Thoughts Aloft

August 22-23.

Flying from Chicago to Lagos via Frankfurt. In coach. Those of you who read my Myanmar blog will recall that I announced that I was in my business-class years. Well, I thought I was, but here’s what happened.

We’re flying United/Lufthansa, so I have insufficient miles to get a business-class ticket. I was intending to purchase a business-class fare, but discovered that for Carol and me the difference between coach and business was about $9000. The purpose of our trip is to help in rural areas of Nigeria and Ghana. When we thought about the difference between flying coach and business, and what a charitable contribution for the causes we wanted to support would mean instead, the decision was really pretty easy. So, we are sucking it up back in coach. Not that bad, really.

We are traveling with our friends, Dick and Susie Kiphart, and Funmi and Sola Olopade (well, not “with” exactly, but on the same plane). We have traveled with the Kipharts a number of times in Ghana, and the Olopades joined us last year in Ghana. None of us, other than the Olopades who were born there, have been to Nigeria. The Olopades are both doctors, and run the Global Health Initiative at the University of Chicago. If you want to know something about Funmi, I encourage you to take a look at Sola is equally accomplished, but does not have as good a press agent as Funmi.

For those of you who found my pre-trip history post too long or boring, or want to focus on what’s key, here are Sola and Funmi’s answers to three questions I put to them a few days before we left.

What five things should readers of the blog understand about Nigeria?

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country and a relatively young democracy despite getting independence in 1960

Nigeria is a major oil producer and probably provides 25% of US oil import of light crude

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with an estimate of 1 in 3 to 1 in 4 black persons in the world being a Nigerian [read that one again!]

Nigerians value education and are the most educated in terms of masters level degrees earned by all immigrants in the USA

Moslems and Christians are about 50/50 in terms of numbers with the north being predominantly Moslems and the southwest being a mixture

2. What are Nigeria’s greatest strengths/assets?

The people, not only in terms of numbers but in terms of generosity, especially the Yorubas, who are sometimes captioned as “as hospitable as the Yorubas”

Natural resources beyond oil, which is what most people know


Confident and very assertive educated folks

Large families that provide safety net for those going through life’s challenges

3. What are Nigeria’s greatest problems/challenges?


Sole dependence on oil

Unreliable power (electrical) supply

Poor leadership

Population explosion

Health inequities

Reflecting back on the year since I last went to Ghana, it’s been filled with incredible travel–trips to Ghuizo Province in China, to Myanmar and to Cuba. Some of you have followed all of those trips (and for those who did not, it’s not too late to do so, as there are links on the website page on which this post appears). Each of these trips was fabulous in and of itself, but the individual blogs do not begin to capture the tapestry that these trips have woven in Carol and my lives.

The Myanmar trip was planned by our friends, Dotty and Jim Guyot, who have lived in Yangon for nine years. We’ve been in touch with them before and after our trip, and are working with them to help as they are transitioning the wonderful program they created there into a new stage of development. This work has kept us in closer touch with our friends Sharon Silverman and David Zimberoff, who first introduced us to the Guyots. Hillary Myint, the young lady who showed us around Yangon, just spent six days with us in Chicago, before going up to St. Olaf’s College in Northfield, MN. She was joined at our house the last two days by two former St. Olaf professors, the Bauers, Susan and Gene, who are sponsors of Hillary in MN. We will undoubtedly stay in touch with Hillary (and the Bauers), as we will with Aung Lin Htet, the young man who showed us around Mandalay. Aung Lin Htet will start college in Maine in a few days and we have been in email contact with him since leaving Myanmar.

With regard to Ghana and Nigeria, we are in constant contact via email and in person with the Kipharts and the Olopades, and, primarily through them, with others in Ghana. It’s fair to say that hardly a day goes by when Carol and I don’t think about Ghana or Nigeria. I don’t keep all of the emails, by any means, but I just checked my email folder since last September, and there are well over 500. Joe and Ida Kwarteng, who live near Cape Coast in Ghana, and who we have become friends with from our visits there, spent a couple days at our house earlier in August, with their daughter, who is starting at Wheaton College this month and we had dinner with the Kwartengs, Olopades and Kipharts to put finishing touches on trip plans about a week ago. Funmi cooked us all a delicious Nigerian dinner.

I am in touch with some of the people I met on my photography trip to China and have just formed a small group with a couple of them and a few other photographer friends to comment on each other’s photos on line. With respect to all of my trips, I spend many, many enjoyable hours on photographs (and Carol spends similar time on poems for the trips that she has been on) after each trip.

All of this is to say that our travel has become an important part of Carol and my lives, and not only during the trips we take. I’m keenly aware of how privileged we’ve been to form the relationships that we have through our travel, and the opportunities that has provided us to experience the way in which others around the world live.

And I’m beginning to think more about writing about travel writing, too. Carol wanted to attend a weekend poetry course at the summer Iowa Writers Workshop this June, so I tagged along and took a travel writing course. I’m not sure that it will be reflected much in the blog, since I’m pretty intent on just getting the experiences down, but, who knows, it might. In any case it was fun to think about what makes for good travel writing, and to read some very creative pieces.

Here are a few notes I took that may give you an idea of some things we talked about in Iowa (if you can make any sense of them):

Annecdote v .comprehensiveness
Food, high art, etc
If you go…then (advice)
Literary travel writing, rewards multiple readings
Gives something to the writer
Travel includes metaphysical as well as physical
First, second and third person
Sensory detail, image, multiplier
Use of names, numbers, facts, history, geography
Treatment of time
Makes us open to new ways of thinking, and writing. Receptivity.
Bucket lists
Othering, how we deal with the other we encounter in traveling

And, occasionally, we delved into the philosophical aspects of travel, too, so I’ll close with a couple quotes that ring true to me.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Buber

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry James

Okay, enough background, context, etc. Let’s see what Nigeria has to offer.

4 comments to Thoughts Aloft

  • ODUN

    WHAO….. What a lovely and exciting trip you had, can assure you, you are not going to catch any less fun in Nigeria because it definitely going to be more exciting and fulfilling. YOU ARE WELCOME TO NIGERIA…..the land that flows with milk and honey.

  • Barbara


    Woke this A.M. at 5:00. Yeah, who knows why. But was rewarded with complete silence. Absolutely no building construction noise or sirens, while I enjoyed reading Thoughts Aloft.

    Boy, you and Carol sure do know a lot of people and places! And can even remember who/where they are and how to spell their names. Awesome, bro! I can only sometimes recall the first and last names of the three people that I know.

    I recognize and very much admire the wonderful ways in which you and Carol have reinvented yourselves. (I woke up one morning and thought I’d try being a raccoon. Nothing of interest in the trash, though, so I bagged that Idea.) Seriously, I believe you’re actually doing what people often say they’re going to do when they retire. But don’t. Bravo!

    The three questions and answers in this post were very helpful. As dad urged us enumerable times, it’s best in life to “keep it simple.” The quotes about unspoken goals in travel and your thinking about travel writing were also interesting inclusions. You’d be a great travel writer, combining humor and good information in a conversational tone. Go for it!

    As always, look forward to hearing more, along with your quirky commentary.

    Safe Travel,
    Your Little Sister

  • leslie

    just wondering how many credits I am getting for this course….. travel SAFE!!!! love, Les

  • Wendy


    Thank God for the three questions!

    I’ve understood for a long time how important travel is to you– before, during and after– but I didn’t realize that hardly a day goes by when you and Maz don’t think about Ghana or Nigeria. That’s really a beautiful thing– that your hearts are so deeply invested in these places and people. I basically knew that but the hardly-a-day-goes-by point really drives it home.

    Looking forward to more updates!

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