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)