Before we head back to Italy later next month, I figured I should probably finish writing about our trip there, for R&R, in July.  I left off in Santorini, and we had five more stops on our cruise before returning to Rome.  First stop: Athens.

The ship actually docked in Piraeus, Athens' port.  We'd run into this on cruises before, so I'm not sure why I found it so frustrating at the time, but I thought it exceptionally difficult to figure out how to get to the city. Maybe because the taxis were on strike, maybe because it was scorching hot and I was again sweating like a whore in church, but probably because I'm just spoiled and moody; nonetheless, we eventually made it to the train station.

After an hour in the hot, crowded train car, we arrived in what was the epicenter of the austerity riots held a few weeks earlier.  Their toll was astounding: neither Joey nor I could believe how dirty and full of litter and graffiti we found Athens' Parliamentary Square.  But once we left the seat of government and proceeded through the city, past the Byzantine Greek Orthodox cathedrals, the Plakka and its shops toward the Acropolis, we found the rest of Athens to be significantly nicer.

We settled into a cafe where I devoured the fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives and crumbly feta of my Greek salad and more than a few bites of Joey's juicy gyro.  Then we climbed yet another massive hill, only this time there was no poop and the Parthenon waited on top.  Standing next to the ancient temple that stood as witness to thousands of years of history was awe-inspiring, and the view of the city was expansive.  Athens seemed to go on for miles in every direction.

Hundreds of photos later, we clambered down the other side of the Acropolis and around more of the city.  We cooled off in the shade with a plate of baklava before boarding the train back to port.

Click here for all of my photos from Athens.

the (cumpulsory) year (and two days) in review

367 days ago we landed in Abuja.  It was our first day in Africa and we were excited, anxious, bewildered, overwhelmed and exhausted.  366 days ago Joey's colleague took us to Mogadishu Barracks to eat spicy whole fish with our hands.  In a dark enclave outside the city, suddenly immersed in African culture, the experience so surreal I felt the space spinning around me.  Half-terrified, half-exhilarated, Joey and I exchanged looks that said, "Are we really here right now?!" 365 days ago Mogadishu Barracks was bombed.

And so began 2011.

I could describe our year in terms of violence.  The BBC reports election violence in April and May killed somewhere around 800 people in Nigeria.  Summer was book-ended by bombs; first the Police Headquarters in June, then the UN in August.  At least 20 people died.  Then in November reports of credible threats to the Hilton and Sheraton flooded Abuja radio airwaves.  All Americans were warned to avoid those hotels and the Marine Ball was canceled.  Christmas Day brought more bombs close to Abuja, in churches no less.

We didn't realize the stress of living in such a volatile place until we left.  And once we discerned how much better we coped with everyday life upon our return, we left every chance we could get.  In 2011 we traveled to Stockholm, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the US, Ghana, and South Africa.  We hit four continents, the Southern Hemisphere, and the Indian Ocean.

It's been an extraordinary year.  It's been hard.  It's challenged me in ways I never could have imagined.  It's been truly scary, and some days I really didn't know if I could handle it.  Another EFM I met here told me it would get easier.  She said, "when I first got here I thought, 'If I can handle this, I can handle anything,'"  and she was right.  It has gotten easier and I'm proud of myself for living somewhere I never thought I would and many days never thought I could.  I've come a long way from bawling under the covers of our townhouse in DC.

This year put a lot in perspective.  The value of family and friends and safety; clean water, personal space, and deodorant; cheeseburgers and the United States of America.

God Bless the USA.



We celebrated Christmas a day early.  Saturday morning M., her daughter, O., and her husband, G., came over for breakfast and presents.  We devoured cheesy scrambled eggs, thick bacon and soft, gooey, Cinnabon-style cinnamon rolls that Joey and M. made from scratch with cappuccino and fresh-squeezed soursop juice.  Bellies full, we moved to the family room to open presents.

M. and O. loved their new outfits from Old Navy, and M. almost cried when she opened her new cookbooks.  She kept saying to G., "Do you know how expensive these are here?  I could open my own restaurant!"  G. was super excited about the movie tickets we bought him since he's never been to a movie before!  They wouldn't stop thanking us and repeating "God bless you."  It was pretty sweet, and truly our pleasure.

Not to be outdone, M. and G. and O. had presents for us too!  They had a dress made for me and a shirt from the same fabric for Joey.  Here we are modeling our new gifts.

I didn't want to post any photos of M., O. and G., just in case, so click here to see the rest of my Christmas photos.

Christmas Eve we went to Mass at the Embassy of the Holy See.  We've been avoiding churches all year because of this, so it felt really special to celebrate Mass for Christmas, even with the very loud, Nigerian baritone belting out carols from the pew behind us.

Sadly, many Nigerians did not share the same privilege on Christmas.  It certainly put a lot in perspective for me, as I moped around the house on Christmas, utterly depressed until I got a very close reminder how truly  lucky I am that the only cross I had to bear on Christmas was celebrating without my family.  It's a damn shame what happened here yesterday, and my heart goes out to all those families who lost loved ones.

cape town concluded

Our last day in Cape Town we did something we've never done before: we took the double-decker bus.  Yep, we bought tickets on the red, hop-on, hop-off tourist trap, and we loved it!  It took us all around the city, through the City Bowl, District Six, Camps Bay, and even up to the base of Table Mountain, and did so with super-cute African music and an actually interesting narration of the city and its history buzzing through my very own pair of red earbuds.  It was great!

Unfortunately we were unable to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain because of the exceptionally strong wind blustering in from the ocean; the locals call it the "Cape Doctor" because it clears all the pollution from the city.  The view of Cape Town from the base of Table Mountain was stunning nonetheless.

After the tour, we walked over to Green Point Stadium, built for the World Cup in 2010, hoping to catch the tail end of a beer festival.  Unfortunately it had ended earlier in the day, probably while we were enjoying $3 mango martinis and ricotta-stuffed calamari at a cafe overlooking the beach promenade.  Darn.

We walked back to our hotel to get our bags then drove to the airport for the beginning of our lengthy journey back to Abuja.  Thankfully, the return included enough time to catch at least a little shut-eye at an airport hotel in Johannesburg Sunday night before the long flight back to Lagos and even longer wait in the crappy, old domestic terminal that had "The Ten Commandments" playing on a tiny TV in the corner.  As the sun set on our travels, we boarded the plane to Abuja, already counting down the days to our next sojourn.

The sunset from the Lagos airport.
Click here to see the rest of my photos from our trip.  I managed to narrow down the 1023 I took to 247.  Enjoy!


merry christmas?

I didn't feel like writing much about Christmas before this happened.


Anyway, we as safe as can be reasonably expected.  Just want to thank my good old husband's employers for recognizing the danger here.  Oh wait... I hope you're enjoying a safe and happy Christmas with your family back in Washington.  We'll hold down the fort until you figure it out.


cape winelands

On Saturday we explored the Cape Winelands.  We tasted fresh-roasted coffee and chocolate truffles and homemade cheese while we drank our way through Sommerset West, Stellenbosch, Franschoek and back.  The wine and the weather and the views of the mountains and valleys and vineyards made for an incredible day, even if I didn't realize that in an olive oil tasting you actually sip it (I don't care how tacky it is, next time I'm asking for bread).

That night we had dinner reservations at La Colombe (French, not Spanish, pronunciation), ranked #12 on the 2010 San Pellegrino list of best restaurants in the world.  Our reservations were for 8:00, and GoogleMaps quoted the trip to the restaurant from the hotel at half an hour.  We left at 7:00, figuring we'd get a drink at the bar before our meal.

And GoogleMaps wins again.  I swear to God they write directions just to mess with people.  We got so freaking lost.  While much of Cape Town is fabulous, there are parts of town one shouldn't visit, and I'm pretty sure we found those parts.  So of course I freaked out on Joey because he wasn't freaking out.  An hour later, barely speaking to each other, we found a gas station that seemed safe and went inside for directions.

We got back on track and made it to Constantia, the town of the winery/restaurant, and got lost again.  We drove around and around and around, literally in circles through the same strip mall complex parking lot, until we could finally get a hold of the restaurant (via our hotel, who was incredibly helpful during this ordeal.  Truly, if you visit Cape Town, I'd highly recommend Villa Zest), who finally directed us to our seat by the fireplace at the romantic, French-country themed restaurant.

After a glass of sparkling wine, Joey and I were back on speaking terms.  We splurged on the six-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and because I saw the tray of goodies served to the table next of us, we ordered espresso for the sole purpose of tasting the petits fours.  Everything was divine.  Truly one of the best meals I've ever eaten.

L'amuse bouche: I don't remember what was on either side, but the middle was a Tom Ka Gai shooter out of an egg and it was ah. may. zing.

First Course: Alaskan king crab, yuzu dressing, miso orange crema dusted with a coriander and black forest ham crumble, daikon mousse and mirin dashy jelly (I stole a menu).  Paired with 2010 Reyneke Sauvingnon Blanc.

Second Course: Pan fried foie gras, seared quail breast, confit quail leg, rhubarb puree, parsnip crisps, quail and rhubarb jus.  Paired with 2011 Cederberg Bukettraube.

Third Course: Scallops and confit pork belly, smoked parsnip puree, black forest ham veloute, crisp pork crackling, lemon and pea dressing.  Paired with 2010 Sequillo White.

Fourth course: Grannysmith granite, warm Calvados foam.  O. M. G.

Fifth course: Sous vide of veal, warm ballotine of morel mushrooms and sweet breads, steamed langoustine, buttered pomme puree, pea and black forest ham salad, mustard beurre blanc.  Paired with 2006 Vriesenhof Pinotage.

Sixth course: Rose and coconut panna cotta, lime syllabub, cashew pebbles and a basil seed and orange blossom dressing.  Paired with Constantia Uitsig Muscat D'Alexandrie

And of course, the petit fours, from left: coconut marshmallows, chocolate truffles, lemon cookies, meringe and rose Turkish delight. 
 Don't worry - we got directions from the waiter for the drive back.


cape town continued

Friday morning I woke up early to catch a hot yoga class.  The cab I’d arranged the night before with the hotel was waiting for me at 6:30, so I figured I’d have plenty of time to make it to the 7:00 am class.  By 6:40, the cab had pulled up to the address I gave him, somewhere in the middle of downtown Cape Town, so I still had 20 minutes to find the studio and get situated before class.  Good thing.

The studio’s website said to look for the blue flags of the Pick’n’Pay (a supermarket).  Then it said the studio is on the tenth floor.  I find the Pick’n’Pay, which was actually in sort of an office/retail complex much like the Kaliedescope in Des Moines or the post office in the basement of K&9th in NW DC.  I find the building directory and floor plan.  Not only is there no mention of a yoga studio, the floor plan only shows a two story building.  Flummoxed, I wander back out to the busy street and over to the little convenience store next door, where I ask the squat, older, male attendant (who clearly does not practice yoga) if he could direct me to the yoga studio.  Predictably, the only thing he directs my way is a blank stare. 

So I walk down to the corner, scanning up and down all of the tall buildings around me for a sign that might even suggest yoga.  Completely unsuccessful, I make my way back to the Pick’N’Pay, where I spy two people who are totally yogis if I’ve ever seen one.  And follow them.  Right into the supermarket.  Into the line for fresh bread.


Stealthily, I act as though I’m meandering around the grocery store, nonchalantly buying a water to pretend as if it was completely my original intention.  I almost lose the yogis while fumbling through my wallet for correct change (damn those small dollar coins!), but out of the corner of my eye I spot them head down an escalator.

I dart to the escalator, too late to see where the original yogis went, but in time to catch another girl walking by in tight black pants and a head band.  She is clearly headed to yoga too.  She strides past the bottom of the escalator to into elevator on the right.

Once in the mysterious, hidden elevator, I easily found the button for the tenth floor and from there, the yoga studio too.  It felt great to sweat out all the martinis I’d had the night before, even if the two girls in front of me were way more flexible than me and that always pisses me off (I know that makes me a bad yogi). 

After class I woke Joey up and we hit the road, driving all along the coast of the Indian Ocean with our jaws dropped the entire way.  Let's put it this way: the landscape was so gorgeous that Joey was even willing to pull the car over - several times - so I could get out to take pictures.  

Our first stop along the drive was Boulder Beach, home to a colony of penguins!  Real penguins!  In the wild!  Well, technically it was a national park, but that counts.  

After we left Boulder Beach, we started to notice road signs, like the ones you’d see in Iowa for deer, but for baboons instead.

Still elated from seeing penguins waddle on the beach, I couldn’t hope to actually see a baboon.  And then there it was – a baboon!  He was just hanging out along the highway with his three friends, no big deal.  

A ranger flagged us down; she and her partner were trying to make sure people didn't feed the baboons, because apparently they can be quite violent when they see food.   In fact, if a baboon sees food in your car, it will open an unlocked car door, and take you down for your sandwich.  Kind of like Joey when you won't let him eat his burger because you want to take a picture of it first.
And people say we didn't evolve from primates...

We reached the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, from where we continued our drive to Cape Point and I continued my South African photo shoot.  As if wild penguins and baboons weren't cool enough in one day, soon we came across a family of ostriches!  They walked so close to our car window we could have touched them; Joey exclaimed, "I feel like I'm in Jurassic Park right now!"

Cape Point isn't the southernmost tip in Africa, but it's pretty close.  We trekked up the daunting stone staircase to the lighthouse (because what would a vacation be without at least a little "death march") and then took the funicular on the way down because I was sweating in my cute pink loafers.  

At the lighthouse summit almost at the southern-most tip of Africa.

As we slowly drove back from Cape Point to the entrance of the nature reserve, I noticed an animal in the distance.  "Stop the car.  There is a ______ zebra."

Joey looked at me skeptically.

"Stop!  Stop!  There's a _______ __________ zebra!"  (At least I'm only sort of turning into my mother.  She would have said, "DEER!  DEER!  DEER!"  I'm keeping it real with my sailor mouth.  That part I get from my dad's side.)

Sure enough, in the distance we spotted (or should I say striped) three zebras.  Just grazing.  How cool is that?

We drove back up the Atlantic side of the cape along Chapman’s Peak Drive, a winding trail built into the side of the cliffs.  The view over Hout Bay was truly breathtaking. 

We decided on a late lunch of fresh fish and chips at a local fish shack in Hout Bay.  The chips were a little soggy but the fish was perfectly crisp.  We followed it with a beer and some calamari on the deck of a restaurant overlooking the wharf and watched seals and seagulls and fisherman brave the freezing cold temperatures repeatedly to lug in huge nets of squirming fish.

We made it back to Cape Town just before sunset for a nap and a shower, followed by dinner at an amazing steak restaurant, aptly named Carne.  Still tired from our long haul from Abuja, we decided to skip the tempting nightlife on Long St. and turn in early to make the most of the rest of our trip.


our thanksgiving in cape town

I've been trying to come up with a creative way to introduce our trip to Cape Town, but to call it beautiful, incredible and refreshing sounds redundant after all my other posts about all the amazing places we've been lucky enough to visit this year.  Nonetheless, it was all of the above and more.  Cape Town is the confluence of mountains, white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise oceans (the Atlantic and the Indian), exotic wild animals and completely reliable infrastructure, not to mention world-class shopping and dining.  Oh and hundreds of incredible vineyards are only 20 minutes away.  It's like all the great things about California without the Californians.  And thanks to the exchange rate, everything is on sale.  Joey wants to move there.  I'd happily live in Cape Town if my family wasn't so far away or if we could convince them to move with us.  Anybody?  Take a look at my photos and get back to me...

Getting to Cape Town was no easy feat.  We'd heard horror stories about our airline (Arik) and transiting through Lagos, both of which we faced.  But to our complete and utter shock, our flights were on time and everything went smoothly.  I guess after all of our other travel woes we'd finally earned enough karma to redeem for a trip.

Smoothly or not, we still had an hour drive to the Abuja airport, an hour wait for the flight, an hour flight between Abuja and Lagos, a five hour layover in the Lagos airport that is not air-conditioned (who needs A/C when it's only 90 degrees outside?), followed by a six hour flight to Johannesburg, and another five hour layover in the Johannesburg airport (I heart Woolworths in the airport) before boarding our final two hour flight to Cape Town.  Yes, we planned another 23 hour trip, and just like the other ones, it was totally worth it.  

After departing the rental car desk, we proceeded to our car.  Anyone who's ever ridden with Joey will attest he is not the best driver (sorry, honey).  So imagine having to get in a car with Joey behind the wheel on the other side of the car.  Terrifying.  Then add in driving on the other side of the road.  And the driver is saying how he's never been so freaked out to drive before and can't figure out where to drive.  Fantastic.

But somehow we made it to the hotel, and I even managed to take a few pictures on the way.  We may have also gotten lost in the meantime, but there was certainly no yelling or parking of the car or freaking out while trying to figure out where in the hell we were because I was convinced we were going to get carjacked.  I will admit to the pit stop at the burger place.  

The massive burgers in our bellies allowed our brains to focus on something other than food (and the beer may have chilled our sleep-deprived selves out), and we found the hotel.  I took a shower and unpacked while Joey took a nap, and then we were off to explore the V&A Waterfront along the Atlantic.

Our room was called "American Graffiti" at Villa Zest

We wandered past the shops and restaurants, and even into a mall (you can go ahead and cue Handel's Messiah here).  We drank cappuccino and tap beer and ate warm goat cheese while enjoying the crisp air of the South African summer evening.  

Wishing his family happy Thanksgiving.

We compensated for missing Thanksgiving at home by celebrating our first Thanksgiving as just the two of us at the chichi chain, Nobu (remember what I was telling you about everything on sale?  Even Nobu is (barely) affordable with the South African rand at 8.5 to the dollar).  We decided to order our own tasting menu, including copious amounts of sushi and Wagyu beef, ordering so much the waitress came back half-way through to see if we still wanted the rest of the food.  We, the perpetual fat kids on vacation, didn't.  It was. That. Much food.  A true Thanksgiving dinner indeed.

Pork belly and such.  Nom nom nom.

how best buy tried to screw me and funny emails from frank

As you may be aware, I ruined my camera on our trip to Ghana.  Actually, the rain ruined my camera, but I probably should have known better than to take a camera in a rain forest and expect it to stay dry.  Since my blond roots tend to show more often than not, I always buy the warranty.  If it's a high-ticket item, chances are I'm going to drop it, lose it, break it or get it wet (like the time I bent the setting on my wedding ring by 90 degrees when I fell into the sump pump hole in our basement).  As such, when I originally bought the G10 back in 2009, I also bought the warranty.

This proved a smart decision in the summer of 2010 when the G10 just stopped working (I swear).  I took the camera and the warranty into Best Buy and after about a month of wrangling back and forth, they replaced it with a brand-new G11.  Best Buy's replacement of the G10 with the G11 constituted fulfillment of the original warranty, so I purchased a new warranty for the G11.

So when we got back from Ghana, I mailed the G11 (minus the battery, lest the pouch reject it), the warranty, the receipt and detailed instructions (including an explanation for the Geek Squad as to why the battery was missing) to my always-willing-to-help dad.  I asked him to please take it to Best Buy right away because I was afraid they would take longer with the holiday rush and I needed a solution no later than January when we meet in Italy (so he could bring the battery).  Three weeks later, my dad sent me this:

Hello Kid,

Just got your camera in the mail today.  I unpacked the box, read the notes, immediately put on my coat and shoes, got in my car, and drove as fast as I could to Best Buy!  (The cop couldn't keep up so I didn't get a ticket)  When I got to the parking lot there was a front row spot just waiting for me!  After making an older woman pee her depends, I jumped out of the car and ran into the store as fast as my new tennis shoes would take me................Just to frigin' wait in line for about a half hour because some couple can't figure out that they can't get cash back without a receipt!  After they finally got done, I go up to the counter only to find out that "ITS A GEEK THING" and I should have been in the line on the other side of the circular barrier!  I go around and after another fifteen or twenty minutes they told me there was no battery in the camera.  After a few minutes of explanation they finally said it would be no later than Dec. 17th for an answer whether they would junk it and give you a new one, or repair it.  So now we wait.  I'll let you know as soon as I get the word.   

Anything else I can do, just call someone else!  Just kidding, you know I'm here for you two!!  

Love you guys 

In the meantime, I decided to buy the T2i, which I also had sent to my dad (again, thanks to the battery).  But, because the price keeps fluctuating so much, I told him not to open the box just in case the price goes down enough for me to exchange it.  Here's his response:

Got it Kid. Won't open till I hear from you. This camera thing is like a game with new moves all the time! Like getting my orders from my secret agent boss!

Smart ass.

So a few days ago, Best Buy called my dad and said they'd made a decision on the camera.  They were going to give me a new one - yay!  But there was a catch:  Best Buy wanted to replace my top-of-the-line, $500 point-and-shoot with a puny, little $199 X230HS.  The geek fed my dad some line about technology getting better and prices dropping and compared it to the cost of LED TVs.  Then the geek straight-up lied and said the X230HS is better than the G12.  For those of you who don't know anything about cameras, this is like trying to replace a Mercedes with a Dodge. 

The geek also offered a $199.99 Best Buy gift card.  Oh woo hoo!  Now I only have to spend $300 more dollars to replace the camera on which I already bought a $70 warranty!

Obviously when my dad relayed this offer, I told him to please share with Best Buy my feelings about it.  Feelings that included my favorite four letters, or as they'd call it here in Nigeria, 419 (fraud).  Dad said he'd take care of it.  Then I got this email:

Subject:  The Camera Saga Concluded

OK Kid,

After a short demonstration of Consumer Reports magazine and a full presentation of documents from all the online services Mom could find.....................you now have a BRAND NEW CANON G12 CAMERA IN THE BOX!!!!!!!! 

Tell me what the hell you want me to do NEXT!!

Love you.

Silly Best Buy.  Don't try to scam someone who lives in Nigeria!

P.S.  Don't I have the best dad ever?


it's not you, it's me.

Seriously, would everyone please stop inviting us out?  I know my combination of charm, wit and extensive vocabulary of four-letter words makes me irresistible, but I really just don't want to go to your dinner.  Okay, while I'm honored for the invitation and do realize it's probably not my sparkling personality but that everyone stuck here for the holidays is lonely too, I still don't want to go.  I don't mean to sound stuck-up, but I just don't feel like putting on a bra and makeup to go eat your meal out of a can.  Or to stand around making small talk about the same three topics while drinking the same three beverages available to me at home.  Just because everybody works together does not mean that we all have to be together all the time.  Let's face it:  besides where we live and how much we love it here, we really don't have that much in common.  So thanks, but no thanks.  

Really though, when you live in a fishbowl, how do you draw the line?  In such a small community, is it at all possible to avoid offending your co-workers (who also happen to be your neighbors) because you didn't attend their event?  
So maybe it makes me a bitch because I skipped the girl's night and my neighbor's brunch and don't want to share my Christmas dinner with anyone besides my husband.  I won't apologize for choosing to sit at home in my hot pink sweatpants with Joey and the dogs and eat popcorn and chocolate chips by the bag and drink wine by the bottle this holiday season.  I prefer to think of myself as an introvert who misses her family and friends and snow and America and just doesn't feel like putting on a brave face to go shoot the shit with people she barely knows on Christmas.  Is that really so bad?


il gatto nuota

Joey and I decided we're going to learn Italian.  We bought Rosetta Stone at least four years ago (before the wedding) and figured since we are headed back to Italy next month for the third time since our wedding, now'd be a good time to open the software.  Especially since it cost as much as three months of malaria medication.  I digress...

Maybe I'm just special, but I really hate the voice recognition software.  If it tells me I'm not pronouncing "no" or "e" one more time, I might have to throw the headphones against the computer screen (again).  Maybe that's why they're not working...



I started taking Mefloquine. Three weeks before we departed for post.  Mefloquine isn't generally recommended for those who have suffered from depression in the past, but it is the only anti-malarial safe for pregnancy, and this time last year we'd fully intended that I'd be pregnant.

Until we got here.

One look at the haze of the Harmattan and I couldn't bear the thought of bringing a baby back to Abuja.  I absolutely believe in a woman's right to choose when it's the right time for her to become a mother, so I respect the many people who have added to their families here, but I knew this wasn't where I wanted to start mine.

I thought I'd stick with the Mefloquine anyways since it was the easiest option.  It's offered free through the med unit and you only have to take it once a week.

That lasted for about two months.  At the time I was pretty sure it was exacerbating my depression, but looking back on all that we were going through at the time: an international move to a dangerous, third-world country, away from our family and friends and Target, and with it the culture shock of a new home, a new country, a new job and new friends, I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't the Mefloquine that was making me blue.

So back in early March I switched to Doxycycline.  Doxycycline is an antibiotic, and while it doesn't cause the crazy dreams or shit-for-sleep that Mefloquine does, it does cause some killer nausea, especially if you're already prone to motion sickness.  Also, from my completely unscientific research, I deduced that it's generally recommended not to take antibiotics for more than six months consecutively since they kill everything in your system - the good bacteria with the bad bacteria.  And if the sales numbers of Traditional Medicinal's Smooth Move Herbal Tea are any indicator, you'd see a spike between March and four days ago.

Finally on Friday I decided that I was sick of feeling sick every single day.  I ran out of another box of the tea and I figured I'm already depressed this holiday season, so WTF, I'm going back to the Mefloquine.

There is a third option.  While the med unit will write you a prescription for Malarone, they don't keep it on hand, and you have to come out of pocket to pay for this drug.  I first attempted my foray into Malarone in June, but for some reason the insurance company had my birth date wrong and no one at Coventry felt the need to tell me my prescription couldn't be filled.  So I wait the six weeks I'm told it will take for the prescription to be filled and mailed to me and nothing.

After too much time on hold with Coventry, I thought I got my birth date changed.  The patient people in the med unit resubmitted the prescription, patient little me waits six more weeks and still nothing.  The idiots at Coventry couldn't figure out how to change my birth date the first time I sat on hold and so I had to call them.  Again.

Finally this time it appears the monkeys Coventry hired have learned how to differentiate between a 3 and a 4 on the keyboard.  So the med unit submits the prescription again and Coventry denies the claim.

Can you tell my why it was so freaking important that you had my birth date correct if you were going to deny the claim anyway?

At this point it's November.  I see the claim is denied and I assume that means I should be getting the prescription and a bill.

Last week I got a letter in the mail.  I have to provide payment information before I can get my prescription.

So tonight, after I finally get through to a human being who WON'T STOP TALKING, I give her my credit card number and she tells me how much this prescription for the malady that exists in the country where we live because of my husband's employer, who will only pay for the cheap drugs that have shitty side-effects, is going to cost me every three months.


So you choose.  Malaria; depression, nightmares, inability to fall into a deep sleep; nausea, intense heartburn, complete and utter irregularity; or $479 every three months.

Merry Freaking Christmas.


holy mountain

Our last day in Obudu we didn't have much time.  We had to get on the road fairly early to make sure we got back to Abuja before dark.  The drive is only supposed to take six and a half hours and we'd gotten better directions for the way back from the people at the resort, but we wanted to leave a little room just in case.

We had just enough time to visit "Holy Mountain," from where you could see the border of Cameroon.  The bellhop at the resort incidentally doubled as our tour guide.  He promised, "20 minutes there.  16 minutes to take pictures and 20 minutes back."  What if we want 17 minutes to take pictures?

So we all hopped in the car with the bellhop riding shotgun.  He led us up a road that was more grass than anything else, and after a short, slow drive we arrived at the top of Holy Mountain.  (When asked what made the mountain holy, the bellhop answered that when the Germans invaded during WWII, the villagers were saved in that spot.  We were all fairly certain the Germans never occupied Nigeria;  I checked Wikipedia (which is always right): they didn't.)  But we were as high as the clouds, and watching them roll in and out felt like 16 minutes in heaven.  The cloud cover was actually too thick to see the border of Cameroon, but we were able to look down on a gorgeous waterfall, Cataract Falls.

On top of Holy Mountain

I'm not sure if it was originally his idea, but the bellhop suggested that if we stand in a certain spot and jump it would appear in a photograph as though we were moving from one mountain to another.  This inspired much silly jumping and even more giggling.  It also resulted in some hilarious pictures, which I include here gratuitously.

A belly shot, no less.

After returning the bellhop to the resort, we started the long drive home.  Along the way we passed fruit stand after fruit stand, where we stopped to buy mangoes and oranges and papayas for 1/10th the price we'd pay in Abuja.  

We eventually reached the edge of the city, but unfortunately we did so with a thousand other cars at the same time.  The traffic was so bad it took an extra two hours to actually get into town, during which all six of us almost drowned we had to pee so bad.  Joey almost strangled me when I told him I'd kill him if he stopped the car to pee by the side of the road (I'm sorry, I don't have that luxury.  I have to wait an extra five minutes to pee because you can't hold it?  I don't think so).  After this lady-like litany, O. handed Joey an empty bottle of water.  The laughter made it hurt even more.  

We reached the restaurant in Abuja and were finally able to "ease" ourselves (as they say here).  Our trip was over, but the memories and friendships we built will last a lifetime. 

Click here for the link to all of my pictures from the trip.

born this way

I heard Lady Gaga's "Born this Way" on the radio last night.  Ironically enough, Nigeria recently outlawed homosexuality.

Dear all members of all legislative bodies across the world, don't you have anything more important to worry about than what gay people are doing?  Can't we just let them be?

But considering my pop culturally-inept husband didn't know what the song is about, the people at the radio station probably don't know what it's about either.  



So after eight hours in the car on bumpy dirt roads in the middle of the African bush, what would one logically do the next day?

Get back in the car. Duh.

The website for the Afi Mountain Drill Ranch, home to "Africa's most endangered primate," says it's only 55 km from the turn- off to Obudu Mountain Resort.  And we had a map.  Drawn by the concierge at the resort.  He told Joey, "You will see a monkey (pause) holding a banana. (Knowingly,) It is not real. (Pause) It is art.  After the monkey, turn right."

It took us three hours. To get there. Which means it took us three more hours to get back.

Lest you think I'm prone to hyperbole.

These roads made the ride from Abuja to Obudu look smooth.  These roads truly put our massive SUV to the test.  At least once every five minutes we all held our breath as Joey gunned through some giant mud pothole (I use that term loosely. Hell, I use the term, "road," loosely in this context). But the longer we sat in the car and the farther we got from the resort, the more determined we were to find this monkey ranch literally in the middle of nowhere. That dip in the road looks like it might take out the car? Everybody pray!

Surveying our options to get through the muck.

I should clarify. The longer we sat in the car and the more machete-wielding eight-year-olds we passed, four of us were all the more determined to find the monkeys.  My friend, L., and I were enjoying a grand adventure.  She and I couldn't wait to see those monkeys.  Joey and O. could have cared less about the monkeys.  They cared more about the repercussions of not taking their wives to see the monkeys.  The other two, our poor friends who'd only been in Nigeria barely over a month, were not so determined.  I'm pretty they thought we were going to drop them in the middle of the bush and leave them to fend for themselves against the locals. They sat in the back of the car, holding each other's white knuckles and every so often trying to convince us to turn around.

But we finally passed the monkey art and spotted a small sign for the Drill Ranch. We turned onto the road, excited to get out of the car and see some monkeys, only to be confronted with a narrowing and harrowing dirt road (Ha.  Ha....). Half an hour past thousands of cocoa trees and a tiny village of bona fide round mut huts with thatched roofs and a carpet of drying cocoa nibs on white sheets spread over the ground, we finally arrived at the Drill Ranch.

It is not real.  It is art.

A pair of Oregon conservationists founded the ranch almost 30 years ago to resuscitate the near-extinct population of drill monkeys in Africa.  Drills are only found three places in the world: southeast Nigeria, southwest Cameroon, and on Bioko Island of Equatorial Guinea (ref). The Drill Ranch is also home to some chimpanzees, who we got to watch during feeding time.  Listening to them clamor for bananas was an awesome experience.  Judging from some of our conversations with the locals, it seems like the conservationists have successfully educated the public that primates are better left uneaten.
Drill Monkey.

"Hey, Bob.  Ya gonna eat all that banana?"

Besides the monkeys, the Drill Ranch is also within walking distance of a canopy walk. Glutton for punishment that I am, we headed straight there. Although this canopy walk was built by the same people as the one we just visited in Ghana, the Ghanaian one was much more terrifying. This canopy walk had a much more significant wobble, but the trees here seemed significantly shorter as well. Oh, and while the humidity was so thick it made the Iowa State Fair feel as dry as the winds currently gracing our presence from the Sahara Desert, it didn't rain this time either. Thank God.

Collectively, over 500 primate photos, several bug bites, four muddy feet, two disturbing bush toilet experiences, one large rash, and one slight electrocution later, the six of us piled back in the car for the long drive back to the resort. We arrived at the base of the mountain just as the sun was setting. It was a magnificent ending to a fantastic day.

a follow-up

The tailor of the confiscated fabric came over this weekend.  Let's call her B.  B. outsources embroidery to a different tailor whose workspace is located somewhere outside of Abuja.  Apparently the embroiderer set up in an illegal structure, so when the government came to tear down the shanty, they confiscated all of his fabric. 

What does it say about my life that after B. explained the story, I said, "Ooooh, that makes sense,"  because it totally did? 

Anyway, the two pieces B.'s working on for me needed some minor adjustments, so she's working on those.  I'll be sure to post my sweet new threads when they're finished.


marathon fail

This marathon is just not happening.  Not for lack of trying either.   Joey and I started training in July for the race at the end of February, but training for a marathon in Abuja is a lot harder than training for a marathon in Des Moines or DC.  The first five months of increasing mileage we fought intense humidity and the hot sun.  By the end of October we couldn't get up early enough to beat the heat; no matter how much water we guzzled or electrolyte-infused goos we gummed, I could only make it twelve miles before my insides felt as shriveled as a raisin.  Now the temperature has finally dropped to a comfortable level but the air is so dry that the pungent odor of burning garbage scratches my nostrils and burns my throat while I'm hurdling tree branches that have burst through the concrete, rocks, goats, and sleeping Nigerians on the sidewalk.  Running on the street isn't any better, because then I'm dodging crazy green cabs who are so distracted by the oyibo running on the side of the road they actually veer toward me.  Or honk like I'm in their way.  There is no such thing as a runner's high here.  You can't just zone out and run.  You have to constantly pay attention, or at best you'll end up with a broken ankle, at worst hit by a car.  So as much as I desperately want to rock that Kilimanjaro marathon tee shirt, it's just not going to happen this year. 

We have found one place in Nigeria with incredible weather:  Obudu.  A few weeks ago we loaded up the car with two other couples and an ungodly amount of snack food and drove to the Obudu Mountain Resort in southeast Nigeria for a long weekend.  The drive alone was an adventure; there's no such thing as road signs here.  How we managed to even find this resort was seriously a miracle considering every fifty miles or so we came across a traffic circle, where our friend O. leaned out the window and called to the hundred motorbike drivers buzzing around the circle like flies to point the way to Obudu. 

"Okada! (Pronounced just like it's spelled, okada is what they call motorbikes here.  Apparently it is also acceptable to address the drivers as, "Bike.")  Which way Obudu?"

"Straight," was always the answer.  Well, actually, it was always the answer when O. asked.  If Joey tried to ask for directions, the answer he'd receive was usually a confused look accompanied by "Ehh?" (think guttural noise a la Tim Allen in Home Improvement.)

But the word "straight" does not mean you actually drive straight down the road.  Because "straight" here is usually accompanied by body language that one might normally insinuate means left or right.  For example, Bike first turned his entire body all the way to the left and said "first you go straight." Bike then swiveled to the right, extended his arms and said, "and then you go straight."  Finally Bike oscillated back to the left and finished, proudly, with, "and then you go straight." Oh, thank you.  Now we know where Obudu is.

But by the grace of God, after eight hours on bumpy dirt roads past some villages with people who we'd all swear had never seen white people before, we turned a corner and the scenery changed.  All of a sudden we'd arrived at the base of a gorgeous, lush, green mountain.  While the car wound up 10k of switchbacks the view grew more and more stunning, and we ended up on top of a truly beautiful and peaceful mountain.

The pleasant surprises didn't stop there.  We rented a three-bedroom villa that was absolutely darling with its whitewashed beadboard walls and wicker furniture.  We drank wine and played games while cuddling under blankets and taking in the breathtaking views over the valley. Yes, blankets - the air on top of the mountain was crisp and clean and chilly!  We found a refreshing oasis at Obudu Mountain Resort; none of us could believe we were still in Nigeria.

See the rainbow?



a photo journal of thanksgiving dinner


Chowing on apps after a long morning prepping
Nadine working on the mashed potatoes
Lena and me, trying to keep everything warm
Everything but the cranberries:  turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and creamed corn.  Gravy and rolls were on the table!

Omar helping Joey carve the turkey
From left to right: Ahmed, Nadine, Brian, Joey, Omar and Lena

Letting dinner sit with a game of Apples to Apples.

Time for pie!  Pecan pie, pumpkin pie and caramel cream pie - YUM.
Aren't we cute?