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!

Pictures not seen in the US

Are there OSHA standards in Nigeria?


This is a building site – The bamboo poles are used for scaffolding here in Lagos.


These gentlemen are restocking the shelves at “Game” a local department store.  Obviously there is no need for them to go to the gym.

This crane operator is on break.  He had been walking on the crane for about 30 minutes when I finally got a good shot of him.

Sanitation Saturday

Here in Lagos, there isn’t broad, regular community garbage pick-up.  Oh, of course the major businesses, hotels and apartment complexes have daily pick-up, but the average “Joe-resident” simply piles it up at the street.  Therefore, once a month, on the last Saturday of each month, the State of Lagos declares “Sanitation Day”.  On Sanitation Day, all businesses are closed and no one other than State Authorities & Sanitation Workers, are allowed on the streets between the hours of 6:00AM until 10:00AM, under penalty of arrest!  Therefore, this Saturday, we asked our driver to pick us up a bit later, at 1:30PM, to go on an inspection tour of our apartment, and to do a little shopping.  This would allow him enough time to get into the city, pick up our car and get to us.  Well, at about noon, our driver calls and says he will be late because he has to go to the police station.  It turns out that since it was Sanitation Saturday, he took the opportunity to sleep-in late in the morning.  His wife, who had gotten up earlier, decided that it would be a good time to go down street to get breakfast while he slept.  And so, (you guessed it), she was arrested for being out on the streets and taken to jail!  His friends came and got him, but now he had to beg and borrow 10,000 Naira, (~$85.00), to get her out, or she would have to spend 3 months in jail!  Now, the average Nigerian makes just 100-200 Naira per day, and our driver, who has a very enviable job, makes about 1500 Naira per day, so this was no small sum.  He finally made it to pick us up at 3:30PM, after successfully getting his wife out of jail, and a very frustrating day!  However, by then, every other person in the city was also going somewhere in their car, and we were in Lagos gridlock.  We went to our apartment, (~3 miles away), checked it out, cut our trip short and made it back to the hotel by 6:00PM.  And so goes a day in Nigeria, where the rhythms of this country are vibrant but unpredictable, and where life can move at lightening speed at one minute, and come to a crawl at the next.  It is simultaneously exciting and frustrating, inviting and aloof.  It calls you with the friendliest people that you’ve ever met, and warns you with a lawless freedom.  It is Nigeria!

Life is a Little Different

I was invited to a luncheon the other day. I was told it was at 12ish. I was the first to arrive at 1245. While we waited for others to arrive we drank “Pimms” ( a bottled vodka drink mixed with seven sprites with chopped apples and cucumbers), very refreshing on a hot day. We ate about 2. Lunch was a “honey baked ham” that one of the ladies had brought back from the USA in her suitcase and it was served with champagne. We finished with dessert and the last of the champange at 3:30. I had instructed my driver to pick me up at 3:30 so we could then pick Roc up at 4:00 from work. I was the first to leave. As I left the ladies opened several bottles of wine and pulled out a kareoke machine from the bedroom. Later I was told that the luncheon finished up around 7:00pm. Now, that is a leisurely lunch! I will block the afternooon next time!

Petrol Truck Driver Strike

Yes, there are a couple of things that can bring this city to a stand still and cause absolute traffic chaos. One would think that 17 million people in Lagos, alone, could have that effect, or a flooding downpour would certainly do it,  However, this situation trumps all – a Petrol Truck Driver’s strike!  After the Petrol (Gasoline) truck drivers went on strike Friday morning, (11 July 2008), street chaos descended on the town.  That is because everyone was uncertain how long the strike would last. The driving public began to queue for gas, creating long lines down the lanes of the streets.  Gas station owners responded by blocking their driveways, only allowing a few drivers on the premises at a time.  Enterprising young men with hand carts containing 25 liter jugs jumped in line to fill them up and then sell the fuel on the black street market.  And so, by Saturday, the lines were down the street and around the corners and in some areas barely allowing room for cars to move by.  Drivers were in their cars, motors off, just sitting and waiting for their turn at the pumps.  By mid-day Saturday, most of the stations were barricading their driveways as they were now out of gas.  So how did we get around?  Well, we were in a company car and/or transport van.  Shell has its own gasoline supply, and is not dependent on the truck drivers.  However, in August we will receive our car and will be just like everyone else – sending our driver out to queue for gas if there is another strike.  It particularly affected the service people trying to get to work ,because even the public buses were short on fuel.  It usually cost our driver 100N, ($0.85), to get to work in the mornings, but by Monday the cost was up to 400N to obtain a spot on the same bus.  Finally, on Monday around 10am, the government negotiated a settlement, and strike was over. Our driver predicted that by Tuesday afternoon things would be back to normal, and he was correct, (as usual).  Just another week in “the big city”!

Lekki Marketplace

This past Saturday was highlighted by some adventuresome shopping.  After a moderate drive out of town to the Lekki Peninsula, we came upon a large open market area.  When the driver dropped us at the back gate, we were met by several young boys (ages 10-15).  These boys will accompany you through the market for a nominal fee of 100 N ($0.85); carrying your purchases and helping you haggle for the best price.  There were DVD’s, beautifully fresh fruits and vegetables, and local crafts and craftsmen.  We explored only a small portion of this huge market.  I have no place, yet, for storing veggies and souvenirs, as we are still at the hotel.  However, I did buy a small bunch of bananas for snacking and breakfast.  I also haggled their price with the help of “Frank” a 14 year footballer (soccer player), and ended up paying only 50% of the original asking price.  An acquaintance that was with us had just moved into her apartment, and she bought all of her vegetables and fruits, (garlic, onions, lettuce, pineapple, potatoes, green beans, and peppers), for the next week.  The boy accompanying her was running back and forth negotiating, and she was quite pleased with prices.  The boys were very polite and pleasant and made sure that we knew they only worked on the weekends as they were in school Monday- Friday.  We will return there after we get an apartment.

A New Home

Well, it was an adventurous week for both Julie and I.  I’ve finally gotten my office equiped with a Linux Workstation, I ventured for ~1 hour driving on Nigerian streets for my Nigerian Driver’s license, we went to the most amazing market – (Lekki Market – more on this in a future blog), and the best news of all – we’ve been assigned our residence where we will be living for the forseeable future!

Our residence will be Unit B3 of Queen’s Drive Complex on Ikoyi island, a very new set of apartment buildings just across the road from the main body of water, (Five Creek), separating Ikoyi from Victoria Island to the south.  Our Unit is a 3 bedroom flat containing large rooms with windows on 2 sides.  Here is a picture of the complex looking north from across Five Creek on Victoria Island:

Apartment Complex seen from Victoria Island

The complex has a beautiful pool, exercise room, tennis courts, and a racquetball/squash court.  There will still have to be a detailed inspection, and our furniture won’t arrive until after the end of July, so it will be awhile before we can get in.  Meanwhile, there will be window coverings to make/buy, and appliances for the kitchen to aquire.  The complex is just now getting moved into, so we will be the “founding” group of residents, which will be a great chance to set some traditions for future residents, (“happy hours” and barbeques)!  One hurdle…we’ve been told that all furniture re-assembly will be our responsibility!  I’m already lining up a craftman for the pool table.

This week, I hope that I can start spending less time getting settled, and more on the work challenges at hand.  Drop us a line and let us know how everyone’s doing.