Sunday, July 28, 2013


Last week I denied the grocer a visa...

...this week the butter on the shelf at the grocery store is mysteriously 'not for sale'.


These two events may be unrelated, but it does make me wonder.

It also makes me a little nervous about the hairstylist who was asking me visa questions the other day. I think I might need to start looking for a back-up salon, just in case...

Other than grocery shopping I've had a pretty typical weekend. Dinner on Friday, a party last night, and of course, sailing all day Saturday. This weekend we got to sail into the ocean. (Usually we just sail in the channel.) Have you ever seen The Perfect Storm? Yeah, it was pretty much just like that. There was a point when I was hanging by a rope and got flipped into the water. There were several points when the waves were so rough that I couldn't see anything and was hanging on for dear life, it felt like I was riding a horse the boat was rocking so hard.  The swells, while probably not that impressive from a big ship, were epically huge from our tiny catamaran. For a few seconds the whole boat was flying as we came off one of the monster waves. As with all the best sailing weekends I escaped bloody, bruised, soaked, exhausted and with very bad hair. Oh, and happy. Very, very happy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


This past Monday, on a seemingly ordinary work day, I hit a milestone that requires just a bit of commemoration. Drumroll please...


I, consular officer and honorary Nigerian, adjudicated my 10,000th visa application exactly 6 months and 2 weeks into my tour. And just for the record, all 10,000 were interviews (ie, not dropbox adjudications). When I chose the consular cone, this was actually part of the plan - as crazy as that may sound.  I wanted to meet lots (lots and lots and lots) of Nigerians. Not Nigerian politicians or business leaders specifically (though they're always nice too) but regular Nigerians; teachers and police officers and accountants and traders. While I don't always get much time to talk with each applicant it's still a privilege to have a glimpse into their lives and culture.

Of course, there's a downside too. Often when I go out I get recognized by people whose visas I've issued (or more likely, refused). This has happened at parties, at the airport, the mall, and likely happens even more often but not every applicant is excited to come up and say so in person. To their credit, Nigerians are almost universally polite and respectful even when they don't get the visa and I've never had anyone harass me, even after a refusal.

And, as promised, I've noticed some changes in myself as well. (As one departing officer told me, 'you will be a fundamentally different person after 2 years of visa work'.) I'm no longer afraid to make people upset. I don't have trouble saying no. I'm much more confident in my decisions. Naturally, it isn't all positive, there are days when I catch a glimpse of how cynical I can get and cringe just a little bit. But overall I think it's been a change in the right direction.

Other than adjudicating I crossed a few items off my 'I'd really like to do this someday' list recently.
*I gave blood (without passing out!) and I think I get bonus points for doing so in Africa.
*I had quite a few cooking 'firsts', mostly due to last minute realizations about what I do and do not have on hand - I made homemade barbecue sauce, homemade tartar sauce, a substitute Worcestershire sauce. I tried a chicken cacciatore (too much chicken), homemade tuna noodle casserole (better than the store-bought kind), and some dishes with chickpeas that are hard to describe, but very tasty. I'm still waiting on a supplier of milk-that-doesn't-come-in-a-box in order to try my hand at making dairy products (cheese, yogurt and butter specifically), but I have to save something for the next 18 months after all.
*I tried my hand at wrapping a baby Nigerian style. (See below) This was in the same excursion where we ended up helping the villagers haul in the fish catch, which the Americans all found immensely entertaining (the Nigerians were kind enough to explain the whole process of bringing in the catch and distributing it throughout the village, it seemed like a pretty good set-up actually)

Picture from here
(Imagine this, but with me instead of an African lady and the baby looking
distinctly uncomfortable and suspicious)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tomaro Island

A few weeks ago the consulate took a trip to Tomaro Island for a medical outreach program. Our wonderful doc, assisted by some doctors and nurses from other organizations, provided medical care to hundreds of people from around the island. The rest of us tried to be as helpful as it's possible to be on a medical trip without any actual medical skills. I took height and weight. And of course we took lots of pictures.
 Watching the oyibo (foreigners) try to gracefully jump from the boat to the beach on our arrival. They don't look real impressed.
For every picture I took of the town and the people, a half dozen pictures were taken of me - by the press guys like the one above and by the villagers wealthy enough to have phones. I tried to stay away from invasive shots of people as much as possible - as much as I like to do portraits - because we didn't really have a consent system set up, but it was definitely a hard line to draw. Is there a rule of thumb other people use when they're taking pictures of people overseas? Whenever I ask people's consent first I tend to get pictures of them smiling (fakely) and posing (also very fakely).
Love the set-up of a pool table on the beach. Not sure how well the table deals with rain though...

I'd just like to call your attention to the last two items on offer: hair placenta and hair fertilizer.

I love, love, love getting out of our little Lagos bubble and seeing what life is like in the rest of the country. Hopefully in the next few months (once I get back from the states of course) I hope to get out some more within Nigeria and maybe to Benin, Togo or Ghana.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

r.i.p. google reader

Not sure how many other people used google reader to follow their favorite blogs, but I know I did and it was a pain to switch over to a new service. I finally settled on Inoreader which I'm not exactly thrilled with. It's glitchy (some blogs update super slow, others right away; it doesn't sync well between devices, etc) and I can't embed it into my homepage so I have to make a special effort to check it out for updates. Not enjoying that.

Also, the day google reader went offline I noticed that my readership dropped about 60%. Not cool. I'm not sure how many of my old followers will take the time and trouble to follow with some other reader and it stinks to lose so much of my hard-earned audience.


Otherwise life is going really well though. Not sure if I wrote about our 4th of July here, but it was a big hit with the guests, many people said it was the best 4th of July party that the consulate has thrown. I got free Coldstone ice cream and met many of Nigeria's finest at the event so it was a hit with me too. And the best part is that we don't have to start planning for the next one for at least 6 months!

Rainy season appears to be taking a break and (I never thought I'd say this but...) it's about time. I love rain and storms and how green everything is, but I missed laying out by the pool, and soaking in the beautiful weather every day. Now that it's back to sunny days I've been spending as much time as I can outside. Even with my crazy-high SPF sunscreen I'm turning pretty brown. I can't come back from Africa without a tan, though, so it's a necessary transformation.

Finally, I'm headed back to the states for R&R #1 (out of three in a two year tour, because Lagos is that cool) in less than a month. I'm very excited to see the whole extended family for a reunion. And I might also be taking a class that I'm very excited about but I'll share the details of that after I get back.

I promise to post some more cultural/touristy stuff soon too.

And for those of you still reading after the great 'google reader fiasco', thanks!

Friday, July 5, 2013


Did you know that the waters off the coast of Nigeria are now the number one pirate destination in the world? That's right Somalia. You snooze, you lose.
While maritime piracy rarely affects me personally, the other kind of piracy - see below - plays a pretty big role here.
As in many countries - in fact more so than most I've been to - Nigeria is full of pirated movies, tv series, and music. And it's gotten pretty creative. Below is a DVD mix from China. They just throw together movies from the same genre (in this case all the Indiana Jones movies, both Tomb Raiders, both National Treasures, and the Romancing the Stone movies) or the same actor (see the Tom Cruise collection, the Nicole Kidman collection, etc). I spotted this one at the grocery store for about 12 dollars.

Even more creative is the one I got a shot of below. LOTR v. Alien. Same basic concept as above - except for the even more awesome choice of movie pairing. 
The only problem with such seemingly awesome bargains (aside from the quality control issues) is of course that they are illegal here and at home and as a USG employee I can't support the pirated DVD industry. And of course I don't really want to. See here, here, here, and here to read some more about the connection between piracy and film quality in Nigeria.
The Nigerian film industry, known as Nollywood, is the third largest in the world, with new movies coming out every day. According to UNESCO it's the second largest employer in Nigeria. Yet the quality, from an international standpoint, is often very poor.
This certainly isn't due to a lack of talent. Nigeria is a huge country (1 in 5 Africans are Nigerian) and it has produced world class artists in other fields (literature, music, painting, etc). We enjoy these artists' work almost every weekend at concerts, art galleries and shows. Yet the films made here don't resonate in the same way. When profits don't go to the people who earn them there's a pretty high incentive to take their talents elsewhere.
The problem now is that if a person wanted to buy a legitimate DVD here it would be almost impossible. See the copy of Argo I bought below? I was so proud of myself because I thought I had finally found an honest-to-god, non-pirated film. It came in a cardboard sleeve, there was just one movie inside, it was sold in a store with electricity and a roof, so it had to be real, right?

And it's even worse for Nigerian made films. I'm not sure that I can think of anywhere to buy a non-pirated Nollywood movie.
So now I'm back to doing what everyone else at post does - I buy on Amazon and have things shipped by slow boat. It takes forever, but I can take comfort in the fact that I'm doing my small part to make sure there's something worth watching in the future.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


I can now check one more item off my 'bucket list'. See those little shreds of basil on the pizza below? Yep, those are my babies. Grew them from seeds, then tonight I ate them for dinner.
And I really better get on that to-do list item about learning to make my own cheese because holy cow was that ricotta expensive. (Is it supposed to cost $15 per cup?)