Letters from Teresa/Ozioma

Letters from Teresa/Ozioma

Ozioma Hope for Wellness USA Corporation

Love and Prayers from Nigeria


March 1, 2007


Hello my dear friends and family,


       I think of you often.  I am having difficulty transferring my letter and pictures on my laptop to the computers here.  So I will just type it all over and send the pictures at another time.  This is the 4th time I have attempted to send you all this e-mail.  It keeps deleting before I send it.  I was 8 hours on the computer yesterday  and now am trying again.. 


     I finally arrived at last to Lagos Airport in Africa, on Sunday 2/18 around 7:30 a.m., 1:30 E.S.T.  The plane trip went smoothly.  We then took a small plane to Nigeria.  We were greeted by Father Paul's sister and his friend Father Martin.  We drove through rough dirt roads about 2 hours to IMO State.The tribes I am around are deep into the area away from major towns. The land is made up of forests of which about 80% (by my observation) are palm trees, filled in with avacado, banana, coconut, mango,orange trees etc.and tall vegatation. The dirt roads are pretty rough and are used for "trecking" (walking short  distances, walking (walking long distances), motorcycles, cars and bikes.  I think it will be awhile before I attempt to drive in the towns as it is quite a scene and very congested with people and vehicles.  I would say it is more challenging to drive here than in N.Y.  I will attempt soon to learn to drive a motorcycle or bike so as to get to the villages that are too far to walk.  Along the roads "trecking" are men, woman (many pregnant or carrying a child on their back)  and children of all ages; many of whom are carrying on their heads, shoulders or in the arms fruits/vegatables, water jugs, baskets, branches etc.  They walk long distances daily.

     I was soon to experience firsthand the hospitality and love Father Paul said would emenate from his people, he in no way exaggerated this truth to me..As we drove through the villages, I was continuosly acknowledged by waving hands, smiling faces, exclamations of - "NWANYI OCHA" (white woman) "WELCOME" and children running towards the jeep.  I was told that the village people knew I had come as a missionary and were happy I had arrived.  I am easy to spot as I am the ONLY WHITE PRSON in all the surrounding villages.

     The first stop we made was to St. Mary's Church in Umuiti.  Sunday mass had just ended.  As I got out of the car and was waiting for direction of where to go next, I looked towards and open window in the church.  There peering out of the window were women of all ages singing and waving to me.  I entered he church and was immediately surrounded by women and children, hundreds of them,greting me with words of welcome, hugging me,kissing me and dancing me around to be greeted by all.  I have never experienced this kind of love from such a multitude of people whom had just met me.  The spirit of love among these simple people was overwhelming and touched me profoundly, tears of joy flowed from my eyes and I was drawn into their love.

     The village I am living in is Umunakanu.  This village and the surrounding villages are in IMO STATE (about 2 hours by car).  IMO STATE is made up of about 27 local government areas.  Each village has a chief who is similar to our mayors.  The area I am living in is called Ehime/MBANO.  I am temporarily staying at  one of  the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy Convents.  God has a sense of humor as the mortuary for the village is on the grounds of the convent.  And for those of you who do not know, my father and brothers are morticians.  It made me laugh.

      I was greeted warmly by Sister Mariam Angela, Sister Ebere, and Sister Mary Oninyechukwu and Teresa, a young woman who cooks for the sisters.  (Teresa has a good name!).  The sisters would remind you of the sisters from the Sound of Music, even their convent would remind you of that movie, as there are iron bars and gates covering the windows and doors.  (This is to protect from bandits).  I was tired and after dinner, which consisted of rice, beans and bread, I was brought to my room.  Sister Ebere filled two pails of water for me to wash up with.  I had a restful sleep and slept later than I had planned, missing morning mass.

     Breakfast consisted of  fried yams (similar to french fries),  bread and tea.  After breakfast we were driven about 15 minutes away to the next town, Umuezeala/Owerri, where another one of these sisters convents are. This convent is newly built and opened this past December.  In the last month a cyber cafe (internet cafe) and clinic has opened. Here I was introduced to Sister Paraclecta Egwuonwu, the Superior Matron of the order.  She has graciously opened up her convent for me to stay in and has welcomed me with much hospitality.

     Both of these convents have a well and a generator.  The generator is turned on for a few hours at night so I am able to charge my laptop and read by a light, after which I can read by candlelight.  The food is prepared outside, in a kettle, over a fire and where the water is boiled so it is suitable for drinking. I am tolerating the food.   It is bland, alot of starchy foods and fish are consumed.  I don't ask too many questions of what I am eating, especilly after seeing the meat and some of the food prepared at the  open market.  I try no to think of what I may be eating.  So far only MoiMoi (made from corn) and garri which is made up of cassava (similar to yam) grinded and fried. It is served with a soup   Both of these are challenging for me to eat.  There is something in them that I do not care for, so I swallow it down with water or eat it with a bite of banana or carrot to hide the taste.   This is what I used to do when I ate liver as a child.   My room has a bed and a toilet, and for that I am grateful.  I have a small sink that I use to wash my face and brush my teeth (with bottled water).  I bathe and wash my clothes using a bucket of cold water, the cool water is welcoming as it is so hot here.  

      The convent has a school on the property in which the secondary grade school children, ages around 13-16 board (about 280 female students)and the primary come daily (about 250 children, male and female).  The boarding school children spend much time in prayer and attend daily mass.  They have chores assigned to them around the convent and have scheduled study time.  They have a full day.  I taught English last week to two of the classes.  I will be teaching at the school weekly.  I was supposed to be teaching now, but the time went away from me as I typed.  I will see how Sister Ebere reacts to me missing the classes- Oh Oh!

      I am well and very happy, the adjustment was very easy for me.  I have a feeling of contentment and peace here, it feels natural to be here.  I do miss my children and family

back East, but I feel in someway the void of my children and family over the years, has given me the ability to be away physically now, for I carried them within my heart and prayers over the years and now, I carry them here with me, in Nigeria.  And of course, my dear friends, I miss you too.  You hold a special place in my heart and prayers as you carried me through the heart wrenching and lonely years of which I believe I could not have endured without you and God walking with me.  You are my angels!!!

     The weather is as expected, very hot!!!!!  I have never sweated so much, but it is bearable.  I am told it is the dry season and the rainy season will be coming shortly, which will bring the mosquitoes.  I had the honor of meeting Father Paul's mother and looking at his family pictures.  Father Paul is a gift from God to me.  I attended the first Sunday mass with him which he celebrated.  It brought me great happiness to see the love he has for his people and the love his peole have for him. Please keep him in your prayers, as he lives in the U.S. and I'm sure he is lonely for his homeland!

      These past two weeks my days have consisted of awakening at 5a.m., attending prayer with the sisters and then attending morning mass either in the chapel at the convent, St. Therese's Church  or St Christopher's Church.  We "treck" in silence to St. Therese's at dusk to the morning sounds of nature awakening. It is very peaceful and calming.  We are driven to St. Christophers Church in their station wagon which is also used as an ambulance.  The church is in darkness except for 3 small candles on the alter table.  It is a feeling of stillness and sacredness.The reverence and joy celebrated by the congregation is uplifting.  The singing is beautiful and their voices echo throughout the church. Their deep faith in God is evident to me, not only by the multitude that attend mass, walking many miles through unpaved roads, but also in the way they worship and bear their hardships  In all things, their suffering and their joy, they bring praise and glory to God.  Their faith is the center of their life. Morning mass usually lasts approxiametely 1hour and Sunday mas  approxiametly 3 hours.  The time goes very quickly during mass, I don't want it to end. 

     After mass we return to the convent and then begin our day in the communtiy.  I have gone into the surrounding villages, getting familiar with the lifestyle and greeting the people.  They are farmers amd can be seen out in the land under the scourching heat, preparing amd gathering their crops. This includes men, women and children of all ages.The suffering is beyond words.  They "treck" many miles carying their resources gathered to bring to market.   Water is either collected from the  polluted streams or from the sisters well.  There is no electricity in the villages except for the wealthy.  It is common to see starving children with distended abdomens as I walk around.

     I have visited one of the motherless homes owned and run by the sisters in Ahaiaeke/Umauahaia.  These children are here either due to the death of their mother (as the father is unable to care for them), are found on the roads homeless, or are babies out of wedlock.  They will stay in the home until they reach a certain age, in which then either the father may come and bring them home or they are addopted by a family. I could see these babies and young children are being cared for with much love and devotion.  Caring for suffering children are one of the vows these sisters have taken.    

        I have spent much time at the convent where Sister Paraclecta resides getting familiar with how the cyber cafe and clinic is run, so as to fill in as needed.  Emeka, the instructor for the internet, has been a immense help to me.  He has been trying to make my laptop compatible with the computers in the cafe, so that I will bea able to send my e-mails with the pictures I take, straight from my laptop.  So far we have not been able to make it work, but Emeka assures me he will be able to do it.  God has opened up many doors for me, blessings me with conviences I did not anticipate.  The cafe is one, as it is a short driving distance from where I live, verses 1 hour to the cafe in the town.. I will be able to send e-mails frequently.

       I have spent time at the clinic observing the nurse Mrs. Augusta Onuoha and learning the treatment protocol.  The nurse sees the patients and is able to  prescribe treatment and medication. There is a lab on the premises, so blood and urine tests can be read in a timely manner . It is a challenge to get people to come to the clinic, as they have little means to pay for treatment. 

     When I arrive in the morning to the convent mentioned above, there is usually women and children gathered, in front of the convent, waiting to fill their water jugs.  I spend time playing with the children.  We have become good friends.  I give and receive many hugs and kisses. They teach me Igbo and I teach them songs and clapping games. They laugh all the time at my poor pronunciation of their language.  It is a difficult language to pronounce, but I am learning  "obere obere", small small (a little at a time)! Of course it doesn't help that I did poorly in language when in school.

     One morning I was awoken by what I thought sounded like gunfire.  When I asked the sisters what the sound was they confirmed that it was gunfire from the mortuary announcing a burial procession was to begin.  I have attened two burials here.  The burials (funerals) are quite different from America.  It is cause for  celebration.  The grieving family provides entertainment, with music, bands, food, days of celebration (depending on the area) in appreciation for the communites condolences.  The body, when it leaves the mortuary, is bought to the family's home for a brief while and then to the church for mass. The mass is about 1 hour then from the church the body is brought back to the home of the family, where the body is burried.  Friends and community members come to offer their condolences at the church and/or the home of the family.  Gifts of consulation from the community are given to the family. 

     Sister Paraclecta surprised me the other day with some Nigerian material and sent me with Anthonia (who works at the convent) to a seamstress in the open market, to have some traditional Nigerian wear made for me. The traditional wear for women is either long skirts or long dresses and a headcovering, wrapped in many styles.  I was happy to wear my outfit to church with Father Paul on Sunday.  Father Paul introduced me to the congregation and called me to the front of the church to say a few words.  While I was speaking my headwrap kept falling to the side, which made the congregation laugh.  I guess I never knew how much I move my head when I speak.  The Nigerian women hold their heads erect and still probably due to balancing and carrying items on their heads as they "treck" along the roads

     I anticipate I will divide my week with days spent in the village, interacting with the people, doing education, assessing their medical needs and spending time with the village children: working in the motherless home, the clinic, the cyber cafe, in the school teaching English and whereever else there is a need.  As you can understand there is so much need in every aspect of their life, so my days will be easily filled.

     Famine, extreme poerty, contaminated water, hostile climate and life-threatening diseases are the "crosses" these village people bear on a daily basis. Suffering, undeserved and unnecessary, could be lessoned with good health care, medicine, clean water and education.  When I began my journey to Nigeria, I met a women from the Ugbo tribe at the airport in Maryland.   She described her people as the "forgotten"  and the suffering.  This I am witness to and it is heartwrenching!

     I have so much more I could write to you, but I will close here for now.  Thank you for all your love, support and prayers for myself and the people of Igboland..  Your prayers carry me daily. You are in my prayers always.


         As I walk and live among these "forgotten" and oppressed people of Igboland

There is severe poverty and grave suffering

There is scant resources and contaminated water

There is immense hunger/malnutrition and deadly diseases

There is a high birth rate and a high mortality rate

There is the the cry of the poor

And yet

There is something beyond what the human eye and ear can percieve walking with these people

It is a "felt-sense"

It is their joy

It is their will to live and persevere, despite all odds

It is their celebration of life

It is their celebration of death

It is their "richness" of faith

It is their "spirit"

              "The Spirit of God"  

I am humbled

I am brought to my knees

For truely I am on "Holy Ground"




My mailing address is

 Teresa Thomas Kostuk-Ozioma

 St. Vincent De Paul Hospital




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