Thursday, August 23, 2007

The 64th good thing about Lagos: A renewed appreciation for nature and the freedom of a bike ride

After returning to Houston from Lagos, I get out on the bike trail near our house as soon as possible. The trail goes through a forested reservoir area with a pretty wooden bridge over the bayou. On my first ride this past week I was thrilled to see a large flock of egrets and herons and other large water birds. There was even a roseate spoonbill, which I haven't seen along this trail before. There were hundreds of them -- I was really wishing I had a camera! My next ride I took my camera, but the big flock had moved on and there was the more typical number of wading birds. My first trip down the trail, this area in the picture was partially underwater, looking much like the roads in Lagos after a rain. Just a couple of days later, the waters had receded, but the birds that remained were having fun wading in the pools beside the path. It's always a great feeling after being in Lagos with its necessary restrictions on outdoor walking, to have the freedom of a bike ride through this beautiful wooded place. Besides a great variety of birds, I always see rabbits and sometimes turtles. On my last ride, I decided not to stop to take a picture of the snake crossing the trail as he raised his head to greet me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The 63rd good thing about Lagos: At times, you can feel like a celebrity

I'm home in comfortable Houston, where I can brush my teeth with water from the sink. Such things you learn to appreciate after living in Lagos. My trip home was long (about 28 hours door to door) but without incident. Traveling to the airport in Lagos was the most nervewracking, where we encountered some quite extensive "go-slows." But I traveled in comfort and style, unlike most of the other travellers on the road that night. In Lagos they do have some public buses like what we are accustomed to in the US. But most people taking public transportation travel in vans that in the States would hold a maximum of 12-15 passengers. In Lagos these often appear to be near to falling apart and they are usually crammed and bulging with travellers. They generally have 5-6 rows and people at least 4 across, and sometimes with a second layer of people on top of those. On the road that night I saw a number of buses (what we call vans) with the door open and people hanging out as they drove. (These pictures were taken earlier -- I was traveling to the airport at night).
I was the only company person going to the airport that night, but I had 6 men accompanying me: the driver and an accompanying security guy in the armoured car I was in, and an escort car with 4 men (I think one was a company driver that needed a ride....) and I don't know how many machine guns. It was useful at times to have the escort car with its police lights that encourage other cars to move over and let us through. The drivers also make liberal use of their horns. But in some kinds of traffic, even police lights and horns won't help you move. There's an intersection approaching the airport area where there is a road to the domestic terminal that crosses the road we were on to the international terminal. The roads each have probably 3 lanes in each direction (though traffic lanes here are very flexible), so there is at least 6 lanes of traffic crossing another 6 lanes. Although there was a booth for a traffic policeman, he was off duty at the time, and there was no stoplight or any other traffic regulation. The intersection was hopelessly gridlocked with cars facing every which way and it seemed that no driver was willing to give any ground to anybody else. I was really wishing I had access to my camera at this moment. One of my security guys finally got out and held cars back with his hand and got others moving so after 10-15 minutes of just sitting in place, we were finally able to creep through the intersection. I'm very grateful that I can travel to the airport in style and comfort!

Friday, August 17, 2007

The 62nd good thing about Lagos: a new apartment with new furniture

We've been in our new apartment for a few weeks now and it's starting to feel a little more like home. New construction here in Nigeria presents some challenges. I'm sure I'll have occasion to write about some of them in the future.

The company hasn't had many expat families to equip here, so getting us into these new apartments (we christened them the "Flamingo Flats" -- have I posted a picture of the outside yet?) sent them into uncharted waters.The company didn't have established procedures in place for how the process of choosing furniture would take place. At first they presented us with pictures of furniture on a CD and it seemed like we would have a choice as to how they would furnish our apartment. Then they decided that procedure gave too much control to individual expats. So they just chose and purchased the furniture for each flat, to standardize the furnishings. That was fine with me -- they were paying for the furniture, so that was their right to choose it. It would have been better if at first they hadn't given us the idea we would have a choice, because I certainly wouldn't have chosen some of the things we ended up with. But we can live with all of it. The upholstery on the couches and chairs is neutral and liveable and it looks good, but when you sit down, you realize that here they use extra-firm foam in the cushions. There's no squish -- it's kind of like sitting on a board with a bit of padding.

The furnishing I get the most "what were they thinking?" mileage out of are the horse lamps that we have beside the bed in our guest bedroom. Come to visit us and these can light up your nighttime reading, setting you at ease as you are transported to the Wild West. I guess as they chose them some Nigerian facilities person was thinking, "all Americans like horses, right?"

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The 61st good thing about Lagos: Being a person with keys

There's a time when a person moves overseas which I've experienced before when you've sold the car and the house and you are a totally key-less person. It's kind of disquieting and freeing at the same time. Because we still own a house and a truck in Houston, we never really went through that with this move. But after moving into our new apartment, we are entering the key-holder phase like never before. With the exception of the bathroom doors (which have a turn-latch lock), every room entry door and closet door has a keyed lock, with 3 keys provided. Even the swinging door between the kitchen and dining room has a keyed lock. I counted 26 separate keyed locks. This was convenient when we were moving over here in stages, we could put items we moved over in closets and lock the doors and bring the keys with us, so we didn't have to worry as much when workers were here and we weren't around to supervise. Now mostly we carry around our entrance key (we only use one of the keys for the front door -- the other one is a lock that doesn't really function correctly because there's no hole for the bolt to go into the door frame), and I carry the keys to a couple of closets where we keep valuables. We should probably carry the key to the back door (bottom picture), which also has a security gate with a lock on it because it's a glass door. But that would be two more keys. We have security gates over all the windows to the balconies that are sliding doors. If those gates were really to function properly, we would put locks on those as well, but that means 10 more keys (or combinations to remember if we use that type of lock -- even more difficult). I don't know if we're ready for that level of security!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The 60th good thing about Nigeria: A temple here for the Latter-Day Saints

The LDS temple in Nigeria was dedicated in 2005. We won't be able to travel there while we're here because it's located in Aba, which is down in the delta area where it really isn't safe for us to travel. It's the part of Nigeria where there's a lot of kidnappings of foreigners. But it is a blessing for the Nigerians to have a place to go to receive temple blessings. My dad just sent me a link to some pictures and the experiences of some Saints from Cameroon when they made a trip to the temple in Nigeria. Their trip was pretty incredible. I thought I'd post the link here for those of you who hadn't already seen it. We face traffic when we attend the temple in Houston, but there's no competition for who has the more difficult journey!

The 59th good thing about Lagos: Stake Conference time again

Home from the cruise for almost a week, I'm still working on getting my pictures organized, so that blog post will have to wait. First I'll write about today. Though I haven't really spent that much time in Lagos, I was able to attend my 3rd Stake Conference (held twice a year) here today. We managed to convince our company transportation and security people that we could travel without the trailing security car, so we just had our driver in the bullet-proof vehicle and one security guy with a machine gun riding literally "shot-gun." We got to the meeting about 40 minutes before the start, and the chapel was already full and members were half-way back into the overflow area, and the choir was already singing. We were ushered up to our reserved spot for "visitors," though we insisted that we were members of the stake, not visiting and it wasn't necessary -- they wanted all the white people to have seats in front. It kind of makes me feel bad -- I hope it's not interpreted that we think we deserve special treatment. The choir sang for at least 45 minutes before the start of the meeting. They were great, as usual. The women had lovely matching lavender outfits (different dresses from the previous conferences) and the men had matching ties and lavendar handkercheifs out of their jacket breast pockets. The choir director even had a matching top with her suit. It was pretty amazing. Notice the beautiful cascading floral arrangement down from the pulpit. Their main church exposure here is General Conference and I think they really look to that meeting as a model for their conferences. They see the Tabernacle choir with their matching outfits and think that's necessary for the choir. But also, clothing and appearance seems to be quite important to Nigerians. They can live in conditions that would be considered a shack to most Westerners, but dress each day very nicely -- formally by Western standards. But anyway, I'm always very impressed with the amount of music prepared by the choir and the enthusiasm with which they sing. The other impressive thing was that the Stake Presidency (that's the back of the President's head you see in the picture of the choir) was sitting on the front row for at least the 40 minutes pre-meeting that we were there (I don't know how long before we got there they were sitting there), listening to the music. They weren't running around completing business or getting things organized for the meeting, they were just sitting reverently. At the time for the meeting to start, they took their places on the stand. I thought that was pretty neat. The meeting was very good. The mission president mentioned how this conference could have taken place anywhere in the world. He quoted Ephesians 2 where Paul spoke about us being "no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God." (As he quoted Ephesians, I was thinking about being at Ephesus just over a week ago and seeing the theater where Paul spoke to the Ephesians -- a quite amazing experience!)

After the Conference, we were invited to have a meal with the senior missionaries. This was a fun opportunity to visit with these adventurous couples who have volunteered their time and money to come help support the church here and provide service to the community. Their life is more difficult than our lives as expatriates -- they don't get trips home or shipments of goods. One mission president's wife today compared her life here to being in prison -- she's serving her time. She was only partially joking. They served us a wonderful meal and we had a great time
visiting together.
In the group picture here, the
mission presidents of the two Lagos missions and their wives are on the outside, President and Sister Evans on the left and President and Sister Dyering on the right. The couples are, from left to right, the Rawlings, Wadsworth, and Griggs. They deal with the challenges of missionary life in Lagos with very good attitudes and spirit. I admire them all for being willing to take on those challenges.