You’re welcome Abuja

Abuja Nigeria

Abuja Nigeria

Abuja Nigeria sunset

Abuja Nigeria

Abuja Nigeria Mosque

Abuja Nigeria rain

Abuja Nigeria plantains

Abuja Nigeria Blake's

Abuja Nigeria

As I type this it is almost 2 am London time and I’m sitting on the floor of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 (loooong story). Regardless I finally feel inspired to write something again and to shake out the tumbleweeds that have been blowing through the blog lately.

I’m currently in transit on my way back to NYC after 3 and a half days in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital and I really wanted to share my reflection about the city and my experience. In the past few years I’ve heard so much about Nigeria from friends who have been (especially those who have gone to Lagos) and recently, after devouring nearly all of Chimamanda Adichie’s books I have been itching to experience the country for myself.

When I found out I was going there for work I was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to see a tiny slice of arguably the continent’s most infamous country for myself.

For the most part I was swamped with work and I got to see very little outside of the hotel, office and conference venue. In between work and dealing with the time difference I stuffed my face with fried plantains and Nigeria’s awesome hot and spicy food; suffered serious caffeine withdrawals; discovered that in Nigeria no one will exchange 20 USD notes that are older than 2006 and got caught off guard each time a greeting exchange ended with “you’re welcome”.

But the most enriching part of the experience started on Thursday night when I met Chika – a young Nigerian journalist who was raised in the US and returned to Nigeria six months ago to live and work. Aware of my desperation to see a bit of the city life before departing on Saturday morning, Chika invited me to join her and her friends for an evening out on Friday.

What ensued was one of those amazing, rare experience that happen when a bunch of like minded individuals find themselves thrown together by a twist of fate, some random chance. We ended up being a group of 10 or 11, a mixture of foreigners working in or visiting Nigeria for a limited time, and Nigerians raised abroad who had returned in the past three years. It was especially fascinating listening to the dynamic young Nigerian women who had all decided to move back to the country after growing up and living most of their lives abroad. Hearing them describe how they came to their decision was incredible, as were the tales of their experiences since moving back.

After attending a book reading by local up-and-coming writers (organized by the Abuja Literary Society) we headed out for a bite at Salamander cafe and then to Blake’s for live music and dancing in a great spacious venue, and finally to one of the local clubs for some more dancing.

I don’t want to make any pronouncements or generalizations about Nigeria based on what was my very limited experience. There’s a huge tendency for people to reduce the countries they visit (especially in Africa) to a few narratives or images (for example “it’s so beautiful here” or “everyone is so friendly”). All I will say is that never did I think is spend a Friday night dancing away to Abba being performed by a local band in Abuja with a group of people I had only met a short while before.

To end off – a short video clip of the beautiful call to prayer from a local mosque that I heard on my first night as I was snapping photos of the sunset. It was so unexpected and so beautiful: http://youtu.be/sMOvDTXxVlg

The photos were all taken on my iPhone, many of them out of moving taxis

Apologies for any typos in this post – it is almost 3 am now and I’m typing on my iPhone

Philly by night

Philadelphia City Hall night
Philadelphia City Hall night Claes Oldenburg clothespin
Philadelphia City Hall night
Two weeks ago my mom and I went on a day trip to Philadelphia. We opted for the bus seeing as the tickets were significantly cheaper and I was actually pleasantly surprised at how efficient it was. I spent the entire day dragging around my tripod to take some night shots for 30 minutes…not sure if it was worth it in the end. These were the three best pics of City Hall.

On the street in Bangkok

20121119-074920.jpg20121119-074930.jpg
I saw this man across the road and he looked so incredibly cool I really wanted to photograph him. At first I was too shy to go and ask him if he would be okay with me snapping a pic, so I just took one from across the road and started walking. But I quickly changed my mind and decided that in the worst case he would just shout at me and tell me he didn’t want his photo taken. But he didn’t. yay

Down by the river

Bangkok Thailand people down by the river at sunsetBangkok Thailand people down by the river at sunsetBangkok Thailand people down by the river at sunset
Loved the colour of the sky on Sunday evening over the river in Bangkok. Loved seeing all the people there, enjoying each other’s company, their own company and those warm tones.
Bangkok was the second stop on my work trip – I am currently in Hanoi but will be back in Bangkok on the weekend and will hopefully have more time to take photos.

Baku round-up

Baku Azerbaijan Old City Flame TowersBaku Azerbaijan Old City catBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old City bread womanMosque and flame towers BakuBaku by nightBaku highway and Trump TowerHeydar Aliyev Cultural Center BakuHeydar Aliyev Cultural Center Baku birdBaku Azerbaijan FountainBaku Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev Baku Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev placeBaku Azerbaijan Old CityBaku Azerbaijan Old City
Earlier this week I said that I would reserve my impressions of Baku until the end of the week, and I sit at the airport en route to Bangkok, here they are:

1. Baku is a strange city, a mix of Soviet and Turkish influences. A strange mix of old buildings and new, and new buildings made to look old.

2. Crossing roads here is akin to shark diving without the cage. There are very few crossings, people drive like crazy and at times outright ignore things like red lights.

3. More scary than crossing the road is going in the cabs. Here it seems perfectly acceptable for the cab driver to be driving, talking on the phone and smoking at the same time.

4. Here is a quick cab guide in case you ever visit: I paid 15 AZN from the city to the airport which should serve as a guide to your negotiations;chances are the cab driver has no idea where you are going; and insist on the meter (I will do a separate blog post on the cabs in Baku).

5. The airport wifi is fast and free.

6. Data is cheap cheap cheap. When I arrived I managed to buy a micro sim for my iPhone in 5 mins for 10 ANZ (about 12 dollars I guess). A 1GB data bundle costs a little over 6 USD. In NYC I pay 25 USD for 1GB on my prepaid arrangement.

7. A great walk is along Nizami street, through the Old Town and up to the Flame towers. A bad walk is one to the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centrer (the white organic building in the photos).

8. I got stared at a lot walking around, which was strange because I don’t really stand out there and often got addressed in the local language or in Russian. It was a major difference from New York where no one makes eye contact on the street.

Baku – a statue’s view

Baku Azerbaijan Baku Azerbaijan Baku Azerbaijan Baku Azerbaijan
I’m currently in Baku, Azerbaijan for a work conference. I arrived here last night and took a stroll through a part of the city close to my hotel. I was quite surprised to see how busy the streets were and how many luxury labels have stores here. Anyway I will save my impressions for later in the week – especially since I will only have time on Saturday to do some proper sightseeing.

As I was looking at my photos I realised I had taken quite a lot of statues and public art pieces so thought I’d group them together and share a little peek of Baku.