Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Home leave part 1

Well, that's it - two years in Nigeria in the bag. Now I'm happily settled in at my folks' place as most of my readers already know. I am so grateful that I was able to make it home for the holidays this year. As my bosses have said, the government will never love you back - so a seemingly simple request to be with family over the holidays is definitely not guaranteed to be granted.

Christmas itself was lovely, but I've found home leave to be a little surreal. For the most part, it doesn't feel like I've finished my time in Nigeria. It's hard to imagine that I won't see Lagos again soon (or maybe ever). And it's very sad to think how long it will be until I see most of my Lagos friends next.

On the other hand, it's awesome having a break when there's nothing hanging over your head. I don't have to think about halfway finished projects or stress about upcoming heavy workloads. And I have finally started to get excited about Italy. Not that I wasn't happy with the assignment before, it's just that it didn't feel real. I've told people - only somewhat in jest - that I'll believe they're sending me to Rome when I land in Rome and not before. And given the number of people I've met who've had assignments pulled based on the needs of the service I still feel like that's a wise position to take. But surely it isn't too early to browse recipes for Italian food or look up villages in Tuscany right?

And I do owe the internet at large a couple wrap up posts about Nigeria. No promises on timing though. I intend to enjoy this brief period of joblessness to the fullest.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dear Lagos

I didn't think I'd like it here so much.

I couldn't have known that I would sail away from my troubles every weekend under almost invariably blue skies. I didn't anticipate that I would be able to sip coffee in quiet caf├ęs or nod along to highlife beats with the Nigerian hipster set. I had no idea that I'd make some of my best friends ever inside the four (rather ugly) walls of an African 'visa mill'. Five years ago if you had told me that I would drive like a maniac in a city of 20 million - and enjoy every minute of it - I would have thought you were crazy. I didn't think I'd grow to be so at home here that leaving would make me tear up. And even a year ago I wouldn't have thought that my overwhelming impression from this country would be one of hope. 

But Lagos surprised me.

This city is alive. It's people are welcoming and kind, tough and infinitely resourceful. It is perpetually on the verge - in good ways and bad. Most of all, it is a lot like home, deep down. Lagos is a city of opportunity, where the extremes are extreme and the energy is intense. Lagosians are enthusiastic, assertive, fun-loving, and creative. 

I will miss this place and more importantly, I will miss the people who make it what it is.

So thanks for two great years and a thousand new experiences.

See you later, Lagos!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Last

This is it, I'm so close to my departure I can just about taste the peppermint mocha at Hartsfield-Jackson. I am packing out next week and flying the next. All the complicated tasks related to departure - getting my travel orders approved, setting up housing for my time in training, putting together my EER points - have been taken care of. I compare that part of the process to a child, climbing up to the top of a very big slide. Now is the easy part - I just have to coast to the bottom. Except, of course, for packing out, but that's a stress headache for another day.

In the meantime I am happily doing lots of 'last' things. I did my last race on a lightning (monohull sailboat) - it was thoroughly awesome. I'm planning on a last hobie cat race on my last weekend here. I ate my last suya (will probably break down and eat another last suya later, knowing me). I took one last trip to Balogun market, where I bought two very awesome fabrics which will be gifts if I can stand to part with them. I signed up for my last field society trip - stay tuned! Even better, I've finished my last week of opening officer (where one has to be at work at 6am every day to open the office) and my last week as duty officer (where one answers all the calls that come in after hours).

I've also started the freeing process of divesting myself of all that extra stuff I don't need. First and foremost, I sold my car - well, presold it I guess, I'm not giving it up till I'm on the way to the airport. I'm also getting rid of a lot of little things but there's nothing too inspiring in the pack. It hasn't been a big shopping tour as you probably could've guessed.

For awhile all this moving flurry left me a little bit off-kilter (I went through something similar two years ago before leaving for Nigeria). But thankfully the mopey, don't-want-to-say-goodbye phase seems to be over.  I would call this new phase 'packing and partying' and I like the sound of that a lot.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Things that have been making me happy in Lagos lately

Earlier this month I think I complained that I couldn't think of anything to write because not much was going on. Lately it's been the opposite. I'm too busy to write because I'm having a great time finishing up my tour - especially now that every problem can be met with a shrug and a cheery update on my countdown. (Change to the shuttle schedule? Meh - 45 days. Annoying road construction? I can avoid that for 6 weeks. Nigerian food getting old? I might as well eat it while I have the chance - 33 days from now I'll be missing chicken and rice! See? It's fun!)

Not only is it easy to shrug off things that would otherwise annoy me, but I've been keeping busy doing all my favorite things now that I only have a little time left. I've crammed in quite a bit of sailing, tried a few new restaurants, and made a general point to start spending less time working and more time 'networking' with my friends.

And of course I've been meaning to write about lots of random things that are making the time fly -

1) I attended the Lagos Yacht Club's Sail Around the World event this weekend and had a great time. It's basically a big, relatively casual party where all the participating countries host a booth and provide party-goers with a sample of their national dish. I particularly enjoyed the French booth, the Israelis, and the Texas booth (this is, of course, in addition to - and entirely separate from - the American booth).

2) The very next evening we had the Marine Ball. (For those not in the know, this is an annual ball hosted by the Marines to celebrate the birthday of the Marine Corps. It's very fancy.) It was fun to see so many people from around the community that I know; kind of like a mini-reunion. I saw friends from my church, from the Togo trip, sailing people, people I met on the bike trip, and even a few that always just seem to go to the same parties I do. That's the nice thing about Lagos, it's a huge city, but a fairly small world and after almost two years here I finally feel like 'everybody knows my name'.  The Marine Ball is also nice as it's the only time most of us get to dress this fancy after senior prom, so we went all out with the dresses, hair and makeup. I must say - the consulate community cleans up well!

3) Some friends and I have started celebrating Christmas a bit early (ok, a lot early). Since I'll be packing out in mid-December and traveling around the holidays I wanted to get my money's worth out of the Christmas season. Just putting up the tree made me happy - and even better, it helps remind me that I need to sort out those Christmas gifts ASAP!

4) There has been real milk on the shelves for several weeks in a row now. I can't really explain how/why this is so important to someone who's lactose intolerant anyway, but trust me that it is. Box milk is an abomination. Just saying.

5) I'm actually feeling cautiously optimistic about all my 'end-of-tour' tasks. I'm about to submit the cable I've been working on for months, I sent in my EER bullet points (before I got a panicked email from my supervisors no less!), and I've even put some time into purging all of my extra junk - mostly a stack of 'important papers' that appears not to have been sorted since I was in elementary school. Could it be that I'm actually going to have a relatively stress-free move?

Of course not, but it's nice to dream.


I really do mean to post some pictures sometime soon, but my internet has been on strike for ages so that might have to wait. Only 5-6 more weeks until I'm back in the States!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Veterans Day!

To all the veterans but particularly the friends and family veterans - thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

In the spirit of things check out this site from The Guardian that lets you view scenes from mostly WWI and WWII both during the war years and today. It's very moving.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The 'Buj


Zuma rock, picture from here
 
I am happy to report that I'm just back from a very brief TDY to Abuja and it has inspired me to write at least a bit more about Nigeria.

Of course I'm going straight for the obvious - a not even a little bit biased comparison, Abuja v. Lagos

After almost two years in Lagos, my standards may be a bit different than yours, but my first impression was that Abuja is fancy (fancy being a personal shorthand for 'developed').

I could describe what makes Abuja feel this way or I could just show you.

Below is a Google image search result for Abuja:
pictures from ...Google
 
Remember your impressions.
 

Now here's a Google image search result for Lagos:
Bet you can't guess which picture is purely aspirational.
 
Seems like Google's impression of Lagos is a little less 'shiny city of the future' and a little more poverty, overcrowding and some combination of the two.

And just because... scroll down in the Google search result for my favorite, totally random guy with the world's most terrifying animal.
 
Naturally, since I've called Lagos home for so long I feel like I can finally see past some of ^that and present my own view of a city that - while flawed - has a lot going on if you know where to look. Take Makoko for instance (the floating town) - did you know the school I visited there is an award-winning (or at least award nominated ;) design? Visit the website in the link for a very cool discussion of housing possibilities for the area.
 
Anyway, back to Abuja and how fancy it was. Abuja has lots of nice things - hills, tree-lined boulevards, an Ethiopian restaurant, and a U.S. Embassy that looks and feels like it was built by a developed country. (just saying...)
 
Abuja also had a pretty notable collection of architecturally bold buildings - a few highlights below:


The Ministry of Defense building - 'Ship House'
picture from here
 
This tower and cultural center aren't yet finished but already stand out in Abuja's relatively short skyline. Lagos needs a cultural center!
picture from here

This church also stood out. I don't specifically like the design, but I can appreciate the uniqueness of it. And the tower is fun. Abuja seemed to be big on towers.
Picture from here

And finally, my absolute favorite - the National Mosque. I love the towers (see more towers!) -they look just perfect for a Disney princess, don't you think? I took a picture every time we drove by, but like I said - phone pictures = no good.

picture from Wikipedia


Inevitably, more impressions to follow.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Nothing to report

Well... 22 months in to my stay in Nigeria and I just can't think of anything exciting to report. I haven't done much in the week since I got back from the States and what I have done mostly centered around leaving Nigeria (making progress on my EER - employee evaluation in case you aren't in the know, trying to get someone to approve my TMTWO - basically my travel schedule, and trying to wrap up a few side projects I've been working on).

I don't have any big plans coming up - no trips, no awesome Field Society outings - I just want to finish strong and get home safely. On that note - it's a bit disconcerting to hear friends and family talking about a travel ban from West Africa. I do, after all, live in West Africa.

And now for some miscellanea...
The view from my apartment.
 
It's been just a little  bit rainy for the past few (6) months. We're kind of hoping this will be the end of the rainy season. Ironically I cancelled my plans due to weather but then it turned out to be a beautiful day later on.  
 
Lagos from the third mainland bridge
 
Doesn't quite do justice to the scale of the place does it?
 
Ok. That's all I got. Someday - hopefully before I leave for good - I will come up with something else new or interesting to tell all my faithful readers about Nigeria but until then, have a good one!
 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall pictures

Just some random pictures from R&R which has sadly come to an end...

Apple orchard

Pumpkin patch

And pumpkins....

lots...

and lots...

and lots...

of pumpkins.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Still in America...it's still good

Other than experiencing some mild culture clash, I've also been enjoying my R&R back in the midwest a lot. Maybe I've just been away too long - or maybe it's because I haven't been home in the fall for ages, but I am totally in love with fall in the midwest. The trees are changing and it's just gorgeous. We've done just about every fall thing I can think of. We went to the pumpkin patch and the apple orchard and took plenty of long walks in the park. The only sad thing is that I missed seeing one of our home team football games. maybe next time...

I've been keeping fairly busy too. I took an ill-fated trip to California for my best friend from college's wedding. The wedding was perfect and fun and so sweet and it was great to see my friend after so much time. Friendships with people who don't live in the same place as my parents have been one of the casualties of my many moves overseas.  Everything else about California... well, let's just say it made me appreciate the midwest. It may have been LA rush hour traffic, it may have been the food poisoning, or having my wallet stolen or it may just be that I'm not a big city girl deep down. It's hard to say.

I promise to upload some pictures of all my wholesome midwestern fall adventures once I get them uploaded. Actually,  no promises. I might be too busy relaxing. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reentry

Every time I come back to the United States it feels a little more foreign. I guess this is typical for a perennial expat. I'm sure to an extent this is intensified because I seem to gravitate toward developing countries for my travels. Now, just coming back even the airport seems fancy. There's a Starbucks! I can use a card to buy things! Bookstores, toilet paper in public restrooms, more food options than there seem to be people, climate control, signs with correct information on them, artwork for no reason... it's really a bit overwhelming. Of course it doesn't stop at the airport. Everything seems SO nice back in the US - effortlessly fancy and huge and just a bit unnecessary. Just as an example - we went to the rural midwestern town where my father grew up yesterday. Their grocery store is twice the size of the largest grocery store I've seen in Lagos and even in such an out of the way corner of America is chock full of things you just can't buy in Lagos because they're too exotic. All for a little farming community of 9,000 people who also have access to Amazon Prime I might add!

All this excess inevitably leaves me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Why do people need 500 options for sunglasses? How often do they really eat cupcakes anyway? And what happens to all that new stuff everyone is always buying? Everywhere I look things seem to be new already. What are people replacing?

I was telling a friend that I don't always feel like I fit in back home. It isn't so much that I think America is materialistic (it is, but so are a lot of places) or that I'm living life on some higher plane back in Nigeria. Life can be petty anywhere and I haven't made any special effort to have a 'meaningful' tour there. It's just that there's something about America that doesn't seem quite... real. Do you know what I mean? There's an ebola epidemic in West Africa and yet here we are exploring a new coffee shop. ISIS is on TV and yet we have 5 different movies opening at the theater. The streets are unbelievably clean, there are decorations in public places 'just because' and it all feels a bit surreal. I've said it upon reentry the last few times - America is like Disney World. Not that I think life shouldn't go on - I'm glad we don't have to stress out about every single problem facing the world - but I feel disconnected and maybe a bit sheltered in a way here that I just don't overseas.

Anyway, enough of that. I'm actually having a great time with family and thinking relatively few deep thoughts I promise.

Friday, October 3, 2014

R&R

It's that time again! Time to get the heck out of dodge and back to 'murica for a reminder of where all those American citizens go in their off-time (when they aren't calling and emailing and visiting our section).

I am more than a little ready for this visit. It's been 10 months since I was last in the US - in that time I've been to Togo and Namibia, South Africa and Ethiopia (and of course an awful lot of Nigeria) and while those vacations were great I'm very ready for an easy vacation this time and nothing is easier than crashing on your parents' couch, right? I have big plans for eating, shopping and visiting and spending time with all my favorite people.

The only thing standing between me and home is 25 hours of travel time including my 'love-to-hate-it' favorite, Muhammed Murtala International Airport right here in Lagos. In truth it isn't that bad. There's running water and electricity. It's relatively clean. You can buy snacks. It's just kind of depressing. Added to that is the fact that all the flights leave around 10-11 pm yet you have to have checked in by 7 or 8 at the latest so most people spend a very long time on all those sad, non air-conditioned benches watching the ceiling drip.

Still, it could be a lot worse. I could be traveling with toddlers. I could be carting along a pet. Or even worse, I could be a private citizen having to navigate the whole system without an expediter. (Shudder) I'd say 'what's the worst that could happen', but I'm not sure I'd like to know. So I'll just count my blessings and keep my head down.

And to my faithful readers - I'll see most of you on the other side. I can't wait!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Update

Yikes!

It's been two weeks since I last posted - apologies to the few readers who follow the blog often enough to have noticed. Needless to say I've been busy.  The last time you heard from me I had just come back from a very awesome whale watching trip off the coast. Life has been pretty uneventful since then. Work has slowed down a ton. Ironically my section now has twice as many officers! (Easy enough to accomplish in a one-officer section.) It's been very nice to have someone to bounce ideas off and I think we'll be able to really improve some of our services now that it isn't just one officer tied to the desk all day.

Last weekend due to some road closures and detours I had a very unexpected trip to the mainland, which was made extra nerve-wracking because I wasn't supposed to be there and didn't have my phone with me to call for assistance. Total gridlock in one direction prevented me from getting home the way I'd come, and my map doesn't include the mainland, so I was well and truly stuck. After a moment of panic I came to my senses and realized that there was an easy way out. I called out the window to some random guys (there are always random guys hanging around in Nigeria) and asked them to hire me a taxi. I paid him an ungodly amount (for Nigeria of course) to drive very slowly in front of my and lead me back to familiar turf. Looking back it was actually kind of an interesting trip - I certainly saw a lot of places I would never otherwise have seen - but not one I plan to make again, at least not on my own.

This Saturday I went sailing in the Hobie (catamaran) Nationals. It's a bit of an inflated name for the race -considering that we're the only sailing club in the country and so it was basically the exact same group of people we sail against every week - but they made up for the small pool of competitors by putting together a grueling course. There were 4 races, plus a very long trip just to get out to the race area and I can't remember the last time I've been this exhausted. Even the next morning I was still too tired to stand up while brushing my teeth, or get dressed without resting half-way through. About the only thing I do have the energy to do is sit at the computer and type this blog post! (With plenty of breaks of course.) But as I joked with a friend - going sailing is a lot like being pregnant. As long as I know I'll be on the water that weekend I can eat like I'm eating for two!

Coming up next is my very long-anticipated trip back to the states for R&R. I'm loving my time here in Nigeria but that certainly hasn't stopped me from missing home and family and all the rest. And when I get back from R&R I'll have only two months left at post. Time is flying now and I feel like I'm halfway out the door already.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Seasonal displacement disorder

I'm sure this isn't an actual disorder, but it should be, so I'm creating it.

Seasonal displacement disorder (SDD) is not to be confused with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which makes you, as the name implies, sad during the winter. SDD is the condition wherein a person who is used to having seasons moves to the tropics and experiences one long summer that lasts for two years. This disorder may be characterized by decreased tolerance to even the slightest chill, a (probably incorrect) impression that one would actually enjoy being cold, and a general sense that time is standing still.

All joking aside, I am definitely suffering from seasonal displacement disorder. I often 'bundle up' when the sun isn't out now - even with temperatures in the 80s. I get weirdly nostalgic about fall and winter, when I know full well that back home I spend the entire winter complaining about the cold. And of course, I can never tell what time of year it is.

The nice thing is, like astronauts without gravity, people without seasons gain in freedom what they lose in structure. I've found that without actual seasons I tend to make up my own. So, for example, when I bought a nice summery tablecloth I decided to start a prolonged 'me-summer' and cooked lots of fresh salad, washed my car a lot, and had cool drinks on the balcony every other day. Recently decided that it should be winter time. I started wearing my sweaters inside again and cooking pumpkin dishes and chili and borscht. I rotated into the movie queue all the ones that remind me of winter (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fargo, etc). I turned up the AC and started humming Christmas songs. I baked cookies. Bingo! Instant winter.

The even nicer thing about this is that I don't actually have to live anywhere cold. So if I want to go sailing and then sit outside at a restaurant for lunch and then read by the pool I can always take a holiday from my self-imposed holiday season for a few hours.

I get the feeling this might be hard to get used to actual winter when I get back to the states in December.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Whale watching in Lagos

Yep. You read that right. I just got back from a very unexpected but awesome Lagos opportunity. The Nigerian Field Society (of course!) ran this trip, and as with every trip they run, I can't recommend it highly enough. I freaking love the NFS. It only comes up once or twice a year though, so you have to jump when you see the opportunity.

Anyway, we started out early in the morning from a dock where I just discovered that they have deep sea fishing and 'yacht cruises'. Will definitely check that out before I leave post if there's time. 


We passed downtown Lagos and headed first west along the coast and then south toward the Equator.




For awhile we just enjoyed the ocean and the breeze and each other's company. We scanned the horizon like crazy but by the time we were supposed to head back no one had seen anything. Not a huge disappointment of course, but you know - it was a whale watching trip and I didn't want to come home 'empty handed'.


But just as we started to head back the guide pointed out fins in the water. It was the best!

Obviously, I got exactly zero good pictures. The boat was rocky, the whales move pretty quick, and I was focusing more on spotting them than photographing them. I hope somebody else got some good shots because the only whale picture I managed to get is a bit underwhelming.

It's the tiny black spot in the upper middle/right of the picture.

Still, what a great day!

Even if we hadn't seen a whale it would have been a good time though. There's just something about the ocean that makes everything better.

Also, for those who are curious, I have no idea what kind of whales we saw. A Wikipedia article I found lists a number of whale species that can be found off the Ghanaian coast so I'm assuming it's one of those...maybe pilot whales? Meh. Either way, I definitely need to add this to my life list so I can cross it off.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

Hope everyone else is enjoying the long weekend - I know I did.

This weekend was kind of like the Sound of Music - made that much better by the addition of a few of my favorite things. ;)

Friday we had 'bad movie night' where we watched one of my favorite bad movies - yes, I have a whole collection of particularly bad/good ones. This week the highlighted selection was '2012'. Highly recommended.

Saturday I sailed in an offshore race. As usual (particularly during the offshore races) I got soaked and bruised and exhausted and only slightly lost at sea and it was one of the best days ever. I LOVE offshore sailing. The wind, the sun, the waves...*sigh* it was glorious. ... After that I somehow found the energy to hit up three different grocery stores and catch the tail end of a barbeque.

Sunday I did brunch with a group of friends, then caught a showing of 'Frozen' organized by our friendly Marines. Then the exhaustion from sailing hit me like a sack of bricks and I went to a house party only to leave at 8:13pm because I 'couldn't possibly keep my eyes open a second longer'. Lame.

Today we hit Balogun market for fabric with some great people who are new at post. I'm excited about the incoming set of officers and their families. So far they all seem adventurous, low-maintenance, and - perhaps even more fortunate - highly competent. Lucky us! We also checked out my new favorite Lagos restaurant (Spice) and ate some amazing Indian food. I've spent the rest of my afternoon experimenting in the kitchen. I made a pumpkin spice latte (from actual pumpkins) - which was a bit heavy on the milk and light on the coffee but otherwise delicious - and garlic pumpkin mashed potatoes with spinach - which I'd recommend, particularly if you have a bunch of leftover pumpkin you're trying to use up.

And with that I think it's time to watch some Kill Bill (what, that's not your 'feeling happy' movie?) and enjoy this weekend to the very last drop.

(And congrats B&D!)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tourist attractions of Lagos, part 5: Olumo Rock

Happy last week of August!
 
 

I realize that it's been a million years since the last time I wrote about a tourist attraction in Lagos. Turns out there aren't that many and I'm not very good about getting to them. But thanks to a few intrepid friends of mine a trip was organized to the city of Abeokuta in neighboring Ogun state and I got to see the famous Olumo Rock. It's a lot like what it appears to be - a big rock on top of a hill - but it has an interesting history and standing on top if it offers a nice view of the area. It's only really interesting for about an hour but you could spend the day in Abeokuta checking out the market as well, and we heard about but did not visit a local museum.
 
 
To be brutally honest there isn't much to see at the rock, but I am really glad I went anyway. It was nice to be surrounded by rocks and grass and trees rather than concrete and trash and people.

 
Beyond just the novel 'back to nature' enjoyment of climbing the rock, it offers a nice view of the city of Abeokuta. We see so little of Nigeria outside Lagos that it's good to have these occasional trips to remind us that 1) there's a whole real country out there, and 2) it doesn't all revolve around US visas. Driving through the city reminded me of everything I love about Nigeria - the busyness, the entrepreneurial spirit, the beautiful forests and hills. I also just love the intangible texture of the place; everywhere you look there's such a density of interesting things to see that it's both fun and overwhelming.

 
In true developing world fashion, safety was more of a suggestion than a rule. We climbed up one very steep section of rock, with a very long drop should we fall, only to turn around at the top and see this line. Oops! I guess we went up the wrong way! Maybe guard rails would have removed from the view?
 
Anyway, if you're in Lagos and the security rules allow it's worth a day trip.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Scratch off map

While in Italy last year my parents bought me a scratch-off map to record all my travels. Since then I've done what felt like quite a bit of traveling within Africa, so I've made the map part of the post-vacation tradition (along with retrieving my half-dead plants from the plant sitter and doing a hundred loads of laundry).  Until I bust out the map I always feel well-traveled, but once I unroll it, well...


I'll let you be the judge.
Kind of pathetic isn't it?
 
I realized pretty quickly that if I want to make some progress on this map I need to get my priorities straight. Bigger=better and colder=bigger. When I go home on R&R I really have to visit Canada. Look how much space I could scratch off! And maybe while in Italy I can do a weekend in Moscow. I can't lie - it's tempting.
 
And I'm definitely going to have to serve in Africa again because that part of the map is frustratingly bare despite my best efforts.
 
 
 
And hey! It looks like I forgot to scratch-off Liberia. Epic win of the day. It's a little bit sad how happy that makes me. Maybe this is the wrong gift for someone with a touch of OCD. Or maybe it is a maddeningly perfect gift. :)
 
Speaking of perfect gifts, what does one purchase for a parent's milestone birthday? The parent or parents in question can feel free to leave some hints in the comments section.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ethiopia - more impressions

I'm getting a bit sick of 'travel posts', even my own. You know what I mean, the blow-by-blow overshare that's more of a diary entry than anything else (first I ate a donut for breakfast and then the taxi was five minutes late and...).  So in an effort to avoid oversharing I thought I'd just intersperse my random observations about Ethiopia with a few pictures (what we're all more interested in anyway, right?) Hopefully that counts as meaningful writing.
Taken in the mountains right outside/above Addis.
 
Addis Ababa: I'd heard really good things about Addis from other people in the Africa bureau. Namely that it was very livable and developed. It was fine, but honestly it seemed kind of bland as a city. It's entirely possible that I just saw all the quiet, unexciting parts of the city but it felt a lot like...everywhere else I've been in Africa. I will say, though - the green space in Addis was much appreciated and I liked how there were actually some hills in the city. Lagos needs hills. 
 
Impromptu checkers game while waiting for my flight.
 
Begging: Oh my goodness - I have never had that many people ask me for money. And I don't mean in the 'I will wash your windshield for 10 cents' sort of asking. I mean more of the 'Excuse me, I saw you standing there and thought "I would like some of that foreigner's money" so I just came over here to ask for some now' kind of way. It was awkward, but I'm not the pushover I was before I started consular work, so I broke a lot of hearts.
 
Every single place was this scenic. It was kind of ridiculous.
 
Rainy season: Best time of year to see Ethiopia. All the crowds were gone, I had my pick of the best hotel rooms and restaurant tables, I didn't have seatmates on most of my flights, and the air was perfect and cool. And as a bonus, everything was green, green, green.
 
Stone church in Lalibela (one of many - each completely awesome)
 
Money: Ethiopia was WAY cheaper than Nigeria. A typical meal out in Lagos costs $40 a plate and I've had $60 a plate meals that were certainly nothing fancy. We ate burgers at a great little place in Addis for less than $5 apiece. $20 a day would probably be a good estimate. Epic.
 

The Blue Nile falls. Now I've seen both sources of the Nile (saw the White Nile source in Uganda).
 
I also owe a shout out to...
GETTS (tour company) - they planned every single step of the vacation so all I had to do was give them my flight information and show up with a wad of cash and they did the rest. They booked flights, hotels, and ground transportation for 5 different locations throughout Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, Axum, Lalibela, Gonder and Bahir Dar). They met me at each airport, drove me everywhere, provided the guides, and answered every question that I had. The service was pretty cheap and their customer service skills are fantastic. Highly recommended.
 
Also highly recommend the Ben Abeba restaurant in Lalibela. Great food, wonderful service, some of the best views in the world.
 
 

I think these are weaver birds.
 
Ethiopia is certainly still a developing country. The roads are full of people walking or herding cows, sheep and donkeys. None of the hotels I stayed in (or even the house of a fellow FSO!) had central heat. And most poignant of all - a moment I had near the end of the trip. I checked in for my flight at one of the regional airports north of Addis and started to get hungry. I asked if there was a place to buy a drink or a bag of chips or something. Sorry, the staff said, but no - there wasn't even a snack kiosk or a vending machine. Instead, the staff pointed me across a muddy field where there was an abandoned looking garage. So I traipsed across the field, my rolly bag rolling behind me and sure enough, the porch of that little shack was set up with tables and homemade chess sets (the one above was from this place). I had coke in a bottle (I love coke in a bottle) and some of the best food I've had in Ethiopia on the porch while I watched my terrifyingly small prop plane land and taxi around the airport. It was charming and inconvenient and reminded me why I love traveling so much. Who wants a burger from the airport McDonalds when they could have a mini-adventure?
 
So, thanks Ethiopia for getting my head back into a good place for the last few months in Africa.
 
Airport McDonalds - rural Ethiopia style


 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

back in town

Just got back from Ethiopia - it was absolutely great and I really enjoyed catching up with my A-100 colleagues.

I'm too tired to post much about the trip now, but here's a photo to get the recap started.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ethiopia (gasp!)


Greetings from Axum, Ethiopia!

I'm here on what will probably be my last Africa vacation (though I still have one R&R left) while living in Nigeria. I can't quite explain what it was that inspired me to plan a vacation here. After all - there were a lot of choices. Kenya and Tanzania were big draws - I could have done a 'real' safari and Zanzibar looks like the closest thing to heaven on earth that you could ask for. I heard good things about Senegal and I have another colleague who has traveled there. And I've always dreamed of going to Morocco and Egypt. So I was a little bit surprised myself when I decided to come to Addis. But there were a couple of good reasons that it won out. I have two colleagues here, and I've been anxious to actually meet up with my A-100 colleagues, most of whom I haven't seen since December 2012 (none of the dirty buggers seems to want to visit Lagos). I also had a coworker who traveled here a couple years ago and spoke highly of it. And I think the history was a good way to round out my Africa travels. I've done beaches, I've done animals and nature, I've done 'outdoorsy' and big city, but I haven't really seen much history. And Ethiopia had tons of that.

Decision made, I booked a ticket and scheduled my leave (thanks a million to the officer who's covering for me this week!)

I spent my first day in Ethiopia with the colleagues mentioned above. We had a great time. I bought some coffee, we drove past the embassy (insert the inevitable moment of jealousy here when I realize that all the other missions around the world are new and shiny and look like places where professionals would work). We also took a very cool trip up the mountain that overlooks Addis. It was gorgeous and so incredibly peaceful. Addis is definitely much greener than Lagos. There seemed to be parks and gardens all over the place. There are a lot more expats and the vibe was more laid-back. It felt like normal life in a way that Nigeria just sometimes doesn't. There was room for jealousy on both sides though - my colleagues got a bit wistful when I mentioned the American chain restaurants we have in Lagos and my weekly sailing hobby. And I think they'd be jealous if they got to see our housing. 

I also got a chance to visit the little girl my parents are sponsoring outside Addis. This was really a privilege (how often are you invited into a local person's home on your first day in a new country?). She's a confident and smart young lady and I think she'll end up doing great things one day. She wants to be a cardiologist when she grows up (see? what kind of 12 year old knows what a cardiologist is?) and her English was pretty good. She also introduced me to the Ethiopian gasp. As I was talking to her through a translator I noticed that she kept gasping. After each question would be a gasp - then an answer. It was the strangest thing. Talking with the driver on the way home I noticed he did it too and asked my collegues to explain. Sure enough, a gasp = yes in Ethiopia. Disconcerting at first, but kind of original, right?

Anyway, I am in the middle of a 5 day whirlwind tour of northern Ethiopia now. My hotel here is pretty awesome (shout out to Sabean hotel!) and I had to take advantage of the free wifi to update the blog in my downtime between seeing and eating everything I can find. 

More updates will probably happen after I get back. In the meantime, here's some pictures of the trip so far.
Ten or twenty minutes out of town found us in this lovely, quiet forest on top of the mountain. I don't know what these trees are for (it seemed like there was some agricultural purpose) but they were beautiful. And it really was a trip to be somewhere cold after Lagos! It felt like the Pacific Northwest, or maybe Colorado and I loved the fresh smell of the air.

Wish I could upload a video - but this kid has an amazing whip that sounds like a gunshot. Naturally, he was running around whipping thin air to enjoy the sound of it. Boys are the same everywhere I guess. 

This is a deacon at the church in Axum. He played and chanted for us - very cool.

Incense at the mini-traditional coffee ceremony I enjoyed on the side of the road. The total cost was 50 cents for the whole thing and it was a great little glimpse into Ethiopian culture. Also - I don't think I will ever need to sleep again based on how much caffeine I must have consumed. That stuff was strong!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

8 reasons to bid Lagos high (4)


Continuing my series (parts one, two and three here) of random reasons why you should bid Lagos high. I had originally intended this series to be posted all about the same time, but I'm happy now that I've spread it out over my whole tour. I think I've noticed different things and have a whole new perspective on the country after a year and a half than I did at the 5 month mark.

Reason #6 to bid Lagos high - the ocean

Having grown up on a lake, I love, love, love the water. No offense Abuja, but many of my favorite things about Nigeria are actually Lagos specific and the ocean is a big part of that. Most of the best ways to relax and enjoy yourself in Lagos seem to revolve around water. As the most obvious example, there's sailing.
How could I not love this?
 
Joining the yacht club has given me a great chance each weekend to get some exercise, hang out with a new crowd of people, learn a new skill, and enjoy the sun and the breeze and the water. But you don't have to sail to enjoy the water. I've also gone on a number of boat tours of the channel/harbor. It's fascinating to see the variety of activities taking place in the port.  I'm on the water in some form almost every day and I truly never get sick of it.
There are tiny fishing boats next to gigantic container ships, there are sand dredgers and tug boats, lately there's even an oil platform that appears to be parked in the port for some sort of maintenance. And of course don't forget all the abandoned ships.

There are also some beautiful beaches here - though they are not safe for swimming.
I get out to the beach about once per month and have a good time sunning and grilling with friends. If you wanted to you could go more often. The ocean is also the reason that the community of Makoko exists, and you know how much I loved Makoko.


There's also just something intangible that makes water relaxing.


Speaking of relaxing, happy Eid! We've got two days off next week (though I might be working one of them to help reduce the backlog caused by our recent systems issues) and I plan to do as much relaxing as possible.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

(Nigerian) book review

My apologies, but I just haven't been feeling inspired lately. Or at least, not inspired to write. At least I've been reading a lot though!

And all that downtime I spent reading shouldn't go to waste! I thought I'd share my thoughts on the Nigerian books I've read so far, particularly for those who might be thinking of bidding on Nigeria or who just want to get a broader sense of the culture than what you'd get on TV.

So here are my book reviews - somewhat limited by the fact that I only have so much time for reading and I also kind of like to read books that aren't about Nigeria.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe



This is the first and only book that I'm reviewing that I read before I knew I was coming to Nigeria. I almost wish I'd waited because I think I would have noticed more and read a little closer. I remember thinking at the time 'Wow, Nigeria is depressing'. The story mostly centers on a man named Okonkwo and his struggles in the village. I think I'll reread this someday. I recommend it.
 
 
The Trouble with Nigeria by Chinua Achebe
 
 
I promise I didn't go out looking for a book that picks on Nigeria, but it was in the CLO library and it was nice and short, and by a Nigerian author, so I checked it out. It is by no means one of Achebe's more famous books, but it was worth a read. It turned out to be thought-provoking, particularly because the troubles that Chinua Achebe sees with Nigeria are solidly not the same as the troubles that struck me on first glance. Of course, there is the age-old issue of leadership and political culture but me and Mr. Achebe have different feelings about Nigerian driving skills (see my earlier post about how driving here has been an inspiration for me) and part of me thinks he places too much responsibility for problems on leaders and not enough on the people who are supposed to be keeping those leaders accountable. Anyway, it also got me thinking what he would have written if the book were instead 'The Trouble with America'. (I'm guessing there would have been a lot more pages in that one! Kind of makes you humble, no?)
 
Ake: The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka
 
 
 












This book - by the Nobel Prize winner (who I actually got to see in person earlier this year) - offered a lot of insight into Nigerian culture and family life. It's basically just his autobiography up until he leaves home for boarding school. One of the reviewers on Amazon talked about how it gives a 'flavor' of Nigerian life, and I'd say that's about right. Until reading books like this I really had no idea about the spiritual and traditional beliefs that coexist with all the modern trappings of Nigeria. I recommend it and I'm hoping to read more by Soyinka when I get the chance.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

 
This one hits particularly close to home. It's about a 419 scammer (419 is the section of Nigerian law that covers fraud, and 419 scams are something I deal with ALL day, every day as an ACS officer in Lagos). I found it interesting, if not exactly a classic, though the ending drove me crazy. Recommended if you're coming to Lagos, especially if you'll be doing consular work.
 
The Famished Road by Ben Okri
 

















My friends will laugh about me including this, because I've mentioned so many times how much I disliked reading it, but darn it, I want to get some credit for this slog!

So, full disclosure, I thought it was boring and the phrase 'self-indulgent' would probably be best to describe my feelings on the writing style. That said, it echoed a lot of the spiritual/traditional themes from Ake and it certainly did give me some insight into Nigeria, so it wasn't all bad. If you like more mystical writing you may enjoy this one.

My other issue with this one, beyond the style, is that the story was just infuriating. THIS book could really have been the one titled 'the Trouble with Nigeria' as riots and poverty and drinking problems and violence are pretty much the whole story.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


















This is a collection of short stories. It was ok. And as a bonus, there's a short story called 'The US Embassy'. It is not about a heroic visa officer struggling under the crush of humanity that is the visa line - which is unfortunate, because I think that could be a great short story.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Another by the same author - this one is about the Biafran war. Having heard almost nothing about this conflict before I found out that I was coming to Nigeria I found it interesting. Most of my friends didn't care for it, but I thought it was pretty well-written. If you are looking for something different about the war, try Chinua Achebe's There was a Country.  I do want to see the movie sometime but I'll have to wait until I get back to the states since it's been censored here.
 
There are still a number of other books I'd like to read by Nigerian authors. We'll see how many I get to (I do have my hands full with Game of Thrones after all) and how many I can actually track down here. Ironically I end up buying most of these on Amazon because book stores are few and far between in Lagos.
 
Also, I realize there isn't really much non-fiction on the list. What can I say? In my experience, the things I want to know about a foreign country are best discovered through the stories of the people who call that country home.
 
So on that note, happy reading!