Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oct. 25: Dilemma

Ok, first before I start this blog I have to pay tribute to the number one dad in the world (well, until January at least!!) and wish my dad a very happy 64th birthday! I really wish I could be home to celebrate it with you dad.

This weekend was a bit of a strange one. My car got hit by a motorcycle taxi, or 'Okada' as they call them here. The Okada T-boned me just behind the rear wheel on the driver's side. So, I guess you could say that it was more of a passing glance but it did result in 3 grown men scattered across the road. My driver got out, felt and rubbed the newly formed 'ding' while still cursing at the men who were busy evaluating their road rash - still on the ground. Then he jumped back in the car and we drove away. The reason the Okada hit us in the first place was because they were trying to avoid the cops. So the cops were right there and they could care less that they just witnessed a motor bike accident. Hit 'n run Nigeria style I guess. (Note to self - try not to create too many bad habits while in Nigeria. What is normal here will surely put me in jail back home.) I wonder if those guys are all right?

In other news, Precious has passed her one month trial period (durn, has it been that long already?) and I decided that she is a keeper. But this is where my dilemma begins. I had her drop by on Saturday to have her sign her contract and to pay her for her first month. Now, I made the contract out to "Mrs. Precious", which kind of reminds me of those Mr. Men books you read as a kid like Mr Grumpy, Mr Happy, etc. But that is normal here in Nigeria - everyone is Mr or Mrs then whatever their first name is. So far so good. The problem is when she signed the contract - it turns out that her name is NOT Precious afterall. WHAT?!! Yes, I knew it was too good to be true - her name is, in fact, Patience. She must be patient to have put up with me calling her by the wrong name all this time.

But I am really puzzled - how did I get her name wrong all this time? She was introduced to me by my French neighbours who, of course, have an accent so I can see how if they introduced me to her as Mrs. Patience how it could have sounded like Mrs Precious. However, I remember being so struck by the name that I repeated it several times as "Precious" to confirm that I heard correctly. I distinctly remember doing this - wouldn't you if someone was introduced to you as Precious and she was not a working at a "gentlemen's club"?

Now I have been calling her Precious all this time. At first I felt a little creepy, which is documented in an earlier blog, but then I got over it realizing that it is just her name. But it is not her name - what has she been thinking all this time?? I JOKED that it felt wrong to be calling her what to me felt like a little pet name. But to her I WAS calling her a little pet name. I might as well have been calling her "babe" or "darling" all this time. Yikes!

So the dilemma is what do I call her now? It is kind of like that guy in the office that you always see at functions and meetings and talk to all the time but you have no clue who he is because you really have never been introduced - it is always just sort of assumed that you know each other. After a while you just cannot introduce yourself because you have gone beyond that point. So instead you spend an hour on the company directory trying to covertly figure out his name so you don't look lame by finally admitting that you have no clue.

So do I keep calling her Precious, which she responds quite favorably to? Or do I switch covertly to Patience and hope she does not really notice? (but how would she not notice someone calling her two different names? I would notice!) Or do I talk to her about it? That option is a little scary because what if she tells me that she wants me to call her Precious?! Now that I know that it is not her real name, I really would feel creepy calling her it. All I need now is a thin, upper lip moustache, tight pants, and gold chains to make the image complete.

I also have to confess that I am really disappointed that her name is not Precious. Precious just had the "Wow" factor to it when you told people about her. And now, oddly, Patience just seems too normal of a name. One thing is for sure, she certainly lives up to her name by letting me call her Precious all this time!

Maybe I will refer to her as "the nanny formerly known as Precious"?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Oct. 21: Finding Solutions - Nigerian Style

Since I have moved into my flat I have been making constant complaints about the condition of things. The stove does not work, the patio does not lock, I found cigarette butts and ashes on the floor upon arrival, and the patio has a leak that is damaging the tiles and makes half of it un-usable. Each of these complaints (among the others I have not mentioned) have been addressed in typical Nigerian fashion. This basically means that instead of coming with the intention to fix these problems they are more eager to enter your house just to see what you have and if anything might be worth stealing. Then they report back to their superiors that the problem is fixed. This leads to multiple phone calls and emails by me to convince their superiors that they were lied to and the problem is still just as bad as ever (but thank you for continuing to waste my time).

Regarding the patio leak I previously mentioned, here is the email chain concerning this issue (and I am quoting the emails exactly):

Me (first email): "There is a leak on the patio, which damaging the patio railing and floor. Thank you for helping resolve this issue in a timely fashion. "

Me (second email - 5 days later): "I am still waiting on this issue. What is the status of this requests? Thank you"

Response (6 days after initial request):
"The problem: The slab of Flat 6B balcony accummulates water which drips on the balcony of Flat 5B . The water gets inside of the slab through Tile joints, which inplies that the surface of Flat 6B bacony was not properly water proof.

Solution: We advise you to put a Flower pot on the spot to absorb the water and make the spot pleasant to view."

Welcome to Nigeria folks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oct. 10: Living in a Corrupt Country

This weekend I am not allowed to go anywhere without a police escort. Well, not really a police escort, but a privately hired police escort who have bigger guns than the local police. Why the increased security you ask? It is because they are expecting more police than normal to be within the area.

Now, coming from a 'normal' country's perspective this seems very strange. One would think, "Hmmm, if there are more police in the area, I should be safer, no?"

But from a corrupt country's perspective it just means you have to have more money available for bribes when out driving. It is a delicate balance of what is the minimum amount of money required to make them go away and what is too much, which encourages them to lookfor more.

So, this weekend I will be staying at home. Not because of kidnapping or terrorist threats, but because there will be too many police corrupting the streets. Good times.

ps - another 40 minutes on the treadmill today - more good times.

Oct. 19: Now what?

Last night I finally made one last push for the summit on my latest goal - to read all 1201 pages of Les Miserables. I finished just before 11pm! I cannot believe that I have read the whole book! What is more I only started at the beginning of September. This tells me that I have a lot of solitary indoor time these days. This is a good thing because it allows me to accomplish some of these things that I once thought would be impossible (1200 page book...seriously, who normally has time to read that in a month and a half?). It is a bad thing because it is solitary indoor time.

As for what I think of the book - it is the best book I have ever read. Period.

But now what I am supposed to do?!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Oct. 16: Running Style

On Friday night I went for some Italian dinner at a place called Il Sorisso, which was overprized and not very good. However, that is beside the point. What was interesting was a conversation I had with a co-worker of mine from Paris who has also managed to get assigned to Lagos. For reference he also has run a few marathons, so he can appreciates quite well the task at hand when running such an event. It went something like this:

"Dave, the first time that I saw you and that you told me that you like to run I thought to myself, 'Yeah, he is a pretty fit looking guy - I can see that he runs.' Then later when I found out that you ran a sub-3 hour marathon I thought, 'BLOODY HELL! How does someone who walks like Keyser Söze from the Usual Suspects manage to move that fast?!!'"

"Really? You think I walk like Keyser Söze? Wasn't he a cripple in the movie?!"

"Yeah. you bob around a lot when you walk. The fact that you can bob-around so fast is bloody amazing!"

"Thanks! I always thought that I walked with more of a swagger...I had not put myself in the cripple category quite yet."

"Bloody amazing I tell you! I do not know how you do it! The best that I can manage is a 3:45 and I can walk normally!"

"Tell you what - let's go out this weekend and I can show you a few things that might help you understand how a sub-3 hour marathon is possible. But let's not stop there. Let's meet every night for the next six months, and perhaps you will see how 'my swagger' is able to run a sub-3."

"Bloody hell."

Yep - I guess I walk like Keyser Söze. This is not really news to me. People have always told me that they can pick me out of a crowd because I have a very distinct walking style. I have been told that I walk like my grandpa. And now to my coworkers they imagine a cork bopping around in the water, and that is me running!

Always being aware of 'my swagger' I have tried in the past to change my running style to be more steady up top. This has usually led to very stiff and uncomfortable running. So, I just let my body do what it does naturally and let it move side to side like a metronome. Running styles are as unique as a fingerprint and just because it is different, does not mean you will be any better or any worse than the person next to you. The key difference is if you actually get your 'running style' out the door and put it to use. That being said, I off to visit the treadmill!


Monday, October 12, 2009

Oct. 12: Shipment - Part 1

Yesterday I got the phone call that I have been eagerly anticipating for the last 3 weeks, "Mr. David, we have your shipment. Can we deliver it today?"

"Hells yeah you can!"

Infact I have two shipments coming because in true North American fashion I (we?) seem to want to pack everything with us. Yet within my family I have a reputation for ruthlessly throwing out key momentos and such. At any rate, I definitely spend more money to move my "neccessities" around the world than I should. In my defense, I figured that if I could ever justify a place in which I need my gear to survive - Nigeria is that place.

Check out how high the back of the moving truck is. For reference, that is a full grown man loading a box onto his shoulders. Perhaps it is time to introduce the back of truck loading ramp to Nigeria?

After 1.5 hours of lifting and hauling, I was left with this mess.

It looks like a lot of stuff but one thing that has puzzled me with this move is why the total volume of all my stuff is so much higher than the total volume of stuff I moved from Houston to Paris. I made several key purchases, but even after taking those into account this shipment was twice my previous shipment. This resulted in me paying more money to the movers and it has been a question that has been bothering me since summer. After opening the first box I finally confirmed that I was not going crazy because the answer was obvious.

The two key purchases I referred earlier to were my new treadmill and Jennie's Pilate's reformer with half-cadillac. We had these shipped straight from the States so it was quite exciting to open them up. It took me two hours to get the treadmill set up. (I was amazed how excited I was to actually be getting ready to run on a treadmill - definitely the most giddy pre-treadmill run feeling I ever had!)
Since I sweat like a pig you will notice the strategic placement of the treadmill below the AC.
The reformer. It is still not quite set up (my priority was the treadmill).
Jennie - this wall is at the foot of the reformer and treadmill. I am thinking mirror in the middle and perhaps a little TV/DVD on the drawers to the left to watch the Pilates videos on. And of course, the shower is nearby to wipe of my man grease when I get off the treadmill.
ps - Today I did my first real run on the treadmill. 30 minutes - time to start excavating this body for that long lost athlete who has some stories left to tell.

Oct. 9-11: Weekend

Fridays these days are just not filled with same sort of eager anticipation I used to have when I worked back in Houston. In Houston I only worked half-day Fridays, which meant that if you strolled in a little late (which most people did), went for a coffee with a couple co-workers (which most people did), and headed out a little early for an "early lunch" (which most people did) you barely had enough time to check email and make plans (usually a little Golden Tee and beers) for that afternoon and/or the weekend. (The Koz and I call this "early dismissal Friday" and it was awesome!)

Now in Lagos, everyone generally works at least a half day on Saturday, which leaves Friday with a pretty normal feeling associated with it. The only time that people get really excited and giddy around here is on their travel days when they are headed out.

So, on Friday I woke up and commuted to work as usual.
After putting in my usual day of "changing the world one seismic interpretation at a time", I headed out for some beers at Bunglows. The general Friday night routine is to meet for beers at Bungalows, go home and "freshen up", then meet back at some restaurant (hoping that you do not have to pay any police bribes while crossing Falamo Bridge), to be followed by some more beers.
But remember be to responsible about your beer intake. You would hate to be caught in a situation where you might be forced to pee on somebody's wall.
No seriously - do not pee on his wall.
I think I see at least one person peeing against walls, or posts, or cars every day. But strong warnings like that should make him think!
This sign (below) made me laugh for two reasons.
1. My mom used to tell me this all the time when cleaning was to be done. (This is another shameless parenting technique of guilting you into making your bed or putting your toys away!)
2. I took this picture on a Sunday, which is one of the few days that I can actually walk around and that my company will authorize personal driving. Why Sunday? Because all of the people in Lagos are in church and there is no traffic. But Lagos is the dirtiest place I have ever seen (besides a dump). So, perhaps you can see why I find this sign ironic?
This is my new home. You would think that it is garbage day with the garbage out front. But to be honest, I am not even sure that is our garbage.
Me heading into the building with the weekend drawing to a close.
Another week has passed, which means I am one week closer to returning home to seeing Jennie and baby!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Oct. 9: Random

I think I pay Precious too much. She just had massive hair extensions done and is sporting some new threads. I was told that she needed the job to put her kids through school. (Don't mind the fact that you cannot read son, doesn't your mom look great?!)

Jennie is 26 weeks pregnant. Apparently the baby is as long as an English Cucumber and is starting to put on some baby fat. That is something that daddy and baby have in common....when will my treadmill arrive?!

Jennie thinks she will have an outie soon. Of all the changes that a woman goes through during pregnancy, this one makes me giggle.

When we lived in Paris, we already had visitors by now. We even talked about having a guest book to remember all the people who came and visited during our stay. I just laugh at that thought now!

I just passed the 900 page mark on Les Miserables - only 300 left!

My shuttle is here - off to work. Have a great day!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Oct. 7: Words of Wisdom

(overheard at a Nigerian Bar from one office mate to another)

"I used to pray to God for a bicycle, but I soon realized that God does not work that way.

So, I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness instead."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Oct. 5: Precious

Of the many things that I was told to do upon arrival, one of the main things that sticks out in my mind is to hire domestic staff. In fact, my company will not allow me to NOT have a driver. I must be driven everywhere. The traffic is terrible - it is much worse than I-10 on a Saturday during the height of its construction while trying to navigate around Beltway 8. But no worries now - I just let the driver deal with all that while I sit back and read, or sleep, or try to process in my mind what it is that I just saw at the last corner behind me. (I actually do not have my own driver yet, but I am taking the "company taxi" provided for us newbies).

The other important thing is to hire a nanny/maid. Lucky for me, my neighbours recommended someone and she started working for me immediately. She is great! I have absolutely no complaints. The only thing that I wish, is that I could say her name without either laughing or feeling like a creep...her name is Precious. I still feel dirty when I say, "Would you mind washing my underwear Precious?"

At first I was only going to hire her half time - afterall, how dirty can I actually be? (do not answer that). But then I figured that I would splurge that extra 20 euro/month and employ her full time. It is awesome! She sterilizes all of my fruits and vegetables (another post), irons all my clothes (including my underwear, and I am pretty sure my socks, but I have not confirmed that one yet), washes everything, makes my bed like they do at hotels, and pretty much anything else to help out. At first I was apprehensive about moving to Nigeria, but I could get used to this!

As an example of her skillz, here are before and after pictures from when I left for work this morning to when I returned this evening.

Before work:

After Work:

Pretty sweet isn't it?!

(If I tried doing this while Jennie and I were living together I do not think that I would be allowed in the same bed as her at night. Now I can do this AND go sleep in a bed that was "preciously" made for me!)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Oct. 4: Did you Miss Me?!

So, for the last 2 months I had big grandious ideas of uploading blog posts from all the things that I did last summer (yeah, remember, that thing that ended a long time ago?) but life has decided to make things very busy, and when things were not so busy, life decided to take away my internet. I have many posts in "draft" mode, which I will publish one day, but I figured I better get on with the here-'n-now. Otherwise it will be Christmas and I will be trying to remember what I did on Sunday, October 4th. So, without any further delay, let's get reaquainted shall we?

On August 23, 2009 I kissed the Mrs. Goodbye and boarded a plane from Calgary back to Paris. She, being pregnant, was not allowed to come with me on my next square on this boardgame that's called Life. (However, she will be pulling a "Go directly to Lagos, if you pass Go collect $200" card in the spring after the baby is born and ready to travel). Ultimately I was headed to Lagos, Nigeria but I had to stop in Paris first and await my Visa.

What was supposed to be a 3 week pit-stop turned into 4.5 weeks. Surprisingly it was not because I had any immigration issues, but because I had to stay in Paris for some "very important meetings". This was a bit of a blessed curse - you see I was quite looking forward to hanging out in Paris, checking emails, catching up on my blog, and basically being a slacker while I waited for my visa. Instead, the boss-man decided to put me to work and make me earn my pay-check (the nerve!). Although I got to delay my eventual depart for Nigeria, my work kept me quite occupied.

Finally on Sept. 22, 2009 I jumped aboard a 1-way plane to Lagos, Nigeria. The first thing I did, of course, was discover the local beer. A lot of Guiness is drunk here, but I seem to see Star more often. They are served in huge bottles (reminds me of Oktoberfest serving sizes - so sorry Andrew, you probably would not be able to handle yourself over here!). When I am with others we often split the bottle so that we have half-a-chance of at least drinking it while it is still cold.

My first week was spent holed up in a hotel (The Millenium). It was a little depressing. My life was dictated by the schedule of the shuttle that picked me up at 8am for work and dropped me back off again at 6:15 in the evening. The next 5 waking hours I was held prisoner within the small confines of my hotel room. Without a gym, local running route (ha ha), tv (unless you count CNN on a loop as TV), or internet my options were limited to reading and watching TV DVD series that I packed from home. I am currently reading Les Miserables, which I bought at the Calgary airport en route to Paris) and have made it to page 800 (only 400 left) - I owe this progress to my solitary confinement. (As an aside, although I am only 2/3 of the way through (ha ha), this is the best book I have is an amazing read!) If I was not reading, you would see me like this (below) burning out on Friday Night Lights. (I watched all 3 seasons in 2 weeks...I told you I burned out!).

Outside of my solitary confinement, I was "working". Well, trying to get everything in place so that I could work would be a better way of putting it. Although we have been planning for this since the spring, I have learned that nothing is done here unless you are physically here. I am, more or less, up and running now. By all standards my installation was lightening quick. My office mates who arrived 2-4 weeks ahead of me are still waiting for things.

While waiting for things to happen, I got to enjoy this view (below) out of our conference room. In most offices that I have worked in before, the conference room is generally a place where a company likes to show itself off a little. Here we show off the neighborhood. (The reflections from the window are quite bad but, trust me, if you look closely you will find 2 cows down there).

Finally on Sunday, Sept. 27 I moved into my new residence.

I am still awaiting my shipment of goods so I am still living out of my 3 suitcases that I packed so long ago. Practically, what does this mean? Well, I have used my towel as a blanket, rolled up clothes for a pillow, and sometimes have to pull double duty on my underwear to make them last until my next round of laundry. Thankfully, I have some great neighbors who have lent me some bed linens and a pillow that have dramatically improved my nights! They also had me over for dinner on my birthday (oh yeah, that happened somewhere in the mix too - I never knew 31 would be this exotic!).

The first couple of days at my flat were tough since it was given to me in disgusting condition. It was dirty and the workers (i.e. squatters) who were supposed to fix my tub left cigarette butts and ash all over the place. Since I was not yet moved in, I have good reason to believe that these workers and families lived in my place before I arrived. (Yeah - high five to my security for keeping a tight wrap on things like that!). Furthermore, I discovered that I was not given all of my keys - one had magically gone missing. (I am learning that many things "magically" happen here in Nigeria...or "magically" do not happen - whichever is the worst thing for you!). After replacing all the locks, I could start enjoying the sunset view from my dining room a little more.

Being out of the hotel I better opportunity to venture out and start exploring the "city" (well, the little radius of the city that I am allowed to explore anyhow). Future posts, I am sure, will have many adventures to add on this! People are always sitting on the corners, or walking in the traffic trying to sell something - here is a fruit and vegetable stand not far from work.

And, alas, we have arrived to today. I am starting to discover my stride and am learning that although things are very different, you can still enjoy some of the comforts of home. Take my breakfast for example.

And after breakfast, I played a solo game of Le Havre. I have been looking forward to this all week - sort of my weekly reward for making it through the entire week!

Later I went to the store and you will never believe what I saw...!!!

Texas' own right here in Lagos! Now here is a question - how much do you think it cost? If you said 18 euros (~$25) then you win! Needless to say, I never bought any!

There you have it! Welcome to Lagos and welcome to my new life!