Friday, March 29, 2013

Closer...


One step closer to joining the sailing club. I had a lovely evening on the patio watching the boats race and got all ready to sign my application. The only problem is that I have no license plates, and without plates I can't have my car. And without my car I can't reach the club. So I'm holding off for now but I should be out on the water soon. Just in time too. Things are getting a bit more tense in Lagos (if you're following the Nigerian news you may have noticed) and I need to have a de-stressing option now more than ever. Happy Easter everybody, and especially to my friends and family back home. Enjoy the long weekend if you have one!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tourist Attractions of Lagos, Part 1: Lekki Conservation Center


Living in Nigeria has a lot of good points, but the restrictions can certainly be a struggle. That's why it's so nice to find places (or be shown places) where you can get away from the city for a little while and at least experience a bit of what the rest of the country might be like.
 
Lekki Conservation Center is one of the best places to do this. It is, as the name implies, in Lekki (on Victoria Island) and admission is cheap at 500 Naira/$2.50. They have some raised walkways through the forest and a trail through the drier 'savannah' part of the park. But best of all, they have animals! There are giant turtles and peacocks in the entry area and crocodiles and monkeys in the forest. I've never actually seen the crocodiles, but the monkeys don't disappoint.  So if you ever happen to be in the neighborhood (hey, it could happen!) check it out.

 I love that they are so optimistic about the likelihood of survivors.
 No reason for this picture, all the green just makes me happy.
 See? It's very low impact.
 Seriously the best picture I got of any of the monkeys. They were so close but they just won't stop moving. It's like trying to take a picture of my dog...
Tower-thing in the savannah part of the park - Warning! This part of the park will make you very hot, thirsty and dirty. And tired. But it's good if you're into that sort of thing...
As promised, giant turtle.

Unfortunately I didn't capture the crazy mating dance he was doing on video, but it was definitely a National Geographic moment.


The fate of my long-anticipated HHE*shipment

This picture singlehandedly explains why it takes a long time to get stuff in Nigeria. From what I've heard pretty much everything moves through the port and even with a very efficient port, the volume of shipping they're dealing with is a little insane.
Anyway, I think it's somewhere out there....
 
 
 Which is fine with me.
As long as it wasn't on that one.
 
*note for the uninitiated - HHE stands for household effects - this is the majority of my stuff (especially furniture) that I've been waiting to receive. Three or four months is about right, so I'm not getting too anxious, but a little birdie told me it might be a week or so away so I'm getting excited about the idea of redecorating my apartment a bit.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Groceries and music, my weekend in a nutshell

Happy lazy Sunday afternoon!

I just got back from the grocery store(s) with a huge pile of goodies. Fresh mango and papaya, limes and red bananas (just like regular bananas, but redder!), milk that looks like it might actually be white  this time, and a week's worth of cookies.  It's going to be a good week I can tell.

Here in Lagos grocery shopping is kind of a production. It takes several hours to accomplish - especially if you're visiting more than a couple stores and that's pretty much a must as most stores specialize more than in the US. If you want good bread you go to one, fruits and vegetables, a second, American quality meat a third, dairy products - well, then you just compromise and buy off-white milk... But you get the picture.  Each store also comes with it's own set of challenges. One of the best stores has basically zero parking. Another is located in what I can only describe as the Bermuda Triangle of Nigerian traffic jams, the next requires you to run the gauntlet of puppy sellers (way too much temptation for me), etc.

Another quirk is that it isn't really a good idea to use your credit or debit card here, so you carry all the cash with you. If you have a family of four then prepare to carry a small brick of bills every time you go (unmarked black briefcase optional).  This is mostly due to the fact that the largest denomination issued is the 1000 NAIRA note, equal to about 6-7 USD, but also food here is often as expensive, or more expensive than in the US. (Especially when staples like Lucky Charms cost $10 a box.)

Finally, there are lots of random differences that take some getting used to. You have to weigh your fruits and veggies before you get to the counter - dont't even think about just showing up and expecting the cashier to figure it out for you. That's totally crazy and unreasonable, obviously. You also need to show your receipt to the guards before you are allowed to leave. Heaven help the clueless foreigner who tosses their receipt somewhere into the abyss of their bags because this is apparently a beloved and necessary Nigerian grocery rite. I don't know that it has ever resulted in a reduction of petty theft, but I suppose it's the thought that counts.

Grocery shopping is always an adventure though and I tend to come back feeling successful. Now if I could just do something about that strangely colored milk...

In addition to grocery shopping, this weekend I went out to a St. Patrick's Day event. It was fun, but oh my goodness do they like it loud here. Also, they tend to play a lot more American oldies than Nigerian stuff which is unfortunate because the music scene here is actually very good.

On that note, below are the links to some songs that are popular right now in Nigeria. The first is technically from Ghana, but it's very catchy and pretty popular around the consulate. The second is a Nigerian singer. Enjoy!

Azonto

D'banj

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Work (Life)

I've been meaning for a while to talk more about my job and how I like working for the State Department, but obviously it's a bit of a sensitive topic. Most of my best stories are off limits, and I certainly wouldn't want to air dirty laundry on a website.  On the other hand, I always found it strange when bloggers who were so active prior to joining suddenly fell off the face of the earth. I'm sure people are just working hard and busier than normal, but the end result is that there isn't as much advice and information about the first few weeks and months at post, so I thought it would be worthwhile to get my observations down on paper. (Well, virtual paper anyway.)

So what's it like working here?

First - it's busy.

Second - it's incredibly busy.
I naively expected that once I got a real job I would work a relaxed 9-5 and cook myself dinner and take up hobbies, etc. That hasn't so much been the case. A 10 hour days is much more standard here and if I didn't have transportation constraints I'd certainly be tempted to work more. Even with the extra time to get stuff done the pace of work is pretty fast. There's always more in the to-do pile than I can finish at the end of the day, which is hard for a list-checker like myself to handle.

Third - it's an exercise in multi-tasking.
In addition to my consular work (which I expected) I also have several portfolios - as do all the other officers - which was very unexpected. While the basic consular work is fairly straightforward the portfolio work always seems to be more complex and checking an item off that list involves an awful lot more legwork. In addition to the portfolios there are also committees (and lots of them). You don't have to join a committee, but you know - you kind of do. And not just one either.  The Fourth of July alone has four committees dedicated to it and they're already meeting. This is apparently the stuff that  entry-level officers need in order to stand-out for their EERs (employee evaluations) so there's a temptation to take on a lot outside of your normal portfolio. This helps explain how such a simple job could make me so busy.

Fourth - life is just more complicated.
There is the regular way of getting things done and then there is the special US government way. (And then there is the additional US government in Nigeria way.) This means that if I want to spend money on the weekend (generally I do) I need to get a check cashed at the cashier's office during the week. If I need to go to the grocery store (also usually part of the plan) or to a party or restaurant or, well anywhere, I need to put in a request in the system. (Thankfully this is just until my car arrives.) If I want to hang pictures in my apartment, that's another request. And so on. There are reasons for these things and I certainly appreciate all the services we receive here, but it has been an adjustment to figure out how to work the system.

I certainly don't want to make it sound like I'm having a bad time here. I still really love Lagos and I think it's the perfect first post. I just wanted to give a sense of what the day-to-day is like and offer a few excuses for why my posts of been a little spotty since I got here. I promise to post some pictures next time I get around to it!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things that make me smile

I needed a little pick me up today after an embarrassing and rather painful run-in with an overheated Pop Tart.

So without further ado I present you with my newest purchase for the apartment.

I'm using it as a blanket, but it works pretty well as a tablecloth too. It doesn't exactly scream Nigeria, but I figure I've got two years to purchase a tribal mask, so there's no rush.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Meanwhile in Lagos (2)

First: The cardboard cut-outs on top of the mall - I need one of those for my balcony...

Second: These are the gummy treats I got at the movies. I thought they tasted funny. It was only when the lights came back on that I saw what the flavor was supposed to be. Also, who ever heard of a wine called "hock"?