Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ali the tailor

So... Ali the tailor has finished the outfits I had him make and I'm super pumped to share the results. But first, a few words about using a tailor and using this tailor in particular, now that I'm in the know.

First, it's cheaper than buying store bought clothes, but it ain't free. I paid about $40 per outfit in the end. I may have been able to get it cheaper, but I don't like negotiating.  (Money: solving lazy people's problems since forever.)

Second, it's not as time consuming as I thought. I gave the tailor my fabric last Saturday and he came the very next week with finished products. When I needed adjustments made they only took a couple of days.

Third, it's a pretty sweet deal. Ali the tailor took a pile of fabric and two small and blurry pictures of stuff that I saw in a magazine and liked, and customized it just for me. You pick the fabric, the design, the fit, everything. Pretty doggone awesome.

Fourth, be specific. Ali the tailor is not a details person. He is a big picture - get-the-dress-done person. So it pays to be specific and say things like 'please use high-quality zippers' or 'make the button holes big enough that the buttons fit through without any shoving and cursing on my part, or 'I want to leave a little thigh to the imagination'. He's great about fixing stuff, but you know - there's a reason it gets done so fast.

So, without further ado, new clothes! Modeled by yours truly.
What, you don't take pictures on your bathtub? 
(This is the place with the best lighting as I've discovered.)
I like how he did the flowers up and down on top and at a diagonal angle on the bottom.

A copy of a dress I already had - I bought the fabric for a tablecloth, but there was so much left that I thought, why not? I still need a good belt for this one, but so far I like it. And now I can blend in with the table when I eat breakfast. ;)

Many apologies for the general blurriness here. I got the fabric from a friend for Valentine's day. It's a little colorful compared to what I normally wear, but I love the bounciness of it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Go Slow

Well, two out of six blog prompts isn't bad, right?

This week we're supposed to write about something that inspires us at post - and coincidentally I was about to write about one of my favorite new skills anyway.  So here it is, my moment of inspiration: Driving in Lagos

I don't know if you've ever googled Lagos, but what you'll find if you do an image search is 1) pictures of some beautiful place in Portugal that is also named Lagos, 2) pictures of slums, 3) pictures of this dude, and 4) pictures of traffic. Lagos is known for its epic traffic. There's even a highlife song about traffic jams, locally called 'go slows', by a well-known Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti.

At first I was very intimidated by the traffic in Lagos. I contemplated not buying a car - but that was sheer craziness. Your options if you don't have a car in Lagos (and work for the consulate) are a) walk or b) stay home. So I finally decided to buy a car and employ a driver. It worked out okay, but about 6 months in I found myself driverless and had to bite the bullet. I ended up taking Crash-Bang at about this time and found it incredibly empowering. So much so that I came back to Nigeria and immediately began driving myself all over the place. And it's been a blast.

I can honestly say that I enjoy driving in Lagos. I love that it's chaotic and that there are no rules. I may or may not have mastered the art of turning left from the right lane in front of people going straight in the left lane, 'double turning' (when the person who is attempting to turn is being a pansy so you have to edge out next to them and show them how it's done), using up two lanes for strategic purposes, driving the wrong way in traffic and lots of other, socially-unacceptable-in-the-US practices. And of course lots of useful skills that I can employ back home too - particularly parking backwards. All of these skills are just basic survival techniques here and I am by no means an exceptional or even aggressive (by Nigerian standards) driver.

Traffic tetris - the result of the traffic cop taking a quick break and every single driver flooding the intersection at once. Kind of impressive, no?

Driving in Lagos has taught me to be confident and not to sweat the small stuff. Someone just cut me off? Meh. He's just playing the game. While I've found Nigerian drivers to be aggressive in getting where they want to go they are also much less 'rage-y' than US drivers. And for what it's worth - I feel a lot less likely to be hurt in an accident here than back home - the speeds you can reach in Nigerian traffic make all these 'daring moves' pretty tame in reality. All it takes is a gesture (not the offensive kind) and some sign-language negotiation and other drivers will make space for you. I have yet to see that kind of relaxed approach in a traffic jam anywhere else.

So there it is. Come to Lagos and drive like god intended.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

South Africa

Better late than never.

Just to refresh your memories - at the end of my Namibia trip in early may I tacked on a three day stop in Cape Town with a friend from Lagos. We had a blast. Every single moment was basically perfect. It's hard to describe, but Cape Town is truly amazing and I would highly recommend a visit if you are anywhere near Africa at all.

So, first off. Day 1
We visited the waterfront, rode the ferris wheel, decided against a helicopter ride (though they were actually pretty reasonably priced!) and took the ferry to Robben Island. This is the island prison where Nelson Mandela was held for most of the time he was incarcerated. Our tour guide was a former political prison who had spent eight years on the island. It was incredibly moving and inspirational to hear about their struggles and eventual victory over apartheid.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the waterfront, shopping at the mall, and eating out at a really great and very chill Ethiopian restaurant by our hotel. I didn't take so many pictures on day 1 since it was a bit foggy.
Day 2:
We spent the whole day driving the peninsula. We hired a driver (a choice I'd recommend, so you don't have to spend the day fumbling with maps and you can soak up all the views without having to keep an eye on the road). It was pretty affordable too.
I took a lot of landscape pictures because the scenery was amazing. What was also amazing? People actually get to live there! Surrounded by all that beauty and systems that function and it's cheaper than living in Lagos. Seriously, I would love to live in Cape Town someday.
The peninsula has a number of interesting sights but we mostly hit the big ones since we had a lot to cover. We took pictures all along Camp's bay and Chapman's Peak Drive. We stopped at Hout Bay to see the seals. We hiked up to the top of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, we saw the penguins at Boulders Beach, we ate seafood at Simon's town and we did a wine tasting and winery visit at Groot Constantia. The only thing we just didn't have time for that was on my top ten list was the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. I guess that means I'll have to come back!
Also - we drove by the US consulate and there was a moment of super-ultra-mega jealousy.
Pictures here:

Day 3:
On our last day we spent some serious time shopping - we had a lot of souvenirs we needed to buy! - then we took the cable car up table mountain and walked around. It was absolutely perfect. The clouds cleared up and we had an excellent view of the city - we also saw all the rock dassies on top of the mountain - if we had more time I would have insisted that we hike up table mountain but as it is we made the right call.
After the mountain we headed back to the waterfront to wander, shop and catch the sunrise. We had an amazing dinner at Karibu (in the V&A mall) - we ordered about six dishes between the two of us, plus drinks and dessert (everything that sounded South African we ordered since I wanted to try the local food before we left) and it was all amazing. Total bill? $18 per person. South Africa is crazy, deliriously cheap after living in Lagos. We listened to a local music group for a while and called it a night. Seriously - perfect.


 So there it is! South Africa in only one post!
Thanks for the glorious weekend Cape Town. I hope to be back soon!
(And a quick shoutout to our awesome hotel - Big Daddy's. Their breakfast is included and it's amazing - they will make you a hot breakfast to go along with the breakfast buffet - and you can stay in an airstream trailer on the roof. Very nice.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The view from my offic(l)e


Two weeks with zero posts!

Who would have guessed that I switched sections at the beginning of June? And yes, I am blaming my new job responsibilities for the lack of updates here. I switched from interviewing immigrant visa applicants (which I've done since January) to working in American Citizen Services. Not only do I work in ACS, I kind of am ACS now. It's a one-American show over there, at least until fall, so I am both the newest ACS officer and the acting ACS chief. Woo-hoo! I even get my own cubicle/office (we're calling them officles, not sure if that's a real word).

So far I'm really enjoying the work. There's a lot of variety, I'm learning a ton, and it just feels like the section where you get to say yes the most. That's the tough thing about NIV (at least here in Lagos). You have to give people bad news - ALL DAY LONG. In my case, for a year straight - or around 17,000 visas worth. Now, not everyone gets bad news, but still, we say no way more often than officers do in Rio or many of the other visa mills. Switching to immigrant visas was nice - for 5 months I got to have actual in-depth conversations with people, I got to say yes much more often, and I gained experience in another branch of consular work. But it was still interviewing and I still faced that uncomfortable task of trying to judge intangible things (in the case of NIV - people's intention to migrate or not, in the case of IV - their relationships) based on limited evidence. It gave me a new appreciation for people who make a career out of that sort of thing. It's a heavy burden to try to make perfect decisions based on imperfect information - especially when your decisions so directly impact other people's lives. I'm glad to have had the experience of the visa work, but I can't lie - it isn't easy.

Anyway, back to ACS. Most of what I do, the 'day job' of the ACS section - is issue passports and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBAs) to American citizens. Basically zero judgment involved. I collect the documents and if they aren't sufficient I ask to see more. And then I say yes - beautiful. It appeals to the side of me that enjoys customer service. And after all the routine stuff (or sometimes awkwardly right in the middle of it) are all the random things that give ACS its variety. A destitute citizen needs to be repatriated - along with her four small children - requiring approvals and loans and hours of paperwork. A parent in the middle of an international parental child abduction case requests a welfare and whereabouts visit. A US-citizen dies in a far-away city and we need to coordinate repatriation of the remains for his family. Oil workers get kidnapped. People call about their legal troubles. Someone gets arrested. You just never know what's going to happen. (But you can bank on it happening on a Friday afternoon, just about closing time!)

And on top of it all, there are the ubiquitous scam calls and emails. I may have mentioned before what it's like to deal with scam calls. Now I get to deal with them every day! It's still a combination of heartbreaking and frustrating, especially when the victim refuses to believe they are being scammed.

All this - and the added responsibility and independence that comes with running the show by myself - has been keeping me busy lately. But I'm very fortunate to have this opportunity. It's uncommon for an officer to get to rotate through all three sections of consular in one tour - especially in a post like mine with only one ACS job to go around. So I'll try to make the most of this chance while I have it. And I'll try not to go so long without posting too!

Stay tuned for my South Africa trip update soon. I promise I will eventually post it - ideally before my next set of travels!