Sunday, June 30, 2013

6 months

Despite being a very 'Peace Corps type of person' I never joined the Peace Corps. I didn't even apply. It wasn't so much because I worried that I would be sent to deepest, darkest Africa (clearly). Or that I worried I would miss my family and creature comforts. After all, I've lived overseas a number of times. I've slept under mosquito nets without AC, I washed clothes in a bucket, I lived without TV, internet and other Americans. Hell, I even made toast over a candle. I definitely know how to rough it.

No, what scared me was the whole commitment thing. I didn't like the idea of living in the same place for two whole years (!) Now, of course, I've had to make peace with the idea of spending a mini-lifetime in some far flung corner of the globe. And as I hit the 6 month at post mark and realize that my tour is already a quarter finished, I concede that 2 years doesn't seem so bad after all.

On the path of adjusting to culture shock (see below) I think I'm right on track at the 'at home' stage. I can't say that I've spent this time adjusting to Nigerian culture exactly, but rather to life in Lagos*. Around March-early May I was definitely at my low point at post. We were understaffed, my friends had either left already or were in the process of leaving, I'd been carless for three months, and several really tough things happened in the consulate community.























But now? Now life is pretty good and I feel 100% settled in. I am the most experienced person on the line (at work) pretty much all the time - and I can actually answer people's questions now! I never thought the day would come... I run into people I know all over the place - at the grocery store, at restaurants and clubs, at parties. My apartment is as decorated as it's going to get and I've finally started tapping into the stash of consumables I brought. Best of all, my schedule is pretty full these days with invitations and events to keep me out of trouble.

That doesn't mean I'm bored with Lagos yet - I'm still finding new places to explore and new opportunities to take advantage of - but it does mean I've stopped being a tourist in my own home.

I'll try not to let this lead to boring blog posts, though you have to cut me some slack too. I don't have any kids or cute pets to tide me over when nothing 'exotic' is happening.

So here's to 6 months of life in Lagos, may the next 18 been just as sweet, challenging and surprising.



 *I should explain that compared to all my other expat experiences we don't get a great deal of exposure to local culture here. Part of it is security related. We're allowed to travel to about .05% of Nigeria freely because of the risk of kidnappings and other violence. Part of it is also just due to the fact that Lagos (especially the part that we're limited to) is full of the wealthiest Nigerians - who have often lived and studied abroad - and other expatriates. If typical expats live in a bubble, it's even more true here in Lagos. So when I talk about adjusting to Lagos it's more about adjusting to things like traffic, work hours, internet speed (or lack thereof) and movement restrictions than to true cultural differences.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Rome

Ok, I admit, I clearly do not have the free time to really do my Italy vacation pictures justice, so I'm just going to wrap them up with this one last post about our time in Rome.

We spent three days in Rome and saw pretty much everything on the beaten path and a few nice little highlights off it as well.

I don't feel the need to narrate the pictures below because they're pretty self-explanatory. Long story short, we saw: the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum, the Borghese park and museum, the Spanish steps, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, the Vatican (both the museums and St. Peter's), and lots of little neighborhoods and restaurants along the way. It took me about two days to stop giggling at the accent. (What can I say? It all sounded like a pizza commercial to me.)

Rome really blew me away after Lagos because it was so green and so walkable. Also, after living 5 months in Africa I found Rome (in May no less) a bit cold. Also, I really love the Italian architecture. Someday I should get a little apartment with a flower-covered balcony and maybe some handsome shutters that I can throw open when I want to be dramatic.

I've always told myself that I am not a 'Western-Europe' person, but this trip definitely sold me on the possibility of someday serving a tour in Italy. I definitely recommend a visit, though judging by the tourist throngs, no one's been waiting on my recommendation.





 
Ok. This concludes the Italy adventure, back to Africa!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What a life!

My hair is sticky with salt, my hands are covered in rope burns and I've got bruises on all four limbs. Clearly yesterday was a good day.

Yesterday was my second time crewing on a boat with the Lagos Yacht Club. Last week I sailed on a Lightning. (Below are some Lightnings all packed up for the day.) Basically, these are the type of boat most people picture when they think about sailing. It's called a mono-hull because it has one hull (the part of the boat that you sit in).

This week I crewed on a Hobie Cat. Hobies are catamarans (they have two hulls and as I learned, zero places to store things). See below.
So far my impression is that the Lightning is a bit more 'civilized'. You don't get very wet, you go a little slower, you won't be leaving with many bruises to show off. The Hobie was more exciting. We moved fast and there were lots of moments when the boat was tipped almost perpendicular to the water and we were hanging off the trapeze. See the guy below, the one that isn't even in the boat? Yeah, that was me yesterday. (I could dedicate a whole post to how awesome I look in a trapeze harness too. ;) All that speed requires a lot more physical effort (hence the bruises and rope burns) but it was a lot of fun. And we got second place in the race - due 100% to my very experienced and skilled sailing buddy.
File:Bladef16-1up.jpg
Picture from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catamaran)
Both times were absolutely wonderful. I love the water, the breeze in my hair, the sun. I love learning how to handle the ropes and the sails. I love hanging off the side of the boat and flying toward the finish line. It's pretty much the best thing ever.
The Lagos Yacht Club has a fleet of each type of boat. The Hobies are at a separate beach with a nice little hangout spot. I've heard they do barbeques on Sundays so I'll have to check that out sometime too.


Sailing seems like one of those skills that is deceptively simple on the surface. I imagine it would only take a few days to master the ropes, but the more difficult task of knowing when to tack and how far to push the boat and how to work the wind just right would take a lifetime to perfect. Anyway, I'm glad to have the opportunity to learn what I can now. And I really have been learning a lot. Below are the rules of sailing as interpreted by yours truly.

Rule #1 - don't sit on the ropes. If you know nothing else about sailing this one tip will at least make you a tolerable third wheel.

Rule #2 - mind the boom (the big beam that swings back and forth at approximately head level whenever the boat turns)

Rule #3 - trust the helm (the captain). If the helm says to attach yourself to a rope and hang off the side of the boat, just go with it. If they have the boat almost completely tipped over, just go with it. What's the worst that could happen?

Rule #4 - bring dry clothes, you will get wet. And while I'm on the subject of clothes, wear appropriate clothes on the boat. I thought that gloves and 'water shoes' were overkill before I went out. Now I (and my ropeburned hands) know differently. Gear is important - when I go back to the states I will definitely be investing in a set of gloves, knee pads, trapeze harness and water shoes.

Ok, that's all the wisdom I've got for you at this point.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tourist Attractions of Lagos, part 3: The New Africa Shrine

So let me just preface this post by explaining that my camera isn't really set up to do low light photography, much less low light+fast action so apologies in advance that these pictures are a bit grainy.
 
With that said, welcome na de shrine! (welcome to the shrine).
 
The New Africa Shrine has been designated the spiritual home of Afrobeat by Lonely Planet. The original shrine was established by the very famous Nigerian singer Fela Kuti back in the 1970's. It was a space used to create and enjoy music but it was also an important vehicle for Kuti's political views.  (The Wikipedia page linked above is certainly worth a read, Kuti was a fascinating figure.)The original shrine is now gone but a new one has been built and is run by his son, Femi.
 
The consulate staff got a backstage tour, photos with Femi, and VIP seating. But even without all those perks the concert would have been excellent. Particularly for sheltered expats this is a great place to hang with a predominately Nigerian crowd and enjoy some distinctly Nigerian music. The music is always loud, the suya (meat on a stick) is always spicy, and the musicians are always incredibly energetic. They danced and sang pretty much non-stop for several hours and had the crowd all up dancing too by the end of the night. There were even some pyrotechnics which went over well.
 
I highly recommend a night here to anyone who has time (and RSO permission of course).
 




He was poorly lit. I swear this is the best I could do.

I love the face painting. Each dancer had a different design and they all looked gorgeous.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Integriful

Any language student soon discovers that every language has a its weak points, ideas that it just can't express well. I distinctly remember being frustrated by the options for expressing 'happy' in Thai, 'use' in Serbian, and basically everything in Russian (never got very far, I guess). And it works both ways. Other languages often have words that are just so useful, but which we don't for some reason have an equivalent English phrase. I've always liked the Serbian izvoliti, roughly translated as 'here you go, go ahead, welcome, by all means', the Thai phrase same-same and the Nigerian pidgin dash which is a handy way to refer to bribes/donations that are solicited by everyone from beggars to area boys (gangs) to policemen.

Along those lines, there's one word that I just recently discovered to be missing from the English vocabulary, though I'm sure some language out there has a word for it - integriful. Integriful is basically the adjective form of integrity. A person who helps a lot is helpful. A person who acts with grace is graceful. A person who is filled with integrity is integriful. Makes sense right?

I discovered this linguistic gap when someone asked me to describe my father and I couldn't find a word to express it right. My father is full of integrity. Period. There should be a word for that.

So Dad, happy Father's Day. I'm so blessed to have you as my father and as the example that I try to live up to.

I remember when I was just a kid baby-sitting other kids and asked you if I needed to pay tax on my mini-income. And you quietly held me to a high standard - even when no one was looking. I think about how polite you always were to telemarketers (glad those days are over!) when the rest of us would just hang up on them. I've noticed how so many people talk about their concern for social justice and humanitarian causes, but none of those people give as much of their time and money as I've seen you do - whether you're visiting inmates in prison or building sanitation facilities in war torn countries or mentoring people in the community. A few years ago when you left your job (and financial security) to follow your heart and your conscience I was definitely watching. Your example has given me the courage to make difficult choices and held me accountable to practice what I preach.

Thanks for being there for me and showing me what kind of a person I want to be.

Happy Father's Day

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Sowing seeds

One of the best/worst things about Lagos is that there are hardly any seasons to speak of. It's either hot and humid with occasional rains, or hot and humid with fairly regular rain. Without the passing of seasons it's been a little bit hard to remember how fast the time is passing. It's still strange to me when I read about friends back home having barbeques and attending baseball games. Isn't it still winter out there?

Since the weather doesn't provide the seasons I've been marking time based on where I'm at in my tour. So on a 2-year time scale this is just the end of my first season in Lagos (I'm starting my 6th month at post.) It's like the springtime of the tour. And I think I agree with what other people have said. The first six months you spend settling into post, then it starts feeling like home.  And now that I'm all settled in, I've been planting lots of 'seeds' that I intend to cultivate for the rest of my time here.

First - actual seeds.

I've always wanted to have a garden and grow my own herbs and vegetables, but I just haven't been settled anywhere long enough to justify the effort, until now. So while my parents were in town two weeks ago we planted a whole mini-garden - basil, cilantro, parsley, tomatoes and chives. And given Lagos' amazingly fertile environment, it's no surprise that I've already got a flourishing herb-jungle on my porch. I am embarrassingly excited about that.

Second - 'community seeds'.
Even though I have a lot of good friends at the consulate and could very easily hang out with them every day for 2 years, I wanted to cast a bit of a wider net. With that in mind, I've joined a church that only a few consulate people attend (and will hopefully be doing some volunteering there starting this week). And as of Wednesday I finally joined the yacht club. (My first sail was promptly cancelled due to an unexpected storm, but I'm all set for next week.) Not only will I get a little exercise and learn a new skill while sailing, but both communities will give me a chance to give back and feel a little more connected to Nigeria.

Third - 'career seeds'.
As I get more comfortable with my work (after only 5 months I'm already in the 'more experienced' half of the officers in the consular section) I've been much more confident stepping up and taking a lead with some of my side projects - I'm even contemplating another side project that I'd like to get started. (Not really a secret - I'm hoping to get the 'green team' at post back up and running and do some more recycling and maybe a community clean-up day.) I guess now that the consulate feels like home to me I'm more anxious to make my mark.

So there you have it, it's springtime in Lagos. Judging from the way everything else grows around here I'm counting on these seeds to bear some major fruit by the time autumn rolls around.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cinqueterre

The Italian means something like 'Heaven on Earth'. I can't quite remember, but oh my goodness was this place beautiful. It's a set of five villages on the Riviera, as in the actual Italian Riviera. Visitors can walk from village to village on a series of walking trails (between 30 minutes and 3 hours per walk) all with spectacular views.
Corniglia, where we stayed.
I loved everything about these villages - the twisting alleyways much too small for cars, perfect for exploring, the cobblestones, the shutters (that people actually use) and all the flowers everywhere.

I also really loved how the villages are right on the water, the boats everywhere just made me happy every time I saw them. For someone who grew up in the Midwest it's a bit strange how happy the water makes me. But just look at that turquoise! What's not to love?

We stayed in the middle village, which I would recommend. Then you can do one direction each day - hike to a village, eat lunch, hike to another, eat dinner, and catch a ride home. Oh, and I should mention that the villages are accessible by train which would be great if you're backpacking in or on a budget and by ferry.

The trails are a little narrow, but not dangerous (in my opinion).

Manarola. Great restaurant here on the water. The seafood here is excellent.

Monterrosa.
Just ridiculous, isn't it?

My favorite village (Vernazza) has the best gelato we ate in Italy.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Casual, yet dignified


He really does a nice job coordinating colors without being too matchy-matchy.
 
Will return to vacation photos later.