Tuesday, 25 October 2011

So here are a few blogs in one...

I have been woefully absent from the blogosphere with nothing to blame but life getting in the way of me talking about life. I thought I'd make up for it by spewing my experiences all in one go; a bid to appease the masses (or the few, if I must be realistic).

On driving

It goes without saying that I don't drive in Port Harcourt. What with the safety issues that seem to govern everyone's thoughts, the idea that I should be gallivanting around the city alone in a small but incredibly cute imported car is...well, fantasy. So I gallop around town in a Prado with a driver and a MoPol, and I try not to think wistfully about my like-new smoke colored sedan sitting in London. 

Still, I wouldn't actually want to drive in PH. People are on a special breed of crack here and the worst offender is my driver. Now I actually like Mr. G and he's a funny man when he wants to be. He works late whenever I do without complaining, he knows the city like the back of his hand, and he takes my deadlines as if they were gospel commandments. 

Case in point, I was traveling to Abuja and I was woefully late for my flight. I had an hour to travel what usually takes an hour and a half in no traffic, and it was 7am rush hour. I mentioned this to Mr. G and he said, "Don't worry Madam, I'll get you there." How was I supposed to know that this was an ominous sign? In the movies, the sky would have darkened and lightening would have lit up the space behind him. But in real life, I just took it as a very eager driver and took no warning. 

Umm. Thus began the most frightening one hour of my life. Mr. G and the MoPol seemed to have teamed up to cause as much havoc on PH streets as possible. His usually placid face was screwed in deep sudoku-like concentration as he performed illegal maneuvers I would never have thought of.

I'm talking driving directly in the face of on-coming traffic, only to veer in line at the last second. I'm talking climbing the sidewalk and horning for pedestrians to move out the way, the idiots. He formed a third lane on a two lane road, he drove in the mud off the paved road, he played chicken with a lorry. And the MoPol of course obliged him by screaming "Hey you! Your mamma no born you well, come on get out of this place!" and other such epitaphs out the window.

We made it to the airport on time. The plane was delayed. I had lost about 6 months off my life expectancy. Mr. G was grinning and looking at me like "See? I told you we would make it." A part of me was mortified because I had just become that a*whole everyone screams about on the road. Big jeep, tinted windows, acting like my father built the road (which is slightly ironic, but more on that later), and oh, forgive us wee folk for being born.

Oh well, I suppose I should stop bellyaching and be glad I have a driver willing to break rules in my favor. Better to be in the jeep than shouting at it as it whooshes by me, right?

And don't for a second think PH is the only place with such driving. Up until now, in Lagos I stay in Ikoye, and in Abuja I don't move around till dark, so I thought bad driving was limited to PH. More fool me. 

In Abuja, I met up with a friend of mine from uni, Big D. He was running errands all over the city and I tagged along just to hang out with him. Sitting in the front seat, for the first time I wondered at the violent name "shotgun". This boy made Mr. G look like a 65 year old granny, and worse was he was driving a Corolla, not even a huge jeep to scare people away. We'd get to an intersection and a car would want to cross over. Big D would open his window and scream "My guy, I did not wake up this morning to allow you to commit such foolishness! No way! You're not entering here!!" Then he'd proceed to swerve his car around the front of the oncoming car and speed off. Keep in mind that this puts me, little ol' Lolo, at the closest point to the oncoming bumper. So if anything goes wrong, Big D ain't feeling it. I spent the whole trip squeaking and squealing and calling on "my God, my God, My GOOOOOOOD!" His friends in the back seat snickered the whole time and of course I was glad I could provide amusement.

So yes. I shall just bide my time in the back seat, safely ensconced in a seat belt and practice my tried and true method. If I just close my eyes and pray the whole way, then I don't see all the near misses that we avoid. And if one of them doesn't actually miss, then I can die praying and that counts for something.

On NYSC Registration

I actually don't want to talk about this because it really is entirely my fault. As it stands I probably won't be able to begin my NYSC this November because I haven't successfully registered. A lot of the things I need, I don't have and other things they are being so ornery about. I hope everyone is aware of what they need, and if not, let me do a simple public service announcement:

1. High school diploma
2. Original high school transcript
3. Undergraduate diploma
4. Original transcript
5. Nigerian passport

As much trouble as I went through with the high school transcript (it was 6 years ago, they lock it up in a vault and it has to be requested for in person. I'm in Nigeria, they're in Maryland) it turns out to be the Nigerian passport that holds me up. I applied for one and it got lost by FedEx. Yes, this actually happens, or at least it actually happens to me. Now, I have to wait for a police report before I can file for a new one. There might still be a problem because all the times I traveled to and from Naij, I did it with a visa. Long story short, the passport has to show you leaving Nigeria for school, and returning into Nigeria after school. So we're negotiating with the people now because if that holds then I'm probably never going to be allowed to serve. 

Anyway, for the sake of my sanity, I've put that whole thing on pause for now. The original registration day took about 5 hours and I got sunstroke. My advice for those going for the March registration:

1. Go at least three days before the deadline. If you leave it later than that, might as well bring comfy shoes because you will be there a while. There are only two people working the verification office and they move slower the more people are in line.

2. Have at least three copies of EVERYTHING, even things you don't think you need copies of. 

3. You'll be asked to go to several different rooms to 'prepare your form'. If you want to leave sometime this decade, make eye contact with one of the staff doing the forms. Choose someone sitting down, because they're invariably in a better mood than those forced to stand. Speak to them, "Aunty, I'm next-o. Can you help me?" Even if the line in front of someone else frees up first, it's probably best to wait for the one you connected with. Usually, there's something filled in wrong, there's a form missing, there's a number you have to look up, etc. A nice person will walk you through all this until you finish. But I saw lots of people being told to step out of line and sort themselves out, only to have to wait their turn all over again.

4. Be patient and VERY polite. If you're in any way rude or imply that they are less than competent, they'll simply make you wait until they serve EVERYBODY else. I saw this happen and it wasn't pretty.

If this is done, it should be a relatively quick process. If you do it at a time without crowds, it can be finished in 30 minutes or less.

I sincerely hope you have better luck than me.

On Friends

So I've finally managed to make friends, and like a big lame-o I'm so excited. It feels just like every time I've moved to a new city and I start to panic wondering how long it will be before I hit my stride. I work best with a small group of goods friends and a large group of acquaintances. I like knowing what I'm doing this weekend, who I'm doing it with, and who I'm likely to run into. I like having a social calendar (yes, an actual calendar on my BB marked 'social') and being incredibly busy all the time.

So far, I've chronicled my semi-frustration with having all my friends in other places and far from me. I love hanging with my sis and my cus and actually we've all come closer together so no complaints. But like a missing limb that seems to throb (so I hear) I've been missing 'friends'.
My one friend, Lonely Boy (so called because he really was lonely, and I've been gorging on the new season of Gossip Girl) and I have made a real go at things and I truly enjoy his company. Still, last weekend I finally called a cousin of my friend who's a PH girl, Ms Tee. We met and actually had a nice time at a makeup launch party (ding ding ding! social diary!) then went for dinner at Blue Elephant. A side note about Blue Elephant, why on earth is it as popular as it is? The food is only slightly better than the service which is awful. The decor includes plastic chairs and beach umbrellas and bold-as-hell rats. The only thing they have going for it is the ice cream cake and yes, even I will admit that it's pretty good. 

Still, Blue Elephant seems to be the jewel of GRA so we went and I called Lonely Boy to join us. Imagine my surprise when he walks in with his older brother and his friend who's just come to town. This guy happens to be a friend of mine's brother and also went to high school with Ms Tee. Anyone knows that when introductions become as complicated as all this, it's bound to be a great mix. And it was. We sat in Blue Elephant for a good 4 hours gisting about everything and nothing. I got tipsy for the first time in over a month (one glass of white wine, honestly I'm such a lightweight) and laughed harder than I have in nearly as long.

So like I said, lame-o that I am, I'm already taking this as a sign of good things to come. We're planning a get together this weekend to hang and meet other people, and who knows? My plans for a social club might actually take off.

So that's me in a nutshell. Things aren't exactly as I planned but they're working out anyway. 

And now, let me stop wasting my employer's time and actually get back to work!


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

So I'm dreaming BIG

I consider myself a very social person. Bar the past six months when I became a hermit (not proud of it, but it was hard hanging around people that just seemed to have their lives together...so I didn't), you can always count on me to be gregarious and looking for the next adventure. I remember, for example deciding spur of the moment to travel to DC with my then future bf to see Obama get inaugurated. Don't be fooled, this was nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds. Imagine waking up at  3am, walking 2 miles to the muddy field, waiting in the below freezing temperatures for 6 hours, all to witness a 20 minute speech. Still it was fun (picture a wistful smile on my face). 

Anyway, the point is I'm up for anything, just let it be different, let it be entertaining, I'll be there. But in order to live that lifestyle, I have to be in that environment and PH is not that environment. It just isn't. I think I'm waking up to smell the coffee.

The problem is PH doesn't have a culture of going out. This is in part due to all the security risks of the past half decade, but even before that it wasn't really in the blood. PH is more a stay home and entertain yourself, visit your friends, go to a wedding, kiss your kids goodnight and go to sleep kind of a place. It doesn't have the work-hard-play-hard attitude of Lagos, or the too-much-money-let's-party vibe of Abuja. PH revolves around quiet gatherings, family, and 'occasions'. For example, you hear of a man above 24 in a nightclub and the first question is: What was he doing there? Doesn't he have a home to go to?

I went to Lagos last weekend and I could have died of envy. See my mates, working in banks, law firms, publishing houses, making bank, and living Lagos. We got together for a drink at Radisson Bleu, this bar in the Radisson hotel overlooking the lagoon. All around me were Buppies, wearing suits and cocktail dresses, jeans and ankara. We sipped drinks all night (I stuck to my beloved Chapman, double Campari thank you very much) and told hilarious stories and I met at least three interesting people. I was like fish in water after trying to survive on land...I'd been suffocating without even realizing it! Ok, that's a tad dramatic...

Either way I had an excellent time and sunk into a pensive state wondering if I made the right choice. What exactly do I have going for me in PH? How was I going to survive without outdoor bars with uber trendy French names? Que depression, followed closely by mild anxiety and acute ambivalence.

Then, I sort of snapped to attention. Who was I kidding? I'm not a Lagos babe. First of all, where would I work? I'm into construction. I want to build bridges and highways. I want to design whole new cities. I want to change the landscape. Exactly where in Lagos does that fit? Also, in construction, you keep crazy hours. During my internship, I worked 6.30am to 4pm daily. I had almost no social life but I loved every second of it. Well not every second - on more than one occasion I couldn't make it out of my car and into my house, so I'd park and fall asleep behind the wheel...for a solid 5 hours! Oh, also the pay was excellent so that definitely helped.

But, and it's a big one, I was forgetting the most important part: I love a challenge. Even more than I love being social. In Lagos, life would be fun and cool and full of laughs, but I'd just be a spectator, a participant. Now imagine if I could actually turn PH around. Make it a place where Buppies can actually find fun, instead of biding their time. Because make no mistake, there are tons of Buppies in PH. All the oil companies, law firms, banks, they employ them by the hundreds. But they go to work, go home, watch box set dvds of Game of Thrones, sleep, then repeat. It's up to me (lol, delusions of grandeur much?) to take them by the hand and say: Look, fun!

So I have dreams: Port Harcourt Social Club

A group of like minded people that meet once a month or so and do really fun things. I'm thinking weekend bbqs and pool parties, football tournaments, tennis matches, spa retreats, happy hours and of course, clubbing nights.

Also, let's think bigger. Why not have theatre performances, opera, gallery openings, etc? It could work, there just needs to be interest.

Right now, there's only one member, moi. But watch this space people. There's nothing I like more than a project.

If anyone would like to be part of PHSC (hmm, I might look for a cooler acronym for this) or know someone who would be perfect for it, then just let me know in the comments.

Till next time,


PS, if you're looking for fun, run Google in Pidgin. It's good for at least 5 minutes of smiles. Better yet, read the Bible in Pidgin. (John 1:1--From wen taim bigin na im di word dey, and di word dey wit God, and God kpa kpa Imsef na im bi di word.) Funny enough, after you get over the initial snickering, the Bible actually starts to make more sense. Go figure.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

So here are the things I need to learn...haggling

NB: Internet access isn't as accessible as I thought it would be. I'll have to make a more concerted effort to get my blogs out on time.

Things I need to learn to succeed in Nigeria:

1. How to Haggle

See, I have a completely different view of haggling. Not wrong, just different. For me, haggling is what you do whent the other person is obviously trying to cheat you, and you intend to pay no more than what the item is worth (if you're the buyer). Sounds simple right? One would assume.

However in my case, I don't automatically assume that the other person is trying to cheat me. If they quote a price that I actually find reasonable, I'm liable to just accept it.

Take my recent purchase of a car. I was in charge of buying a car for the house for anyone to use when they were around. So I did my research, tons of it, and visited dealerships looking for the perfect deal. I wanted a used car because frankly, I don't believe in new cars. I think their price tags outweigh their value.

Either way, I finally settled on a beautiful car: great brand, lots of add-ons, 3 yrs old, 10k miles, perfect service record...in other words, the holy grail of used cars. Did my research and got a good average price range for the model given the specs.

The price the dealer quoted me was within the range, though admittedly on the upper end. The car was in impeccable condition and suited my specific tastes (dark - not black - exterior, butter cream leather interior). Long story short, I gave him the asking price. To be fair, I got him to cover registration fees and throw in an extra three months warranty free.

Still when I came home, proud owner of a shiny new ---, my self-confessed aje-paco cousin was incredulous. How can you possibly not haggle? You actually paid sticker price?? Are you mad???

Haggling to her was a fact of life. Everyone is trying to cheat you. Everyone. That guy just walked away thinking you were the biggest idiot in town...and on and on.


In my view, if you set a price that's fair, I'll pay it. After all, we both need money, you probably have a family to feed, so what's my business?

Anyway this all came to a head last week when I was setting up my training contract with my future boss. I had a salary in mind, based on what my counterparts are making and what I need to live on. I actually thought it was a bit much, but it's what I'm worth.

Fast forward to a day before the meeting and I'm getting interview advice. When it comes to salary, they said, start with N---, calling a figure that I never dared think. Their mentality: your boss is definitely going to haggle and bring you down. No way is he going to pay you one kobo more than he absolutely has to, unless you fight for it.


So the whole time up to the meeting I was struggling with how to bring up that figure and still sound like a credible person. It's not easy.

Finally we begin the meeting and it lasts almost three hours, talking about every possible aspect of the job and my duties. Finally finally, oga goes to me: so what are you thinking about salary?

There I am hemming and hawing and blushing and clearing my throat and finally I manage to utter: N----

Dude doesn't even blink! He says, hmmm that sounds alright, but what do you need so much money for? Unfortunately I hadn't gotten this far in my head, I never expected to actually say the number. I go on about uncertain future, wanting to keep options open, etc etc. Finally he just makes a note, says he'll have to talk with his partners, and he'll get back to me.

I left feeling confused. Where was the haggling battle I had mentally prepared myself for? Now it's just to wait till he approves or comes back with a counter offer that will undoubtably be equal to or greater than what I originally wanted.

All I can say is Thank God! Another day passes without me having to expose this criminal weakness of mine to the world: not being able to haggle. How unforgivable in this unforgiving country.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

So how quickly does one learn arrogance?

I've been settling into my life here, very nicely actually.

I've been quiet for the past week because things have really been hectic. My parents run an NGO and this was the 10th year aniversary, so lots of pomp and lots of circumstance. Being around my parents is a non-stop carnival. There's always something going on, always a campaign, a meeting, an event, or as in last week's case, a charity ball.

It's an exciting kind of life and they enjoy it. I sort of go along for the ride, enjoying where I can, helping out in other places. My mom doesn't understand the concept of boredom. Some people say only boring people are bored. My mom says only lazy people are bored. So this past week, I have definitely NOT been bored.

But, my little sis and my cousin left over the weekend and for the first time I stayed behind. I'm so not used to that. And now I'm rambling over the house alone and it's hitting me for the first time: I've actually moved back.

It's been great so far but now the real life starts.

I won't start work at the construction company until my NYSC service actually starts, but that's a whole month away. I cannot continue to be aimless for another month. As much as I put a spin on things and say I 'took some time out' to 'think' and 'relax', we should call a spade a spade (really what else would you call it?) and admit that I was a jobless NFA. I didn't come all this way to sit around my house eating moi-moi and egg all day (it's been done).

So I've started work at the NGO, building a database for them. Really, would it kill someone to set up a laptop to take registration information? I spend my days deciphering illegible handwriting and trying not to laugh at the pretentious titles (Hon. Barr. Engr. Chief. Dr. Mrs. Janet Amadi. Really?), then put them all into an excel spreadsheet. Not exactly brain surgery, but it keeps me busy and it gives me pocket money.

What is slightly troubling is how quickly I seem to be, let's say, adapting to the Nigerian lifestyle. It's only natural, I suppose. When grown men call me Madam (on account of my parents) and open doors and fetch me tea at work, it's understandable to get a bit inflated, right?

Still I distinctly remember an incident of ridiculous arrogance. I was on a local flight that got delayed because one chief or another was insisting that his armed bodyguards be allowed on the plane. Like, really? Of course that wasn't happening, but trust him. This guy called every name from here to Bethlehem and eventually even got the guy running the airport to come down. Finally it was agreed that the guns would be stowed but the guards would come off first and be allowed to arm themselves before Oga descended. All of this took almost 45 minutes and we mere mortals had to suffer because we committed the crime of being so normal that no one wanted to kill us. I was so offended!

Fast forward to yesterday.

I was on my lunch break and needed to drop something off for my mom. After stating that I would be right back I ran in the house, ran my errand, then hopped back out. But wait, where was my Mopol (Mobile Policeman, a bodyguard really)? He'd gone to his room to drop something.

Imagine my anger. A whole me, waiting for this man to do what? Does he know my time is precious. We couldn't have waited for all of 10 minutes but by the time he came back, I was fuming. How dare he? Keep me waiting? Doesn't he know people are fighting for his job? What a nonsense idiot. And on and on.

And here it comes, the $6319.19 question (better know as the N1million question): Does he know who I am?

And just like that: Arrogant

Wow. And here I thought myself so different from everyone else. I don't sip that kool-aid. I'm modest and humble and apparently D'Nile is just a river in Egypt. In my defence, it was my lunch hour and I was starved. Still, though.

So I didn't say anything. Not because I was wrong. He would never have pulled that if it was someone more senior than me. But because I didn't want to open my mouth and start insulting like only a Nigerian can. If you've never witnessed this, I truly recommend it. No one can finish someone like a pissed of Nigerian.

Sigh. I wanted to settle in but I've really got to keep an eye on myself. Focus on the positive parts of being Naija, and see if I can leave that other ish behind.

We'll see...

Friday, 16 September 2011

So this is what I have to look forward to...


Everyone I've talked to about it gets a look on their face: equal parts terror, nostalgia, and gratefulness that they'll never have to go through that again. Kind of like the chicken pox.

I asked what at the time seemed a fairly innocent question: Tell me about your time at NYSC Camp.

What came out were enough horror stories to make me really reconsider the whole thing. So far I knew the basics of Camp:

1. You were locked away for three weeks in a poor excuse for a school with military men in charge of 'making something out of you'

2. You had to bathe outdoors because there were no bathrooms and you wouldn't use them if there were

3. You had rollcall at 5am daily and had to do numerous aerobic excercises including running a mile before the sun comes up

4. Disobedience was punished by simplistic but very demeaning physical feats including, but not limited to, frog-jump, pick-pin, kneeling, and more.

5. There was no electricity, no running water, no one to fetch water from the well for you, etc.

Of course there were more, but I thought I could handle this. But the worst was hearing the personalized experiences

"...we had to wake up at 2am and shower because the boys would come and shine their torches at us..."

"...they put us in one room with 50 bunk beds and no windows..."

"...I had to poo into a plastic bag because I didn't want to go outside at 3 in the morning..."

"...the mosquitoes were so large and vicious you could actually feel them land on you but you were too tired to care..."

"...there was only one gate out and in, and it was patrolled by the army men. If they caught you sneaking, they made you remove your clothes and march back to the dorm..."

"...the only way to get out was to paaaaaay, and I'm still paying..."


All of a sudden I'm really really thinking about this. Me that hasn't even paid my own phone bill, or cooked my own dinner, or done my own laundry in over six months...I have to do what?

Of course there are things I can do. I can ask to be posted to Lagos or Abuja which reputedly have much more camper friendly camps. But then I'll have to serve in Lagos or Abuja and that's not the point is it?

I want to serve in Port Harcourt. I've got a good training agreement with a great company here and if I'm looking for home this is the closest I'm going to get.

And also, there's a dare-devil side to me that, though usually dormant, still exists. It's the same side that pushed me to go free jumping some years back (though they had to threaten me with calling the fire department to get me to pull the cord). It's what pushes me to ride the biggest and baddest roller coasters once, even though I detest those metal monsters, just to say I've done it. It's the part that had me applying to Stanford,CA even though I knew no one there and I was terrified of being so far away from family. 

In this case, it's the part of me saying, Lolo, you have your whole life to be a spoiled aje-butter who gets whatever she wants from mummy and daddy. For three weeks, just suck it up.

And I will.

That said, my other tabs in Firefox read: battery powered water heater, tablets to make you constipated, portable mini airconditioner, mosquito net...

So this is me...

There are a few Big Questions usually posed to someone in my position...

Why? How do you feel? Are you ready? Why???

"My position" is simply that I've decided to move back to Nigeria and do my NYSC.

NYSC for those less knowledged is the Nigerian Youth Service Corp, or basically three weeks of boot camp followed by one year of indentured servitude.

So, WHY?

The simplest answer is that I was bored. After looking for jobs (we all know the story) and finding none, I thought to myself, better NYSC than another year of this.

The not so simple answer has to do with the title of the blog: Dropping Anchor

All my life I've moved around from home to home, city to city, country to country, even family to family. I've always loved that aspect of get-up-and-go in my life and I find it a talent that at any given time I can pack my life into three suitcases and leave with little more than a kiss on the cheek and a promise to 'keep in touch'.

But lately, the question where are you from always draws me up short. How to answer? Born in America, origins from Nigeria, childhood in Maryland, became an adult in London, close ties to NorCal, and now residing in the hicks of Weybridge (I do tend to exaggerate). So where exactly am I from???

By moving around so much, having very tenuous ties to places and people, I've sort of grown into this rootless, wandering thing. I notice that people get over me as quickly as I get over them. And suddenly, staring at my life in three suitcases doesn't seem anything other than pathetic. My biggest fear, if I don't find something to hold me down, I might just float away.

So, this year, Nigeria, is meant to be me dropping anchor, establishing roots, so I can finally have a place to call home. 

Not to sound all mushy and woe-is-me but it is about time I figure out once and for all if I can actually survive here.

I have a feeling there are others like me: I only visit, I don't speak the language, I can cook the food but only for others (I could live on frozen yogurt and bread if I had to), I barely recognize relatives (your face looks familiar but I forgot your name...), and I feel silly calling myself Nigerian when I'm nothing like others around me.

So this is my litmus test. Either I surface at the other end speaking rapid pigin and bargaining for tomatoes at Diobe Market, or...I skulk back to London (or DC, or SF) and live the way I actually know how.

And lucky you, you get to follow me as I find out.

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