Sunday, April 28, 2013

To Do

Okay readers. Get out your pen and paper, I'm giving you an assignment. I want you to hold me to the following list of awesome things that I'm planning to do in the next two years (or 1 and 2/3 years now). I fully expect a barrage of angry emails come January 2015 if I don't make it through the list - or at least 90% of it (still an A- after all).

I, while living in the very awesome city of Lagos, Nigeria, and being of sound mind and body, do hereby solemnly swear to accomplish, to the best of my ability, the following:
  • Learn to sail
  • Make homemade cheese
  • Visit at least four other African countries (the short list so far is including Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa)
  • Get an article or photograph published - anywhere
  • Grow something from a seed to the point that I can eat it (assuming of course that the something is an edible plant)
  • Learn to play at least a few songs on the piano
  • Read at least six more books by African, especially Nigerian, authors (currently reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, next up The Famished Road - Ben Okri, also want to read another Chinua Achebe, another by Ngozi and some Wole Soyinka)
  • Learn how to cook a Nigerian dish, preferably either Fish Pepper Soup or Suya
  • Conduct an interview in Yoruba (and bonus points for an interview in Igbo)
  • Go to an Eyo festival (see picture below)
  • Go to Calabar, Abuja, or both

Picture from here by the National Mirror Online

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tourist attractions of Lagos, part 2: Tropicana Beach Resort

Happy Saturday!

Part 2 of my mini tourism guide is about a beach resort we visited last weekend. It's an hour (or two depending on traffic) from town and it feels like another world.

So without further ado, the Tropicana Resort:

First thing to note, it's kind of surprising that Lagos isn't just swamped with beach resorts because the coast of Nigeria is gorgeous and except within the city it's still pretty untouched. There is 'bar beach' which deserves a post of it's own - it's basically a gritty, dirty stretch of sand that functions as a sidewalk/home/gang hangout/church revival locale, etc. Not good for swimming for many, many reasons. There's Tarkwa Bay which is ok for swimming but a bit polluted and jam packed with people. I'll give that one a post of it's own too. Other than that your beach options are either further out, or privately owned.

All of this background is necessary to explain how in a country with so much poverty this beach resort can charge a $30 entry fee per person and still receive customers.  Yes, it was breathtakingly expensive, but they do try to provide some services for the price. All the little huts in the picture below have different activities and the property itself is strewn with random rope swings, horses to ride, nature walks, limbo bars, sand volleyball courts, etc.

Of course no one used all that (except me, I rode a horse!) since the main attraction is the water.

There was no trash, plenty of palm trees, and brilliant blue water. Just about perfect.

We spent a lovey, lazy day sleeping/reading/swimming and repeating.

You'll notice the lack of people in these pictures. That's what you're really paying $30 a person for. At Tarkwa Bay it's hard to see the beach for all the touts trying to sell you poorly made crafts and peanuts (ironically, no one sells water for when the peanuts have you dying of thirst...). At the private resort no one is allowed to shove wooden carvings in your face in the middle of a nap, or just stand aimlessly in front of you with a pile of cloth on the off-chance that despite your numerous protestations that you don't want to buy (and would love to be left alone) you suddenly decide to start investing heavily in tourist swag. There are definitely days in Nigeria when I would pay this much (or more) to be left alone so this kind of place is a nice resource.

Several little huts sell food. It was bad and incredibly over priced ($18 a plate - as much as the fancy places in town but the food was more 'cafeteria-chic'). If I went back I'd bring a sack lunch.

I swear it wasn't cloudy for more than a few minutes, but I guess that's when I felt compelled to take all my beach pictures... naturally.


So there you have it, if you have the cash I recommend at least one day at a private beach in Lagos, just to escape from it all. Also, you should bid on Lagos, because it's the best. ;)

*And to the members of the 171st who just found out their first post is Lagos yesterday, congratulations! You're going to love it here. I promise.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I swore it wouldn't happen to me and that I wouldn't leave my fellow officers drowning in work just so I could spend a day being sick and useless. (If one of us is off the line, the remaining officers have to shoulder the burden, doing visas interviews for up to 8 hours straight on a bad day.) But oh my goodness. After a long night of nonstop misery I decided that recovery might be my full time job today.

See that cracker on the table? That's my morning project. Retrieve the cracker, consume the cracker. Baby steps people.

And this brings me to my morning rant. Why do we need to be so over scheduled that officers feel guilty taking a sick day when they're super sick? What happened to work-life balance?

I know - it's all about budgets, staffing priorities, etc. But just so it's been said, we need a little support on the line, especially given that consular - in a very real sense - brings home the bacon. Do the math if you don't believe me. We bring in $160 per interview, times between 120 and 150 interviews per officer. Every day. On second thought, thank you State Department for this very expensive sick day. I'll use it wisely.

Now back to that cracker...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Look who finally decided to show up!

That's right, it's el coche. Picking up my car was a saga that consumed much of my weekend, but it doesn't even matter because now I've got wheels and I'm (very) ready to use them.

I went after work on Friday to pick it up with a very patient and helpful friend. My battery was dead after 4 months of sitting, so the warehouse guys gave me a jump to get it going. Unfortunately, it was also completely out of gas. (Just a note to future officers, don't leave you car completely on E no matter who says it's a good idea.) Long story short, I got to have my first pushing-the-car-through-Lagos experience on the way from the warehouse to the gas station. We filled it up but the battery was still a bit touchy, so the warehouse guys put it on life support overnight. The extra TLC apparently did the trick because on Saturday morning it was delivered, a little bit dirty but otherwise fine, at my door. Best day ever!

So far I have been all over town with my little silver buddy, showing him off. My driver should be back from vacation next week, but in the meantime my friends have been happy to help me take it for a spin. Most of them are in the same boat with the lack of transportation thing.

Next week who knows? Seafood restaurant? Beach trip? Jazz club? The world - or the city at any rate - is my oyster.

Other happenings from this weekend include a barbecue, two art gallery openings, and the obligatory hour spent at the pool 'getting some fresh air'. It's a good life...

Pictured: my car, and a random shot of sunset over the port

Monday, April 8, 2013

It was the best of times...

...and not really the worst of times, but a kind of difficult time.

April is a month that I can already tell will be making me crazy. It's definitely going to include a lot of working. Not only do we have zero holidays this month, but we're 'scheduled up' in the NIV section (that means we took on more work, on purpose - why did we do that again?) so each day we end up interviewing til 2:30 or, like today, til 3:15. If that doesn't sound late to you then you have never spent 7 straight hours asking a never-ending line of people the same question. On top of the 'day job', I'm also the opening officer for a week - that's the person who gets to the office at the ungodly hour of 6 am to open it for the local staff - and I'm the duty officer.

The duty officer is the person who is on-call after hours. Calls from American citizens (even at 2 am on a Tuesday) have to get answered by somebody after all. So everyone at the consulate rotates through the job. I've already handled several calls and I can only say one thing to American citizens. Be cautious online. There's a reason Nigeria has a reputation for scams. I've heard that scammers in Nigeria make 50-60 million dollars a year off their victims and I believe it. Don't let it happen to you.

Anyway, with all that work to do I've been a little worried that April would be a rough month for me, but there are two very good things happening that promise to make my life a whole lot easier pretty soon.

#1 I have license plates!!! I cannot express how much this little fact is going to change my life except to say that, if I want to leave my house, and visit someplace that isn't a short walk away, or just leave the house for no particular reason, I just CAN. I don't have to schedule in advance and get permission and jump through any bureaucratic hoops. I will never take freedom of movement for granted again.

#2 My stuff is coming! And by stuff I mean my household effects shipment. Technically 2/3 of it is here already, but those boxes are being held hostage until the final box comes. I expect it to come in the next week or two, at which point I can finally decorate my apartment, sleep on my own sheets, read my own books, watch my movies, eat off my own plates, and all that other good stuff.

So here's hoping that the rest of my duty week is uneventful, and that the good stuff continues to get me through the rough times.

And on a separate and much more somber note, if you haven't heard about the 25-year-old Foreign Service Officer killed in Afghanistan this week then I urge you to read Secretary Kerry's remarks or some of the other pieces that officers have written in tribute. I don't have anything profound to say about her, but her family and friends are in my thoughts this evening.