Myths & Truths of Port Harcourt

The most often asked question of us from family and friends not in Nigeria is one of security.  Many have read the reports of kidnappings and pipeline sabotage which dominate international news reports.  Most of this activity is well south of Lagos, down on the river delta, centered near the city of Port Harcourt.  There is an active dispute between the people of the state in that area who believe that they were promised a larger fraction of the area’s oil wealth from the Nigerian Federal Government.  That, coupled with the opportunity for immediate riches from O&G theft and corruption, has fueled a serious security issue for all people in that area.  Because of that, Shell expatriate staff who are located in Port Harcourt, are not allowed to leave the security of the Shell protected residential area or work office complex without a Shell provided armed security force escort.  This is unfortunate, because the Port Harcourt area is a lovely and vibrant community that is now off-limits to Shell staff.


Since a number of my staff live and work in Port Harcourt, I have had the fortunate occasion to visit the area for a few days at a time.  The trip starts with an hour’s ride from our residence in Ikoyi to the Lagos airport, to the new Domestic Terminal which is as modern as any elsewhere, and which is a huge improvement over the International Terminal on the other side of the airport.




After a pleasant, but brief flight (less than 1 hour), on a modern 737 Aero airline plane, one disembarks at a small domestic airport outside of Port Harcourt.  Shell, (as does each major company), provides a small bus with hired Federal security in front and behind to escort the passengers the 1 hour trip from the airport to Shell’s secured Residential Area.



Shell’s Residential Area, (RA), consists of a large Clubhouse with sports and entertainment facilities, a restaurant and bar, a 9-hole golf course, a modern school, the Patani Guest House, and tropical bungalow 3-4 bedroom houses for staff to reside in.





Unfortunately, since the security issues began 1-2 years ago, many expatriate families with children have moved to Lagos, and the RA is now only half occupied.  However, it is wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and a great place to go for a walk or jog, or to socialize with friends at the Club.  Each morning, Shell provides escorted busses from the RA to the Shell Offices in the Industrial Area, (IA).  These offices are a collection of buildings, infrastructure and storage on a protected campus, where all operational, technical and non-technical staff work. 



At the end of the work day, the expatriate staff return to the RA via escorted busses for another evening with family and friends at camp.  Items needed for everyday living are brought to camp by approved vendors, or can be secured in town by sending local Nigerian staff from camp into town to shop for you.  All I can say about the town of Port Harcourt, (PHC), is from what I can see from the bus, and what staff that used to be able to get out and about have to say: that it was a vibrant and friendly society, where people mixed freely. 




Few Oyinbo, (white people), wander the streets of PHC any longer, since the risks are now considered too great for the possibility of them being taken and held in exchange for money.  There are many in Nigeria pushing for a solution, but those profiting from the current situation are also strong.  For the sake of the Nigerian People, let us all hope a solution is found soon.





Our Nigerian Bar

 Well, we don’t have our furniture from the U.S., yet, but we decided to acquire our first Nigerian piece of furniture.  Now furniture in Nigeria is mostly made of wood, usually mahogany, and it’s thick, heavy, and usually hand-carved.  One of my Shell colleagues was transferring to Kuala Lumpur, and they had had a custom-made bar built for entertaining while in Nigeria.  While Julie bought their curtains and vacuum-cleaner, I made an arrangement to purchase their bar.  It came with all of its glassware and any alcohol left-over from its last party on Friday night.  The only catch – we were responsible for arranging moving it on Saturday.


On Saturday morning, we hired a group of drivers, security and other local workers at the original owner’s complex to get the bar down 3 flights of stairs, (elevators – what are elevators?).  Although the bar weighs ~500 lbs, the stairwells were wide, and the group of 6-8 men maneuvered it down to the front successfully. 


Then, we hired a local driver with a small covered truck to move the bar the 8 blocks from the original owner’s complex to our own complex.  Upon arriving at our complex, we again hired a group of local men to carry the bar up one flight of stairs to our Unit.  Unfortunately, our stairwells are much narrower, and this required a complex series of rotations and inversions to navigate our way up.  Finally, however, the bar made it into our unit, and everyone was happy to have made a few naira!



And so, we are poised to host our first “happy hour”!  We may not have much furniture, few dishes, and little entertainment, but we have a place to pull up a stool, rest your elbows, and chat with friends over a few drinks.  Of course, all of our friends are welcome to drop in any time – hope to see you soon….


Local color

To those of you who like pictures – enjoy.    This is The Civic Center across Five Cowrie Creek frm our home:

Okadas (motorbike taxi’s are everywhere and haul people and their goods (these are 20 foot long metal tubes ):

Lawma are the highway and roadway cleaners.  You see them daily sweeping the roads and road gutters.  There are no mechanical road cleaners.  This Lawma is fortunate as she has a long handled broom, most utilize the small wisk brooms.

The sign says it all:

There are very few big trucks here, in this case though, the load is bigger than the truck:

Local folks – the dress is always very colorful and in this case incorporates carrying the baby:



A Day at the Beach – Isahayi Sea

Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day – a not-so-unusual lull in the middle of the rainy season.  We met Inayat and Conrad (expats who have been in Nigeria almost 3 years) and Steve (a new expat neighbor) at the front gate of our complex, unloaded their car, and crossed the street to the water, (Five Cowrie Creek), where our tennis courts and pavilion are also located.  There, at the bulkhead, a boat that Conrad scheduled came by and picked us up and we headed ~ 20 miles northwest to a beach house on the Atlantic Ocean via the intracostal waterways and the Isahayi Sea.


We then traveled up intercoastal waterways, under bridges, past the yacht club, the container shipyard,





the abandoned ship graveyard,


 several waterside villages

and the harvestable coconut palm groves

to an area of palms and small docks.  We walked up a short trail through the brush and over the dunes to a beach house facing the Atlantic Ocean.  Conrad leases the land from the local tribal chief, and hired him to build this beach house for them.  It is a 2-story beach house, open on the bottom, with a storeroom and a large deck up top.  It has an enclosed bedroom, and a covered sitting room – bar area, which is open to the ocean view.

There is also a large area of deck open to the sun, with two staircases, one to the ocean, and one to a shower and bath area.  There is a private borehole with a water pump for running water.  When planning a visit, Conrad generally text’s the chief, and then the house and surrounding sands are swept and made ready for his visit.  We brought the food and drinks for the day, as there is no roads or electricity to the area.  Occasionally, during the day, venders walk by with their wares: beads, baskets, table clothes, birds, and woodcarvings.  There are no roads but lots of sand, water and coconut groves of palm trees.  We walked, flew a kite, and relaxed.   Conrad and Rocky tried out a boogie surfboard.  For dinner, a couple of the local boys prepared and grilled the corn and meat that we brought.   Overall, it was a very relaxing day with no traffic or city noises.  When we left the children assisted us in getting our bags to the boat.

 Here is a map to help you see our trip:






Milk in Nigeria – The Peak Milk Factory Tour

Milk is one of those items that is taken for granted in much of the world, but not so in Nigeria.  Nigeria is not well suited for dairy farming, causing nearly all milk to be imported.  On top of that, the lack of dependable power and/or refrigeration makes storage and transport of milk supplies a somewhat recent development in this part of the world.


On Saturday, August 9th, we adventured with The Nigerian Field Society to the Lagos Mainland and toured the Peak Milk Factory.  We met at the hotel and traveled with MoPo (Motor Patrol otherwise known as security vehicles) for a 45-minute drive to Ikeja (north Lagos, near the international airport).  At the Peak factory, we were given a slide show on the reconstituting, homogenizing, pasteurizing, sterilizing and canning of Peak Milk.   Since few Nigerians have dependable refrigeration, canned milk is the most effective and dependable source.  Peak Milk is a Dutch company and was the first dairy company in Nigeria, entering the country 53 years ago.  It was the first manufacturer, here, of evaporated milk.   Peak employs locally ~1400 people, including 160 engineers, and operates the factory 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, closing only for 2 weeks at Christmas.  After dressing in proper gear, (a white lab coat and white hat), we toured the milk production floor and the factory that makes the (tin-plated steel) cans.  The machines are kept continually running, with a rotating preventive maintenance schedule for 4-8 hours on every machine weekly.


All the cows in Nigeria could not produce enough milk for Peak milk daily operations.  Therefore, all milk for the factory is shipped via milk powder from the Netherlands.  Reconstitution of the powder is then done at the factory by the addition of water, fats, minerals and vitamins. The most popular manufactured product that Peak produces is the 157 ml can of evaporated milk.  The principle reason for this is that while sealed, the milk will last in excess of two years, and once the can is opened it will last for 7 days without refrigeration.  All the tin-plate for the cans is imported from the Netherlands, and all waste materials from the milk production and canning factory are recycled.



  • 1600 lids are manufactured per minute
  • 450 cans are made per minute
  • The warehouse has a 4 day supply of empty cans
  • The warehouse keeps 4 weeks of powdered milk on-hand
  • Powdered milk is recombined with water/vitamins/minerals in 90 minutes
  • 1000 cans a minute are filled with milk
  • Every can is scanned with x-ray to check its fill level
  • The warehouse has a 2 week retail supply of milk
  • Peak has its own distributors (trucks and 3-wheel cycles,[used in small villages])
  • Distributors deliver product and return cash to Peak in 3 days
  • Peak invests 1 billion Naira, (~$9MM), a year in Nigeria


As part of its license to operate, Peak demonstrates a large CSR, (Corporate Social Responsibility), presence.  Peak sponsors local water projects, school adoption, and tertiary endowments.  The water projects include 19 water boreholes that provide potable water to small villages.  The boreholes and water testing is all maintained their company.  Peak also considers the access to a basic education a necessity, and contracts with selected schools for 3 years. The schools are selected based upon the local population and its location.  If selected, the school then receives computers, books, first aid equipment and notebooks.  Tertiary endowments are made to: 1) universities to further the research in food and nutrition science for the development of the people of Nigeria, (for example, soy as an alternate to milk), 2) Twenty-two charity homes (orphanages and young mother homes), and 3) the OACNC (Olu Akinkugbe Child Nutrition Center).  The OACNC provides education on nutrition and child nutrition (breast feeding education) including a daily 5-minute radio program “Peak Wholesome Living”.



The Peak billboard on the expressway Lagos mainland. 


After the tour, we lunched in the employee canteen on chicken curry and rice, fruit, cole slaw and French fries.  We were given a souvenir bag, which included Peak evaporated milk, a Peak hand towel, a Peak hat and pen/notebook. And then made the trek back to the coast, a little wiser and better informed.

I’ll have a Chapman’s please

On a hot day we have discovered a local drink native to Lagos.  A Chapman.  A Chapman’s is served in large frosty mug  or cup.  It comes from the bar and is quite tasty and refreshing.  So I set out to find the recipe.  Over ice 1 shot of Lemon or Lime juice, 3 shots of Grenadine, equal parts of Orange Fanta and Sprite with 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters.  Garnish with a Lemon or Lime slice and a Cucmber slice and a sprig of Mint.  As I said this is native to Lagos and they are served poolside as well as with lunch or dinner.  A Chapman is very poopular here.   However, do not confuse this with the Chapman listed in most bar recipe books which is green and made of Pisang Ambon (banana liquer) and  milk, shaken and enjoyed.  Pictured below is a luncheon Chapman.

Mahjong Tuesday

Four or so weeks ago, I was invited to pass the afternoon with several ladies that play Mahjong.  As I had nothing to do I said “yes” and now I hooked.  Mahjong is a game for 4 people that orginated in ancient China.  It is a game of skill, strategy, calculation and chance.  In Asia it is a very popular gambling game.  When I started 4 weeks ago it was with several other beginners.  The instructor had learned to play over 30 years ago and has a beautiful traditional chinese poceilin and bamboo set of tiles.   As beginners, we did not keep score and played a very basic/simple or ordinary mahjong hands.  Mahjong is similiar to cards in that you have a hand of 13 tiles and you make runs (a chow), or 3-of-kind (a pung), or 4-of kind (a kong).  There are 3 suits (charactors, circles, and bamboo) and then honors (winds [east, south, west, north] and dragons [red. white, green]).  You draw and discard and reveal your tiles when you have the 14 tile hand completed. Now summer holiday is over and we are playing more seriously.  The rules were tighten this week.  There were no open hands, all hands had to be concealed or kept hidden from other players and no on one could play an Ordinary Mahjong.  I have an 11 page handout of Special Hands (a bit overwhelming) and thus, as a beginner, after drawing my tiles I tried to pick a hand and play for game.  I was successful once out of four games.  I completed a Big Robert which is a pair of winds and 3 runs of tiles, one in each suit.  I tried 3 other hands including Gerties Garter which is a run 1-7 in one suit, and second run of 1-7 in another suit. I missed by one tile – I was “fishing” for the last needed tile. I tried a Hovering Angel which is a pung (3 tiles) of my own wind (I was South wind) a pair of dragons and a chow in each suit. I missed that hand by 2 tiles.  Lastly I tried the Wriggely Snake which is one of each wind and a run 1-9 with any tile paired).  So see, I am learning a new language (of Mahjong).   Yes, I am hooked.  The afternoon flys by,  especially when you are trying to obtain game against others that have played for 20-30 years.  

Mahjong – getting ready to Twitter the tiles.  When the game is over one returns all the tiles to the center of the table, turn them face down and mix them up (twitter) prior to building 4 walls of 18 tiles stacked 2 high.

It is coming…

The process of obtaining a new home here in Lagos is patience.  We are excited about moving in to the apartment.  It is new and we have done several walk throughs to check the progress of repairs.  As of 8pm Monday night the repairs are complete ( door locks work, water comes out the faucets, light bulbs and fixtures installed, a fresh paint smell and working air conditioning units in each room.  Our sea frieght is now abroad a ship somewhere between Houston and Rotterdam.  Once reaching Rotterdam it will be routed to Lagos, thus we do not expect it any time soon.  So we are the recipeints of “Float” furniture, i.e. temporary furninshings.  We have a Living room set , dining room set and a bed.  We are awaitng a dresser and kitchen furnishings (dishes, utensils, pots & pans, mop, bucket) so we can move in.  It is coming.  Maybe by Friday.


The pool at our home – Queens Dr. and a good view from the living room.


Shopping for curtains

I have spent the last several days looking for curtains.  I have 6 windows that will need curtains or shades or some type of covering.  There are no Bed, Bath & Beyond or Linens Etc here.  There are very few home stores and they are small with mainly decorator things for a home and generally very pricey.   I have not found any ready made curtains.  Wednesday a friend who is doing the same, finally found a store that had curtain material, so we went for a look.  It was a small home store.  When walking in we saw no fabric bolts but did not give up.  We inquired about fabric swatches and were assured that the store had them.  The sales girl proceeded to pull out a quart size ziploc bag with fabric swatches.  All the swatches were imitation suede, not quite what we were looking for.  So I continue on the hunt for a fabric store.  It is really a word of mouth network here.  And what was here last week, may not be here this week.  So today I am lunching with some members of the American Women’s Club and will seek a lead on some curtains!