Friday, December 31, 2010

The 245th good thing about Lagos: Thanksgiving dinner with expat friends

This year was the first time we were in Lagos for Thanksgiving --  during previous years we would use this time to meet our college-age son somewhere for a trip.  But this year he was out of school and working, so he lost his company travel benefits.  So we invited some friends over to share the turkey breasts that we had brought into Lagos in our cooler.  Some of the fixings were improvised from our typical holiday fare, but I don't think anyone went home hungry.  Because Thanksgiving is a regular work day in Lagos, we had our celebration on Friday evening so the working folk could relax a bit easier.  It was a challenge to fit everyone in our dining room, but we managed.
There was time for showing off of special talents....
and just enjoying being together with friends.

Some were disappointed that there weren't any football games on after dinner, but others were happy to play a game together.  We're really grateful to share our life in Lagos with good friends!

The 244th good thing about Lagos: A taste of the good life on the Chevron compound

We have friends with young children that live on the Chevron compound.  Chevron has a great family "camp," they call it, which is a neighborhood like small town America.  The only drawback about the camp is it is out of the way on the Lekki expressway which is notorious for bad traffic.  So many Chevron expats just stick to life on the compound and don't leave it very often.  Our friends will soon leave Lagos and when they needed to take their "look-see" trip to their new overseas location, they asked me if I would be willing to stay with their children for a few days so their kids could stay at home while they were gone.  I was happy to get in some grandma practice and experience the good life at Chevron.  I won't post pictures of the compound here, for security and privacy concerns, but for a week after my babysitting duties ended, I was frequently remarking to Brent about the joys of life at Chevron.  Their houses are wired with both 220 and 110 volt outlets so you can operate US and other appliances without adapters and transformers.  You can drink their water right out of the tap -- it never looks like this.  They have houses with yards and garages and I could walk to visit other residents.  They were even growing their own pineapples in their yard.  (Caveat:  I was warned by my friend that there were rats that had taken up residence under their porch, so she was restricting the children's back yard play time till that problem was resolved.)

 I would go with the kids to the playground each afternoon -- and sometimes they would ride their bikes on the street to get there.  (Caveat:  I was told by the children that they couldn't go on to the grassy area next to the playground because there was a snake there and if it bit them, they would DIE.  I learned from other moms that the week before some residents on a walk had encountered a black cobra about 4-6 inches in diameter and 12 feet or so long.  It was threatening a dog they were walking and they also felt quite threatened by it.  It had been captured and killed, but apparently these cobras go around in pairs and they hadn't found this one's partner.  So many residents were operating on a high level of snake alert.)

There is a bus for the children to take to school, but because of the horrible traffic on the road, they need to leave at 6:15 AM.  My friend has a wonderful cook/nanny who fixed great meals each night and would stay till after we ate to clean up the dishes.  If I wanted to attend a social event, she was there to tend the young children.  She had another woman who cleaned the house each day and her driver was available to do the shopping and he also did the ironing and other errands.  So basically, as the mother of young children in this Chevron camp life, she could concentrate on mothering without all the other busy work.  That's a REALLY good thing for her.  She said that Lagos was a really good place for them at this time in their life. 

Life isn't perfect at Chevron, but, for me, it was an oasis and a very pleasant diversion from the hardships of life in Lagos.  I could get used to it, but I don't think I'll have the opportunity to do so.

The 243rd good thing about Lagos: My water doesn't always look quite this bad

Occasionally at home in our Lagos flat, we have no water running through the taps, and generally we have no idea why it's not running.  I have been known to take a sponge bath with the bottled water from the cooler that we use for drinking and cooking.  When we recently got a notice that they would be cleaning out the water tank, I was worried that we wouldn't have any water running for a while, so I filled the tub with water to use for cleaning.  When I saw the appearance of the water, I wondered how clean anything would get with this water.  Usually our water looks quite yellow, likely from iron in the pipes, but this was an especially bad water day.  You can see why I stick to showers in Lagos -- I've never taken a bath there.  With a shower it's easier to ignore the color of the water!

The 242nd good thing about Lagos: sometimes it's helpful to have a security escort vehicle along

When we go to our church's semi-annual Stake Conference in Ikeja, which is on the mainland, we are required to have a security escort with armed policemen.  I always think this is overkill, but when we went to conference in November, it was helpful to have the extra vehicle when our vehicle got a flat tire.  We left the policemen to change the flat and took their car so we were on time for conference.
I had to take a picture of my beautiful friend Sophie and her gorgeous little baby boy.  Doesn't he have the most precious face?

Our expat friends with their 4 cute boys all dressed up in their Nigerian church clothes.

We stayed after conference for the baptism of another expat young friend.

I loved seeing the smiles and visiting with this matching trio of sister missionaries -- one is from Liberia, one from Ghana and one from Nigeria.

The 241st good thing about Lagos: Fun with other expats at the Marine Ball

The weekend after we got back from our cruise, we had an evening out at the Marine Ball.  Again, Brent's co-worker was honored as the oldest Marine in attendance.  Every once in a while, it's fun to dress up and see others also in their finery.  We had a fun time at our table, but I didn't get any great pictures of the ceremony, which is always a highlight of the Marine Ball.
Brent and some of his co-workers

The 240th good thing about Lagos: Another wonderful R&R adventure!

I know I've used R&R trips away from Lagos before as a good thing on my ongoing list.  But our trips are something that we wouldn't do, at least as frequently, without the subsidy that we get from our "hardship duty" in Lagos.  I enjoy my life in Lagos, but it's always wonderful to get away, especially to somewhere as beautiful as Venice and other places in the Mediterranean.  Here's some of my favorite shots from our trip.

Venice is such a unique and enchanting city.  I went a few days earlier than Brent to visit some art museums at my leisurely pace, then we stayed longer after the cruise to see the sites together.  We had a great time walking around, as well as getting around on the waterbus.

From Venice we sailed on the cruise ship to the interesting city of Split, Croatia, which has charming walking streets and the interesting Diocletian's Palace.

 The Roman's really knew how to do vaulting -- the basement architecture is really great.
The Greek island of Corfu had more great walking streets, beautiful churches, and a neat fortress.

In Athens, we were just about blown off the Acropolis, but we still admired the elegance of the classical architecture.  The New Acropolis museum is really fantastic, too.

 We had a perfect day in Mykonos to enjoy the beauty of whitewashed buildings against the blue sky.

 And from Mykonos, we took a short boat trip to visit the island of Delos, which has more classical ruins.

 The next day our port was Katakolon, where we took a day trip to visit Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympics.  Again, it was a perfect day and this site and museum had recently been spiffed up for the Athens Olympics.  It was a very interesting place to visit.

We did a lot of walking, so it's a good thing I got those shoes fixed before I left Lagos!

The 239th good thing about Lagos: travelling shoes repaired quickly and cheaply!

Well, I've been on an extended blog-cation and it's time I do some catch-up.  The holiday rush is over -- I hope yours were as merry as ours -- and I have some time before I go on serious grandma duty, so I'm going to go through my pictures from the past couple of months and find some good things that I've neglected to write about.

In November we were leaving on our R&R trip and flying to Venice for a cruise.  As I was packing on the night before we left, I pulled out my closed-toe shoes, which I never wear in hot Lagos, but just mostly use for travelling.  I realized that when I wore them last, the stitching had pulled through the leather and they needed some repair.  So in the morning, I gave the shoe to my driver and he brought them somewhere to some repair guy on the street and within an hour or so I had my shoe back, stitched up for just over $1.   Now that's not going to happen in the States!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The 238th good thing about Lagos: once in a while, some great musical performances

When we lived in Houston, I was enjoyed participating in the musical culture of the city and would frequently attend concerts, as well as performing with the Houston Symphony Chorus.  That is one of the things I miss most about my life in Houston.  But sometimes there are opportunities here to attend performances that compare to the best of what I've heard in the States. 

The Musical Centre of Nigeria (the Muson Centre) is usually the venue for artists that are sponsored by some business or embassy and the concerts are usually free or at very low cost -- less than $13.  They do need to improve their PR, because the concerts are really poorly publicized and, therefore, usually poorly attended.  Recently I went to a concert there which had been advertised as a string quartet from South Africa.  I went, expecting classical music.  But I was equally pleased to hear a really great jazz quartet:  piano, violin, percussion and a vocalist.  Singing was Melanie Scholtz with the Buskaid Soweto String Project.  They were really wonderful!  I've included some clips so you can hear a bit.

Melanie has a smoky, velvety voice and each instrument did some killer improvisations.

They played some original music and also some classics, like "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.

Tonight was a thrilling performance by the 24 year old Czech pianist Lukas Vondracek.  He was one of the most talented pianists I have ever heard perform live.  He played one of the pieces which he had performed last year for the Van Cliburn Competition, where he received a Jury Discretionary Award.  He recently won the Hilton Head International Piano Competition in the US, and will perform a concert in Carnegie Hall next month as part of his award.  It was such a shame that his appearance here was so poorly publicized.  When the concert started there were only a handful of people there.  More trickled in during the performance, but there were still less than 50 by the time he finished.  And it was a free performance -- I'm sure that won't be the case in Carnegie Hall next month!  I felt badly that he had such a small audience, but it was kind of nice that it was so intimate. 

You can listen to a good recording of some of the Smetana Czech Dances that he played by following the link to the Van Cliburn Competition above.  Below is a bit of the Rachmaninoff he played.

He was joined by "his partner," a Taiwanese pianist who is also studying at the New England Conservatory of Music.  Yu-Chien Shih played a Chopin piece and also joined him playing some of the Dvorak Slavonic Dances for 4 hands. 

I left the concert with my musical soul purring with contentment.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The 237th good thing about Lagos: the American School celebrates Nigeria's culture

It was Nigerian Cultural Day at the American School this week and I stopped over there for some culture and to do a little shopping because there are great prices from the vendors they allow to come there.
 They had a beautiful cake on display celebrating the anniversary.

And they had lots of displays of traditional Nigerian food.  I had a sampling of roasted yam for the first time (those are their big yams in the basket in the picture on the right).  It was palatable, though as bland as I had expected it to be.

 And there were tables with women explaining the different Nigerian foods, which was very helpful.
 The kola nut is used ceremonially as the traditional offering to a chief, but it has also been used in many West African cultures medicinally and to ease hunger pangs, because it has a high caffeine content.

Palm oil was the biggest Nigerian export and source of income before the discovery of oil here. 
I had seen the fruit before,

but I found it interesting to see the plant that the palm kernels come from.
 This young woman was dressed as a bride from Cross River State.

These girls were dressed for a festival in Calabar.

And, of course, it's impossible to have a celebration of Nigerian culture without some drumming and dancing!