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.



A Visit to Amukoko – Lagos Mainland

I had the unique opportunity to go with an acquantance from the British Womens Group (BWG) to a Community Health Project in Amukoko.  This was quite simply an eye opening experience, one that not many expats would venture into.  Amukoko is about one hour drive time over several bridges back to Lagos mainland and into the heart of the “slum” area.  It is mostly African transients trying to get established in Lagos that have nothing.  The streets are packed with people in native garb, 3 wheel cars (yellow)[thousands of these], okada’s (2 wheel motorcycle taxis), and vender stands (the size of a 3X3 ft. square) packed into every available space.  We went to the Mission/clinic to give a donation check from the BWG to the mission so the mission could purchase soy beans for the nutrition clinic.  The Mission is actually an oasis in the middle of the slums.  After driving for 20 miniutes on dirt streets through carts, people and stalls, you come upon the Clinic which is a Catholic Mission (a priest house for the only priest, a convent [5 nuns – one of which is a doctor], a church, a clinic, and 2 schools (computer school and baking school).  The nuns are simply amazing.  The clinic is open 7am-4pm, Monday -Friday, and offers the following services: pre and post natal care, TB clinic, AIDS/HIV clinic, Immunization clinic and Nutrition clinic.  The schools for computer and baking are to educate these women to facilitate them getting a better job and a better life for their famililes.  We recieved a tour of all the clinics because I had never been there before, and the nuns were so grateful for the donation.  We had arrived before noon and they had already seen 17 TB patients, given 200 immunization shots, tested 40 women for Aids/HIV, fed 80 women and children in the nutriton room (10×10 ft. room with a single stove and mini-fridge).  The physician on duty had seen almost 100 patients that morning.  The check we brought was for 125,000 Naira (or $1100) and will buy soy beans for the Clinic for 3 months.  The staff will sort the soy beans, wash the beans, grill the beans and then grind the beans into flour/meal for packaging into portions to serve 2 people each.  The clinic then teaches the mothers how to prepare the flour and then they feed the mother and children for 3 days, re-enforcing the nutrition teaching daily before finally supplying them with soy flour/meal to take home.  The clients are very patient.  They have their temperature taken daily and their symptoms logged and paper charted.  There is a complete pharmacy available for the clients.  After recieving care, the clients form a queue for the cashier’s office.  Everyone is expected to pay and they calmly wait to do so (there were about 75 waiting when I was there).  An immunization shot costs 15N (or $0.12).  The cashier accepts whatever they can give even if it is only 1N, and they each get a receipt.  The main supporters of the clinic are the Catholic church, the BWG and the Nigerian government (who supplies the drugs, the syringes and the DVDs/CDs the nuns use to keep up with the newest regulations).  So after the tour, we went to the convent for coffee and biscuits.  The day room was complete with TV/DVD and computer with Internet but no lights and a one burner stove.  These people thanked us over and over for coming to see them in person. While this is not a place I could readily volunteer, (as the Africans in this setting have little trust for the oyinbo – “white person”), I can voluntarily help them best by raising funds and visiting them occasionally.  It was most interesting to converse with the nuns.  They were as curious about me as I was about the clinic.  It is a very well run clinic (clean, orderly) in a 3rd world area, rigidly following CDC/African Health Guidelines and helping the people move a step forward.  Next time, I’ll try to get a few pictures!

What is the food like?

It seems that friends are curious about the food here.  Well we are in a hotel that caters to international businessmen.  The food is of a wide variety and of moderate taste.  There is as of yet nothing spectacular.  There are lots of red and brown sauces on meats, fish and vegetables.  The main influeneces seem to be Indian and African.  Because there are several American businessmen there are buffets in 2 of the restruants.  A salad of Iceberg lettuce or any lettuce is rare, but there are salads just using cold vegetables mixed in a variety of ways with your choice of salad dressings.  Bacon is generally thinly sliced ham that is fried in any size or shape.  One drinks bottled water at every meal in addition to what ever beverage is ordered.  We have eaten italian, chinese, lebanese, and hotel.  Oh, coffee and pastery shops are plentiful, however, no Starbucks.  Lots of the food comes from either Egypt or South Africa.  The locals sell vegetables at Falomo bridge ….this womens booth is full of yams, very large yams!  These yams are a main staple of the locals.

A Few Facts

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa 140,000,000 (2006); 17,000,000 in Lagos.

Nigeria is twice as large as the state of California.

Seventy percent of the people earn less than $1.00/day.

In Nigeria over 300 languages are spoken with 9 of these languages used in network broadcasting.

Nigeria is a democracy since the constitution of 1999 and just celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britian.

A view from our hotel window

Here is the view from our hotel window.  In the foreground is a popular fishing lagoon, Kumara Waters, bounded by Bar Beach.  In the distance is the Atlantic Ocean.


Shopping Saturday

After a busy week of paperwork, orientation and company direction, we decided to get out of the hotel and spend some time learning new places to visit and getting our bearings.  Laurens Gaarenstrom, a Shell friend from back in The States is also staying in the hotel, so this morning, we picked him up and went to a little French Import Market called “La Pointe”.  After picking out a some cheese and crackers, we went to pay and had a little adventure at the counter as we tried to pay with 50 Naira currency bills given to us as a gift back in the U.S.  Image our surprise when we found out that these bills, (we have 100 of them), are about 8 years old, and Nigeria has replaced them with a slightly different version, and that these are now worthless, (locally referred to as “trash”)!  Oh well, 5000 Naira out the window, (it’s only about $43)!  It was embarressing, however.

We then went for cappacinos at a wonderful little place called “Chocolat Royal”, and finished up with a Lebonese lunch at “Cactus” resturant, looking over the water from Victoria island to Ikoyi island.  There, on the water’s edge on the other bank and next to “The American Club”, is the Queen’s Drive Apartment Complex, where we have requested permenant accomodations.  Keep your finger’s crossed for us.

Tonight, we’re off for dinner with a group of expats who are old friends.  So far, life is tense, but wonderfully warm and easy.  Certainly, it will take a little time to build a comfortable routine, and truely settle in.

Until then, ciao…   …Rocky

First Shopping Adventure

Hi all!

Today I ventured out with our Driver, Chinedu.  Chinedu took me to “The Palms”, a shopping center with about 60 stores including 5 cell phone stores, a grocery SHOPRITE (part of a South African chain), GAME (they sell everything but cars), and a cineplex.  The parking lot was full, most every car had a driver waiting.  This is a very popular shopping complex with the ex-pats [ex-patriots] (people like me).   In all it is about 6 miles away from the hotel and took 40 minutes to get there.  The streets are crowded with cars and scooters.  We passed some housing construction, a new huge apartment complex with 5 cows grazing in the front yard.  On the way back numerous scooters zipped in and out as well as 2 horses (no riders).  I have no clue as to where they came from.  So in a city of 12 million spread over 3 islands – life continues to be an adventure.