First of all, we want to reassure everyone that we are safe and comfortable. We have had 3 armed professional Nigerian police with us at all times. They are in uniform and carry automatic weapons (AK-47 with 30 round clips). While this might be unnerving to some, for us it is a sense of security. Additionally, since arriving in Owerri, we have had local Rotarians with us at all times. They are been gracious and most welcoming. Repeatedly, we have been told how supported in their efforts to eradicate polio we have made them feel.
A little bit about food and hotel accommodations. Most of us have not been too adventuresome with trying the local cuisine and have stayed with rice of some sort and usually chicken. However, two members of our group seem to have strong stomachs and a desire to branch out. They have had a traditional pepper soup with some type of meat or fish. However the meat was not what was expected. For example, cow leg became hooves, ankles and toes and goat pepper soup had the entrails of the animal. But kudos to our team members Stephen and Larry who gave it a try. Oh yes, and one of our team members mentioned that the service is soooooo slow that they servers should be replaced ASAP. Our accommodations are probably above the average for Nigeria but most of us are quite spoiled. At times, our rooms lacked a hot shower or sometimes no shower at all. In one hotel, we had to bed for a second bath towel for the second person staying in the room. In Nigeria, the electrical grid is intermittent and the power will just stop. We have been fortunate that we have not been without for more than a brief time.
This morning, we had an opportunity to see a matching grant Rotary project (Libertyville Sunrise) in Umuagwo at the Outreach and Medical Compassion hospital and clinic. We saw the generator and water system that had been supplied funded by the Rotary Clubs of Libertyville Sunrise and Owerri, districts 6440 and 9140, and The Rotary Foundation. Each container of diesel fuel can keep the generator going for 12 hours. The primary purpose of the generator is to power the water well pump and to serve as a backup to the local electric power supply. This hospital was started in 1988 and in 1990, they hosted a medical mission from San Francisco. Since that time, the medical mission has returned for 2 weeks at time and has grown in size including the work of a dentist who has cared for upwards of 700 patients per visit. The OR is currently under construction with equipment that is being donated. This facility serves a community of 1 million individuals with many being charity cases.
During this most hospitable visit we were offered refreshments including the cola nut. This nut has a special significance as it helps to acknowledge a special guest. If you open the nut to find 5 sections is confers good luck and mind. We were also offered a small yellow food that looked like a small eggplant called a garden egg. One member of team mentioned that it tasted like a cucumber. Our visit concluded with a beautiful prayer and good wishes. “May the same kindness and good will that you bring with you, go home with you.”
Next we traveled to the Office of Dr. Obi Njoku, Commissioner of the Ministry of Health for the state of Imo. Our visit was filled with lots of protocol and deference paid to one another, courtesies and formalities abound. After all the introductions, we were told how hard everyone is working to keep Imo state free of polio as their last case was 8 years ago. The commissioner, his staff, and Rotary leaders spoke of a polio-free world and expressed their appreciation in our efforts to eradicate polio.
Prior to learning about the effectiveness their health practices, we were told the sad story of one polio case in the area over 8 years ago. A child was brought to a clinic with a fever. The medical staff believed the ailment to be malaria and treated it as such. Subsequently, the child became paralyzed and the family blamed the treatment given. Doctors and nurses were abused and threatened and families stayed away from the clinics. It was believed that it was the trauma of the antibiotic injection (to erroneously treat the malaria) that caused polio. This also created social and health issues only to be addressed by education at the family and community levels.
Other interesting facts were shared with us. Because of the migration of various people and tribes it is very difficult to maintain any type of immunization schedule. During the rainy season it is very difficult to reach everyone and efforts are under way of establish medical outposts in each community. There are 450 clinics in the state that are open from one to three times a week.
Regarding NID: The 1259 vaccination teams promote the immunization drive (NID = National Immunization Day campaign) and work to ensure enough vaccine. Efforts are made to reach every child and the teams are fully trained while also learning about heath teaching. Vaccination workers may also go to churches, market places, schools, and social gatherings to administer vaccine while also enlisting the help of priests and pastors. However in some cases, the parents take the initiative and seek out the immunizations for their children.
In the months of May and November, the state of Imo has a maternal and child care week which is utilized for many types of care and immunizations including measles, mumps, whooping cough and polio. We learned that in this community injectable polio vaccine is given to babies under one year by health care workers and beyond that age they receive oral vaccine.
At the conclusion of this very informative meeting, we were led in song once again by a past president of the Rotary Club of Owerri, Chief M. J. Ahamba. This time the choice of song was “It’s a Small World” bringing home a very special message of being “brothers” and all very connected.
The Owerri Club graciously bought us lunch at Crunchers featuring good fast food and more good fellowship and camaraderie.
We have just finished a wonderful evening with our Owerri Rotary friends. One member of the club hosted us for a unique dinner. We began our adventure at the Point and Kill restaurant. You guessed it…you show a staff member which animal or fish you want and they kill it immediately. The choices include catfish, chicken, escargot, or a whole goat for US$190. But alas, we did not eat there. Instead, we “dined” at a nearby restaurant where we were offered some other Nigerian delicacies. As is traditional, a metal bowl filled with water was placed at our table. It is expected that you rinse only your right hand. Our appetizer was highly spiced cow parts including tail, leg, hoof and other parts unknown. Our entrée was pepper soup with a choice of fish, chicken or meat. Once again, this was too hot for some palates but many of our group enjoyed this traditional meal. Then a whole catfish came out … tasty, spicy and but surprisingly everyone was to eat their portion with their fingers … right hand only. A generous variety of beverages were offered including several brands of beer, soft drinks, water and wine coolers.
After a quick photo op, it was time to bid adieu to our Rotary friends. We sang together once more and embraced for a fond farewell.
Tomorrow off to Aba to see a major Rotary project and start immunizing some Nigerian children against polio.