Christmas bombings

We heard about the bombings that happened over the holiday and took note of them, but I didn’t really think that they were as bad as I was expected. There is constant violence in this country, be it Boko Haram, smaller local groups fighting back and forth, or flooding or something that kills people. Boko Haram bombed a local bar last year around this time and we knew something was likely. I wasn’t expecting these attacks to make headlines around the world though.

Everything here is fine. The closest (and worst) attack was about 20 miles outside of Abuja and the rest were farther north. There is tightened security in the city with more checkpoints and government buildings with restricted access. The embassy security staff keeps us informed and we are all being vigilant and extra careful. I do expect more attacks to come over the final week of the year but hopefully they will be interdicted or at least minimally damaging. The people in this country suffer enough without bombs going off.

Tit for Tat Nigerian violence

Nigeria has long had issues with insurgent violence. In the Delta region where all the oil business is, militants waged a low intensity campaign of sabotage and kidnapping until an amnesty deal settled things down a couple years ago. Not long on the heels of that, a new group sprouted up in the north that goes by the name Boko Haram, loosely translated to mean “Western education is bad”. They’ve been responsible for most of the high profile attacks in the capital city here, including the National Police Headquarters, the bombing of a popular market/ restaurant, and the UN building here. But there is a lot more violence that doesn’t make the international news, like these two headlines I found yesterday.

Army kills 57 Boko Haram

16 killed in Maiduguri multiple explosions

Looks like the government struck a blow by killing a fair number and capturing some key territory and buildings, but that doesn’t really impact Boko Haram’s operational capacity. Many reports indicate that Al Qaeda in the Magreb is working with BH. I know that they have improved the sophistication and tactical element of their attacks. They also seem to be pretty well armed. I don’t know if that comes from corruption with the army/police domestically or if they are armed from the outside.

Hopefully the Christmas holiday passes without incident. In addition to the formal group threat posed by Boko Haram, there is also widening general sectarian violence between the Muslim and Christian communities here, with regular attacks by mobs of people, often at night where they will attack houses and families, claiming retribution for similar attacks by the other side. The national government’s response doesn’t seem to be very good at quelling over all dissatisfaction with the situation. When the national fuel subsidy is removed next year, there is likely to be a lot of protests and violence as well. Hopefully the government follows through with its claims that the money saved by removing the subsidy will be used to benefit the people who need it (which is most everyone who doesn’t work for the government).

Propane blues

My plans for homebrewing as a way to pass time here has been stymied by struggles to get propane hooked up. After I got a tank, I couldn’t attach my burner to the tank regulator. Nigeria propane tanks don’t use the standard regulator so I had to rig something with hose clamps. I finally get the burner hooked up to discover that I’m not able to get enough heat from it. It doesn’t burn with a nice tight blue flame but a soft yellow flame. I don’t know if there is a problem with the tank, the secondary regulator that came with the burner, or the burner itself, but until I get it figured out, I’m stuck with all this gear and ingredients.

We went out to the local market when the Eminent Wife was here and I saw some Mad Max style burners made out of rebar and wheel rims. I think I need to head out to the market and see if they work the way I’m expecting. I’d like to hope that it is a bad tank/regulator as opposed to Nigerian propane just running at low pressure.

Return to “What do I do again?”

Nice concise list of what this job is about.

Sticker shock

In spite of being a developing country, Nigeria is an extremely expensive place. Endemic corruption is a major factor, as any imported item suffers price inflation from all the palms that have to be greased. Food is about the only native product that isn’t exhorbitant as long as you avoid imported food.

A bag of Nigerian potatoes (small, soft, wrinkly things a little larger than a roll of quarters) cost about N160, about a dollar at going rates. I didn’t weigh the bag, I think the per kilo price was about N250, so rough guesstimate of about $1/pound. The imported potatoes were beauties, each about the size of a toy football, probably as big as 5 or 6 Nigerian potatoes. They looked TASTY. They also cost N1200/kilo, about $4/lb. I bought Nigerian potatoes mostly because I cook with potatoes in stews and curries. If I was making french fries or hash browns, I’d consider splurging on the imported Russets.

I did buy 2 each of the beautiful and delicious looking peppers: Red, Orange, Yellow, and Green. Nigeria has native green peppers that are good but have a different flavor. I want to make chili and curry this weekend and was excited at the thought of these beautiful colors and distinct flavors. I forgot that you have to have free standing veggies weighed in the produce section, so when I checked out, the cashier sent a runner back to get tags for the peppers.

While he was gone, I paid for my case of Heineken (N3400 (~$21)), potatoes, onions, eggplant, and carrots. It came to N4300 (~$28). He came back with the peppers and I see the prices: N1200 for the 2 each of yellow and orange, N1000 for the 2 red, and 1200 for the 2 green: N3450 for 8 peppers!! That’s a 3 Heineken per pepper exchange rate!!! 1 bag each of potatoes, onions, eggplant, and carrots was 1/3 of the price of 8 peppers.

I’m not entirely sure that the runner got the prices right but even if he got them off, they aren’t off by much. I don’t buy much food here and usually I have my steward get it. She goes to the local market rather than the supermarket where prices are better (doubly so as a local shopping there), but she is leaving for Christmas. The best part of her shopping for me is that she washes everything for me. It isn’t really all that tough though, so I’ll manage.

My Digital Photo Catastrophe

I bought a 1 terabyte hard disk before I left DC in order to back up my entire desktop system and the most important of my files. I was going to send it to my dad, just to have an distal backup in case the container with all my goods got washed off the ship. In my overloaded and distracted state in my final days before leaving for Nigeria, I accidentally set up my backup program to write everything to my other terabyte drive, the mirrored drive that houses all of my digital photos.

The backup program erases the drive at the first backup and then installs everything on a clean disk. It should have take a minute or two to wipe the disk and when I noticed it had been initializing for a lot longer than that, the bottom of my stomach dropped out. I stopped it before everything was gone, but all of my pictures had been deleted. I thought that I was protected with the mirrored setup because even if one drive failed, the other had an exact copy, but in this case, the mirrored copy mirrored all the deletions as well. About 35,000 pictures, everything I’d shot since before the Eminent Child was born, was gone.

When files are deleted, they usually still exist but are just rendered invisible and the space they inhabit on the disk is opened up for new files to overwrite them. I got a file salvage program that took about 80 hours to scrape the disc and save every file that it could. It did an amazing job and found thousands of Nikon files, .jpeg files, video files, and more. A lot of it was corrupted and garbage, though, and none of it had any identifying data like a file name or anything. I barely had enough time to salvage everything and get it copied to a few different discs before I had to pack everything up. I knew that thousands of files had been salvaged, but I didn’t know how many would prove to be usable.

My stuff arrived in Abuja about 2 months after I did but I wasn’t able to set up my computer for another 6 weeks or so because of problems with the UPS battery backups. Without those, I couldn’t use the computer due to the intermittent power fluctuations that pervade life here. I finally got my UPS, but a friend from Poland was assigned here on temporary duty for a few weeks and then the girls were here. I have been able to finally sit down and see what’s going on.

It looks like about 1/4 of the Nikon files recovered are garbage. I loaded them all up into Aperture and thankfully the thumbnails reveal which files are good and bad. I still have 33,000 that I have to manually go through to mark the bad ones. After I sort them out, I’ll trash the bad ones and then begin actually organizing the good ones. There is about the same number of jpegs which are all the pics I took with my Fuji cameras. I can tell that many of the jpegs are duplicates of the Nikon files, so that’s a doubly daunting task. I doubt I’ll ever sort out the duplicates.

The past week I’ve been spending an hour or two a night just scrolling through the entire archive with my arrow key. It’s slow and progress is hard to measure, but I’m just about halfway through now. It is impossible to know exactly how many I lost, but there is still a lot of good stuff that was saved, thankfully. And one other positive from the ordeal is that going through and looking at each file I still has given me a huge journey down memory lane that has been a lot of fun.

Photo Test #2

This was taken with my new camera. The mustache is courtesy of Mo’vember, raising awareness of men’s health issues by growing moustaches.

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Photo Test #1

Testing out my ability to upload photos. Here’s a random B&W taken with Hipstamatic in the parking lot in DC before moving to Abuja.

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Doesn’t feel like Christmas

Christmas is in three days and it feels like Labor Day weekend is coming up. The weather here is hot but not unbearably so. We are into the Harmattan season and the sky is full of dust which seems to have a cooling effect. The nights are cool and quite pleasant, if it wasn’t for the dust. Swimming pools don’t hold their heat though and the last few days of the girls’ visit, it was impossible for me to enjoy the water.

I’ve gotten a few Christmas cards and the girls set up a little tree. But without family and the social background, it is difficult to come to terms with the calendar year. I’m not upset about missing Christmas with family though, as we’ve had such luxurious Christmas’s in the past, it would be disappointing to try to recreate that magic. My Christmas present was the last 3 weeks with the girls, and the bank knows I’ve bought enough gadgets and toys for myself this last year.

I’m hoping to get out of town for the weekend with some friends but Nigeria being what it is, it is hard to know if the plans will come together. We had to get permission to travel from the security office so we couldn’t put down a reservation deposit on the rooms. By the time we got our deposit, the people and schedule had changed. You can’t just go online or even call some place and make a reservation here. It takes literally a couple days just for a single communication cycle (as in “We propose something, hotel proprietor responds”) after which someone needs to physically go to a bank to deposit funds in an account, let the hotel know we did it, wait for them to go confirm it, and then finally get back to us. At any time someone else could be doing the same thing, in which case there’s an excellent chance we’d just lose our deposit. In fact, one of the messages during the discussion of refundability of deposits (short answer: NO!) was that we should just consider a lost deposit as a charitable donation during this season of giving.

If we can’t get out of town, there will be plenty of things to do. I should put a calendar up on my dartboard for a while just to pound it into my head that 2012 is only a week away.

Blogal Migration

I’ve had some issues with my previous webhosting so I’ve switched to wordpress.com as a new home. You’ll still be able to find me via whitewatersandblack.com but you’ll also notice that it redirects to this site, whitewatersandblack.wordpress.com. Doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things but hopefully this improves my access options and permits me to upload some pictures now.

There may some differences in the visual look of the site from time to time. Feel free to let me know if anything is an improvement or a detriment.