Thursday, August 31, 2006

The 17th good thing about Lagos: Fun escapes to the beach

Well, I've been back in Houston for a week and a half now and Brent's already back in Lagos busy with meetings. The week he was here was very busy with the company-required physicals and relocation meetings and screening sessions along with visiting kids and granddaughter up in Austin and looking at townhouses -- it was a whirl. And now that he's gone, life has settled back into a routine here that almost makes my time in Nigeria seem like a dream. It's such a different world from Houston that it seems kind of strange that it's all happening on the same planet. We still haven't decided if we're going to speed up and move fast, or take our time to make sure the project is not going to stall or fall apart and wait to sell the house next spring. There's a lot to do around here to get the house ready to sell -- it makes me tired just thinking about it. But I'll keep plugging away at it.
I never gave a report on our last fun Saturday in Lagos. The ConocoPhillips managing director and his family had just returned from summer vacation in the States on Friday and they were very kind to invite us to go with them to the company beach hut for an outing on Saturday. They said they try to make a point to take visitors there to show them that there is a place to go to escape the filth and crowds of Lagos and get a little bit of escape. We really enjoyed getting to know them and had a great day. It certainly is the way to have an outing at the beach -- there's guys around to load the gear in the car and then to take it from the car to the boat and to have the boat ready and drive you there and then tote it from the dock to the beach hut and to watch over the kids while they play and swim while you relax and play bocce and they cook your dinner and clean up and load the stuff back in the boat when you're ready to leave, and clean up the boat when you return, etc. It's a much more relaxing outing than it would be here in the States. (Not to mention that the guys are toting an AK-47 so you can relax and forget that there may be dangers around you.) You can see the beach hut is really very nice. And the Atlantic Ocean beach was beautiful!

To get there, it's about a 45 minute speedboat ride up the "creek" from Lagos -- it's really quite a wide river which, thankfully, is upstream from the filth of the city. You see views like the pictures below with people doing business and fishing on the river and ferrying across.

The boat dock was on the creek, and we walked across the sandy peninsula (maybe 200 yards) to the beach house, which faces the Atlantic beach. There's coconut palms and one of the guards shimmied up one to cut us down a fresh coconut. Todd and the girls went waterskiing, but I chose not to on this trip, as it was kind of overcast and actually chilly. Wading was as wet as I got. We had a fun expedition to a shipwreck site, which I'll put in another post. All in all, it was a great day. They let me drive the boat on the trip back and I was proclaiming "I AM DRIVING A BOAT IN AFRICA!" It's really amazing the turns that life takes that I never would have dreamed I would experience!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The 16th good thing about Lagos: The opportunity to leave the US and return and realize how good and easy life is here.

Well, after a 26 1/2 hour door to door journey, we arrived back in Houston right on schedule Monday afternoon (well, actually the flight was 5 minutes late -- but I think that's quite amazing after such a journey). Things went smoothly on all fronts. We had a limo waiting at Heathrow (paid for with our ticket price) to bring us to Gatwick for the flight to Houston, so that was very convenient and easy. We did avert a near disaster in Gatwick: After checking in our luggage, the agent handed me our passports and boarding passes and Brent and I followed the guys who were toting our luggage over to the security screening area. We had to fight our way through long lines of people waiting to go through the security checkpoint. After leaving our luggage in the proper place, we were looking for the end of the security line and I realized I only had one passport with our boarding passes -- Brent's was missing. I immediately went back to the gate agent and asked her if she had forgotten to give me one of the passports, and she assured me that she had given them both to me. My heart rate jumped about 20 points. She asked if we had maybe put one away and we did look -- but I knew that I had kept the travel documents in my hand. She made an announcement about a lost passport over the intercom and we proceeded to retrace our steps. After only a couple of minutes, Brent was handed the passport by a security guy who had found it dropped on the ground. I suppose it had slipped out while I was fighting my way through the crowds. Next time I will keep an even tighter death grip on my travel documents. That could have been a real disaster. The agent said that even though she had just seen the passport, there was no way in the present security climate that they would have allowed anyone to travel without a passport. Brent probably won't trust me to hold his passport again! After a pat-down at the initial security check point then, at the gate, they had another check where they were going through hand luggage and doing another passenger search. When Brent and I got to the head of the line, the security guy just passed Brent on through without a search at all. I hadn't seen him let anyone else pass by without a search! I don't know about that -- I think the one thing in common with all the airline terrorists so far has been that they are all male! I think I would be inclined to give a pass to the innocent looking female passenger. But, alas, I had to go through the screening and they confiscated my contraband British airlines business travel kit that we had received on our previous flight that I had thoughtlessly stuck in my carry-on bag, even though it contained dangerous tiny tubes of toothpaste and lip gloss (gels are forbidden), and small bottles of mouthwash and lotion. Of course, the kit was still sewn shut and each bottle or tube within was tamper-resistent sealed. But, it is possible that a crafty terrorist while in the airport between flights could have taken each bottle and replaced, for instance, the mouthwash, with a dangerous explosive substance and then replaced the tamper resistant seal and then sewn shut the travel case so it had appeared to be unopened. You never know... But I quickly assured the security screener that I wasn't too attached to the items and she was welcome to them. I think she was extra thorough with the pat-down after that, as I was a proven offender.

Anyway, we were very relieved when arriving home and finding all was well. I only had time for a quick shower before going to a Symphony chorus rehearsal -- so it was right back into activity. But the biggest first impression of being home is one of comfort and ease. The ability to brush one's teeth without using bottled water. To go to the grocery store and have such a plentiful and relatively inexpensive bounty of items to choose from. To make a salad or eat some fruit without soaking the produce in bleach for 20 minutes. To get in the car and drive where I want when I want without real security worries (well -- at times having a driver would be a real plus in Houston traffic!) and to have traffic laws that you generally expect will be followed. To be able to walk around my neighborhood freely on streets that are not lined with trash and beggars and people who have set up their home underneath a cloth held up with sticks because there is no other place for them to live. The poorest people here have it so much better than so many millions of Nigerians because here there is the opportunity to find assistance should someone pursue it and here there are possibilities that the poorest Nigerians can't even imagine. There are some really great things about life in the USA.

We had some fun experiences in our final days in Lagos that I haven't written up yet -- so there's still some "good things in Lagos" yet to be recorded. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The 15th good thing about Lagos: Stewards and Stewardesses

Until I got here, I knew of the word "stewardess" as an outdated term for a flight attendant. In Lagos, that is the term for your female househelp.

Below is a photo of Angela, a stewardess. I only got to know her for a few days before we left. She was in training to relieve the regular steward of our flat: Andy. Andy spent several days teaching her the ropes. Andy's not wearing his usual neat apron here because he's just about to leave on his month-long vacation. Angela is now ready to take over. Andy does some laundry, but we're careful about what we allow him to wash, as we've been warned he has ruined some clothes. He does dishes, cleans everything and is a meticulous ironer. He's also very pleasant to be around -- he's happy all the time and sings as he works. I've also noticed that Angela also hums as she cleans. Andy takes care of two flats because often there aren't many, or even any, people in them, as they are flats the company keeps for temporary people. While we're living here, the company pays for our househelp. They are contracted and paid by them, so that's a great perk to offset the difficulties of living in a 3rd world country. When we were over at friends for dinner, their steward, who is also a great cook, fixed a fabulous dinner. He's from the Republic of Benin where he learned to cook French, and he's great with presentation and loves cooking a beautiful meal. He even set the table with a fancy folded napkin at each setting. And then he cleaned up while we visited after dinner. I could get used to having a steward or a stewardess around the house!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The 14th good thing about Lagos: Everyone speaks English (sort of)

We've had foreign assignments before -- we lived in Norway and in Dubai. Both places had populations with a high percentage of people that spoke English. While in Norway I studied Norwegian and, because German was my language of study in college and Norwegian is a very similar language, I was able to confuse the two very easily and speak a strange kind of English/German/Norwegian dialect of my very own. And I studied Arabic while we were in Dubai, but there was no expectation that we would actually learn to SPEAK it, at least anything beyond greetings and such. It was mostly a cultural class. Anyway, most the people you really needed to communicate with when shopping or eating out spoke Urdu or some other Near Eastern language. But even though the "natives" in these places were able to speak English, darn it all, they preferred their native language and conversed easier in it so it was often difficult to have good discussions about differences in our respective cultures. Our language differences were often a barrier. Here, thankfully, that barrier doesn't really exist. Though Nigerians do have different native dialects, at least here in Lagos, they are all very comfortable speaking in English and that's the language that most of them communicate with each other. In the car last week with a security man and the driver, I asked them about their languages and they said they came from different parts of the country and their first languages were different, so they spoke to each other in English -- and that's what most of the Nigerians do. Dairu listed off several of the common tribal languages and said also many people speak "pidgin English." I asked him if I would understand someone speaking pidgin, and he said I might catch a word here and there, but I probably wouldn't understand much of it. Actually, after being here almost 2 weeks, today was the first time I heard Nigerians speaking to each other in something other than English. I was taking a tour of the Ikoyi golf club to see if we might want to join it when we come for good(the company pays for our membership in one club of our choice because of the limited social activities available in the community), the guy showing me around spoke to one of the workers in another tongue and I asked him what language he was speaking and he said it was Yoruba. My guess is that Yoruba is the most common native language in this part of the country. But English is used for all signs and business and general communication because this country was colonized by the British. Although it is often difficult to understand the English of some Nigerians and at times I have to ask them to repeat what they said -- it is still lots easier to have the expectation of conversing and understanding each other. I'm learning a lot more about these people and their lives because I'm able to ask them about themselves and, usually, I'm able to understand what they tell me.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The 13th good thing about Lagos: You can get some help and make a boy's day for only 100 naira (about 70 cents).

I've gone to the Lekki market twice now -- it's a good place to buy African handicrafts, though you can find just about anything there -- I saw a Mary Kay cosmetics sign this last visit. The instant you drive into the parking area there, your car is surrounded by young boys who want to be your helper for your visit. We were advised to choose one -- and insist on only one -- and get his name. He is the one that will follow you around to the stalls and carry your purchases. There will be others that also follow you for a while, with the hope that you may need more help, so you must continue to insist that you only need one boy to help you (even if you really don't need anyone to help you, I was told it's easier to choose one, or else you will continue to be harassed throughout your shopping trip). When I went yesterday with my new friends and advisors, Angela asked for John, who is her regular helper. Here's a photo of John and his friend. Also below is another picture of other workers at the market -- people unloading goods from a truck.

I wish I had gotten a photo of Philip, who was our helper on my first visit to the market with Brent. We decided we would choose the smallest boy and we got Philip, who seemed to be a very smart kid. He brought us to some stalls where I could get a delicious pineapple and some vegetables and he advised me about prices. He led us through the maze of shops and showed us where to look for different items. He asked us to request him next time we came -- he said if we didn't see him to tell the boys we want Philip and they will find him. But he warned us that he is only at the market on weekends. He proudly said that he went to school during the week. Brent said "that's a very good place to be -- you need to stay in school." Brent asked Philip what he wanted to be when he grew up, and Philip said he wanted to be an accountant. Brent assured him that being an accountant is a good job to have and he should stay in school so he could do that. At the end of a visit to Lekki market, when all your purchases are in your car, you give your boy-helper 100 naira, and they walk away, pleased to have been the one chosen to help you.

The 12th good thing about Lagos: Varied shopping available from your car window on the Falomo bridge

Brent and I went out this morning with some company people to look at a residential building on the neighboring island of Ikoyi. There are a couple of bridges connecting Ikoyi and Victoria Island (VI), where the office and our current apartment building is. Ikoyi is a little less busy than VI and has some trees, which, for some people, makes it a more pleasant place to live. The biggest downside of living there would be the commute across the Falomo bridge. We were coming back across the bridge around noon, which is a very busy time to be on this road. Because there's such a bottleneck of traffic, the place teems with foot vendors which, naturally, compound the traffic tie-ups. These very brave and enterprising (and probably desperate) sellers weave between the cars and look to you inside your car, pleading with you to buy their wares. With some of them, a shake of the head is enough to make them move on. With others, they seem to be certain that if you are given the opportunity to look at their wares long enough, you will certainly see the value of buying from them. Here's a list of some of the items I could have purchased today crossing the bridge, though we had been on the bridge for about 10 minutes before I decided that I had to make a list and pulled out my paper and pen.

Things for sale today on the Falomo bridge:

1. car mats
2. knives
3. cellular phone cards to recharge your phone account -- these are for sale on every street in the city
4. books --one textbook on electrical engineering I've seen several times, also Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and "Who Moved My Cheese" -- many religious books like illustrated Bibles as well as children's books
5. pants
6. some interesting fake-bronze (maybe plastic?) sculptures -- the ones I looked at were of a golfer and a tennis player
7. sets of kitchen tools
8. individually wrapped cakes that look like Twinkies
9. bottles of soda and water
10. pens
11. CD rack
12. CDs and DVDs
13. bananas
14. picture frames
15. candy and gum
16. Wahl hair clipper sets
17. cleaning brushes of many varieties
18. a cutlery set with wicker holder
19. peanuts
20. Nigerian mens clothing
21. bags of potatoes
22. drink boxes
23. watches
24. suitcases
25. paintings -- on canvas and "special" ones on velvet
26. lighters
27. magazines -- including Vogue and Reader's Digest
28. tape measures
29. a hand riveter
30. wallets
31. cell phones
32. light bulbs
33. plantain chips
34. hats
35. toys
36. newspapers
37. rugby shirts
38. sunglasses
39. eye glasses
40. belts
41. clocks
42. tomatoes
43. potato chips

And in addition to the vendors, we have the beggars come to our windows with pleading eyes -- mothers carrying two small babies, one in front and one in back. Little children leading their blind fathers, people with missing limbs, today a little girl who walked along with us repeating "Master, please help me, master." We are advised to not give to the street beggars -- some of them are scam artists, borrowing children or the handicapped to prey on the sympathies of the public, and many of them are actually placed there by pimps who get most of their profits. But it is very difficult to turn my head and turn off my sympathies. I hope that while I'm here I won't lose my feelings of compassion -- I just know I'll have to find other ways to give.

As for the shopping, our driver says that for security reasons, as well as other reasons, we really can't buy anything from the vendors along the street. What lost opportunities! I'm still mulling over the value of that toilet seat I could have bought from the car last week -- you don't see those for sale every day!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The 11th good thing about Lagos: Generators

Probably an average of about 6 times a day everything electrical will suddenly go off and there will be a lag of around 5-10 seconds before the generator kicks in and power is restored. Many people who have been here for a while don’t even notice it at all. But, to me, it’s still a little a bit of a surprise. It’s been a big surprise several times when I’ve been jogging at a pretty good clip on the treadmill and it has come to a dead stop. After the first time, when I almost fell flat on my face, I’ve learned to be prepared to suddenly grab the handrails to support me at the first sign of a drop in power. There’s never any visible signal of when the power actually comes back on and the generator stops doing its work. Most apartment buildings with expatriates (us needy ones) have 2 generators so there is a backup if the first one goes out. Also, many expatriates have a UPS or two – a universal power supply, so when the sudden drop of power comes, it doesn’t stop your computer or TV or whatever else you want to plug into it to avoid the short interruption of power. Today I was doing some exploring and shopping with my new women friends here and we stopped at their building to drop off some perishables and we were heading out again when their gate guard stopped us and said that they were about to do some work on their generators and their power would be off for an hour and they should unplug their computers and any other things electrical so nothing would be damaged if there was a power surge when they got things going again. They were grateful for the notice and we went back up to their apartments and scurried around turning things off. We were laughing at ourselves later about how we were all kind of running around in a panic to protect those things which, naturally, they didn’t want damaged. I was reminded of something the Nigerian security man said the other day when I went with some company people checking out possible buildings for them to acquire for expatriate housing. He said “the most fearful person is a rich man -- the poor have no reason to fear.” There’s some truth in that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The 10th good thing about Lagos: Malarone

The other night about 9 PM Brent and I were walking home from the movie theater two blocks away from the apartment building. He remarked that this was the most dangerous time of day here. I immediately moved a bit closer to him, as I thought he was referring to crime -- that ever-present danger here that requires you to have a heightened awareness of what's around you. But he clarified that actually what he meant was the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. Before I left Houston I was looking for a travel narrative on this part of the world to read on my trip. I just finished the only one I found in the store, a very interesting book called "To Timbuktu: A Journey Down the Niger," by Mark Jenkins. It's a narrative of a trip to the unexplored headwaters of the Niger River in 1991 by some true adventurers. It had an interesting passage on the dangers of Africa:
"It is the small creatures that cripple and kill in Africa. The storybooks lie. Lions and leopards are insignificant. Viruses, amoebas, insects, worms, bullets, these are the predators of Africa...Sleeping sickness, trypanosomiasis, is transmitted by the tsetse fly. Typhus is transmitted by ticks. Malaria, the ancient mass murderer of Africa that deftly kills a million people a year, is transmitted by the mosquito. So is yellow fever. AIDS is a mere virus that is annihilating entire countries. Still, you don't hear that much about any of them. They are too common. Many Africans have one or another of these infirmities and they live with them, don't whine, and die quietly. Insalubrity is a natural state. An undiseased body, without wounds or worms or parasites, is what is unnatural. What you hear about, of course, are the attacks by the larger assassins, lions or leopards[or, I might add, humans]. They aren't any more courageous -- they also take the young, the weak, or the ill. But because their ferocity is so rare and so dramatic, it makes for better stories. Even the Africans think so."
Malaria is a parasite carried in the saliva of female mosquitoes. (Beware the bite of a female! Of course, since I have no idea how to determine the gender of each individual mosquito, I've decided to attempt to avoid the bites of ALL mosquitoes!) Nigeria is a country with a malaria risk. Within the city of Lagos, of course, there is less risk than in other, more rural and jungleified, parts of the country. But the risk is still such that we expatriates are required to take malaria prophylaxis, which the company pays for. There are several drugs available, none of which will totally eliminate your chances of contracting malaria, but they can greatly reduce your chances of getting it and, if you do contract it, you will probably have a milder bout. Before I left, it was recommended that I take Malarone, which is a pill that is a combination of two drugs. I have to take one pill a day, which I started two days before arriving in Nigeria and I'll continue taking it 7 days after I leave. I haven't noticed any side effects. There is another drug, Larium, that some people take because it's cheaper and it only requires one pill weekly. A common side effect with this drug is more frequent dreams that are extremely vivid. I'm thinking that if the dreams were fun ones, that might be a drug I want to test out sometime!

Monday, August 14, 2006

The 9th good thing about Lagos: New friends to show me around and give me advice

Yesterday at church I met the two wives of the expatriate families in our local church congregation (our ward). They had known I was coming and invited me to go out with them today and do some touring and go out to lunch. I was glad for the opportunity to talk to expatriate women who had been here for a while and learned the ropes, so to speak. They are both with ExxonMobil and live in a very nice new apartment building where the company has all the flats. I really wish ConocoPhillips would start doing facilities the way ExxonMobil has done here -- taking over whole buildings. Our company has just not as yet had many families here -- they've had more rotators who come 28 here and trade with someone else for 28 days. But now that they're moving more couples here, they need to develop a housing policy that will work for us. I'm a little bit worried about what kind of housing they will provide when we move here for good, as they've told me they want to keep their flats in this building for rotators and those who are already established here. Anyway -- I was very impressed with the ExxonMobil apartment building. My driver had dropped me off at their building and then we visited for a bit and went out with Angela's driver. We went to several shops/galleries with very nice selections of handicrafts and home decorative items and art and furniture. I can see myself having a lot of fun decorating an apartment here -- there's some great stuff! We also went to a different grocery store than I had been to before and saw yet a different selection of products available. They gave me some needed advice on food and I learned that it's really not as restrictive as I had expected. Yes, you still need to soak in a thin bleach solution any fruit or vegetable that you will eat fresh -- but you can even do that with lettuce. I was afraid that I'd never have a salad while I was here. They gave me advice on where to go to get different meats and fish and said they even have a dairy guy who delivers fresh dairy products that are good to their apartment building. So we can eat while we're here -- but much of the food that has been imported is just very expensive. However, at the market the other day we got a fresh pineapple that was delicious for only about $1.50. I soaked it in the bleach solution before we cut into it and so far I haven't had any problems... Anyway, we went out to lunch at a very pleasant looking cafe called Cactus and I had an unusual salad pizza -- it was basically a crust with a Greek salad on top. But it was quite good. And at that place you can even trust that the ice is okay and have ice in your drink. I know that Angela and Sherry will be good friends and advisors when I finally get here to stay -- and they seem very anxious to have me here soon!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The 8th good thing about Lagos: Worshipping with the Saints

There are both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria -- this area of the country is higher percentage Christian. The Nigerians I've asked said the two groups get along here. I know of other parts of the country where there is trouble between the groups, and the workers here I talked to, obviously Christian, attribute any problems to the Muslims. One said, "the Christians don't want any fighting, but the Muslims have so much anger." But the Christians here seem to be very active in their faith. The book store in the mall nearby has a very large Christian book section -- larger than any other part of the store -- so I know at least those Nigerians who have money to buy books are very interested in Christian literature. A couple of British people at work were talking about how lengthy the services are in the Anglican churches here -- one said that just the communion part of the service can take an hour and a half, as there can be like 1500 worshippers wanting to take communion. So many of the church services can be very lengthy. There seem to be many pentacostal and evangelical type Christian churches as well. Our church is quite well established and today was my first experience with my church in Nigeria. For those that may not know me well, I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly known as "Mormons" or "Latter-Day Saints." Since the late 70's there has been a large and growing membership of the church in Nigeria. Today was the Lagos Nigeria stake conference. This is a meeting that is held twice a year, where members in a larger area (the stake) gather together. Our local meetinghouse is on Victoria Island, where we live and work. The Stake Center is on the mainland, not far from the airport. By company policy, travel there requires a security escort and travel in the bulletproof Land Rover. So we had to make some special arrangements to get to the meeting, but, really, the area and travel seemed just as safe as anything on the island.
When we got to the building, the people were going in the pedestrian gate, but the gate for cars was closed. At first after the driver honked, the man at the gate shook his head, indicating they weren't allowing cars inside, but after the security man in our trailing escort car got out with his AK-47, they decided they would open the gate for us. We made quite an entrance -- it was a bit embarrassing. Although we invited them, our driver and security escort people decided they wouldn't stay with us for the service. The stake center is part of a complex of buildings that include a church distribution center, another building with meeting rooms and another with some offices for the mission. The mission president's home and the building where several couple missionaries stay is across the street. It's quite a nice complex. The meetinghouse itself doesn't have air conditioning, but the room is lined with windows which were open and there were many ceiling fans going giving quite a nice breeze. In the current rainy season, it doesn't get as hot here, so the room was warm, but not oppressive. We visited with some other expatriate couples and missionary couples before the meeting.
The conference started at 10 AM, but just before 9:30, the choir filed in and they had a half hour of music prepared for a choir program before the service. The choir was VERY impressive. The women were dressed in matching mauve and navy taffeta shifts, even with matching necklaces and the men had dark suits and matching ties. (They even kept their jackets on the whole time in the unairconditioned building -- Brent brought his jacket, but it didn't stay on long!) They all had nice matching folders of music. And the singing was great -- full throated and in great tune and harmony! There was about 30 singers in the choir and they were very well-prepared. I was brazen and took a picture of them before the meeting started, because I was so impressed with them. They probably sang at least 20 anthems and hymns before the meeting started, at least 4 during the meeting, and when we had to leave about a half hour after the meeting ended, they were still in there singing postlude hymns, and really enjoying their singing! Afterwards, when they paused briefly in between pieces, I went up and thanked the choir director for all their work and told her how much I enjoyed it. I've prepared choirs for stake conferences in the States, and we usually prepare 2 or 3 pieces -- they must have had at least 40 pieces prepared! And the congregational singing during the meeting was also great. Brent had already commented to me on the singing in our local congregation (ward). Nigerians love to sing and they sing out loud and strong. I'm a strong singer and in the states I can always hear myself louder than those around me, but here there was no chance of that. It was really quite exciting!
The meeting itself was much like our stake conferences in the states -- talks by a couple of new converts, the stake patriarch and stake presidency spoke and the new mission president. I was very impressed with the stake president and his obvious leadership ability. I'm guessing maybe 600-700 people were in the meeting. One difference between services here and in the States: when a speaker begins his talk and greets the members with "Good morning, brothers and sisters," the members speak aloud a "good morning" in reply. The Primary (the children's organization) had a something organized to care for the young children (18 months-7 years) during the meeting, so they were in a separate building. Brent said he missed watching the little children during the meeting. Also, the members, especially the women, were really dressed out to the nines. Those in Western dress were almost wearing formal type attire and the Nigerian dressed women were so elegant -- many of them with these elaborate head wraps. I asked an American woman if they always dressed like this for church and she said that maybe some were dressed a little more formally for the conference, but, for the most part, she usually felt quite casual in appearance compared to the Nigerians. I loved looking at their outfits. So, all in all, going to Stake Conference in Lagos Nigeria was an interesting cultural experience, an exciting musical experience and a rewarding spiritual experience!

Here's some pictures after the meeting in the courtyard. Below is a shot of some missionaries handing out pamphlets and books.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The 7th good thing about Lagos: No coins to weigh you down!

Nigerian money is called naira and they just have bills -- no coins. We get our money exchanged by giving American money to our driver and he gets naira on the black market. It's the accepted way to exchange money. At the airport parking lot I saw many men with suitcases full of naira on the hoods of their cars waiting to exchange money for newcomers. I asked the security guy that was with me if they worried about having that much money out in the open and he just laughed and shook his head. I imagine the traders have their own variety of security. I gave my driver a $100 bill the other day and got 13,000 naira, so a dollar is currently worth about 130 naira. So the 5 naira bills I have are not worth much at all. In fact, Brent said that he heard that the 5 naira bills cost 8 naira to produce! Because you can't use credit or debit cards here safely, we usually end up carrying large wads of bills. I need to do as someone as I saw in the grocery store, and get a plastic envelope to carry bills in -- I don't want to put them in my wallet. Most of them are really filthy. I don't want to think about where they've been! I always use hand sanitizer after handling the money!

The 6th good thing about Lagos: Watching everything Nigerians can carry on their heads!

Nigerians have a talent that is not seen in America -- balancing loads on the head. All over the city you see people -- young and old, native and Western dressed -- carrying all sorts of things on their heads. I couldn't get a photo -- but today I saw a woman carrying a tray about 4 feet wide stacked about 2 feet high with beautiful green apples. I couldn't have gone 2 steps without spilling a load like that! When they walk with a load on their head, they have, of course, great posture and this pretty sway to their walk. Here's some pictures I did get:

We were crawling along the beach road in traffic when I saw these woman approaching and I asked my driver if he thought they would mind if I took their picture. He said "No, they will probably like it." He was right -- after they saw me take their picture, they collapsed in laughter, but they didn't drop their loads! The tray in back covered with plastic wrap is loaves of bread. They sell these on just about every corner. The rocks in the background are for a beach conservation project. The water from the Atlantic often rises up and covers the road, leaving lots of sand behind. The rocks are for a project to keep the beach and the road separate.

I'm not sure what this woman was carrying on her head. We were shopping at Lekki market today -- lots of neat handicrafts and interesting things to see.

Here's another shot from Lekki market. She has peanuts in the tray on her head.

We passed these children on the street by our apartment as we walked to the movie theater. They asked if we wanted to buy some peanuts. I asked if I could take their picture. The boy ran away at first but a man who I assume was their father told him to go get in the picture. The girl smiled when I showed her the picture on the camera and I gave her a small naira "dash" (a tip or extra payment) to thank them.

Maybe while we're here, I'll practice carrying things on my head to see how far I can go before I spill the load of peanuts!

The 5th good thing about Lagos: Going to the movies!

We have a "Galleria" shopping center just about two blocks from the apartment. It's close enough that it's really the only place we're allowed to walk to. It's nothing like the Galleria in Houston -- but there's a quite good book store, a CD music store and a number of other assorted shops and a couple fast food restaurants and cafes -- and a movie theater! Brent and I just got back from Superman Returns. It's pretty good if you can suspend your disbelief. Forget about Luther springing up cities of crystals -- the fact that all Superman has to do is put on his glasses and he's totally unrecognizable is a real stretch. Anyway, the theater is really pretty much like a Cinemark -- theater seating and all. Tickets are 1500 naira -- about $12, so it's pricey enough that the bulk of Nigerians couldn't afford it. But there are a number of rich Nigerians, and they were there at the movies tonight. Brent and I were the only white faces in the theater, but no problem there. The crowd seemed to enjoy the movie -- the kids really whooped when the bullet was repelled by Superman's eye. The only annoying thing is that there were a number of cell phone rings going off -- they didn't make any announcement at the beginning to turn off cell phones and there seems to be less social pressure here in general on cell phone use. Anyway, it's nice to have something normal to do in the evening like going to the movies -- even if on the walk home we were confronted by several beggars asking for a handout...

Friday, August 11, 2006

The 4th good thing about Lagos: You're welcome!

"You're welcome" is a phrase that I've heard countless times since I've been here. At first I was confused by it -- when I nodded or said "hello" to someone and they replied with "you're welcome," I just smiled and nodded and was a bit mystified because I hadn't thanked them for anything. It just took me a few times to realize that they were really speaking literally -- they were welcoming me here. So when I greet the receptionist at Brent's office and she says "you're welcome," I now understand that she's bidding me welcome to the office. And the people really seem to be welcoming. The drivers welcome my questions about what I see around me --the people and the city. They are anxious to know my response to their country. I feel their relief that I'm not horrified or scared by what I see, just really interested. In the apartment next door to me is an Australian woman who is in much the same situation as I am -- her husband just got transferred here and she's here assessing to see if she can live here and be happy. But she seems terrified -- very hesitant to go out and do anything. Although her husband really wants the job here, I don't know if she'll adjust to the realities of life in this 3rd world environment. Although I keep inviting her out to explore with me and she continues to make excuses why she can't come -- I won't try to convince her that she'll be fine living here. That's something each person has to decide for themself. As for me, I'm heading out to look at some housing possibilities the company has available. I'll hop into the car and the driver will say: "You're welcome, madam."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The 3rd good thing about Lagos: Nice views from the apartment!

There are only 2 apartments on each floor of this building and we're on the 11th floor. We have nice views from 3 sides. Here are some of them:

Here's a picture of our swimming pool area. Just on the other side of the fence is a row of open tin shacks where people live. I see them in the morning carrying jerry cans of water. Quite a sobering contrast in lifestyles!

Of course, these are some of the prettier views of Lagos -- someday I'll post some of the not-so-pretty views. There are plenty of those as you drive the streets!

The 2nd good thing about Lagos: High security (at least I feel better when I believe I'm secure)!

We were picked up at the airport by ConocoPhillips (COP) security personnel and transported to our apartment in a Land Rover with bullet proof windows and escorted by another vehicle with men in armor and machine guns. It's company policy that all travel to the mainland be in armoured vehicles with a security escort. I guess the mainland has more incidents of robbery on the road and roadblocks by robbers, robbers posing as police, and police who want to rob you, along with your everyday riot. The offices and expatriate residents are on two islands off the mainland -- Victoria Island and Ikoyi. On the islands we are provided with a driver who is very security conscious and able to deal with many situations. The traffic is really terrible and cars are constantly approached by people selling many things and asking for handouts. Along with the constant pleas to buy phone cards, candy and soft drinks, yesterday we were surprised to be approached by someone selling toilet seats! You can buy just about anything from your car window, but our driver insisted that we just ignore them all -- although that toilet seat could come in handy someday! But it is very nice to be driven around on these crowded roads where the drivers don't care about rules.

This is our apartment building: Atlantic Royal Gardens (ARG). It has great security: there's a gate that screens people and cars coming in, there's someone at the desk in the lobby and each apartment (2 on each floor) has a heavy locking gate in front of the entry, as well as a deadbolt on the door.
There are usually 4 security personnel at the gate. When I asked if I could take their picture, one guy stepped out of the picture, one is in the room, and these two turned their heads. But they are usually friendly guys who always wave when I come in or out. Right outside the gate are lots of okadas -- motorcycle taxis -- waiting for customers from the office building next door. This building also houses many of the American consulate personnel -- so I think the security must be pretty good if they are living here!

So, mom and kids, hopefully you feel a little better about my safety and security!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The 1st good thing about Lagos: Eventually my luggage arrived!

Hello and welcome to my new blog which I plan to use to journal my experiences in Lagos. I'm hoping that family and friends can use it to check in and see how things are going for us here and see some pictures and read some experiences about life in Lagos. Today is Wednesday, August 9. We arrived here on Sunday evening after a great week in London. Because Brent had been here working for several months, he had prepared me, so the airport wasn't too much of a shock. There was one loud disturbance in the crowd on the escalators behind me while I was waiting in the immigration line. I never learned if it was a fight or a fall or a robbery -- I was just glad not to be involved in it. The baggage handling is never up to the speed of other airports, so waiting for bags is a chore. And it's even more of a chore, when one of your bags didn't make the plane and you have to wait for 3 hours to see all the bags come off to learn that you are missing one. And then you have to stand in line to fill out the form to claim a missing bag. I was afraid I would never see my belongings again, and of course, it was the bag I had packed to carry on the plane with my toiletries and make-up and the vegetables we had purchased in London that we didn't dare buy here in Lagos. But at the gate in London, the attendant determined that the bag was an inch too long and they were now enforcing their carry-on size limitations. No matter that the company had purchased 2 $8000+ business class tickets -- they had their rules and they must be obeyed. But the bag made it on the flight the next day and Tuesday morning I was brought back to the airport in the armored vehicle with security escort to identify and claim my bag. It was a good thing I went personally, as their system is quite disorganized. They look on their hand-written log around the date of the flight when the bag might possibly have come (not a problem here, as there was just a day in between), and find a name and number -- YES, my name was there, spelled wrong, but hopefully meaning my bag was on the plane. They list a shelf number and the clerk led me into this massive room with luggage piled to the ceiling, some on shelves, but many bags crowding the small aisle. She led me back to the general area of the number indicated on her logsheet and immediately I saw my bag about eye level in the stack. Quick relief! Whew! Maybe the lettuce hadn't totally decomposed into my books! I feel sorry for all the hundreds of people who belong to the bags in that room and haven't yet been able to claim their belongings. Tomorrow I'll try to figure out how to post some pictures and give you more of my first impressions of Lagos.