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It’s a brand new year. I have officially been in Abuja, Nigeria for five months (minus a few trips out of the country to preserve my sanity). In that short time, I’ve learned a few things along the way – some good, some…not so good – that are key to survival.
The…Not So Good
In a previous post, I touched on the crazy driving. Every time you’re on the road, it’s like you entered Death Race. The goal is not to kill as many pedestrians as possible, but it seems to be to get ahead of everyone else on the road by any means necessary. You’re sharing the road with cars, trucks, taxis, tuk-tuks, pedestrians, and sometimes cattle. The roads themselves don’t help matters – street signs are rare, traffic lights either don’t work or are ignored, and on/off ramps are dangerously short. If you aren’t sure of where you’re going, I find it’s best to take a passenger; that way, you (the driver) can focus on the traffic and your passenger can keep eyes out for your destination.
It’s Harmattan y’all. This is the time of year when the winds pick up and the sands blow in from the Sahara. What does that mean for us? It means hazy skies, cooler temperatures, and interesting sunsets. It also means dust everywhere – on your clothes, in your hair, and lots and lots of it in your home. Constant vigilance (i.e., regular dusting) is required in order to keep your home from looking like some abandoned haunted house.
Electricity and water: two things we “first-worlders” take for granted. And let’s be honest, I still take it for granted here. But it’s not paradise. Even on my secure government compound, electricity and water are not guaranteed. The generators kick in regularly to keep the juice flowing. In fact, I can hear them now. Water supply – or rather, delivery – is touch and go. Since December, we’ve been experiencing fairly regular water outages, which is inconvenient when you want to do laundry, wash dishes, or take a shower after a workout. As I said, it’s not a question of supply but delivery. I don’t know all the details…something about needing new parts for the water pump system, those parts have to be ordered from Israel, and how it takes forever to delivery. I’ve learned that it’s best not to wait: if you were thinking about taking a shower later, and the water is running now – take that shower. You might not get another chance.
It’s impossible to ignore the security situation here; it’s visible everywhere. You want to park in that lot? Let security inspect your car first. Headed into that mall? Make sure you walk through the metal detector. Meeting friends for drinks at the Hilton? Well, you’re going to be late because the police have set up a road block on Shehu Shagari. Planning on exploring the countryside? Not so fast: we’re not allowed to go outside the city limits without a security escort. It’s a shame, and it’s easy to get cabin fever. That’s why we all try to leave the country every few months. I’m not sure you can understand the simple joy of strolling through a city, window shopping (or shopping-shopping), changing directions at a whim, or hopping into your car and driving with no set destination until you’re not able to do it. Leaving here for a few days to do those things is absolutely restorative.
And there’s a lot of good here. In my work, I talk to Nigerians every day. And let’s face it: many of them may feel perfectly justified in doing whatever it takes to get a U.S. visa. It would be easy to take that personally. That’s a trap. I think Nigerians are great people. Friendly. Resourceful. Intelligent. This country has a lot of potential and there are people here who are really doing some amazing things.
Even though (or maybe because) I grew up in the Midwest, which experiences its fair share of winter storms, I prefer warm weather. I love stepping out of an air-conditioned building into the warmth and humidity of a DC summer. Right now in Abuja, the temperature is hovering around the high 80s/low 90s. Later this year, the temperature will climb and the average will be high 90s. And I am 100 percent okay with that.
Before I got here, people told me that the internet service was spotty and slow. Yes, I’d be able to send and receive emails and log into Facebook or whatever social media site, but streaming videos would not be possible. Wrong! Streaming is definitely possible. I’ve done it many times. The internet may not be perfect here, but it’s certainly not as bad as you may have heard.
I found prosecco here. And prosciutto. And parmegiano reggiano. Let me repeat that: I found prosecco, prosciutto, and parmegiano here…in Abuja. I not only found it, I bought it. It was delicious. It made my day. Here’s the point: in a place like this you have to find the little things that make like a little better. It can be anything and can change over time. Today, it’s the bread at the French bakery; tomorrow it’s the tabouleh at that great Lebanese restaurant. For me, on that day, it was the prosecco (and the prosciutto, and the parm). Figure out what your thing is today, and go get it.
So, to sum up here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Drive to win.
2. Accept the fact that dust will be your constant companion, at least at this time of year.
3. Got water? Shower now!
4. The security situation presents its own special challenges. Resistance is futile. Start planning your next vacation now.
5. Anything is possible here.
6. If you love the sun, this is your spot.
7. In case of emergency, internet, internet, internet.
8. If you’ve got prosecco, prosciutto, and parmegiano, you’ve got civilization. Mangia!