Monday, October 18, 2010

Photos on the run

Hi Everyone,

I'm in Abuja now with 3 more days to go in Nigeria. Unfortunately, I had to bow out of our day-trip today due to some stomach trouble. It's not too bad - I just couldn't see myself bouncing around country roads for 5 hours today in the back seat of a van with nowhere to stop. I realized how tired out I've been when I woke up at 11:30 this morning thinking it was still the middle of the night.

Because we've spent so much time in the van going straight to schools and then straignt back to the hotel, it's been really hard to get any good photos. Nearly all of my photos have been out of the window of a moving van. Still, I thought I would share with you short photo diary of those few photos I've been able to capture along the way.

Zoot suit gangstas

Who knew the Eggman was Nigerian?

You can find Socrates' warnings about HIV written up in Plato's Republic.

Melons multiply rapidly when left to their own devices in the back seat.

I have nothing funny to say about these people. I just like the photo.

That's all for now - the rest of my photos, if usable, will require some significant editing in photoshop. Oh, but here's one more photo for Dave:

Wine in a can! Who knew?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kaduna Heeby Jeebies

Now I am in a small town called Kaduna north of Abuja. I have internet access that barely lasts a second at a time, so I’m not sure this posting will even work. I’m afraid I can’t post photos with the strength of this connection. I also can’t seem to log in to my email account, although I’m able to get to the blog site. So if you don’t get any emails from me over the next couple of days, it’s nothing personal.

Today we spent the day in a small town further north called Zaria visiting schools and talking to crowded halls of noisy students who appeared to not be listening at all. However, after the session was over they pressed close to us and asked us their questions individually, each and every one of them stunning me with the strength of their vision for their future. These students live far, far away from what we call comfort, with broken windows in their schools, toilets that don’t flush and have overflowed, and where the afternoon classroom temperature is 100 degrees. I could hardly stand delivering a two hour session under those conditions. I have the greatest respect for the teachers and students who endure it all day, every day. What is obvious is that despite the conditions, real learning is going on here.

I had a massive disappointment the other day. My friend Fanta (hi Fanta!!!) was going to drive from Cotonou, Benin to visit me in Lagos. I was out all day on tour around different schools and expected to see her when I got back to the hotel around 6, but she wasn’t there. It turns out she wasn’t able to cross the border into Nigeria without a 500,000 Naira bribe, which is about5 3,300 dollars. The other choice they gave her was to leave her own car and driver and make the rest of the journey in a taxi. Nigeria being the somewhat dangerous place it is, there was no way she was going to do that. She made the wise choice of returning to Cotonou, but both of us were so disappointed it turned out that way. So close yet so far away, so they say. The good thing is that Fanta is safe.

So right now I’m staying in a somewhat creepy hotel in Kaduna – safe but creepy. It’s the kind of place you can imagine spiders running around at night while you’re sleeping. I checked the bed carefully for bedbugs. We only have another night here and then we’ll be at the Hilton in Abuja, which is the most extravagant hotel in Nigeria. We spent a very short night there last night, and it was HEAVENLY. And now I’m in a town where guys are herding goats down the main road of town, and where I saw someone cramming live chickens into the truck of his Buick.

Just curious – is the Chilean minor story the only freakin thing on TV the world over? It’s the ONLY thing on TV here 24/7, and the ordeal ended two days ago!!

Ok, all, wish me a peaceful, bug-free night.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hi All! Sorry I accidentally lost my whole post from my day out and about in Johannesburg. I'll try to reconstruct it a little bit here. It was a great day in which I got to see some of the Soweto Township where people of all classes actually live, from the very wealthy, down to the poorest of the poor. It was the site of the 1976 riots which really set off the fight against Apartheid. I felt very privileged after a day walking (with a guide) around houses made of corrugated tin and scraps.

We were invited into one house that was about the size of Riley’s bedroom which housed a family of seven. How that’s possible, I don’t know, because the bed couldn’t have been big enough for 2 skinny people.

We also got to see Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu's houses. Amazingly, they're on the same street. What's the chance that two Nobel Peace Prize winners would come from the same street?

So, now I’m in Lagos, and it is a world apart from Johannesburg in terms of the standard of living. The hotel is kind of odd, but not a bad place. It’s just really basic, and made entirely of cement with tile floors, so everything anyone does in the building echos throughout the whole place. The racket that began around 5 a.m. woke me up and kept me wide awake until I had to get up. I took a cold, cold shower this morning because I could not figure out the water heater. And I’m really glad I’m taking anti-malarial medication, because there are some mosquitos seriously out to get me. Dave, my beloved mosquito magnet, where are you when I need you??

This morning I spoke to a classroom of med students at the University of Lagos about Public Health programs in the United States, how to choose a university, what to expect in a U.S. classroom and so on. This is what a lecture hall at the University of Lagos looks like:

After that, we amazingly had the afternoon free and we took an amazingly nauseating ride to a museum that was very run down, but which had amazing items from Nigeria’s pre-colonial days. All in all, it was amazing. And I was not allowed to take photos.

By the way, we are being escorted everywhere by a U.S. embassy driver in a fully reinforced bullet-proof van.

We also visited the EducationUSA office here in Lagos. The advisors at that office are the ones who organized the Lagos portion of our trip for us. Here is a photo of that.

And now, the most exciting part of the day…washing my panties and socks in the sink so I don’t have to pay $2 each to have them done by the hotel. Bye!!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Oh for goodness sake

I just worked really hard on a blog post and then somehow I lost it all before I posted it. It's gone!!!! Now it's too late to recreate it. I'm just too tired. However, here are a couple of things I saw today with no explanation whatsoever:

Also, here is a video of what a recruitment fair looks like. See if you can spot me:


Thursday, October 7, 2010


Hello family and friends! It's been another interesting two days in South Africa. This time I have photos for you!! So here we go. This is where I'm staying:

Yesterday we had the opportunity to go to a place called "The Cradle of Humankind", which is a World Heritage Site (that's a big deal - like a an official national landmark except on a global scale.) This is the home of the Sterkfontein Caves, which we got to walk through. They were incredible. My photos do them absolutely no justice, but here are a couple of them anyway:

The site is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world, largely because of their recent discovery of the only fully intact Australopithecus skeleton in the world. Australopithecus is one of our most early ancesters, and the skeleton is dated at about 3.5 million years old. Did we get to see it? Um, no. We had a nice dinner at the site in which we were able to hear a lecture by Dr. Ron Clarke, who oversees the excavations there, and who is super famous. I asked him what he sees for the future of the evolution of the human species. He said that our muscles are becoming atrophied because of lack of activity and this will eventually affect the human form. I showed him a few examples of my own atrophied muscles, which seemed to make him a little uncomfortable. What made me uncomfortable was this display in the museum:

Seriously, was that absolutely necessary? No wonder I couldn't sleep last night.

Finally, I want to share with you a photo I took at sunset last night. Apparently I got two close to the grass and a kind African worker ran up to me and shouted "NONONONOOOO! Snakes!" He scared the absolute crap out of me. There was actually no snake - he was just warning me not to wander into the grass. Anyway, I still managed to get this nice photo:

So that's it for today. I miss you all a lot!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Packs of rabid giraffes

Greetings from South Africa! I have been intending to post something since I got here on Sunday, but I there were several obstacles. The first was jet lag. I have been wicked tired. The second was time – there is a conspiracy to keep us busy from the crack of dawn until sundown each day. I had an hour off yesterday in which I fell into a deep sleep and had bad dreams about spiders and snakes. (Africa anxiety?) The third obstacle has been shear blondness. I haven’t been able to get an internet connection when everyone else could.( I was getting extremely mad, not so much at the bad internet connections, but with the fact that no matter how much I complained about it, Dave never showed up to fix it for me. ) Finally, a colleague pointed out to me that I had my wireless switched off. Ahem. Well, excuse me. I never owned a laptop before in which the wireless could switch off. That’s just idiotic. Who makes laptops like that?

So, I have enjoyed the past few days being completely and utterly isolated from the continent of Africa. The conference I am attending this week is at a resort/spa located way out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by an electric fence. If we wandered out, we would certainly be devoured by lions on a lonely country road. At least that’s what the conference organizer told us, so now she enjoys full participation in all conference events because attending a session is much preferable to being mauled by packs of rabid giraffes. The downside is that I’ve seen absolutely nothing of Africa so far, except a kind of bird walking around that someone told me is a “plevahhh”, which turned out to be a plever. I haven’t heard of that before, but I know my dad would photograph the crap out of them if he were here.

This resort is actually quite amazing. It is spread out over a very large estate, and has a colonial feel to it. As I write I’m enjoying a nice glass of red wine in the Library Bar, a beautiful room with wood floors and French doors thrown open onto the veranda where we look out onto a lighted fountain with plevahhhh running around it. My room is outstanding. Each night someone comes in and turns down the blankets for me, closes the blinds and lays out a thick bathrobe for me. You know what? I’m staying here. Ya’ll can bite me.

That said, I’m really anxious to get out and see some things. Last night we had cocktails at the ambassador’s residence, or maybe it was the second in charge – I’m not really sure because I was straight to the bar like a horse with blinders on. Useful tip from a diplomat’s spouse: NEVER wear heals to a Department of State reception because they aerate the heck out of their lawn, most receptions are outdoors on the lawn, and you will only succeed in sinking into the ground. Take heed. It’s really true.

So far it seems like we will be heading for Nigeria despite the recent unrest. I consulted with some of the educational advisors at the conference who come from Nigerian, and who will be leading our tour once we get there. They pointed out that the bombings in Abuja were specifically targeting their Independence Day events, which have now passed. Security has been ramped up because of the bombings, and they have actually apprehended two of the men involved. So, it seems like we will be going, and I know we’ll be fine. I trust those that are most familiar with the country. I will curb my normal mischievous self in this instance and repress the urge to go gallivanting around Nigeria alone and obnoxious. I promise.

Well, my glass of wine is finished, so I think I’ll head over to dinner. I'll try to post again tomorrow!!