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.


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?


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. :)


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!

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?


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!

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!

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!


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!

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?


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!


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 ;)