Saturday, July 30, 2011

Oh Balogun!

Balogun is the REAL Lagos - the one that you see in pictures.  It's hectic, dirty, 
noisy, smelly, energetic - and like NOTHING else that you will ever experience.   

Amidst the craziness of the okadas (motercycle taxis), people everywhere hawking their products and the filth, there is an order to the chaos and a feeling that you are REALLY, REALLY in Africa.  It taunts every one of your senses and yet, exciting to be right in the middle of it all.    

I don't believe that there is anything that can't be purchased at Balogun, 
especially if you have the time and the persistence (and the stomach) to find it!  

Since this is the everyday Lagos, it's rare to see an Oyibo (white person), 
so we hear the calls of "Oyibo, Come....Look here" as well as feel 
their hands touching and pulling at us to get our attention.  

(Woman carrying rolled, dried fish on her head)

They call us "Oyibo, "Ma" and "Sister" and hiss (pssssstt) to encourage us to
 'just take a look'.  I wish that words could adequately describe this place. 

(Bras and sandals for sale!) 

 Our drivers park in dirty parking lots and lead us into the throngs of people.  

Cars are parked all over and they just push them out of the way as needed.  

Balogun for us, is a great place to purchase fabrics from all over Africa.  
The selection is incredible - if you can locate what you need in the maze. 

It's like an obstacle course to reach the fabric area.  After dodging vendors, porters, and motorcycles, squeezing through crowds, and leaping over backed up drainage - 
we make it to the narrow alleys, and a wave of color hits us. 

Walls and walls of material surround us and we look around in awe.  
Picking through thousands of folded multicolored cloth is almost impossible 
and it is so easy to get overwhelmed. 

I find a gorgeous Wootin Batik fabric which begins my 
shopping excursion and it's my favorite pattern of all!  

"Sister, sister", "See this one! See this one!" they lift folded cloth 
up to my nose like I was meant to sniff them like flowers. 

We negotiate a bit for the price, and they settle with us on a reasonable amount.  
It's hard to resist the beautifully printed material so unique 
that only a handful of people on earth own that design.

Treasures are found everywhere we look and this lady actually wanted to pose for a picture.  We purchased from the stall in front of her and pulled out our camera with rare permission to photograph.  I thought her dress was beautiful too!

We meander through small, dark alleys - stepping over 
small babies sleeping and children playing, food cooking, people resting 
on the ground, garbage everywhere and beggars pleading for naira.  

(See the LARGE gun on his shoulder?) 

Security goes along with us to prevent wahalla as we walk through the streets.

It's easy to get lost, so our guard helps us find our way back to the car too! :) 

This fabric will be made into cushions and pillows for our wicker furniture on the balcony.  
I especially love the elephants!  

And more fabric purchases - DaViva, Java, Batik, many beautiful patterns!  

(It's funny that the guard wanted to be in the picture too!) 

This is the third time I've been to Balogun and have enjoyed every visit.  
The energy, the excitement and the flavor of Nigeria - all in one place!   

As common with expat circles, we seem to say goodbye often. Emily (in the yellow shirt) is leaving Lagos after many years here and she will be missed.  However, I'll think of her often since I purchased her sewing machine!  I have much to create with the beautiful fabrics!!    

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sailing, Sailing....

We learned to sail in the Caribbean when we lived in Puerto Rico – blue, crystal clean waters, smooth seas, beautiful weather….  We probably went out 15 times, which does NOT a sailor make!  We did get our keelboat certification – but personally I wouldn’t trust us in a sailboat by ourselves in anything other than perfect conditions very close to the harbor.  In Puerto Rico, we sailed large sailboats - 36 to 42 feet - and motored out of the harbor, before putting up the sails in open, calm waters - when there was wind.   While we enjoyed the time we spent learning to sail in Puerto Rico, we haven’t been out more than a few times in the last 8 years.   I’ve grown up around motor boats, but sailing is a completely different animal. 
(Our boat was T-47  "Turtle") 
Last week, we set out to change our course……and I agreed to crew in a RACE, in the filthy lagoon in Lagos, with strangers – on a small (17 foot) technical boat with a centerboard, in windy weather and strong wake around us.   Needless to say, I was a bit nervous as I stepped aboard. 

But the guys were wonderful and experienced at sailing, which alleviated my fears.  Within 10 minutes of being out, I was relaxed and loving it.  My role was to occasionally lower and raise the centerboard, move from side to side to help with balance and then hike out (lean way out of the boat holding on to a rope) when we were heeling.  I had the easy part. 

(And the race begins....) 
Basically I followed directions from the helmsman and just moved and pulled on different lines/sheets as directed.   After being caught in large swells right as we were close to a buoy (and rocks and land) and needing to jibe at the same time, we certainly felt challenged. 
(Hiking out as we prepare to go around the buoy) 

It also gave me a HUGE respect for the helmsman giving us the commands, especially in rougher waters.  The boat right in front of us went over and capsized.  After checking to make sure that they were fine and rescue boats were on the way, we continued on to the next buoy. 
(These ships look a LOT bigger from our vantage point!)
 To add to the challenge, the fishing trawlers were coming in, large ships were in the harbor and men on small canoes were working in the water.  Lagos has a TON of trash in the bay, so we needed to maneuver around that as well. 
(Notice the rescue boat following us!) 
 Dark brown water splashed over the sides of the boat often and we had a few times where we were completely covered in water.

  The hobie class boats were also out with their beautiful sails – and a few of them went over as well.

There were 22 boats in the race - 9 Hobies, 10 Lightnings and 3 Tarpon/GPS (smaller, lighter boats).  We placed 7th out of 10 in the lightning class – only because three of the boats didn’t complete the race due to capsizing. 

 We finished happy, and soaked to the bone – but much better for the experience!

The irony of it all is that we arranged to go out mainly because Charles had an opportunity to sail on a small Hobie, which he had always wanted to do.  However, his plans were cancelled at the last minute, so he helped on the bridge and I was the one in the water!!  I had a blast and came in with a big smile on my face!!    

Some of the many things I learned were: 
1) Yes, sailing gloves are definitely NECESSARY!!

2) My borrowed padded shorts were much needed and VERY appreciated!!  Who knew those existed?  
3) Bruises and VERY sore muscles are just part of the journey 
4) Sailing into the harbor where the staff helps bring in the boat is a fabulous idea 

5) Sitting around the Lagos Yacht Club after sailing with friends is  a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon! 

 It was challenging, exciting, exhilarating and I can’t wait to go again! 

**Note - Since I originally started this post, I had the opportunity to sail again and LOVED it!  Charles has now sailed twice on the Hobie and flipped it completely one of the times!  He has found muscles that he didn't know existed - but he has had a great experience and ready to go again soon! 
A sweet family member requested definitions of some of the terms used above, so I decided to add these explanations: 
1.  Centerboard - a retractable keel which helps in stabilizing the boat and preventing it from going sideways.    (The keel is the center-line "backbone" at the bottom of a sailboat.  A sailboat either has a permanent keel or a centerboard.)   
2.  Hike Out - to lean out of a sailboat in order to help in balancing the vessel.  
3.  Heeling - to lean over to one side 
4.  Helmsman - The captain of the boat who also controls the tiller or wheel used to steer.  
5.  Swells - Large, deep waves
6.  Buoy - A floating navigational marker 
7.  Jibe (jibing) - changing direction with the wind behind you by turning the stern (back of the boat) through the wind.  
8.  Capsized - to overturn the boat completely
9.  Hobie Class boat - Small sailing catamaran with pontoons.  See pictures 9, 10 and 12 above.  They are the ones with bright colored sails. 
10.  Lightning Class boats - These are three person light weight boats (about 700 pounds) which are typically used for racing.  Most pictures above are Lightnings. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good gravy!

As I've mentioned before, Gabriel is a very good cook and I really appreciate his culinary skills.  However, the other day, I had reason to question....

Charles was attending a business function, so I ate alone.  Gabriel made lean filet medallions, seasoned carrots, green beans, french fries and a wonderful salad.  He also put gravy for the medallions in a small ramekin.  The gravy was the best I had ever had with a mustardy flavor, so I kept adding it to the filet and ended up eating the ENTIRE ramekin.   I asked Gabriel how to prepare the gravy since it was so good.  His reply...."Dijon Mustard, garlic, salt, pepper and the french fry gravy."   "WHAT??  You used the GRAVY from the French Fries?????"    "Yes, Madam."   The thought of leftover grease flavored with mustard and garlic ruined what I thought had been a great meal!!  See what I get for asking questions?  

I did request that we NEVER have that great-tasting gravy ever again!!  Ugh!! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

When it rains, it pours!

(Picture taken from our car window in Lekki)

It's the LONG rainy season in sub-Sahara Africa.  Storms are frequent and torrential with flooding everywhere.  Nigeria is located 6 degrees north of the Equator and our temperatures range from 78 degrees to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  Right now, is the coolest season of the year due to the rains.  

The climate definition of our area is humid and tropical with coastal weather patterns.
The only difference between the seasons is the amount of rainfall.  

(This is the entrance road into our community.)

On the books, we have FOUR seasons of the year in Nigeria.
The LONG RAINY SEASON is from April through July
The SHORT RAINY SEASON is from Sept to mid-October
The LONG DRY SEASON is from mid October through March.
(This picture was taken on our street. 
Normally we see black and white striped curbs, which are now covered by water!)

The rainy season creates problems due to flooding, since there is not an
effective drainage system AND we are only 2 feet above sea level!! 
The rainy season also increases the traffic levels considerably! 

(Can you believe that we are really DRIVING in this?)

It is not uncommon for us to spend 2-3 hours driving short distances away.
Last week was a good example of the problems that can occasionally occur.  Charles left the office around 9:00 am to attend a meeting in a location that normally takes 20 minutes to travel.  He arrived at 11:00 and finished the meeting around 12:30. 

(Picture taken by Charles from his phone on the way to work.) 

After experiencing gridlock, closed roads, flooding and major traffic delays, he arrived back to the office at 3:30 pm. He was on the road for over 5 hours to get 20 minutes each way!  We've learned  to take a book with us, since it's just part of life in the rainy season. 
 However, it is really entertaining just to watch outside the window!  

During the rains, I am constantly amazed that the cars, the okadas (motorcycle taxis) and buses
 just keep on going through the water with barely a hesitation. 

There are lots of potholes too, which make for a bumpy ride through the rain.  
Some days, I think that I am riding behind a horse in a very bumpy carriage.  :)

Most of the time, we just keep our normal schedule and allow extra time for travel.  On Saturday, we went to Lekki market. It wasn't raining, but the water was still high.  We balanced on boards to get to the car!   FYI - Our newest purchase is the picture in orange!   

(leaving the market area)

On Sunday, we ventured out in heavy rains again.....

We see a lot of interesting sights as we travel on rainy roads!    

I kept thinking that the water would come up through the floor boards in our SUV on this street. 

And yes, we are still driving! Tree branches are floating!

On Sunday, we followed this bus down the street.   
When the bus passed the taxi, the waves splashed OVER the roof of the taxi cab! 

Notice our Yankee candle car freshener! :)
 In the USA, these roads would have been closed. 

One of the issues with water this high is that it is hard to see where the ditches are!! 

Through the rain and the mud, I am most impressed with the resilancy of the people during the rains.  It's a hard life for most citizens here, but the people just keep pushing forward with simple acceptance, even through monumental hardships.   

For us, the rain does bring inconveniences, but it also slows down our schedules.  I have time to work on scrapbooking and blogs and quilts.  It also brings the cooler temperatures, which we enjoy.   The golf course closes for the rain and many expat activities slow down or stop for the summer. I'm staying home more too - which is not always a bad thing! 

And the dry season.....(wait for it).......will arrive "anytime from now"!  :)