The bats are back.  Last year about this time we experienced the same nightly migration of the creepy things over our house; sometimes they'd even dip into the pool for a sip (yuck).  This year we have an added bonus:  they've taken up their evening residence in the trees in our compound.

I can't even begin to describe the chirping of thousands of bats that is so loud I can hear it through my window from inside my house, but it's unnerving enough that I am now terrified to take the dogs out at night.  I wish I could take a picture of all them in the trees, but it's dark and they're dark and I'm not really willing to play with my tripod and camera outside while bats are swooping around.  Shudder.

Seriously, how do you get a bat colony out of your trees?  Joey and I both got a series of rabies shots before we came; the dogs are up-to-date on their shots too.  I know bats aren't malevolent, but I just can't help but worry that with so many of those gross animals right there and at least three bathroom trips outside a night, we don't really have the best odds.


just a note

M. is getting married in a few months.  She took the afternoon off today so she could go file for some of the wedding paperwork.  Among the forms she has to file?  "Separation of Spinsterhood."

Oh, Naija.



Our miniature schnauzer, George, turned six yesterday.  Poor guy got more than he bargained for on his birthday:

I think he has a skin infection, because he's been scratching like there's no tomorrow.  He also likes to chew on his nails, so his very sharp nails have just torn apart all the skin on both his flanks.  I'm going to try a vinegar rinse in a few days, but I want the open wounds to heal first, hence his fancy new outfit (which he loves, by the way).

Sadly, vet care here is abysmal, so George is going to have to rely on my internet research to ease his itchiness.     

Speaking of birthdays, I celebrated my 28th about two weeks ago, and it was a much better birthday than the year before.  M gave me a coffee mug, O. made me a really sweet card and my good friend, Lauren, humbled me with a shout-out on her blog.  Not only did I get the undivided attention of my husband all night, our friends Lena and Omar and Brian and Nadine joined us for my birthday tradition, lemon cake (as baked by Joey - who also had an easier time than last year with the cake), and prosecco.  

It's my birthday, and I'll wear my comfy African pajama pants that make my ass look huge if I want to.


staycation day 30

I am still unemployed.  My contract has been in flux for the last five weeks and I believe I'm bordering somewhere between crazy sad and crazy mad at least 85% of the time.  So my options are 1: stay home and entertain myself here all day or 2: go back to the fish bowl  embassy, suck it up and take a job that pays me less than I made in college because it actually requires less thought than my job in college.  Clearly, I am enthralled by both options.

At the beginning of my so-called staycation, I felt very productive and used the time that I thought would be temporary to my advantage.  Now that the only end in sight to the boredom of option #1 is the boredom of option #2, my motivation has decreased significantly and goals achieved in a day read more like "shave legs" or "wash hair."  Yesterday I accomplished half a goal when I shaved one leg.  The hot water ran out before I could shave the other, and all women know shaving your legs with goosebumps only results in razor burn.

I'm trying to at least keep up on my exercise, but for some reason sitting on my lime green couch all day makes me really tired, and by the time Joey gets home from work it's all over and I've completely melted into the cushions.  Some days I wonder about those people who sort of morph into their couches and how long it will take before I'm half-flesh, half-synthetic fiber.

Today I decided I would do yoga.  As I mentioned earlier, I fried my ipod one hot afternoon when I tucked it into my sports bra as I vinyasad along.  Joey's been kind enough to let me use his while he's at work, but that's only when either he or I remember to take it out of his gym bag that usually sits in the car.  As that is the case today, I lugged the laptop out to the pool and strained to zen myself away with the faint music produced by the laptop's lackluster speakers.  Then it started raining.  Ash.

Ash falls pretty frequently around here, as it is the preferred method of garbage disposal (have I mentioned my theory that after seeing the third world I am convinced that nothing any green, tree-hugging American or US corporation could do would even begin to mitigate the pollution created on this continent?), but usually it's only a flake or ten and you can brush it off your shoulder.  Not today.  The garbage fire was in the next yard and caught by the wind and the large ash flakes that landed on my computer and yoga mat and in my hair and in my water were profuse.  Disgusting.  Not even taking the time to roll my mat, I scooped it up, dumped out my water and ran into my house.

Okay, inside.  Can't do hot yoga, but how about a yoga DVD?  Five minutes into Shiva Rea and I would punch the TV because she annoys me so much (I swear to God yoga DVDs are only for people who have never actually been to a yoga class), but I don't have to because the power has gone out.  It really makes me want to scream when all I'm trying to do is say "om" and I can't because of giant ash clouds and our unreliable generator.  Just another day in paradise - or really ironic lesson of yoga.  Isn't the point to block out all outside distractions and just go with the flow?

Yeah, well I'm willing to bet swami yogi never tried to do yoga in Nigeria.


because why would they do anything logical?

Abuja is a hard-to-fill post.  Shocker, I know.  But since the powers-that-be have a difficult time filling mid-level positions here (as only your first two tours are directed), many mid-level positions are occupied by entry-level officers.  Many other positions remain unfilled, leaving more work and less time to do it for those who serve here.  This leaves officers bogged down with routine and mundane tasks, making it exceptionally difficult for them to undertake anything new that might augment the quality of life here, thus perpetuating the cycle which makes this post hard-to-fill.

Now I think my husband is pretty amazing.  Not only is he a fabulous husband, he is also an incredibly intelligent, creative, diligent and driven man who is able to accomplish things of which mere mortals like me couldn't even begin to dream.  Like the housing project he's begun here in Abuja.  Obviously I can't go into many more details here, but I can say that if he's able to complete the project on which he's been busting his ass for the last year, not only will he greatly improve the lives of those who serve here, he will save the government tens of millions of dollars doing so.

In order to finish what he started, he needs six extra months at post.  So he requested an extension.  Post approved said extension and everybody asked the powers-that-be in DC.  Of course, as Abuja is hard-to-fill and Joey is doing something to make it an easier place to live and save the government money, DC said yes no. 

I truly don't care one way or another; Joey and I had discussed a possible extension at great length before he actually requested it and I'd made my peace with it, knowing how important this huge professional accomplishment would be to my husband, and how much the project will benefit those who serve here.  But apparently Joey's language training class in January is more important.  We're scheduled to go to Panama next August and even though that post is one of the most highly bid in the world, they'd rather fill his vacancy here in Abuja than in Panama.  So now they'll remove an officer who has requested six more months to achieve his goal and replace him with another officer who probably didn't want to come here in the first place.

I just don't get it.


spoleto and sunday

On Saturday we went to Spoleto.  We hiked all the way up to the top of the town and then up even higher to the old castle-fort overlooking Spoleto and an ancient Roman aqueduct below.  There Joey gave us a very informative tour of the medieval Rocca, including such characters as Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan.  We made our way back to Spoleto via an elevator that we wished we'd found earlier.

Our timing was off again, and most of Spoleto was closed.  We managed to find one little cafe where Mallory, Joey and I drank beer and thawed out while we waited for naptime to end.  We found an open shop and bought ricotta and truffles.  Then the shop next door opened and we found more truffles and cheese in there.  Owned by the cutest old lady who pointed at a photograph of a little girl, touched her chest and said, "Me Na-na," the store was full of great souvenirs which we were happy to buy.  Then she recommended to Joey (our translator) the restaurant across the street for wine tasting and appetizers.  We happily obliged, and she waddled over to unlock it with her key.  Nana turned on the lights and headed to the kitchen, where she prepared our antipasti.

With Nana.  She's in Fodor's travel guide - she showed us.
We left Nana and wandered back to the car, stopping to find dessert along the way.  Unfortunately it was too early in the evening and the restaurants we tried weren't willing to give up a table for people only eating dulce.  So we spent the rest of the night at Casa San Gabriel drinking wine and playing cards. 

Sunday we decided to lay low.  It had been a packed eight days and we all needed a break from the toaster.  Dad and Joey got up early and brought back pastries, which we shared with Mom and Mallory after Mass.  Later in the afternoon, Mallory, Joey and I went for a long hike to try to mitigate maybe one of the cannoli.  Everybody except me played cards late into the night - I needed a little quiet time and headed to bed early - we were going to Florence in the morning!
For my Spoleto pictures, click here.



Our seventh day in Italy we went to Oriveto, home to not only some tasty wine but a pretty fabulous cathedral too.  Like most of the other ancient towns in Umbria and Tuscany, Orvieto was built on top of a huge hill, and only those who live there are permitted to drive up.  Luckily, some brilliant engineer installed an unending succession of escalators within the massive city walls, and we avoided burning off any unnecessary pasta calories by using that.

Though the town was mostly empty when we arrived (we had developed a bad habit of always showing up during siesta), the cutest array of artsy boutiques opened soon after we'd visited the cathedral, and we spent our afternoon and early evening in Orvieto much like we spent every other, wandering, shopping, eating and drinking.   

Casa San Gabriel is situated near many old castles, and earlier in the day we'd asked one of the caretakers about them.  He told us we could eat in one, so we headed there for dinner.  Although we were a little disappointed when the castle restaurant actually wasn't within the walls of the castle (the whole property belonged to a country club), our disappointment was quickly abated by the arrival of free prosecco and prosciutto.  That was followed by

the.most.amazing.steak.I.have.ever.eaten.in.my.entire.life.and.I'm.from.Iowa.  Oh my God I would fly back to Rome and drive to Umbertide right now for that steak (especially after a week of eating only fruits and vegetables, but I digress).  Add the homemade limoncello and it was another great night in Italy with the people I love.

Click here for all of my pictures from Orvieto


perugia round two

Thursday we got kind of a late start.  Might have had something to do with all the food the night before.

The plan had been to visit the Perugina chocolate factory in Perugia.  We got there at just the right time, but unfortunately we were told the tour guide was sick and so we couldn't go take the tour.  Bummer!  What ever would we eat?

We drove from the ugly, industrial outskirts of Perugia up the hill and into it's lovely historic center.  Then we promptly turned around because we'd accidentally driven into a resident's only zone.  We parked the car halfway down the hill and hiked back up for a late tortellini lunch.

The five of us spent the afternoon wandering, shopping and taking pictures.  A lonely old man in a three-quarter length fur coat, bow-tie, cap and cane tried to strike up a conversation with Dad, and I surprised myself when I told him that my dad doesn't speak Italian and was even able to answer where Dad was from when the man asked.  Two points for Rosetta Stone and two points for me.  Mom took a picture of the interaction but I didn't realize until I saw it how much my ass was hanging out of my sweater dress so I'm not posting it here.
I'm not really sure what was going on that day, but I looked like a 1980's prom queen with that coat and hair.
When dusk settled we all hiked down to the parking garage, and made the most important discovery of our trip-to-date: gelato.  Six days into our trip and we hadn't found gelato until now.  We all promptly made up for that deficit with huge scoops of deep, dark chocolate.

Click for pictures from Perugia


a cooking class

The first few days, my hat, gloves, scarf and coat kept me warm enough from the welcome chill and change from sub-Saharan Africa.  Not Wednesday.  The weather shifted and whatever front rolled in brought frigid temperatures and icy winds with it.  Luckily, we were only outside a few minutes before Dana found us and took us into her friend's cafe for cappuccinos.

A few months earlier, I inquired about a cooking class at Casa San Gabriel.  Dana, an American nurse-turned-pastry chef, and her boyfriend, an Italian chef named Melchiorre, were recommended, and we'd arranged to meet at the local market on Wednesday to buy fresh fruits and vegetables for the meal we'd prepare together.  After brief introductions we ventured back into the cold and Dana guided us through the Umbertide weekly market.  Then Dana gave us her phone number and told us when and where to go next.

Within the tiny square of old Umbertide for the market
After a lazy afternoon and a little difficulty finding Melchiorre's apartment (Joey saved the day again by stopping a random guy in a tracksuit in front of the butcher's shop and asked for help - neither man speaking the other's language), we reuinted in their cozy kitchen with a toast of Prosecco next to a huge fireplace.  Then the fun and feast really began.

Joey watching while Mom grates chocolate over the tiramisu
Do you think they're Italian?  Melchiorre and my two favorite guys, rolling out the ravioli.

Dad, mid sentence.  Clearly making the ravioli and talking are not things he can do simultaneously.  That's okay.  This lefty had it down, driving the ravioli cutter, "like a Ferrari," per Melchiorre's instruction.

With Mallory, Mel and Joey giggling in the background.
While Melchiorre helped and Dana translated, we made two different kinds of ravioli, linguine, fresh asparagus with quail eggs and tiramisu.  Add to that the fresh, fire-roasted pecorino with quince marmalade, grilled pork chops, pork ribs, orange and fennel salad that Melchiorre and Dana cooked and I don't think any of us ever needed to eat again.  We drank bottles of wine while we cooked and bottles of wine while we ate.  Then Dana and Melchiorre served after-dinner drinks and the seven of us sat around their rustic wooden table next to the fire and told stories and laughed together more like family than new-found friends.  By the end of the evening when Melchiorre played his accordion, a shared love for food, wine, Italian culture and their mothers had transcended the language barrier, creating memories that would last far longer than the food in our bellies.

Click here for all of my pictures from our cooking class


gubbio, perugia round 1, montone and umbertide

Tuesday was a packed day.  Everybody woke up early to hit the road for Gubbio's morning market.  Along the drive, we realized the other half of why we got such a good deal on the rental car.  A light in the dashboard kept flashing, "Stop," and we couldn't figure out why (or why stop?).  It had flashed a few times in the two days prior, but only once or twice while we slowly drove down the muddy gravel road from the villa to the highway; upon reaching the highway, the light stopped flashing.  Until the drive to Gubbio, that is.  Then the light flashed pretty much the whole drive.  Everything else seemed normal and we were unable to discern anything from the manual (maybe because it was in Italian?), so we called the rental company en route.  They told us not to operate the car and that they'd exchange it for us in Gubbio.

So we parked the car in Gubbio and headed off to the market.  We wandered the stalls of clementines, artichokes, sardines and Umbrian smoked porchetta, then warmed up with espressos and cappuccinos.  Joey got a call from the rental car company, so we all walked back to where we'd parked the car.

A tow truck arrived, but the replacement vehicle had not.  After many minutes of arguing with the rental company over the phone, Joey was told we'd have to take a cab to the nearest rental car location in Perugia, where we could pick up the new car.  We decided that since we'd have to take a cab anyway, we'd explore the rest of Gubbio before making our way to Perugia.

Gubbio is situated upon a steep hill, and to get from one level of the town to the next, the Italians built elevators within the rock - how convenient!  Their signage could use a little work though, so it took me a few minutes to convince everyone that walking down the long, deserted, flourescent hallway would save us from climbing a million stairs.  But sure enough, after we rode the elevator up and walked down another creepy hallway, we emerged in the town square.  After a photo shoot of the square and City Hall we found a separate elevator, which we used to visit the Cathedral up even higher - and what fabulous views!  We took the elevator back to the second level and walked the rest of the way down from there.

I love this picture.  It's like the skies opened up and God shined down.
While waiting for a cab to Perugia we drank round two of espresso.  Sufficiently buzzed, we then stuffed ourselves into the tiny car that arrived (I sat in a pop-up seat in the trunk) and headed to the rental car station in Perugia.  Of course by the time we arrived all the people working were enjoying their afternoon nap, so we waited in a crappy little restaurant by the train station and watched the Italian version of Jerry Springer on the tv in one corner and the very tan, older man wearing eyeliner and a black wig in the other.  Once the people at the rental car station returned from their naps, Joey went in to haggle and Mallory, Mom, Dad and I waited some more.  Finally, at least an hour later, we got our replacement vehicle, and the five of us drove back to Casa San Gabriel in a giant, royal blue toaster.

We decided we'd have a snack and take a nap before driving to a different town, Montone, for dinner.  The toaster twisted and turned up the mountain road to Montone, and we parked it outside the city walls.  As we walked from one side of the dark maze of stone houses to the other, we realized Montone was closed.  Although it was barely 8:30, with the exception of a bar in the town square, absolutely nothing - nothing - was open.  It felt like we'd stumbled onto an empty movie set.  So back to the toaster we went, and to Umbertide we drove.

Montone's town square
By then it was almost ten and the historic center of Umbertide is even smaller than Montone; after trying the locked doors of three different restaurants it looked like we were out of luck.  We tried one more door down a dark, narrow street and walked into a candle-lit dining room with large photos from all over the world adding a pop of color and character to the white walls and white tablecloths.  Jazz played in the background of the empty restaurant; a young woman greeted us and warmly invited us to sit down despite the late hour.  She spoiled us with fresh ricotta; chocolate, hazelnut, and wine flavored bread before we even ordered our meal.  The menu sounded too good to resit ordering only a primi or secondi, so we splurged and ordered both.  And of course, many bottles of wine and dessert too.

It was after midnight when we finally left one of the best restaurants in which we'd eat the whole trip, but the near-perfect meal made up for a far-from-perfect day.  Here's the rest of my pictures from our Tuesday adventure.