Monday, November 05, 2012

The 336th good thing about Lagos: learning to tie the Gele

 Many Nigerian women regularly wear something to cover their hair.  It's an easy solution when facing a bad hair day, and it's also an attractive way to accessorize an outfit.  Recently the American Women's Club had an evening activity where we learned to tie a head tie, sometimes called head wrap -- the formal head-dress is called a "gele."  I'm always in awe at the big gele that you see on the heads of Nigerian women at dressy events like weddings, and even church services.  Before weddings, the female guests are often given a gele of a certain color when they indicate they will attend.  The fabric may be different depending on if the guest is a friend or family of the bride or the groom.  But this practice of dressing alike, called aso-ebi, is sometimes manifested in guests from a particular group all using the same fabric to make their clothing, and sometimes it is women all wearing gele of the same fabric.  But even when the fabric is the same, the styles can differ wildly.

 I have been to a gele wrapping training session before, but it was time for a refresher course. 

Our Nigerian trainer was delightful and really knew her stuff.  She could tie the gele on others or on herself and it always looked good.
 The necessary item under the visible scarf is a hair net -- more sturdy than what a food service worker would wear.  It holds all the hair in and also gives the gele something to grip onto.
 She first showed us how to do a casual everyday head tie, with this turban style wrap using a soft scarf like a pashmina.
 I think this always looks great on black women and it sometimes looks good on white women, but not as consistently.  I would love to use this style, but I don't think I look very good with it.

We then practiced wrapping the formal gele.  The fabric that is used for this is very crisp -- I don't know if they use starch or something else.  But wrapping it around is very noisy and it almost feels like paper.  But it will hold the fold and can spread out very large and hold its shape for a long time. 

 I think these large and elaborate gele are so great -- I love to see all the different styles.
 The process can be difficult for the beginner.
And the finished product often looks a little odd on a white woman, in my opinion.
 But some women look great with a gele.  Here she is using the ase-oke cloth -- a traditional fabric that is made from narrow strips sewn together.  It's not as stiff as the other silk-type fabric.

It was fun to practice and experiment, but I doubt I'll be wearing a gele for an event any time soon.

The 335th good thing about Lagos: making lasting friendships

Anyone who has been in Lagos and involved with the expatriate community as long as I have has said a lot of goodbys.  There is something that forges strong friendships when people live in a "hardship" location like Lagos where everyone is away from family and other support systems and has to look to other expatriates to network and learn how to cope and survive.  Often people leave during the summer, and I missed plenty of goodbys when I was away, but I returned this fall to still more.  This is only a small percentage of the farewells, but a few that I've been a part of in the past month.  All these women (and their husbands too, I'm sure) have made huge contributions to the expatriate community here and they will be missed.

There are different elements with each goodby party -- some have shopping and pool time, all have gift giving and food and the group photo.  In random order, here's some photos from recent farewell celebrations.

 Goodbye Jane, Wendy, Marilyn, Teresa, and all the many others that I've bid farewell to during my time here.  I've met so many wonderful women here who have enriched my life, and the good thing is that with Facebook and email, we can keep in touch even when we will live great distances apart.

The 334th good thing about Lagos: road improvement

Although I would guess that we all enjoy roads that have been improved, but would agree that dealing with roads that are in the process of being improved is not anyone's idea of fun.  That's been the case with the busy road that runs in front of our apartment building.  They tore it up during the summer and are working on one side of the road at a time as they resurface and widen it.  It certainly needed to be worked on, but I wish they would just hurry up and get on with it.  Days go by without any sign of progress and I don't know if we will see the day when both sides of the road will be functional.  Roads are really horrible in much of Lagos, but I have seen some progress while we've been here.  The road to Lekki peninsula used to be a nightmare of traffic delays, but since it was finished and made a toll road, it is usually passable, though sometimes with delays at the toll plaza.  I recently read an interesting article at "Oyibosonline" which stated that there hadn't been any proper maintenance of roads in Lagos for the past three decades.  "The chairman of Nigerian Society of Engineers, stated that government at all levels must be blamed for the poor state of the nation’s road network because they (the government) keep awarding road construction contracts to quacks."  Witnessing the condition and constant deterioration of Lagos roads, I believe this.

 One day a few weeks ago, I looked out to the construction area outside our flat and saw that a big dump truck had driven right into the hole in the street.  I don't know if it was driven by a guy who was inexperienced with how a dump truck should actually dump its load of dirt, or just by someone who wasn't watching where they were going.  But it stayed stuck in this deep hole for almost two weeks.  I would occasionally see men out there looking at it, like they were trying to figure out how to get it out, or maybe they were just curious as I was as to how it ended up there.  I was disappointed when I drove by and saw that it was gone, because I wanted to see how they actually managed to pull it out.  But if this is indicative of the level of expertise of those working on the road, I don't hold out a lot of hope for it getting finished any time soon.  Still, road improvement is a good thing -- I keep telling myself....

The 333rd good thing about Lagos: Nigerian Cultural Day at the American International School

I always enjoy going over to the American School when they are having their annual Nigerian Cultural Day.  Each year they choose a specific part of Nigeria to feature with cultural displays and this year it was Lagos' turn.  So they had a demonstration of the Eyo, which is the traditional Lagos masquerade.  When an Eyo festival is held, it is to commemorate the life of a prominent Lagosian who has passed away.  The Eyo are symbolic spirits who go through the streets of Lagos to cleanse the city of all wickedness.  They carry sticks to ward away evil and evil doers.  It was fun to see these characters again with their leaping and spinning.  Attending the Eyo festival will always be a lasting memory from my experience living here.  Luckily I don't have any lasting bruises from the swat I got, even though I had removed my shows and I wasn't doing anything inappropriate that would signify disrespect.  But I'm kind of glad I took a swat, because it makes the memory and the story-telling more interesting!


These Eyo did some charging at the crowd and some waving of sticks, but, of course, they didn't do any swatting of the school children.  They were on their best behavior.

Besides the Eyo demonstration and the music, there were food displays. some shopping with great prices,
and I always enjoy seeing all the school children and teachers dressed up Nigerian.  I love the vibrant colors and patterns of Nigerian dress and the richness of Nigerian culture.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The 332nd good thing about Lagos: A new beginning at AWC

The American Women's Club got off to a great start to the fall season with a fun opening tea held at the Lagos Yacht Club.  It was a beautiful day and there was a great turnout of women joining the club and signing up for activities.  Some expat women have large company organizations here to network and get support, others with children at the American School build a support system with other parents, but I don't have either of those options.  I'm so glad that this organization is around to help provide me a network and support.  I've been here long enough that I'd be okay without it, but I'm glad it's still around.  It's gone through some difficult times recently, but this year there is a new spirit and excitement and energy.


Being part of The American Women's Club -- Uniting Women in Lagos -- is a good thing!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 331st good thing about Lagos: Seeing a bit of Ibadan

(Just noticed that I wrote this last fall, but never published it.  It was listed as a draft in blogger.  So here is my delayed blogpost about our trip to Ibadan.)
Well, I'm very glad that I've finally caught up with my blogging to the current season.  I'm only a little over a month behind!  I had been back in Lagos just a week in September when we joined a Nigerian Field Society trip to Ibadan.  I had driven through Ibadan before, but hadn't seen any more than the crowded streets.  The objective of this trip was to visit a few of the historic buildings in Ibadan.  It was an architecture tour, really. 
We started out meeting in Lagos in Freedom Park, which is a nice new park which is built on the site of a historic prison.  I hadn't been there before, so it was nice to get a look at it. 
 These are reconstructed prison cells that are now used when they have market days as stalls for the vendors.
 This is one of the old gates.
 There are sculptures, green areas, ponds and fountains, a history museum and an amphitheater.  It's really quite a nice oasis right in the middle of a very busy part of Lagos Island. 

 The drive to Ibadan was scheduled to take 1 1/2 hours, but actually took almost 3.  We finally made it to Mapo Hall, a public works building and former city hall that dates from 1926.  It was kind of incongruous to me to see this Greek temple architecture in Nigeria.
 Inside it's now used for public events.  The blue is from the plastic panels they are using in the roof skylights.
 There was a great view of this huge city from Mapo Hall.  At the time of Nigeria's Independence in 1960, Ibadan was the largest city in Nigeria and the 3rd largest city in Africa, after Cairo and Johannesburg.  It is now the 3rd largest city in Nigeria, after Lagos and Kano.  It is the capital of Oyo State.  The University of Ibadan was the first university in Nigeria and is still an important educational institution.
 This Saturday was a busy market day.

 Off in the distance we could see Cocoa House, the tall building where cocoa futures are traded.  Wikipedia says it was the first skyscraper in Africa.
 At Mapo Hall the guide there got out some of the ledger books from the early days at the city hall.
 The ledger had correspondence in Arabic and English.  I thought it was interesting that all the letters I saw were headed with "My Good Friend,"
 The roads were tight and crowded and we drove through a lot of very primitive looking and run-down areas. 
 At one stop we went by boys who were getting water from the local faucet.

Many roundabouts had monumental sculptures surrounded by neglected landscaping.

We next visited Bower Tower, a tower built in 1936 to commemorate Captain Bower, the first colonial resident.  It was used for military surveillance.
The hall next to the tower had some nicely carved wooden doors.

 The tower had a very tight double helix staircase inside.  One side of the helix was for going up and the other for going down.

I forget the name of this church, which was right next to the historic home which was our next stop.

We visited Hinderer's House, the home of early missionaries, from around 1853.
Although the home is a heritage site, it's now privately used,
and seems to be quite neglected.  I wouldn't want to go up in this shed part hanging off the end of the 2nd floor!
This was an old barracks building next to Hinderer's House.
I always enjoy seeing the alphabets painted on the walls of schools.  "R" is always for "rat" on these alphabets. That's not the typical choice in alphabets in schools in the US!
We were told that this tree was there before the house was built on this land and they believe it's around 300 years old.  It looked like it was in a lot better shape than a lot of the newer sites in the city.
There's a lot more to be seen in Ibadan, but that was all we had time to do on a day trip -- the drive home took even longer than the morning drive to Ibadan.  As we left the city there was a downpour and the streets were flooding.  We passed through some very muddy places and saw trucks tipped over on their sides after they had tried to go around traffic jams and didn't stay upright. The traffic on the Ibadan expressway is notoriously awful.  It's always an interesting adventure to get out of Lagos!