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?


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!

Friday, September 17, 2010

God and Money.

Dear all,

Admittedly, I don't believe in God. I'm a Buddhist(, 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

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?


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
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
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!


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.