Monday, November 19, 2012


So, I've adjusted to life in Africa!  I came to this conclusion, as a green taxi cab sped towards me, on the on the wrong side of the road, (because there was less traffic on our side of course) with a goat as one of his four passengers. I wasn't shocked or even overly irritated.  I didn't even think to reach for my camera, because I'm sure I'll see a similar thing again tomorrow and the next day.  My only thought as I swerved onto the shoulder to avoid collision, was "why does the goat get to sit 'Shot-Gun'?  That's a bit insulting to the other passengers don't you think!?'".
This led to the realization that I have moved beyond culture shock into a sort of comfortable routine.  I've accepted the once shocking and unusual and embraced a new "normal".   To find this new normal, I've just made a few adjustments and substitutions.  I thought I'd share a few of these adjustments with you..

I didn't realize this shop existed for the first few weeks we lived here, but this "hole in the wall"  has become my favorite shop.  It is only 30 yards from my compound, and is literally "a Hole in the wall"  that is boarded up before and after hours.  The shop owners, Faith and her husband live and work behind that wall with their two teenage kid.  Faith is so friendly and always asks about each one of my kids by name each time I stop by. This shop is a gold-mine and has taken the place of Target, Walmart, and 7-11 for me.  The refrigerator inside the shop works most of the time, so I often get a cold 'Coke-light' in a glass bottle (which I have to return to the store within an hour).  As you can see I am standing on a pile a squared off rocks placed on the ground for the customers' viewing convenience.  The store is even equipped with a trashcan for it's paying customers (the box to my right).  Unfortunately, not much of the garbage actually reaches it's target.
My hole in the wall sells everything you didn't know you needed, phone cards, peanuts, eggs (unrefrigerated of course), razors, beauty products (if you have dark skin), snacks, plantains, batteries , 1-ply toilet paper, etc.  They also sell cigarettes, not as a pack, but one at a time.  My thought is that if you have to buy cigarettes individually at N25 (15cents), then smoking may be a habit that you might want to kick!  Bags of water are also sold here, and is what most people drink because they are cheap and tap water is not clean.  I usually buy 10  little bags of water to  hand out to the barefoot workers I pass on my 18th of a mile walk home.  Currently, there a men digging trenches in the road to lay a new DSL line to our neighbor's house.  It makes me feel really sick to see these guys doing back breaking labor in the blazing African sun just so that a bunch of Americans can get more channels to their TV.  Then I realize how happy they are to be employed for the day.  Anyway, Sawyer and I like to treat them to some of our stock of Costco treats like Quaker granola bars and otterpops occasionally. 
Sawyer loves his daily walk to the shop.  He calls it the "Bread-store".  He either chooses and entire loaf of bread or a pack of "Nice Biscuits".  Each cost N50 (about 30 cents).   As soon as we get home, he gets to share his treat with his best friend, our housekeeper Immaculata. 
I still can't figure out why flour is so expensive here, but bread is insanely cheap.....unless of course this bread contains something besides white flour.... mmmm food for thought! 
These are the "Nice Biscuits" that Sawyer loves!  This picture definitely glamorizes them...we have yet to ope n a package and have them all the identical shape and size.  It's one of those 'Quality Control' things that we Americans take for granted. 

Luckily, we have the privilege of getting our gas from the Embassy.  It is imported and we go to a special station and trade gas tickets for however many liters we need.  Simple.  Not once have I had to wait for more than one other car before being filled up.  This is not the case for the rest of the population in Nigeria.  Roads often turn into parking lots as people spend entire days in the Fuel Queue waiting and waiting to get gas.  There have been fuel strikes recently caused by an unresolved dispute between gas companies, the government and the consumers.  Having no gas can  completely shut down the city because people can't get to work, school, generators can't run etc.  A couple of months ago there was a nearly empty school parking lot as many of the international students couldn't get to school because their drivers were out of gas. 

"Fuel Hawkers" are seen everywhere.  Teenagers, men, and even really young boys are seen up and down the roads waving surgical tubing that they use to funnel watered down gas into the tanks of cars for extremely exorbitant prices.  This man likely siphoned the gas from the tank of his own green cab to sell to the highest bidder.  He will surely make more money Hawking the gas to someone in a bind than he will chauffeuring people all day in his taxi. 
I am definitely unqualified to comment on the greasy fuel situation here, but the picture below sums up a common sentiment  regarding it.  
"Get the Shell Out of Here!!"

I miss McDonald's!!!  Go ahead and think you are better than me, that's fine!  I'm not ashamed.  I miss the ease of the occasional sprint through the drive-through to get 3 things from the dollar menu for the starving animals in the back seat, and an enormous bucket of Diet-Coke for myself (the driver needs to stay alert and happy).  When running home from sports and dance in the evenings, the last thing I want to figure out is what to make for dinner and how quickly I can make it while supervising homework and piano lessons concurrently.  McDonald's, Taco Bell, Chick Fil-a, Sonic, are life-savers in these situations.  I also miss having a 'safe' place for the kids to play when we are desperate to get out of the house. I know some of you don't think McDonalds' play places are safe because you've heard dirty stories about razors in the ball pit, and pedophile clowns from the 70's.   You are probably aware of the risk of diarrhea from playing on a filthy slide while eating chicken nuggets or the disease potential that goes along with licking a melted ice-cream cone off the floor (Logan actually did this).  Compared to what I have here, McDonald's is as Sterile as an Operating room.  I have seen some scary food prep here and would choose the filthiest Taco-bell in Los Banos California over most of what we have here.  The following pictures is the closest thing I've found to Fast-Food here.... There are stands similar to this along roads all throughout the city.   Food Handler's permit anyone??  

This meat will become "Suya".  Suya is Nigerian BBQ, and everyone eats it and loves it...  Consequently, a few of our guards have difficulty  pronouncing Sawyer's name, so he as acquired the nick-name Suya.  He is the Nigerian BBQ Boy!  ....Yes, that is meat sitting out in the sun :)  A friend and I went to Wuse Market a few weeks ago and somehow ended up in the meat section of the outdoor market.  Kidneys were being thrown from one vendor to his customer, whole cows were being decapitated and disemboweled while people bargained and bartered for pieces.  The horrible images I saw were only outdone by the stench in the air.  I emerged  from the carnage unscathed, except for blood stained tennis shoes and long-term emotional scarring!

The other common fast-food joints are the roasted corn stands.  I guess this is more like the vegetarian fast-food menu.  I felt pretty safe about this food option until Tyson reminded me of the man he'd seen cleaning his nails with the same knife he used to prep the food. 

These claim to be "All American Hot Dogs".  Have you ever seen tube-steaks floating in a jar in the US?!?
Signs like these are reserved for only the finest of buildings......everything else is Free-Game!!!  My poor 7 year old girl has seen more male nether regions than you can possibly imagine.  No one even tries to hide while peeing into traffic or along side a grocery store.  Why not drop your drawers in front of the general public?!  Speaking of which, any body of water including puddle, bucket or river rapidly becomes a locker room.  Dressing, undressing, bathing, talking while naked etc. are all activities we've seen taking place on the side of the road.

Well, I will have to post a part-2 to this post because it is getting late but there are so many other things I want to add.  Stay tuned and I will get to them soon.  In the mean time I will be dreaming about a Cherry-Lime-aid from Sonic....with the really crunchy ice!!


Monday, November 12, 2012

African Halloween Party

Sorry it's been so long since we've posted!  We have about 5 blogs we're trying to finish up, so stay tuned!!!

We've been asked several times what we miss about living in the United States.  Well, one of those things is Halloween.  Like most Americans, I always enjoyed Halloween, but it wasn't until I married Diana (who LOVES Halloween), that I really started having fun with the holiday.  Since marrying Diana, she and I have thrown a couple Halloween parties and had a lot of fun doing so.  So, before moving to Nigeria, we decided we would make a concerted effort to bring what we would need to continue our U.S. holiday traditions and make them really special for the kids - especially Halloween.  Diana and I decided it would be fun to throw a Halloween party for some of the international friends we've made here.  And we may have gone a bit over the top - but it was fun!

We decided to make it a costume party mainly for the friends of the kids, but make it compelling enough for the parents to stay.  It is common for parents to drop their children off at activities and leave, or to just send the kids with their driver.  We also wanted to get to know some of the parents, or get to know some of them better, so we decided to make the invitations unique, memorable.  In addition to the paper invitation, Diana sewed and I painted bags to look like jack-o-lanterns, and then we filled them up with candy corn, tootsie rolls, and other candy.  From the feedback we got from the parents, the kids loved the invitations and the candy so much they made their parents come! 

Our jack-o-lantern invitations
For the next few weeks, we spent the weekends and evenings planning the party, the food, and the activities.  It was fun for us, but it was also a lot of fun to see the kids get into the planning and the holiday.  The kids came to Wuse Market with us several times, helped to make tombstones and a coffin, and helped us decorate.

We set up the home so that as the families walked up to our home, they would have to pass through the graveyard in our front yard.  Upon entering the home, the families would be ushered into the spare bedroom to the side of the entryway, where we had a Halloween photo booth set up.  The families could come and get their pictures taken in their costumes.  If they didn't have a costume, or if they wanted to try on another one, we had all of our costumes, wigs, masks, and accessories set up for them to use. 

The family with our steward Immaculata
After taking a picture, the kids had several activities to choose from: a Halloween Beauty Salon and Tattoo Parlor (girls could get candy necklaces and their nails painted in Halloween colors; boys and girls could get Halloween tattoos put on); a table where they could decorate trick-or-treat bags (Diana made bags and we had fabric pens and bought jewels, beads, etc. to glue on); a table where they could ice and decorate large pumpkin cookies, and then a place where we had the classic Disney Halloween movies playing.  And, of course, we had a lot of food and drinks spread out on a large table in the front room. 
Our Jasmin getting her nails done by Raggedy Ann and a referee!

Decorating trick-or-treat bags

We found Sawyer eating the icing and candy off everyone's cookies!

Some of our guests enjoying the food
 So, for the first hour and a half, the kids and families enjoyed the various activities and socializing while eating the food.  We then started the first activity - the cupcake walk.  In our hallway we set up all the numbers on the ground and all the prizes on a small table.  I managed the music - the Monster Mash, Thriller, etc.  The kids walked around the numbers until the music stopped, at which time someone would call out a number.  The child on that number would get to pick a cupcake and a prize from the table (Halloween nail polish, pirate eye patch, etc.).  The game lasted until. . . well, until we were dying of boredom and told the remaining kids to come and grab a cupcake and pick a prize! 
The cupcake walk

Trying to destroy Frankenstein!
The next activity was the pinata.  The kids had helped me make a pinata in the shape of Frankenstein's head - we made Frankenstein smiling on one side, and angry on the other.  And, because we had invited a lot of kids and wanted them all to have a shot, we made it out of a small box so it would be more durable.  Well, durable it was!  We had over 30 kids, and after the first 10 had their go, barely a dent was made!  Given, they were the youngest kids, but even still, barely a scratch.  So, we decided to let the kids have a few whacks with the blindfold on, and then a few whacks with the blindfold off.  Even still, by the time there were only two kids left in line, Frankenstein still barely had a scratch.  During the turn of one of the last girls, the pinata dropped on the ground and the girl asked if she could stomp on Frankenstein.  The last girl asked if I would hold the pinata so she could "do taekwondo" on it.  Still, barely a dent.  So, I ripped it open and tossed candy around.

Because we only have three homes on the compound, trick-or-treating wasn't possible.  After the candy was stuffed into their decorated bags, I came out into the family room dressed covered in a grim reaper cloak and holding a lantern and a treasure map.  I proceeded to take the kids on a treasure hunt around the compound, ending at the home-made coffin filled with candy.

We were asked by most of the families after the fact whether or not we were going to do this again next year, so we considered the party a success.  We made samosas, chicken kabobs, fruit, hot dogs, cupcakes, cake, pumpkin spice Chex mix, and Halloween white trash popcorn.  And we were fortunate enough to have a few good friends who came just to help out with the different activities.  It was a ton of work, but it looks like we've started a new Halloween tradition.
The cooks making samosas!