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.


Erin Cox said...

I loved that book too. So sad and moving. (I cried too.)

harold said...

I too really enjoyed both Kite Runner & 1,000 splendid Suns , they are very good reads, a real eye opener. I also shed a 1,000 tears. I am so grateful that all the women in my life do not suffer this way.