Thursday, December 29, 2005

War of the Megastores

Well, one megastore and two medium-sized stores anyway. Two weeks ago, saw the opening of Nigeria's much-anticipated, first 'Western-style' shopping mall, The Palms. Anyone who regularly drives on the Lekki-Epe Expressway would have seen the building in various stages of completion over the past months. For now, only a handful of stores have actually opened-up to the public - among them are Shoprite (a huge supermarket akin to Stop and Shop in the U.S, or Tesco in the U.K) and Game (reportedly, since I'm yet to go there, a we-stock-everything Walmart type of store). When finally completed, the mall will also house a cinema as well as a multitude of boutiques and apparently just one bookstore (The developers sized-up the shopping priorities of Nigerians tragically accurately).

The Palms Shopping MallWide view of The Palms Shopping Mall (Will try and get a better photo if I can)

Okay, great, so we have our first real mall. Yay for us! Now on to the interesting part. Around the same time The Palms opened, two hugely popular supermarkets on the island, Park 'n' Shop and Goodies both closed down. We all wondered why - until the rumour mill had it that the Customs authorities had shut-down both stores for smuggling in goods. Now, until the arrival of Shoprite, Park 'n' Shop and Goodies were two of the biggest supermarkets on Lagos island, and so if they had been involved in any illegal activity, it would not have been difficult to find this out. The fact that the timing of this 'discovery' has turned out to be so fortuitous for Shoprite, given that its major competitors were closed-down in the busiest shopping week of the year, has of-course led to many speculations that the tip-off came from Shoprite.

Close up of Mall with Shoprite in Foreview
Close-up of The Palms Shopping Mall with Shoprite in the Foreview

If this is true, I think it's a really sad commentary on the way business is done today. As a consumer I obviously welcome competition because it benefits me. I believe that companies should too, because competition forces them to provide goods and services more efficiently. I also believe that over time companies tend to find their niche market, be this dictated by locality; or by range, price and/or quality of goods and services provided. While I recognise that, for instance, retail behemoths can afford to slash their prices to a level that smaller, family-owned businesses might not be able to, these smaller businesses might more than compensate for this by the quality of personal attention they provide to their customers or specialised range of goods they offer. My point is that each type and size of business can find its own market without needing to stomp out all competitors. But then, maybe I'm just being naive about the hard, cold realities that companies, in this age of big business and globalisation, face.


Broadband at last!

I can exhale at last! I went to visit the Netcom office yesterday and decided to go with their service. For the first month, you start off with a bandwidth of 300Kbps so this is MUCH faster than anything I've been using in a long while. After the first month, you can downgrade to 100Kbps, stay with 300Kbps or upgrade. I will see how this goes, but so far, this is great. I'm really surfing the 'net and not just crawling along.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Essence Magazine Jan 2006 cover

Wanted (Dead or Alive): Essence Magazine

I'm in dire, desperate need of the January 2006 issue of Essence magazine. That's yet another thing that I miss about being in Boston: the fact that I got the latest, glossy and attractively laid-out issue of Essence delivered to my very doorstep. What could be better? It was usually sent-out in the third week of the month and I checked my mailbox everyday after work with anticipation. When I finally received it, I would greedily stare at the cover for ages, before gingerly flipping through its pages. I'd do this once, before skimming through the articles, after which I'd finally settle down to read the articles in-depth.

Since I got back home, I have been getting my copy from Nu Metro. They only ever seem to have one copy of the mag when I go and I'm always nervous about what will happen the month I go in and the one copy has been bought by another Essence fan. Maybe that's what happened this month. I went in last week dutifully to see whether they had the January issue in, but no luck. I asked the lady at the counter and she had no idea when they would get it and suggested that I keep checking. I have done that several times since and still, no dice.

I know it seems crazy - all this fuss for a magazine. How can I even begin to explain the frisson of excitement that runs through me when I see the new cover for the first time, much less when I actually get my hands on it? I don't think I can, so just take it from me: my love for Essence is great and inexplicable, especially given the fact that they are no longer 100% African-American owned (I was really proud of that, even though I am not African-American) and I can already start to see an ever-so-slight move towards broader appeal (read: to non-African-Americans and blacks). I am not racist, but after years of reading magazines that were so obviously targeted at Caucasian women (from the hair and skin advice, to the lack of ethnic diversity of models used), I was so happy to finally discover a publication created with ME in mind.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Apprentice and America’s Next Top Model News

I watched these two shows unfailingly when I was in Boston - this was the date I faithfully kept to each week. (So, so sad, I know. You don’t have to tell me so.)

I’m sad that I missed the latest seasons, but with the Internet, at least I can get the blow-by-blow and watch video clips (or I would be able to, was my Internet connection any faster). The most recent winner of The Apprentice, Randall Pinkett, is a long-time community technology activist. I’ve been lurking on digital divide boards and listservs for a long time and had never heard of him, but he has an impressive background. He has several degrees from top-ranked schools including MIT and Oxford. And more importantly, he has a long and varied history of enterpreneurial and technology activist work.

Less impressive is the latest winner of America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). Yes, I know that the most beautiful person does not necessarily make the best model and vice versa. But, the photos I’ve seen of Nicole are less than stellar to say the least. I’m thinking back to the 'glory days' of the past winners: Adrianne, Eva the Diva (my girl!!!!!!!), Naima and even (yes, even) Yoanna.

Edited to add: I may have to eat my words with regards to ANTM winner, Nicole. I took a look at her portfolio and she looks absolutely beautiful in her photos.

What is Feminism?

For a long while now, I have been looking for a really good definition and had come-up with my own based on many things I've read in the past. Here is what I think is a good one from the bell hooks book I'm reading at the moment, "Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center."
"Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels, as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires."

Although it refers to Western culture, I think it can still be applied comfortably to Nigerian society.

Note also that this explanation does not say that feminism is a struggle to end "male oppression", because oppression is wrong, regardless of the sex of oppresor. The women's liberation movement (circa 1970s) targeted men as the enemy and, among other things, advocated for women-only societies in which men were not welcome. Even though ideas have evolved since then, a lot of people still associate these separationist ideas with present-day feminism. Maybe this is why many women who support popular ideas advocated by feminsim would draw short of describing themselves as supporters of feminism or as feminists, and would rather call themselves other things e.g. "womanist". bell hooks thinks this is largely due to the fact that many people are not really sure what feminism is all about.

Feminism is personal, but also political. This means that firstly, it is important for women to see and describe their own reality. However, we can't afford to get stuck in this stage of telling our woes without a broader context for examining them and ultimately doing something about them. We have to move on to examining the politics of our society.

In the U.S, this would necessitate looking at sexism, as well as race and class oppression. In Nigeria, race might not be so much of an issue, but class certainly is. As a woman born into an upper-middle class or financially-comfortable family, I will enjoy many comforts that a woman born into a lower class or less well-off family will not e.g. guaranteed education, the ability to choose what type of career I want and not have my choices determined by financial need. I could therefore have a life that is less subject to sexist and class-based oppression. However, individual women's achievements are worth very little in ending oppression, if all other women in society do not have access to this same (almost) freedom (Note: I say (almost) freedom, because ALL Nigerian women have to deal with sexist oppression at some time or the other). There needs to be a platform for all women to share their own reality.

This would be a long and interesting journey: firstly, because it seems to be that many women have accepted sexist oppression as a way of life and easier to accept than to change; and secondly, because class and economics is such a sharp divider in the Nigerian society that I wonder at the feasibility for all women to come together to share their stories.

Some people would say that women have always found a way to "work around" men to get what they want and so really wear the pants in our society. I would argue not. As long as we still have something to "work around", then women still face some level of sexism.

Ultimately though, it is important that men and women work and live together respectful of each other and the gifts that each brings to the table, without any attempts to constrain the other into fitting into a preconcieved 'box', which guides how they should think; how they should behave; what they should desire out of life; and how they should relate to each other. Overly optimistic? Highly unrealistic? Not-in-this-lifetime possible? I certainly hope not.

More Electricity Woes

Today was a wasted day! I don't even know where to start from. We had electricity when I got into work. It was gone about an hour later (about 8:45AM) and didn't come back until about 2:30PM. Why didn't we have the generator on? No diesel! Sorry, can't be bothered to go into it. It's the same, long, drawn-out and (by now) boring story.

I was trying to imagine an entire company in the States put out of business for a good part of the day, due to a lack of electricity. Better still, I tried to imagine my former place of work in Boston and how management would respond to this. They would be besides themselves with shock and horror. There would be hell to pay, that's for sure. And meetings scheduled immediately to discuss the problem and to put in place strategies to guard against future occurences. It would certainly never, ever happen again. Having to contend with no electricity in this day and age seems so .... - sorry for the use of this word but here it goes - primitive!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hair Tales

For someone who has been espousing the importance of wearing your own hair out, I have certainly had this fake hair in for a long time (6 weeks this Saturday, which is a long time for me). And it's starting to grate. I'm not used to so much hair around my face, especially in this Lagos heat.

My Mum asked me what I was doing with my hair for Christmas, to which I replied "Huh?" My best friend, Y, says that every woman does her "Christmas hair." We were at the salon at the time getting pedicures and she looked to the other women in there for confirmation. They all nodded in agreement. Christmas hair??? Okay, now I can tell that I have really been away for a long time.

I miss my own hair and can't wait to wear it out again in an afro or puff or something.....anything really - I just miss my own hair.

Pastor Bimbo Odukoya's Life of Passion

One of the victims of last week's Sosoliso Airlines crash was the very popular associate senior pastor of the Fountain of Life Church in Ikeja, Bimbo Odukoya. She ran the "Single & Married" Ministry, which counseled couples experiencing tough times in their marriage and also guided singles in finding good spouses. Marriage (finding a spouse and keeping him or her once you find them) is absolutely important in Nigeria. Consequently, her ministry became so popular that it eventually became a program broadcast on 14 stations within Nigeria, as well as in England, Ghana and Kenya.

Pastor Bimbo was passionate about living her life for Christ and spreading his message as far and wide as she could reach. In her Singles & Married Ministry, she absolutely believed in saving sex for marriage and in the man being the head of the family. My personal beliefs run more along the lines of a partnership between husband and wife with both respecting and (yes, even) submitting to each other. But, I feel strongly that submission should be a two-way street.

My personal opinions not-withstanding, I admired the courage with which Pastor Bimbo followed her calling and lived out her passion for God without holding back. She lived each day with a purpose and touched people in countless ways. Thinking about how she lived her life makes me think about the book I read a few weeks ago, "I Know I'm in There Somewhere: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity." I think about my continued struggle to identify my calling.

Over the last few years, I have come to see that it is possible not to have one major, earth-shattering calling, but to discover a myriad of little things that make me happy and fulfilled and my life more meaningful. One of these things has always been volunteer work - particularly with women and girls. Even though, I was nowhere as geeky as many of the technology staff at the Boston NGO I worked at, I was still very fascinated by the endless opportunities technology provided, for instance, to make learning more interesting, help solve problems, or build virtual communities of people with shared interests or goals. It was intensely rewarding to see formerly hesitant people grow in their confidence and use of various technology tools.

I think writing might be another thing that I'm meant to do, although the jury is still out on that. I loved writing as a child and produced a prolific amount of stories and magazines. This is the first time in well over a decade and a half that I'm writing for pleasure and so I'm unsure about where it will lead, or if indeed it will lead anywhere. I'm enjoying writing in this blog and maybe that, in self, is enough.

Whatever my calling(s), I plan on having fun discovering and living them out. Sometimes, I'm just trying to get through the day and I lose sight of the bigger picture of my life, but occasionally certain events act as a sharp reminder of the path I set out on and that I need to get back on it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Concerned Mothers of Nigeria" Tear-gased

In reaction to the slow (and frankly half-assed) response by the government to the two recent plane crashes, a group of women calling themselves the Concerned Mothers of Nigeria, decided to stage a protest march yesterday (Friday). The march was to start around 9AM near the Ikeja Sheraton Hotel. My boss told me about it and planned on being there, but I could not go because Fridays are my CD days.

On getting back home, my mother told me that the march had not taken place, because the women had been tear-gased by the police. "Why?" was all I could ask. Why would anyone tear-gas a group of women? From all accounts, they were not being rowdy. I haven't seen any details online, but the main organisers were on TV this afternoon discussing the events of the morning.

If it turns out that the protesters had been tear-gased and made to disperse for no good reason, that would be a crying shame. Don't Nigerians have the right to air our concerns ? My boss complains all the time about how incredibly docile Nigerians can be. We complain about injustices constantly, but will ultimately do nothing to recify the situation.

Addition: It turned out that the march was peaceful afterwards. The group had applied for a permit, which was issued. However, the permit was cancelled about 2 days before the march and this was not communicated to the protesters. Anyway, long story short, the use of tear-gas was still unnecessary.


I realise that I haven't written very much about my service year so far with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). Well, the simple response to that is there's been nothing to write about!

After the 3-week orientation camp, for the rest of the service year, corpers devote one day a week to community development (or CD as it's popularly referred to). I hear that corpers outside of Lagos embark on really ambitious CD projects, which have some impact on the community. In my local government, to say that we have been somewhat lacking in initiative and drive, would be putting it mildly. CD days, until the last couple of weeks, have involved a lot of sitting around, making new friends and jisting. The general consensus is that this is a big waste of our time, as well as the government resources (though frankly, most people could care less about the latter).

This general idleness must have been a source of concern to someone with influence, because for the last two weeks, the officials have been rounding-up the corpers and making us clean up the NYSC yard - I say "making us", because the implicit understanding is that if we don't work, we don't get our CD cards signed and then we might not be able to pass out of this damned service year. So in the end, NYSC gets its grass cut and compound swept for free. Well, lucky them! Who can I complain to about my raw end of the deal?

The good news in this rather dismal situation is that my CD group has really been trying to get it together and develop an action plan for the year. If we are successful in doing this, we can hopefully leave some kind of legacy for subsequent corpers. And really, there's no reason why we shouldn't be successful in doing this, as long as group members show-up for CD, do their assigned tasks and generally show some interest in the group's activities ....... oh hell, who am I fooling?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Freeing Our Hair

My favourite subject (see previous post)! I came across this article, published last November, urging women to make peace with our natural hair. When the author says "natural", I’m not sure whether she is referring to hair worn in its natural state (i.e. without relaxers or perms), or if she means wearing your own hair out (i.e. without wigs, braids, weaves, or other extensions).

Whatever her definition of natural is, she makes a number of points that I agree with – the biggest of which is that it is okay for us to leave the extensions at home and wear our own hair. I have noticed that in Nigeria it is a rare, rare day when you see a woman out without her beloved weaves, braids or wigs. Believe me, I have no problem with extensions and do wear braids from time-to-time (infact I have in kinky twists at the moment), but it would be great if more women choose to invest as much time in caring for their own hair, as they do in the extensions they choose to cover up their hair with.

The Wire: Season 2

I just finished watching the second season and I absolutely had to write about it (at 1 in the morning, although I have to be up at 6). I had heard that season 2 was the least compelling of all three seasons. I haven't seen season 3 yet and so can't comment on that. What I can say is that I LOVED season 2!

Season 1 was definitely a high-action and very fast-paced season and I am so glad that I have the series on DVD, so that I could stop and play-back scenes that went by too fast for me. Although season 2 might initially appear more sedate, a lot of things actually happen, setting the stage for the major drama that is to come in season 3. I particularly enjoyed seeing a different side of the drug trade.

Season 1 focused almost exclusively on the drug dealing activities going on within the Barksdale organisation, in the Towers and the Pit. Season 2 switches gears slightly. At the start of the season, we think that the major focus of the investigations will be primarily a smuggling ring at the docks. It turns out to be more than that and, through interwoven storylines, we start to learn about how the dealers get the drugs that they sell and how chinks in the distribution line can affect their entire organisation - in short, we get a bird's eye view of the entire production and have a context in which to place the daily nitty-gritty.

Now, I'm dying to see the third season. I know some of what happens - especially the BIG shock (Wire fans will know what I'm talking about). Alas, I will have to wait until the middle of next year when it comes out on DVD.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Blogging Tips

I've been thinking about 'rules' of blogging in the last few weeks. Now that I'm a blogger, I'm on the constant look-out for interesting things to write about. Through the day, I file away incidents I witness, things I hear people say and ideas I read as possible topics for new posts. On more than one occasion, I have been very tempted to write somewhat disparaging posts about people I know. A key question is how far can you go in a blog. I write under just my first name, so it's tempting to think that I can get away with a lot. However, it's a small world and Lagos is an even smaller place, so it would be fairly easy to put two and two together and figure out my real-life identity.

One blogger learnt the lessons of blogging in a very painful way. She talked trash about her colleagues at work and was fired when the proverbial s*** hit the fan. From this experience, she came up with some blogging tips. While these seem like pure common sense (the first two especially), I know how easy it is to get carried away by the opportunity to make your opinions heard in cyberspace, forgetting that RL (Real Life) and cyberspace are really not that far apart:
1. Blog anonymously if you feel like you should be able to say anything about anyone. Even then, there's no guarantee that the person you wrote that horrible thing about won't find your website, put two and two together, and your life, if just momentarily, will be made awful.
2. If you choose to blog under your own name never write anything about anyone in your life that you wouldn't say to them face to face. This is the best way to blog and still maintain good relationships with your family and friends.
3. You will receive hateful email if you publish an email address. After the first hateful email you will want to stop blogging. Everyone goes through this.
4. You don't have to be a fantastic writer to have a website that people will want to read. Just make sure that what you have to say is honest and has soul.

Please Take a Picture. It'll Last Longer!

What is it with people in Nigeria (or Lagos, at least) and staring? Didn't their mothers tell them that it's rude to stare?

In the States, when I happened to catch someone staring at me, they at least had the good grace to look away. Not so here! People will continue to stare, as if attempting to soak in every aspect of my being in one long power-stare. Women do this a lot more too (Women, what’s up with this?). I think it’s part of the lack of personal space that exists in the African culture. People feel that they can invade your privacy with their questions or stares.

I was at a fast-food place yesterday getting lunch. After paying, I went to sit down and wait for my order to be called. The young woman who was right before me walked up and sat down at my table. My first thought was "What the hell?????" There were so many free tables that she could sat at (though mine was admittedly the closest to the counter). After sitting down, she fixed her eyes on me in a laser-like stare. Though I was looking elsewhere at the time, I could feel her staring and eventually, feeling a little disconcerted, I turned to her and inquired "What’s up?". Thinking back on it, I should have asked her what the hell her problem was. But then, I’m nice that way- perhaps too nice. We did strike up a conversation, but about 5 minutes into it she wanted to know how old I was and if I was married. Not married? But why? What do I do? Where do I work? Where do I live? And the questions went on....

This lack of personal space is something that I forget about whenever I’m away, but am all too soon reminded about upon my return. I really don’t get why someone who just met you would feel that they have the right to ply you with an avalanche of personal questions, I really don’t. But I do know that I need to come-up with an effective strategy of warding off these intrusions of my privacy: Do I know you? Why do you want to know? Mind your own damn business! Do you see a bloody ring on my finger?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Another Plane Crash in Nigeria

This one (Guardian article, BBC article) happened in Port Harcourt with a plane flying from Abuja. Among the 103 people who died, 75 were school children on their way home for the Christmas holidays. This is such a tragedy, like the one that happened barely a month and a half ago. Bad weather was believed to be the cause of the crash. I only hope that we learn lessons from these unbelievably sad events, otherwise what's the point? I am yet to hear of any changes being made by Bellview Airlines as a result of October's crash, or indeed from the national aviation authorities.

Crawling on the Internet? NO MORE!!!!! I'm So Ready to Move On

I am so ready for a faster and easier way of accessing the Internet. I've suffered with slow connection speeds for long enough. I have to deal with it at work and the service we have at work is particularly bad, I must say. The connection fails at least once a day (and this is on a good day). More typically we lose connection several times a day. And as if that was not bad enough, the speeds can get excrutiatingly slow. We use a VSAT service with an uplink bandwidth of 64Kbps and supposedly (and this is indeed a HUGE supposition considering the evidence) 128Kbps on the downlink. The service does tend to get worse in the afternoons, which is typically the time with the heaviest Internet traffic, and so this might be something totally beyond the ISP's control (though at this point, I hate their service so much that I'm not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt).

At home, we also have a fairly slow service, but then we have an excuse: we use dial-up. Even in Boston, I had dial-up connection at home (thinking back on it now, I can only ask myself: "What the hell was I thinking?????????" Broadband was not only so much faster than what I had, but also fairly cheap too.) I think I didn't mind so much because the connection at work was lightening-fast and I could download as many multimedia files as I pleased and listen to online radio stations all day long if I chose to.

Now back here in Lagos, I don't have this luxury anymore and think that it's really time that I moved on up. I'm looking into several broadband and wireless services. I've heard a lot about Netcom, so I will start there. I've also heard that Globacom provides very extensive braodband coverage, so I will also look into that. I look forward to very soon being able to surf the web wirelessly from my computer and from the comfort of my bed. I have too many wasteful hours of listening to NPR and BBC radio online programs to catch-up on.

If anyone who's reading this post has experience with any broadband provider, I'd certainly be interested in hearing about them.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Weblog Usability

In my previous life as a web developer, I was very particular about building and maintaining highly-usable websites i.e. websites that are easy to navigate; sites where readers can easily find content relevant to their needs; where readers can tell at a glance what the site is all about and who it is for; and sites that are well-suited to people of all levels of internet browsing experience and varying connection speeds. A tall order, some might say, but it was serious business to me and especially to the projects I worked on. Being (United States) federally-funded projects, meant that our websites had to be accessible by the entire range of our target audience.

Now that I'm spending more time on blogs (at least for the time being), usability issues have admittedly not being foremost in my mind. I mean, I make sure that my posts are well-written, clear and straight-to-the-point. I try to avoid rambling, long posts, because I know that I would never read an exceedinly long post on other blog, particularly those written in a single paragraph and without the use of line breaks. I try to link appropriately where I can. Lately though, I have been giving some thought to how useable my blog really is.

According to this list of top ten design mistakes made in weblogs, I am apparently doing a lot less than I thought I was.

  • I do not have an author biography, aside from the two lines below my blog title summarising what my blog is about. I also have no author photo, which according to this list, means that my blog is less personable and reduces the credibility of anything I have to say.

  • Some of my great blog posts are buried and this is something I have been thinking about lately. I do want people to find the good stuff, if they don't have time to read through the entire blog (and very few people do).

  • I most definitely mix topics. In this blog, I share my experience moving back home, discuss technology and natural hair, and reflect on aspects of my growing in feminism. While these are the major themes, my posts could extend beyond these and I've thought about how this must make it more difficult to find a niche audience.

  • My domain name is owned by a blog service and will be for the foreseeable future. Blogger is free and easy to use, though I might consider moving to a more sophisticated service like Wordpress someday, so at least readers can search for posts by categories.

I think that, overall, this list of things not to do provide a good framework for creating an easily-navigable weblog. However I think that bloggers should nevertheless feel free to adapt them to the needs of their blog.

For me, I prefer to write under a cloak of relative anonymity hence the absence of an overly descriptive bio and a photo. I believe that people will get to know what they need to know about me from the brief intro line at the top and maybe from my interests and my taste in books and films, as highlighted in my profile. I like to blog about a variety of topics and I can't imagine doing otherwise.

While these guidelines are probably aimed more at the blogs of corporations and other formal organizations (non-profits, schools, religious institutions, etc), I have taken a few lessons from them. At the end of the day, I write for me and if other people read my posts and choose to comment on them, that's great - I love a good conversation. If not, I will keep on writing anyway.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Wire: Season 1

I just finished watching season 1 of The Wire last night. I had heard so many great things about this program and it definitely lived up to my every expectation. I caught one episode on MNET a few years ago, when I was home for Christmas, but could not follow the plot as hard as I tried (and this is coming from a veteran crime show viewer). When I got the DVD set and started watching my way through it, I quickly realised why. It is not your average cop show, in which the case is wrapped-up neatly by the end of the hour (it is apparently not even a cop show). This is one intricate story, which evolves from episode to episode. Like the show's creator/writer stated in the audio commentary (Yes, you read correctly - I watch the special features religiously. This is one nerdy girl.), The Wire is more like a novel transposed to television. You don't often get to see that on TV these days, since increasing competition between stations for ratings and viewers' shrinking attention spans, means that TV writers tend to keep things simple so that their viewers won't get all confused and (Heavens Forbid!!!) change the channel.

I am so glad that the writers of The Wire took that chance, because the end result is a highly-engaging drama with some of the most incredible and finely-nuanced acting I have seen on TV in a long time. I'm going to start season 2 tonight, so you know where you'll find me most evenings for the next week or so ......

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wikepedia: A Matter of Accuracy

A few weeks ago I edited content on Wikipedia for the first time and I was really excited by the thought of being able to contribute to and help build-up bodies of knowledge. After the initial excitement died-down, I started thinking about how accurate a lot of the content on the site was. I had done a lot of (ahem ... ) research on my topic and contributed the knowledge in good faith. However, how true is this of other contributors out there? I had re-checked my contributions later on, only to find out that they were still there. So, it could either be that my facts were checked and found to be correct or that they were never checked at all. This issue of verifying the accuracy of contributions made to Wikipedia is the subject of this recent New York Times article and AP news story.

Yesterday I wrote about how blogging was changing journalism as we know it. Blogging, and other technoology tools, are also changing how knowledge is created and disseminated. We need to think more about what standards are applied to this knowledge creation process.

Electricity Woes

Just when I think I am getting used to the sporadic electricity supply here, the power goes and I realise that I am far from accustomed to this. You might remember my post, several weeks back, about the lack of electricity at work and the ensuing 'discussions'. Since then, I have gotten used to coming in to the office many mornings to find that we have no power. According to new regulations made since the infamous generator diesel talks and security strike (see above-linked post), the generator can only be used between 8:00AM and 6:00PM. My company suffers the most from this rule because we work the longest hours (never mind that we are also the only company actually paying for diesel).

Today I got in and had an important email to send off, so I was praying hard that we would have electricity. WE DID! Amazing!!!! A colleague and I put together the document we needed to send and just as we were getting ready to shoot off an email, what should happen? You guessed it - the power went. JEEZ!!!!! I was so upset. Amazingly though, not as riled-up as I would have been just a few months ago, so I guess that I must be acclimatising.

Philadelphia- The Story of a Wireless City

The city of Philadelphia will the the next in a small series of US cities to go wireless i.e. the entire city will be one giant hotspot (I'm salivating just at the thought). An increasing number of websites are creating multimedia content, which really requires faster connection (broadband) speeds. This is typically more costly than dial-up (though competition among ISPs has driven down costs quite a bit in recent years) and so often unaccessible to people in lower income brackets. Philadelphia city officials now see internet access as an essential service, just like electricity and sanitation. I cannot imagine when Lagos will get to that stage, because of-course, we are very much struggling with the provision of the 'real' basic needs (food, shelter and transport- much less good roads, sanitation and electricity).

Another story on the BBC site shows how blogging is changing how journalists view and do their work. Since news blogs are becoming commonplace now, with many 'ordinary citizens' sharing their thoughts via their blog, journalists have to get used to engaging readers in discussion and deal with an increasing level of scrutiny of their ideas and perhaps accuracy of their facts.

A Nigerian Traditional Wedding

Went for my best friend Y’s traditional wedding this Saturday and it was a lot of fun. It was my first trad. wedding - believe it or not, and you probably don’t – so I was very excited to be there.

Nigerian readers will know the whole deal, but for those who don’t the traditional wedding (or the "engagement", as it is sometimes known) is considered to be the real wedding from the Nigerian perspective. It starts off with the groom’s family coming to pay their respects to the bride’s family and ask for her hand in marriage. In the Yoruba culture, the families would have met already in what it usually referred to as an "introduction" and worked out the details of the marriage, so the traditional wedding is more for ceremonial purposes than anything else. It represents the solemnisation of the joining of the two families as one. I cannot go into the step-by-step details, so I’ll have to link to an online resource that does (or better still, find one yourself).

I have to say that, even though there are many aspects of the Nigerian society that seem ostentatious and unnecessarily showy to me, we do have a beautiful culture and the importance of preserving it cannot be over-emphasised. For example, it is a wonderful thing to see a woman so desired by a man and his family that the groom will prostrate before her family countless times before she finally becomes his. It must also be an incredible feeling to know that both families are giving their full support to this union. The flip side of this is, of-course, is the coolness that said families could exhibit when faced with what they consider to be a less than suitable match for their son or daughter. The same force of love and support can very easily become a mountain of disapproval to be overcome. This is one of the double-edged swords of living in a society where family and community approval matters so much. One way to deal with this is not to let yourself care about what others think in the first place. Alas, this is much easier said than done and I definitely haven't figured out how to do this yet.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The New Class of Returnees

I have been thinking about this for a while, perhaps understandably, since I now fit into this group. The new class of returnees are people who studied abroad and have returned home to live and work. In my parents' generation, it was fairly commonplace to leave Nigeria to study abroad and return once you had completed your course. The 1980s and beyond, though, saw increasing numbers of people staying abroad once they finished school, getting jobs there and settling there (be it in the United States, England, Canada, or wherever they found themselves). This phenomenon grew worse in the 1990s, during the bad old days of Abacha. Now, however, as the country has settled into a democratically-elected government and the economy seems to be on the up and up, many of our 'studied-abroads' are now choosing to return home and capitalise on the fast-developing economy and consequent money-making opportunities to be had here.

I don't want to be glib and say that everything is honky-dory. It's not, because in order to take advantage of many of these opportunities, you do have to have a certain amount of personal connections. Money also helps, as does having that coveted foreign education, which all seems extremely unfair to me (although in many ways I will benefit from this - not yet though as I am still a lowly youth corper). I can only imagine how outraged I would feel having worked with an organization for several years and thinking that I was progressing the career ladder quite nicely thank-you, only to have some young pup hired as MY BOSS (!!!!!!!) just because they have that valuable degree from a foreign university, which I was unable to afford. Okay, I know I am over-simplifying things, after all there must be intellectual and leadership traits which companies look for in their would-be employees. Right?

One of the things I loved the most about my life in the States was that I was responsible for myself in everyway (and yes, this has its pluses and minuses). While I had to rely on myself for anything I wanted, I felt a strong sense of independence and pride in my ability to make things happen for myself, go out and buy what I wanted when I wanted, and make my own decisions without having to pay heed to what anyone thought I should be doing. As anyone who is familiar with the African culture, that independence pretty much goes out the window once you return home. At home, as a returnee, you definitely have access to the better jobs, probably a higher-flying lifestyle than you did in the West, as well as family support, but there are all the strings that come attached with these. There's still so much that I'm reflecting on and getting used to, and I wonder if I will ever be fully enveloped into the folds of the Nigerian society the way I once almost was (I've never thought of myself as fully integrated into any community that I have been part of anyway and maybe it's that outside status that makes me drawn to writing about what I observe).

The reason this subject of returnees is on my mind right now is because of an event I attended this weekend. It was an opening of a boutique/gift shop cum bazaar in a high-brow lounge in Ikoyi. Many of the people in attendance were obviously 'studied-abroads' and the air was thick with the sound of foreign accents (particularly British public school accents). There was the casual mention of flying to London for the Christmas and birthday celebrations, and vigorous assertions to how brilliant life was at home as long as you can get away every few months. I don't know …… I studied abroad too, but I’m not sure that I could relate to much of the discussion going on around me.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Strange Goings On at the Office

Two nights ago, my office was broken into - by who, we don’t know. But, whoever it was did a nice job of breaking down most of the doors. They came in though the back of the office. We are on the first floor (that’s second floor to you Americans), mind you, so whoever broke in had a tough job on balancing on a ladder while they bent the bars of the 'burglary proof' grid one-by-one. Writhing through the space created took them to a small balcony, from where they removed the louvres of the bathroom window in order to crawl in. From there, they broke down the bathroom door to get into the main office after which they broke down almost every other door in the office.

And what did they get for this incredible amount of hard work? =N= 14,000 (fourteen thousand Naira), or about USD 103. I couldn’t believe it!! All our computers, printers, photocopiers and anything else worth stealing were still there. Our documents were obviously also of very little interest to them, as the doors to the cabinets were wide open wit the contents largely left untouched. Why would anyone go into all that trouble? They were obviously looking for something specific (100 million Naira in cash perhaps- in which case, they really know nothing about my office) and I’m sure that they left extremely disappointed.

The most astounding part of it all (or perhaps not so astounding if you know even the teeniest thing about Nigeria) was that the security men heard and saw nothing. For the several hours it must have taken for the thieves to break their way into our office??? Unbelievable. Innocent until proven guilty I know, but I'm sure they were all looking forward to splitting the proceeds of their escapade (=N= 14,000 !!!!). LOL! On a more serious note, it does show how economic inequities persist for many Nigerians, when people would even consider going through so much trouble for the possibility of some indeterminate payoff at the end.

Happy December to Meeee!

It's the start of my favourite month of the year - December. This is my birthday month, the end of the year and another opportunity to reflect on what I've accomplished in the year and think about newer and more exciting goals for the next. I have a feeling that this will be a phenomenal month for me - I don't know why, but I do!

This will be a jam-packed weekend with my best friend, Y's, traditional wedding on Saturday. I'm also attending the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON)'s end of year party. I've never been, but my Dad said that it's usually quite fun. If my Dad says that, should I be worried?