Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pisa and Florence

Ok, here begins the time-honored tradition of posting vacation photos for a month straight. Bear with me, these will all be completely out of order. Hence Florence/Pisa, which came on day 6 of the trip, is going first. Because I say so.


Unfortunately for us, time was short and Italy was jam-packed with can't-miss sights so some things had to be a little 'condensed'. We ended up spending a combined total of about 4 hours in Pisa and Florence but they didn't disappoint.

Pisa was surprisingly big.

The tower was actually very beautiful and impressively non-vertical. I'm assuming you can google that one, and all my best pictures have us in them, so instead, here's some goofy tourist going the extra mile for the perfect shot.

If you have time I think Pisa is worth a few days visit. We stayed about ten minutes. (Americans are very efficient tourists.)

We sped off to Florence next to see the David by Michaelangelo. No pictures are allowed inside, but again, I get the feeling you know what statue I'm talking about. It's housed in a relatively small and nondescript museum amidst the gajillion or so art galleries and museums scattered around the city.

I would definitely recommend a visit.

Next we drove past what appeared to be the Duomo (gorgeous) on our way to the Ponte Vecchio. The drive through the center of Florence was utter chaos and I don't recommend it for anyone who values their sanity. Why don't they just use road signs? They seem to do the trick pretty nicely in the States...

Anyway, it was very, very crowded and very, very beautiful. Apparently three similar bridges were destroyed in WWII. It's basically a bridge with buildings on top. See?

Really cool buildings though.


Ah, Florence. 


Stay tuned for Italy part II...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Oh the humanity!

Clearly, it has been awhile since I took a vacation in the developed world. Often when I travel I'm one of just a few non-locals around, whether I'm riding the public bus, navigating the markets, or playing photographer. I'm used to standing out and being a novelty. As a tourist in Rome though, I'm just one of the horde. And what a horde it is! Several times now my parents and I have been more impressed with the crowds than the actual sights. (The crowd at the Trevi fountain was especially amazing.)

As I get used to being just another face in the crowd I'm learning an important lesson - humility. There is nothing more humbling than doing the slow tourist shuffle in the middle of a herd of tourists. And you certainly can't walk around feeling classier or more culturally aware - I think I've seen more people in designer dresses than fanny packs and just about everybody speaks more Italian than I do. This is the proverbial 'big pond' where I discover that I am in fact a very small fish.

Still, it's been a great experience and a real change from my typical developing world haunts. So in honor of my millions of new tourist friends I present the crowds of Italy: a photo journey. the Spanish steps, St. Peter's basilica, Vatican City, then Colusseum. the Vatican Museums - Other than the scaffolding it was wall-to-wall with tour groups.
...riding the ferry at Cinque Terre

...goofing off at the tower of Pisa

...and shopping in Florence.

Sadly I cropped the crowds out of my pictures from the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain and wasn't allowed to use my camera at the Sistine Chapel or with 'The' David statue, so you'll just have to use your imagination.  

While we were clearly not the only people who had the brilliant idea to see Italy this spring, it's easy to see why the crowds come. Italy impressed little 'I'm-too-cool-to-vacation-in-the-developed-world' me.

Pictures of something other than crowds to follow.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

24 hours

Isn't a little crazy how you can go from this... this less than 24 hours?

Other things that are crazy? 
*super fast Internet
*paying with my debit card
*drinking the water right from the tap (and not boiling it first)
*going for walks
*taking taxis! 
*being cold
*people stopping at stop lights and stop signs

I could probably go on forever. Clearly, I am having some trouble readjusting to the developed world, but it sure has been a good time. I've been in Rome for a day now and I have been busy seeing the sights and eating everything in sight. 

I'll update some more if I get the chance, I am on vacation after all.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Prior to bidding on Lagos I remember searching the Overseas Briefing Center (at FSI) for information about my potential new home. There wasn't much information available, but I distinctly remember a document called '8 reasons to bid on Lagos' but the tone was more '8 reasons Lagos isn't so bad'. While I appreciate that the document was written for a broad audience of people (and that I've only been here for 4.5 months so far) I think there are tons of reasons to bid on Lagos - not only for what it isn't, but for what it is.
So on that note, 8 reasons to bid Lagos high - in installments because I have a day job:
First, Lagos is the land of possibility. The huge supply of labor means that there is always someone around who can figure out what you want done and make it happen. Back in the US I've had tailors tell me that it would be cheaper to buy a new coat than have the lining in mine replaced. Same with shoes, bags, etc. Here, it's not only possible but cheap. I love my little red sandals (below) and got them fixed on the street outside my building for about 2 dollars - and judging from the look on the cobbler's face I got ripped off.  It doesn't just apply to repairs either. Do you want a DJ for your barbeque? It's totally possible - and dirt cheap. Want a maid for a day to clean your house before your parents show up? 20 bucks should cover it. Want only two batteries instead of the whole pack? Why not? Want someone to deliver a case of coke in bottles (because those are more fun) directly to your door and return the bottles after? Go for it! Want the entire season of Walking Dead for 4 dollars? ....okay, maybe there are some limits to what you can/should do, but you get my point.
Second, food. True, Nigeria isn't known for its cuisine yet, but there are a few things that I'm going to really miss when I leave here. Spicy fish pepper soup - so spicy it almost cut off my airflow the first time I tried it, but so amazing that I keep going back for more; Suya (hard to explain, but a form of spicy meat on a stick), Akara - balls of some kind of corn dough that almost cause a riot with both the American staff and the Nigerian staff when they're served in the cafeteria; jollof rice; and don't even get me started on the fruits and vegetables. It's mango season here and did you know there are multiple types of mangos? Neither did I. But they come in different sizes (from snack-size to ginormous) and colors. My new favorite fruit is the red bananas. They're so much better than regular bananas that I don't know if I'll be able to switch back at the end of my tour. I've also been loving the pineapples, avocados, papaya, and surprising good grapes. (Who knew they had grapes in Nigeria?)

Ok - that's it for today. I'm off for vacation later this week so I'm afraid it might be radio silence for a week or two. Odabo! (good-bye in Yoruba)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Wind in my sails

(No this is not about me joining the sailing club.)

Happy Mothers' Day to everyone but especially to my mom. I'm not sure what percentage of people who read this blog have actually met my mother, but if you haven't met her you really should. Yes, I typically write about my adventures (with work, food, travel, etc) in random corners of the globe. But you see, my mother is the person who instilled that adventurous spirit in me.

I was always a bit confused by the stereotype that people who travel or live abroad must be running away from something. And Mom has certainly joked that both her children had to get as far away as possible when they graduated. But on the countrary, I've found that it's only with my mother's love, encouragement, and example that I was brave enough to set out on this road in the first place.

From the time we were children my mother always encouraged us to try new things and explore new cultures. She hired me a Spanish tutor because the rural school we attended didn't teach languages to elementary students. She and my father sent us to language camp and carted us off to see the world when I'm sure they could have saved themselves some stress and money leaving us at home. She opened our home to an exchange student and even today has a Chinese language-buddy that she meets with to practice English and share our culture. From her I learned the incredibly important lesson that travel is fun, other cultures are interesting, and people - no matter where they come from - are all worth getting to know. When I said I was going to try for an AIP* job (don't worry grandma, I didn't get it) she didn't bat an eyelash and when I found out I was headed to Lagos she was celebrating with me.

Without her behind me, I wouldn't have been able to sail very far from home. And while it kills me that we spend so much time apart, I have the lessons she taught me with me wherever I go. And the occasional great pleasure of introducing her to the places I've called home over the years.

So here's to you Mom!

I love you  and can't wait to see you soon,

Your daughter

*AIP stands for Afghanistan/Iraq/Pakistan

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Control Officer

A few lessons that I've learned so far:

  • Never assume someone else is handling things. They are not. 
  • Communicate, a lot. You are the hub through which information flows (or becomes diverted into a useless sidetrack). Keep the information flowing and err on the side of too much communication if you aren't sure.
  • To heck with the rainforest. Print two of everything.
  • Verify, verify, verify. Can the hotel restaurant handle dinner for four? Does the shuttle follow the same schedule as every other day this year? Will people show up for their scheduled meetings? There's only one way to know.
  • Use your resources and accept help from friends, but remember to be generous with the gratitude because it takes a village...
  • Remember how awesome you did (and completely forget about that meeting you accidentally canceled) when EER time rolls around.
So as you can see, I'm learning a lot from my first stint as control officer and frankly I'm enjoying it a lot so far. Maybe it appeals to my obsessive-compulsive side. (I knew there was a use for all that crazy somewhere!) And the flurry of activity is, admittedly, great for my ego. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some important and interesting proof-reading of the schedule to do.(Wouldn't want to accidentally cancel any more meetings.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Tough times

If you're wondering why I haven't written in a while, I can only say that April was every bit as challenging and a great deal more traumatic, than I imagined it would be. There was all the extra work of course, and I got sick twice, which slowed me down. But out of the blue our little consulate family lost one of our own and everything else just faded into the background. I don't really want to talk about the who and the how and the unanswerable why of that tragedy, at least not on such a public forum. So please forgive me if it seems like I'm glossing it over.

It's with all the weight of the past month hanging over me that I look forward to my first break from post.  At the end of the month (my fifth at post) I'm taking my first leave days and seeing my family on vacation. And unlike my typical self, I don't care at all where we go or what we do. I just want to hold my family close and spend a day not worrying about a thing.

And on a much more positive note, thanks to all my buddies here at post who make every day worthwhile. The people really do make the post and in that regard, Lagos might as well be Disneyworld for all the awesomeness floating around.

Ok. Enough seriousness for one night. Hasta mañana from nairaland.