Friday, October 31, 2008

The 144th good thing about Lagos: an early Thanksgiving dinner

Ok, first, I have confess to being a bit optimistic in my last post about things getting fixed, so I feel I need to give an update. The return to the internet actually proved to be a very brief blip in now over two weeks of dismally slow internet service. Something is still wrong with the main server to internet users in Nigeria and, though there are still many rumors flying, no one seems to really know what the problem is or when it will be fixed -- at least the ones who may know are not publically willing to admit where the problem is. So I'm afraid there's still a delay in my ability to post pictures.

We did, however, make some progress on the plumbing front in our flat and now we seem to have relatively drip-free working plumbing. I know this won't be the end to plumbing issues in our flat -- that will be a constant battle. I will enjoy it while it lasts. But no leaks doesn't mean we always have running water. This morning, for the second time when I was subbing at the school and needed to get out the door early, the water in our bathroom was not running. When this happened recently, there wasn't water running anywhere in the apartment so I took a sponge bath with warm bottled water. In my constant attempt to look at the bright side, I decided to feel very luxurious about it. Not everyone gets to bathe in bottled water, right? This morning there was water running in another bathroom shower, but the hot water heater to that bathroom had been turned off. So, I took a very quick cold-water shower, which woke me up and got me moving out the door sooner. I had a fun day today subbing for a French teacher at the American school. That was interesting, especially since I know only a few words in French. But it was a great opportunity to learn something new.

My grandson, Owen, also had a bit of a setback in his recovery from tonsil removal surgery. He was back in the ER the other day, but was able to go home after getting some IV fluids and new pain medication. Hopefully his recovery will progress more smoothly now and he'll be in better shape than Nigerian plumbing in no time.

Canadians have already celebrated Thanksgiving this year, but we were invited to an early American Thanksgiving dinner the other night. Our neighbors Josie and Roy were leaving town early for the holidays and they had a turkey they wanted to cook, bequeathed from Julia, our teacher friend who left Lagos before the summer, who had access to purchase it from the commissary. We had all the trimmings -- Josie made a pecan pie using pecans I had brought from Houston and I made a pumpkin pie, also with pumpkin brought from the States. I haven't seen either in the stores here. Cranberry sauce was another thing that had been brought here in luggage, and Josie actually was able to find ingredients for green bean casserole. We had it all and it was delicious!

Josie also found small pumpkins in the store here and had an after-dinner craft activity for the children there to paint and decorate them. I wish I could post the cute picture of them with their creations, but it just isn't going to happen today.

Yes, it's Halloween today -- I wish you a happy one with lots of goodies! But we're already ahead of you with our Thanksgiving dinner behind us. Last weekend I was shopping at the mall and they already had the Christmas tree up. Who said Lagos was behind the times?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The 143rd good thing about Lagos: some things getting fixed

There's a classic Nigerian novel by Chinua Achebe called "Things Fall Apart." That seems to be the motto for this country. Over a week ago our internet changed from moving at a pretty good clip to an almost standstill, where even sending an email was difficult. The word on the street was that the fiber optic cable running through the ocean that provided the primary internet link to most of the country had been severed and so everyone was moved to the backup satellite servers and everything was bogged down. People said that it would likely take up to a month to fix it because they would have to bring a boat out from South Africa to find and repair the break. But they must have found some other way to repair the damage -- yesterday afternoon at my card group, my friend Josie got a text from her husband who works in IT that he had gotten word from the internet server that the repair had been made. I didn't dare hope that it was true until I got home and tried it for myself -- but, for now at least, the next morning, our internet is moving. I've been trying to plan our Thanksgiving trip and it's been agonizingly slow. I confess to being internet addicted, it's really my lifeline here. So once I've made some progress on vacation planning, I'll finish blogging about our trip to Northern Nigeria.

Lately around the apartment, it's been a continuing saga of breaks and no fixes. We've had a couple of plumbing floods since we returned from our trip in early October. They supposedly fixed the problem that caused the flood from the water heater in our master bath, but the floor beneath the water heater continued to be wet, so something was leaking. And we've had a constant drip -- almost a stream --from the master shower for 6 weeks that they've been totally unable to stop, though they have been trying one thing after another and continue to say they're trying to locate the right part. Early in the week when I was returning from my sub job I was afraid to enter the apartment because there was a huge verbal argument going on inside -- men's voices I could hear from down the stairway. The company facilities guy was really laying into the apartment maintenance manager for not fixing these continuing problems and there was loud shouting on both sides. The last word the apartment maintenance people were telling me at the end of last week was that the whole shower tile and floor would have to be broken out so they could repipe the whole thing and that was necessary to stop the drip. I told them that in no way were they to start that until we got someone else to confirm that that was necessary -- I knew that would be weeks of mess and workers in the flat. Anyway, the company got an independent plumber in here yesterday (someone who actually had a wrench that could take the faucet apart) and Brent insisted on being present when he was there to show him the problem. With Brent showing the plumber what to do, they took the faucet off and -- what do you know -- there's a broken rubber washer in there that made it unable for us to fully turn off the water. But in the process of putting things back together, the plumber totally messed up the threads in the faucet so now it can't be affixed on the pipe stem -- and the new faucet is the part that they've been looking for for weeks. And in the independent plumber's attempt to fix the leak under the water heater and tighten the connections, something else must have been broken because it's even wetter under there. This country really needs some plumbers that know what they're doing! But I doubt we can convince Joe the plumber to move over here. (Though after glancing at that Wikipedia article about him, I'm not convinced he knows much more about plumbing than these guys here that call themselves plumbers. But I'm sure they'd trade places with him in a minute!)

In our chatting while playing cards yesterday, one woman confessed that she dashes (tips) the workers on her compound who come to fix things in her flat. She said that she gives them the dash, telling them that if they are back for the same problem anytime soon, the dashes will end. She said things tend to stay fixed longer in her flat than in others. She thinks that they only fix things half-way because it's their way of job security. If things continue to break, than all these maintenance people continue to be needed to work on things. Brent thinks it's just that they are totally incompetent.

But I'll put up with a drip here and there and even an occasional flood as long as my internet is running smoothly.

On the home front, things are also getting fixed. We were very relieved to get word yesterday that our grandson Owen, who will be two next month, made it through his surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids. We hope the surgery will fix his continuing breathing problems and allow him to sleep better -- though there are undoubtedly a few sleepless nights ahead while he heals. Our thoughts and prayers are still with Owen and his parents through the recovery!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The 142nd good thing about Lagos: a great book group discussion distracts from constraints of Lagos life

I'm taking a break from blogging about our Durbar trip because this week something has gone wrong with our fast internet connection (it's not just our problem, some satellite or cable had something go wrong and people all over Lagos are having internet problems) and our backup internet server is so slow that uploading pictures to the blog would be tortuously slow. So I'll do a "words only" blog post and save the pictures for another day.

This week I was hostess for my book group's discussion. We had a bigger than usual group of 15 and a really great discussion of "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini, the second book by this author of "The Kite Runner." This book was also set in Afghanistan and focused on the lives of women there. I not only enjoyed the book, I was incredibly moved by it -- I can't remember crying so hard at the ending of a book before. That country has seen more than its share of strife and turmoil and so many women have been victimized, and my heart hurts for them. Anyway, I highly recommend the book if you'd like to learn more about Afghanistan and have a good story (and possibly a good cry) along the way.

After our book discussion, I had a light lunch spread out and while we were filling our plates, one woman in our group went to use my powder room. Some minutes later when someone else went to use the facilities, we became aware that the first woman had been locked inside. We had some frantic moments using keys, screwdrivers and various other implements trying to dislodge the lock, which was stuck. I had an unsuccessful attempt to contact our building maintenance service and I had a guy from the security gate respond to my call for emergency assistance, right when we finally were able to free my friend. After she was out, we were able to laugh about the whole frantic situation, and it will certainly continue to be a memorable book group adventure. But this woman, like others in my book group, have recent experience with being locked in. They live in the Chevron compound which is experiencing some real problems with labor turmoil. The Nigerian Chevron union workers are making a lot of demands on the company. They want the expatriate workers out of the country, as they feel they are taking the jobs of Nigerians. So they have been making life on the compound very difficult -- frequently turning off power and water during the day and barricading the entry to prohibit people going in and out. Last week the children on the compound couldn't leave to go to school because it wasn't certain that they would be able to return to their homes. These actions generally just go on during the day while the Nigerian workers are on the compound. When they leave for the day, the barricades are lifted and the power and phone and water go back on. So people living on the Chevron compound have a difficult time making plans to go outside, because they never know if it will be possible to leave the gates -- kind of like my friend stuck in my powder room -- she never knew when she'd be able to get out.

At this same time the residents and workers at the ExxonMobil compound were without power and water for a couple of days as they had failure of their generators. The company had had a couple of new generators languishing in Nigerian customs for months, and for the past couple of weeks the compound had frequent lengthy outages as they tried to manage life with generators ready to fail. But the inevitable happened and until they could get a rented generator hooked up, they were without power to run their water pumps and electrical systems. So workers and family members had some hot days and nights and a fair amount of inconveniences as they awaited a return to generator power.

I have often here kind of envied expatriates here with a large company presence with their instant community and conveniences of life on the compounds. But sometimes I think life off the compound has its advantages.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The 21st good thing about Northern Nigeria: A peek at the Emir's palace in Katsina

After the Durbar, we walked down from the viewing stand...

through a watching crowd...
and walked through the crowd along the street towards the Emir's palace.
In the courtyard outside one of the entrances to a palace building were some men in colorful dress.

They decided the first room we were going into would not hold the crowd of visitors, so they ushered us to another receiving room.

It had a very pretty doorway.

The first room they brought us to had bright blue walls, three throne chairs and some couches. It also had air conditioning!

But that room also was not large enough for all the special guests, so they brought us out to the trophy room which, alas, did not have air conditioning. We were given an interesting talk about the history of Katsina and the Durbar. But it was VERY HOT.

Katsina has a long history as a force in polo. They had many polo trophies on display. The emir and his late father, the previous emir, are (and were) especially accomplished polo players. The present emir was chosen to succeed his father 5 days after his father's death in March of this year, by the kingmakers -- a kind of a ruling council. There is no rule of succession like in a royal family, although this family has had kind of a dynasty of leadership in Katsina. The link leads to an interesting article about how the present emir was chosen.

We were given a little peek at some of the historic parts of the old palace.

Paulette said that usually the Emir himself comes to greet his special foreign guests but we were excused without having an audience with him. Too bad!

The 20th good thing about Northern Nigeria: The Katsina Durbar Festival!

The Durbar Festivals in Kano and Katsina are some of the most spectacular displays in Nigeria. "The Durbar festival dates back hundreds of years to the time when the Emirate (state) in the north used horses in warfare. During this period, each town, district, and nobility household was expected to contribute a regiment to the defense of the Emirate. Once or twice a year, the Emirate military chiefs invited the var­ious regiments for a Durbar (military parade) for the Emir and his chiefs. During the parade, regiments would showcase their horsemanship, their preparedness for war, and their loyalty to the Emirate. Today, Durbar has become a festival celebrated in honor of vis­iting Heads of State and at the culmination of the two great Muslim festivals, Id-el Fitri (commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan) and Ide-el Kabir (commemorating Prophet Ibrahim sacrificing a ram instead of his son)."

I'm just sorry I just had a regular digital camera -- it didn't have a big zoom lens and the video I could take from that distance was very limited. The pictures really don't do justice to the resplendence of the whole thing.

After the way was cleared for the parade, the procession began.
Some groups just walked in, others rode on horseback.

One made his grand entrance on stilts. Many entourages had a sign in front announcing where they were from.

There were acrobats...

and a lot of music and dancing.

After the groups processed through the crowd, they entered the large public square in front of the palace and took their positions.

We had a great viewpoint in the raised viewing stand, but the crowd below had to improvise to get a view. Those with motorbikes stood on the seat.
And some boys climbed the tree to get a better look at the action.The parade went on for almost two hours.

When most the groups had entered the square, they cleared a path down the center for the Emir and his regiment to enter.

They had more musicians leading the way.

Before the Emir made his way in, the square was full of celebrants.

The Emir came last in the procession, under an umbrella which was constantly in motion, surrounded by men on camels and men waving fans.

While a path was cleared in the center, many regiments raced toward the Emir, raising their swords to salute him.

The Emir addressed his subjects in a speech that was unintelligible to us, even if we could understand the language he was speaking (probably Hausa, but I'm not sure.) But the crowd below seemed to hang on every word.

And then, after the Emir and his entourage left and other groups began to disperse, there was what seemed to me to be the height of stupidity -- a crowd gathered around this car that was speeding around in circles. When I looked closer with our binoculars, I saw that there was no driver inside -- it was controlled remotely. Paulette said this strange addition to the show was a regular part of the festival. The car was circling so close to the crowd, and at such a speed, I was fully expecting to see it careen straight into them. It was a bizarre end to a spectacular show.

The 19th good thing about Northern Nigeria: a view of Katsina getting ready for a big party

When we arrived in Katsina, it was clear that they were getting ready for a celebration. The streets were full of vendors and people travelling to the Durbar. I saw a number of cars driving by a man and crammed full of children, all dressed in fancy clothing. There were also motorbikes loaded with a (presumably) dad with several children in front and behind. Women were not invited to this party, at least among the crowd (I'm glad they let me attend!). Young girls could be there and some old women were evident (I wonder who decides when a woman is old enough that she is fit for mixed company....), but married women were kept inside the walls of their homes.
We drove through the gate in the wall around the palace area and were met by palace representatives to show us where to go.
We climbed the stairway leading up to the viewing area on the palace wall.

This is the smaller crowd on the interior of the palace wall.
And there was a larger crowd outside the walls where the Durbar ceremonies would take place. Before the ceremony began, they tried to keep some passage on the road for vehicles to get through, but the crowd kept filling the street.
We had a crowd below that found entertainment in watching us, the foreign visitors up in the viewing area. This boy below had a bowl full of scorpions. He enjoyed showing them to us, allowing them to crawl all over his face and hands. They must have been milked of their venom. We enjoyed watching these boys take pictures of us with a cell phone camera and they would gather around to look at the photo of the visitors and just laugh. I wonder what they found so funny about us -- but we were busy taking plenty of pictures of the crowd below, so I guess it's okay that they take pictures of us.
Before the Durbar procession began, the police had to clear a pathway. I don't know if they said anything to the crowd first, but all of a sudden we saw them appear with whips and clubs and they were just beating and whipping the crowd to get them to move back so a path would be cleared for the parade. It seemed a bit extreme for crowd control, but I guess that's what it takes here.
I love this picture of children dressed in their finery inside the palace walls, watching the white people with curiousity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The 18th good thing about Northern Nigeria: Nigerian roadside rest areas

Our drive to Katsina for the Durbar Festival on Monday morning was mostly through flat countryside with some trees interspersed with cultivated land. But shortly before we got into town there was a convenient stopping place with some handy big boulders which provided a bit of protection. Men to the right -- women to the left! BYOTP!

The 17th good thing about Northern Nigeria: Pictures of life on the street

Here's a few random pictures to give you a view of the streets:

Busy streets of Kano.

This guy has a heavy load to pull.

I took this picture out of the back window of the bus. See the girl with the tray of eggs on her head? They were enjoying looking at us looking at them.

Nigerians are really good at balancing things on their heads, even while riding a motorbike.

Children walking with big loads.

Sitting in the shade on an afternoon during Ramadan.

Home Depot

Some relatively clean streets (even the animals stay to the side of the road)

And some very dirty streets -- Kano needs garbage service!

But the goats are happy.

A clean country road with a biker carrying a pot on his head.