Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Banking in Nigeria…

This has been quite an experience. As a part of my contract here I am given a living allowance to offset the prices that foreigners must pay for anything comparable to decent food, groceries etc. To that end a bank account has been set up for me here in Nigeria. This is where the fun begins because it has taken three plus weeks to get this account set up. I was warned about this before coming here, so I brought some cash from home when I came. Therefore I have started to get used to the black market for exchanging dollars into naira. I bring my dollars to the local money exchanger guy and he gives me a really crappy rate for exchanging the dollars for naira. Finally I get my bank account set up, and get a check for my living allowance for April.

Armed with my check in hand and account number of my newly set up bank account, I set off for my first experience at the Nigerian bank. I get there and talk to the representative to get my checks and check card and to deposit my living allowance into my bank account. This seems like it should be a fairly simple task, but my bank account was set up in US dollars and the check I was given for my living allowance was in Nigerian naira. Now to an unassuming oyibo like myself, I would think that since this bank has US dollars and they have Nigerian naira, and they have a clearly posted exchange rate of naira to dollars and dollars to naira, which of course they have one rate for exchanging naira to dollars and a different rate for dollars to naira, that I would be able to deposit my check that is in naira into my bank account which was in dollars. However, this was not the case, I guess their calculator was broken or something because I was told that they could not deposit my check, and they could not exchange the naira to dollars for me??? The only thing I could do with my check was get Nigerian naira, if I wanted to deposit it I would have to get the naira, walk down to the money changer guy and exchange it on the black market for the really crappy rate, then bring the dollars back and deposit the dollars into my US dollar account.

So not wanting to carry around the whole months living allowance I took the crappy exchange rate and deposited my US dollars into my bank account and came away from the whole situation with a really bad taste in my mouth.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

World Malaria Day…

April 25th is world malaria day. The WHO is trying to spread awareness of malaria and the best way to prevent it. The best way to not catch malaria is to not get bit by a mosquito. The easiest time for the mosquito to get you is when you are asleep. Therefore you should either wear repellent to sleep or sleep under a mosquito net. I tried the net, it felt kind of like sleeping in a pup tent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Feelings… hard to explain

First thought --- If you could live in a place like this and not change a bit, then you wouldn’t be human…

Feeling change from one second to the next, but what was most baffling to me was how your entire outlook on life can change in such a short period of time.

First and foremost I miss my beautiful wife. This is one that I knew going in to this deal was coming, but didn’t expect it to be this strong. She has been so wonderful, and understanding through this hard time. I can’t say enough about how remarkable she has been. Just the thought of someone being willing to put their life on hold for someone else is mind blowing and I thank God everyday for allowing such a beautiful person into my life.

So many feeling in such a short period of time… As a man I figured nothing would really affect me that much, hey I’m tough I can take anything. If you’ve read my previous blogs you could see it didn’t take long for that to change. There’s nothing quite like a little isolation to make you feel pretty small. So you start work and start feeling better, a little more connected not quite so alone. Being new to the place, you don’t really know the customs, don’t really know what is expected, and all you’ve heard of the place is “be careful, everyone is going to try to take advantage of you.” So that being what you expect, that’s what you are going to see. You’re issued a driver by the company because as you can see by the pictures it’s not a pretty task driving here. However, he expects that you will tip him every day above what the company is paying him, because he’s not getting paid very much, and he knows that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. The same goes for everybody that is paid by to company to help out in area’s where as an independent person you feel you could do yourself but because you are in this place things are quite different. For example you are issued someone to wash your clothes, for a fee, which is something that I am quite capable of doing myself but in my “tiny” apartment there is now clothes washer and dryer. There is also someone paid by the company to clean the apartment, I didn’t ask for this person but yet he is here and of course expects a little extra for his services because hey you’re white and you must have all this extra cash just lying around. You start getting the feeling that everyone just has their hand out, in addition to all the people that are just begging for money, and if there is a way for them to get you to give them money they are going to find it.

So I’m off in this foreign land, alone, working more hours then I’ve ever worked before, not getting very much sleep, living in this “tiny” apartment, and feel like everyone here is just out to get me. On top of that, the power goes out, the phones go out, the internet goes out, the water heater goes out, etc… After a while, it starts to ware on you. Quite frankly I thought it would take a little longer to get to me, but obviously I’m not as strong as I though, and it happened rather quickly. So I start to feel sorry for myself, and I had a couple of really bad days “woe is me, the whole bit.”

Then something changed, I don’t really know what, I don’t really know why, and I don’t really know how, but I was at work and the internet went down again as it had been the whole time I’ve been here, and I looked around at the guys I’ve been working with these couple of weeks. I’d met them, gotten their names, said hi in the morning, but never really talked to them. One of them in particular seemed like a really nice guy, someone I would like to get to know. I invited this guy to go to lunch with me, and just tried to get to know him. We talked mostly about the past couple of years, both mine and his. Just a side note: the locals that work at an engineering company are the top small percentage of the people here. I told him I got married just over a year ago, he said he got married just over two years ago, and has the cutest little 2 year old daughter. He told me how just a couple of years ago he was living in the country, and had no job and no way to care for his family, so he came to Lagos looking for work. He had no money, no job, no place to stay, no food, he told me basically he was sleeping by the gutter. This was until he met a man named Bill Yonley, who gave him a job, and helped him get a place to stay so he could bring his wife and daughter. He’s had this job for a year and a half now, and everyday shows up with a smile on his face, says hi to everyone when they walk in, and is so grateful to have a job during the day and a roof to go home to at night. Here was this man, same age as me, a family just like me, dreams and hopes and aspirations just like me, only he happen to be born in Nigeria instead of Houston, and here he was just full of joy and goodness, and here I am just wallowing in self pity.

I went home that night from work to a mansion. I have a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, two tvs, an internet connection, running water, bottled water to drink, food in my fridge, and a new outlook on life itself.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Driving... pretty much what they say

The Okadas are everywhere, you have to watch out where ever you go

More okadas weaving in and out of traffic
Street vendors everywhere
cars cars and more cars
no urinating from bridge allowed
Nigerian housing

Nigerian Market

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pre-Nigeria Party

We bought a grill specifically for this party. Look at a bunch of yahoo’s standing around trying to put this thing together

me and my sweetie...

We had good friends...

and some yoyo's...

Bon Voyage... on to the plane...

The drive from the airport to the apartment

Never felt so Alone

I arrive in Nigeria, and my phone won’t pick up any service, even though I specifically bought this phone because they told me that it would work here. So I get off the plane, go through customs, get my bags and start looking for my transport from the airport to my apartment. As this was my first trip here I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was looking for someone with a sign with my name on it or my company logo, but none was to be found.

Side bar: For the past couple of months all I’ve heard was “be careful in Nigeria, especially in the airport.” “Watch out, don’t look like you don’t know exactly what’s going on.” “Stay out of harms way, always appear to know exactly where you need to go.” Etc…

So here I am in Africa, with 3 big bags and my laptop computer and nobody to pick me up, and no phone to call anybody with. I decided I’d better find the phone number of my security pickup and find a way to give them a call. I had a piece of paper that had all of the contact numbers that I would need to know once I got here, so I start digging through all of my stuff right in the middle of the airport trying to find this one piece of paper, but no luck. Somehow this was the one piece of paper that didn’t make it on the plane with me.

At this point I’m starting to get a little worried, I’m in the middle of a strange airport, with no phone and no phone numbers, and I’m obviously very different then everyone else here at this airport. However with a little quick thinking I remembered that I had an old email with all the numbers on it so I pulled out my computer and searched for my email. I found the number that I needed, barrowed a phone from one of the locals and was able to reach my escort. As it turned out they were there I simply needed to go outside the airport.

We make the drive from the airport to my apartment, and I’m given a local phone for any security issues that may come up. As we get to the apartment I’m also informed that there is internet access in the room. My escort drops me off and here I am my first day in Nigeria. I call my wife from my newly acquired cell phone to let her know everything is ok, and as I’m talking to her the battery dies on my local phone. So I plug the charger in and it doesn’t work. I plug my computer in because I have voice over the internet phone as well, and the connection doesn’t work.

So here I am in the middle of Africa, alone in my apartment, with one cell phone with a battery but no service, one cell phone with service but no battery, and a computer with no internet connection. Talk about a feeling of total Isolation, and total aloneness.

It is Possible...

It is possible to be connected to the World from here in Nigeria. I was beginning to wonder…

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Adventures in Mexico!

So we decided to have a nice vacation in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, and go the all inclusive route.

View from our hotel room
The adventure began as soon as we got off the plane. Not only was it spring break week for a lot of schools but it was also Easter week, so there happen to be quite a few people in line for going through customs. But we made it through with no problems and out the airport to make our way to the hotel. We had forgotten to make plans to get from the airport to the hotel, so off to find a cab we were. (Of course our hotel was 45 min drive from the airport) Coming from Houston, we weren’t real familiar with the cab system, so we were a little skeptical at first (being in a strange city, not familiar with the place, not really knowing where we were going) but with no other options, into the cab and off to the hotel.

Ready for a week of relaxing on the beach!
After the first day of relaxing by the pool and the beach we decided to do some of the tours offered by the hotel, which turned out to be quite fun and adventuresome.
The second day there we took this boat ride to a secluded beach only accessible by boat (No it wasn’t a “couples” activity it was a group activity) Where there was yoga, swimming with sea lions, cooking, nature walks, etc…

We got to hold a monkey
And a Parrot

It was quite an adventure just getting there. We all met in the lobby and waited for our tour guide. He arrived (on Mexico time) and said everybody for the bla bla bla tour over here, it sounded like our tour so we gathered and he said that the water was to rough for the tour to be by boat and that they were going to all take cabs to their destination. I say their tour because this was not our tour. It turned out that our tour would be leaving after theirs. So they all got in their cabs and left, then our tour guide came to us and said well your tour is only accessible by boat so off to the boats we go. We were a little skeptical because we just heard him say that it was too dangerous for them to go by boat but here we go to this little boat that holds about 10 people, and we are told to rush to get onto the boat because it was hard to keeps stable on the beach. But we were here to have a good time so we weren’t going to let a couple of waves hold us back.
The boat we took
So we get in this little boat and off we go and this thing is literally seesawing on these waves, you should have seen the death grip that Suzanne had on my arm. We get pretty far out on the ocean and they tell us we now have to switch to this bigger boat, as we are rocking up and down. Once on the bigger boat we felt much safer and started to relax a little. We finally made it to our destination and had quite an enjoyable afternoon in the sun. On the way back they told us it was too dangerous to get back into the little boat to make it back to our hotel so they took us to the marina and we had to get a cab back to the hotel. (Another 45 min cab ride) But we had friends this time because there were about 7 of us from our hotel who all needed a ride back, so we all piled into the same cab and made it back.
Day three we decided to be less adventuresome and take a bus tour of the city.

We got some good pictures had a nice time, until we got to the flea market. We were told, go shop for about 30 minutes, come back and meet on this corner and we’ll go to our next place. So we shop for about 30 minutes come back to the corner and no one was there. We thought that no one had come back yet because we were on Mexico time here right, so we wait and wait and wait. After about 20 more minutes this other couple that was on the same tour as us show up so we start to think ok they are starting to show up now so we wait and wait some more. After about another 45 minutes we realized that they had left us and we were on our own, in the middle of a strange city with very little money and no clue where we were. (Luckily for us our hotel was a very recognizable hotel) So off to find another cab we were. By now we’re getting pretty familiar with the whole cab system.
The next day we decided that we had had enough gallivanting around and decided to stay close to the hotel, we tried out a little snorkeling, a little kayaking, and pretty much lounging around.

Then came time to go, we had finished all our adventures and off to the airport we were. (At least we had thought that our adventures were over)

One thing that I haven’t mentioned yet was that the road from the airport to our hotel was a little winding two lane road, and that it was the only road to our hotel. This only becomes important when trying to get back to the airport.

We sleep late and have a nice breakfast the last day because our flight wasn’t until 2 o’clock and check out was at 12, and we figured that would be plenty of time to make it to the airport. Again there was a cab involved, we get in and off to the airport. About 10 min down the road and as you probably could have guessed by the intro there was this big long line of cars and nobody was going anywhere. So our driver decides he is going to go find out what’s going on, slides on to the wrong side of the road, passes everybody (waving as he passes a couple of his cabbie buddies) pulls up close to the blockages and pulls to the side of the road gets out and walks to see what’s going on. About 10 min later comes back and says “Well there was a wreck, yesterday.” Apparently there was a propane tanker that had flipped, was leaking and blocking the road, and wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. But our driver had a plan. He said we could take a water taxi, which basically meant he’d get one of his buddies on the beach that had a boat to ferry us to the other side and we could get a taxi from there to the airport, but we had to go fast because our flight was leaving soon (at least what was now fast approaching anyway.) So he rounds up his cabbie buddies, who also had people trying to get to the airport at the same time and back to the beach we were. It must have been such a sight to see us 7 gringos and all of our luggage, running across the beach to this little boat (basically the same boat we took our first tour on) trying to get ferried across to catch another cab to the airport.
grabbing luggage off the boat

So we get off the boat, and haul all of our bags off and try to find a cab (quickly.)

Our boat driver decides to help us find a cab, which amounts to finding an acquaintance of his who has a car (SUV) that can accommodate us. This vehicle has the front two seats and a bench seat in the back with a large area for luggage behind the bench seat. If you are keeping track this is 7 of us and all our bags and the driver and there are 5 seats, and just barely enough room for our stuff. But as the old saying goes “when in Rome…” We cram in and as we shut the door the driver pulls out a 6 pack and cracks one open and offers the rest to us and off we were to catch a plane.

Only in Mexico!

Anyway we made it home and are now preparing for many more adventures on our trip to Nigeria, and other parts of the World.