I don't know why but its really hard to get decent coffee here.  And really expensive.  A pound of ground coffee is something like $20 and it is really only slightly drinkable.

Our first Netgrocer order finally arrived yesterday and in it - Dunkin Donuts coffee.  First cup this morning tastes like manna from heaven.

Its the little things...



We got our first shipment Friday - so nice to get our hangers, clothes, shoes, kitchen knives, laundry hamper... Which also meant Joey got relegated to another bedroom and bathroom because once more of our stuff arrived there was no longer room to share.  Its actually really nice this way - he can leave his clothes all over the floor, leave the toilet seat up, do whatever he wants and I don't have to see it.  I think all marriages should have separate closets and bathrooms.

Our steward asked for the boxes from our shipment.  She said she knows somebody who does something with the packing paper and somebody else who uses the cardboard.  It was dusk while we were moving the boxes from our house to hers, and hundreds of bats flew overhead.  She explained that this nightly exodus occurs when they leave Aso Rock in search of food.  Then she cautioned me to keep my mouth closed when I look up.  I shuddered and she said, "Where I am from, we eat them.  They taste like chicken."  She told me they eat the whole bat - even the head and bones.  Then she offered next time when she returns to her village to bring us a bat to eat.  Joey was really excited about that, me, not so much.  I saw her later "ricing a coconut," which is basically grating a coconut to the size of rice.  I was surprised to see that she grated the entire coconut, even the brown shell, and she said, "Here in Nigeria we use everything."  Their resourcefulness amazes me.  Our culture seems so wasteful in comparison.

Saturday we joined a group of friends and headed on our first trip outside of Abuja.  After the most insane two hours I have ever spent in the car, we arrived at Gurara Falls for a swim and a picnic.  I saw some crazy things along the drive, like markets mere feet from the road, herds of emaciated white cattle, goats eating garbage, a dude riding a bike with a giant saucer of something balanced on his head - but I think the most shocking thing I saw was while we made a U-turn.  A man standing in the median lifted his tunic, pulled down his pants, squatted close to the ground...and shit!  Right there!  In the middle of the road!  I've heard stories of this happening all over the world and so I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised considering the lack of modern plumbing in rural Nigeria but still - wow.  Anyway, the falls were really beautiful - although none of us could figure out from where the water originates.  I watched a fisherman deftly maneuver the rocks to stand in the middle of the pool and fish. It was nice to get out of Abuja for a while, too, and see more of the Nigerian countryside.

Yesterday we booked the first part (its actually the second part but the its the first booking) of our R&R.  We decided on the Celebrity cruise and officially depart Rome (so excited to go back to Italy) this July!  Our cruise itinerary includes stops in Santorini, Athens, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Mykonos, and Capri.  AH-MAY-ZING.  Joey has already warned me that if I give him any shit about eating healthy on his "floating buffet" he will throw me overboard.  All I know is that I gained 10 lbs on my last Celebrity cruise - and that was only a 7 day and I still had my high school metabolism - this is five days longer and I'm nine years older...

Last night we went to dinner and a movie with some friends of ours.  Both of Abuja's shopping complexes (they call them malls) have movie theaters.  The "mall" we went to was actually pretty nice - there we had a decent dinner (albeit expensive for Chinese) and even had red velvet cake for dessert (dessert is kind of a hot commodity around here - Joey's been jonesing for cake so he was really excited).  Then we saw Due Date - the movies are all older releases but Joey and I were never the type to go see a movie the week it came out anyway so this works fine for us.  The movie theater is totally modern - for two hours it really felt like we were back in Des Moines at Jordan Creek Mall.

Anyway, I took a ton of pictures this weekend - here's the link: 


scenes from my run this morning

a woman crouched over a sizzling skillet on the sidewalk...a pack of chickens, including two roosters and one baby chick...three women dressed in traditional African garb and neon yellow construction vests,each stooped with a tiny cluster of branches, brushing the side of the road...eight guys in front of the concrete shell of a giant house turned makeshift distribution facility, loading glass pop bottles and two-gallon clear plastic canisters of freshly baked croissants into their kelly-green wheelbarrows...a woman with a baby tied on her back...an old man, dressed in a long cream tunic, matching pants and fez, sitting on the sill of a wall ...a young man, dressed in neon green, orange and electric blue swirls...a beat-up, old, green taxi beeping its way down the road...a group of men sitting around a plastic table in the middle of an open lot....a chicken nibbling on a watermelon rind outside the fruit market...and a chubby little boy on a bike, who told me, "It's a nice day for a run!"



I apologize - I've kind of been slacking on my blog.  Our weekend was pretty uneventful so I really didn't have anything to write about and the last few days have actually been relatively busy so I haven't had a chance to write.  Such is life.

First of all Joey found another gecko in the house.  On the wall in the kitchen.  Lovely.  He also decided that it would be a fantastic idea to catch it to show me.  I'm sure you can imagine how well that went.  I do want to point out that he used a cutting board and cup to catch the gecko - which if you'll remember he laughed me out of the bedroom when I brought up a water bottle, cup and piece of paper to catch the first one.

On a completely unrelated note, I split my pants on Christmas.  While I was still enjoying my Christmas (before the travel disaster ensued), all of a sudden I felt my pants become slightly more comfortable.  This was certainly not attributable to the eighth or ninth sugar cookie that I was consuming at that point in time.  I reached to the back of my waistband and sure enough, there was a nice split.  Before Joey and I found out we were going to Nigeria, I was very conscientious about what I ate, we tried not to go out to eat too often and I was training for a marathon.  Well first we found out we were moving here for two years, and so watching my diet flew out the window, as well as any attempt to cook whatsoever, and then I ran the marathon which left me with about zero motivation to continue such a dedicated exercise routine.  Thus resulting in the eventual split of my pants.

I can happily say today that I do not regret a single calorie I consumed or a single workout I missed my last few months in the US of A.  Although my African weight loss has not been nearly as significant as my husband's (how I love that he stops working out and loses twenty pounds), it has been enough that I no longer have to shimmy into my skinny jeans.  Its amazing how eating three square meals a day coupled with moderate exercise (I've been running about three miles a day) works so well.  I am looking forward to the arrival of our protein powder and "Tower" resistance machine thingy (hangs on the door), but at least for now I'm no longer struggling to zip my pants.

One of the best surprises about Abuja had to be that my neighbor is a registered yoga teacher.  I've been lucky enough to take a few classes from her and they are awesome.  She and I have even talked about co-teaching a class and maybe me even someday teaching a class for her.  We'll see - I took that introductory yoga teacher training about a year and a half ago and never really did anything with it - I'm still pretty chicken-shit to get up in front of a class and talk - but it might be worth a try.  Yogis are supposed to be non-judgemental, right?

Really I can't believe today is the three-week anniversary of our arrival here.  It has gone so incredibly fast and we still don't even have any of our stuff.  We keep hearing its going to come soon but I've stopped holding my breath.  It'll get here eventually and in the meantime I've become really creative with my wardrobe.

We've already started planning our first R&R.  Is that bad?  We're trying to decide between a cruise in the Baltic (with an overnight in St. Petersburg) or the Greek Isles (with an overnight in Istanbul).  Also trying to decide just how much we want to spend, because Norwegian has a super cheap Baltic cruise (which got mixed reviews) and Celebrity has a not-so-super-cheap Baltic cruise (which got amazing reviews - and is a brand new ship).  We know for sure that our trip includes visiting our friends Sujata and Tex in Paris and what may be a mini-reunion of DC friends for a sojourn to Provence to see the lavender in bloom.  So excited!  Joey is even talking about spending a few days in Santa Margherita at the Imperial Palace - I'm not sure what's gotten into him but I'm in love with that idea.  He even has suggested staying in the same room we did on our wedding night - has Africa made my husband more romantic?  Or is getting away from the hustle and bustle of DC just bringing sexy back?  I don't know but I like it!  Bridget, your sister may have been on to something.

Joey and I attended an event last night.  In honor of the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany this summer, FIFA embarked on a welcome tour to all the countries who qualified.  We got to meet Steffi Jones (who from what I understand is somewhat of the German equivalent to Mia Hamm), see the Women's World Cup trophy and the Nigerian womens team, the Super Falcons.  There was also a buffet at the Hilton, with wine and cheese and desserts galore.  Pants-splitting Melissa was in her fat girl heaven (to quote my friend Danya).  It was nice to dress up - plus I loved looking at all the Nigerian dress clothes.  There was even a brass band playing African music which was pretty cool.  I have to admit, the press conference we attended beforehand was slightly awkward - the press is significantly more direct - for example one journalist asked the Germans how they planned on controlling the skinheads from killing black people...?

Steffi Jones

Anyway, my job is getting a lot easier.  Still tedious but I feel like I'm getting a handle on things and actually pretty proud of myself for figuring it out.  (I say that now.  Don't quote me in May when financial statements are due.  Hopefully by then my accounting textbooks will have arrived for some remedial studying).  I also really enjoy the company of my manager.  He's British and has a great dry sense of humor.

Other than that, we're just settling into our routine here.  Lazy weekends are spent mostly by the pool.  I can't complain at all about that - or about the fact that my stewardess is amazing.   Yesterday I got home from work and had a panic attack because the dogs were gone.  After frantically running around the house I rushed to the front door to look outside and there she was, all three dogs with her  - they'd gone for a walk.  This morning she went to the market for me and picked up some fresh eggs and papaya - it really doesn't get much better than that, right?


How does this happen?  This is my first experience with ice trays.

This is called a "garden egg."  Much like an eggplant, not as bitter.  Nigerians eat it raw - our driver told us it works as a digestive.  I would recommend cooking it.  Quite good sauteed with peppe (spicy ground chili pepper here).

Giant leaf bug outside our house.  Shudder.

Giant lizard outside our house.  Shudder.
Here's the link for more lovely photos from Abuja:http://picasaweb.google.com/100586084762366858227/NigeriaSoFar?authkey=Gv1sRgCPq50_Td78nuUg&feat=directlink



Our steward starts tomorrow.  Therefore I just spent the last hour picking up the house...

I have to admit I am a little nervous letting someone into our home unsupervised.  But she seems really nice, and came with a recommendation letter, so we're going to give her a try.  I mean, if she works out it'll be the most amazing deal of the century.  She comes every weekday morning and does the dishes, makes the bed, picks up all the clothes, and lets the dogs outside.  Then two days a week she also deep-cleans and does the laundry and ironing.  Oh, and if we need her to go to the market to get us anything, we just give her money and she goes to get it.  Which also means we pay less for things at the market since our steward is buying them and they don't know its some "Oyibo's" money.  And we pay her $100 a month.  Total.  Joey and I felt guilty paying her so little, but its about the going rate around here, which is apparently considered a really good job.  The average wage in Abuja is only $1 a day, so I guess since she's making six times that and gets free rent, she has a good gig.  Regardless, we did lock up everything valuable just in case.

So the job I am working now is the one I applied for back in DC, as an accountant.  

I have about a million things I want to blog about and I just keep getting side-tracked and its 11:30 at night here, so I suppose it'll have to wait for another day.

pictures are up

I finally posted my pictures - they took all day to upload because the connection is so slow (but I'm not complaining because we aren't supposed to have internet at all during the day) - go to the "pics" page and click on the link.

The pictures include scenes from the Mogadishu Fish Market, Wuse Market (where the picture of our pasty white selves was taken, which led me to lay out without sunscreen, thinking the dust from the Harmatan would provide shield enough - bad, bad idea), Garke Market (stories to come about watching a chicken get hacked up), the Farmer's Market in Maitama, and the requisite lizard shots.  Enjoy.



I wrote this last week at home and figured I’d upload it when I got internet.  Well today is the day!  Halleluiah!

After our 16 hour drive from Des Moines to Washington, a whirlwind packout, literally running home barefoot from the metro station to catch the airport shuttle after the sale of my car took too long, three hours in the Dulles airport; the first hour and a half spent trying to juggle three dogs, two extra-large suitcases, two regular-sized suitcases, two carry-on suitcases, a messenger bag with a laptop hanging out and a shoulder bag so full it wouldn’t zip (we would never ever have been able to pull it off without our friends Lee and James) and shuffle items from one suitcase which was so overweight it was not allowed to fly to another suitcase, and then the second hour spent trying to enjoy a last glass of champagne with Lee and James while listening to George yelp helplessly a hallway away, seven and a half hours on the flight to Amsterdam, five hours in the Amsterdam airport, and then another six hours on the flight to Abuja, by the time we got here, we were exhausted.  I don’t know about Joey, but I was just as emotionally drained as I was physically, and so when the immigration official asked Joey, “How long will you be here?” and Joey replied, “Two years,” the following thud of his stamp on my diplomatic passport seemed to reverberate throughout the airport.  (It reminded me a little bit of the moment during our wedding when the priest said “for the rest of your life” in such an ominous tone that caused my best friend Bridget to look over at me in sheer terror.)  But once the dogs came rolling through on the luggage conveyor belt – imagine a quivering extra-large kennel rolling between the suitcases – now remember the majority of Nigerians are afraid of dogs – it was like the scene from the Ten Commandments where Moses parts the Red Sea – and I realized my boys were tired and overwhelmed but safe and healthy, I realized I was too. 

And we thought traffic in DC was aggressive and crazy.  Oh my God its a good thing we had some experience driving in DC before moving to Abuja.  The way people drive here is insane.  I mean complete, absolute insanity.  I’ve ridden in cars in many places around the world and I can tell you, I have never experienced traffic like this.  There are no traffic rules.  People drive all over the road: in the middle of the lane, in the parking lane, in the lane facing oncoming traffic, on the sidewalk!  Intersections have no signs.  I think there might be like ten stoplights in the city but they don’t work frequently and people don’t heed them (not to mention the lights don’t even face the direction of traffic).  When approaching an intersection it is every car for itself and you just kind of have to slowly tip toe your way into the intersection and hope someone doesn’t come barreling through!  Meanwhile you’re stopped and eight different guys are sauntering between the cars, hawking phone cards, grapes, bottled beverages, kola nuts, Nigerian flags, you know, whatever.  Then you have to watch out for the pedestrians because they just dart into the street with no mind that there are insane drivers everywhere.  I mean Abuja driving to Mexico driving is like New York City driving to De Soto driving.  Maybe.  Its crazy.

The majority of these crazy ass drivers are cabbies, and they just zip around in their little green cars (they’re painted like the Nigerian flag) like its no big deal.  Then there are the green mini-buses packed with more Nigerians than should fit in two.  My favorite are the little three-wheeled tuk-tuks that scoot around town.  Its like a covered motor-bike with the driver in front and two passengers in back – and the sides are open.  They just drive down the expressway next to everybody else even though at any minute they could be side-swiped and dead. 

And electricity?  I remember once, during my semester in Florida, the power went out in the grocery store during a thunderstorm.  It was a huge deal.  The power goes out here all the time and nobody even blinks.  We were in the grocery store here and the lights went out and people just kept doing their business.  

Same goes with internet.  You pay a ton of money for slow, unreliable service, because that’s the best you can get.  But it is finally at my house and for that I am grateful.

More tomorrow.  Because now we have internet at home and I can get online anytime I want.  Actually only between the hours of 7 pm and 7 am because it costs double to get it the rest of the day.  And I’m working (I know, coming out of retirement is going to be rough), so I can access the internet at the Embassy during the day.  Anyway, I am trying to upload my pictures overnight, so hopefully pictures tomorrow too. 



So frustrated right now.  The price of groceries in this town is freaking ridiculous.  Our sponsor recommended we use netgrocer.com to purchase some goods, as they usually arrive in two to three weeks, which will help us save at least some money until our HHE and all of the consumables we purchased in DC arrive. 

So yesterday I spent an hour putting together a netgrocer.com order.  Then I attempted to pay for it using Paypal.  Paypal locked me out of my account until I entered the checking account associated with the card.  Well unfortunately the account number I entered was associated with Joey's PayPal account and so PayPal locked both accounts.  At this point I still have no idea that I'm using a Nigerian IP address, and so I'm going to our bank website trying to figure it out, back to our PayPal accounts - all over the place for about two hours.  Finally, defeated, I decide to try again tomorrow.

Last night one of our friends told us the internet in the library was not on a secure line.  Awesome.  Luckily today I was finally granted access to the computer lab.  I thought I saw two suspicious transactions but Joey checked them and we're okay.  I spent another two hours redoing my netgrocer order and trying to figure out PayPal.  Unfortunately we're both still locked out of our accounts.  Which also means we're locked out of netgrocer and locked into exhorbitant prices on laundry detergent and paper towels.  But I suppose I'm glad that PayPal is paranoid because I ignorantly exposed myself to fraud.


its really not that bad

In all fairness I feel I should say its really not that bad here.  Really.  I mean, sure there was a lizard on the wall in our bedroom and the next morning a giant ass cockroach almost crawled on my foot in the kitchen (Joey, who heard my blood curdling scream from the other room, found me cowering on top of the dining room chair clutching a paring knife). 

And then there's the Harmatan, which is what they call all the dust and sand that blows south from the Sahara that covers everything with a thin layer of film - when you lick your lips you can taste the dirt - and by dusk the haze is so thick you can't see any of the giant rock formations around town and it looks as though a tornado is about to blow through when actually its so dry you wake up with a sore throat. 

But seriously, besides the minor meltdowns which my poor husband bravely bears, I feel really lucky to be here.  I am really enjoying myself. 

Yesterday on my way to the Embassy I saw three station wagons completely coated in colorful political posters and completely full of Nigerians all dressed in traditional African dress (long pants, ankle-length tunic, fez) who would all get out of the cars at each intersection and dance to the tinny reggae-sounding music blaring from the car speakers.

Most of the restaurants here are supposed to be mediocre at best, and rather expensive.  So far we've been to two (three if you count the fish market but that's an entirely different experience); one was good (enough - I mean we just spent the last four months eating out practically every night in culinary heaven) and the other one was not - so we've had to cook every meal.  Which is a challenge because 1. we don't have a dishwasher or a garbage disposal, and 2. although groceries are not hard to find, it is hard to swallow the cost ($8 for corn flakes.  Seriously.) 

Unless you want to buy a goat out of the back of some guy's trunk.  Because you can.  He was parked outside of the one of the restaurants and about twenty hooves were hanging out of the hatchback.  Our sponsors said that was okay but for really fresh meat we should go to the Wuse (Woo-say) Market and you can choose your animal while its still alive.  That way you know its fresh.  We did go to the Wuse Market but steered clear of the meat.  Actually there was nothing clear about the Wuse Market - it was this crazy, authentic, African market.  Stuffed full of people and fruit and fish and everything under the sun.  It was loud and smelly and colorful and overwhelming.  Actually I think that's how I'd sum up Nigeria so far.  Loud and smelly (not necessarily in a bad way, just a lot of new odors), and colorful and overwhelming. 

Many men and women wear traditional West African garb here, and its beautiful.  The women wear these long tailored dresses with mermaid skirts in brightly colored patterns with matching headresses that go in every which direction.  And it is so cool how so many people carry things on their heads.  I mean its amazing to see some woman in her brightly colored mermaid skirt (not easy to run in) dash across the street with a giant plate of plantains perfectly balanced on her head.  Or yesterday I saw a guy wandering down the street with a two-foot stack of papers on his head.  Papers!  I mean can you imagine if that fell over what it would look like?  He's just walking around like its no big deal.  Or they'll carry plates of these little round orange fruits, I'm not sure what they're called, but you'd think those suckers would roll around and roll off the giant plate on their head.  Nope.  It makes sense, especially at places like Wuse Market where its so crowded, to take advantage of vertical space, but it really is amazing.  As you would expect, everyone has perfect posture.  (I just sat up straight in my chair). 

People are friendly - everyone thinks you're rich because you're white (called Oyibo, pronounced "Oh-Ee-Bo") and you definitely have to bargain - but overall its safe.  And has peacocks!  I don't think they're wild here, unlike the chickens that roam the streets, but it was still cool to come upon them.  Every day its something cool and different like that and I'm really enjoying taking it all in.  I promise I've been taking tons of pictures and will upload them as soon as I can - we just have to wait for the internet guy to get back from his village where we went to get married.  It seems like everything is just a little funny like that.  Anyway, I've rambled on enough for now - forgive me its my first time writing anything down since we arrived - its been such a whirlwind.

does switching to geico really save you 15% on car insurance?

"Oh. My. God." I yelled as I stood in the doorway of our bedroom.

"What?"  Joey replied from downstairs.

"Ohmygodohmygodohmygod there is a lizard on the wall!" I screamed, frozen in fear as I stared at the eight-inch long gecko on the wall next to my bed.


"Get the F*** up here there is a Fing lizard on the wall!"

So Joey bounded up the steps - we agreed I would go downstairs to get something to catch it and he would watch it to make sure it didn't move.  I ran downstairs, and after making my way through the iron gate at the bottom grabbed my camera, an empty 2L Aquafina bottle, a piece of paper and a juice glass.  When I returned the gecko was nowhere in sight.

"Where'd it go?" I asked Joey as he is casually searching the curtains.

"I don't know - it ran away." 

"There is a gecko loose in our bedroom?!"  I'm frantic, and at this point I'm standing on top of our bed in my sheer little black robe clutching my camera, the water bottle, the paper and the glass. 

Did I mention its 2:30 am?  George decided he needed water around 1:30 and after about half an hour of listening to him scratch at the door we finally acquiesed and decided we might as well have some tea.  It was when I returend upstairs with my teacup that I made this lovely discovery. 

"That's what you brought me to catch it?" Joey asked me, incredulously, while trying desparately not to laugh.

"What the hell do you expect me to bring you?  I grew up in Iowa and I find a Fing lizard on the wall and you think I'm going to know how to catch the Fing thing?" Yes, I have a potty mouth.  And it was in full swing at 2:30 am with a lizard on the wall in my bedroom.  Or rather a lizard running loose in my bedroom.  "And its not funny!"

Joey is now laughing hysterically, while I am just hysterical.  "Get it! Where'd it go?!  Get the Fing thing!"

He points to the window and says that it probably went out this little hole and that he looked everywhere and can't find it - tells me this story about how even the nicest hotel rooms in Hawaii get lizards in there all the time and that its no big deal - they eat mosquitos.

Clearly I am not convinced.  I go downstairs and come back up with the step ladder.  Joey searches for another fifteen minutes (meanwhile our entire pack of three worthless dogs is hiding under the bed, probably more due to me freaking out than the lizard), and finally declares the search over.  Relunctantly, after checking under the blankets of course, I crawl back into bed.  Joey looks over and asks "Will you turn out the lights?"

"Hell no."

"Some of them?  Please?"

So I turned off all the overhead lights, but left my lamp on.  I read for the next few hours (and glancing to the wall every few minutes) until I was so tired I finally had no choice but to fall asleep. 

The next day I told our sponsor, Ibrahim, an American FSO who is originally from Nigeria, that we found a lizard on the wall in our bedroom.  He responded knowingly in his sing-song Nigerian accent, "Oh a wall gecko!  Those are little things - they won't hurt you!  Sometimes they'll crawl on your face at night while you're sleeping and leave a little scratch, but otherwise you'll never know they're there."

Oh I'll know.