Saturday, December 28, 2013

The perils of shopping online

(Or rather, the perils of attempting to shop online from Nigeria.)

I don't know if you've heard, but Nigeria has a bit of a reputation. Something about fraud or internet scams, I'm not quite sure.

Anyway, that reputation - along with all the credit card and bank skittishness about allowing random transactions on my account from a new country every time they turn around means that purchasing Christmas gifts got a little complicated this year. It started with answering the security questions and the inevitable 'OMG your account has been hacked by a Nigerian who wants to buy Kill Bill volume 1 and 2!' and it ended with me scanning my life story to an accountant somewhere in Milwaukee (I assume). We'll see how that all goes. In the meantime, family - please try to keep your expectations manageable this holiday. I may end up purchasing all of your gifts with cash at the duty free if I can't convince the bank I'm not really a scammer. Who doesn't love a lollipop the size of their head, right?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Stumbled across this absolute gem while listening to Christmas music this morning. I couldn't resist sharing it here, especially with the whole Italian connection.
Happy Holidays everyone!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Liberia (final thoughts)

Now that I've had a chance to catch my breath I thought I'd fill you in on my impressions of Liberia via an incredibly mature analysis whereby one country wins and another loses based solely on my random impressions. 
Let me preface all this by saying that I was a bit burnt out on traveling when I arrived in Liberia, and I was only there for three weeks, so I didn't try anything fancy like getting out of town or visiting museums or something. Mostly I just wanted to get a feel for what it was like to be a regular officer there.
So. First: Development
Liberia is quiet, in both good and less good ways. On the plus side I think driving there wouldn't be as intense as in Lagos. The neighborhood noise level was basically nothing. The pace of life just generally seemed slower. It was all very relaxing. That said, I went to Hunger Games yesterday in Lagos. One of a half dozen options at that theater alone. Then today we went to Coldstone for ice cream and drove back home past the Johnny Rocket's and multiple KFCs. We didn't eat at the Dominoes but we could have. There were a few expat spots in town but nothing on the scale of what's available in Lagos. For better or worse, the quiet in Liberia really emphasized how much more developed Lagos is. The power might go out often, but hey - at least there's power! Lagos takes this one
Second: Environment
Liberia was beautiful. It was green, green, green with beautiful beaches and hills in the distance and a nice mix of tropical/colonial architecture that was very charming. The old embassy compound sits right on Mamba point (scary name, no?) and is just full of green space. There's a basketball court with ocean views on three sides, walking trails, little mossy gardens and plenty of random but wonderful places to wander around and explore. It would be a great place to bring kids - the compound is huge and safe and seemed to have lots of kid-friendly amenities. Sorry kids, Monrovia wins this round.
Third: Housing
They have some housing issues, but from what I've seen it's a lot like FS housing elsewhere. Some really fantastic places (and I do mean really fantastic) and some just awful places - and there didn't seem to be any particular rule for who got assigned where. I saw experienced officers with housing that seemed terrible and brand new officers with great places. Overall I think Lagos wins this one.
Fourth: Facilities
The embassy itself was new and fancy. Their cafeteria was bright and pretty and could actually hold all the people who wanted to eat lunch! The consular section was actually very spacious and attractive and I was proud that the applicants had it as their first impression of America. Facilities-wise Monrovia wins the battle of the posts hands-down.
Fifth: Work
*Sigh* I did really like the work environment in Liberia. I did on average 1/3 as many non-immigrant visa interviews each day. And officers there get a chance to do everything - American Citizen Services, Immigrant Visas, Non-immigrant Visas, Fraud, etc. Liberia wins the 'variety at work' award for sure.
Sixth: Incentives
Monrovia is 30% hardship and 0% danger. There are two R&Rs available. (Lagos is 25% hardship, 10% danger with three R&Rs.) For bidding, saving, and travel Lagos wins this round.
The people I met in Monrovia were absolutely wonderful hosts and made my time there fun and a lot more meaningful than your average work trip should be. I missed my Lagos buddies while I was away and now I'll miss my Monrovia buddies until I see them again. And at the end of the day, that's what makes any post good, isn't it? So I guess it's a tie this time.
(That's right suburban America. We're all winners.)
Pictures of Liberia.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Back in Lagos

Just a short post tonight since I'm fighting off a super ultra mega headache and I'm still recovering from a very busy day in which I flew back from my TDY (temporary work assignment) in Liberia, unpacked and set up every single Christmas decoration that I own, went grocery shopping, and cooked a mini-thanksgiving meal (long story).

It's very nice to be home after three weeks in Monrovia. I had the chance to see what consular work is like in a different environment (small post, brand new embassy, different applicant profile, etc) and I learned a lot. The wonderful consular section in Monrovia taught me how to do immigrant visas (no small feat!) and DNA, and all sorts of other important consular tasks. And even better, they were my family in Liberia for the short time I was there.

I could write a lot about what I liked in Liberia (and which things I prefer in Lagos) but I'll save that for a day when I've got more creative juices flowing.  In the meantime, it's great to be sleeping in my own bed tonight (and cooking on my own stove, and digging through my own closet and ...)

Good night Lagos! I'm glad to be back!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

living this moment

Well, it's been a big week!

I'm still excited about Rome, but someone recently reminded me that it's a year and a half away, so there's no real need to start planning or preparing anything. So I guess I'll set the idea of Rome on the shelf for awhile - something nice to look forward to but still a very distant reality.

In the meantime I still have a little over half my tour left in Nigeria and I want to make the most of it! I think I'll end up being out of town a lot this coming year. I still have two R&Rs left and I am also hoping to do a big trip to South Africa and Namibia sometime in the next few months.  Honestly the longer I'm here the more things I discover that I just can't miss out on. Stone churches, giant mosques in the desert, mountains and beaches, jungles and savannas, (lions and tigers and bears oh my!)... Africa is so addictive.

My goal for the next year is to enjoy as much as I can and live in this moment, not the 'Rome moment' that's coming up next.  That, and save some money! I realized with a jolt that I might have to scale back my spending expectations once the hardship pay goes away. 

Also - I'm actually away from Nigeria right now, in my 5th African country. I promise to update about this experience once I'm back in Lagos but for now I need to get out and enjoy it while I can!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Drumroll please!


Ok - enough with the ridiculous attempt to build suspense:


Yeah. Just Rome. Nothing too fancy. ;)