Monday, April 28, 2014

Balogun market

This weekend I got the chance to visit one of Lagos' biggest markets. It used to be off limits, so I really appreciated the chance to finally see it for myself. The market is basically several city blocks of pure chaos in the interests of capitalism. In other words, it's the perfect expression of life in Nigeria. ;)

So many people.

The reason we came to the market - Fabric! Fabric is apparently what one buys in Nigeria and it's cheap and very cool. The best part is that it's easy to get a tailor here and have whatever you want made. (Not to say that I've managed in my 16 months at post to get anything made by a tailor, but you know, it's easy for other people.)


Wedding beads!
And finally.....
The loot!

The color came out all wrong in the picture but this is a beautiful lime green and the flowers are actually kind of burgundy. I'm having it made into a work dress.

This one is my tablecloth already but I do want to have it tailored and maybe get some matching napkins made. I love that it's so bright and sunny! It reminds me of summer mornings back home.
The successful shopping excursion for some reason inspired me to completely clean the apartment and rearrange the furniture yesterday, even after a full day of brunching and sailing, so clearly this fabric has magical powers.
And that's all for today. It might be radio silence for awhile since I have a full schedule of vacationing in southern Africa this month. I promise to update with lots of pictures when I get back though!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Togo - pictures (2)



We heard music at this village and stopped by. Pretty much everywhere we went we heard drumming and singing - mostly from Easter celebrations.

Do these numbers remind anyone else of Lost?


This is the Easter procession in the village I mentioned above.

Spartan, but they seemed to have a lot of good information up on the boards. Now they need some books!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Togo - pictures (1)

Sunset over Lake Togo (Lac Togo)

I had no idea how much I missed flowers until I saw them in Togo and realized that I haven't seen more than a handful of flowers in Lagos. What gives? Anyway, these were gorgeous and there was a whole section of the market devoted to flowers like them.

Hills, flowers, nature, general awesomeness.

Jurassic park?

This was the coolest plant. You put it on your arm and give it a slap and....

...voila! Instant tattoo. Note- this looks much cooler on black skin. It didn't really work at all on the pastier members of the team.

To be continued....

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

In honor of the holiday I've done almost nothing Easter-related. I wasn't at church, I wasn't with family, I didn't paint any eggs or eat any chocolate. I didn't even buy any lilies and I love Easter lilies.  It's too bad because I've always really loved Easter, but we had a four day weekend at work and a pretty awesome trip became available so how could I resist? (Anyway, I did Easter in Nigeria last year.)

Instead, I spent the past several days in Togo, enjoying all those little freedoms that come with being away from my 'critical threat' post. Most of my colleagues went to Western Europe, but I really wanted to do some more traveling in the region. I feel like we miss out so much on seeing Nigerian culture that it can be easy to write off the country as one long line of visa applicants. As a remedy for that attitude I like to think of my trips through other West African countries as proxy adventures for what I miss out on in Nigeria, whether it's walking through a beach town in Benin, climbing a 'mountain' in Togo, or taking a taxi (gasp!) in Ghana.

As I mentioned above, the majority of this trip was spent in Togo - though we did drive through Benin - and primarily we spent our time in the hills north of Lome.  Yesterday and today we went hiking and it was one of the highlights of my time in West Africa. We walked through the forest, picking up mangos and avocados, starfruit and limes, cacao, papaya and what seemed like every fruit ever. It's amazing how full the forest was with goodies. We got some great hilltop vistas, swam in a waterfall - for those that were a little more adventurous - and saw some interesting wildlife, including my first scorpions.  By the end of the trip I was identifying sites for my future 'garden of Eden' vacation retreat and that's always a good sign. I also really, really loved wandering into villages and markets and just interacting with people. It seemed like every time we emerged from the forest we heard drums, bells, and local flutes. I'm sure Easter weekend was the cause of most of the celebrating, but it felt like it was just for us.

There were, of course, the inevitable moments when we were 'Lagos-ed'. The border crossings were the best example - despite the fact that our group all had the proper visas it took us about one hour on both sides of the border to get across (four hours total since we had to do Nigeria-Benin and Benin-Togo in one day). Why does it take so long? Mostly corruption - rather than a line, there's just a crush of people waiting to see the immigration officer, and the one who bribes (or bribes the most) gets to go first. Being expatriates we just couldn't stomach adding to the corruption, and we paid for that choice with a lot of hot, sweaty waiting. The other answer is that at each border crossing the immigration official writes down all the passport and travel information for every single person in an old-fashioned log book. One could ask - what on earth for? It isn't digitized anywhere so it's utterly useless - but I've found that sometimes it's better not to look too hard for a reason.

Anyway, these moments were luckily few and far between and mostly we met with warm hospitality,  a relaxed pace of living, and the chance to see local society on a much more intimate level that we see in Nigeria.

I'll try to post some pictures when I'm back home in sunny Lagos. In the meantime, I'll just be enjoying the last few hours of a very much needed vacation.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Better late than never! These are some of my favorite sightings from last weekend's trip to Makoko, the stilt village. It really was one of the highlights of my time in Nigeria. It's just a place so full of textures and interesting innovations and friendly people.
I've been to 'floating markets' before and found them hugely disappointing. Most floating markets or villages around the world are hopelessly touristy. Thailand was especially overdone. There were more tourists than Thai people at the floating markets and the only things they sold were trinkets and souvenirs. You could only get a faint whiff of what life might have been like back when it was actually a market place.
Here though, we were one small boat of people skimming through a town of 100,000 people who actually live and learn and work and worship and trade and play and give birth and do absolutely everything on the water. While it's a poor community it was also much happier than other places I've been in Nigeria. Everyone seemed immensely proud of their home and very tightly knit.  I know if Nigeria's security situation ever gets better that this place would be overrun with tourists and so I enjoyed it that much more, knowing that it's likely not going to last.
Are there still problems? Absolutely. It's amazing to me that there aren't NGOs working in Makoko to improve the quality of health care and sanitation and bring schooling to more kids. The yacht club actually built a school, but I think they said it holds between 250 and 300 kids - nowhere near enough space for the children of a community of 100,000.  There was one other school that we passed (pictured below) but the community is made up especially of children so there is a ton of need. The field society organized this trip and they work with the community leaders to make donations for health and education on every trip (that's where the trip fee goes) so in large part that is what pays for the teachers' salaries and school supplies for the few schools in existence.
All in all, enjoy the pictures and if you're in Nigeria definitely make it a priority to visit and maybe donate through the yacht club or field society.
The grocery store

The biggest challenge to photography is to avoid naked children. They were literally everywhere, often in huge groups chanting 'Yevo, Yevo, Yevo' (foreigner) as our boat passed by.

Everyone - young and old - knows how to work a boat and they were all out on the water at the same time.

Inside a hut where they were smoking fish, one of the exports and the major business of Makoko.

See what she's standing on? It's a beach! Families use boards to block off a square of water next to their homes, they fill the space with trash (unpleasant but it's the only thing available) until it's a solid pack and then they top it with sand to make their own dry land. See what I mean? Innovation.

I just wanted to explore everything. Maybe when I retire I can get a nice stilt house here?

One of the two schools. I wonder what they do for recess?

Friday, April 11, 2014

On the menu

Clearly I haven't been taking much time away from my youtube habit for blogging lately. What can I say? I could quit any time I wanted to.

But I do still intend to educate and entertain. So here's a sample of what I've been googling and planning to cook this week.

First up - Shakshuka.
Whenever I rave about Nigerian tomato stew (still haven't found a great recipe for this, otherwise I'd share it) people counter that I should really try shakshuka, apparently a middle-eastern equivalent.

So here's the recipe I'm attempting this weekend, from a perennial favorite - Smitten Kitchen.

Second - unsung foods of Africa
Check out this link from AFK insider. They've compiled a bunch of interesting recipes from around Africa. (The article is poorly named and there are a few too many from South Africa in my opinion, but they did the best they could I'm sure.) I'm planning to work my way through a few of these too.

Ok. That's all I've got. I could share the recipe I googled for key lime pie, but I decided it doesn't really fit the theme.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An old-school tool

This weekend was great, and as always, a bit of a blur. (How could the weekend only be two days? Whose idea was that!) On Saturday I finally got to do something I've wanted to do since before I arrived in Lagos - I went on a boat tour of an awesome place called Makoko.  However I just can't bring myself to write a long post right now. So instead... let me tell you about something that I bought while in Makoko.

It's a toothbrush!

Don't recognize it? Well, this is the local version. I'm not sure exactly what tree it's from, but Wikipedia has some ideas. Whatever the tree, supposedly it has antibacterial properties. I did notice that it was a lot more fun than regular toothbrushing, so that's a plus too.

I guess you all know what to expect in your Christmas stockings now!