Thursday, December 9, 2010

Announcing the Winners of the Nigera Photo Contest!!



Dear Readers,

My apologies for the long absence! I've had work to do (shocking I know), but that doesn't excuse my neglect of this popular contest.

So! The winners!

OVERALL, and LANDSCAPE: with 8 comments, is by Katherine, with this beautiful sunset on the way to Gwarinpa!

Link

PEOPLE: There was a TIE for this category, which is not surprising considering how vibrant the people of Nigeria are!

The tie is between "No Standing" by Simona and "Her Shadow" by Jeff!





No Standing













Her Shadow












Other:






This photograph was by a young expat! Fiona! Who took "Beads"in her first week in Abuja! Just goes to show that the country makes an impression on everyone--and quickly!!



I hope all of you enjoyed the contest!! Let me know if you have other pictures or articles about Nigeria that you'd like to share!

Best,
Alena

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Twenty-Sixth Entry: Landscape


Dear All,

This could have been titled under culture, or people, but since its mostly land/city, I figured it was a landscape.

This one is also by Sam, who has submitted a few other photographs.

This is titled "Lagos' best drive through".

From Sam: "I was inspired by the justaposition between functioning and dysfunctional as a representation of Nigerians and their government. Apparently, this restaurant is one of the best take away places in the city (look at the fancy car parked beside it)."

This photograph is set in Lagos, July 2008 and perhaps represents how tenacious Nigerians are--this woman is obviously running a business in the most unlikely and precarious of places!

COMMENT if you like it!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Twenty-Fifth Entry: Culture


Dear all,

So many last minute entries!! Sorry for the crowding--make sure to scroll down all the way and also check out the October photos!

Here is another picture from Sam.

"Marvel of Nigerian Engineering" taken in Lagos, July 2008.

Hope you like it! COMMENT if you do.

Best,
Alena

Monday, November 15, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Twenty-Fourth Entry: Landscape


Dear All,

Really, this is a 'city scape' but close enough. This is the last entry from Fiona, who has many well-received pictures.

This one was taken in October 2010, in Abuja.

It is titled "Standing Tall"

Enjoy! COMMENT if you like it!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Twenty-Third Entry: Other


Dear Readers,

Here's another post from Fiona. It is (for obvious reasons) titled "Eggs".

It was taken in October of 2010 in Abuja.

Hope you enjoy!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Twenty-Second Entry: Landscape


Dear Readers,

This is another photograph from the lovely Fiona.

Can you believe these pictures were taken from her camera phone?!

This one is called "Abuja Sunset On The Road"

Hope you like it! COMMENT on it if you do!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Twenty-Second Entry: Landscape


Dear Readers,

This is one of the first submissions by an actual Nigerian :). I guess when you live in a beautiful country, you don't always think to take pictures? Or maybe I'm not posting to the right audiences.

This was taken by TJ Eko, she works in one of the new generation banks in Abuja. This photo was taken when she was going to see her mum in her hometown of Ugep, Cross River State.

She says "This palmtree is legendary because it is two-headed and its been there since I was a little girl living in Calabar. I remember my brothers and I always looking out for it on our way to the village with our parents from Calabar."

Hope you like it! COMMENT if you do!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Twenty-first Entry: People


Dear Readers,

Here is another one from Chiara.

This one is taken in Abuja, October 2010, and is titled: "The joy of praying"

Hope you like it!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Twentieth Entry: People


Dear Readers,

This one is from Chiara, an Italian who came to Abuja a month ago! She has submitted two photos.

This first is titled "Women's Gaze" taken at Gurara Falls in October 2010.

Hope you are enjoying all the photos! Comment if you like them!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Nineteenth Entry: Landscape


Dear Readers,

This is another one from Jeff!

This one is titled "Storm Coming" and was taken at Lake Chad, September 2010.

COMMENT if you like it!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Eighteenth Entry: Culture


Dear Readers,

This entry is from Jeff.

It was taken in Adamawa State in August of 2010. It is titled "Get In The Car!"

Hope you like it! COMMENT if you do!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Seventeenth Entry: Other


Dear Readers,

This photo was submitted by Luca, and is of Bwari pottery near Abuja. The photo is treated in HDR, High Dynamic Range, a new digital technique.

If you like it, COMMENT! :)

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Sixteenth Entry: Other/People


Dear Readers,

This is the last day of the photo contest.

This submission is by Monica, an Abuja Expats member.

She wrote the following about the picture:

This is a picture of something like a storyteller from Minna. (november 2008). Every child was stunned looking at his old and broken dolls, and listening to his words in Hausa language.

“Go under the table”, someone told me when I was looking. And so I did. Then I discovered that under the table children not only could listen the stories, but also interact with dolls. I loved it, because that man was feeding the fantasy and imagination of many children that may not receive any doll this Christmas.

COMMENT on the photo if you like it!

Best,
Alena

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Fifteenth Entry: Other/People


Dear Readers,

This photograph was taken by Whitney in Warri, at a primary school. It was taken in July of this year (2010).

It's nice to get some entries from closer to where I am in the South-South!

COMMENT if you like it!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Fourteenth Entry: Other


Dear all,

This photograph is titled "Pumpkin Pepper" and is by Fiona, a young Abuja Expat. She is now on her...3rd or 4th week here? Perhaps this pepper changed itself for Halloween?

This was taken in Abuja.

COMMENT if you like it!

Best,
Alena

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Thirteenth Entry: Landscape/Other


Dear Readers,

Hope you're still enjoying the Nigeria photograph competition. I will be a bit busy over the next few days. I hope I won't lag behind on posting, but I hope you'll see something you like and vote for it!


This photograph was taken by Herwig, flying into Abuja, sometime in September 2010.

I really liked the perspective in this picture.

COMMENT if you like it!

Best,

Alena

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Twelfth Entry: Landscape


Hi all,

I realized that I skipped a landscape, so I am posting that now.

This one is called "Fishermen in Lagos Harbor"

It's by Sam, who entered another photograph earlier in the competition.

Remember to COMMENT if you see a photo that you like!

Best,
Alena

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Eleventh Entry: People


Hey all,

Another Abuja Expat submission!

This is from Jeff and it is titled "Her Shadow" and was taken in Katsina city, January 2010.

Please COMMENT on the photographs that you like so that they can move closer to winning the prize of best picture in their category!!

Best,
Alena

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Tenth Entry: People



Dear all,

I'm doing this one a bit out of order (I've been doing 2 people, 2 landscape, 2 other then repeating) but I really like it.

Its called "On The Way!". It was taken by Irene and her 6 year old daughter Amelie, on the way to Gurara Waterfalls.

Remember to COMMENT on the pictures you like!

Best,
Alena

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Ninth Entry: Landscape


Dear Readers,

This is another entry by Simona, this time in the landscape category.

The photograph is called "Amazing Nature" and was photographed in Bauchi State.

Hope you like it! Remember to COMMENT on your favorite picture!

Best,
Alena

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Eighth Entry: People


Dear Readers,

This is from Sibo, a French photographer. It was taken in Abuja, and the photograph has no name.

What do you think it should be called?

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Seventh Entry: People


Dear Readers,

This photograph is from Anshul, who is a medical student.

He took it on the Buchi - Jos Road on the 18th October.

It was on a vacation, he came to visit his father in Abuja and decided to take a trip to the North.

Since the man is walking through storm and doesnt stop and continues walking, he wants to call it, "When there is a will,there is way''.

Enjoy!

Best,
Alena

Friday, October 29, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Sixth Entry: Other


Dear Readers,

Another photograph from the Abuja Expats Yahoo Group. This one is from Irene and her daughter Amelie who is 6 years old. Quite talented already!

This one is called "Popo" which the Nigerian pidgin word for papaya. I learned this the hard way myself when I asked my driver to find me some papaya and he came back and said no one in the market knew what I was talking about.

At that moment we drove past some papaya...and I pointed at it and said 'papaya'. My driver (Joseph) looked at me like I was a moron and said "POPO".

Now that I've told that story, I'm going to go cut myself one and eat it.

Best
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Fifth Entry: Other


Hi all,

This photograph is by Fiona, who is brand new to Nigeria! She's just been here a week or so!

I liked this one because of the brilliant colors.

It is titled 'beads' and came from one of the markets in Abuja.

Best,
Alena

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Fourth Entry: Landscape


Dear Readers,

This photo is by Katherine. She was born and raised in Lagos, and now resides in Abuja. Her family has been here in Nigeria since 1972. I'm sure she's seen some big chances!

Her photograph was taken sometime last year on the road going to Gwarinpa.

What a beautiful scene! Make sure to COMMENT on the photo if you like it!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest Third Entry: Landscape


Dear Readers,

Make sure to COMMENT on the pictures you like so that I can tally your responses.

This photograph is from Laine Strutton, taken taken on the banks of the Obuasi River
(name of the village unknown) in the Niger Delta.

This could technically also fall under the people category, but I'm putting it in landscape for now.

Hope you like this one!

Best,
Alena

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest Second Entry: People


Dear Readers,

Make sure to COMMENT on the pictures you like so that I can tally your responses.

This next photograph is from Sam Rosemarin, who used to work in Abuja.

"Olive farmer" Taken outside of Jos in July, 2008. Category: People



Hope you like this one!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria Photo Contest First Entry: People


Dear all,

This photograph was submitted by Simona--an Italian who's lived in Nigeria for 15 years!

The Post that gets the MOST COMMENTS for that category will be considered to be the winner! So if you LIKE this photograph, comment a lot!

This photograph was taken in January 2010 on Bauchi Road.

This photograph is titled: "No Standing."

Hope you enjoy this and the many other photographs!
Best,
Alena

Monday, October 25, 2010

What is the future of China-Japan relations?

By Francis Asprec, currently working in Sichuan, China. He holds a MSc from New York University in Global Affairs.

Some Background:

In the past month, tensions between China and Japan have escalated to new heights. The latest incident involves a Chinese fisherman who was detained by Japanese authorities and released after much pressure from the Chinese government.

In early September, Captain Zhan Qixiong, a Chinese fisherman, encountered trouble in the East China Sea when his boat was seized by Japanese patrol vessels. He was detained by Japanese authorities, with the possibility of being prosecuted. His arrest in Japan sparked outrage throughout China. China’s leaders threatened retaliation and economic sanctions if Japan did not release Mr. Zhan.

Eventually, he was released. While China felt victorious in getting Mr. Zhan back home, the relations between these neighboring countries is far from healed. China is still demanding an apology.

The Real Problem: Territory.

Captain Zhan sailed near Diayou, an island that China claims. The Japanese call those islands Senkaku and claim them. This dispute has dragged on for many years and nothing has been resolved.
Eyes On The Ground:

I witnessed a demonstration of more than 200 people in Chengdu, Sichuan, China. This demonstration called for Chinese people to boycott Japanese stores in Chengdu. These people wanted to express their anger and outrage and demanded that Japan apologize to China for this mishap. The demonstrators’ message was loud and clear. Half of Chunxi Lu (Road), a commercial street filled with shops, restaurants, and socializing, was blocked off.

Questions:

How can each country work on improving their relations?

Will there ever be a resolution towards the territorial dispute?

What lessons can be learned so far about China-Japan relations?

How are the world’s second and third largest economies going to resolve their problems?

These questions will continue to be asked. At the moment, there are no clear answers, but I firmly believe that China and Japan will work out their differences.

What do you think?

Best,
Francis

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nigeria Photo Contest!

Dear Readers!

To balance out my usually less than positive comments about the country of Nigeria, I want to have a photo contest of Nigeria pictures. I'll post the pictures up here, and ask you to vote on them and tell me which ones you like.

Categories:

People

Landscape/Nature

Culture (probably similar to people, but this section is dedicated to cultural traditions)

Do you want to submit a photo? Send me a comment with a link to your photos or a message of interest and I'll do my best to post your photo.

You do NOT need to be a professional photographer. Also, there is no prize, other than winning the contest and getting some publicity on my blog. The real prize is reminding the world that Nigeria can also be a beautiful place.

I'll need your name, the place being photographed, date it was taken and any comment you would like on your picture.

Best,
Alena

A Few Good Blog Posts

Hey all,

Things are a little crazy here with my project picking up. Things are on track more or less.

Blogging seems to be the gift that keeps on giving...I click one post, that leads me to another, and I read other new and interesting things.

What's your favorite blog? Why? What makes a good blog?

Here are a few posts that caught my eye:

Time for Africans to Explore Africa

I saw this article through another blog: Africa Unchained

It also led me to: Top Places to Visit in West and Central Africa Why isn't Nigeria on this list? There are tons of neat places in Nigeria! Even parts of the Niger Delta are physically very beautiful!

Also there is: How to Write about Africa. This post is hilarious. I got this through a friend's blog: Mitchell Sipus

Hope you enjoy!

Best,
Alena

Monday, October 18, 2010

Electricity: Nigerians spend 13 Billion USD a Year, What will the Nigerian government spend to solve it?

Dear Readers,

I think I'm getting back on the blogging track.

This morning I was reading Friday's "The Punch" newspaper.

The cover story was "Nigerians spend $13bn on generators annually"

For those of you who haven't been to Nigeria, it is a country of contradictions. You can have great roads or poor roads. You can have all the champagne you want, but your electricity (if you have it) turns off several times a day (and then you hear the rumble of a diesel gas generator).

According to the story above, Nigerians spend roughly 13 BILLION USD a year on diesel generators. Note that this number doesn't include how much they pay for their electric bills (whether or not they get electricity).

President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been publicly condemning the power problem (and reiterating his administration's determination to solve it), addressed international power sector investors at a presidential retreat last week.

The strange thing is that he also said "from 2011, the Federal Government would cease further investments in power generation in distribution."

So, perhaps I misunderstood something. If power is a priority, then why stop paying to solve it?

Now, I understand working with the private sector to try and stem corruption and mismanagement. I also understand splitting the costs (private public partnerships) with the private sector to try and improve things.

What I don't understand the Nigerian government not paying to solve its own problems.

What do you think? If you have better information on this, please let me know.

Best,
Alena

Friday, October 15, 2010

Is Malaria a Good Excuse?

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I haven't posted in nearly a month. I had malaria and was under treatment for a week. Hope that's a good enough excuse :).

Some news stories that caught my eye today:

The Sources of Soviet Iranian Conduct
by KARIM SADJADPOUR. George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Winston Churchill...still the standard in our foreign policy? Should containment be the plan for Iran? How will that work? An interesting piece, either way.

China's leaders meet to plan economic future China's next 5 year plan? Also, China discusses the rich-poor divide--a critical issue!

Another China story: China yuan warning ahead of US currency report

Hope you enjoy!
Alena

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Few Good Reads

Dear all,

I've been trying to stay current while out in the Niger Delta.

Articles I like:

Africa's Eastern Promise by Deborah Brautigam (this is one of the most even-keel articles I've seen on China in Africa)

Resume Search Optimization (okay, so I'm a resume nerd, but this was a neat explanation of the different between online applications and offline resumes)

"Africa's Children" is a series following 10 children from birth and tracking them as part of a test of the Millenium Development Goals.

An installment by a friend of mine: "Nigeria: Confidant Martins" by Shyamantha Asokan

Nigeria's banks: Lagos in limbo, also by Shyamantha Asokan

Books I've read while here that I recommend:

Untapped: The Scramble For Africa's Oil Wealth by John Ghazvinian. (He has a great sense of humor, examines this problem from many angles, AND his economic explanation of the oil curse is one of the clearest I've seen)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (this is technically a reread)

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan (a little depressing, a series of stories told from the perspective of children, but not very happy stories)

China into Africa (a very good collection of a wide range of articles and perspectives)

What books do you recommend?

Best,
Alena

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Networking Etiquette

Dear all,

I am something of a natural networker (minus my teenage years when I was a loner/introvert). I always have business cards (I had them in college, after college, graduate school, etc). I like to connect people to each other. I like to edit resumes. I have plenty of friends (in real life and on Facebook).

So, when it came time to look for a job after graduate school, I felt confident. I started early, I applied for jobs, I networked, I networked in different international cities, I wrote thank you cards, I thought out of the box and, most importantly, I followed through.

I finally had 5 interviews for 5 different jobs this past spring. 3 of those 5 interviews I got through networking. I also got all of my part-time-to-survive jobs from networking. So, I'm a pretty big fan of networking.

I am happy to help people when they contact me for ideas, and connect them to people who are in the field/position/sector/whatever they need. What I am NOT happy about, is when I put my own contacts out there (introduce person A to person B) and the person who wanted help, doesn't follow through.

I feel like that person is not only wasting my time, but hurting my network. My reputation in my network is a big part of the success of that network. So, if Person A flakes out on Person B, that reflects poorly on me.

So, if someone goes out of their way to help you, you should:
a) thank them and
b) don't waste their time.

If they introduce you to someone, even if you don't want to talk to that someone, write a polite note (including Person B!!), saying hello and explaining that, upon further thought, you want to pursue something else and thank you for your time.

I have had dozens of experiences where I introduce two people, and the person that wanted the introduction doesn't even reply for weeks or months. It drives me crazy.

If you ask someone for help and they give it to you, it's a slap in the face if you don't follow-through. Don't waste people's time if you're not going to do the work.

Thanks for listening!
Alena

Friday, September 17, 2010

God and Money.

Dear all,

Admittedly, I don't believe in God. I'm a Buddhist(www.sgi.org), born and raised, of a sect that has a very different concept of how the universe is connected (if I put it in deistic terms, I would say that each of us has something of god within us, but as a Nichiren Buddhist, its more accurate to say that all of us has an enlightened self, a Buddha nature, which I can go into at greater length elsewhere).

I've been in Nigeria for 3 months, and people spend a lot of time talking about God here. I've met plenty of devout-seeming Christians (I live in the South-South, a mostly Christian area). Sunday is a very lively day (Friday up North). It took me a few weeks to realize that the droning sound of NNNNNNNuuuuuuuunNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh was actually someone on a speaker somewhere in the distance saying Hhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaalllllleeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllluuuuuuuuuuuujjjjjjjjjjjaaaaaaaahhh
(hallelujah).

I still have yet to go to a church here, although I plan to before I leave. I've been happy to join a lively Buddhist community in Nigeria.

So, something that has been bothering me (and this bothers me in the US, too, its just more obvious here), is the assumption that God and his blessings mean money.

There are huge scandals and scams that involve churches and money here. When someone gets money, they think it comes from God, or at least thats the way it seems to me.

Last I checked, and please feel to correct me if I'm wrong, since this is not my religion, Jesus Christ, the son of God, was born poor, lived poor and died poor. Yes, he died for the sins of man, but not so that man could commit many more sins. Right?

If that is the son of God, then what of humans, in theory made in God's image?

Why is wealth a sign of God's blessings?? Aren't there plenty of wealthy sinners and poor martyrs? Does that mean that poor people are not God's favorites (assuming God has time to play favorites)? It doesn't make sense.

What do you think?

I do think money is important. You need it to live, but if you commit sins to get it, is it still God's gift?

Best,
Alena

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

3 Months Into My Field Experience in Nigeria

Dear Readers,

This post could also be titled 'what I should have packed for Nigeria'

If I could start over again, I would have packed:
A tool kit
A how to fix anything book
easymac (my auntie sent me a carton of them)
A how to clean anything book
peanut butter
cheese
more DVDs and books
roach traps
cool little gifts for children

Things I am glad that I packed:
TUMs (yay calcium)
Lonely Planet Healthy Africa Travel Guide
multivitamins
my skype headset
my portable dvd player

Things I should have left at home:
some of the bug spray (i brought a lot)

best thing I bought early into my trip:
blackberry. guaranteed internet. cant be beat
portable sheets

best first lesson:
start with humor. nigerian's will out-confront me every time, so if i start with humor, a joke, whatever, people are way nicer to me (thanks cyril)

hope these notes are helpful to any other travelers on the continent!

best,
alena

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Oga Syndrome

Dear Readers,

If you've been to Nigeria, you've heard the term "Oga" it means 'Master' or 'boss' or can be a term of respect for someone older/of higher status than you.

Status is very important in Nigeria. I've seen countless interactions, where both parties are sizing the other up. I know Nigerians don't like likenesses to animals, but it strikes me as very animalistic.

An Oga is generally someone who has some kind of high status. However, you're usually an oga if you have a staff, have some money, or are perceived as having some money.

'Who is your Oga?' is sort of like 'Who is your Godfather' or 'Who controls you?'

With all hierarchical power structures there is abuse. This is very apparent in Nigeria. People fight their whole life, suffer lots of abuse, to become an oga. Then all that accumulated bitterness comes out in abusing your staff/whomever crosses your path.

Oga Syndrome: when you take this Master/Slave dynamic too seriously and forget to treat all people with respect.

A great article: Oga (Master) Syndrome

Now, I've become a mini-oga (I have an office, a staff, drivers, security, etc). I think my record is having the same staff member ask me for money 6 times in 6 different ways on the same day. I say 'no' politely each time. I can tell that it can get pretty annoying. I think MY 'ogas' (bosses) like me specifically because I don't ask them for money.

What makes a 'good' Oga?

Have you been accused of Oga syndrome?

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this piece.

Best,
Alena

Monday, August 30, 2010

Have Passport, Will Have Shared National Identity?

Dear Readers,

After a series of unfortunate mini-crises, I nearly had a meltdown. I really really need to have 1 day in Nigeria where no lecherous married man hits on me, no one tries to scam me and nothing breaks (I have a somewhat cynical theory that when a Nigerian tries to fix something, they start by breaking it more...).

Part of this breakdown is my newfound inability to communicate with my countrymen (Americans) about this experience (working in Nigeria, for Nigerians, with Nigerians...there are maybe a handful of foreigners in my temporary town).

Now, don't take this the wrong way, but it doesn't take much to be an 'Africa expert' in the US. I'd be curious to see how many such experts had spent more than 2 continuous months in an African country. I've only been to two--but I'm definitely the only American living in my town. Some pass through periodically, mostly oil workers and wayward academics.

The funny thing about being so isolated from other expats, is that I feel increasingly uncomfortable around my fellow expats--especially the ones who are just here to visit, or live within a cocoon (albeit a cocoon I sometimes envy--I'd do a lot for some real Chinese food, or regular access to decent bread and cheese).

I was asked by a friend who lives in the US, in the same wealthy suburb I spent one year of high school in (note to other expats, growing up moving around is great for kids--but please don't move them their senior year of hs), and I realized that I had no way to describe my experience to him.

This must sort of be what veterans feel--that even if people were interested and asked questions--you wouldn't know what to say. I can't even watch some US tv shows anymore because the ideal world depicted in those shows is so far from the reality...even the US reality, much less the Nigerian one.

Does embracing diversity of thought and culture mean that I'm actually more American?

I don't feel very Nigerian--I'm not. However, I do feel less and less in common with Americans, despite my passport.

I hope I learn enough here to be able to communicate back there.

Best,
Alena

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another Perspective on the Cordoba House

Dear Readers,

Now, I thought this article, "Andrew Jackson's America" by Ta-Nehisi Coates, was a bit all over the place, but the last paragraph really caught my eye.

"The prospect of Muslims assimilating will not subdue them. To the contrary, the last thing they want is their kid competing with yours. Their hypocrisy is stunning: These are the ghosts who burned black Wall Street, who pilfered the "Five Civilized Tribes," who recoil at gays attempting to build family. And so on. They claim to fear the immigrant clinging to his language. No. What they fear is the immigrant learning theirs. Much like Barack Obama scares them more than any New Black Panther, Cordoba House is more terrifying than any iteration of radical jihad. In Obama's case, it shows how well blacks know America, how essential we are to the thing. In the case of Muslims, it shows how well they have caught on."

Personally, I have no problem a house affiliated with any religion being built anywhere in the world. I also think that how the US handles its inter-religious, inter-ethnic debates is very telling for our past and our future.

What do you think?

Best,
Alena

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In Nigeria, everything is Now or Never.

Dear Readers,

I am now 2 months into my consulting work in Nigeria. I've learned a lot in that time and I'm pleased to say that my project is on track.

I also am pleased to note that the more difficult things I encounter, the more determined I am to overcome them. It is very good to learn these things about oneself.

I have limits, just like any other creature on this earth, but thanks to my supportive loved ones and my Buddhist practice, I've risen above and am ever more resolved to live by my principles.

One thing I've learned about doing business in Nigeria is that everything is now or never. If someone shows up to fix something in your home or office, they won't call ahead, they'll just show up. If you are on your way out of the door, they'll insist on doing whatever it is right now, and there's no opportunity to reschedule to a time that is convenient.

The same thing goes for official meetings with VIPs. If there's an opening in time, you have to jump on it, go as fast as you can to it, and if you delay, you'll miss it. Yes, there is an official appointment schedule, but its very challenging to be on it, and its not the way to get the meetings you need.

Nigeria is Now or Never. It's all about seizing the window of opportunity. It can't be good on the blood pressure. :)

Best,
Alena

Friday, August 20, 2010

China, India, Megacities, Oil and Energy, and Absentee Leadership

Dear Readers,

I read these stories in Foreign Policy Magazine online. They were interesting, although 'where did they get the numbers' is a useful question.

Megacities BY RICHARD DOBBS. This compares the expected growth of China and India's rising urban population.

The Oil and the Glory: A series of stories about the oil and gas industry across the globe.

Gone Fishing, by Brian Fung. A list of Absentee leaders during a crisis. I'm not sure how fair these descriptions are, but its interesting reading.

Hope you enjoy them!
Alena

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What are our options?

Dear Readers,

I participated in a discussion, one you may hear in any part of the world, that could easily be titled ‘what is wrong with the world today?’ Obviously none of us were basing our arguments on anything well-researched, it was much more on personal opinion and experience.

That aside, since I was the youngest one in the group, and the only one around to defend ‘my generation,’ I was pleased when the older generation stated ‘well, whatever is wrong with today, it’s our fault’. Which, for the way time works, past begets present, present begets future, is true. However, this got me thinking about time, generations, what may change between those things, etc.

Do I think there’s been a ‘shift in values’? I don’t know. Even though my generation and the next might have ‘different values’, what does that mean? My generation is the most likely to volunteer their time, which is a nice value. Many also state that my generation is more focused on the individual, which may be the case, but the first statement puts the second in question.

I think that one of the greatest things that the current two generations (let’s say everyone under 35) possess is options. You can be a woman, a minority, disabled, whatever, and mostly be able to pursue the career of your choice, with the education of your choice. Obviously not every gets to do this, perhaps only the elites within those groups, but it is still out there.

My thoughts about all these options is, where did we learn to make good decisions? There are endless possibilities with toothpaste, tv channels, careers, websites, social networks, etc. How do we choose? Do we know how to make good decisions that will positively impact ourselves AND our societies?

What do you think?

Best,
Alena

Saturday, August 14, 2010

40% of the African Continent's Savings Are Held Abroad

Dear Readers,

I didn't really like this article, "Why foreign aid and Africa don't mix
By Robert Calderisi"
partially because of its vast over-simplication of the aid industry and its write off of the African continent. It is not all doom and gloom.

The most interesting paragraph was this:

"The Blair Commission Report on Africa in 2005 reported that 70,000 trained professionals leave Africa every year, and until they -- and the 40 percent of the continent's savings that are held abroad -- start coming home, we need to use aid more restrictively."

I'm a big fan of Africans investing Africa. Also, in some African countries, there is plenty of money to use for their own national development. It's a question of what those elites do with their money and privilege.

Or this set of paragraphs:

"Uganda has recently discovered oil and gas deposits but has gone on a spending spree, reportedly ordering fighter planes worth $300 million from Russia, according to a recent report in the New York Times. Does a government that shows such wanton disregard for common sense or even good taste really have the moral basis for insisting on more help with AIDS?"

Now, there are two problems with this thought. One, is it the responsibility of a state/country to take care of its people? I'd say yes, but not everyone would. Two, the US spends 15 times more money on defense than education. Who are we to talk about spending wisely?

Would love to hear your thoughts!
Alena

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Trapped By Beauty

Dear Readers,

While in Abuja, I got a very nice mani-pedi from a beautician named, appropriately, Beauty. Since I sat there, effectively immobilized by her, my friend joked "you're trapped by Beauty". Back home, I almost never do this, but Nigerians have high expectations and standards for self-maintenance. You always have pressed/ironed clothes, nothing with holes or stains, and every woman (and most of the men) I've seen is very well put together.

Now, I used to be a serious tom-boy. I still barely ever wear makeup and don't shave. So, I'm pretty 'rugged' as the Nigerians say (they mean independent). So all of this is a bit of a learning experience. Luckily 2 years in NYC was good training.

In another funny incident, when comparing me with someone who was very skinny (maybe a size 2), a Nigerian man said (about me, a size 4) that 'you're comfortably padded'. :)

I've had numerous Nigerians look at my picture of one month ago and say 'you were much fatter!'. Yes, I've had two illnesses since being here (one a parasite..which I successfully diagnosed with my Healthy Africa Travel Guide--thanks Lonely Planet!), so I've lost about 5 lbs, but I don't think I would've called myself 'fat' before or after.

So, needless to say, Nigeria is not for any woman who is bothered by being called fat. Nigerians also love the words 'beautiful' and 'brilliant,' so you're as likely to get called those nice things all the time as 'fat'. So, you take what you can get, right?

So, appearance is a different experience here. People are always asking about where I 'do my hair' (answer: I take a shower and I brush it then it air-dries).

I wrote down some 'African Fashion' sites but seem to have misplaced them. I'll post the links later.

Hope you're all well!
Best,
Alena

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Week 3 Of my Project's Blog!

Dear Readers,

Ever wonder what I'm really doing in the Niger Delta?

Here's Week 3!

Hope you enjoy it!

Best,
Alena

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Love of Money is Dangerous

I know this sounds strange, but I'm grateful that my parents taught me to value many things over money. I think if wealth was my goal or driving force, Nigeria would be much more dangerous.

The driver who took me from Abuja airport and I had a lively conversation. I told him that its important to me to remember that all the fancy things in my job (the car, house, drivers, nice food, etc) are all borrowed and not mine. He protested that, if I wanted, they could be mine.

That wasn't the point. I don't want to own these things. I will treat them with more respect because they belong to another (they all belong to my employers). Beyond that, it is dangerous to covet these things.

In Nigeria you can easily be distracted by the flashy stuff. Plenty of Nigerians (and other people) are! But it gets in the way--of doing a good job, maintaining strong morals, developing self-control, and staying grounded in the real world.

I was raised to try to create value, human happiness, reduce suffering and develop strong human relationships.

So I am glad that, beyond enough money to live, do some international travel, and to pay off my debts, is enough. I already feel better taken care of by having true friends, good relationships, a tight-knit and supportive family. I would not trade these things for any price.

Thanks for listening!
Alena

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Almost 3000 readers, time for a tune-up!

Dear Readers,

Hope you are well! About to head back to home base after a week of meetings in Abuja.

I had a friend fiddle with the blog's banner image. What else do you think needs improving about my blog? What should I change/improve?

Thanks!
Alena

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Official Project Blog, Week 2!

Dear all,

Here is the second installment of my project's blog, so you can track my work.

Nigerian CDA Pilot Program, Week 2

Hope you like it!

I also wish they had a better picture of Governor Silva.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Best,
Alena

Nigeria: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Dear all,

Nigeria is a complicated country. With all the ingenuity and tenacity I've seen in the people, plus the vast amounts of money I see being spent (almost all on frivolous things), I am a strong believer that Nigeria has the ability to solve its own problems.

So, these are some of my impressions about Nigerians.

The Good:
Children. People love kids here. I've seen scary guys with AK-47s bouncing babies on their knees and entertaining any kid that comes by. Everyone seems to love kids, and there's definitely 'the village raises the child,' where everyone is in charge of teaching kids the straight and narrow.

The Bad:
Every day. Literally, every day. Someone runs a scheme by me. All the time. Even when the scheme doesn't even make any sense, people tell me them with a straight face. Someone who's job it is to handle Nigeria's vast wealth asked me if I could 'arrange' for computers for a school he is helping. He offered to transport me to the school, put me up in a fancy hotel, etc. I pointed out that if he spent that money on the computers, then he wouldn't have a problem. :/

The Ugly:

I can't really decide what to put in this category. One third of the people I talk to just sit around all day, literally waiting for money to rain from the sky. Another third is busy spending the money that they took from the people/got from raining from the sky. The remaining third seems to doing their best, working hard, and having something of a normal life.

I can't decide if its worse to sit, do nothing and have nothing happen (including not go to work, not go to school, not do anything). Or if it is worse to loot and plunder, buying ever more ridiculous things, but not spending anything on maintenance, or the community.

My advice to you:

Nigerians are extremely engaging and gregarious people. If you want to work here or be effective here you have to have a good sense of humor. Starting conversations with a joke will get you far. You also have to make sure you are productive when there are delays or things change, otherwise you'll go mad.

Goodluck to the Nigerians and Nigeria ;)

Best,
Alena

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fabulous Quote about the Oil Experience

"Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free…. The concept of oil expresses perfectly the eternal human dream of wealth achieved through lucky accident…. In this sense oil is a fairy tale and, like every fairy tale, a bit of a lie."

- Ryszard Kapuściński, Shah of Shahs

Trying to Understand the Niger Delta

Dear all,

I've decided that, while I'm in the Niger Delta, it makes sense to try to understand its challenges and issues. Mentally, I've divided the challenges into: the oil industry, the government and the people (which involve both).

So, strangely enough, when I was looking to meet up with some oil people, I ran into one of the world's leading experts on the Niger Delta conflicts (and the people fighting against the oil industry/the aspects of Nigeria's government, in efforts to get their homes cleaned up and interests represented). Funny how that works.

So, I thought I'd help you, the reader, with some information.

I met Michael Watts from UC Berkeley. His Wikipedia page.

His Book: Curse of the Black Gold

Important articles by him:

List of Publications:

Goodnight and Goodluck Jonathan: The Niger Delta Cries Out for EcoJustice

Niger Delta Rising.


His Program at Berkeley:

Niger Delta: Economies of Violence See the link to the Stained With Blood and Oil: The Niger Delta video at the bottom.

Will go ask the oil people nosy questions tomorrow!

Best,
Alena

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Week of Interesting News!

Dear readers,

I feel like I've read a lot of interesting news (and blog) articles this week. Just to share a few with you:

Egypt after Mubarak by Amy Levine at Global Security Monitor, the blog for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.

India's Israeli-Arab tightrope walk, by Ramananda Sengupta at Al Jazeera, which for those of you in the States who are wary, is the most read newspaper in Israel. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to learn in grad school, but everything was so US-focused. I want to know how China or India or Brazil or Turkey feel about the Middle East Crisis, or Sudan or global warming.


US Africa Command digs in, plans to give more aid to Amisom. By Cosmas Butunyi at The East African. This is about the continued US/AU engagement in Somalia. This article also covers US interests in the Sahel, and counter-terrorism efforts on the Continent. Also good for an overview of recent AFRICOM activities.

The Conversation on Race at The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

African first ladies discuss strategies against cervical, breast cancers. A feel-good piece, but interesting either way. At Xinhua based out of their Accra office.

Enjoy your reading! The diversity of options and quality of writing make me hopeful for the news industry!!

Best,
Alena

Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Holds A Country Together?

Dear Readers,

Last night, I was discussing Nigeria with a man from Brass (a community down on the tip of the Niger Delta, where the people have a reputation for being tough, stubborn and particularly resistant to schemes). I said that to get things done here you have to be very persistent and stubborn--and that I was probably getting a reputation for being stubborn.

He said "You are not stubborn. You are Nigerian."

Well! Glad that it only took 4 weeks to become an honorary Nigerian. However, the statement and discussion got me thinking. Sure, we can all lament the things that don't work in Nigeria. There is an almost vulgar (to me, possibly to others) gap between the haves and have-nots, and between the ready availability of any flashy thing you want (champagne, fancy cars, fancy anything) but functioning schools for your average Nigerian (the wealthy send their kids to private schools), basic infrastructure (Bayelsa is beter than most with decent roads and such) and such are really tough to come by.

So, my question to this man from Brass was, what's holding Nigeria together?

He said: Fear. The Biafran war (Nigeria's recent civil war between the three major ethnic groups) was so terrible that no one wants to go back to that. So fear of that experience keeps everyone from pushing too far.

I would also add money--there is vast wealth in Nigeria, so even if you waste a lot of it, some of it goes somewhere useful...right?

I'd also add stubbornness.

What else? What holds it all together? What holds any state (by state I mean country) together?

I've also included links to interesting articles about most of the countries listed below.

What about Turkey or Syria?

What about Pakistan? Lebanon?

What about China or the US?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Best,
Alena

Friday, July 23, 2010

How Do You Measure Militancy?

Dear all,

Now that I've been here a few weeks, and have my house in order, I can start to learn more academic things (aside from how to change a lock, which I learned how to do this week).

So, I'm starting to explore what is going on with several major issues in this part of Nigeria...what's going on in the oil sector? What's happening with the Amnesty Program? How do you reform militants?

In relation to that, part of the project I'm working on is trying to measure whether or not our project has an impact on a young person's inclination towards violent organizing. How does one measure that?

Have you measured tendencies towards violence? Gang affiliation?

I would love to hear your thoughts/methodologies/advice!

Best,
Alena

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Launch of my Project's Blog!

Dear all,

Since Humane Security is my private blog, I haven't written too much about the details of my project.

Starting today, there will be a post once a week about the project, its progress and how it all works.

Go here to read about the project!

The New America Foundation, through their Global Assets Project is hosting it on their blog, The Ladder.

Hope you'll like it! I'm excited about being a 'real' blogger. Who knows what might happen next?

Best,
Alena

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Patience, Grace and Goodluck

Dear readers,

Nigeria is never boring. It is also never easy. I know I speak as an elite, who is the guest of the highest power in the area, so if it isn't easy for me, it must be really hard for everyone else.

I have met people named Precious, Patience, Goodluck (I haven't met the President yet, but I've met many many men and women with the same name), Prince, King, Virtue, Grace, etc. I'm beginning to think that their parents may have named their kids those things not just because they are precious, but because they hope their kids will have these virtues, or be aided by their names. My Nigerian friend says its because their parents need those things :).

I'm learning a lot about myself here. I'm learning that when I'm frustrated, I sit in front of my Gohonzon and chant, and then I persistently push until I get what I want. Every now and then the frustration builds up and then I yell about it to a friend and then I get back to work. Although I suspect I'm going to need to push harder to get things to work the way I want them to.

There is a serious cultural bent (here and probably in many places) towards things that are flashy, look cool, and might even be cool. This is at the expense of day-to-day functional things. I'm learning that, perhaps due to my upbringing in China, where infrastructure is so important, that function is more important to me than beauty.

I don't need ten expensive ingredients in my food, I just need good, simple food.

I don't need fancy plateware that fries the microwave because of the gold trim.

I need some patience, grace and good luck. I also need to become more pushy. Hope this doesn't affect my personality long term!!

Best,
Alena

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How Rich is Rich Enough?

Dear Readers,

A friend of mine here in Nigeria got me thinking about whether or not I want to be wealthy, and what that means.

My initial response was--I want to pay off my debt (thanks Ivy League!), and have enough to pay my bills, eat good food (I love food) and travel.

His response that 'It's good to start humble, but what are your ten and twenty year goals?'

Well, I don't really know. I have to admit that sometimes I'm jealous of my brother's financial stability (he didn't go to two private schools and has a steady career path, where as I went to 2 expensive schools AND usually work for non-profits, so..I don't profit :).

How rich is rich enough? I don't want to be as rich as the Nigerian elite. I don't need BMWs, rivers of champagne, etc. I want to live in a place where the kitchen lights work, and there aren't giant holes in the wall. So, I'd happily trade the champagne for a few more functional items.

I'd like to have enough money that I can travel when and where I want. I'd like to be able to afford to give people gifts without worrying about breaking the bank. I want enough money to have a very nice kitchen (yes, Alena does have a domestic side), hardwood floors and a place to store all my books.

As I may have mentioned, I really love food. I love to eat out, I love to cook and so I want to be able to afford those things. I made the best swordfish steak I've ever had, for less than $20. So, I can do fancy food for less :).

As a third culture kid, and the child of a pair of white hippie Buddhists, I collect experiences and memories, friends and adventures...and I was raised to want to create value and improve the world we're in. Great relationships, some card games, good conversation, more stamps in my passport.

I'd like to have jobs that I'm good at, where I feel like I'm making a positive impact, and get to push myself to grow and improve, jobs that promote kosen-rufu.

How much money does that cost? I don't know.

I don't really want to own a TV or a car. I do sort of want a motorcycle :).
I don't know if I want property--maybe one day an apartment in New York, Beijing, London, Paris or Tokyo...or Baghdad? :)

So I guess I don't really have a long term financial plan. Any thoughts? What should I aim for?

Best,
Alena

Friday, July 16, 2010

Where are all the Antelopes?

Dear readers,

In Bayelsa, it rains a lot, probably 3 or 4 times a day. The locals tell me, that when it is sunny in one part of the sky and raining in another, an antelope is born. I think that's a really nice idea, although I would expect there to be many more antelopes in the neighborhood if that was the case.

So, where are all the antelopes? Where did this idea come from?

Also, people are constantly telling me, 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do'. I'm not sure if that is exactly the saying, but I'm doing my best. My 'work' hours are closer to 11am to 10pm. I might give up on expecting things to happen on my schedule (or on time). I can't quite stop being mostly on time to things, but I'll bring things to do while I wait for people.

Other adjustments--doing business late at night, always covering shoulders, and trying to be endlessly flexible. Flexibility is the key to happiness, right?

What other habits or philosophies should I adopt to get work done? What is your advice for doing business in Nigeria?

Hope all of you are well.

Best,
Alena

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Has just become a member of "Whites Online"

Hey Readers,

In Nigeria, everyone who is even remotely lighter skinned than a Nigerian (or is just not Nigerian) is called "Oyingbo" or "Oyibo"....all the time. Everywhere you go, you'll hear it, people will say it, and you are it. :) Oyibo means White in Yoruba. In general, they mean 'foreigner' when they use it,but the word is the word for the color white.

I'm used to being the only white person for miles...but it took me a bit by surprised when my driver took me to a hotel/restaurant and said 'it's run by your brotha'. 'My brother' turned out to be an older Lebanese man. Despite having much affection for the Lebanese, I've never really thought they were my brothers. :)

So, my houseguest introduced me to Oyibos Online and their facebook group. They're both mostly a friendly online place for expats in Nigeria to communicate.

In all my days of world travel, I never thought I'd belong to a "Whites Online" group.

My second set of thoughts was about race relations, and how weird it would be for all the subgroups of the US to come to Nigeria and just be called 'white! white!' all the time. It's both horrifying and a great simplifier, if all the Arabs, Persians, Jews, Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, etc were all just called 'white!'. Not to mention the reduction of available vocabulary for all those who are bi or multi-cultural.

In another moment of cultural assumptions--one Nigerian was convinced I must be Canadian, because I speak English so clearly and carefully...and don't 'use slang like Americans.'

:)
Alena

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Multi-Dimensional Poverty

Dear Readers,

I read an article "New poverty index finds Indian states worse than Africa" comparing poverty rates in Africa and South Asia.

Obviously, the population of India is enormous (even more so with greater South Asia--I think Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world), and the African continent is actually fairly sparsely populated (its a big place).

The thing I want to think about is--how do you measure poverty? I've always had some problems measuring poverty based on income, since in many places, people still trade in services, or can have a subsistence lifestyle. Obviously, there is a limit to my own skepticism, since there are certainly all kinds of inequality out there.

I'd like to know more about the Multi-Dimensional Poverty methodology--do you know something about it?

From the article "The MPI will be used in the forthcoming 20th anniversary edition of the UNDP Human Development Report. It supplants the Human Poverty Index, which has been used since 1997."

"The index takes into account that people living in MPI poverty may not necessarily be income poor: only two-thirds of Niger's people are income poor, whereas 93 per cent are poor by the MPI, it found."

The project I am working on is based on the idea that two of the things the poor need to improve their situation is assets, and financial education. Do you agree?

Best,
Alena

Monday, July 12, 2010

Yenagoa, Week 2: A Socio-Economic Adjustment

Dear all,

Things change so quickly. I can not even convince a Nigerian to believe me when I tell them that, in the US, I don't have a car, a TV or any servants. In the States, the servants get paid (some, probably not all) a pretty decent wage, and are way too expensive to have unless you need them. In the US, I make my own food, clean my own home, get myself from Point A to Point B on the bus or train, and otherwise walk myself to where I want to go.

In Nigeria, I have a fancy car with a driver who doubles as my 'tough' when I go some place that requires such an entourage. If I travel out of Yenagoa, I have to be accompanied by a uniformed guard with an AK-47. I live in a designated guest house, have people who feed me (had a small lapse when the G was out of town, but we've fixed it). I have 2 'stewards' who help around the house (with varying levels of reliability, but its nothing to complain about) and live in a walled compound with guards and such.

So, this has required me to learn some new skills. My stewards were shocked to learn that I can operate a microwave and heat up my own food. I need to learn to give directives about the things I need done. Until recently, I would end every request with 'is that okay?' which just seemed to confuse them.

Anecdotally, they were also shocked that I can walk around on my own, and that I can shop and cook.

In an attempt to maintain my elitist morality, I also am determined to find out about the lives of my staff, provide positive reinforcement, and to do my best to develop their sense of loyalty to me. So far I've had some very nice conversations about people's families, and at least one of the stewards sings to himself as he works, which is quite pleasant.

I've more or less settled in, my friend is visiting and she and I have had fun outfitting my establishment. There still are some kinks, but they're getting resolved.

Any advice on how to go from not-having-servants to having-servants? What is your advice on how to best engage them, as a foreigner, and as a person with a different set of expectations than they would expect?

A whole new set of lessons!

Best,
Alena

Friday, July 9, 2010

My cultural heritage.

Dear Readers,

This new adventure seems to involve a lot of thinking and discussing about culture.

The Americans I meet here are almost hyper-American…they know where they’re from, constantly talk about how great it is (although they’re not blind to its faults), and how Nigerians are different. Nigerians tell me good or bad things about their people, but they know where they are from and are more or less proud of it.
I have more trouble with the Americans sometimes. The Nigerians just accept that I’m not ‘from’ here. The Americans expect me to be like them, or at least compare Americans to other people on a regular basis. I feel less American here, and I’m not as uncomfortable as some of them are in Nigeria.

Why in the world would I want to travel to new and interesting countries, and sit with other Americans and complain about everyone else? Seems like a poor use of time.

In fact, aside from typical start-up problems in any new project, I’ve felt perfectly at ease here. Even welcome and warm about being here. There is a certain freedom in being foreign—people don’t know what to expect from you, many local rules don’t really apply—and, if you don’t mind being treated like a circus freak (I can barely go for a walk without passersby doing double-takes…the Nigerians for some reason think that white people can’t go from A to B on their own two feet), then you can go be curious and ask questions and do strange things.

For those who don't already know: I grew up in 6 countries, with the longest continuous period being in China. I’ve lived in 9. I speak English and Mandarin. My mother was born and raised in Asia, but is white. My father’s from the States, born and raised, but speaks 5 languages. They live in Asia now.

I spent a few years in the Midwest, discovering America, and mostly discovering that, like most people in the world, you have to take Americans case-by-case.
Despite my passport being from only one country, when I travel, I feel at home. I’m a 2nd generation, 3rd Culture Kid. Only now, when I’m practically 30, have I learned to miss people. And only a very select few. The rest, I care about, but its like time stops in these different places I’ve lived. I can go to one, and then go back to the other, and start again.

I know that’s not the life for everyone, but it is how I was raised, and I am grateful for all the quirky things that have gone into my upbringing. I am grateful to my parents for dragging me around the world, introducing me to all this strangeness, forcing me to become bilingual, independent, footloose.

It has its drawbacks, sure, but so does everything. I still can’t tell you where I’m ‘from’ and the place that is ‘home’ is with my loved ones…or just wherever I happen to be. I’m not saying I’m not American, because I am, but Americans, like everyone else, are case by case.

Thanks for listening,
Alena

Yenagoa, Day 4

Dear Readers,
Well, life certainly takes me to interesting places! I’ve now spent the better part of a week in Yenagoa, which will be my home for 6 months. Its very green, there are lots of nice looking buildings, nice highways, streetlights that work, and I’m in a house, in a compound, in a compound, surrounded by guards…so I feel very safe…although more in a princess in a high tower type of way.

I am more or less settled in, although I’m still waiting on some logistics (running water, my own transportation) to manifest themselves. Otherwise, I have my own set of rooms in a big house, have gotten everything cleaned and unpacked. I even have my first houseguest coming tomorrow!

Yesterday was Governor Silva’s 46th Birthday. Happy Birthday Your Excellency! I don’t know if it is Nigerian custom, or just this governor’s custom to have a lecture as part of the birthday events, but there was a very interesting lecture on poverty by a professor from Port Harcourt. There was also a comedy sketch, and some singing and dancing. The Governor also launched a Foundation for Widows, Orphans and the Aged. Quite a nice thing to do on your birthday.

Then we went to the birthday reception, with all the widows, orphans and aged. I have to admit that I didn’t know what most of the food was, so I picked a little carefully…ate something called a bean cake—which is mashed plantains, black-eyed peas and other things wrapped in a banana leaf and then steamed. It was pretty good.
I gave the governor a small gift and card, which he seemed to appreciate. What does one get for a governor? It was hard to decide, thanks Alice for your help!

All in all, I think I’m off to a decent start—although I’m looking forward to getting to work! Lots to do in a short period of time.

Hope all is well with you!

Alena

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 4: Alena The Jovial

Dear Readers,

My favorite comment so far:
“I like Americans if they are all as jovial as you”

If you haven’t been to Abuja, Nigeria, you don’t know that it is super expensive. Restaurants are expensive. Foreigners are extra over-charged.

While trying to book a flight to Port Harcourt and on to Yenagoa, I took a break at the Hilton’s café. I ordered an ice tea, which was the cheapest thing on the menu.

Despite there being plenty of empty tables, a strange Nigerian man on a phone, chose to sit at my table (without asking), continued talking loudly on the phone and clearly pretending that he and I were deliberately sitting together.

As I ignored him, he eventually got tired of trying to chat me up while he was on the phone…until he got bored and left.

Then a DIFFERENT man, came and did the same thing. I don’t know what it means.
Theories: 1) He wanted to chat me up (which, if that was the case, put down the phone and introduce yourself). 2) He wanted to look like he was with someone, maybe to avoid someone else. 3) I unknowingly participated in a scam (my boyfriend's theory).

The Hilton charges $24 dollars for one hour of using their wireless internet. Crazy, I went to a Nigerian café and got an hour of internet for 1.5 dollars.

Hope you're enjoying this as much as I am! Nigeria is exhausting, but also massively stimulating and interesting.

Best,
Alena the Jovial

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 3: From Rags to Riches...Sort of

Ten Days ago, I had less than $10 in the bank. I was surviving on my part-time job and the generosity of the good relationships in my life. Last night, I was being picked up with my boss by drivers with a Mercedes SUV, blasting club music, and taken to where the G was hanging out with the MF at the Villa.

Beautiful marble, very nice champagne, and a fairly productive strategizing session. How fast the world turns and changes things around. I think I was more disoriented by the change in my fortunes (and how careful one needs to be around the powerful) than the champagne.

Despite my favorite World Cup Team (Portugal) losing during the meeting, the whole thing had me in hysterics inside.

I’m excited by my project, I am having a very nice time in Abuja with my extended friendship network, and even got in some daimoku with the local Buddhists.

I am also grateful for my mix of experience in witnessing abject poverty, experiencing relative poverty, experiencing great opportunity and being around great wealth. Diverse life experiences do help, sometimes.

I dated a millionaire once, for a year or so…which exposed me to prejudices I did not know I had at the time (I was so mean to him! Poor guy). BUT it also showed me the good and bad sides of the “Good Life” and the limits of it. I’ve also had a millionaire propose (same guy) to me and I’ve said no, so the Nigerians can’t buy me, or charm me with money.

The other thing I’m grateful for is my 2+ years in New York City and my BS meter. So, I’m not easily impressed and I am not blinded by the glitz. I’m not even tempted to try that life. I can sip my champagne, leave the second glass untouched, and just get my job done.

Either way, the G, ME, my boss and I were very productive. I think the project will get off the ground nicely.

Still, it’s been quite the whirlwind! Thank goodness for good friends! Also, thank goodness for the BS meter…keeps a girl grounded!

Best,
Alena

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 3: Social Chess

Dear readers,

I think I'm getting enough Vitamin D. Despite it being the rainy season, I've seen mostly sun. I'm getting darker by the minute.

Yesterday, I was a little dizzy and tingly from the first half of my mefloquin pill (I'm cutting them in half and taking them twice a week instead of one pill once a week to reduce the side effects). Today I'm doing alright.

I met me old ECOWAS coworkers--looks like ECOWARN has been expanding, and had a lovely dinner put together by my hostess and my old friend, Alice.

I'm working on half a dozen items for a meeting tonight with the boss of all my bosses, Governor Silva of Bayelsa. His influence is absolutely critical for the success of this project. So far, he's been very supportive and this project is his baby (and the brainchild of many people in the Ministry of Finance, World Bank, Columbia University and New America Foundation).

I've decided to call the diverse and convoluted social interactions of Nigeria as 'social chess.' Its an artform, a game, can be well-played or not. Its not all about money or influence, it is also about respect, charm and even a certain realpolitick.

Either way, I'm going to have to participate in all this, but NOT become one of the players of this game, OR become a piece with which to bargain, right?

Hope all of you are well,
Alena

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Adventure: Day 1 (in transit)

Dear Readers,

I write this from my seat on the first leg of my flight to Abuja. I can’t really tell what my feelings are so far…Mostly a tired calm seems to have enveloped me. I miss my boyfriend, cat and family. I wonder if I’ve taken on a job that is too risky.

I hope I’ve done enough preparing, although I doubt it. I am excited by the adventure. I am unaffected by the details of traveling, packing, lines, etc. I guess one advantage of a lifetime of travel (I took my first international flight at 3 months old to visit my grandparents in Japan—note, I’m not Japanese), is that travel itself seems familiar, and even soothing. I think I’m extremely productive when in transit.

Is leaving my loved ones for 6 months worth it? We’ll find out. If I’m even 50% successful, I’ll learn a lot about myself, the Niger Delta, development work, and how to create value out of any situation. I will pray and do my best to make sure nothing untoward happens.

The job and the timing make sense—if I’ve got a Masters in International Security Policy and want to focus on ways to prevent, transform, resolve, mediate and recover from conflicts, then I have to know first-hand what I’m talking about. One piece of that is finding out if I can handle doing something challenging, on my own, in a community with a certain amount of turmoil. Also, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak—so the idea of consulting is something I’ve wanted to explore.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are signs of potential success. This type of project has succeeded with much more impoverished communities. The Bayelsa State Government (BSG) officials have been very helpful from a distance, and will hopefully be in person. The political timing could go either way—maybe it will cause problems, or it will be the backdrop for the Governor (who is backing the project) to prove his commitment to his people.

One very tangible piece of evidence that the BSG is serious about this project is…they’re paying for it! They’ve already paid for some of it. I think this represents an important commitment and buy-in. I also think that it is high time the Nigerians start to take care of themselves. Nigeria is often a tough country for me—because, unlike some places—it has so much wealth. It could do anything it wants, and be an oasis in the region…but its not. Sure, Nigerians are very hospitable (“You Are Welcome” is probably the most common phrase I’ve heard there), brilliant and creative. Anyone who survives or thrives in Nigeria is worthy of some admiration (even if I don’t always want to know how they got there!).

So, how to get Nigeria to take care of itself? To provide for and encourage its own growth and humanity? I don’t have the answer, but I hope to learn something about this over the next 6 months.
Hope to hear your thoughts,
Alena

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Alena is headed to Nigeria!

Dear Readers,

As you may have read over the last month or two, I am headed to Nigeria to do a 6 month consultancy. I leave tomorrow.

It involves a challenging project, in a challenging environment, at a challenging period for Nigeria. It is a youth savings project, focused on the idea that the habit of savings and the development of assets can and will transform the life of poor youth. The habit of savings is correlated with improved health, better outlook on life, avoidance of risky behaviors, and the ability to make long-term life plans. The development of assets provides these young people with opportunities to pursue schooling and business opportunities, without the onus of paying it back (like in microcredit).

The Bayelsa State Government has taken on this project, and is committed to doubling everything the kids save (up to a cap), provide financial training to the youths and their families, and to test this approach to alleviating poverty in their community.

Its a tough project: it involves money, logistics, kids, education, etc.

It's a tough environment: Bayelsa is in the Niger Delta, which is where Nigeria's oil comes from. There are ongoing, low-lying militant conflicts, underserved populations, poor roads, pollution, heavy rainfall, extreme heat, etc.

It's a tough time: Elections are in April 2011, Nigeria just gained a new leader (President Goodluck Jonathan), who is from Bayelsa. There is plenty of local electoral strife and violence. Also, there is the question of what will the new President do about the amnesty proceedings with the militants?

What's in it for me? A life-changing experience. The opportunity to test some of the theories I learned in graduate school. If the project is even halfway successful, it's an important step forward for the region.

Wish me luck!

Stay tuned to find out more!
Best,
Alena

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Terror and Trauma: What are the effects?

Dear Readers,

I highly recommend reading Why does terrorism fascinate me? Because of the terror in my past. by Jessica Stern in its entirety.

It's an extremely powerful piece, where this expert on terrorism examines the trauma effect of her rape as a child and how that lead to her being emotionally numb enough to examine terrorism. She has an important moment of self-realization, that her childhood experience is something she must examine and understand, otherwise she will suffer from numbness and disconnectedness to the terror part of terrorism.

She also begins to examine the relationship between childhood trauma and adult violence and terrorism. Her rapist had been abused by a priest as a boy, and his own trauma led to a lifetime of destroying the lives of others.

She links that to potential childhood trauma among extremists and wonders at what young experience terrorists or other violent people may have had that lead to their current existence.

I think it is extremely important to examine the human explanations, and to bravely examine our own lives, much like this author. I think we also greatly underestimate the fact that in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, we're dealing with people who have led traumatized existences, and therefore they will behave in ways we don't expect. Iraqis have lived through 3 wars in their lifetimes. Afghanistan has lived under war and the Taliban. Poverty does not necessarily mean crime, but extreme poverty can lead to a difficulty in developing healthy emotional responses.

Some choice quotes:

"I wasn't aware that I was afraid. After a series of traumas, one can lose the capacity to feel fear appropriately."

"She (the psychologist) suggested that I might have post-traumatic stress disorder. I did not believe it."

"I felt compelled to answer questions I had spent my professional life asking about terrorists: What happened to the boy who grew up to become my rapist? Was there anything in his life story that might explain, at least in part, why he would want or need to hurt us? What happened to him afterward?"

"Is there a link between possible abuse and alienation and vulnerability to terrorist recruitment? Could terrorism sometimes reflect a kind of perverse post-traumatic evolution?"

A very interesting and powerful article. I recommend reading it. I would like to hear your thoughts.

Best,
Alena

Sunday, June 20, 2010

More advice on Security Clearances

Some links passed to me by readers:

Security Clearance Lawyers to help you through the process.


The Polygraph Examination: Forewarned is Forearmed


So far, being helpful and polite is important, too. My security clearance interviewer was pretty ticked off by the previous interviewee--who was rude and demanding. Also, dress nicely (you don't need a suit, but you should take it seriously).

Either way, best of luck!
Alena

Thursday, June 17, 2010

One Point for the Nigerians

Dear Readers,

I know I'm about to commit an international affairs faux pas. I'm going to generalize about two groups of people/institutions that are quite different from each other, and only have one point of commonality here: me.

Here it is:
I like Nigeria. I like Nigerians. I'm sure I'm going to run into tons of obstacles, problems, violence, insecurity, etc...BUT my Nigerian friends, coworkers and soon-to-be employers have been hands-down MUCH more helpful than my first-world American institutions.

I'm not going to name names, but in my job hunt, hiring process, contracting, etc, every time I've needed help (whether it is a job recommendation from a former colleague, help making new contacts in my upcoming consultancy, items for my visa application), that help has been generously given to me by Nigerians. People have gone out of their way to be responsive, communicative, and introduce me to their extended network. Nigerian friends and former colleagues have gone out of their way to help me, help me meet more helpful people and to get things done.

American institutions (some of them involving friends and former bosses)...have been much slower. I'm on 1.5 years of waiting on one job's paperwork to move from desk to desk, and I'll consider myself lucky if I get an actual offer before 2 years has passed from the original application. I've been working for my other job for nearly 3 months and haven't get paid (should happen any day now...I'm not holding grudges, I just would like to buy the plane tickets (that I've delayed twice) necessary for me to actually get to the job)). Also, my American personal connections, despite agreeing to write recommendations, usually take weeks to do so, never communicate and I have to chase them down to make it happen. My Nigerian former colleague? Sent it in the first day, emailed me to confirm AND wished me good luck!

So, maybe I've just met the most charming Nigerians and the more bureaucratic American systems. Still, I think that is one point for the Nigerians.

Thoughts?
Alena

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nigeria's Season of Uncertainty--Will it Continue?

Dear All,

I had the pleasure to attend a panel at USIP on The Nigerian Predicament: Strategies for Advancing Growth, Governance and Security.

One of the panelists, Dr. Richard Joseph, is co-author of a piece at the Brookings Institute called "Nigeria's Season of Uncertainty." I recommend reading it, it has some excellent points about the factors that lead to Nigeria in the present. The comments at AllAfrica.com are excellent, although I'd like to point out that Professor Joseph is a Nigerian, not a foreigner.

I think that he does a decent summary of the last year or so of Nigerian political history, and gives Nigeria proper kudos for surviving a tough period without a leader and with much uncertainty. Now, the question is, will President Jonathan move Nigeria forward? Or will he forsake his people by giving into temptation, corruption and egoism?

So, my question to those who pay attention to Nigeria--how is President Jonathan doing? What are you worried about? What are you hopeful about?

Thanks for your time!
Alena