Sunday, September 22, 2013

Road Trip!

A million years ago - the weekend after I got back from R&R - I traveled with some buddies to Benin. It sort of slipped my mind to post about that trip so sorry for the delay.

ANYWAY...

Benin is Nigeria's neighbor to the west and it's a welcome change in a lot of ways.

#1 There are way fewer people in Benin. (80 people per square km as compared to Nigeria's 173 - and Lagos' 7,941*)
#2 Benin is a francophone country
#3 There are no restrictions on our movement once we cross the border.
#4 Benin feels less developed as far as restaurants and entertainment, but it does seem to have better roads and utilities than Nigeria.

It took 8 hours of crazy aggressive driving to get our little convoy to the hotel in Ouidah, Benin. Just FYI - according to google the trip was 161 kilometers and should have taken 2.5 hours. The border takes FOREVER if you are in a car and the traffic on the Nigeria side was insane pretty much the entire way.

Despite the 'adventure' involved in getting to Benin, we actually have a very relaxed weekend. We went to a really nice spa - my first spa day with girl friends - which I would highly recommend. We saw the snake temple. We visited the 'door of no return' where slaves were loaded onto ships for the journey to the Americas. (Click here for the Wikipedia page on Ouidah. It doesn't have the best coverage of the route des esclaves but it's an ok starting point if you're curious about the historical role of the town.) Mostly though we just enjoyed the beach and the company and trying out our abysmal French on the locals.

I highly recommend a trip to Benin if you're posted to Nigeria and I'm sure I'll be back at least once more during my tour.

Pictures
The door of no return.

The road to our beach resort. An exception to the 'Benin-has-better-roads-than-Nigeria' rule.

Ignore the blurriness. Isn't this lovely? This is the spa at the resort. All the white sheets blowing in the wind...heaven.

Cows.

*all per wikipedia

Monday, September 16, 2013

Second wind

After I got back from R&R I've noticed a pretty solid change in my attitude at work.

Since I'm pretty sure I didn't just get more mature overnight I think the attitude change can be traced back to some pretty awesome workplace improvements of late.

#1 - I got to start training for some ACS work. I wasn't originally slated to do any ACS during this tour and I've been pretty bummed about it so this opportunity came as a pleasant surprise. It was SO refreshing to get to learn something new after 8 months perfecting my NIV skills (to the point that I'm pretty sure I could adjudicate in my sleep).
#2 - We have more people. This is life-changingly awesome. I don't know who to specifically thank for this one so just thank you everyone. We desperately needed the help and now that we have it, it feels like we can actually breathe again.
#3 - We're all caught up (meaning that the wait time for a non-immigrant visa is basically zero). We can offer better customer service this way and there is no longer the pressure of hundreds of waiting applicants to try to squeeze in on top of our regular work load.
#4 - I finally admitted to myself and others that I'm neither a workaholic nor superwoman and gave up a project that was just turning out to be too much for me. I was embarrassed to have to say no to something, but in the end I got a little of my sanity back and one of the new officers got something good for their EER.

And now that I'm finally moved into my new apartment and all unpacked I can actually spend my time doing non-work things. Such as... sailing (we capsized three times this weekend, but still finished the race, not sure if this means we are crazy or just really committed), checking out new restaurants, going to parties, movies and all the little stuff in between.

So yeah, all in all work and life are back in balance and I've got no complaints. ... And I've got new plants. Life is good.




Tuesday, September 10, 2013

8 reasons to bid Lagos high (2)

I've been crazy busy in the past few months, traveling and working and occasionally biting off more than I can chew. So I may have also forgotten about my plan to follow up with this series. But now it's time to continue the list that I started back in May. You remember, the reasons that Lagos is actually kind of awesome?

So without further ado...

The third reason to bid Lagos high - Nigeria may be classed as a developing country, but living in Lagos is probably not the 'Africa experience' most people would picture. You won't live in a grass hut or wash clothes in a bucket.  There are no giant bugs - really there are almost no bugs at all, I get bothered by mosquitos and flies far more often in the states than here. There are shopping malls and rule of law and all the rest. There's even a Mercedes dealership and an Apple store for pete's sake.  When I got here the level of development was actually the most surprising thing. I'd seen the "Welcome to Lagos" BBC documentary full of people living in grinding poverty, but it didn't prepare me for how the '1%' - i.e. expats and wealthy Nigerians - live.

See below for examples of the level of development I'm talking about:
All sourced locally - and yes, all varying amounts of 'crazy expensive'

The fourth reason to bid Lagos high - Big population = big talent
With over 170 million Nigerians it stands to reason that there must be a whole crowd of really talented individuals in this country. Living in Lagos you get to see the cream of the crop. There are art gallery events every weekend, original plays coming out constantly, and lots of excellent opportunities to hear live music. Nigeria has produced more than it's share of talented authors as well. While I suppose you could read Chinua Achebe anywhere, it makes the reading that much more powerful if you have a little context. I'll try to link some more of the music, art and cultural stuff in the future, but trust me, there's a lot of it out there for anyone who's interested. (You can also google the African Artists Foundation, Terra Kulture and Nike Gallery for more info.)


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Out with the old...

What's that you ask? Why the boxes?  Didn't I just move into this apartment a few months ago?
 
Yes, sadly it's time to move again. My first move in Lagos was a breeze. I didn't have my UAB or my HHE yet and I was moving from what I hope is the worst housing in the FS to a place that I absolutely love, so the transition was easy and very welcome. 
 
This time I'm leaving behind a place that feels like home, (unfortunately filled with all the junk that makes it feel that way) and it's at best bittersweet. Don't get me wrong, the new place has a lot going for it. It's nicer, all my friends are living there, supposedly I'll be able to get some exponentially better Internet.... it's just that I got kind of attached to the old apartment (shown here now that it isn't USG housing anymore):


Check out that view - maybe not how you pictured Lagos, is it?

Just like my dad, I could spend hours on my balcony, staring at the clouds and the water and everything in between. Especially in a place like Lagos that is full of restrictions and boundaries it's so nice to have all that ...mental space to explore. 

This is also the first time as an adult that I've lived on the water and it's so addictive. I love watching the port. I can see everything from tiny fishing canoes to sail boats (when I'm not on one myself) to gigantic cargo ships. At all hours of the day something is busy moving around and it's relaxing just watching the world float by.

So goodbye old housing and hello new! I hope that the new place feels like home soon.

PS - this blog post uploaded from the new place, where the Internet is indeed faster and the view ain't bad either.