when life gives you hot dogs... make pizza?

Our internet has been off and on, and it seems like whenever I want to blog its off.  Then it comes on and I have other things to do.  So this post is slightly disjointed and probably completely unnecessary.  Oh well.

It seems to have gotten a lot hotter in the last few weeks.  I mean its been hot since we got here, but Sunday was really the first day of super duper fry your ass on the concrete hot.  The Philippines held a Valentine's Day bazaar Sunday afternoon; we live within a reasonable walking distance and by the time we arrived Joey had soaked through his shirt and I had some really nice boob sweat going on.  But our unsightliness wasn't about to stop us from the smorgasbord of delicious Philippine cuisine.  That stuff is hard to come by around here so we ate a few months worth in about half an hour.  We also bought some raffle tickets - grand prize was a round trip ticket from Abuja to Manila, and since my friend Lauren just moved to Manila for the next several months for her job I figured it was meant to be that I'd win that ticket. Apparently not.

Anyway, I realize that I could have spent the last two months in the freezing cold of Des Moines or DC and that I'm probably not going to get much sympathy that its starting to get hot here, but its definitely gone from bearable to uncomfortable.  Nothing like sitting in the shade and dripping sweat.  Sexy.

This past Saturday we went to a Valentine's Day celebration at one of the local hotels.  They have a lovely rooftop patio and a Nepalese chef.  They served a huge buffet of Nigerian, Chinese, Indian and Thai dishes - no Pad Thai - but still pretty good. Its funny - its probably the ignorant American in me - but I thought Valentine's Day was just a commercialized American made-up holiday.  Not so.  Its a commercialized, international made-up holiday.  There were almost as many opportunities to waste money on Valentine's Day paraphernalia here as there are in the US. 

And speaking of Valentine's Day, it was a Happy Valentine's Day indeed.  We got the very best present you could ever ask for:

(Imagine it in your best "The Price is Right" announcer voice, because that is how excited we both were):

A new car!  Yeah baby, that's right, our car finally arrived!  The mere act of driving ourselves to dinner for Valentine's Day was romantic enough alone.  Which was a good thing, because when we got to the restaurant they were full (we didn't realize you actually had to make reservations in Abuja) and the host turned us away.  Luckily for us, some of our coworkers had originally planned to dine with another couple who cancelled, and so invited us to join their table.  Romantic, no.  Enjoyable, yes.  And I tried sweetbreads for the first time.  Not really by choice.  The restaurant serves a prix fixed menu and you eat what they put in front of you, which thankfully looked innocuous enough that I didn't need to ask what it was until the end the meal.   

Friday night we attended a play at the French Cultural Center.  The Jos Repertory Theatre performed "Madmen and Specialists," a play written by Wole Soyinka about the evils of war.  Cannibalism to be exact.  The play was a little heady and therefore hard to understand since much of the dialog was in Pidgen, but overall it was a very nice production and the outdoor venue was lovely.  Especially with the bottle of wine I stashed in my purse.  My only complaint is to the effectiveness of my bug spray. 

Two Saturdays ago we attended an Arts & Crafts fair.  We bought two paintings, one of which is apparently by a famous local artist, Ada Goodson.  We took both paintings to the framer and they're due next week; we're really looking forward to getting some color on our walls.

Anyway, that pretty much covers lately.  It actually rained once - which is a big deal here because its not supposed to rain at all between November and May.  We couldn't believe the downpour.   The best part was how clean and fresh everything seemed the next day.  Other than that, we've discovered some pretty decent restaurants and bars to keep us busy and learned that you have to check before you order pepperoni pizza.  Otherwise you may end up with cut-up hot dogs. 



Thought I'd share a little interesting discovery. 

My favorite dish right now is Pad Thai.  I could eat it every day.  Seriously.  So upon learning there was no Thai restaurant in Abuja, I ate a ton of it to hopefully get my fill before the move.  No such luck.  We bought a ton of the ingredients for it and they will arrive with our HHE - eventually.

In the meantime, we've managed to find the ingredients around town and tonight Joey is making me Pad Thai.  So excited!  (I have an awesome husband.)  But the one ingredient we had a hard time finding, both here and in DC, was tamarind paste.  So first I started searching substitutes (I read lime juice works alright), then I decided just to see what it looked like.  Here's the picture from Wikipedia:

These trees grow everywhere here!  The pods fall all over the ground!  From Wikipedia: "Tamarindus indica is indigenous to tropical Africa, particularly where it continues to grow wild in Sudan; it is also cultivated in Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania."  Who knew?

The other, almost as exciting, discovery is that a Thai restaurant is opening next week.  I'm not getting my hopes up just yet, but hey, we'll see.

going to the chapel

Our appearance at the baptism on Sunday garnered us an invitation to a Nigerian wedding.  Which means I have to get a new dress.  Ordinarily a wedding invitation sparks the following conversation:

Melissa: “I need to get a new dress for that wedding.”

Joey: “You have thirty-eight dresses in your closet.  You do not need a new dress.”

Melissa: “No, this is an evening garden-party wedding and absolutely none of my dresses are evening garden-party appropriate.  I will look ridiculous if I do not get this $$$.$$ dress.  And, by the way, I certainly don’t have any evening garden-party shoes.”

Joey huffs and puffs and about blows the house down when he gets the bill but that’s beside the point.  The point is that right on this wedding invitation it says I need a new dress.   No argument.  And guess who else is getting a new outfit for the wedding?  The same person who calls weddings “dog and pony shows.” (Do you think our destination wedding had anything to do with that?  Not that our wedding was any less a “dog and pony show” but for its size.)  So in keeping with his theory, Nigerian weddings take it to a whole other level.  You don’t discern the guests by whether they sit on the bride’s side or the groom’s side in the church; you discern the guests by whether they’re wearing the bride’s color or the groom’s color.  And since we were invited by the bride, our color is wine.    Joey said the bride told him it would be okay if only I wore wine and he just wore a matching tie, but he told her he’d go all out, so this weekend we’re off to find some wine-colored fabric and have our outfits made. 

I know I don’t have any wine colored shoes.


good things come to those who wait. and wait. and wait...

I just got notification from the boss that there is a chance our car will be here by the end of next week!  I am so excited - really the worst part about being here has been how stranded we've felt without a car.  Sure we can call for a ride but it requires planning ahead and you just don't have the same freedom.  So excited.  Now we can go to the grocery store whenever we want and we can go out for dinner or to a movie and leave a party when we're tired and not when our ride is ready to go.  So. So. Excited.  (Not to mention the fact that we've been making payments on this car since November and haven't driven it since the test drive.)

Also word is our HHE may be coming around the same time!  This is also a lovely development; however, I'm not as excited because our HHE is coming in two shipments. The stuff that was in storage still hasn't shipped.  Which means our dishes, our towels, our artwork, most of our kitchen utensils and everything else we didn't take with us to DC (which was only as much as we could fit in and around two cars and our UAB) is still at the dock.  In Maryland.  So yes, all of our consumables, new sheets and Christmas decorations (still lamenting putting those in the UAB to DC but whatever), are going to be here in a short while, for which I am grateful, but its still going to be a few more months before we get this place feeling completely like home.

Breakfast of Champions: Greens, whey & beer.
Other arrivals include three huge boxes from Vitacost today.  I ordered 8 large cans of protein powder.  Vitacost sent 16.  They also sent double everything else that I ordered.  And only charged me for what I ordered.  Which is amazing.  So now thanks to the Catholic guilt my parents instilled I'm trying to decide what to do.  Sending it back isn't exactly easy since we don't have an APO/FPO here.  But I didn't order all that protein powder and don't really want to fork over the extra $250 for extra product I didn't order seeing as that cost hurt the first time they charged me.  I'm hoping I can convince Vitacost that.

Also received my new swimsuit.  I ordered several new bikinis from Victoria's Secret (which came last week - its like Christmas around here, just much hotter) but the swimsuit that came today is actually for swimming.  Which I ordered because I decided that when I leave Abuja I am going to do a triathlon.  I realize for those of you who watched me collect green (5th place - Echo Valley only had five lanes lest you think I actually beat someone), brown (6th place) and pink (7th place) ribbons year after year at Echo Valley swim meets that this probably comes as a surprise.  But I figure if I can run a marathon I can do a triathlon and I've got nothing but time and sun here, so its the perfect time to practice. Plus the Hilton allows US employees to swim in its pool for free (we have a really nice pool on our compound but it isn't suited for swimming laps).  Besides, my mom always said I had a beautiful stroke.

who's the boss?

Greetings seem to be a very important part of Nigerian culture.  A series of questions and answers must be exchanged with each person whom you interact.  For example:  Joey: "Good morning."

Nigerian: "Good morning.  How was your night?" (He is asking Joey how he slept.)

Joey: "Good, and yours?"

Nigerian: "Good.  How was your wife?" (He is not asking about my performance.  He is inquiring about my health).

Joey: "Good.  How was your sister?"  Seriously.  In which context, sister usually means wife and Auntie is usually mother because you call your female boss your "ma."  And so it goes. 

Anyway, this morning I went to the snack cart for my coffee.  Me: "Good morning."

Gambo: "Good morning.  How is de boss?"

Me (one eyebrow raised): "Jordan?"

Gambo: "No!  Your husband!"

I'm sure no one needs to psychoanalyze how I felt about that.  Gambo also likes to tell Joey when I get order coffee cake from the snack cart.  "The madam got the peach cake," he tells Joey.  Thanks, tattletale.

According to my coworker in the office, "In Nigerian culture the 'usband is the alpha and the omega.  His wife must do anything he asks."  Hmm.  I think I'll just let that one go...


church - african style

Joey and I went to a Catholic Mass today - we think. 

One of the women who works for Joey invited us to her baby's baptism.  I have to admit, that baptism was unlike any other baptism I've seen.  First we had to get there.  The driver took us a short way out of town to a road just packed with people.  Joey asked him what was going on and he replied, "Church."  Oh.  That answers that.

So in the middle of the exceptionally colorful throng of people (they bring new meaning to the term, "Sunday Best;" they really go all out), the driver asked a passerby how to get to the Catholic Church.  He pointed to his right and we were conveniently directly in front of the gate.  So in we went to the Church's yard. 

We arrived slightly late (Dad - I swear that I was ready.  Seriously.  The driver picked us up late.  Ask Joey, he'll vouch for me.) and as the usher (as denoted by his green embroidered sash) started walking us up the pews I was horrified we'd be marched to the front (A coworker of Joey's told us a story of a wedding she attended where she was seated in front of the bridal party).  Luckily, we avoided the same fate and took a seat in the back of the church.  The very crowded and very un-air-conditioned church.  With more broken ceiling fans than not.  Anyway, the church was quite simple - one long rectangular room with plywood beams underneath a tin roof.  Small windows punctuated the walls, allowing a much-needed breeze not nearly often as I would have liked.  The Stations of the Cross along the walls ironically chronicled a very white Jesus and his apostles. 

We settled into the pew (actually I settled into the pew with Joey's boss - he settled into a white plastic chair over by the window - lucky) after the opening prayers for the readings.  First reading - nothing out of the ordinary.  Begin the responsorial psalm.  As typical for a Catholic Mass, the reader read the refrain and the congregation repeated it.  Then she sang the refrain.  Okay. 

You know that scene from The Little Mermaid where the lobster says "Cue the drums" and all of a sudden the tropical music starts to play?

All of a sudden there's some great African music and the responsorial psalm is taken to a whole new level.  Everybody's singing, the music is playing - sure its hot in here but I can dig it.  So then we have the second reading and get a repeat performance for the Alleluia.  Then they let the priest have the microphone.

"You.      are de light.       of de world.

A ceedy.     set.  on a hill.
be hid.....

...Let yoooooouuur light so
before men. 
Dat dey may see your good works.

And give

to your FATHAH.
who is. in. HEAVEN."

Very inspirational, I thought.  And clearly, he likes to hear himself talk.  An hour later he finished his homily.  Not like its hot in here or anything.  Guess God just made up for all those times I've missed Mass in the last few months.

I'll give him this - the homily was anything but dry.  He covered it all.  He talked for a while.  Then he sang.  Then he read.  Then he did one of those things where he'd say "Jesus" and the congregation would say "Is the Light of the World."  Repeatedly.  Then he talked some more.  Then he sang with the drums.  Then he talked some more.  He walked up and down the aisle.  He danced.  He asked questions that even the congregation assumed were rhetorical and then said "I would like a volunteer."  He talked about childbirth and labor pains.  And interviewed a woman in the parish about it.  Finally, I have to admit, I stopped listening.  I'm pretty sure he switched to one of the local languages to say something and I zoned out because I was more focused on not passing out from heatstroke.

So finally we move on to the offeretory hymn.  Where they pass the basket.  Well actually that's what they do at every other Catholic Mass I've been to.  Here everybody gets up out of their seat and brings their offering to the altar.  To the music.  And then everybody claps.

Then it was time to kneel.  The man next to me, upon noticing that I was Catholic, was kind enough to share his bulletin with me.  He placed his on the wooden plank of a kneeler and knelt on it, and so I followed suit.  Ow.  I mean, I get that that's kind of the point - Jesus died for us and we kneel down during the part where the bread becomes the body.  But we wimpy American Catholics kneel on padding.  Not so in this little church.  I made it about three minutes before I had to sit.  I thought my knee pads were going to bore through my skin into the wood.

So eventually we sing the "Our Father" to the African beat (honestly probably one of my favorite renditions), and we're on to Communion.  The churchgoers just kind of filed up randomly - there wasn't really any order to the line and so I figured I'd go when the guy next to me went.  Well he didn't go.  So neither did I.  Hmm.

Then we figure its time for the baptism.  The woman who invited us came over and escorted us from our pew outside, where a  large group of people has congregated.  She thanked us for coming, introduced us to her mother, her husband, her friends, and then instructed us to walk with her.  So she starts down the aisle with her baby, her mother, her husband, her friends, and us - the three white people.  The music is playing, the beat is going - and this procession is dancing down the aisle.  So eventually the whole group gets to the altar where the priest is dancing - with a squirt bottle.  He is spritzing everyone with high-powered Holy Water.  As Joey walks past the priest and gets squirted with his third spray of Holy Water I lose it and break into a fit of giggles.  Luckily, we're still processing (most are still dancing) and we made our way back to the pews. 

After the first person gave his ten minutes of announcements and the second started in, we snuck out.  Not that we were very conspicuous to begin with or anything.

Our driver told us we were the first to ever attend anything like that for the local staff.  I'm honored that we were invited and glad that we had the chance to go - but next time I think we'll have to get there early.  And under a fan.  That works.



I retract my earlier statement about not having seen a cockroach in the house since receiving the mothballs.  Just found one in the absolute worst location: my bedroom.  Biggest one yet, and did you know they flipping fly?  I'm taking out my earrings, exhausted, ready for bed and found it on the ceiling.  I immediately called for Joey, who came up with the bug spray - he hit the bug and it took off flying.  F-L-Y-I-N-G.  I ran to the other room and I hear him using my favorite four-letter word repeatedly. 

Me (screaming): "Why are you saying that?" 

Joey: "I can't find it." 

Me (still screaming): "Find the flipping thing." 

Joey: "I'm trying."  Eventually I hear the flap of his shoe.  And then again, and again, and again, and again.  "The damn thing won't die!" 

Its finally dead, and I even took a photo of it and the carnage it left in our bedroom from Joey's search.  FML.


Oh my God the biggest hornet just buzzed by my head.  Inside.  Upstairs.  I don't even know if it was a hornet or a wasp or wtf it was but thank God our steward was here.  She killed it with my shoe since I was frozen in fear.  In other happenings on the bug front, we had two cockroaches last week - one in the living room and another in the dining room, which for some reason is even more frustrating than finding them in the kitchen.  But we also got our mothballs in the mail from Netgrocer and haven't seen any cockroaches since I put a few of those out, so they must be doing the trick.

My mom emailed me and asked my why I haven't been keeping up on my blog...I guess its one of those scenarios where if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.  I'm just really homesick.  Its not really that I miss Des Moines or Washington, DC in particular, and I feel like I've been doing an okay job at keeping in touch with family - its just that I miss all those things that we had in Des Moines and DC.  I miss our family and great friends, I miss the great restaurants and stuff to do.  I miss being able to go for a run by the monuments instead of the mountains of trash.  I mean really, this morning, there was giant pile of trash in the middle of the sidewalk.  Oh, and Dear all drivers in Nigeria, please kindly stop parking your car on the sidewalk.  It is for walking.  The street is for driving.  Thank you.

I'm hoping Thursday night was the low point.  I finally broke down and bawled.  Then Joey and I ate peanut butter and honey toast (my solution to dessert) and drank a bottle of wine.  Alcohol and food seem to make everything better, at least for the meantime.  I mean, no, last week I didn’t eat four quarts of Ben & Jerry’s in three days.  Joey helped.  We went to the Commissary last Thursday night and even though it was still ridiculously expensive (over $6 a quart), I bought four quarts of Ben & Jerry's and as soon as we got home sat down and ate a Chunky Monkey.  Then last Friday after I got home from work decided that I needed some Strawberry Cheesecake and then later after dinner somehow the second Chunky Monkey may have been eaten as well.   Then I made it as far as Sunday before eating the last quart - Pistachio Pistachio.  FAT.  I’m an emotional eater, what can I say?  I mean, you mix PMSing with homesickness and you get a Chunky Melissa.

Anyway, the last Saturday of every month in Nigeria is called “Sanitation Day.”  No one in Abuja is allowed outside their house – no one is really sure why, but apparently if you get caught on the street – running, walking to the market, whatever – is no bueno.  I’ve heard its because once a month they want you to clean your house?  Not really sure, but last Saturday we hung out in our compound until we got the all clear.  Then we had a party - all the people in our compound put some money together and got a cover band and a guy to come out and make shawarmas (Greek/Lebanese-ish wraps with tahini and beef and lettuce and tomato - quite good).  It actually turned out to be a fairly fun time and it was something to do.
The guys making shawarma at the party.
The "best, better-than-average cover band" by the pool at our party.

Sunday we made our way to the Arts and Crafts Village outside the Sheraton.  There are all these little huts, and inside each is an assortment of beads, masks, wood carvings - random slave shackles - I mean, they are collector's items, right? Uhhh...  We didn't buy anything yet but are thinking about commissioning an ebony chest with a bunch of African carvings.  My only problem is that they carve all these cool giraffes and elephants and antelope into these beautiful pieces, and while I get that those are representative of Africa and we are, in fact, in Africa - I have yet to see a giraffe.  Or elephant.  Or antelope.  I saw a monkey in a cage on the side of the road on our way home from Gurara Falls and I just don't think that counts as wildlife.  So as much as I love the wood carvings of these fabulous African animals, I just don't feel that they are representative of our experience here.  We did find some cool little statuesques of African women with bowls on their heads that I think are more appropriate but I guess we have two years to see an elephant so it is what it is.

Also in the realm of arts and crafts, I had a dress made.  I picked out some fabric a few weeks ago and I met with a tailor.  After going through the tailor's magazines together, he sketched a design and took my measurements. I picked up the finished product last week.  The tailor had to make a few adjustments so he had me follow him to his "shop."  My friend Linda and I wandered through a maze of random brick alleyways in the market to what looked like a storage garage full of antique sewing machines.  So while the tailor adjusted my dress, Linda and I just sat on the bench outside his "shop" in the middle of the brick alley of garages.  Seeing as there was no fitting room available and I wanted to make sure the dress fit before I paid the tailor and left, I tried it on - over my other outfit - right in the little alleyway.  I think, even though I was wearing a  full skirt and tank top, the action of me putting on and taking off the dress - even over my other clothes - had the other tailors wondering wtf I was doing.  I was already fully clothed so its not like I was revealing anything.  Anyway, the dress wasn't exactly what I had pictured but Joey likes it and I might warm up to it eventually.  With the fabric and the custom tailoring it was $45 total, which is a steal for a custom made dress - but I just bought one through Victoria's Secret online for $19.99 that I'm positive I'll wear more.  So while I'm not sure if I'll commission any more dresses here, I am glad I got one - if nothing else its a cool souvenir.