Wednesday, March 11, 2015

First experiences in Lagos, Nigeria

Yesterday morning when my alarm went off, I did NOT want to get up.  I had to fight with myself pretty hard to get out of bed and head to the gym in my hotel to go for a run.  Tuesdays is usually a sprint workout, but I have a feeling that I am going to consider this week a win if I am even able to get a run in at all.

When I arrived at the hotel gym, which was pretty hard to find and required walking outside and then back inside, I felt a little uncomfortable working out there.  It was dark and confined and not really inviting to work out.  I forced myself to run for at least 5 minutes, which I then bumped to 15 and then to 20 and then to 30 minutes.  Finally getting off the treadmill when I was sure I had run at least a 5K.  I left the gym not sure if I would want to return there the rest of my trip, but I hopefully will be able to force myself to be able to!  I use the mindset that if I packed the clothes, I have to wear them!

As I walked back towards the hotel, I noticed a woman who was running outside on what looked to be a little track loop within my hotel complex and I went and walked the loop briefly, and indeed, it did look like a great place to run.  Along the water and within the security of my hotel!  It also gave me great views of the early morning fishermen who were out, greenery within the hotel, and an overall intake of the Nigerian coastline.

One thing that will maybe tempt me to run is maybe doing the loop outside a little bit rather than run on the treadmill at the hotel gym!  We shall see what the week brings though.

I shared a ride over to the office with two other men from a different division of my company based in Italy.  They travel to Nigeria once a month and knew the name of the driver, where to go when we got to the office, etc. so it made me feel really at ease.  And it's not that I necessarily felt uneasy, but it is just nice to have someone with you who knows what they are doing and knows their way around.

We chatted on our way to the office, which prevented me from again sitting with my eyes glued outside of the window, but I guess those are the sacrifices you have to make to be a social, normal human being sometimes!  And like I said, it was great that once we went to the office, they knew the check in procedure, all the people, and brought me up to the correct floor and helped me connect with and find the colleagues I'd be spending the week with.

I spent the day in the office meeting with various meeting, working, connecting and learning the team, which was a great experience.  It seems like a really fun office, with a great atmosphere, and the rapport between the people I will be spending my week with was really fun.  I immediately knew it would be a good week!

Both lunch and dinner I spent with the same group and they were both really memorable meals.  We had lunch at a place called Smokey Bones, which is apparently somehow related to the chain restaurant in the U.S. with the same name.  Although I have never eaten at the restaurant in the U.S. I assume that the menus are quite different.  We attempted a group picture, but couldn't quite get the lighting and angles right -- but I will say that I very much appreciated having girls around that understand the importance of this!  A lot of times when I travel I am surrounded by men and they usually scoff at my desire for pictures of all my food and lots of selfies.  It was something that I loved about being in Asia, where selfies and food pictures are an art form.  And now that I am in Nigeria, there are some other Instagram addicts and bloggers in the group, so we appreciate the effort put behind a good photo :)

For my meal I had a traditional African dish, that consisted of a spinach/greens stew made with goat and a side of white rice.  When we ordered the dish, I first ordered the stew with beef, but when told that was out, it was suggested I try goat, to which I said fine.  The waiter then clarified, "It is a baby goat."  To which my response was, "Oh? Um. Okay..." and my coworkers were all laughing, saying that they had no idea why he clarified it was a "baby goat" and that they'd never heard anyone do that before.  In their words, "Why does she care if it is a baby or not?!?"

We asked for them to hold back on the spice for me, and when I ate it, it had just the right amount of heat I think.  I'm curious what "spicy" is like for the local diners and will maybe have to try that at some point!  Every culture and food has a different scale of how spicy "spicy" is so it can sometimes be hard to judge if what I am going to eat is going to cause my brain to boil or not.  I tried a local carbonated beverage called a Chapman.  Which, apparently is also really good with alcohol in it, but I will have to save that experience for not a midday meal.  I especially loved the little umbrella that came with my drink!

I mentioned that both meals were memorable and that fact is due to the great company I had, lots of laughs, and conversation with my colleagues.  But also, what I am learning about local customs and mannerisms.

For example, at the restaurant, they did not do what is common in other parts of the world that I've been and bring out all the meals at once.  As the meals were finished being prepared, they came out.  And everyone is VERY direct with the wait staff around what they want and making sure that it is understood.  My meal was the last to come out and it took a long time for the meal to be ready.  My colleagues asked a number of times when it would come out and the waiter would step into a back room (presumably the kitchen) and then come back out and reply kept being "Soon." or "Two minutes." or "It's coming out now." -- and then it would not come.  And the restaurant was not busy.

My colleagues were getting very frustrated and losing patience with the waiter, becoming more and more direct asking where my food was, asking for his manager, the owner, etc..  It was an interesting experience for my first meal out in Nigeria that will definitely stay very memorable for me! 

In the evening we went to dinner at a restaurant called The Lagoon, and it was a beautiful restaurant with lots of outdoor seating right by the water, which I loved.  They also brought out about 4 different types of menus and you could order Chinese, Japanese, Indian, or more basic sandwiches/salads for dinner.  We opted with Indian and ordered a number of different sauces with naan and started with some hummus and pita.

And of course, I followed my coworkers lead when it came to ordering a drink and followed along with their choice of a strawberry pineapple mojito.  The drink was huge and none of us finished them, but it was delicious.  I should also note that this afternoon when I was about halfway through my drink I realized that I was recommended to not drink anything with ice, as I was told to only drink bottled water.  At lunch I sort of said screw it, and then tonight requested a drink with no ice, but when it came out, sort of just said screw it again.  

Hopefully my body/stomach cooperates throughout the trip and I don't end up regretting those words later.  I also immediately forgot to brush my teeth with bottled water the first time that I brushed my teeth here, so now I have been hanging a bathroom towel over my faucet in my hotel room to remind myself not to use it.

I again, had a great time at dinner with my coworkers learning about life in Nigeria, hearing about their weddings, experiences living in other cities around the world, and how they deal with the sometimes dangerous parts of the city.  

As we were driving to the restaurant, which, I should mention that I learned that everyone has drivers in Nigeria.  It isn't a luxury, but a necessity, I was told.  Anyways, as we were driving over, somehow the conversation turned to some of the crime that can be experienced during traffic and throughout Lagos.  They said that Lagos is a bit of a bubble and that there is no real threat of terrorism or bombs, etc. as you hear about in the northern part of the country, but like any city, there is crime.

I should also mention that where our office is, where I am staying, and where the majority of my colleagues all live is on Victoria Island -- a small portion of Lagos that is separate from the mainland area of Lagos and much safer/nicer than the mainland.  The girls that I am with rarely travel outside of the Victoria Island portion of Lagos to the mainland and I guess one of the bridges that connect the mainland and the island is a hot spot of local crime and robberies.

One coworker told a story of when his car broke down with 3 friends in the car RIGHT by the bridge and within minutes, people overtook them, beat them up, and took their phones and money.  They had to walk to a different area to get help because nobody would even stop to help in that area for fear that they'd then become victims themselves.  Another coworker mentioned that her mother had been stopped and robbed while driving over the bridge one day as well.  I checked to be sure that we were far away from the bridge at that moment and asked tentatively, "So... is this the bridge that I drove over to get to the island??"  I will be sure to avoid that route on the way back out :)  They assured me that everywhere we had been, were, and would be going, were all very safe and I trust them.

To close on a funny note, as we were all driving over to dinner and stuck in traffic, everyone agreed that Lagos is the "funniest" city in the world.  In that there are always a ton of characters, people doing ridiculous things, saying funny things, or just behaving in ways that is otherwise out of the norm or inexplicable.  You see people doing the most random things and if you are having a bad day you just look around and something will make you laugh.  For example, a truck driving next to us has something totally big and bizarre in the back of it, and when I asked what it was everyone laughed and said, "Literally anything.  You never know what you will see in Lagos."

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