Thursday, April 21, 2011

The 266th good thing about Lagos: meeting an acclaimed artist

First I'll give an election update:  As expected, Goodluck Jonathan has been declared winner of the Presidential Election.  But some people in the North aren't happy about his win and there has been some after-election violence by supporters of the candidate from the Muslim North.  Here in Lagos, everything is as usual.  We will be out of town for the final elections of the cycle, for State government, rescheduled for the Tuesday after the long Easter weekend.  The Lagos State Governor is quite widely supported here and it's pretty much assured that Fashola will be reelected, so no problems are expected.

When I was in London just over a week ago, I sat and ate a sandwich on a bench in Trafalgar Square just below the "4th Plinth" which has become a showcase for contemporary sculpture.  I admired the Ship in a Bottle and how it complemented the statue of the Admiral Lord Nelson, the great British navy commander.  I noticed the colorful sails, and I knew that the artist had won a competition to have his work displayed on this column, which was vacant of the statuary atop the other columns in the Square.  Little did I know that very soon I would have the opportunity to meet and hear from this artist.  For some reason Blogger won't let me upload pictures to this post right now -- I'll try again later and hopefully will edit this post, but for now I'll just link to some pictures for those that might be  interested.

Yinka Shonibare is one of the best known Nigerian artist that doesn't  live in Nigeria.  He spent some of his childhood here, but went to the UK when he was young to study art and hasn't returned.  He works in London.  About his "Ship in a Bottle" he says:  "For me its a celebration of London’s immense ethnic wealth, giving expression to and honouring the many cultures and ethnicities that are still breathing precious wind into the sails of the United Kingdom. A ship in a bottle is an object of wonder. Adults and children are intrigued by its mystery. How can such towering masts and billowing sails fit inside such a commonplace object? With Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle I want to take this childhood sense of wonder and amplify it to match the monumental scale of Trafalgar Square."  His website says "Tying together historical and global threads, the work considers the legacy of British colonialism and its expansion in trade and Empire, made possible through the freedom of the seas that Nelson’s Victory provided."  I guess it's fitting that a bi-cultural artist would create this work that celebrates the legacy the British colonial empire has given to the world.
Yesterday Yinka spoke at a cultural center here and talked about his art and rambled on about other things.  To explain why he hadn't returned to Nigeria in 30 years, he said that when he was 19 he contracted a virus which attacked his spine and paralyzed him.  He is able to walk now, but is still quite crippled and obviously disabled.  The crowded room of people (though the room didn't fill till an hour after the announced start time and the talk started 1 1/4 hours late -- Africa time can drive a prompt American nuts) was very appreciative of his presence, though some in the Q&A time questioned him what he was doing to support the arts in Nigeria and challenged him to do something more.  He said his art was about revolution, though I didn't see much revolutionary in his work, though he had some pieces that were interesting.  But I really do like his use of Nigerian wax print textiles.  The vibrant fabrics here are one of my favorite things about the visual feast that is West Africa.

The contemporary artist and work I was most enraptured with on my London visit to the Saatchi Gallery has no connection with Nigeria, but her work showed a revolution in the world of insects.  Tessa Farmer's work "Swarm" shows an enclosed clear box filled with insects hanging on nylon lines.  When looking closer, you see tiny crafted skeletons which are riding on or attacking the larger bugs.  The tiny skeletons were made from organic materials -- bug remains and stuff found in the artist's garden.  It was amazing to me the skill and craftsmanship in creating these tiny creatures.  I took a bunch of pictures of them and hopefully sometime I'll be able to upload a few here (even though they have nothing to do with Lagos....).

We're off to Kenya for an Easter get-away.  I wish you all a wonderful Easter and I'm sure I'll soon have a report on our view of the other coast of Africa.  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The 265th good thing about Lagos: Democratic elections, hopefully this time, free, fair and credible

This "Arab spring" as they are calling it has made us all aware of the power of the people, and how people everywhere want to have freedoms and the ability to choose the leaders of their country.   We were here 4 years ago during the last presidential elections and I was confused then about many things, and I can't say that things have been cleared up for me.  Yar'Adua, from the North, was elected, but then he disappeared and then died and the Vice President, from the South, Goodluck Jonathan became President.  This North and South stuff is important (the way I understand it) because the majority party, the PDP, had an arrangement or informal agreement within the party that their candidate would alternate every 8 years between the Muslim North and the Christian South.  They refer to it as "regional power sharing."  When Muslim Yar'Adua died and the Christian Jonathan took over, the North lost some of their "rightful" years of power.  So, when the PDP decided to keep Goodluck Jonathan as their candidate, there was some fear of conflict over this leading up to this month's election process. But, though there are always local uprisings and violence in Nigeria, there, thankfully, haven't been any widespread disruptions.  Goodluck Jonathan is widely expected to win the election and remain as president.

Voter registration was a long and involved affair that was scheduled for January.  It was delayed and extended into February due to problems with the equipment and the process.  There were 70 million people eligible to register to vote and the information on the election commission's website says that the final number registered was 67,764,327. This is an amazing percentage, especially considering many people had to take a day off of work and wait in line for hours to register to vote -- it was not an easy process.

Elections were scheduled for 3 Saturdays in April.  We were expecting to miss the first Saturday of elections while we were in London, scheduled for April 2nd.  That was why Brent got an extra weekend in London, as the company wouldn't do airport runs from Friday through Monday due to election travel restrictions and their own excess caution, so we had to leave on Thursday.  Since it gave us a free weekend in London, we aren't complaining!  But election morning, after some people had already cast their vote, the election was cancelled because many polling stations hadn't received their election materials.  All the votes that had been cast were cancelled and the elections that day were rescheduled for last Saturday, April 9th.  So last Saturday elections for the National Assembly were held, with votes cast for the House of Representatives and Senators.  But voting was just held in about 2/3 of the precincts, as some areas were still not equipped to handle the process.

Today is the presidential election.  The really different thing about the election process here is that this city of 16 million (or who knows how many) comes to a complete halt, and I assume it's the same in other cities throughout the country.  The borders of the country are sealed and there are travel restrictions throughout the nation.  No businesses are open and people are expected to stay home all day except when they walk to their local voting place.  I can't imagine anything like this happening in the States.  We live on a very busy road here and normally get a lot of traffic noise in our flat, so for us election days are quite peaceful and relaxing  (great for catching up on blog posts....).  I'm not minding being restricted to our apartment.  And we have a fairly good view of the election process, as our local polling table is right below our bedroom balcony.  I went out on the balcony when I heard people gathering midday.  At first there was a small crowd gathering as they waited for the polling station to be ready.  Shortly after noon, they were instructed to get in line and soon a poll worker was giving out little slips of paper as she called out numbers, I guess giving people their voting order so they could get out of line while they waited their turn.

 The wooden voting table was under a large tree beside the road, so it's difficult to see in this picture, but someone was sitting at this table, writing something on each ballot to get them ready to hand out to the voters.  Hopefully she wasn't filling out their ballot and marking votes for them!

Since the initial crowd, voters have been coming and going from the polling station.  There are definitely more people voting at this election than there were here last Saturday.  The percentages I heard of votes cast overall last week ranged around 20-30% of voters.  Many Nigerians I talked to said either that they didn't know who to vote for, so they didn't bother, or they were hesitant to go out because there were so many police in the streets and they were nervous to leave their homes.

The final election day, for State offices, was rescheduled for Tuesday, April 26th.  So this will be a day during the work week when the economy will again come to a halt as voters are given the opportunity to go to the polls.  Although I am amazed that they allow 3 days of total non-productivity for this election process, I suppose that it is admirable that the country will put so much emphasis on the importance of voting.  There is great hope that the voting here will be more free, fair and credible than it has been in the past, when the process was full of fraud and corruption.

I don't think our current president needs me to wish him "Goodluck" on his election today.  According to this campaign poster, he also has the good wishes of President Obama, and assures him "Yes we can, sir!"

The 264th good about Lagos: accompanying my husband on a business trip, part two

We had just returned from Amsterdam when Brent learned that he would be needed in London on business the next week and would need to leave early because of travel restrictions for the elections over the weekend (more on that on my next post).  Since his trip was going to be extended over a weekend, and since we had BA points waiting to be used, we repacked our bags just a few days after getting back to Lagos and headed off to probably my very favorite city to visit -- London!

I fell in love with London when I first spent 6 months there as a university student on a study abroad semester.  I never tire of spending time there and don't mind at all going about on my own.  But on Brent's free Saturday, we enjoyed a day trip out to Windsor together.  He had never been there to visit the castle.  It's everything a person expects in a castle, and also has some really splendid State rooms and so much history.  Add that to a beautiful day, and it was a great outing.

 I love that most London museums are free and so I don't worry about stopping in to a museum I've visited many, many times before.  I enjoy going back to see works of art that are like old friends.  There are so many museums that I never have time to go to them all.   Art museums are my favorite, but I always try to find something new or that I haven't gone to in a long time.  I had probably gone to the Imperial War Museum 33 years ago when I was a student in London, but it wasn't the same place now.  It is a very interesting museum, with a lobby filled with aircraft, tanks and all kinds of war equipment.  It has great exhibits on the Holocaust, spies and espionage, war art, as well as Britain in the World Wars.  I was here till closing one day and hope to go back to see more.
 On Sunday Brent and I went up to the British Library to a very interesting exhibit on the English Language through history, and then to a unique exhibit at the Wellcome Collection on Dirt.  I tell you, it really was fascinating.  But because we were in the area, I had to stop at King's Cross Station and pretend I was going off on the train to Hogwarts.  There was a lot of construction going on in the station, and I was looking around station nine and the guard there looked at me and asked "Harry Potter?  Go right down the hall there by platform 8."  We just beat out a large group of people also wanting photo ops, so I'm glad I wasn't the only "mature" person wanting a picture there.
 One day I went along on one of the guided London Walks, which are a very good way to get a closer look at a neighborhood.  We were all amused when the guide pointed out this sign above a pub.  I had noticed the name on the pub, "The Three Kings," and expected the picture on the pub sign to be like the nativity scene 3 Wise Men.  But the 3 Kings here were King Henry VIII, King Kong, and Elvis.  The English do like their royalty.
 London was starting to buzz with royal wedding excitement and there were wedding souveniers available everywhere.  (I did resist purchasing any.)  Also everywhere are lovely London city parks and the tulips were blooming.  Beautiful springtime!

 I enjoyed two free lunchtime music concerts as well as a peaceful choral evensong service at St. Martin's in the Field.  When visiting London I always go to St. Pauls and walk across the Millenium Bridge to the Tate Modern.  It was a perfect spring day.
 Our last evening in London, we walked along the Thames walk near our hotel and watched the sun set behind Hammersmith bridge.  What a wonderful city!

The 263rd good thing about Lagos: accompanying my husband on a business trip, part one

I've been suffering from a dismal internet connection for the last few weeks, but we got some repair work done yesterday and, though it still can be spotty, I'm hoping that I will stay connected long enough to write a blog post.  I've got a few that have been waiting, the first two are travel reports, but, if I make it to the third, I promise it will be Nigeria related. 

A month ago Brent and I left for Amsterdam.  He had a conference to attend and I wanted to go along, so we extended his trip over the weekends on either end so he could enjoy some downtime too.  We had a week of wonderful weather and I loved having time to get to know some of the wonderful things this city has to offer.  This city offers a bunch of not so wonderful things too, but I'm going to focus on the good stuff, because that's what I do on my blog.  Here's me loving Amsterdam -- we rented bikes for a day and enjoyed away from the city into the countryside and another ride along the canals and through a city park.  No one would have mistaken us for locals, but at least we avoided collisions and injury.

 This windmill was along our bike ride in the country,
 and here's a view of Amsterdam's charming city canals.

 During the week I got a museum pass and spent much of my time wandering the streets from one museum to the next.  I found I didn't have time for the sex museum, the torture museum or the marijuana museum, but I managed to hit many of the other ones that Amsterdam has to offer.  We also had a wonderful day trip to Haarlem, where we visited the enormous and fabulous St. Bavo church, where we were lucky enough to be there during a wedding and heard the wedding march played on a massive organ in the church where Mozart had played the organ in 1766. 

The town square in Haarlem looks much the same as you'll see in the 17th century paintings of the town.
Maybe then they had long lines of people waiting to do their shopping.
 But this day they were waiting for their ipads from the Apple store next to the McDonalds.
 We were a little early for the tulips, but there were still lots of beautiful flowers around, in city areas,

 and in pots by doorways.

 The fabulous Keukenhof gardens opened while we were there, and on our last day in the Netherlands, we went there for a visit.  The tulips weren't at their peak, but there were still plenty of flowers to enjoy, in beds outside and in the pavilions.  They had a windmill too.
 We always used to laugh about how many flower photos my dad used to take.  I guess I inherited this compulsion, because I couldn't resist.  And I was wishing my parents could be there to enjoy this beauty with me, so I'm posting some pictures so they can see some of the incredible variety of floral creation that we saw there.  And we weren't there at the park's peak to see the blooming tulip fields -- we'll have to go back someday!

We don't see this kind of natural beauty in Lagos, so this trip, with walking, biking, flowers, fresh air, wonderful art and culture, was a real shot in the arm for me.  And it's always summer in Lagos, so this reminded me -- in other parts of the world, it's spring!  Enjoy!