Thursday, August 30, 2012

One man's trash is another man's treasure.

It's Diana here, to share a few jumbled thoughts I've had crowding my mind....I hope you can make sense of it because I'm not sure I can. 

When we first arrived, our food, furniture and household items were shipped on a boat in 10 large wooden shipping containers. I never would have imagined that a volatile dispute would break out between the men delivering our items and the security guards on our compound over who was going to get to keep the crates.  For some strange reason, they all wanted these enormous, empty, useless crates.  They REALLY wanted them!!  The argument  got very heated and escalated to the point where Tyson had to step in claim ownership of all of the crates and then divvy them out between the workers.  It seemed equitable to divide them evenly... 5 shipping containers for the delivery men, and 5 for the guards. I was still pretty amazed that anyone even wanted our junk....  a bunch of big empty containers.  I didn't quite understand until I drove from the airport and along the right side of the freeway, saw what they would be used for....
The shipping containers would be homes.....
Double Decker houses made from shipping containers.
A Security Briefing that I attended last week was aimed at teaching Embassy families how to protect themselves in Nigeria by making smart decisions and avoiding dangerous situations.  Of all the important information I was bombarded with, only one little nugget stuck out in my mind.....  The part of the lecture that I've spent the most time thinking about was of very little consequence to everyone else, but here it is...

A study was done, tracking the garbage from the dumpsters at the American housing compounds.  The study followed our trash from the time it goes into our garbage can to the time it arrives at the city dump. Between my house and the dump, my trash will have been gone through an average of 7 times.  7 times!!!  My mind has been turning these findings over and over (possibly as often as my garbage is being turned over)....
Now that I've become aware of it; here are a few of the steps I've seen....  

Sawyer depositing his filthy diaper into the trash can like a good boy!
After we throw out our rubbish, it is taken to the trash by our domestic employee who 'rescues' the most obviously usable items.  Her room is now decorated with an old rug and torn curtain that used to hang in the play-room. Then the trash hits the dumpster outside the compound. I've seen a handful of young guys hanging around.  It's obvious they have "Dibs" when a fresh load is brought out from our compound.  The things I've seen emerge at this point are mainly bottles, cans, and cardboard boxes.  Kids with big canvas bags troll the area in the evenings getting what ever else remains near the surface while the dedicated dive even further.  At this point the sanitation department picks up the garbage and stuffs it into their truck.  Unfortunately, this dirty job is done by hand giving the employee an opportunity( if you would call it that) to examine our refuse one more time.  When our bags finally reach the land fill, I can't imagine that there is much more than chicken bones, dryer lint and poopie diapers to dump, but somehow it continues to be sorted through and items of "value" retrieved.  There is a whole population of people who make their home next to the garbage mountain.  It is an ever-changing toxic mountain that springs forth hidden treasures. 

I've wondered if I should "streamline" the garbage sorting process to make it a bit simpler for those involved.  Possibly labeling the bags of the most offensive garbage with a big red X, indicating the bag contains nothing but a two year olds poopy, toxic diapers (nappies here).  Should I save people from discovering surprises the hard way by writing.."Warning.. this bag contains the paper towels I used to wipe up my children's vomit after trying the local specialty 'Shwarma'".

 I am joking of course, but it doesn't change the gut wrenching guilt and sadness I feel when considering how incredibly blessed we are.  We not only have plenty to eat, but we can afford to be very picky about our food.  We open our cupboards and think there is nothing to eat because there isn't a cheeseburger and fries waiting.  We not only have ingredients in excess, but the means to obtain more!

I've stopped eating  my normal 6-egg white omelet for breakfast. I can't bear to toss half the egg down the garbage disposal when  my housekeeper comes from a village where people generally  live on less than $1 per day and eggs are a luxury.  Only those rich enough to own chickens have access to eggs, and definitely not six per day. I guess I can afford a bit more cholesterol in my diet as I eat my  eggs whole, seasoned with a little gratitude.

The feeling of excess, extends to every area of my home and life.  For example, in the villages here, a towel is seen as a luxury item.  Yes, a plain old bath towel used to dry off after the shower.  A whole family living here in a grass hut, would be more than ecstatic to share the same piece of terry cloth fabric after rinsing off with a cold bucket of water.  Looking around the house I realize that I have four towels in each bathroom that aren't even allowed to be touched!  Ya, that's right, the 'decorative towels'.  These towels will never dry a baby, or head out to the pool.  They will never do anything but sit there and look pretty.  The 'throw pillows' are along the same line and are surely  baffling to our house-keeper as well (Tyson's still a little confused about them too! Why aren't they meant for sleeping or pillow fighting?!) 

I'm realizing that not only do I have an abundance of material things, but we each have so much time on our hands. Our days are not consumed with finding food and shelter. After work, we generally can do whatever we wish, without the constant concern of acquiring food.  Really, we are so unbelievably lucky to have available time to build skills and hobbies, surf the Internet, and just do what ever makes us happy.....or nothing at all!  I feel really lucky that I get to take care of my kids, find time for myself, and do things I enjoy like working out and exploring the city. 

The poverty here is astounding, but so it the extravagant opulence.  There is such economic disparity...... The rich are unbelievably rich, and everyone else is poverty stricken.  Here are a few pictures of our neighbors...

As far as we can tell, only one person lives here....ONE!!

I don't know how many people live here, but I have seen at least two families with 3 toddlers by the fire pit.

  Yes, all in the same area.  The HOA back in Virginia had a hissy fit because my kids parked their scooters on the porch.... I wonder what the neighborhood by-laws are regarding starving, mangy goats  and open fires on the front lawn...! Just saying!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

5-Star Dinner

It's Tyson, again.  I wanted to post a special blog to celebrate a special day.  Today is the day we've been waiting for for weeks . . . our frozen food shipment arrived!!!  We don't have access to a lot of our favorites foods from the U.S. here in Abuja.  However, to help us out, we have access to a shipment of U.S. goods every six weeks or so.  This shipment is specifically for buying frozen food in bulk.  Pretty good deal, right?  Well, imagine receiving a combined inventory of Costco and Safeway on an Excel spreadsheet!  Slightly overwhelming.  Now imagine you've never to either store, so you only know the general brand, but you don't know anything about the specific product (and the description doesn't help).  The only other information you're given besides a general description of the item, is the quantity if the item per package and the total price per package.  So, I went online and started looking up as many of the products as I could find, just to get an idea of what I was buying.  So, for example, Egg Beaters.  Imagine the package at Costco - the yellow box with eight cartons inside that look like the milk cartons from elementary school lunches.  Costs around $10.00.  So the mind-bottling (yes, I know the word is boggling) Costco spreadsheet says a package of these boxes of Egg beaters costs about $100 for 10 boxes of Egg Beaters.  Imagine how much food you would have if you bought $1600 worth of bulk frozen food!  So we were pretty darn excited when we were notified yesterday that we had an appointment to pick up our order this morning!  No more having to pay $14 for three chicken breats!!

Diana came to the Embassy early this morning, pulled around to the back, and backed up to two small freezers.  I thought to myself, "Huh, I guess they only stock the goods for the people who have an appointment to pick up their goods."  I  helped Diana load up our haul.  And then off she went to stock our freezer and make us a 5-star dinner from our treasured U.S. groceries.  I went back to my office and looked at our original order again, and got pretty upset. 

When I arrived home tonight, I was treated to the most expensive meal I have had since arriving in Abuja - hot dogs and mac and cheese made with Silk almond milk.  While it was good, it wasn't quite 5-star good.  Unfortunately for us, the price was.  I'll only treat you to a couple examples of how we like to flush money down the toilet out here in Africa.  Maybe someday, when you can afford domestic help, living on an isolated compound surrounded by a 9ft high wall topped with razor wire guarded by men wielding black market AK-47's with the file numbers scratched off, you too will have enough money to pay $23.00 for one carton of Silk almond milk.  And then buy six of them without batting an eye.  And those Egg Beaters I spoke about above. Yeah, not $10 a box, $10 for one fr$#@!* milk carton worth of yellow liquid that makes a tasteless, rubbery, gelatonous mass that is supposed to resemble eggs (actually, it's for 2 cartons worth.  I know, can you believe I'm complaining!).  And we bought 10 of those!  That's right!  Read and weep!!  I know I did!.  I miss that $14 chicken right about now. 

Pictured below is what $10 will buy you in Nigeria:

At least they are "Bun Size."

The headband is to give you perspective - it's Alexis'.  Our tiny 7 year old's.  2 milk cartons worth of rehydrated yellow goo.
   So, if you come to visit us, don't plan on eating much!  Or bring your own food!!! (Mom and Dad - so excited you're coming to visit next year!)  Kyle, remember Leon, France?!  Imagine THAT feeling at every meal for one month!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

MMA in the Local Market

This is Tyson writing today - sorry. I'm going to try and write on the weekends and Diana will take the weekdays. So, yesterday we went to the local market - not the small farmer's market near our home, but the massive market that sells EVERYTHING and is one of the craziest places in the city. It's called the Wuse Market.

My interest in the Wuse Market was first piqued one of my first days here in Abuja when I was detoured down an unknown road and found myself in a . . . traffic jam of sorts. It wasn't your normal traffic jam, but rather a mass of cars, people, buses and motorcycles all jammed into the area of four lanes and a T intersection. You see, there were painted lines on the road, but even moreso than the rest of the city, lines, lanes, traffic laws - all disregarded. I spent about 20 minutes negotiating a 30 yard stretch of road, avoiding people carrying all sorts of wares walking across the roads completely disregarding cars, buses stopping where and whenever someone motioned interest in a ride, and motorcycles driving against direction, across traffic, on the median - whereever they found an open section of land or pavement.

When Diana arrived and saw the beautiful dresses worn by the local women, she started asking around about where to find the best deals. Last week, we were at the small medical clinic inside the embassy. Diana asked one of the nurses where to find a good deal on cloth. The nurse said she buys her fabric at the Wuse Market, and immediately an outing was planned for early Saturday morning. The nurse recommended early in the morning because there would be fewer people - less of a chance for the kids to draw a crowd.

We got ready early (at least for us on a Saturday morning!) making sure we dressed down and brought only what we needed. We picked up the nurse and arrived at the market about 9:30a. Sawyer had dozed off on the way to the market, so upon waking him up, we were happy to find our chubby little man-child had trasformed into the Hulk! As if we weren't a big enough sideshow freak show, now we had a screaming Stay-Puffed Marshmellow boy announcing our presence to everyone in a 1 mile radius!

For the first 45 minutes, we followed Diana Agnes, the nurse, going from store to store searching for the right kind of fabric.  We bypassed several stores – one offering fabric for USD800/6 yards.  Yes, USD800.  Sold in a market that looked as if my kids were building a fort from leftover materials found from a demolished building and a garbage dump.  Diana settled on a store selling fabric for around USD10/6 yards (on average).  By that time, the kids were bored, restless, and completely uninterested in the unique setting all around them.  I was sitting on a wood bench with Sawyer sucking on his thumb snuggling with his blanket on one knee, Logan playing “horse” on the other, and Alexis sprawled out on the rest of the bench.  We had a small group of locals thoroughly entertained even though we weren’t actually doing anything.  We then realized the crowd wasn’t just for us – a fight had broken out not 10 feet in front of us between a girl and a boy.  I had seen them earlier and noticed how upset the woman looked, but also how aggressive she was.  Not that I condone hitting a woman, but from what I had seen, she probably hit the boy first.  Regardless, several locals pulled the two apart and chastised the boy for hitting girl.  It was time to go.  
So, I got the kids up, made sure Diana could call me when she was done, and I set off with the kids to find some toys.  The kids finally began to understand why we had been calling this an adventure!  I allowed them to lead me all over the market – down alleyways, over make-shift bridges spanning open sewers and into random stores to look at cheap, plastic knock-off toys, watches, hair bows and necklaces.  I started teaching Alexis and Logan how to negotiate, and that while we should be cautious, we don’t have to be scared and we can actually have fun!

We returned to where we had left Diana to find her finishing up – taking pictures with everyone who had helped, spoken to, or seen her!  It was pretty funny.  On the way out of the market, we retraced our steps in order to find a watch Alexis had found – she wanted to buy a watch as a birthday present for a friend.  We found the stall and helped Alexis to negotiate a good price.  She was a bit timid, but did a great job for her first negotiation in Nigeria.  She bought two watches for about USD7.00.  Of course she kept the cuter of the two watches and gave the other to her friend. 

One of the Fabric stores at Wuse Market.....  with our salesman, and friend Agnes (wearing the hat).

Alexis and the guy who sold her the two watches.  His name is "Gabbi"

Alexis dressed and ready for her friend So'lene's Birthday Party!!

When we explained to people later that we had gone to the market that morning, I was asked who had babysat the kids.  "No one.  They came with us and had a great time."  People were astonished we took our kids there.  We're surprised more people don't take theirs. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sunday....African Style!

We were 45 minutes early to our first week in the Wuse Ward in Nigeria...only because it started an hour later than we thought!  Otherwise, we would have been our normal 15 minutes late.  Having the time wrong spared us the usual embarrassment of slinking into the back pew during the Sacrament hymn while trying to remain unnoticed.  Instead, we had the rare opportunity to find our seats early and observe everyone as they arrived. 
I chose my Sunday dress carefully because I was a little concerned about being  too dressy or flashy for a humble African ward.  I was worried that my American fashions, 4 inch heels, and glitzy jewelry would be a little over the top so I settled on a plain knee length blue dress accessorized with a small pair of pearl earrings, skinny black belt and a silver bracelet. 

As more and more people arrived it became increasingly apparent that I was the one under dressed!  I may as well have been wearing gym-shorts at the prom.....Massively under dressed.

Since it would have been bad-form to whip my camera out in the chapel, I had to find similar dresses on-line to show how the women were dressed.  It was AMAZING.  The fabric headdress is called a Gele' and it is considered a fashion Must-have for Nigerian woman.  Looks like I'm going to have to find myself a seamstress and some colorful fabric!

Here are a few things that struck me about the Wuse Ward

  • The reverence was crayons, no toys, no snacks.  My kids were the only one's having a Pavlovian response to the opening prayer causing them to uncontrollably crave Cheerios and fruit snacks. 
  • There was no Piano-  The Chorister sang the first line as an introduction and then the congregation joined in. Everyone sang, and sang loudly.... but slightly different tunes than we recognize from the hymn book.  Since there wasn't a piano, I figured that over time the tune was changed little by little by the person leading, until the resulting tune was noticeable different.  It's a bit like the "Telephone Game" we played in elementary school where one student whispers a secret into the ear of his neighbor, and it is passed down the line to the end of the class.  The last kid that receives the message  and says it out loud is usually met with roars of laughter.  The end message almost always lacks any sort of resemblance to the original message.  Such was the music on Sunday. 
Norman Rockwell's depiction of the game "Telephone"

  • The ward was incredibly friendly!  The Nigerian culture is to greet people saying, "You are Welcome!!"  We had dozens of hand-shakes, back-pats, and felt very welcome.
  • Difficulty understanding in an understatement.  A lot of the time I just stared at the speaker picking up a few words here and there.  They speak English, Just English that is very different than mine!  Among some of the words I understood was "Woodruff"!  That caught my attention as I realized the Stake President was calling the newest ward member, "Brodda Tyson Woodrouff" up to the pulpit to bear his testimony.  Tyson gave a beautiful testimony of the Gospel, and thanked everyone for making us feel so welcomed.  The Stake President may have been inspired to call him up...or just wanted to make it easier for everyone to stare.  If he brought the white guy up to the front then no one would have to crane their necks and turn around to get a glimpse of him!
  • Nursery made me realize that African kids don't know about Snowmen!!!  This was devastating to me!  One of my favorite Nursery songs " Once there was a snowman, snowman, snowman.... was rewritten as Once I was a baby, baby, baby!!! 
An African Snowman.......

  • The Nursery and Primary kids could not keep their hands off of Sawyer.  Who needs toys and bubbles when they can play with Sawyer's baby-fine blond hair?!  He was a good sport, but had a melt down after at least two dozen kids had run their fingers through it. Now he knows how the neighbor's puppy feels after he visits! 
  • There's no A/C in the building.  Instead, the walls have vertical slats in them that open up allowing a cross breeze to flow through the building. 
  • The bathroom-  I discovered the hard way that  like most of Nigeria, it is a "Bring your own toilet-paper" situation. Aggh Crap!
  • The Youth are strong.  Over 70 youth from the area were visiting our ward while attending the area Youth conference and spending the weekend doing service.  They went to poor settlement communities and spent the weekend beautifying the area and helping with projects from hut to hut. 
  • White people all look the same-  There was another LDS couple from the Embassy that arrived in Abuja a few days after we did.  They are older, with 6 kids and a few grand kids.  During church, when the young women's president came to find me to talk to me about my high-school daughter I told her that I only had small children and directed her to "the other white lady".  I had to laugh because they really do think all white people look the same!
  • The Gospel is the Same-  The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is the same here in Abuja, home in California, and all over the world.  Todd and Heather Woodruff (who are in Taiwan), gave us a beautiful book as they said good bye.  It is called, "Children all Over the World Believe in Jesus."  It has striking pictures of different children from countries all over the world.  One LDS child depicted on each page either having Family Home Evening, reading the Book of Mormon, attending church, or just living the Gospel at home. 
 Attending the Wuse Ward, as different as it was, gave us an immediate feeling of familiarity and connection.  The knowledge that God is aware of us, and his other sheep brings a lot of comfort as a lot of our friends and family are scattered through out the world.  Our good friends the Peacocks just arrived in Ahman, Windy and Joseph Price are posted in Germany, Todd and Heather in Taiwan, Meagan and Chris Purdue in Singapore, our friends Matt and Monica Harrison have been in Singapore for the last year,  my friend and old roomate Leslie Aufderhyde and her family are in Japan after living abroad for years, and everyone else we love are far away in their own homes.  As different as our day to day lives are in each of our locations, we can all be united in our belief in the Gospel. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Using your Absurd!

Haven't you always wanted to stop traffic with your looks?!  Well, today it finally happened! Unfortunately, I wasn't because I have insane good looks or anything like that, It's just the undeniable fact that I'm as fair as a baby's bum with blue, blue eyes and spots all over me (we call them Freckles....Nigerians don't know what to call them, just hope they aren't contagious). 
After the bus brought the kids home, I took Alexis grocery shopping and left the boys at home with our Steward Immaculata.  (Yes, I know you are getting jealous that for pennies per day I no longer have to pick up after myself like a decent human being.)  I took Alexis shopping, not because I needed the help, just the emotional support that comes from having a little friend with me.  Girls, it's the same reason we go to the bathroom in understand!
I didn't want to haggle about prices today, so I went to one of the few stores that have "Set Prices".  There is something comforting about a "Set Price"!  Even if it's an extremely high price, it's reassuring to know that everyone is getting screwed equally!   Because I left our housekeeper at home, I would have been at a severe disadvantage.  There is a local price, then a price for the Americans. ....generally 2-3 times the local price.  My housekeeper can get the local price, as long as she isn't seen with me.  The minute then they know it's an American's money she is spending and we are out of luck. 
So, we decided on the grocery store where everyone is at equal disadvantage, making me feel more comfortable (because of course, misery loves company).  The parking lot, was blocked with guards and in order to enter you had to pop your trunk and have your car searched.  They motioned for me to roll down my window, allowing me to practice the stern glare and head-shake that Tyson and I had rehearsed.  I pointed to the Red license plates meaning I can't be stopped or searched because of diplomatic status.  I'm not even supposed to crack open a window for anyone...citizen, police, or beggar. 
As we entered the store I was immediately aware of the commotion we created.  In particular, a mother with her two kids were openly gawking at us.  Alexis, completely unaware was followed through the store by giggling kids trying to catch a glimpse of her unruly blond hair.  One mom had to yell at her kids to stop chasing us, but it didn't end.  Alexis became aware that she was the spectacle when a boy her age ran up to her from behind, tapped her, and sprinted back to his hiding spot behind the boxes of milk.   Then the entire aisle of canned goods erupted into squeals and laughter. This continued the entire time..people staring and kids double-daring!  Even as we left I overheard one of the kids say, "Mom, the white people are following us".  I laughed and said, "Yep!  You better watch out or we will follow you home!"
-----Actual size of shopping cart!!!  You can't afford to buy more than that much anyway!-----

After the scene in the Grocery store my mind turned to all of the things I have been gawking at during the last week.  All of the things that are so normal to the people of Nigeria, that are utterly shocking to me....  Here are a few!

Everyone carries thing on their heads!  It is AMAZING!!!  It's not just the extremely nimble, well balanced, acrobat types...It's everyone!  They have somehow mastered their balance to be able to carry extremely large loads on their heads often with no help of their arms.  I did a little internet research to find that it is actually the most efficient way to carry a big load.  It centers the load over your core, minimizing the strength necesarry to hold it.  WOW, not so crazy!

Leaving the parking lot of an office building yesterday I saw a huge tortoise strolling near the curb.  In awe of the ancient majestic shelled creature, I pulled over to take a picture and to make sure I didn't run him down with my car.  The others nearby glanced to see what the excitement was over.  I'm sure they thought, "oh just a turtle"!

And probably "no big deal" that Bananas are just growing on the tree in the front yard...  Just an everyday occurrence here, but remarkable to me.

And of Course the "Tuk Tuk"!  If you think skydiving or bungee jumping is an adrenaline rush, try putting your life into the hands of a Nigerian Taxi driver.....on three wheels!  Few things would get you into the next life faster!

I guess the bottom line is, One man's "normal" is another man's "Absurd!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

School lunch has evolved!

Corn dog day was my favorite of all of the days of the week!.  Those deep- fried treats we're made even more amazing by the five salty tater-tots resting at their sides.  I always avoided the limp green beans and sometimes even covered them with my napkin to keep from gagging at their ugliness.  I enjoyed the fruit cocktail that usually accompanied the meal, except for the slimy peeled grapes that could unfortunately be found in the mix of peaches and pears.  And my milk was always immediately tossed or if I was lucky, traded.... But never for precious tater-tots.  Those were too valuable to every elementary student!  oh, and all this would cost $1.15 per day, purchased in a sheet of 30 pink lunch tickets!!  This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes as a kid that went something like this...."what's the fastest animal in the world?"...... "an Etheopian with a Lunch-ticket"!  Terrible joke that everyone under 10 found hilarious in the 80's during the time of the "We are the World" hunger aid campaign in Africa.  I digress.
My point is, school lunch has changed.... At least here in Africa.  Here it does not consist of pushing a peach colored plastic tray along a counter while pre-measured servings of luke warm food is plopped into the tray segments by women wearing white smocks, saggy nylons and hair nets. It is done African-style!
We toured Logan and Alexis' new school a few days ago to prep them for the new year.  While touring AISA (american international academy of Abuja ) I asked about the cafeteria and how much the school lunch would cost.  The director replied that N1000 (1000 Naira) would probably do the trick.  New to the Naira, I didn't quite trust the conversion I figured out in my head..... If  $1 equals N160, then lunch would be about $7.00!  What the flip?!  Did she not realize we were in Africa where you should be able to by three bunches of bananas and some new sandals for a nickel?!  I was dumbfounded!  She did go on to clarify that that would buy a snack and drink as well, calming me down a bit.
Here is the interesting part though.  No trays, no tickets.... Lunch time brings 5-8 local food venders who have agreements with the school and have passed the rigid security requirements.  They come sell their wares on campus in little huts that look just like the open market I bought fruit in yesterday.  A Lebanese woman cooks on an open stove in one area, a Thai man apperantly makes noodles that are very popular with the students.  They have a vendor who recognized Muslim food requirements as well as a stand with traditional Nigerian Fare (like shawarma, which I will tell you about another time).
I am unclear as to how the buying and selling takes place.  I am imagining my Kindergartener who barely knows the worth of a dollar try to haggle for his lunch of hummus and kabbobs with Naira that are just as foreign to him as the flavors he will be trying!
To be on the safe side, I sent granola bars, fruit snacks and applesauce to keep them from being forced into the confusion too quickly!!!!
I will try to attach pictures when the Internet connection starts cooperating.
Other interesting facts about the first day of school madness
-kids are gone from 7:20 to 4:15.
-picked up in a large white van with a driver, monitor and armed guard... Gotta protect the driver from those crazy kids!
-school is 25% American kids, 30%Nigerians, 45% kids representing over 40 different countries.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hopping on One Foot, Lost in Abuja

For all of you wondering, Diana and the kids made it here in one piece!  They arrived Monday evening, safe and sound.  Now, we just need to get them to sleep through the night!  Last night, two out of four made it most of the night without waking up.  Upon arriving at a new post, families are required to take part in a health briefing at the medical office in the embassy.  I signed the family up for a briefing at 2p on Tuesday, the day after the family arrived.  Yes, I know they were going to be a bit jet-lagged, but I figured we'd be able to make an appointment at 2p!  No matter how tired someone is, it's 2p.  Yeah, you see where this is going.  I dragged Alexis out of bed at noon, the boys out of bed at 12:30, and barely got Diana out of bed at 1p.  Even though they were out of bed, they were not moving.  We trudged into the medical office at 2:20p - only 20 minutes late.  Then Sawyer realized where we were - in a doctors office - and the screaming began.  There were no shots, no blood being drawn, no rectal thermometers; but the trauma had already taken place and Sawyer knew all those things were possibilities, and he wanted everyone in the embassy to know he wasn't happy about it. 

The next day was about as much fun.  After two luxurious hours of sleep, I once again dragged everyone out of bed to go to the kids new school, where they took examinations which determined whether or not they were admitted to the school.  So no pressure.  But not big deal; Alexis' test only two about 2.5 hours.  How does hopping on one foot three times qualify you for kindergarten, you ask?  I don't know.  But you now owe money to the "Question Jar."  What is the "Question Jar," you ask?  Put in another 160 Naira and I'll tell you.  In one of the offices at the embassy, whenever something ludicrous, ridiculous, or just plain stupid happens here, if someone from that office asks "Why?" that person owes money to the "Question Jar."  The money goes towards office parties, and I heard they have had a some good parties! 

Feeling proud that my children are coordinated enough for school in Nigeria, I decided to support my wife and drop her off that evening at the local running group - about 15 people there.  I introduced her to the one person I knew from the embassy, determined the run would take about 40 minutes, and then took the kids to the store for some cleaning supplies.  Figuring Diana would need a couple of minutes to stretch out afterwards, we returned after about 50 minutes, only to find a group of about 5 guys.  They said they were the first to return.  My acquaintance was there, so I asked him if he had seen my wife.  He said he had, but that it had been some time.  Knowing she had an upset stomach before leaving, I decided to get the kids out of the car to give them a quick snack.  After about 10 minutes, it was beginning to get dark and I was starting to get worried.  At about the time I was starting to get the kids cleaned up and in the car to go search for Diana, she came jogging up, looking as though she was having a hard time breathing.  At first, I thought it was her asthma.  After a second, I realized she was hyperventilating because she was upset. 

Diana then described to me how, unbeknownst to me, the group did not stay together during the run.  Initially, she had kept up with the fast group, but then decided to take a quick break.  She walked for a minute with a couple of the others in the group, got some quick directions, and was off again.  A short time later, she realized she was lost.  No money, no phone, no map, no idea where she was.  She tried to back-track, but ended up wandering around for quite some time.  She was fortunate/blessed to come across a Nigerian who yelled at her that her white friends were in a specific direction.  And she was blessed a second time to accidentally turn down the correct road and end up back at the parking lot where we were waiting.  Understandibly upset.  Pretty scary for her . . . and for me.  Moreso for her.  After a few hours she conceded she would be willing to try it again.  We'll have her better prepared next time.   

Yeah, I bet you thought one of us was actually hopping on one foot while lost, huh?!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Drive Around the Lake

A couple weeks back, I met a very nice Austrian couple at the French National Day celebration. They have lived in Nigeria for 35 years. I can only imagine the crazy things they've seen. The husband invited me to a weekly running club around a local lake and I accepted. At the last minute the run was postponed because my new acquaintance had gotten sick. He called me later in the week to invite me for a Sunday afternoon drive around the lake followed by a picnic. We'd be accompanied by a couple diplomats, their spouses, and a couple doctors. I asked if I could bring anything and he told me that lunch would be provided, but that I could bring something if I wanted. He added that he would not be drinking, as he would be driving, but he was sure the others would appreciate it if I brought something to drink. 

Going off what I had been told - a nice drive with senior diplomats and a couple doctors followed by a picnic - I decided a bottle of wine would be nice. Knowing less than nothing about how to select a nice wine, I asked a friend who made a recommendation. I also decided to make some cookies. I was a little uneasy about this choice - I knew the others were older Europeans and that they were bringing fruit, cheeses, and meats. I didn't know if homemade cookies would be deemed as "sophisticated" enough. In the end, I went with my gut - literally. I love the cookies and wanted an excuse to make some, secretly hoping they wouldn't like them so I'd have to eat all the leftovers! (Yeah, my superpower is that I can ingest an amazingly disgusting amount of sugar)  Oh, I also decided to dress appropriately - a bit on the preppy side.

I arrived at my friends’ home and immediately knew something was off. The gate to his compound opened and there he was in grungy jeans, boots, a dingy long-sleeved shirt, and a baseball cap. Nothing matched. And he was standing in front of a bright banana-yellow truck-like vehicle with an open bed and seats inside.

As we hopped in the two-seater cab of the banana car, my friend told me the other diplomats would not be able to come, but that we were going to pick up the doctors and then head out.  He said there would be six of us, and then explained that the truck was actually a 25 yr. old Austrian military personnel vehicle.  We drove for about 10 minutes to the Julius Berger life camp.  Berger, as they are more commonly known, is a German construction company – one of the largest construction companies here in Nigeria.  They bring over a lot of ex-pats to work here and created a compound outside of Abuja to house them.  Berger sets up their people very nicely!  Anyway, we met up with the rest of the group – 12 Germans - with three Mercedes off-road safari vehicles.  Everyone divided up between the four vehicles – I was now in the open bed with a doctor and three interns in their mid-twenties – and we took off. 

As we drove past the lake, the doctor in the back of the banana vehicle told me how surprised he was that I was going with them.  He had thought Americans were a little too . . . cautious (he wanted to say scared) and that we weren’t allowed to do anything like the outing we were on.  I laughed and told him I had been invited on a “drive around the lake followed by a picnic.”  The doctor laughed.  I thought to myself, “Yeah, Sunday drive with diplomats around a lake followed by a picnic . . . very different than off-roading in an Austrian military personnel vehicle through the forest outside Abuja.” 

For the next six hours we circled the lake.  During the expedition, we experienced 2 popped tires, 4 incidents of vehicles getting stuck in mud, one vehicle getting stuck in a river and having to be towed (fortunately, we were towards the end of the journey), and getting lost multiple times.  The original road we took began as a paved road, turned to a dirt road, then devolved to a dirt path, a walking trail, and finally a general direction.  It was at that point that the banana vehicle became the lead vehicle, turned in the general direction of where we were supposed to go, and began to forge a path.  Literally, this tank plowed a path through the forest, mowing over small trees, shrubs; anything in its path!  Unfortunately, as a result, I became intimately familiar with the flora and fauna of the region.  Each time we’d create a path, the vehicle would disturb the trees and the insects, spiders, bugs, ants – whatever else lay in wait in the trees – would rain down on those of us in the bed of the vehicle.  At one point, we smashed through branches on which hung a beehive.  The vehicle behind us later explained how funny it was to watch five grown men jump out of their seats, swatting at the air and yelling at seemingly nothing.  Oddly enough, didn’t seem so funny at the time to those of us in the vehicle.   

At the end of the day, we stopped at a gated area on the edge of the lake, sat around eating barbeque and recounting the adventure of the day.  They didn’t touch the wine, but they loved the cookies.  Thanks, Babe.  It was your recipe.  Wish you had been there, also.  I ended the day without having seen any animals, but with a horrible sunburn on my face, neck, and arms, and swollen arms and legs from about 25 bee stings and bug and spider bites all over.  But it was a fun day.  And don't worry, I talked to the doctor the next day and none of the bites were poisonous and nothing had laid larva eggs under my skin. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Cockroach Bed

Moving internationally is a lot like moving domestically. My wife Diana should tell the following story, but, since she’s currently traveling and I’m unpacking the entire house, I get to share what I remember.  When we lived in Sterilng, VA, Diana would go to Juming Jacks once or twice a week with Sawyer and Logan.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jumping Jacks, it’s a warehouse with inflatable slides, toys, etc. and each week they have “open jump” times when anyone can come in and play for a couple of hours.  Since Diana would go weekly, she got to know several other “regulars.”  Several weeks before we left, she was kicking back at Jumping Jacks, gossiping with some of these women, when one of the women started complaining about her husband.  I forgot the reason, but her husband was insisting they move and this woman was appauled that her inconsiderate husband would uproot his family, make them leave behind all their friends, their schools, everything they knew and transplant them about ten miles away.  Yep, you read that correctly – T – E – N.   “1” & “0.”  That would be a singular “0.”  Only one.  I can run ten miles.  And I’m not a runner.  Given, it would probably involve a significant amount of pain . . . unless I trained and stretched properly first, of course.  But I could do it.  And this woman was in a tizzie about it.  My wonderful wife feigned empathy by responding that she could not believe it.  In the ensuing conversation, it came out through one of the other women that my wife was preparing to move to Nigeria.  I can only imagine how ridiculous the first woman must have felt.

But really, moving overseas is pretty similar to moving domestically …except when your mattress gets pulled from the shipment because they can’t ship king size mattresses to Abuja, and you can’t run to the store and get a new one.  (and no, no one could explain to me WHY they couldn’t ship our friggin’ mattress, only that it was a rule.  I understand certain types of export laws – I helped enforce them when I was in the Bureau.  We can’t ship certain types of technology to certain countries.  Makes sense.  But, what, a king-sized mattress is somehow going to disrupt the technological balance of the African continent, tipping it in favor of Nigeria – now Nigerians know how to sleep more comfortably than other Africans!  Oh, the horror!!)   But I digress.  Besides certain ridiculous rules, it’s about the same as moving domestically.  Regardless of where you are, when you’re unpacking you come across the box labeled "toys," only to find that it has tools and car cleaning supplies.  Or the box with only a large ball of packing paper inside, obviously protecting something fragile.  What’s inside?  6 marbles wrapped in a dryer sheet.  Why?  Who knows.  But the marbles smell great.

So, last night I was putting together our king size bed frame (the one without an accompanying mattress).  Most of you don’t know this, but about two years ago my brother, Kyle, and I decided we were going to be “handy.”  Our sister had told us about this website, Knock Off Wood.  The woman is a self-taught carpenter.  She goes to stores like Pottery Barn, looks at the furniture she likes, and then redesigns the instructions so anyone can build it.  It’s a great site.  Well, my brother and I got the idea that we could build some pretty cool storage bench beds for relatively cheap.  The only thing I’ll say is that that is story for another day.  But the bed . . . . the cockroach of all beds!  Weird analogy, I know.  But you know how they say that if there were a nuclear war, cockroaches would be the only thing to survive?  Well, stick these beds on that short list!  Three long, wide, solid benches, connected by a ladder of 2x4’s in the middle.  Doesn’t creak; doesn’t shift; kids jump on it . . . nothin’.  Will withstand anything.  Like a cockroach.  Just better looking. 

But I’m trying to attach the 2x4 structure to the inside, upper portion of each bench.  But the ladder is large and I need both hands to use the screwdriver and hold a screw.  So, I tried to jimmy rig something to hold the ladder in place long enough for me to get one screw in each bench.  I worked on it for 30 minutes without luck.  By that point, I’d wedged myself in between two of the “rungs” of the ladder structure.  My knees were starting to hurt from kneeling on the tile floor, so I stood up.  But I forgot to unwedge myself first.  Something you might not know (Warning – what follows is more information than any of you want to know, but I’m saying it anyway because this is my blog) – the Woodruff boys are . . . well-endowed in the derrier region.  So, as I stood up, the ladder structure came up with me, resting around my waist.  There I stood, with a ladder structure (3 ft. x 4 ft) resting around my waist, propped up by my butt.  Then the thought hit me!  I knelt right back down – the ladder was at just the right height – and I screwed the ladder in place.  Wish I had a camera, cause I’m sure I looked ridiculous!  But got the bed put together.  Just wish I had a mattress to put on it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

No Thanks to my Parents

Yeah, you read the correctly.  My parents failed to adequately prepare me to navigate one of the most important, and intricately delicate situations in one's life: becoming an employer of domestic help.  Laugh all you want, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive them for not exposing me to this side of life.  Have you ever had a moving company move your household goods?  Remember that feeling before the workers come - you've got your plan all set out in your mind.  You know what you want them to do and how you are going to instruct them on how to do things.  Then the workers arrive.  Even if everything goes according to your plan, sooner or later they arrive at your . . . unmentionables drawer  (I've always wanted to use that hilarious word!).  Most people feel a bit awkward - "Someone's touching my underwear!" "Did I wash them well enough?"  Better yet, "Did my spouse (probably husband) wash them well enough?!"  "I should have just bought new ones!  These are 10 . . . years old (guys!)!"  THAT feeling, right there!  That slightly uncomfortable feeling of doing something different, kind of embarrassing, but definitely necessary - that's how I felt yesterday.  Yes, that's right.  I am now on a higher social rung than you - the one where domestic help is now "necessary."  Deal with it.

Yesterday, I left work early to meet my shipment of household goods.  On the way home, I picked up our new domestic help, Emmaculata.  She came highly recommended from a friend for whom she worked for one year.  That being said, Nigerians are very deferential . . . when they work for you.  So, we got home, discussed the contract, showed her around the house and then we waited for the shipment.  Actually, while we were waiting we decided to go run and grab her a bed and some other essentials - in a favela outside of town.  When we returned, the moving company had arrived.  Over the next several hours, four to ten men unloaded 10 crates containing 180 boxes, a treadmill, and an enourmous bean bag.  Lots of paper, lots of empty boxes, lots of tape.  After they left, I began to unwrap many of the largest items which had been cocooned in heavy duty brown paper and yards of tape.  This morning, I woke up early and continued to unwrap and unpack.  As I was leaving for work - yep, here comes the uncomfortable situation - I opened the door for our new domestic help and asked her to clean it all up.  Slightly awkward for me, but necessary.  But when I got home tonight and everything was cleaned up and under our new trash tree, most of that awkward feeling suddenly evaporated - and that weight on my shoulders began to lighten.  

Thought for the day - "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."  - Orson Wells

Our Nigerian Hut

I forgot that most of you don't know where we live!  You might be picturing something along the lines of a brazilian favela, or grass huts in the middle of the Savanna.  Nah, nothing like that!  We are well taken care of.  Each embassy has a housing board.  The housing board takes a look at the incoming employees and their families and matches them with the most appropriate available housing.  Well, it so happens that fortune smiled down upon us - we have one of the larger families here, and one of the largest and nicest homes became available!  Homes here are placed in compounds - gated communities surrounded by high walls, topped with concertina wire and guarded by solid iron gates and security guards (some with automatic rifles).  The windows and doors on the homes are all covered by iron gates.  If your home has two floors, the second floor has a second heavy iron gate which locks from the inside.  Each residence also has a safe room (usually the master bedroom) with an emergency alarm inside.  So, we're fairly safe in our home!  Safer than we were in our D.C. home!  (Those of you who came to visit know what I'm talking about!)  So, while there are areas of Abuja that look like favelas (I was in one yesterday), the housing compounds are well taken care of - pools, manicured lawns, flowers, topiaries (yeah, go look that word up cause I know 90% of the guys have no idea what that is!).  Our home is about 4,000 sq ft - 5 bedroom, 4 1/2 bathroom.  We would love to have visitors!  As I told a good friend last night, I feel pretty comfortable extending that invitation to pretty much anyone and everyone, because I'm relatively sure no one will take us up on it!  But please know, we would love to have anyone come and visit!  These are pics of the home the day I moved in.  I'll post some more after we've unloaded all the boxes.  Enjoy!

Suffering at Disney

Obviously this post is not about Nigeria.  While I'm here unpacking boxes and working, my family is enjoying Disneyland!  Thought some of you might want to see some of the cute pics I've been sent.  Enjoy!
 Enjoying the carousel!  I love Sawyer's smile and Logan's smirk!

 The Woodruff clan with the Smiths!  Love the princess costumes!

 Another great smile!  Had to put the chubby kid in the tub cause he's such a mess!

 A quick lunch break back at the hotel.

Sawyer hates any kind of tattoo or writing on his body!  It's pretty funny.