Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The 25th good thing about Lagos: They are working at democracy -- but seeing their system makes you appreciate the US election machine.

Nigeria's government has huge problems. It's a country with great resources, but so much is lost to corruption. The money oil brings in isn't being used to help the populace in general or build a workable infrastructure. But they are making attempts. Friday and Monday were holidays within the country to allow the population to register to vote. Our driver said he wasn't going to register on Monday because the lines would be too long. He would do it another time. There was a huge crowd shopping in the grocery store and at the mall yesterday, so many others agreed with him. And he said that though the election is currently scheduled for April, they may need to postpone it till August because the voting machines may not be ready. This election should (and hopefully will) mark the first time a Nigerian government has changed peacefully. But campaigning has already been marked by bombings and assassinations of promising candidates by rivals. Americans may think their election process needs some revamping -- but take a look at Nigeria's -- and the US machine seems to be in pretty good shape. Here there are lots more problems than hanging chads.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The 24th good thing about Lagos: Arriving safely with all our luggage and secret parcels that won't ever make a spy movie.

It's Monday evening, and we arrived here on Saturday evening -- getting in to the apartment around 10:30 PM after what was, for me, a trip of just over 30 hours. I had to change planes and airlines in Chicago -- Brent got on the direct flight to London from Houston. We met up in the BA lounge in London. I've got to say -- flying Business class is great! I'm too cheap to pay the premium myself. But when the company is paying, I certainly enjoy it! The trip was very comfortable -- the only annoyance being on the Lagos to London flight when the inflight entertainment system wasn't working. Oh well, it was a trial, but we managed to endure it. I'll have to watch The Illusionist another time.

There was one slightly disappointing thing to me. When I applied for my STR visa in Houston, which is a resident-type visa, the company sent my passport off to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, and it was returned with a thick manila envelope marked: "DO NOT OPEN THIS ENVELOPE! It is to be hand-carried in to Nigeria with you and opened when you arrive by a Nigerian customs official." I don't know if it is just documents, or if it also contains bribe money -- or what -- it is a mystery. And I worried about stumbling through a reply to the airline ticket agent when I was asked the security question asking if anyone I didn't know had given me something to take on my flight. But, thank goodness, they've done away with that security question with the looming threat of 2 oz. bottles of mouthwash and mini tubes of toothpaste. But I imagined some kind of hand-off to the customs guy -- I didn't know if it was going to be on the sly, or over the counter. I kind of was hoping for some intrigue with it -- and I wanted to catch a glimpse of what was inside. But, no, Brent told me -- I'm just supposed to give it to some company person and they bring it over to the consulate and take care of it. Oh well -- in Nigeria, probably most often boring is better.

It was comforting to me to arrive to the same familiar apartment that I stayed in last summer. Things in the city seem much the same -- although a construction project of a walkway along the beach seems to be finished and looks quite nice. I'm sure it will be featured in a future blog entry when we find the time/get up the nerve to go walking along the beach.

I've been getting things organized in the apartment. Because Brent's been sharing it with other guys, he's kept his belongings in the bedroom storage areas. But now, we have the apartment to ourselves, so the food went into the kitchen cupboards and things have spread out to other closets and dressers. There's plenty of storage space for what we have.

I did some grocery shopping today -- the driver came back from exchanging money for us with a thick wad of 200 naira notes -- the exchange rate is 129 naira to the dollar. Food and goods, especially things that have been imported are very expensive here. As close as I can tell most things are about 3-4 times what they would cost in the US. I've never spent $9 for a box of cereal before. I declined to buy a tub of Crisco for $25 -- I'll wait till I absolutely need it. But my grocery bill for my 8 bags of groceries came to $15,000 naira (about $116)-- and I had to pay for it with 200 naira notes -- oh my hands felt scummy after counting out that money. I reached for the hand sanitizer as soon as I got to the car!

Monday, January 08, 2007

The 23rd good thing about Lagos: Looking forward to a big lifestyle change that hopefully will help me keep my New Year's resolutions.

It's been a long time since I've written. The project my husband is working on has gone through some real stormy seas and it looks to me like the company may pull out of it. Brent thinks that it will take some time for them to actually do this -- and there's still a chance that they'll hang on and the economics may turn in their favor. We decided that it's too tenuous to sell the house now, but we want to get going on the full expatriate benefits package, which won't start until I move over there. So -- we've found someone to watch the house for us and I plan on going over there at the end of January for a couple of months. Brent just went back, but he is planning on coming back for meetings in Houston at least by the last week in January, and if my visa is ready, I'll be able to go back with him. I'll be in Lagos until the beginning of April, when my daughter is due to have her first child in Boston. I'll be with her as long as is helpful, and then I'll come back to Houston. I'll spend the end of April and May here, rehearsing with the Symphony Chorus for our European tour, which begins the last week of May. Hopefully by this time, we'll know if we should sell the house and make a more permanent move. It will be a better time to sell a house, anyway. So hopefully the house will do survive our absence okay, and it won't be a nightmare getting it in shape to sell after a few months of neglect. Anyway, my son in his blog listed some of his New Year's Resolutions, so I decided to do the same here. I'm looking ahead to some big changes in Lagos and realize that one has to go into life there with different expectations and a positive mindset to survive and be happy in a place where much of life is very challenging. 1. I feel the need to be more prayerful. I would especially like to be more consistent with a prayer and meditation time each morning. I really think this is important living in a place where you face some very real risks just with going about your daily activities. And because Lagos is a place with such chaos, starting each day with an activity inviting peace into my mind and heart will be really essential. 2. I want to live with a spiritual mindset where I can ask God in prayer to lead me each day to places where I can serve and do some good. With moving to a new place, there's always a big freeing up of time until you get sucked into new activities. When I leave the busy-ness and many commitments of my life here, it will allow me to be free to put my life in God's hands and let His Spirit help me discover how I should spend my time. 3. I'll be living in an apartment that, although very adequate, doesn't have many of the things that make my life easier in my home. So I realize that I need to resolve to let go of THINGS, and be happy with less and make do without many of the comforts and possessions that here in Houston I consider pretty much essential. Of course, it's easier knowing that at first I will just be there for 2+ months and then I'll be back to all my "stuff." It's not hard to camp out for that long. But I'm hoping I'll realize that I can live happily with many fewer possessions, and that knowledge will make it easier to do the down-sizing that will still need to be done if we end up selling the house and moving for a longer period of time. 4. Of course, each year I have the requisite dieting and exercise resolutions. I think living in Lagos will make this one much easier. Food is VERY expensive there and there's not all the appetizing options that are so tempting here in the US, so, although eating healthily will be more challenging, I think it will be easier to eat less. And the past few years I've developed some really healthy exercise practices that I know I'll continue there, even though the apartment exercise room is a pale substitute for the 24 hour Fitness club that I frequent here. But with fewer regular commitments, I'm sure I'll make time each day for exercise. Okay -- that's enough for now!