to time. The stores did not have the religious names that permeate Ghana stores. I did have a favorite large billboard that loomed above several port-a-potty-type units, “The Business of Shit is Serious Business.” I am not making this up, as several witnesses can attest, but we flew by quickly, and so I was unable to photograph it.
We drove by Ibadan, a red-roofed, sprawling city of some ten million, to which we will return on Tuesday. After a while, the land became hillier and forested, and eventually we reached Ekiti and drove to the Fountain Hotel, which is at best a b-minus, but will do for the next two nights. We spent a quick few minutes checking in and cleaning up a bit, before setting out to pay a “courtesy visit” on a US-educated king of a village in the area. We were greeted warmly by a bevy of colorfully-dressed chiefs, all of whom shook our hands and told us, “you are welcome.” Introductions were made in the very modest “palace” and several speeches welcoming us were given by chiefs in a language we could not understand. Then we were taken to the chief, before whom we kneeled, as he gave us individual blessings in English, wishing us long life, success, etc. After goodbyes and more handshakes, we drove to our next stop, “Mama,” Funmi’s 92-year old mother.
A large crowd had gathered there to greet us, shake our hands and tell us that we were welcome. Women serenaded Funmi, singing her Oriki, and we were ushered in to meet a lovely and smiling Mama with whom Funmi seems to share the same warm relationship that Sola and his mother have, and then shown into the dining room for another meal. After the meal we discussed the farming situation in the area with five farmers, which included farmers having to accept the prices offered to them without negotiation. Water is a huge problem, with there being very few wells offering safe water.
After the meal we went back in to see Mama, and she sang Funmi’s Oriki, accompanied by young women who sang verses that we later found out were both praising and roasting Funmi. We met Precious. Mama was a care giver to Precious, a very cute 3-year old girl, who was the daughter of a health service worker, who had lived with Mama for many years.
We set off again, behind sirens to our final stop, the home of Governor Fayemi and his wife. The governor is a perhaps 50-year old man who received his PhD in War Studies in England. He seems a very engaging, genuine, progressive, straight-forward person who is interested in helping his people. We’d all been given rather impressive, 130-page, large books, loaded with statistics and color photographs trumpeting the programs he’d initiated, and which he obviously hoped would lead to a second 4-year term in next year’s election. His wife has been active in feminine causes in Africa, and they lived together in Ghana for a good part of the past decade. In the large parlor, we exchanged introductions for about half an hour with the ministers of agriculture, trade, education, women’s issues, health and the deputy governor, all of whom joined us for a rather lavish buffet dinner and pleasant conversation in the dining room. Both in the parlor and the dining room, large flat screen TVs were tuned to a soccer match, though nobody appeared to be watching it.
All of these introductions, welcomes and pomp are rather uncomfortable for Carol and me, since the major contribution we’ve made to deserve all this is to have been Dick and Susie’s friends for forty years. It certainly is a privilege to be included in each step, though.
On our way out, the governor’s wife gave each couple gifts in a large shopping bag bearing the words “with compliments” and printed with a large, attractive picture of her. Weary, we headed back to our hotel, and crashed.
Up at five, but felt rather well rested. One more day, and I figure that I’ll be on local time.
Down for breakfast in the hotel with our group at 8 AM. Spent the rest of the morning in the air conditioned hotel restaurant, implementing Funmi’s clever idea of having people come to see us, rather than our having to run around to see them. Spent time with two of the young Nigerians who were with us poolside last night, Ayo and Uche, exploring a wide range of business ideas. In the 1990′s Nigeria suffered a real “brain drain,” with many talented young people going abroad and not returning, due to a perceived lack of opportunity. That seems to be reversing now, with young people seeing unlimited opportunities to make money here, and the political climate improving somewhat (though it has a very long way to go still).
We were also visited by a person in charge of medical research for a large pharmaceutical company, called Novartis. He and the Olopades all seem to think that a partnership between his company and the University of Chicago was a natural, a win-win situation, giving the U of C access to large amounts of data and giving Navaris the research help of the U of C, along with attendant credibility.
Other discussions with the Olopades included Nigerian traditions of child raising that infused children with a sense of their goodness and value, which interested Susie a great deal. Family songs, Orikis, were created to reflect this practice and to tell the family story, and we will hear some when we visit Sola and Funmi’s mothers tomorrow. We also spent time discussing issues of medical ethics, an area of passion and expertise of Sola.
In the afternoon, we headed off to an art gallery, Terra Culture, which had some well-made wood sculpture and also “paintings” made of buttons. Interesting, good and competent work, but not exceptional. We ate lunch at a restaurant that was part of the gallery. After lunch, we headed for a market area called Lekki, stopping en route at a small marketplace where we changed money with somebody who provides better rates than are available in banks. On the way to Lekki, we drove through Bananna Island, a very high end area, with large, expensive homes and upscale offices.
Lekki is an area that houses stalls of merchants selling crafts of all kinds, as well as clothing. The area was set up by the government to create a place where people could come to shop and buy from a large number of merchants. The market is like many we’ve seen around Africa and Asia, with rows of owners trying to entice you in to their shops/stalls to look at their wares, which they were offering you a “good price” on. The market was interesting enough, but less colorful than some others we’ve seen. The Olopades and Kipharts purchased a few things, and Carol bargained for a couple native-styled dresses for granddaughters, Zoe and Phoebe. At the market, we ran into a Nigerian from Chicago, Ayo, who the Olopades knew, who had purchased a lot of art in the market over the years, who led us around. Ayo was with a Swiss wealth management guy, Marcel, who he’d met the night before. Of course, Funmi, who knows everyone in the world, knew Marcel’s boss, who had thrown a fund raising dinner for the Global Health Initiative in Winnetka. Ayo snapped a photo of Funmi and Marcel to email to Funmi’s friend.
We headed back to the hotel to shower and change, then rushed out to dinner at an upscale hotel, a surprise party to celebrate Dick’s 72nd birthday. We got lost on the way to the hotel, and there were hilarious exchanges between Funmi, who was barking orders to the driver and demanding his cell phone to seek directions, and Sola, who was telling Funmi to “chill.” Funmi is not a chilling-type person.
Eventually, we made it to the dinner, which Funmi had orchestrated to bring her “Chicago family” together with six Nigerian friends, who she called her “Nigerian family”. There was a printed dinner menu for Dick’s birthday, with choices for each course. All the Nigerians were dressed in local garb, the women in flamboyant dresses, and the men in stylish, understated suits. Unfortunately, I had not brought my camera, but Carol has good, video footage.
One of the women was a high school friend of Funmi’s and one of the men was a high school roommate of Sola. They called each other, “My Boy” and the husband of Funmi’s friend was referred to as, “the Prince.” This was a very educated and highly-successful group of people in their early sixties, and included a prominent lawyer, a woman who worked for the Ford Foundation, an oil and gas consultant, a woman who ran an NGO that made micro-loans to small women farmers, a highly successful business man with varying business interests, including converting cassava into ethanol, and a woman who ran a catering business that sold to airlines. They were not short of opinions, vociferously expressed, on a wide range of topics, so it was a very lively evening, punctuated frequently with boisterous outbursts of laughter. The twelve of us were joined at a separate table, by five young professionals with whom we visited after singing happy birthday to Dick and watching him blow out the candles on the cake the Olopades had bought.
We headed back to the hotel, tired but exhilarated from a most memorable evening.
I know you’re getting impatient for us to reach Nigeria. Well, by the time you read this, we’ll have arrived. But right now we’re in the Frankfurt Airport, awaiting our connecting flight to Lagos. Was able to make the last blog post from here and, indeed, could have done it from the plane by purchasing an hour of wifi for about fifteen bucks. Pretty amazing, but it pales in comparison to making blog posts from a bus in rural Guizhou Province, China last November. That one still boggles my mind.
Flight to Frankfurt was around seven hours (nine, with delays), a couple hours layover, then about six hours or so to Lagos. A long haul, but we’re used to it. And it’s a lot longer swim. Not surprisingly, the demographics on the plane change dramatically on the two legs, from almost all white, half German speaking, to almost all black, English speaking.
We’re here. Airport in Lagos was quite a scene, starting with the customs guy asking us for phone numbers of our host. We gave him the name of the Lagos hotel and with a sly smile, he said, “Oh, you were invited by a hotel?” That wasn’t going to fly, but luckily we flagged down Funmi and Sola, who had already cleared the Nigerian line. We explained what was going on, Funmi grabbed an airport official and, with her in tow, marched over to the customs guy and had everything cleared up in two minutes.
We went over to the baggage area, where Funmi and Sola retrieved the ten boxes they’d brought from the University of Chicago, essentially importing a small hospital. Airport officials inspected tags for everything, and Funmi let them know that she was an OON, Order of Niger, an honorific title bestowed on her a year or two ago, based on the nomination of the Governor of Ekiti State, with whom we’ll have dinner in a couple days. The honor is akin to OBE, or knighthood, in England. I told Funmi that I intend to coast through Nigeria, telling folks that I’m a FOON, Friend of an OON.
We were met at the airport by people from Ibadan (where we will also visit), with whom the Olopades and U of C have a continuing relationship. We and our twenty bags were loaded onto and transported by stretch golf cart-like vehicles, that wove with great difficulty into the parking area, where two vans awaited us. The crowd at the airport was part in Western dress and part in colorful native garb. Our cart drivers had to get out periodically to physically stop traffic to allow us to wend our way into the lot.
In the vans, we immersed ourselves in very heavy Lagos traffic. Our drivers tried various routes, finally getting us to the hotel in only about two hours. En route, we passed by the water slum areas with clouds of pollution hanging above them that almost abut the Victoria Island area, which houses the financial center of Lagos, and our hotel.
The two-hour ride was actually fine, though, as the air conditioned van provided a moving living room in which we all could learn more about Nigeria’s and the Olopades histories. Whenever we travel and hear or read about the histories of the places we visit, I am struck by how foreign our own experience is to that of the rest of the world. No foreign occupations, no colonial experience, no military juntas and rule. It makes it difficult for us to truly imagine the experiences of the places we visit. To give you the big picture on Nigeria, we were struck by how it bestrides sub-Saharan Africa as a kind of colossus. The population of Lagos alone is two-thirds the population of the entire country of Ghana. In a sense, Nigeria is three countries, the Ibo-dominated, oil rich Southeast (which seceded as Biafra in the late 1960s, resulting in a 30-month civil war that killed more than a million), the Yoruba West of the Country that includes Lagos, the country’s engine, and the Hausa North, which is largely Muslim, agrarian and military. These countries have different languages and cultures. There were originally twelve states in the three regions, but those twelve have now morphed into thirty-six, each with a government, and each (except Lagos) largely dependent on an oil-rich federal government for funds. Small wonder, then, that corruption is a big problem.
Funmi and Sola are both Yorubas, and proud of it. Funmi’s father was an Anglican minister and Sola’s a businessman. Both Sola and Funmi were highly educated in the best and most competitive schools in Nigeria. They are both dual citizens, travelling on Nigerian passports on the way over, and US passports on the way back. It’s important for us to keep in mind that in dealing with Funmi and Sola, we are talking to the upper strata of Nigerian society and not to think that they are representative of the population as a whole. I’m sure I’ll fill in more about the Olopades as we go though Nigeria together.
We arrived at the Blowfish Hotel, a very comfortable, though unpretentious place and were taken up to our rooms, passing through a courtyard area, with a very nice and large pool. We freshened up for 15 minutes, then met in the lobby for the short, one block walk to Yellow Chilli’s a popular local restaurant. There we sampled from a wide range of tasty Nigerian foods that Funmi and Sola ordered for our table.
After dinner, we walked back to the Blowfish and sat at tables by the pool. There we were joined by about eight young 30-something Nigerians, friends and relatives of the Olopades very accomplished children. It was a very attractive, impressive and educated group of young business, financial and entertainment industry people, most of whom had lived in the US. Nobody would sell this group short, and if they’re the future of Nigeria, that future looks bright. After 45 minutes or so of lively discussion, comparing life in Nigeria with life in the US and elsewhere in Africa, we retired to our rooms, exhausted from our 36 hours of travel.