Friday, February 28, 2014

Lagos Living - Suya

Suya is an institution in Lagos. Most Americans have a problem with a lot of Nigerian cooking because it tends to incorporate an awful lot of the dreaded 'crawfish stock' (at least according to my sources). Suya is therefore extremely popular since it contains exactly zero crawfish stock. It's also pretty affordable and one of the only foods that is available on-the-go.
The process of making suya is (or seems to be at least) relatively straightforward.
Step 1) Slice some meat (usually chicken or beef) into thin strips.
Step 2) Stick them on some skewers.
Step 3) Roll them in some kind of powder. I admit - I don't really know what's in the powder, but it's good and it's spicy.
Step 4) (pictured) Grill them up.
Step 5) Fry them. (Yes, suya combines the goodness of both grilling and frying. It's clearly the perfect food.)

Step 6) And finally, serve them up with some onion and/or tomato slices.
Bon Appetite!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Behold, the fruits of my 'water the tomato plant a million times a day' labor -
Glorious, isn't it?
See also - my absolute favorite artwork in town. It's kind of a 'found object' metal extravaganza, right? I've seen them for sale in Lagos for over a thousand dollars apiece and the cheapest I've found here was about 500 dollars, but on my long-ago trip to Ghana I managed to snag this beauty for 60. Can you see why I'm so excited about it? I hope to find a better source to get them locally and buy a whole set - if anyone has any ideas feel free to leave me a comment.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lagos Living - Hawking

Almost forgot the most important way to open a business in Nigeria! For the entrepreneur with very little start-up capital, the method of choice is to grab whatever they can carry and haul it -usually on their head - wherever customers might be. This works for a surprising number of goods. Fruit, nuts, drinks, snack food, books, magazines, newspapers, cleaning items, car care stuff, clothes, you name it. I especially like the wandering tailors and cobblers though and have used their services many times. You just hear them walking along with a sewing machine or box of tools on their shoulder, making some noise with their tools to advertise their services. All you have to do is wave one down and they'll fix your sandals, sew on a button or whatever else you need on the spot. 

*I hope to get some more pictures of this later.

Best sign ever - also completely ignored by everyone.

Those pineapples and limes look delicious. If I hadn't been so busy taking a photo I would have chased her down to buy some. - Also not sure what's in the small bucket but I *think* it's puff-puff, a popular pastry here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

8 reasons to bid Lagos high (3)

So... punctuality may not be my forte but here it is, the third installment of my series. Just one reason this time because it takes up a lot of space:

Fifth reason to bid Lagos won't get bored.


I remember living in Sri Lanka. While I was there (maybe this has changed) there was exactly ONE movie theater in the capital that played American movies. It played exactly ONE movie at a time for 3-4 weeks straight. That movie was always something that had been out for ages in the US and it was often a really terrible children's movie. Here in Lagos, by contrast, my old apartment was a block away from a six screen theater that has all the newest American movies and even plays them in 3D should the occasion arise.


This basically carries over to most of the establishments that expats frequent.

First, Restaurants

There are very few things that you can't find somewhere, you just have to ask around. Mexican, Thai, Indian, Chinese and a bunch of random stuff (Russian, South African, Syrian, etc)  - it's pretty much all here. We also have some big American chains - KFC, Johnny Rockets, Coldstone, and we think we spotted a Panda Express a couple months ago. There's a Dominos that delivers - as does a neat little website/app that will deliver from a bunch of restaurants in town. Sadly no Starbucks yet, but I think it can't be too far away.


Second, Entertainment

When I initially found out that I was coming to Lagos I started putting together a list of things I would do to pass the time and use these two years in Nigeria wisely. It's actually embarrassing now to look at it. I was planning to learn to juggle and sew and read a big chunk of classic literature and just generally embody "Little House on the Prairie". Needless to say, the situation is luckily not that dire. Most weekends are as jam-packed as I can handle and I've noticed that I have more social options here than I seemed to have back home.

So what is there to do?


Well, here's a list to get the newbie expat started:

  • Yacht Club!  Absolutely love this. I go sailing maybe 2-3 weekends per month but I could go more often if I had time. It's $600 to join and about $100 a month so it's a splurge but certainly worth the price.

  • Silverbird. It makes the list mostly because I used to live right next door and it was convenient to get there.

  • Palms Mall This is a western-style mall with a big grocery store, lots of shops (clothing, electronics, etc) and a theater.

  • Terra Kulture They do cultural performances, art exhibits, and food. It's a good place to get Nigerian dishes actually.

  • Bogobiri's One of my favorites. This bar/restaurant/café thing has live music several nights a week and is home to a very chill, artistic crowd. I highly recommend their fish pepper soup.
  • Lagos Polo Club Don't know anything about this, but if you're a horse person I *think* you can take riding lessons.
  • African Artists Foundation All kinds of art related events - movie showings, talks, they have a gallery, etc.
  • Lekki Conservation Center A park that I've mentioned before. They have monkeys. Apparently it's run by a whole conservation foundation but I admit I don't know anything about that.
  • Ikoyi Club  Again, don't know much. This is a golf club and a lot of expats and Nigerians belong.
  • Motor Boat Club  You have to have a boat to join, or so I've heard. I think these guys also do some of the deepsea fishing and jetskiing. I've been meaning to make friends with them, for obvious reasons.
  • Nigerian Field Society These guys deserve their own shout-out. The field society does all kinds of awesome events around Lagos and is my new best friend. They've done whale watching, mountain climbing, concerts, camping trips, nature walks, you name it. I went on a great bike-ride with them across the Third Mainland Bridge and they have a super popular Makoko canoe trip.
  • Nike Gallery (& overall art/culture  program) There's an art gallery in Lekki - it's huge. They also apparently have a place you can stay and experience a little authentic Nigerian living. For expats without stringent security restrictions this seems like a cool idea.
  • Federal Palace  I don't gamble, but if you do these guys have a casino. They also have the only waterslide and mini-golf course that I've seen in town.
  • National Museum  The museum is actually pretty good. Do NOT let them try to give you a guided tour. The guides are awful and they just read the signs to you anyway.
  • The American Women's Club I didn’t join because I've just got too much going on, but I know they do some cultural events and a lot of philanthropy so this would be a great group to join.

Keep in mind, these are just the activities with websites. There's Tarkwa beach and the lighthouse walk, there are lots of private beach houses, live music, semi-formal running clubs, events through the American school, etc. 

A big part of the social scene also revolves around the consulate community. There's quiz night, game night, darts and the guys' cigar meet-up, they have yoga, volleyball and boxing and a weekly dog party. The CLO organizes cooking classes, barbeques, market tours and holiday parties. (I'm getting kind of tired just thinking of the social schedule actually.) And of course there is always someone around to go out to dinner or to the movies or clubs if you're interested. In short, I think we have a good mix. The community is small enough that we support each other and hang-out a lot, but it's big enough to give everyone space to carve out their own social scene. After a year I finally have started to run into friends from the yacht club or church or the field society at parties or at the grocery store. It makes Lagos feel a little bit more like home and that's the whole point isn't it?


So that's a basic rundown of the entertainment situation (apologies if I forgot something). Obviously it isn't Disney World, but there's a lot more available here than in my neighborhood back in the Midwest or in many of the places I've lived around the world so I'll enjoy it while it lasts. (And if anyone tells you they are bored in Lagos it's either because they don't have a car or because they aren't trying hard enough. Just saying.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lagos Living - Microshops

Continuing the series ... where does a person go to purchase things in a country with 100 entrepreneurs for every 100 people (I'm pretty sure that statistic is right)? Everywhere! All you seem to need to open a shop in Nigeria is a) a shipping container of any size, or b) a hole in a wall - or a wall into which you are willing to cut a hole.

Even pretty legit stores operate out of containers or holes in the wall. My favorite fruit and vegetable seller operates out of a shipping container. The consulate crowd refers to it, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as 'the container store'. These stores are also pretty handy for buying drinks and snack food - though you won't always find western brands.
This might be my all-time favorite. It's a tailor shop and I like how it combines hole-in-the-wall style with shipping container functionality. And how that picture on the wall looks like an old-timey TV.

Proud shop owner of a beverage shop.

Beauty salon and another proud owner.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lagos Living - the Lottery

I'm excited to finally have more pictures of Lagos to post here. I'm not sure why it took me so long to start getting out and about - I guess Nigeria is just a challenging place to live - but now that I do I've been making a list in my head of everything that sums up Nigeria for me and trying to get a picture of all those things. I'll try to make this a bit of a series, but we'll see how long I stick with that!

So first off - the lottery

I've seen these boards around town for ages and someone explained to me early on that they are lottery records, but it took me until now to actually have a closer look.

Even after visiting the board and amassing a small crowd of helpful teachers, I'm still not sure I understand how the process works. I know the most important part though! You show up with your cash and pick some numbers. Then, somehow (this is where our communication broke down), a number is chosen and the winners may or may not be notified (couldn't figure that out either). Or maybe they just stop by and check to see if their number won? I may never know because I'm too lazy to walk all the way back in the heat. As with most gambling it struck me as an unwise investment, but they clearly have quite the customer base since there seems to be one of these boards on every street in town.

Are you feeling pre-lucky?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Street scenes from Lagos

Mostly taken from inside the car on one of our super-ultra-infrequent trips into the 'real' Lagos.  Presented without comment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Continuing the trend...

...of randomness

Here are a few pictures from R&R back in January. What can I say? It took me a long time to get around to connecting the iphone to the computer. I'm a busy, busy person.

Apologies for the graininess, but I think it adds a certain something...

The beach in Florida. And coats.
This would never happen in Nigeria. Just saying.

Loved the Spanish moss and took many pictures

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Random observations on the opening ceremony

Yes, I watched the Olympic opening ceremony. Finally, I thought, something that happens at just the right time of day for Nigeria. (The Superbowl just didn't happen. I'm not going to start watching a football game at midnight on a work night. Even a really, really big football game. Also - I'm thinking back to the World Cup that I tried to watch in Sri Lanka and how totally awkward that timing was too.)

So anyway, we took advantage of the timing and watched most of the opening ceremony. The biggest moment of disappointment was when we noted that Nigeria will not be fielding any Olympians this time around. You may laugh at the idea, but this is a huge country and plenty of 'summer all year round' places had competitors - Tonga was there, Togo had what looked like a dozen people, Thailand, Jamaica, Zimbabwe... but no Nigeria. Bah humbug.

The second biggest moment of disappointment was of course when our own team came out wearing teacher sweaters. You know the ones I mean. My grandmother has a few and for her they are just right - for a bunch of athletes at a kind-of-a-big-deal event? Blech. Luckily I've heard that we have better uniforms for the rest of the games.

Also - a big shout-out to Paraguay, the only country I noticed with only one Olympian. Apparently this is the first Winter Olympian from Paraguay and what with the family connection I will definitely be rooting for her. (Read about her here.)

One final observation - the Washington Post had an article about how hotel complaints are being overshadowed by both the scale of the ceremonies and the bigger issues at play behind the scenes. Good! The particular glee with which people have been pointing out flaws in Russia's infrastructure ought to embarrass us. First, because it's ungracious for guests in any context to complain about what our hosts offer. Second, because there are so many more important issues to write about. Granted, human rights, inequality and the freedom of the press don't play as well as '"Ew my hotel room is gross," but I think the American public can be trusted to read the tough stuff too. (Ironically, however, I have to bow out of that discussion myself as a sometime-representative of the US government.)

So there it is. All that I have to say about the Winter Olympics so far. You're welcome.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

That time of year again

That's right, I was the duty officer for the past 7 days and oh what an experience it is.

I don't know what duty officers handle in other countries (do they even get called?) but in Lagos it's pretty much all scams all the time. The calls have a tendency to be really depressing, since most individuals being scammed refuse to believe that the person they've been communicating with isn't who they claim to be.

As with last time I was duty officer, I just want to grab every American by the shoulders and say 'Be careful! Protect yourself! Get good advice and truly listen to it!'

Remember - there are two people in Nigeria whose job is to talk to you.

One is the scammer. He (or less likely she) has all day, every day to think of ways to get to you and to think of excuses whenever you catch him in a lie, to slowly build up a relationship with you, and to eventually brainstorm dire circumstances that require you to send him money. His livelihood and - maybe that of his family - depends on convincing you that it's real and getting you (and only you) to send him cash.

The other is the consular officer. I spend all day, every day working on the visa line and when I answer the phone for you after hours it's in my own time and I'm busy, tired or both. I have no agenda. I'm not asking for your money and I don't get any kind of pay raise for convincing victims that they've been scammed. If I convince you not to send money, my only reward is that I sleep better at night. (Except for the whole 'answering calls in the middle of the night' part.) If I don't convince you, it's you that loses money, not me; my punishment is being disappointed in myself and frustrated with the situation. So what's my angle? (Hint: I really don't have one. I just want to help you out and do my job well. Someday it could be my family member who is targeted by a scammer and I hope there will be a consular officer who steps up to protect them too.) And keep in mind - I do this for a living. I've talked to lots of scam victims. I know what I'm talking about. I have access to all the systems. If I say there's no such person then there's no such person. If I say that the hotel they are supposedly staying in doesn't exist I can't go there and check on them anyway.

This is not to say that real emergencies don't happen. We've had kidnappings in Nigeria, in fact quite a few. We've helped American citizens who were imprisoned or assaulted or robbed of their passports. But that just makes us better at determining what's real and what isn't. Believe me - I won't tell you that you're the victim of the scam until I'm very sure. I don't want to look silly and I certainly don't want to deny a real American citizen any of the services the consulate can provide.

So there it is, my manifesto. I care about you America and I don't want you to be tricked or robbed or have your heart broken. I may be a faceless bureaucrat, but I am your faceless bureaucrat.