A week and a day ago rainy season began here in Jos. We had had a couple of rains in earlier April, but a week ago we clearly moved from generally-clear skies to cloudy ones. A slice of bread left out overnight wasn’t turned utterly to crust by the morning as it would normally be in dry season. And a week in there’s green grass sprouting up again. Within 2 days we suddenly had a flower bed brimming with beautiful pink blooms. OK we now need to start worrying about what’s been left out in the garden overnight, and remembering to take an umbrella with us and maybe wear closed shoes, but it’s lovely to see the colour more fully come back to the world around us.
Tonight I think we have our first really heavy rain.
At a consultant training seminar recently I made an observation in passing that may be an intriguing cultural insight or may be not worth considering. I share here with the hope that Nigerian friends may help refine my observation, and for the potential benefit of non-Nigerians.
So here was the situation: we were in the middle of a discussion from the floor about some issue that a presenter had just been teaching when one of the participants started talking at some length and somewhat passionately about something completely irrelevant to the topic in question. I forget exactly what we were supposed to be talking about but I do remember that he had somewhat misunderstood or else he just seemed to have a hobby-horse idea that he wanted to put forth. After a while someone called out “You’re preaching!” and others murmured for him to be quiet. Eventually he did stop.
So here’s the observation: the term ‘preaching’ seems to be associated with talking at length, without wisdom or understanding about some pet topic utterly unrelated to the text or topic in focus. Is that a common understanding about what ‘preaching’ is? So when someone is invited to ‘preach’ are we to expect something resembling that? That seems somewhat removed from the Biblical concept. Are there other terms that we could use? What should ‘preaching’ really look like? What about a passionate devotion to proclaiming the very point of the text in front of us, to say clearly to people the same thing that the original author penned the text for, based on taking some time to understand what it says and how it presents it?
Another nice thing about our new house has been having space to have people stay. Recently we enjoyed having the Creighton family stay with us for a week or so while husband Rick was at a conference in Brazil. They’re the British family we have visited in Kagoro and done joint home-school things with recently. Their 3 children are quite close in age to Rebekah, Elizabeth and Abigail, and they get on very well together. It’s just a blessing that we’ve got a bigger house now so that it is possible to have people stay, and lovely to have the fairly large garden for the children to run around in.
They live in Kagoro, the heart of the Gworog language, just an hour and a half from Jos and where David visits from time to time to work with the translation team. So we all tend to go to Kagoro together and Julie and the girls hang out with mum Alanna and Asha (6), Conor (4) and Jack (2) doing some of the educational things that work better with more children. Taking the kids along seems to be a good way to get through the 4-7 army/police security checkpoints en-route happily and speedily too.
And talking of travel I (David) am off soon after the crack of dawn tomorrow to ‘Tal’ where we’re going to have a shot at collecting hundreds if not thousands of words to kickstart a dictionary project. I’ll try to report on that next week. Prayers for smooth travel appreciated. It should be a 2 hour drive I’m told, so I plan to go there and back in the one day, so as to be back in time for commitments back in Jos.
Love from us all, D+J, R, E & A
(In the first pic you’ll not spot Julie, but Alanna reading to 5 of the 6 kids that were enlivening the house that week.)
One of the exciting aspects of living in the new house has been the extra space, particularly the school room. This dedicated room has made it so much easier for Rebekah to focus on what she’s learning (and increasingly Elizabeth who doesn’t like to be left out). Home educating the girls has also led to some other opportunities to get to know other families. A few weeks ago we managed to get together some other ex-pat families who are home educating and we plan to meet regularly, especially to do things that work better in a larger group. Julie also met some Nigerian mums who are home educating their children and we are hoping they will be able to join us.
The school room has also had some other rather exciting uses. For about two years now, Julie has been very keen to get a women’s Bible study going. She was particularly hoping to have one where the focus was on a Bible book and getting into the text, rather than a Christian book, and was keen for there to be a mix of Nigerian and ex-pat women. At last, on Tuesday, the group had the first study on the book of Colossians. There were six women in total, representing four different nationalities, married and single, with children and without, and with an age range of about forty years. This is such an answer to prayer and we are hoping it will continue to go well.
We moved house! Actually we moved just over a week ago and have been unpacking and settling into our new house since. We’re on a compound called ‘Mountain View’, and unsurprisingly there is a large hill just at the back of the compound adorned with water tower and radio masts. Rebekah and Elizabeth have been enjoying playing a bit with another wee Northern Irish girl who lives on the same compound.
Most of the bags are unpacked. David’s taking on the challenge of remounting our mosquito nets in an aesthetically-pleasing manner (hopefully). We’ve hooked up a whole-house power backup system with 3 huge batteries which currently unfortunately omits most of the lights in the house. (Oops.) Washing machine is ensconsed in the nice large bathroom and the somewhat large hole in the bathroom wall where the outflow pipe went even got patched up by the plumbers last week.
Meanwhile friends of friends moved into our old house 4 days after we left. Intriguingly Elizabeth refers to our old house as ‘Nigeria’, as in “When we used to live in Nigeria we only had 2 bedrooms but now we have 4.” Maybe the dedicated home-education room needs to be dedicated to a bit of geography. As for Abigail, she loves the fact that this house comes with a climbing wall (stone fireplace) and all manner of opportunities for sneaky ascent.
It’s back to work for us all this week. Unfortunately we brought back a nice British cold virus which we’re all suffering from.
Happy New Year! We’ve been on the road the last week, all in the run-up to the family wedding we celebrated on Saturday near Exeter. We left Jos on Monday at lunchtime to be driven down to Abuja with a fairly modest load of suitcases, then stayed overnight before flying to Heathrow the next morning. Since then we’ve been glad to see friends and a few relatives around England en-route to Exeter and have now flown up to Glasgow for a week, again catching up with family and friends, as well as handing our flat over to an agent to let while we’re away.
The wedding itself was lovely and relaxed, with Dave and Becky organising lots of things themselves and with quite a few children there too. Rebekah contributed a (pre-recorded!) prayer for the couple and Abigail and Elizabeth contributed a certain amount of volume too.
Coming back to the UK in the midst of wintry wind and rain has been a bit of a shock for us all, but we’re well kitted up now with all the warm clothes and boots we need for the next couple of weeks in Glasgow and Northern Ireland before we head back to warmer climes again.
Love from us all, and perhaps we’ll see some of you this week or next. Apologies if we miss you; it’s only a flying visit.
We’re just back from a restful few days of holiday at the Miango Rest Home, about an hour’s drive away. On Thursday afternoon, right after David had finished subjecting some of his poor Bible translation students to the rigours of practical and written exams, we drove dustily West to the conference centre originally built as a peaceful sanctuary for harried missionaries over 80 years ago.
Our Northern Irish friends from the seminary down the road in Kagoro were there too, and while the dads both knuckled down to marking and teaching prep, mums and children (3 wee Creightons and 3 slightly weer Rowborys) enjoyed a change of scene and some fun things to do together. It was interesting while we were there to meet various Nigerian missionaries staying for conferences; some knew a bit about Bible translation and others were very interested to hear that work was beginning in their own languages.
Back home, there’s still more marking for David to do, then a Wycliffe group Christmas party on Friday, before Christmas is upon us. In amongst all that we’re also getting ready to move to a bigger house in January.
Travelling around you always notice some differences markedly.
“How do you know where to go without any signs on the road?” my friend Richard asked our driver on the way to Abuja airport. The answer was that he’s lived around Abuja and travelled the road a lot so he’s seen it change and has been able to always find someone who could tell him where to go. At the airport in Abuja you notice lots and lots of staff helping you through 6 different security checks, immigration control etc. How did we know what to do and where to go? Someone would ask us what we were doing and would tell us where to go. In Frankfurt there were comparatively fewer staff around; instead there are just lots of signs everywhere.
In some ways this is symbolic of the different cultural expectations. In writing-focussed societies we expect to find a sign telling us where to go, but in most of Africa you get people doing that job as part of the conversation. (Around airports you’ll also find lots of people who absolutely insist on helping you and then being reimbursed for it even if you really don’t need any help, thank you!)
Is the Desktop metaphor dead? The linked article suggests that touchy-feely tablets and phones are starting to sweep the desktop metaphor away. That’s certainly happening in part, but my own perspective is that in some parts of the world it’s never really been alive or helpful.
The point of the desktop metaphor, popularised by Apple and (to some extent) Microsoft was that it made something new seem familiar. Or to put it another way, it gave you new tools to do the same kind of things that you might want to do.
Rewind now to about 12 years ago when I was in a reasonably remote part of northern Nigeria trying to teach basic computer skills to Bible translation team members. It gradually dawned on me that we were up against a major difficulty; the ‘desktop’ metaphor that had made computers accessible to ordinary people in the Western world was actually making it harder for my Nigerian colleagues.
Zuru 2001: basic computer skills in the language development and translation office
The problem was that none of them had encountered ‘files’ or ‘folders’, ‘directories’. One or two had come across a typewriter before. They knew nothing of (written) reports. Their houses didn’t even generally have windows! They very rarely used buttons of any kind. Mice were familiar, but were for chasing away from the granary, not for moving around a table. They squeaked, didn’t click. Arrows were for hunting, not pointing. Not even fingers really were for pointing (chins were for pointing). They did know all about saving. Being ‘saved’ was certainly important in church and nothing to do with storing something important.
At the time, even as I struggled to explain first what a window was and why we use that term on a computer, I thought what we really need is to rethink the whole concept of Human Computer Interaction for different environments. But I was too busy working on a dictionary and other things to make any serious headway, except to note that on traditional Lelna compounds, there is a degree of organisation that might transfer to a computer system. And existing social differentiators and hierarchies too might prove helpful concepts.
TCNN 2012: basic computers for linguistics
Roll on 10 years and I find myself again teaching computers to people who have only just encountered them. Now a whole load more people are using computers and laptops are much more common across Nigeria. Mobile phones too are quite ubiquitous. But just as most of Africa has somehow skipped the landline age and leapt straight for mobile telecommunications, I have an inkling that the ‘desktop’ age may be blithely bypassed by many. Perhaps many Africans encountering technology for the first time will join the IT highway several junctions along from where I joined it.
However, that’s not the full story. The fact is that user interfaces rely on some degree of familiarity. If skeuomorphic designs are being edged out now it doesn’t necessarily imply that they were a bad idea all along. How much do the new mobile-inspired UI designs rely on familiarity with older idioms, that is features of the desktop metaphor? Even when bold new strides are made, there must be some continuity for existing users to make the transition successfully, and some connection to the rest of their life for new users to be able to grasp a way of relating to computers.
Perhaps now we have a unique opportunity now to rethink user interface in culturally appropriate ways. As we have seen, new approaches to user interface design are being thrashed through right now. At the same time Africans are becoming familiar with various bits of mobile technology. (I say this based on living for much of the last 6 years in East and now West Africa.) In African cities and towns we see an interesting mishmash of ‘western’ and ‘traditional’ concepts and life. Not everyone lives in an agricultural world any more though still the majority of the Nigerian populace are linked to farming in some way. Perhaps the concepts I had considered before of ‘granaries’ for storing bags of grain as a metaphor for data storage will not work, or perhaps they will. We certainly need to abandon ridiculous archaisms such as a floppy disk icon representing ‘saving’.
This is not the end of the road but perhaps only the beginning. What I would love to see would be truly African approaches to using computers that no longer fall in line behind a mysterious and misunderstood western world. Perhaps I’m a bit of an unrealistic ideologue but I would love to see people using computers without spending ages worrying about the intricacies of how to use and manage the computer itself, and focussing much more on the content they are actually manipulating and communicating.
Yesterday we had naming of parts. Today,
We have daily cleaning.
Today is Sanitation Saturday. That means that everyone has to stay at home until 10am and clean their houses and the area around them. And, yes, it is enforced by the Sanitation Police! I’m not sure how much sanitation we will actually do, but it is certainly very pleasant when the road outside is so quiet. For a couple of hours we can enjoy the pleasant warbling of the birds instead of the car horns and taxi touts.
A major feature of the last few weeks has been Julie starting to home educate Rebekah in earnest. She has been delighting in telling everyone that she is in P1, even though the term is fairly meaningless to most people she talks to! We have had lots of fun with reading, writing, maths, art and science. Yesterday we did “naming of parts” where we drew round Rebekah and Elizabeth and they coloured in the pictures of themselves. Then we stuck labels on the the different body parts. We are also planning to meet with another home educating family every other Wednesday to do art and crafts together, so that will be something to look forward to.
And now, as it is Sanitation Saturday, we should get on with the daily cleaning!
(Anyone know which poem we are alluding to in this email? The first three correct answers will receive a small prize!)