Florence in February (#lategram)

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In February I was in Florence for work for a couple of days. I took lots of instagram shots but also a few with my camera. But things got a bit crazy and I went back home straight after the trip and never got around to editing them. A few days ago I was going through my SD card (because I never delete photos) and came across this shot and decided that I really like it and it is high time I put it up.

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

Baku – a statue’s view

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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.

Going down to Durban town

In just a few hours I will be hopping on to a plane and flying down to Durban to visit my family. I am unsually excited about this, but I guess over the past two years I haven’t spent much time in the city that I grew up in, and absence makes the heart grow fonder.
But first I have to get through the work day – and while we only work a half-day on a Friday, we have a compulsory cleaning day today. That means not only will I have to clean my office I will have to get all my work done too. *sigh*

Enough negativity though, I wanted to post about the things I love most about visiting Durban.

1. The sea – I was born by the sea and grew up by the sea. I like just being able to see it every day, to smell it, to hear the waves crashing. I love the way the sun reflects off it. I love counting the ships waiting to come in.

2. The beach – yes the sea and the beach go together but you can enjoy the sea without stepping foot on the beach.

3. Seeing my mom and my Moo.

4. The general chaos of my parent’s house – my house in Joburg is so quiet and ordered. I can leave anything without worrying that some critter (usually Koko the African Grey) will destroy it within minutes. In small doses the chaos is quite entertaining.

This is Koko, destroyer of all things.

5. John and Joanna’s cooking – my sister and her boyfriend and amazing cooks. I love that I don’t have to come anywhere near the kitchen while I am in Durban. And all the meals are better-than-restaurant quality.

This was John and Joanna making 'Zulu' sushi - with fillet steak in place of fish. It was amazing.

Teaching an old dog new tricks

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I don’t mean to suggest with the title of this post that I think I am old. But I am certainly outside of what many experts believe is a critical learning period. From the moment we are born, until we hit puberty, our brains are incredible sponges. After that the whole learning system starts to slow down.

The cruel irony of this is that we have really long lives to live after this period, with lots of new things to learn. In today’s global economy this is especially true; more and more people are choosing to or are forced to change careers completely every few years. A lot of learning is a crucial part of this, but the process of learning new things is also incredibly important for our brains as a form of exercise if you will. A few years ago I watched one of those educational programmes on brain degeneration in old age, which showed that people who continue to learn and exercise their brains in their later years, have much better memories and show far fewer signs of degeneration.

The problem with learning when you’re no longer a kid and at school is that it is a far more frustrating and lengthy process. I recently started taking language lessons, and the frustration I am experiencing is unlike anything I can recall. When we moved to South Africa I never had to learn English consciously – we just went to school every day and somehow six months later Joanna and I were fluent. When I was learning Afrikaans and French at school it was only to ensure I got As for them in my exams; I never had to learn more than what was required.

Now I am in a situation where I am learning a language so that one day (sooner than later) I can speak it fluently. When I look at lists of vocabulary or irregular verbs I want to know them all at once, because I know how much there is still to learn. I cannot leave ‘banana’ or ‘batteries’ off the list because they won’t be in the exam. The test of real life doesn’t have a set of finite learning materials.

The other issue is of course time – time to learn and opportunity to practice. Learning to speak English when I was 8 years old wasn’t a choice – two days after we arrived in SA we started at a school where, of course, no one spoke Polish. So learning to speak was in basic terms, about survival, and every day at school was practice. Now I need to not only find the time in the evenings to sit and learn, aside from a formal lesson with my teacher once a week, the only opportunity for practice is the mirror and an app on my iPad which allows you to record yourself and listen to your pronunciation alongside the correct one.

Even when you travel to the country where they speak the language you’re learning it is also not so easy to practice. In most big cities in the world people speak at least a little English. So shyness aside, it is always tempting to revert to a mixture of pidgin English and sign language to get your message across, rather than scrambling for words and butchering someone’s language.

Last night I realized that I am not only learning a new language, I am also learning patience.

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