Nigeria is an enigma. It is the most populous African country and is rich in natural resources. It also harbors extreme poverty and violence. In some ways, it is two nations – the resource rich Christian south and the impoverished Muslim north.

I recently spent two weeks there in my capacity as a board member of Mercy Corps. The first week was in Abuja, the capital city, which is a rarity in Africa because it is a relatively new, planned city that doesn’t suffer from the traffic ills that plague its counterparts throughout the continent. I met with U.S. and Nigerian government officials, program staff and beneficiaries and got a sense of Mercy Corps work in the country (Nigeria is the second largest program in the Mercy Corps portfolio – after Syria).

The second week was spent mostly in Borno state in the northeast of the country, the center of the conflict with Boko Haram. I flew into Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and home to Mercy Corps regional office for the northeast. Over 2 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Borno and Mercy Corps’ programming is focused on providing food, shelter and livelihoods for those folks, mostly through cash distributions.

While in Maiduguri, I met with Nigerian government officials who have general oversight of all NGO’s in the area. I also met the Shehu of Borno, the head of the ancient dynasty that used to rule the area. Now, he leads what is something of a parallel government, namely the Muslim religion. He has great influence with, though not outright power over, the secular government and is a big fan of Mercy Corps work in the area.

Because of the ongoing conflict, and because the government controls only about 15% of Borno state, roads are impassible without military escort, which Mercy Corps does not use. So I flew on a UN helicopter to one of the “deep field” sites at Ngala, on the Cameroon border to look at the work first hand. The first impression was of the desolation caused by Boko Haram as seen in this picture of just one of hundreds of completely destroyed villages.

Ngala itself has been decimated by the conflict, with virtually every building showing signs of gunfire and others simply flattened.

So Mercy Corps has organized “sanitation brigades” to clean debris (mostly mud) from drainage ditches and use that mud to make bricks for reconstruction of the many destroyed buildings. The workers receive a small cash stipend for their work and can sell the bricks they make.

Another program provides cash to qualified folks to enable them to buy food. Mercy Corps did a market assessment before starting any cash programming, both to insure there would be no disruption of the markets and to measure the effect of the cash infusions. That research indicates that markets have flourished as a result. This woman was one recipient of a cash grant.

We met with a group of community leaders to get their response to the situation. While they listed unmet needs, they were pleased with the work Mercy Corps has done. Note that the two women in the group sat separately.

Despite the devastation, I found this small tree and the protective barrier around it symbolic of the hope people expressed about where things are headed.

Ngala is home to two IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, one housing about 25,000 people, the other about 100,000. And now, many who were refugees (they crossed the border – mostly to Cameroon) are returning, so the needs are growing.

Besides a military base, the only real protection from Boko Haram the government has provided is a trench dug around the town (like many other towns – including Maiduguri – to make incursions more difficult. Unfortunately, the trench also limits residents’ access to their fields and other other resources.

This conflict in Borno is seen in the west as being based on religion. It is not. People there (even government officials) freely said the conflict began because of dissatisfaction with government – not providing basic services and being hugely corrupt. Mercy Corps own research bears out this observation. While religion does now play a role in the conflict, it was not the source of it.

So Nigeria should be a prosperous, conflict-free country. But until it reforms its top-down, corruption-endemic government, it will not achieve that goal.

Eats, Uncategorized

Oregon State Beavers vs. Nevada Wolf Pack

After doing this now for a couple of years, it is about time I covered a college game. Actually, I did go to the Oregon-Oregon State game at PK Park in Eugene last year, but it was so cold and wet that all I wanted to do for the next week was stay in my warm bed to recover.

So, through the good fortune of my brother getting a couple of tickets from his friend Jerry, Tom and I ventured to Corvallis to see the (occasionally) number 1 ranked Beavers take on the Wolf Pack of Nevada. Their stock fell last week after they dropped a series to Utah (their first series loss in the PAC 12 after 14 consecutive wins).

The Beavers play at Goss Stadium , most recently renovated in 1999, the oldest continuous ballpark in the country. It is right in the heart of the OSU campus, a compact venue with a capacity of 3,248 (though they’ve occasionally packed more in) and not a bad seat in the house. Our seats were in the second row behind home plate – sweet!

One side note – like so many parks below the major leagues, Goss has a turf field (everything but the pitcher’s mound). As a result, far fewer baseballs are used during a game because there’s no dirt (well, not much) to sully them. The uniforms are clean through the game too since the only way to dirty them is for someone to lose his way from first to third and slide into the mound.

OSU has a storied baseball program, with two national championships to its credit. One of the OSU boosters took us to the trophy room before the game to look at those trophies and other memorabilia.

We were concerned about the weather, since the night before had been cold and wet and the forecast was similarly gloomy. It wasn’t that bad, though – last year’s Oregon-OSU game still ranks as my coldest, wettest baseball experience.

That previous OSU-Nevada game ended in the bottom of the 11th when the Wolf Pack’s center fielder, Cole Krzmarzick (10 letters, too few vowels), dropped a fly ball off the bat of Adley Rutschman (more about him later) allowing the winning run to score. So Nevada had a score to settle this night.

They started down revenge road in the 4th inning with three home runs, an impressive display of power that put them up 5-0. Tom and I were at the left field pavilion to get some food and got to see all three dingers clear the fence. (Speaking of food, all you need to know is major league prices and high school quality – $5 for a soda – really???) OSU’s bats were largely silent until the 6th, when they scored a couple. They added another in the 7th (should have been 2, but a perfect throw from left cut down the runner at the plate).

Then came the wacky 8th. With two out and no runs in, a walk, pinch single and a walk loaded the bases. Then two different Nevada relievers walked four straight batters to give the Beavers a 7-5 lead.

Coach Pat Casey brings in his ace, Luke Heimlich, to finish them off in the top of the 9th. This is curious because Heimlich is scheduled to start a very tough series against Arizona this weekend. And what does he do? Gives up two runs to blow the save and tie the game!

The Beavs don’t score the the bottom of the 9th, so we’re off to extra innings, just like the night before. Heimlich comes out again, but this time he holds Nevada scoreless in the top of the 10th.

OSU has the top of their order coming up, so there’s hope. Steven Kwan leads off with a not-very-good bunt (he’s famous for his bunts, but this one was handled easily by the pitcher). One down. Andy Armstrong, filling in for the injured Nick Madrigal, is hitting well, so there’s still hope. He pops up. Two down. Then comes Adley Rutschman, 3 for 3 on the night with a walk, so there’s (a little) hope.

Rutschman is the grandson of Hall of Fame Linfield College football coach Ad Rutschman and initially went to OSU as a football kicker. Baseball intervened and Adley had a very creditable year in 2017 as the regular catcher, when OSU went to the College World Series (though that didn’t go so well for the team).

This year, again as the regular catcher and occasional first baseman, Rutschman is hitting the cover off the ball (current average .426) and he’s a switch hitter. How high in the draft do you think a switch hitting catcher with that batting average will go?

Anyway, Rutschman is up with two down, takes a couple pitches and then strokes a liner to center. Looks like Krzmarzmick can get this one and we go to the 11th. But the ball drops a little faster than expected and he gambles with a dive, but misses. The ball rolls to the fence, and when Rutschman sees that, he turns on the jets, loses his batting helmet around second and slides home on his belly with an inside-the-park home run to win the game!

There were no errors in the game. The pitching was sub-standard. But from a purely entertainment standpoint, this was one of the best games I’ve ever seen.