Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Boob Tube

I'm starting to really understand why I hate television.  Yes, I watch it.  But except for The Boondocks, I don't usually watch it on purpose.  I stare at it because it's on.

I Want My 2 Hours!
I hate how I can sit down to "see what's on" while I eat or do something else that prevents me from studying or moving around, and the next thing I know, BLAM, several hours have gone.  Where'd my day go?  And all those things I wanted to get done?

This is Your Life
But what I'm realizing I really don't like about television is how unhappy it makes me.  "What?"  You ask.  "How can television make you unhappy?"  It reminds me of all the things I'm not or all the things I can't do, instead of getting me excited about the things I can do.

Hannah Montana is on a lot here.  It's a cute show, and it makes it look like being a rock star is a lot of fun.  But I'm not a singer (of course, neither is she really), and I'm never going to be a rock star.  Chances are, I'm not going to have her giant room-sized closet either, or go to fancy superstar parties.  Earlier today there were movie previews for US films.  One film was about hip hop dancing.  I love dancing, I wish I could do it more.  But, I'm not going to be a great dancer.  Maybe, at some point in my life I could have been, but I'm getting old now and that possibility is over.  I'm not going to be the popular kid in high school, or the little rich girl who can buy anything she wants.  I'm not going to be a runway model, a top designer or an amazing chef.  And for anything I see that I could be or do, the couch and tv are not going to help me get there.

Why bother sitting in one place watching other people try to be things I'm not, instead of going out and doing the things I can do?

If I spend my afternoon playing with Dara and Feyi, then I am being a good "auntie" who's brightening their day just a little bit.  I'm not just watching a 'happy' family on tv.  If I sit down to research something in which I'm interested, then I am becoming that expert I want to be, not just watching others competing to be the 'expert' or 'the best'.  If I go for a walk or out to the park, then I am getting in shape, not just staring at people that are supposed to be attractive.  If I sew a new dress, then I am creating.  And most importantly, if I go out and meet people or do things with my friends, I'm building relationships instead of just watching other people's.

There are a few good shows, some things that might get me excited about a project or give me a new idea, but overall, the good isn't worth sifting through the bad.

I'm not going to spend my time watching other people's lives, I'm going to live my own.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Only in Africa

We are currently in the middle of a five-day weekend.  I'm not even sure, does that still count as a weekend? 

Wednesday is Nigeria's Independence Day, 48 years.  Today and tomorrow are some sort of Muslim holiday that I know nothing about.  So, what do Nigerian's do with their long Independence-day weekend?  Why, have a picnic in the park, of course!

A large group of kids and mothers met at Millennium park.  Dara and Feyi's dad and Uncle Tubsosu came, too.  We had ice cream, potato chips (crisps), sandwiches and juice.  There were plenty of games, hoola hoops, bouncy balls and toys.  We unrolled our straw mats under the tree, relaxed in the shade, played in the sun, and enjoyed the gorgeous day.  Of course, that tree being nearby, you know where I went...aurelia in tree 1   And for those who are curious, yes, I was wearing 5" heels.

One of the first activities of the day was a racing game.  team obama and team mccain lined up for racesThe group split into teams.  I took pictures.  One team started doing cheers and then the team leader declared to the other team, "We are Team Obama.  We're the smart ones.  You can be McCain."

Ah, the Obamacans are out again.  But wait, there's more.  Later,  after a lunch break, the group decided to play a game called "Catchy McCain."  Yes, that McCain.  It's a copycat game.  I'm not sure what this exactly says about McCain, but I know the general feeling is Africa for Obama.  My guess is this is a common game with  a new name, but I really don't know much about it.

After Catchy McCain, it was time to pack up and head home.  This all took much longer than it needed to despite the urgency created by a nearby group of teenagers launching firecrackers.  Then a huge construction truck came through the park with 6 grown men in the front seat of the cab.  Anytime I almost forget I'm in Africa....  Oh well, it was a very nice day!

dara relaxing on her mommy

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ah, Those Blond-Haired, Blue-Eyed...

Dara is in second grade at the International Community School here in Abuja.  This week she brought home an art project.  It was one of those "About Me" works where the students have to draw themselves, their families and things they like.  Here is Dara's self portrait:

Dara's self portrait cropped

Now, here is a photo of Dara:

Dara and FooFoo cropped

I asked Dara why she drew herself with blond hair and blue eyes.  She shrugged and said, "no other colors" with a sort of half question mark at the end.  This is Dara's whole artwork:

Dara's About Me cropped

As you can see, she used lots of other colors, including black and brown, in her drawings.

Maybe I've been brainwashed by America's racial tensions, but this really bothered me.

Every Kitchen Needs a Mortar and Pestle

morter and pestal cc cbcastro The propensity of Africans to take whatever food they have, pound it into powder and mash it into some sort of playdough type blob never ceases to amaze me.

In Zambia, they did it with maize, sorghum, millet and cassava.  (All called nsima.)  In Nigeria, they do it with corn (somu), cassava (eba), yam (amala), wheat, plantains (fufu), beans (moin moin or akara), and even, rice!  Wheat is definitely my least favorite.

Today, I finally got to try moin moin; the bean version of blob.  It was really good.  Tasted like the carrots my mommy makes with potatoes when the family has pot roast.  Must be some similar spices in them.  At home, Mommy makes my carrots and potatoes in a separate dish so they don't get icky pig juice on them.  Here, Auntie made my moin moin separate, without the crayfish.  I'm so lucky to have wonderful people who make food just for me. :)  Thank you!

But I'd still like to know, how does one come up with this stuff?  I mean, who's like "oh, here's a tasty food!  I know, if we beat the crap out of it and mix it with water so we can play with it with our hands while eating, it'll taste even better!"?

P.S. I still use a spoon.


[Mortar and Pestle cc by-nc cbcastro from http://flickr.com/photos/cbcastro/406494866/]

Friday, September 26, 2008

CHS Geeks Reunite at Metallica Concert!

Great headline isn't it.  I didn't come up with it, that was all Nelson.  And while I think I'm offended, he may be right.

We have the valedictorian (now an engineer), a doctor, a paleontology grad student, a law student, a violinist/actor and then the little undergrad sophomore.  She doesn't quite fit in that description.  But we love her anyway.

From 6 states, to one city.  Our home town.  Why?  Why not.  (Ok, there are reasons, but I like that one better.)  It's months away, 4 and half of them, but I'm super excited.  It's gonna rock!

Of course it is, it's Metallica!!!!!

All I Want to Do is VOTE!!!


Last Presidential election, I was in Africa. The Peace Corps being a good lil' government organization, they had us fill out all the paperwork for absentee ballots when we arrived in country. We received our ballots for the 2004 Presidential Election, however, on Thanksgiving, three weeks after the election. (Gee, I wonder how most of the Peace Corps Volunteers would have voted…)

john kerry cc license world economic forumclip_image001 


I don't want to miss voting again, so I've spent the last few weeks attempting to register for overseas voting. In all fairness, the American side of things has done a lot to make this as american flag cc ladybugbkteasy as  possible. Obama's website has links to help you register, including a link to the Overseas Vote Foundation. That website helps you fill out the forms you need to register, gives you information on when and where to send things, and has an emergency ballot you can print if your ballot doesn't arrive on time. This is all wonderful.

nigerian flag cc Mad Appler exclamation point colon space paranthesis drunken god close paraenthis space Li What is not so wonderful, is the Nigerian side of things. Even the "good" internet I have at home is so slow it took several hours to go through the site and download my finished registration form. And since I don't often have several hours in a clump, it wound up taking several days. Then I spent about a week trying to print the form. Finally getting a physical copy, with my signature, in my hands, I sent it with Uncle Tubosu to send express. Whoops - that costs $100, never mind! We found out about the extravagant pricing today; the form needs to be in Cudahy by October 15th. It's Friday at noon in Nigeria. Adventure time!

The Adventure

Tubuso took a taxi to bring me the envelope because I know where the regular post office is and he doesn't. I know it closes early on Friday, but I don't know what early is. The post office isn't open on Saturday or Sunday. Next week is Independence Day, which gives everyone a three day holiday. But the government hasn't announced yet which three days that will be. If it's Monday thru Wednesday, the post office won't be open again until Thursday October 3rd. Letters I've sent to the US so far have taken about 2 and a half weeks to get there. This has to go out today.

I met Tubuso at the side gate of work. Luckily, I checked the inside of the envelope before walking too far. He had taken out the address slip and not put it back. I turned around and rushed back towards work. Down the parking ramp, into the building, around the corner, down the hall, up the elevator (thank goodness it was working) and into my office. Address, check, written on envelope, check.

Back down the stairs, down the hall, out the building, "you are welcome," up the ramp, down the block, "hello," across the street, down another block, "yes madam," across another street, through the parking lot, "it fits you," past the first building, past the second building, into the third building, down the hall, and finally into the post office, "oh thank goodness; it's still open."

The regular post office doesn't have any sort of express mail, but the lady said it will leave here today. Wisconsin allows email registration if it is followed with receipt of the mailed, signed, form and the email is sent the same day the form is postmarked. I think I'll be ok. Whew! Job completed. Then, it was back to work. (Just read the previous paragraph in reverse. )

I arrived back in the office with chafed knees and dripping sweat. Really, it hurts, feels like rug burn. Have you ever tried to walk mermaids with beans cc license really fast while dressed like a mermaid? (or "seafoam"?) It's very hard to get anywhere when you can't move your knees more than two inches apart from each other. There's some stairs here that are just a little too high, I can't step up them; I have to hop. And when I go from the front door to the kitchen door at home, I look like a giant turquoise bunny rabbit, bouncing from stone to stone. But, at least I look nice, or, as the Nigerian's say "it fits me."

And more importantly, I think I'll be able to vote.



[All images used are licensed under (cc) licenses that allow non-commercial use for free.  To search for your own legally free images, go to http://search.creativecommons.org/.

George Bush by-nc-nd The Googly at http://flickr.com/photos/44124427654@N01/65873005/

John Kerry by-sa Economic World Forum at http://flickr.com/photos/worldeconomicforum/374718010/

American Flag by-nd ladybugbkt at http://flickr.com/photos/branditressler/2639804678/

Nigerian Flag by-nc Mad Appler!: (drunken god) Li at http://flickr.com/photos/31663765@N00/356507216

Mermaids (cc) Beans Around the World at http://www.beans-around-the-world.com/mermaid.html]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Afraid of My Own Shadow

Fading off to sleep, my eyes did that sort of half flutter where you're almost awake again, but not quite.  What I saw during that flutter startled me and sent my heart racing. 

Cast against the backdrop of the sliver of light coming in from the bathroom window was a tall shadow.  Alarmed, I tried to force my eyes open again.  But my lids were heavy; I couldn't see who or what was there.  How did they get in my room?! Panicking, I moved to jump out of bed.

foo foo croppedWhen I moved, the shadow did, too.  It was the little bunny, Foo Foo, that I had been holding on my chest.  In my half-awake stupor, I had no depth perception.  The rabbit's ears appeared to be a tall, dark figure standing in front of the bathroom door, not a little stuffed rabbit only a foot or so from my face.

I really need to stop waking up like this!  It can't be good for my heart.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


That's my motto for Africa.  Whenever I'm starting to get really frustrated, or have no idea what's going on, I think "what would Timmy do?"  Timmy, or Ba Tim, or Mr. Timmy, or Ba Luyando, was my BOMA buddy in Zambia.  He had this amazing way of dealing with anything.  The entire town, village, heck, probably the entire province, loved him because he always had time for everyone, was never rude and could make anyone laugh.

Sometimes, my wwtd works pretty well.  Like when random people come into my office at work and start playing with things on my desk.  What would Timmy do?  Smile, nod while saying "ooOOoohh," humor them, and above all, be very polite.  And then after the people leave, put everything on the desk back where it belongs.  Or when people ask annoying questions, I just laugh and try to say something funny instead of answering the question.

But sometimes, the what would Timmy do philosophy doesn't work so well.  For example, I was tired of being inside and wanted to do something fun (back when I was at Flat 007).  I thought "what would Timmy do?"  Answer: he would go outside and play futball with those kids running around out back.  That wasn't going to work; I was wearing a dress, and I don't know how to play futball.  Nor did I have a futball.

And there are a few times where I just refuse to do what Timmy would do.  Like when people ask me if I could marry a Nigerian.  I think about all the times people would ask Timmy if he'd like a Zambian wife.  I'm afraid if I told them "yes!, can you find me one?" they'd take me seriously.  Timmy's still got girls pining after him in Zambia, nearly three years after he left Monze!

But in general, the what would Timmy do philosophy works pretty well.  And it helps me keep smiling and stay nice.

Obama, Obama, Everywhere Obama

A follow-up on a previous post.

Today, on the way home from work, I saw a new sign hanging by the roadside.  "THE WORLD TOTALLY FOR OBAMA"

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Grrrrr..... (Double Grrrr)

Ok, Dan Smolinski is probably the only person in the world who would get that, but anyway....

I'm fed up.  I think it's normal after one month in Africa.  I long for that good ol' American mind-your-own-vampiring-business attitude.  I want customer service, hot showers and electricity that doesn't start my surge protector on fire.

The really sucky thing is, based on all the news I'm getting, America doesn't seem like that great of a place to be right now either.  The economy some how wound up in a handbasket, the government's run by corporations, and hurricanes are causing deaths in the midwest!

Usually, when I'm at home and things start looking not so good, I just dream about going back to Zambia.  Well, when I'm in Africa and dealing with everything that is Africa, that balm doesn't sooth so much.

Maybe I'll just join the ostriches.  Where's the sand?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Night at the (Nigerian) Opera

Friday night I attended a concert at the Hilton in tribute to Luciano Pavorotti.  It was sponsored by the Italian Embassy and much of the opera music was Italian, but that is where the Italian in the performance ended.  The choir, the tenors, the orchestra, the conductor, were all Nigerian (except for one violinist and the opening pianist who were Asian).  Nigeria has some amazing opera singers.  Who knew?

The room was too dark for my little camera to take any decent pictures.

The Concert
When the opening piano started, I was a bit worried.  It was choppy and the girl seemed to be struggling.  As the orchestra joined in, I feared the night would turn out to be like a high school band concert.  But my fears were horribly misplaced.  The night quickly became one of the most amazing I've had in Nigeria.

The Metropolitan Chorale Abuja stood.  Dressed in black suits with white shirts and burgundy or gold scarves.  The Lagos City Chamber Orchestra, in the traditional orchestra white and black with bowties, raised their instruments.  The feature tenor, Mr. Joseph Oparamanuike proceeded to the front of the stage, a tall, skinny man with broad shoulders.  But when he began to sing, if you hadn't been looking, you would have sworn it was a fat Italian.

The choir was also very good right from the start.  And the orchestra improved as the night went on.  The organist was so good, that I thought the music was recorded accompaniment, until I saw him playing.  In addition to Joseph Oparamanuike, the show featured two sopranos, Francesca Boyo and Uche Okonkwo, and a group of four called the Nigerian Tenors, Precious A. Omuku, Stanely Okoli, Michael Obinyan and Frank Okoye.  I think Michael was my favorite, but that may have just been because he reminded me of The Legend.

The program included classic pieces by Puccini, Verdi and Mozart, among others.  The choir sang some songs in English by Handel and Purcell.  There were even some Nigerian opera pieces in local languages.  My favorite was O'te Nkwu by Laz Ekwueme, which featured Frank Okoye as a soloist.

The sopranos were very diva-esque in their dresses.  They even changed clothes in between songs.  Big poofy dress, glitter covered ones, some tight, others not.  One even channeled 15th Century Europe with its lace up front and big ruffled collar.  The sopranos did a duet called The Cat Duet, by Rossini.  It was a lot of meowing!  But it showed off their voices nicely.

As wonderful as the performances were, there were still little reminders that I was in Africa: the video camera men standing on the stage, blocking the audience's view of the performers; the frequent ringing of cellphones; and of course the large sleeping girl next to me who kept spilling off her mother's lap and onto mine.  Overall, the concert was incredible, and I am very glad I went.  This may have even been worth missing Lil' Wayne.

The Food
Almost as amazing as the music, was the food after the show.  This spread was one of the fanciest I've ever seen!  More so than our Blackacres at school, even more so than the firm shindigs.  Glass DSCI0273 tiers held little dishes of pineapple upside-down cake, olives, fruits and so much more.  You should have seen the excitement on my face when I saw a big bowl of cheese.  And the disappointment when I realized it was pineapple and cantaloupe cubes.   Different stations around the lobby and out in the courtyard featured made-to-order sautéed pasta. DSCI0271 I had little ring-shaped pasta in a wonderful pesto and garlic sauce with onion!  There was red wine, white wine, juice, beer.  Tables featured gellato, rice, pasta, Italian breads, salads and all sorts of meats and seafoods.   I haven't eaten this well in months.

The Crowd
I think since I've been here, up until last night, I'd seen about 6 white people.  This event had so many, such diversity, I could have been in America.  (If they hadn't looked so strikingly European.)  I met a man from Chicago who's in the oil shipping business.  A gentleman from Geneva who works for the red cross, and a lady from Abuja who's mother is from southern Nigeria and who's father is British.  She was surprised when I told her where I was from.  "You don't look American!"  (I get that a lot when I'm abroad.  I was even mistaken for an Italian on a vapareto in Venice!)  Americans have a tendency to stand-out in a way that I don't.  And I really take that as a good thing.

One neat thing that's consistent with every event I've been to in Africa is that the performers come out and mingle after the shows.  I got to meet Frank (Okoye) and have my picture taken with him and Michael (Obinyan).  Unfortunately, it was by one of the professional photographers and not with my camera.  :(  One of the girls from the choir came up to me and told me, "I like you; you're pretty."  That was a nice little ego booster.

It was a great event, and it's annual.  So if any of you ever happen to be in Abuja around the anniversary of Pavarotti's death, be sure to check it out!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Trip to Nashville

Today I walked to Nashville.  Nashville Park that is, with Stella, Dara and Feyi.   me, dara and feyi at the park

This "park" is just two blocks from our house.  It's a corner lot on two busy streets with a few trees and, mostly, overgrown grass.  We wanted to take our pictures with the sign, but we couldn't actually go next to the sign, because there could be snakes in the tall grass.  (Or Stella says; I'm not so sure about snakes in the capital city.)

After our walk to the park, we headed to Maitama Shops so Dara and Feyi could get some sweets.  dara and feyi with sweets and stella cropped The Shop is actually in the opposite direction as the park, but those girls really wanted their sweets, so we trekked over there.  I got some more jam for my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so it's all good.

The girls have those rollerskate-shoes and insisted on rolling down every semi-smooth pavement section.  Luckily for Stella and me, there aren't many of those.

With our little detour, our short walk turned into an hour excursion, and we all arrived home tired and thirsty but happy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

6,000 Miles Away and Surrounded by Obamacans

When people here in Nigeria find out that I'm from the US, one of the first things they do is try to convince me to vote for Obama.  Obama is everywhere.  On the way to church, there's a large sign shouting "Obama '08."  LawPavillion, a Nigerian legal resources website lists "fundraising for Barack Obama" in its announcements section. 

And it's not just Nigeria.  Four months ago, my friends in Zambia named their youngest daughter after one of Obama's children.  Another Zambian friend proudly proclaims on his chat status message "Obamania for America."  In South Africa, in Kenya, in Ghana,  across Africa, people are forming fan clubs, praying, doing anything they can.  They are excited, and it's because of Barack Obama.

An article in the Saturday Sun written during the primaries in March described this international support:

Our votes do not count.  We are not Americans.  Even if we are Americans, we are not super delegates.  We are not super anything.  We belong to no political party.  We belong to no party caucus.  Yet we will vote for Barack Obama.  With our hearts, we will vote.  With our prayers, we will vote.  With our dreams, we will vote.  With the audacity of our hope, we will see him through the White House. Who are we?  We are the Obamacans."

- Mike Awoyinta, Saturday Sun, Vol. 5 No. 268, March 2, 2008, p. 21.  "Who Will Be on Top: Hillary or Obama?"

Nearly everyday I hear a new song on the radio mentioning Obama, from African and American artists.  Obama is inspiring people far beyond anything I've ever seen.  Here, they compare him to Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy.  At the Nigerian Bar Association Conference, speakers encouraged the crowd to tackle legal reforms saying "a black man is on the verge of becoming President of the most powerful nation on earth; we can do this!"

As Mr. Awoyinta put it, "you look at Obama and you don't see a black man.  Instead, you see... an apostle of peace."  With the current not-so-flattering world-perceptions of our country, this matters.  Maybe even more than experience, more than party affiliations and more than anything anyone can do domestically.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Anti-Privacy Warning

CDs and such come with anti-piracy warnings; Africa should come with an Anti-Privacy Warning.

Ok, it's starting to get to me.  A little sooner than I expected.  The constant questions that to me, as an American, feel invasive and far too personal.

"How was your night?"  "What have you been eating?"  "Why won't you marry an African?"

And there's others.  Questions about my political views, who I'm going to vote for, my religion... "When did you come to know Jesus?" is not something a casual friend would randomly ask you during lunch back home. 

The asking about my night, I'm trying to get used to that one.  It's not really a question; it's like our "What's up?"  You don't expect an answer; it's just a greeting.  But it sounds funny to me, and I don't like the idea of taxi drivers and other random strangers asking me about how I slept.

And the food, I try to just grin and bear it.  Answering politely, explaining that being a vegetarian does not mean I "only eat donuts" or "only eat bread".  (Really people? donuts?!)  Besides, sometimes they come up with suggestions for new local foods I haven't tried yet.

But, if one more person starts badgering me - and I do mean badgering because they won't relent unless they have some full complete detailed story - about my not marrying an African, I think I'm going to scream!  "It's none of your vampiring business!"

So I try to change the subject or tell them I'm not going to talk about it.  But they won't stop until one of us gets where we're going and the other one leaves.  GRRRRRR

Monday, September 15, 2008

Alice through the Copyright Office

Do you ever leave somewhere feeling like you spent the last hour banging your head against a wall?

My wall went something like this:

Copyright Officer #1:  So, since you're with the Institute (the department I've been working with for two weeks) maybe you can tell us some other ideas for how we can get information to the students about copyright law

(Me thinking: hmmmm, maybe if they learned about in art or music class, when they're creating.  Wait?  Do they have art or music class?)

Me speaking: Do the students have art class in school?

CO #1: Art class?  In school?

CO #2: In Nigeria?  No, I don't think they have.

CO #1: No, there's nothing like that.

Me: Ok. Do they do art projects in their other classes at all?

CO #1: Art projects?

Me: Yeah, like, let me think of an example.  Ok, like if they're learning about cities, maybe they'll draw a picture of a city.

CO #1: No.  They won't draw a picture.

CO #2: No, nothing like that.

CO #1: They won't draw pictures of them.  But they know them because they have cds at home where they play them, but they don't really understand what it is.

Me:  (Trying not to laugh)  Oh, ok.  (Thinking again)

CO #1 and CO #2 start discussing the creation of a list of topics for teaching high school students about copyright.  They ask me to give them an order for the list of topics.  I suggest starting with an explanation of what copyright is.  CO #1 agrees.  Then CO #2 interjects.

CO #2:  We need to start with the harts ("arts").

CO #1: Oh yes.  We do.  That's ok.  They'll know about the arts because they have fine arts class in school.

Me: (in my mind rolling my eyes and shaking my head) They have fine arts class in school?

CO #2: Yes, they have harts.

Me:  What grades?  (Thinking maybe it's only college.)

CO #1: All grades.  Even from primary school.  They do paintings and drawings and dip newspaper in water and starch to make sculptures out of it.

Me: ah, paper mache.

CO #1: No. (continued explanation of paper mache.)

Then they hand me some text books.  The first page of the book I open describes a city and tells students to draw a city.  By this point, I'm ready to go home.  But no, we haven't finished.  We need to develop the program.  So the meeting continues for another half hour or so, in basically the same fashion.

CO #2 and CO #1 had been discussing why we needed to start with the arts, but had fallen silent.  I tried to stay positive and do whatever I was supposed to be doing.

Me:  Ok, so we want to start with the arts.  Do we just want to follow the order that's outlined here in the book and figure out how best to break up the sections?

CO #2:  No, we can't just start with the arts, we have to talk about copyright first.

CO #1: Yes, otherwise it will be all segmented.  They can't come one week and learn one topic and come the next week and learn another.

CO #2: They need to know about the economics so they'll be encouraged to create.

By this point, I wanted to scream, "MAKE UP YOUR *&^# MINDS!!!"  But, I didn't.   I let them decide that we didn't need to come up with a program until the project proposal is approved. 

Great, we can have this conversation again next week! :/

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Terror From Above

I was awoken in the middle of the night by something heavy landing on my chest.  A bit scared and unsure as to what was going on, I reached up to find out what had hit me. It felt like flesh, cold, clammy flesh!  My first thought was "it's a frog."

Terrified, I tried to grab it to throw it off of me.  It was too heavy.  dead handI felt it again, a hand!  In a half-awake stupor I began to panic.  Did some sort of dead hand just fall from the sky and land on me!?  Groping at this strange object, I found it was still attached to an arm. 

Then I realized it was my hand.  My right arm had fallen asleep and was completely numb from the shoulder down.  I couldn't feel my left hand touching my right one.  I had thought my right hand was lying next to my body on the bed.  Relived that severed body parts were not falling from above, I left my numb arm where it was and went back to sleep.

(image from Vampires in the Fog)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Favorite Quote About the New CERN Accelerator

"I think it's a very important project," said Katie McAlpine, 23, a Michigan State University graduate who made a rap video about the project.

What would Biggie and Tupac say if they knew rap had reached this level?  Now, if only I had internet that allowed me to watch YouTube.  Oh well, don't look a gift horse in the mouth.  I'll watch it in a few months.


Some people look forward to Casual Fridays; some people look forward to First Fridays; but me, I look forward to Traditional Fridays.

Traditional Fridays are fun and colorful.  This is the day everyone (well, nearly everyone) in the office dons their "natives."  This is what Nigerians call the outfits that are more African than Western.  Really, with things like A-line skirts and collared shirts, the outfits aren't truly native or traditional, but the ensembles are very African, modern African.  And they're beautiful.

For the guys, the outfits are probably also easier to put on and more comfortable.  The men in the office trade their suit and ties for loose fitting elastic-waist pants and long loose shirts made out of the same lightweight material.  The female outfits can be better than usual, but it depends on how fitted the native is and how suit-like the regular daily wear is.

One of my favorite things to do on Fridays is stand at the end of the hall outside my office door, looking over the balcony railing.  Bright, brilliant colors flutter and flow, up and down the stairs, in and out of doors.  On every floor, vibrant materials parading around.  Humongous headdresses, flounces, ruffles, you name it, if it's big and bright, it's there.

And I like the nice break from my boring suits.sitting sideways cropped

traditional friday cropped Me on my first Traditional Friday (Zambian garb, which everyone recognized as not being West African)



And me this past Friday in my new natives, which everyone complemented me on, saying "ah, now you are Nigerian."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hi Ho Hi Ho

It was Saturday, but I went to work.  There was a meeting of the Research Team of the WIPO/NCC Study on the Contribution of Copyright and Related Rights Based Industries to the National Economy of Nigeria.

The meeting was scheduled to start at 10am.  I arrived at 9:59 and, just as I expected, was very early.  The narrow conference room had barely enough room for the table and chairs and for one person to squeeze along the wall on one side of the room.  This resulted in some people having to actually climb over others in order to take their seats. 

The meeting finally started at 11:30 and ended at    18:00.  At least the chairs were cushy and fairly comfortable.  The table fell apart in the middle of the meeting.  The head of the table had a half-circle extension on it.  The extension was attached by a screwed in bracket, but the screw tore out of the wood on the big part of the table and the extension fell off.  Somehow, the National Consultant running the meeting managed to balance the extension's bracket on top of the big table without interrupting the meeting or dropping his laptop.

Several secretaries were also at work that day.  They brought out coffee and tea, pitchers of water, crackers, sugar and condensed milk shortly after the meeting began.  About an hour later, they returned to collect all the items.  At 3pm, they brought us lunch.  And then after lunch again, they brought out the coffee and tea supplies.  No crackers this time though. 

When we weren't munching on crackers, we could take little sweets from the dishes on the table.  Being my adventurous self, I picked up a little orange and black striped wrapper.  "Tom Tom" it proclaimed.  Inside, a black and white striped candy that smelled a bit like licorice.  I like licorice, so I popped the candy into my mouth.  Yuck.  The black part was licorice all right.  But the white part was mint.  This resulted in a sort of licorice-cough-drop flavor.  I bit into it and tried to eat it as fast as possible.  That was the end of my sweeets-tasting for the day.

The meeting was pretty interesting, even if it was incredibly long.  But it was well-organized and the group knew what it wanted to accomplish, set out a plan for how to accomplish it, assigned people and set deadlines.  I'm excited to see how things progress.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shameless Plug for Donations

aidsAs you know, I'm currently in living in Nigeria.  You may also know that I previously spent a couple of years in Zambia.  Living in Africa makes one acutely aware of the impact of HIV and AIDS, but it is not just an African disease. 

In Middle Tennessee alone, there are over 300 new cases each year.  One out of every 250 Americans has HIV, only one out of 500 knows it.  While our infection rate is not nearly as staggering as the one out of 5 in Zambia, it is still devastating.  The fastest growing rate of infection is in African-American women; young people and people of color remain the most at-risk groups.  This is why Vanderbilt's Black Law Student Association (BLSA)participates in the Nashville CARES AIDS Walk.

Last year (see p. 3), BLSA and the Vanderbilt Bar Association (VBA) challenged the Law School student organizations to participate in the AIDS Walk.  Because of the great participation in this challenge, the Law School became the third highest fund-raiser participant in the Walk.  We're out to do it again!

Please support Team BLSA.  You can support any of the real walkers on our team page, or support me as a virtual walker.  Either way, any little bit will help; pennies do add up!

Donate Here

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Show Us What's Inside Church #3!

It's sort of funny how something that wouldn't feel comfortable or wouldn't be ok at home is suddenly great when it's the most familiar option.

Three Sundays in Abuja, three different churches.  First it was Winner's Church with one of the girls; then it was a Catholic church with the other girl.  Today was with my new family, and had the preacher not been constantly thanking the Lord for "our country Nigeria," I wouldn't have known I was in Africa.  It was just like any praise church I've been to in the United States.

The Church
Outside the building, ushers in orange vests directed traffic into marked parking spaces in a real parking lot, with asphalt, medians and trees.  When that lot was full, the cars went to the dirt over-flow lot behind the church, and when that lot was full, they parked on the soccer field.

Inside, the building looked nothing like other African buildings.  The walls were wood paneled, not cement.  The floor was carpeted, not cement.  The chairs were those cushioned metal chairs that can be hooked together on the sides or stacked easily out of the way.  The sanctuary had a balcony with a railing.  The pulpit and band were on a raised stage.

The Service
The choir consisted of about 9 people, 8 of whom lined up at microphones behind the lead singer.  The words to the hymns shown on the big screen overhead.  Electric guitars, a keyboard and a drum set accompanied the choir.  The preacher told people what scriptures he was going to read, and everyone pulled out their Bibles to follow along.

Normally, I don't really like praises churches.  I prefer old fashioned hymns to the new-fangled repeat-two-lines-for-three-minutes songs.  I like organs, not electric guitars and drums in church.  But today, today I really liked the praise church.  It was familiar; it felt like home.  Nobody encouraged me to give to money to God so I could have a baby, nobody tried to sell me candles or brochures or anything else before the end of the service (like they did at the Catholic church).  I didn't have to put oil on my head; I didn't feel extremely awkward for not having a scarf on my head (Catholic church again).  It was nice.

The Sermon
The sermon today was about the coming of the end of the world.  And what did the preacher point to?  The hurricanes, floods, famines, other natural disasters?  No.  California.  California and the same sex marriage law.  "I remember," he says, "I remember when California passed their same sex marriage law.  I remember reading about it on the internet."  You remember?!  Reading it on the internet!I was there!  I had to chuckle just a little bit.  But then the preacher started explaining how he read a comment from someone who said they were Christian and thought the new couples should be left alone to do what they feel is right.  This was a prime example of the failing morality prophesied for the end of time, a perfect example of people who will call themselves Christian but go to Hell anyway.  He urged everyone to do their duty as Christians and post their own comments on the internet.

Now can someone please explain this to me:  The Old Testament says men should not lie with other men.  But it also says not to eat pigs.  So why is one ok and the other not?  People say, 'well Jesus came and just changed the rules so that you just don't do what is bad for you.  Eating pig is not bad, but homosexuality is.'  Why?  And what happened to not judging others?  (Incidentally, there are other rules in the same section of the Bible that most Christians (and churches) would consider archaic health concerns.)

Same Same, but Different
As different as the three churches I've attended were, they all had some things in common.  Every one of them had three services.  Every one of them was in a large, and nearly full building.  And everyone of them involved some sort of pushing and shoving through crowds either to enter, leave or both.  People here go to church, it's a given.  (And I'm including mosque in that term.)  No one asks "do you go to church?"  They just ask, "which church do you go?"  Any answer is ok, as long as you're going somewhere.

Friday, September 5, 2008

To Market, To Market, To Buy a Fat Hen

When you see a woman in nice business clothes holding live chickens upside-down, one in each hand, then you know you're in Africa.

Yesterday, Dr. Y, the lady of the house, and I went to Wuse market.  And we headed straight to the chickens.  Underneath a tin roofed shelter, rows and rows of chicken wire crates were stacked on top of each other, filled with, what else, chickens!  Several men jumped forward when we approached, each offering a different type of chicken.  The lady of the house picked the white fluffy chickens and proceeded to select the ones she wanted by holding them upside-down by their feet.  She would raise her arms a bit, lift each one up and down and then hand it back to switch chickens and repeat.  After a few combinations of chickens, and a lot of Pidgin that I couldn't understand, she handed all the chickens back to the men and we left.

Our next stop was the goats.  They were already dead.  Rows and rows of meat, lying out in the open.  The buzzing flies reminded me of a story I had heard once about how West African meat sellers in tourist heavy areas will spray their meat with bug spray because tourists won't buy the meat if there are flies on it.  Obviously, the bug spray is much more dangerous than the flies.  Apparently this market doesn't get many tourists, flies were plenty.  On one table, a whole goat lay on it's back, throat slit with the head thrown back, tongue hanging out, rigamortis legs bent up in the air.  At another table, a very buff butcher in a muscle shirt slammed his meat cleaver down repeatedly, skillfully trimming away bone, fat and a kidney.  "That's why they're called kidney beans!"  It looked just the same.

As we continued to wander around the market, I noticed that every time the lady of the house bought something, she gave it to some boys and they carried it away.  "Ah, maybe that's what happened to the chickens," I thought.  In and out of aisles, around piles of dried crayfish, over puddles, between bags of rice, we gathered everything on the lady of the house's shopping list.  I thought I heard her tell one of the boys following us 'go and collect my chickens," but I wasn't sure.  Guards walked up and down blowing loud whistles, singling the close of the market.

We headed back to the SUV.  A wheelbarrow sat behind it, overflowing with all the purchases.  Into the car they went, bags of potatoes, sacks of tomatoes, peppers, carrots, ground pumpkin seeds, giant tubers, plastic packs of every color bulging with hidden goodies.  As we drove away I noticed, "no squawking; guess she didn't get the chickens."

Back home, the gate men, the maid, the sister-law and the other guy that lives here helped carry everything into the kitchen.  Fruits were unpacked from the plastic and wrapped in newspaper.  Potatoes were sorted into wire racks.  Bad tomatoes were pulled from the good and thrown away.  I went over near the sink to rinse a plate, and that's when I saw it.  A tiny little chicken toe, with a tiny little chicken claw, resting on the edge of the sink.  I looked up; the lady of the house was holding chicken feet again, but this time, they weren't attached to any squawking birds.  Guess she got the chickens after all.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

From Netherfield to Pemberley

No, there's no Mr. Darcy. But at least I'm away from the condescension and cattiness of the Bingley sisters.

I moved today from Flat 007. I'd only been there two weeks, but it seemed far too long. The girls there were very nice in taking me in and helping me out until I could get settled in Abuja, but it was time for them to have their space back.

This new place is unlike anywhere I've ever lived before. It's got to be a mansion. There are three floors and seven bedrooms! Three of the rooms are self-contained, enter from the outside style. The maid has one, I'm in another, and I think there's a driver or something in the third. The rooms inside belong to the master of the house and his wife, their two daughters, the wife's sister-in-law, and another guy that I think is somehow related.

There's also a study, a play room, a parlor, a sitting room and a large kitchen with a walk-in pantry. Plus, the foyer is so big it houses a piano and the children's bicycles, rollerblades and doll strollers. I'm very excited about the piano. Both the daughters and the father play. I love hearing people play the piano; it reminds me of home and listening to Wendy.

new bathroomMy room is quite large with a nice bed and air conditioning (if I decide to use it.) The bathroom is really big and the shower stall is larger than the one at Flat 007. I new roomgot these lovely bubblegum colored sheets because they were the cheapest - and they were still more than I usually pay for nice sheets at home! Still need to find a pillow.

Outside, there is a large yard with a brick patio/driveway, a covered car park and a grassy lawn. Tall Doric columns support the car park and several other overhangs as well as the second floor above the front porch. A Doberman stays tied up near the back during the day while Skippy, a fluffly little dog, chases butterflies around the yard. Large trees stand on both sides of the high cement wall. At the entrance stands a foreboding metal gate. It's not quite as fancy as the driveway next door. That one is raised up like a draw-bridge and has to be let down when the right car approaches. But that house should have more security, the US ambassador to Nigeria lives there.

The family is Yoruba. I'm really excited about that, because that's the language I've been trying to learn. Dr. Y and most of the people at the office are also Yoruba, despite the fact that this area of the country is generally Hausa. So far I can only greet, say thank you, and introduce myself (and Dr. Y), but I'm working on more. I'll have to get the adorable little girls to practice with me. The father would like me to take them bowling and swimming sometimes. Oh, how awful. ;)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hungry Hungry Veggie

Nearly two weeks here in Nigeria now; I've finally gotten to try some local food. It's been tough finding anything I can eat. Nigerian's put fish or ground-up crayfish in nearly everything. It's like their version of Southern pork.

The first attempt at eating out wound up being not really Nigerian. We had asked around at several eba places only to find that all the veggies had crayfish. Strike-out number 1. So we settled on shawarmas. I really liked shawarmas in Zambia and was excited to be eating them again. Except in Zambia, we could get cheese ones. And here, they mixed ours up and gave me chicken. Yuck.

The next day, Dr. Y took me to a place called Chicken King for moin moin (moy moy). moin moin cropped It's a jiggly sort of bean cake. We were very careful to ask if it had crayfish in it. It did not, so we ordered some. No crayfish, but it did have corned-beef in it. Strike-out number 2.

After our sadness with the moin moin, we went to the house of Dr. Y's friend. They discussed possible dishes they could make for me to try, while I tried the local 'health' drink, Maltina. I cannot understand how this is possibly healthy. It looks like a stout ale; it's carbonated; and it tastes like a mix of rootbear, real beer and dirt. I think it's an acquired taste.

Still hunting for Nigerian food, we headed towards my house and found a lady on the corner selling akara, fried bean cakes. No crayfish, no corned-beef. We have a winner! Greasy but yummy and small, I had five. When I got home, one of the girls here made me eba (finally!) with groundnut soup. It was oilier than the groundnut sauces we had in Zambia, and spicier, but it was still good. It had pumpkin leaves and egg in it, too. After all that, is it any wonder I was sick that night and most of the next day?

Now I only get two akara at a time, not five, and I'll pick up an orange or slice of watermelon from the men next to the akara woman to balance out my snack.

I also tried cola nut last week at the conference. cola nut croppedYuck! Dr. Y showed me how to break off a small piece. So I took the little piece and chewed it. It wasn't too bad. Then I wanted to take a little more, but I couldn't get the piece to break as small as Dr. Y did. I just put the whole thing in my mouth. It was so bitter! How do people chew this all the time? I had to move away and get rid of it; I couldn't stand having it in my mouth.

Since the cola nut, things have improved. This weekend Dr. Y, one of her friends, and I found a guy selling roasted maize by the roadside. It was very very yummy. I love roasted maize. Luckily, it's one thing I can easily get and make myself at home. (See camping.) But today, today was the real treat. Not only did I get to try plantain chips, we found one of my favorite African, can't-get-it-at-home, treats. Sugar cane!! Cool, sweet, refreshing. Slurp, slurp, chomp. Sticky juice running down our chins and arms. It was soooo good!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Well, It's Still Africa

My experiences here in Nigeria have so far been very different than my experiences in Zambia..... mostly.

I'm working with a department in the Federal government, living in the capital, taking taxis or riding with friends anywhere I go.  There's internet and air conditioning at work, parking garages near all the big buildings.  No mud hut, no bicycles, no hour walks just to see a car, no fire for cooking.  But it's still Africa.

There's some things I really like.  I can walk to the corner and find people selling phone cards, oranges or watermelon.  There's a lady that sits at the junction frying akara (bean cakes) all day long.  In town, boys walk around pushing carts of sugar cane or with jars of peanuts on their heads.  Sometimes we find a group of people roasting maize by the side of the road.  We start work at 9 and knock off at 4.  (Though we don't take a lunch so it works out the same as my summer's 9-5.)  Colorful clothing is everywhere.  People are friendly, and the sun is warm.

Then there are the things I notice that make me just shrug.  This is where I realize that if I had not learned how to deal with some things in Zambia, I'd be having a really hard time adjusting now.

The power goes out at least once a day at home.  It never fazes shower me; I just unplug my laptop so it doesn't surge when the power comes back.  What surprised me was that we can still cook when the power's out; it's a gas stove!  When I go into the kitchen to cook on this stove, I always first rinse the dishes I want to use.  Have to make sure to get all the termites out of them.  Rice gets washed twice to remove weevils.  The shower stall is quite small; the bucket takes up half the room!

I work in the Federal Secretariat Complex, a group of large buildings with between 4 and 10 floors.  The elevators have lists of emergency numbers posted inside in case the power goes out.  There's also a man that sits on a chair in the elevators, takes up a good portion of the space.  I think his job isn't so much to push the buttons as it is to make people feel safer about riding in the elevator.  

Most of the Ministries, as well as several high ranking government officials, have their offices in this complex.  Areas are roped off with guards stationed at the ends of the red-carpet-lined bathroom at work croppedhallways.  Guards man each entrance and ask for everyone's work id when entering the building.  In the office, we sit and work  on our computers, with newer versions of software than I had in San Francisco.  Yet, there's no toilets.  The bathrooms have ablution pans.  No soap;  no tissue,  the sinks don't work.  There's a reason I carry tissue and hand sanitizer anywhere I go.  And today, we started paging through some files on a desk in our office and a cockroach ran out of the folder.

sinks at work


I actually like the ablution pans.   If I ever build my own house, I think I'll put one of those in.  No fighting about leaving the seat up, and they're much easier to clean.  The bugs however, I could do without.