Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The 120th good thing about Lagos: Finally back online!

I spend more time on the internet here than I do in the States. I really feel like it's my life-line -- for news and contact with people and getting business done, I really rely on the internet. We had been lucky at one time with two separate ways to access the internet, so one could be used as a back-up when the other was down. But since last fall, we couldn't hook-up to one of our systems. Since we were going to be gone for December, I decided not to bother the IT guy at the company because they were moving offices and he was swamped with work setting up the new office. He knew we needed some work done on it, but was happy to have me be patient about it. But last week most of the country was off line when the main telecommunications company, Nitel, went on strike. I heard from several people that many people working for the company hadn't been paid since last November. So I guess they had legitimate reasons for striking. I had also heard that the company had given money to the bank to meet payroll, but the bank was hanging on to the money to protect their interests. I don't know if that's true. There were lots of rumors flying and really nothing in the press about it that I heard. Brent said he thought that was because it was an embarrassment for the country -- and the press is not free here. I don't know. But I know if the entire US was without internet service for a week that there would be quite an outcry. I'm sure a national emergency would be declared and Al Gore, as inventor of the internet, would have a new cause to champion. I guess for most of the population here, internet access is not a reality. We had no internet service at home for 4 days until I finally got someone to the flat to fix our backup system. But the problem was that most of the country was also trying to use this backup satellite system, so it was extremely slow. Just sending an email was excruciating, and it was impossible to do any of the business I needed to do to plan for this trip we're about to take. I was especially worried because our daughter-in-law was in the hospital with problems with her pregnancy and I wanted to get news about how things were going. I was so glad over the weekend to have marginally faster service so I could do some trip reservations and pay some bills and catch up on things. But I did realize that I had been taking my relatively good internet service for granted and I really needed to appreciate it when I had it. Supposedly the strike is over -- our internet is still not back to what it was, but I'm hoping that we'll soon be back to speed. Our daughter-in-law is home after her second trip to the hospital and we're hoping that she'll be able to keep our new granddaughter growing inside her for at least a few more weeks. I'm awaiting news about my father, who was supposed to have surgery today, and I'm relieved that family again has a means to contact us through email.

I leave tomorrow (Thursday night) for London. Brent made it through the wait list for the Friday night flight, but I didn't. So I'll spend Friday doing something fun in London and stay in an airport hotel Friday night I don't feel too bad about that. Hopefully we'll all make our flights on schedule and Brent, Jordan and I will meet up in Heathrow Saturday morning and fly down to Lisbon. I'm excited about exploring that beautiful country and having an experienced Portuguese speaking guide with our returned missionary son!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The 119th good thing about Lagos: I don't have to wait in the lines for petrol

The other day I was going out to a meeting at the Chevron compound, which is a ways out of the island onto the Lekki peninsula via a busy road. The traffic on this road is often very bad. When I was going along it the traffic congestion was compounded by the problem of lanes being occupied by cars waiting in extremely long queues to get what we in the States call "gas." Here in Lagos, drivers often don't at first understand when we ask about the need to get gas -- gas is the propane or butane that you use for cooking. The car uses petrol or "fool," as they often refer to it. There is an extreme shortage of fool presently because Lagos recently got a shipment of contaminated fool, which damaged a lot of vehicles before tanks were purged. Our driver said today that they say the shortage will be alleviated hopefully by next week. But for now every petrol station has queues of vehicles waiting to fool up. Some of them looked like you could pass the day waiting in line for fool. My driver was able to fill the car's tank in the 2 1/2 hours that I was at my Bible study group this morning. I'm very grateful that I don't have to hassle with it myself! And the other day the drive home from the meeting was eased by the fact that most of the fool stations along the road had used up their supplies of fool and the lines of cars waiting had disappeared.

The 118th good thing about Lagos: Fewer Nigerian internet scam artists in business

We just got back from a Nigerian Field Society lecture -- it was a Nigerian author on a book tour talking about and reading from his new book, as well as his publisher talking about publishing in Nigeria. It was pretty interesting. But I really enjoyed a conversation I had before the lecture with a German woman. She has been living here in Nigeria for 6 years (and traveled here working before then) for the Nigerian Economic Crime Commission. She is the only non-Nigerian to work in this office -- she said they call her the "mom" of the Commission. This is an agency that is kind of a part of the Nigerian government, but not entirely, she said. I didn't really understand that. But basically they do crime work. She said they periodically focus their work on Nigerian internet scams. She said this last week alone they arrested 400 of these scam artists here in Nigeria. She said they can't do anything about the ones working outside of Nigeria, but the US government agencies, the Secret Service and FBI, as well as Interpol, work closely with them and aggressively follow the leads they give them. She said there are lots of people setting up offices with computers and they hire workers to send out these scam letters. She said sometimes she feels sorry arresting some of these young boys that are just doing the job to get money for food. But she reminds them that they know that what they are doing is wrong and so they have to take the penalty. She said they try to do these sweeps at least once a month and there's a never ending supply of people to arrest for this crime. She said she just checked and 80% of the people they arrested last month were still in jail. Hopefully the experience of being in a Nigerian jail will be something of a deterrent when they get out. In the meantime, when you get a Nigerian internet scam letter, you can either delete it, or forward it to this agency that investigates internet scams. But, unfortunately, it's been a while since I've done it, so I can't remember the address where you forward these scam letters. Maybe one of my readers will have that address handy and put it in the comments. Anyway, I'm glad that Frieda is on the job and that there are now 400 fewer Nigerian scam artists in business.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The 117th good thing about Lagos: Getting back into town and a return to routine and also a new experience

We returned to Lagos earlier this week without incident, even with all our luggage, despite British Airways well-publicized failures in this regard for so many others. I'm grateful our cooler with cheese and sausage escaped the trip to Milan for sorting along with thousands of other "delayed" bags.

We had a great time in Austin with our beautiful grandchildren for Easter. Altogether, the trip was a nice break, but seemed to pass too quickly. It IS good to get away from here.

Now, back in Lagos, life very quickly returns to routine, and not so routine. We got back to our apartment around 9:30 PM Tuesday and by shortly after 11 everything was unpacked and stashed somewhere. The next morning Brent was at work and I was off to my book group. Today I had a full day planned with my Bible Study group, a short stop with my Thursday card group before I left early for an opportunity to hear from a Nigerian author who was speaking at a friend's African literature book group. I was looking forward to this opportunity, but it was not to be. My driver had seemed to know where he was going after I gave him the directions, but we couldn't find the right neighborhood and in an attempt to backtrack while avoiding the go-slow blocking the busy road, he took a "road" (even despite my shouting "oh, no, this way doesn't look good...") that ended up as a sandy quagmire for our little Toyota. Four-wheel drive vehicles were passing us easily, but we were surrounded by some young men who offered to help us for a small "contribution." At first my driver tried to free us on his own and then called for help, but we determined that the fastest way to get unstuck was to enlist the aid of these young men.
I was worried at first, but we were lucky that they had no malicious intent, but were simply there to capitalize on an earning opportunity. So, after acquiring quite an appreciative audience -- a family who lived in a shack beside this sandy cut-off between two paved roads with a couple of attractive and cleanly dressed young children and a beautiful totally naked 1-year old baby boy. They preferred to not be photographed, but they were friendly and smiling through the whole adventure and reassured me that I wouldn't come to harm. After negotiating their fee, the boys got quickly to work lifting and pushing boards under the tires and we were soon free of the sand for the low price of 2000 Naira (about $17, but a year ago it would have been closer to $14. The inflated price is courtesy of the US financial crisis -- I can't set blame for that on these boys). I gave up on hearing the author lecture today, but I was able to add a new experience to my ever increasing list of adventures in Nigeria.