Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nigerian food, traffic, and local language

My Nigerian trip continued on Wednesday morning as I woke up and went for a walk out by the water to see the sun rise.  When I stepped outside from the air conditioned hotel into the heat, my glasses fogged up immediately, which surprised me a bit.  I stepped into the heat and just spent a bit of time walking by the water and watching the fishermen and the boats go in and out of the port.  I realized as I was laying in bed and not wanting to get up yet again, how short my time in Nigeria is and how I should take advantage of it.

Oh, and there are peacocks that roam the grounds outside of my hotel.  See, peacocks.  Which I don't think I have ever seen in real life beyond Peacock Park, a park that I used to go to as a little kid.  More than once these things scared the crap out of me while I was walking around.

I rode into the office with the same two colleagues from Italy that I had traveled with the morning before.  When I got there, I realized that I miss having some coffee in the morning.  Which, surprised me in the fact that it made me realize how often I have now been drinking coffee in the mornings in the U.S. -- on just my third day away from coffee, I was missing it!  And it's not that there isn't coffee here... the coffee here is just... different.  It is instant coffee and the milk is different and it isn't bad, it is just a different experience.  It's like comparing pizza in Italy to pizza in New York City - they're both delicious, but different experiences!  I am really craving a tall hot coffee, which is really the only thing I am craving from home at all.

We had two customer meetings throughout the day so we weren't in the office the whole day like the day before.  We were out and about driving over to the mainland for one of our meetings and then back to the island for the second.  Since we were bouncing around so much, we didn't have time to eat lunch.  I NEVER miss a meal, but luckily, I was prepared, as I always am, with snacks.  I think the little bag of nuts that I had saved the life of my two coworkers who were also starving.

The meetings went really well, which was great, and I love the time at the end of the meetings when people ask me, "When are you leaving?" and "Is this your first time in Nigeria?" and then when I let them know, "First time in Africa!" they all reply with, "Wow!  Really!" and proceed into, how am I liking it, what have I done, have I tried African food, etc. Everyone is very in tune with the fact that American, or perhaps global, media is portraying Nigeria as a war zone.  And that the perception of the country is not what it is actually is.  I admit with them, that I was nervous before coming and that I am doing my best to share my impressions with the country via social media to do my part to change perceptions (p.s. follow me on Instagram!)

At the end of one of our meetings the CEO of one of the companies we were with invited me (and my coworkers) to his house for dinner.  He insisted.  And said that he would have a delicious Nigerian meal made.  I deferred to my coworkers to reply, but I think we are going to do that tomorrow night, which should be an interesting experience!  At this same meeting, the same individual had us all take a photo at the end of the meeting, which again, I very much appreciated (I love photo people!)  And following that, he insisted that I take a picture standing with the security officers that guards his building.  Every building that I have been in -- whether hotel or office building or nice restaurant -- is "secure" with a locked gate, security, etc.  At this particular building, they carry guns!

I laughed through the photo taking process and felt silly, but I guess I am glad I have the picture as a memory!  As we drove back and forth to the meetings, my one coworker was really great about allowing me to ask questions.  Since we drove to the mainland for a meeting, you generally see more poverty and lower income people there.  The streets were filled with hawkers selling various things to cars stuck in traffic.  The sides of the roads were filled with small, makeshift shops and behind them were mazes of homes and additional stands/shops with tin roofs above them.  Little children ran around barefoot, people were all around sometimes just sitting on the curb or on a breaking down wall, just seemingly, without anything else to do.

On the highways themselves you would see vans and cars packed full of people, essentially sitting atop one another, and often the sliding door of the van would be open and an individual would be standing, fully body outside of the car as it drove along the highway.

We drove past a section of beach where you saw tons and tons of handmade boats docked with no motors, only paddles, belonging to the population of people here who fish to survive.  They fish to eat and then to trade or barter for other essentials.  One of the thoughts that came over me was how devastating a natural disaster or a storm could be to these individuals lives.  Their boats were their means to survival and they are also delicate.  If something were to happen to them, how would these individuals eat or survive (FYI - worrying in advance is my expertise.)  We also drove past a portion of beach with half torn apart buildings, pieces of wall with no roof, and when I asked my coworker what that was he explained that it had been an illegal housing development so it had been torn it down.  It seemed like there were a number of people still walking around throughout the debris and I felt sad for them.

I mentioned that my coworkers were patient with me, so I am really appreciative that I could then ask the next question of, "How is it determined which laws are enforced?  Clearly not all traffic laws are obeyed but people's homes need to be torn down?"  The response was, "Whoever is in charge in the government at the time, just decides.  I guess that it isn't like that in the U.S.  You don't need to worry about whether or not the police officers are going to do their job - they just do them."  Which then turned into a conversation around what is all over the news here as well as at home.  And how we don't always think about whether or not the police officers will DO their job, but the conversation is more around HOW they do their job.  When are they resorting to firing a gun?  How are they making those decisions? And why is it that the decisions seem to be leaning an awful lot in one certain direction.

When I had been running on the treadmill the morning before, CNN was on.  Two stories back to back were on Tony Robinson's shooting by police in Wisconsin and then the SAE fraternity brothers who were caught on tape chanting disgusting and stomach-churning things with smiles on their face.  I thought to myself while I was running, "Wow. If America, and Americans, were judged based on what is on the news, what would the world think?"  The two stories back to back on CNN sent a pretty clear picture that "America hates black people." and "It is not safe to have dark skin the United States."  It really made me think a lot about the perceptions that we have and what we allow ourselves to believe.

Anyways, more on the deep & thoughtful stuff later, I have a whole post that I've already prepped about that.  But I want to write more about just documenting my day.  On Wednesday, after the work meetings I came back to my hotel.  I mentioned before that we hadn't had lunch beyond my snacks, so I expected myself to be really hungry, but I actually felt okay when I got back to the hotel.  I hadn't run in the morning, so decided to try and take advantage of the free evening and run, trying out the loop within my hotel complex.  It turns out that it is about .33 miles for each time around the loop, so I ran it a little more than 9 times for a total of 3 miles.

This awkward photo exists thanks to the fact that I had to stop running a couple times when the excessive sweat and bug spray that I had on dripped into my eyes painfully and I had to wipe it off.  And when wiping my eyes, my eye makeup that I'd had on from the day smeared all over my face.  And then I had to try and clean that off, and use my camera on my phone to check to make sure I didn't have raccoon eyes.  Oh, the joy of being a sweaty girl!

Following the run, I decided to sit by the pool at my hotel a bit.  It was really gorgeous and I knew that the next few days and evenings would get really busy so I wanted to take advantage of being able to relax by the pool a little since I wasn't sure when else I would do it.  Seriously, can you believe this is my life?  I cannot sometimes, but more on that later.

Eventually, I gave in to the fact that I cannot resist a good water slide and decided to just go in the pool with my running clothes on.  I rationed that it was warm enough out that I would be able to dry a bit before going back and walking through the hotel to get to my room.  Which, turned out to be rather accurate and I was excited to have tried the slide and cool off in the water!  Although it was a rather anticlimactic slide (I barely moved down the thing... so not fast...)

It felt amazing to be in the water to be honest.  And I definitely spent a good while just looking around me and thinking and reflecting.  I felt completely blessed and happy and guilty.  The guilt was a feeling I've been exploring a bit over this week, and not to be all "we'll get to it later" but we will, get to it later.

I spent the rest of the evening grabbing a quick solo dinner at the hotel while checking e-mail and then did more work for the rest of the night until going to bed.  Thursday morning started like the others, I slept in a bit because I was having a weird pain in my leg, so instead of a workout just spend the morning doing some yoga/stretching in my room.

I should comment that the shower in my room has been a bit of an experience every morning.  On Tuesday the water came out a bit brown, which was odd to me.  On Wednesday I couldn't get any hot water out of the shower so I took a cold shower (which did help wake me up a bit... especially since I didn't run on Wednesday AM.)  And then this morning, midway through my shower the power went out.  Now, this has been happening regularly throughout the mornings and evenings in the hotels and restaurants where I have been and even after just a few short days I have gotten used to it.  The Nigerian locals don't even bat an eye.  It always comes back on after 30 seconds to a couple minutes and isn't a huge issue.  However, this morning the water slowly stopped too.  And then when the power and the water came back on, the water dribbled out with barely any pressure and was scorching hot!  It was a bizarre way to take a shower and when I got to the car in the morning to go to the office, one of the Italian guys was a bit late.  When he arrived he apologized with the excuse that his shower had been interrupted by the power outage and then hot water.  I was all, "ME TOO!" and then pointed out that it didn't cause me to be late though :)

My morning in the office was pretty typical, we had a customer meeting there and then we ate lunch at the office canteen.  I tried more traditional Nigerian food, including Jollof Rice, Moi Moi, chicken, a pepper sauce for the rice, and friend plantains.  It was all delicious!

And I decided that I need to start a photo collage series or a ratings/review of the different cafeterias or "canteens" that I have tried from my company around the world.  I'm starting to create quite the list of different locations where I've eaten in the office cafeteria!

From there we went to another couple of meetings, in which the rides over there was filled with lots of laughter and good conversation.  The team here is such a close group and they really have fun with one another, which I love.

During the car ride, I tried my hand at learning some of the local language here which is called pidgin english.  It is really bizarre to me, because when you hear them speak it -- it SOUNDS like English, but it really isn't.  And the locals mix in "proper english" with pidgin without really thinking.  So many times I have been listening to people speak or having people speak to me and not really understanding what they were saying.  I kept thinking it was because of their heavy accent and didn't really ask for clarification but finally today I was like, "Okay, so, is what you are saying even English?!?!" and then started my education on pidgin.

It is really fun and I love that I can almost understand what people are saying, but that it is different.  I think that it sounds really unique and familiar and it rolls off the tongue.  Although I did joke that sometimes saying something in pidgin is almost more complicated than saying it in "proper English."

My coworkers also explained that many of the less educated or lower off people do not speak proper English at all and if you are in the markets and trying to bargain, by speaking proper English, you will automatically pay more for whatever it is.  There are so many fun and cool sayings and if you want to learn more about it, I found an informative quick article.   Or you could practice the sentence that one of my coworkers taught me so that I could say it to another colleague when they showed up.  Essentially it sounds like, "Wetin you day do fer dare?"  -- which would be, "What did you do over there?"  If you say it out loud, you realize that phonetically, you CAN understand it.  Especially when it is mixed in with proper english.  It just makes your ears be all, "Huh? What is going on?!"

I swear, I felt like my brain was a bit mashed up and confused because it would hear pidgin and THINK it should be able to understand what was being said.  Yet, not be able to sometimes.  It is a weird, trippy feeling!

So, I am going to sign off now and head to bed!  I still want to tell you about the rest of my Thursday evening, but that will have to come at my next update!  Hope you're having a great week!

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