Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Grew Up Here.


For those of you who have never moved... for those of you that have never had to start over.... for those of you who have had the same friends, the same shared history for the majority of your lives...for those of you who can actually identify where "home" is... This post is not meant for you.

It is meant for people like me: People who have spent their lives in transition, constantly starting over, making new friends, explaining their story, trying to communicate where they're "from"... and still never knowing what to call "home."

It may sound strange but for people like me, it is immensely significant to say:

"I grew up here"


Instead of "not here." (which is what I feel like I've been saying my entire life).

Coming back to Lusaka is, by definition, strictly business. I'm here on assignment - Gathering information regarding agricultural value chains which might prove useful in an upcoming bid for USAID (for those of who you may not be well acquainted with the development world, that's the international development arm of the American government). This bid, when it comes out, will be worth roughly $24 million...needless to say, the pressure is on.

But, despite the pressure, being here in Lusaka is more than just work. This is where I grew up. And, in a strange way, coming back felt a little like coming home. I say "strange" because its not as though my family is still here. When my plane landed at the airport, my dad wasn't standing on the welcome balcony and waving like he used to do when I was little. I also don't have many friends here any more. In fact, I only really know one person still in Zambia - one of my childhood friends who is now a law professor at the University. In fact, very little about Lusaka is how I remember it at all. There are far fewer potholes. There are malls. There are fast food restaurants and chain clothing stores and coffee shops selling chocolate cake and bagels! (My childhood self had to be indulged) So.... yeah... its a little "strange" to say that coming back to Zambia felt like coming home.

But it did.

And it felt good.

In fact, it smelled like "home" ... or at least, the smell I associate with feelings of home (In case you were wondering: scorched, burnt earth sunshine, and cooking fires ... which, I'm told, is also what Kenya smells like).

But Zambia isn't "home." At least not in the permanent sense. Zambia is one of the many "homes" I have been fortunate to have over the course of my life. And while it was nice ... great... wonderful, in fact, to finally say "I grew up here," going back to Zambia allowed me to see just how far I've come. To see just how much I've grown up.

Its good to look back - to go back - but life is about moving forward. And that's what I'm going to do now.

(written August 16th, 2011).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Life Happened

By all accounts (or at least by the account of this blog), I should be in Togo. I should be participating in Pre-Service Training with roughly 30 other "green" Peace Corps Togo Volunteers. I should be learning a new culture, an African language (or two), and I should being staying with a host family. I should be more uncomfortable yet more engaged in day to day activity than at any other point in my life. And, if my stint in Peace Corps Niger taught me anything, I should be missing home more than I ever imagined possible.

Instead, life happened.

When I say this, I'm really ripping off a famous quote by a wise individual who once said:
"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

On June 1st, I should have been flying to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Pre-Service Staging.
Instead, I was thoroughly enjoying my first day at work.

It is both strange and beautiful the way life works out sometimes.

When I left Nigeria in mid-April, I was going through a rather strange emotional and personal crisis. I spent 3 weeks with my family in the UK trying to make sense of my some-what failed Nigerian adventure and well as my disastrous definitely failed relationship and, perhaps somewhat foolishly, I linked my unhappiness with one to my misery with the other and decided that, well, maybe Africa wasn't for me anymore. Maybe I couldn't handle 2 1/2 years in Togo. Maybe I was ready to move back to the US. Maybe I was ready to stay in one place for more than a few months. Maybe I was ready to maintain solid, face-to-face friendships/ relationships. Maybe I was ready to start paying off my mountain of student debt. Maybe I was ready to find a "real" job. And maybe, in order to do that, I was willing to (temporarily) give up international development work. Maybe I was ready to become a teacher instead.

It was extremely difficult to give up my Peace Corps placement in Togo. In fact, there are few things I can think of in my life to-date that have warranted more gut-wrenching, hand-wringing, deep-thought, advice-seeking, counseling, and tears.

But I did it.

And it was hard. So hard. But definitely, definitely worth it.

After my soul-searching stay in the UK, I returned to Monterey with the intention of changing my life. I was going to find a place to live in California, get a job in the education field, and win my ex-boyfriend back. I was going to be a new person.

One short week after my return, I was offered a position at a wonderful non-profit organization in Washington DC with which I would be heavily involved in international development. And although I would be based in DC, I would be traveling (on occasion) to various African countries. Needless to say, I accepted. One week later, I moved to Washington DC. As a some-what important side-bar, my ex-boyfriend informed me that he would rather be with the "other" woman and, as such, couldn't be "won back." Although I was devastated, in the long-run, I'm thankful for small mercies.

So here I am. In Washington DC. With a real job. Working for an organization for whom I have a great deal of respect. I love the city, I love my new house, and I love my job. In fact, I have never been happier.

I will still keep this blog as, periodically, I will still be in Africa.

In fact, in 2 weeks, I'll be in Rwanda.

Stay tuned!

And life... thanks for keeping me on my toes.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bag Minus Cat

Since the proverbial cat is out of the figurative bag, I thought I'd share with the blogging world that my time in Nigeria is about to come to an end .... almost a full month ahead of schedule.

As readers of this blog may have realized, things here in Nigeria have been less-than-perfect. Of course, having lived in Africa for a large portion of my life, I realize that, as a continent, things seem to be generally less-than-perfect here and, as my heart seems to be set on working in and for Africa, I have come to accept the current state of things for better or worse.

However, during my stay in Nigeria I have realized that even someone as optimistic and flexible as myself has their limit, their breaking point, if you will;  mine just so happens to come at a unique three-way junction between "lack of respect," "lack of cooperation,"  and "extreme financial cost." It seems that, personally speaking, at this junction a question arises: "What is the point?" - To which my answer, in this case, happens to be "There is none."

It was about that time that I began the arduous task of changing my flight out of Nigeria which is perhaps the most complicated flight-related task I have ever embarked upon. ** For a sidebar story about this particular adventure, please see italics below **

However, for as frustrating as this process has been - both being in Nigeria and trying to find a way out- it has been a blessing to have 3 companions to share the burden with me. More importantly, it reinforces my decision to leave ahead of schedule when all 3 of my companions, having reached similar conclusions about our time here, have made the decision to leave with me. As one of my FM Scouts colleagues said : "This wasn't a decision that was entered into lightly" but, having made the decision, I stand by it and I am happy to have others - especially those I respect - standing with me.

It is also worth saying that, despite my disappointment with the Nigerian organization that first brought us to this country, I have been impressed by the professionalism of many other organizations here as well as the extreme entrepreneurial spirit of the Nigerian people. To be certain, there are good and bad people everywhere in the world and Nigeria is no exception. However, I am lucky enough to have met more good than bad people here and I will leave this experience having learned a great deal - about entrepreneurship, Nigeria, Africa and, of course, myself. I'm sure it will be several weeks (possibly months) after my departure before I'm able to fully process everything that has happened; I'll be sure to keep my blog updated as my thoughts progress.

Finally, in order to make the most out of a less-than-perfect situation, I have decided to spend a few more weeks on this side of the world with my family and friends in the U.K. before returning to the US on May 3rd. Ultimately, I think the extra time on American soil will be the best thing for me and will (hopefully) allow me to better prepare for my up-coming 27-month Peace Corps assignment in Togo which begins June 2nd.

Here's lookin' at you, Nigeria.

In a few days, I will be driving straight instead of exiting right...
 *Sigh of happiness*

**** Transportation/ Flight Drama Side-Bar ****

Since phones in Nigeria are pay-as-you-go, I gave my poor mother the sad task of calling the airline to re-schedule my departure. Unfortunately, this particular airline has an antiquated, anti-user system which requires an agent to submit a proposed flight change as a request to a supervisor which takes 24 hours to approve. Of course, to make matters worse, only one proposed flight change can be submitted at a time so in a situation such as mine when a customer would like to explore all of their options before making a decision, there is a great deal of headache-inducing red-tape to get through. And, of course, the matter of choosing a flight out of the country was further complicated by the impending elections. In an example of "great planning" by the airlines, flights were still scheduled to arrive and depart from Nigeria despite the fact that, due to the anti movement laws, no one can get to the airport.  During this process, my mom spoke to no less than 4 different agents on my behalf only 1 of whom was even vague sympathetic of the difficulty of the situation. Needless to say, the sheer amount of time required to resolve this issue over the phone could not have been accomplished from Nigeria as, like I said, all phones are pay-as-you-go and I would have spent a fortune purchasing phone credit just to ask for the help of an airline to whom I have already paid a rather generous sum of money. (Thanks, Mom.)

Finally, my mother managed to secure a proposed departure date! Horray! But, when she tried to pay for the cost of the flight changes using a credit card, the agent informed her that, because the passenger (me) was originating in Nigeria, the airline will not accept a credit card over the phone. My mother calmly explained that she was an American citizen using an American credit card and that, given the great technological advances of our country, paying by credit card over the phone should not be a complicated affair. In turn, the agent calmly informed my mother that I would have to pay by credit card myself, in Nigeria, in person at the airline's airport location so that an airline agent could check my passport to ensure that I was the owner of the credit card. My mother informed the agent that I had expressed concern over my ability to use a credit card in Nigeria as it is a cash-based society and credit cards are not accepted anywhere. The agent informed my mother that "of course" the airline accepts credit cards, even in Nigeria... provided, of course, that I can produce identification that proves I am the credit card holder. ...

So, after finding a break in my work to make a secret escape, I paid the $50 (round-trip) cab fare to get to the airport to personally pay for the changes to my flight in-person with my personal identification and my personal credit card. When I got to the airport, there were 3 agents in the airline's office only 2 of whom were actually helping customers... none of whom were moving at a reasonably brisk pace. During the almost 45-minute wait, I watched the representatives tell 4 of the 6 customers in front of me that they would have to call the customer service number to get assistance solving their respective problems. I assumed they must have been making extremely complicated requests.

I was finally assisted by a representative who slowly looked up my flight information. It is worth mentioning that she never once, through this entire process, asked for any kind of identification. She slowly read all the notes in her computer system about my unique situation (apparently there were a lot) and then she slowly asked me what I needed. I told her I needed to pay for the changes to my flight.

"Of course." she said, re-reading the notes in the computer system "Leaving April 2nd (2 days from the current date)?"
"No" I replied. "As April 2nd is an election day, I'm afraid the roads will be closed and I'll miss my flight. I would like to leave Monday, April 11th."
"Oh I see." said the representative. "In that case, you will have to go home, call the airline customer service number and ask them to change the date of your flight in the computer system and then come back here to pay for it"
"But you have my file open on the computer in front of you. Can you just change it for me?" I asked, feeling panicked at the thought of having to call the airline customer service number from my Nigerian cell phone... and having to part with another $50 in cab fare to return to the airport.
"No, I can't." the agent replied without much feeling
"But why not?" I asked...panic setting in.
"I can't. You have to call the number"
"Please..." I begged "I just need you to change the date from April 2nd to April 11th."
"Just call the number." she replied. "They can help you there. Then you can come back and pay for the flight tomorrow. Or when you come to the airport you can pay the day of your departure"
"But I don't understand why you can't help me here. All I want to do is pay for my flight and get out of this country" I whimpered... and, without realizing it, I began to cry. I hardly ever cry... least of all in situations where one is required to be polite and maintain some form of professionalism or dignity. Shameful, I know but somehow it convinced her I wasn't a threat,
"Oh no! Please don't cry." she said handing me a tissue "Here... look... I'm looking up the new information right now. Yes, it looks like we have openings on the flight leaving on April 11th. Give me just a moment and I'll change it in the system."
5 minutes later, my flight had been changed from April 2nd to April 11th.
.... and then the representative turned to me and said "You can pay for the changes in your ticket now. However, we do not accept credit cards and you'll have to pay in cash. Luckily, you can pay in either Naira (Nigerian currency - current exchange rate = 156 Niara to 1 USD) or in US Dollars"
I laughed to myself as I thought about the "helpful" airline representative who had assured my mother that "of course" they accepted credit cards .... and then I stopped laughing when I had to pay the $838 fee to change my flight ... in USD.... Damn.

And, wouldn't you know it, the airline representative had the nerve to charge me a $50 "in-person service fee."

This country has a serious issue with customer service.

And I am counting the days until my happy departure.


Democracy... Now?

It's been all over the news - at least its been all over BBC (which is just about the only news I get): Nigeria has managed to botch its elections. Well, maybe "botch" is too strong of a word.... perhaps "delay" is more appropriate since that's what is technically happening right now.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the first round of elections - the Legislative Election - was supposed to happen this past Saturday, April 2nd and, in order to prevent any election violence, the Nigerian government order a strict movement ban which required everyone to stay indoors unless they were going to cast their vote. However, around noon on Saturday, after half of the country had already showed up to the polls to exercise their democratic right, the election authority -INEC - realized that half of the polling stations didn't have enough ballots for all of the voters and quickly announced via radio and television that they were postponing elections until the following Monday (April 4th). The government, in turn, announced around 3pm that the movement ban had been lifted for Saturday but issued a new ban for Monday's anticipated election. For people without access to TV or radio, word of the failed attempt at Legislative Elections spread like wild fire through the modern communication marvel of text message. Of course, during this time, opposing political parties took the election delay as a great opportunity to accuse one another of rigging the election... despite the fact that the postponement is really an opportunity for INEC to make sure each Nigerian is actually able to cast their vote.

 In any case, Sunday afternoon rolled around and INEC realized that there was no way to furnish all of Nigeria's polling stations with ballots by Monday morning and so they yet again postponed the elections until the following Saturday (April 9th). Of course, this was the date originally reserved for the much-anticipated Presidential Election which now means that Nigerians will have to vote for their President the next Saturday - April 16th. As this was the date originally reserved for the Gubernatorial Elections, yet another postponement has been ordered and now the Gubernatorial Elections will take place on April 23rd.

This morning, INEC announced that, despite working frantically to distribute ballots to all the polling stations by Saturday, they are going to be unable to reach at least 13% of the electoral districts and thus, for those electoral districts, elections will be postponed yet again. No word yet on which specific districts will have to hold off on voting.... no word on when they might actually get to vote. (See BBC article) *Insert sad shake of the head here *

In the past week, Jega, the head of INEC, has been the butt of many a joke and in fact there have been several rude songs created using his name in rather unfortunate ways. To make matters worse, there has been a veritable storm of text messaging activity around Nigeria and many rumors have been started, perpetuated, and transmitted this way including the idea that elections will not take place at all this month and that INEC is actually working for Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP in order to rig the elections. The current governor of Lagos - Babatunde Fashola - released a statement begging Nigerians to stop texting "news" to one another without first confirming from "reliable news sources" that it is, in fact, news.

I must say that, despite what CNN might want you to believe back home, Nigeria, or at least Lagos has not "erupted in violence." I saw an article on-line that claimed, in so many words, that all of Lagos was "rioting" and I cannot express how false this is. There is no rioting. None. Perhaps there have been a few scuffles here and there but, for the most part, Nigerians aren't really angry about the delayed elections. In fact, I've seen many Nigerians get more heated about far less important things... like office keys, for example.

In discussing the flawed electoral system with Nigerians, it has been revealed that Nigerians must re-register to vote every single year. Furthermore, if Nigerians move (which happens a lot), apparently they aren't allowed to re-register for a voting district closer to their current location; they must instead travel back to the same place where they first registered to vote. Every single year - to register. Every single election - to vote. And when delays such as this happen, people become less and less enthusiastic about participating.

Given all of these issues, the word I would choose to describe the mood around Nigeria is "despondent." Nigerians have yet to have a decent election free from errors or corruption and, sadly, this time, despite efforts to the contrary, seems to be nothing new.

As an American, I can acknowledge that our own electoral system is less-than-perfect but, when compared to the Nigerian system, I am thankful that I live in a country where, as an individual, voting is as easy as (American) pie. I can comfortably vote in close proximity to where ever I currently live. I can register by mail, in person at the DMV, or at any number of government offices. I only have to re-register if I've changed addresses, names, or political parties. I can vote by walking into an air conditioned building, waiting in a short line, and pressing buttons on a fancy TV/ computer screen and then, once I'm finished, the computer will ask me at least twice if I'm absolutely certain of the choices I'm making. What a piece of cake (pie)! ... Especially considering that the alternative is, essentially, the polar opposite of everything I just said (wrote). And still, to the amazement of the world, only a mighty 30% of voting-age Americans bother to participate in their own democracy. *Insert even sadder shake of the head*

In closing, I'd like to leave you with a nifty little Nigerian election map that I borrowed (stole) from the BBC. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm On A Boat

A few weekends ago, Christine received an invitation on behalf of all four of us "Americans" to enjoy a Saturday afternoon "get-away" at the Lagos Yatch Club. Since none of us are really the "yatch club" type, we were a little reluctant to go but, when faced with the alternative of doing nothing all day at the apartment, we half-heartedly called a cab. Little did we know, "Lagos Yatch Club" is actually code for "private villa on an island in the Lagos Lagoon" ....

We showed up at the Yatch Club and looked around with disappointment; hardly any one was around and, those who were around didn't seem that engaged in anything. On the plus side, there was a bar and, with a bar, there is always the potential to drink some excitement into any given situation. Our host arrived in a white polo shirt, white shorts and boat shoes and said "Lets go for a ride on my boat." We got into his boat - a speedboat, mind you - and prepared ourselves for a short jaunt around the bay. Hence my surprise when the boat sped past the bay, past the cargo ships, and into the lagoon where small fishing villages and palm trees took turns hugging the water. I thought maybe we were being taken on a silent tour of Lagos water ways...

Lagos Island from the water

A speed boat rushes past a fishing village

A random pier in the middle of nowhere

In true African style, a full family can fit on an ATV

A kind little cooler courier - working on the weekends to pay his school

And then the boat stopped, at a random pier in the middle of no where. We got off the boat and followed the children down a well-worn dirt path through the palm trees. I asked them where we were going and they pointed into the trees - and, seeing nothing but trees, I assumed we were visiting a bar-b-que pit for a hidden beach picnic. And then, just like that, the trees parted and there was a row of private, thatched beach villas.

Beyond the pool, the Atlantic Ocean

A small piece of thatched paradise

Children playing near an abandoned fishing boat
(If you're wondering what those clear-ish-white spots are on the ground...
those would be plastic bottles that have washed up on the beach)

Looking over fences to the shipwreck in the distance

At the kind expense of our host, we enjoyed a traditional Nigerian lunch of jolof rice and snails accompanied by several bottles of French Champagne while we listened to some R&B rap music. It was such a wonderful change from Lagos: peaceful and quiet, no traffic, fresh, cool air....a pool.... and we felt totally relaxed.

Then, half an hour later, the party arrived on an ATV from a neighboring villa. ... And that's when we got to see another side of Nigerian culture: how marriages really work among the too-rich-and-almost-famous.

Lucky for us, we had to be home before sundown.

Fishing with the cargo ships at sun set

Another sinking ship... I see a trend

Cargo ships in the setting sun

Political Posters - With a Side of Information

It's election season in Nigeria and, as political candidates rush to assure voters of their promise and potential, I've enjoyed taking pictures of the many campaign posters and billboards all around town. However, in order to understand the pictures I've been taking, I've also been asking questions, listening to informal political discussions, and doing my own minor research on the current Nigerian political race. Here's what I've found so far:

1. Babatunde Raji Fashola - also known as "BRF" - is the current Governor of Lagos State and is running for re-election. Unlike a lot of the politicians in Nigeria, Fashola is beloved by the people as he has actually made good on many of the promises from his first campaign. He's actively working to improve the local transportation networks through both extensive road repairs and the construction of a new light rail system. He is also credited with launching a new line of big red (and blue) buses with specially dedicated lanes and, even though these are official called "Lagbus"es, everyone I've talked to calls them the "BRF Buses." Not surprisingly, Fashola uses the sides of these buses as prime real estate for his re election campaign posters.

Fun Fact: the Nigerian name "Babatunde" means "his father has died" and is given to children whose father dies while his mother is still pregnant. Looking around at the campaign posters, I've actually been quite surprised at just how many "Babatunde"s are in politics.

A BRF Bus with a BRF Poster

When we first arrived in Lagos, walls looked like this....
2. Because many Nigerians don't own a TV, the majority of political campaigning seems to be done by print either in the newspaper or through billboards and posters. Funnily enough, the politicians alternate between posters where they're pictured in "traditional" dress and posters where they appear in a western-style suit and tie. Although it isn't zoomed in, the picture at the left is a pretty good representation of this need to appear as both modern (read: westernized) and traditional (read: Nigerian).

2 (b). There doesn't really seem to be a strategy to the way in which posters are pasted around town other than sheer volume. The picture below shows no less than 14 identical posters of Governor Fashola side-by-side. I'm not entirely sure if this is a proven strategy... perhaps it appeals to the sub-conscious.

.... Now, days before the election, walls in Lagos look like this.

Endless Fashola... under an overpass

3.   Nigeria is a relatively new democracy and this upcoming election will be third election held since the last military regime was over thrown in 1999. The current "ruling party" (for want of a better term) is the PDP (People's Democratic Party) which is represented by the symbol of a red, green, and white umbrella. (Yes, an umbrella. ... Like donkeys and elephants are really any better). According to some of the Nigerians I've spoken to, the PDP rigged the last election and, as such, many are suspicious they'll do the same again. It is worth noting that the current President Goodluck Jonathan belongs to the PDP although he wasn't exactly elected as he became President when the former, elected President Umaru Yar'adua died last year.

The other main political party in Nigeria is the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) and their symbol is a hand holding onto a traditional Nigerian broom (which, to most Americans, probably looks like a pile of twigs) - once you know what it is, its not hard to imagine that this symbolizes "cleaning up" the Nigerian political system.

An ACN banner flying from an electricity pole

Govenor Fashola is an ACN candidate and is, by far, the most prominent (and popular) person on the party's ticket. It is my sense (although I'm not entirely sure) that many of the other ACN candidates will be riding on Fashola's popularity to try and secure a majority in the National Assembly. The ACN candidate for President - Mr. Nuhu Ribadu - is the former govenor of Sokoto State (near the national capital - Abuja) and is well-known for his participation in anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria. Although he seems to be well-supported by many of Nigeria's youth (especially the one's with some education behind them), I don't think he has enough wide-spread popularity to out-shine Goodluck Jonathan. In fact, for all the whispers about his political party, Goodluck seems like a tough man to beat.

Although there are many political parties in Nigeria, the PDP and ACN seem to take up the majority of political discourse with one exception: Muhammadu Buhari.

4. Running on the CPC (Conscious People's Congress) party ticket, Muhammadu Buhari wants to be President of Nigeria. For those of you who are perhaps not very well-versed in Nigerian history, allow me to explain why this is strange. Buhari has been a politics a long time - under the oppresive military regime of Obasanjo in the mid 1970's he was a "minister," after a coup he became head of the armed forces and then, after yet another coup, he became President ("Head of State") during his very own oppressive, corrupt military regime in the mid 1980's. As if Nigerians could forget all of this and be persuaded to elect him democratically, Buhari ran for President in 2003. However, his platform was that of "extreme, radical Islam" and, if elected, he promised to ensure that Nigeria became an official "Arab State." As you can imagine, in a country where 50% of the population is not Muslim, this didn't go over well and, thankfully, he was not elected.

This time around, Buhari is taking a slightly more balanced approach. Although he is still clinging strongly to his Islamic ideals, he has picked a running mate - Tunde Bukare- who is Christian. Bravo. The hiccup comes, however, when it is discovered that Bukare is himself an extremely controversial Pentecostal minister who often appears on television and says strange things. And, of course, I suppose we shouldn't consider it odd that, although Bukare is part of a presidential race in Nigeria, he lives in a multi-million dollar estate in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maybe I'm imagining things, but I think Buhari actually
looks as crazy as he sounds.

Buhari Poster on a rusted shack in Agege

5. In order to avoid the unrest and violence that so often seems to mar elections on this side of the world, there is a fairly strict law in effect that bans the use or operation of any transportation systems between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm on election days. Luckily, Nigerians should be registered to vote at a polling station within walking distance of their homes so this (hopefully) won't effect voter turnout. It will, however, effect our ability to leave our apartment and for the next 2 Saturdays - April 2nd (National Assembly Elections) and April 9th (Presidential Elections) - we will sadly be trapped in our little apartment in the middle of the Nigerian semi-ghetto. Still, it has been interesting to see democracy in action in a country where democracy is still a fairly new idea.

I have been told by multiple Nigerians that I have nothing to worry about and that elections will come and go without violence. However, these same Nigerians have also told me that its "probably better to stay inside all weekend just to be safe." Although I am not personally worried about my safety, I am worried about my mental sanity if I have to spend 2 entire weekends trapped inside the four walls of an apartment with limited electricity, no kerosene (with which to cook), and a small selection of frustrated Americans.

Lets hope, for everyone's sake, that the election passes without incident, that Nigerians are given a free and fair election, and that I'll get to leave the apartment at least once this weekend.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Number 4

Yesterday, the "girls"and I decided to take the afternoon and do something totally unrelated to Nigeria or Small Business Development (in emerging markets) and so we went to the large mall / cineplex in Victoria Island - the posh side of Lagos - and, for a grand total of $5.00, took in a c-rated American movie

Of course, I'll be one of the first to admit that there have been few good movies out in theatres lately but this particular gem - "I Am Number 4" - was especially feeble. Just in case any of you are still keen on seeing it, I'll spare you the details. However, I will say that this "cinematic masterpiece" is about a handsome American teenager who is really an alien warrior sent from another planet to save the earth from destruction by an especially ugly group of other aliens called "Morgs." Along the way, he saves a nerd from a school bully and falls in-love with an "artsy" girl who is really just another cheerleader. And, of course, he saves the world without disturbing his chiseled, out-of-a-catalogue good looks.

Um... yeah. Like I said, c-rated. At best.

But, despite the poor quality of the story-line and the laughable acting, seeing "I Am Number 4" certainly provided an important and necessary distraction from the small (and sometimes large) frustrations of day-to-day life in a country and culture that aren't ours.

One line from the movie's exceptionally cheesy dialogue that I not-so-secretly liked was as follows:

"A place is only as good as the people you know in it."

And I found it to be very fitting. Lagos, for all its pollution and traffic and corruption really isn't as bad as people make it out to be... and I believe this to be true because at the heart of this city, there are still a few decent people who have treated me well and who will not be forgotten.

In any case, something as simple as seeing a movie, even a bad movie, was enough to refresh our spirits and brace us for the week ahead which will, somewhat-unfortunately, include elections. Here's hoping the Nigerian people are allowed fair and equal opportunity to participate in their country's elections ... here's hoping that this alone will be enough to avoid violence in the days to come.

Wish us luck.