The weekend

Friday couldn’t roll around soon enough for me, after the week I’d had. After a few debatable experiences with what passed for pizza, we decided to head out to Secret Garden, which came highly touted as a cool hangout spot that served good pizzas and pastas. The restaurant was inside the River Plate Park, which was our rendezvous point for the Abuja Hash outing the previous week.

The restaurant is packed with what looked like an expat-heavy crowd. The menu lists two pages of pizzas and has a long cocktail list. We get a bunch of pizzas and pastas – they’re good! The discussion around the dinner table veers wildly from topic to topic – plans for the weekend, updates from back home, President Trump’s first foreign trip – but we stay away from work talk.

IMG_5921.jpgSam gets Divine to massage bug spray on his scalp

By now, we are reasonably confident of our bearings and our way around town. We’ve been depending on Uber to move about – and it’s been safe, reliable and cheap.

Saturday morning, Marvin, Maria and I head to the US embassy annex for our weekly dose of pain aka CrossFit. The session is brutal, mainly because of the burning sun beating down on us. We finish the session with a celebratory selfie with Col. Baker, who was leading the cool-down session for the last time, as he was heading back to England. While waiting for our Uber back, we chatted with a few fellow punishment seekers. They were here in Abuja “with the USAID”, “Clinton Global Initiative”, “teaching at the American School” and so on. Mostly Americans, but I also hear a few British accents and a smattering of French and Spanish.

IMG_3185Selfie with Col. Baker. Notice the photo-bomber in the back

Back at the Nordic Hotel, the sight of the pool proves irresistible – so the three of us head there (to dispel any doubt, after we’d showered and changed out of the sweaty workout gear). This was my first time at the pool, though I’ve been tempted by the sight every time I’d worked out at the gym (BTW, I’m proud to report that I’ve been maintaining my 30 miles per week running average, despite the work load and the weather conditions).

The pool is refreshing as all get out. The pina colada hits the right spot. The torture of the past hour is a distant memory – I’m living the dream. I swim a few leisurely laps and lounge on the deck chair with my book. Meanwhile, Marvin challenges the two swim instructors to a 4 x 25 m individual medley. The swim instructors look like they are carved out of granite, with huge pecs and 0% body fat – but they don’t suspect that Marvin, a former collegiate swimmer, is hustling them. I stand by, ready to record the action. Maria flags the swimmers off. Marvin is slow coming off the blocks. At the end of the first lap, Marvin’s a bit behind – but then he turns the jets on and beats Instructor # 1 by two body lengths. Yay, Marvin!

(Click on the captions to see the hyperlinked YouTube videos)

Marvin Phelps

That afternoon, the team meets up to do the touristy things that we hadn’t had time to do yet. Our first stop is at the Bwari pottery village, some 30 kms from town. The ride to the place takes us through several bustling villages, where we see people selling everything from sofas to tires to clothes out in the open air. I note the high density of churches. When we turn into the pottery village, we see a crowd and hear loud music. Our guide leads us into the first of a series of “workshop huts” and starts explaining the process of making pottery. Each stage of the process is explained – and several are demoed. He takes the pottery wheel and expertly whips up a small vase (Unchained Melody is playing in the background – at least, in my head). While we were admiring his handiwork, a man dressed in a suit enters the hut and introduces himself as the owner of the place, and says that it is his wedding day today! He graciously invites us to attend, and we are touched by his hospitality. We take in the baking, glazing and final finishing processes and finish the tour at their showroom, picking up some keepsake pieces.


IMG_5959Charcoal-fired kiln 

Bwari pottery

We hurry on over to the “shamiana” where the festivities are taking place. There’s a band playing and several spectacularly attired guests are grooving. We are invited to take seats by the MC, introduced to the assemblage and asked to speak. We all manage to come up with impromptu speeches congratulating the bride and groom, Charity and Stephen, and offer them our best wishes. We witness the bride and groom step out for their first dance and the guests showering them with money. We have to be torn away from the delights of this unexpected event – but it is getting late, and we have other places to see.

The little drummer boy can’t hold it back – busting out his moves

Impromptu felicitations to the couple !

 Sameh can’t stay away from the music

Dancing and gifts at the wedding

IMG_5990Charity  & Stephen, the happy couple

Next stop – Lower Usuma dam, which supplies water to the denizens of Abuja. Our van is stopped by security folks at the entrance. Negotiations continue for a while, but ultimately, we fail to convince them to let us through. There’s some discussion whether we should pay their “security escort fee” of 2000 Naira – but we decide not to and head out. We get lunch at a Nigerian restaurant, Jevinik. The menu is unfamiliar – most restaurants we’d been to had explanations for the Nigerian menu items that we could understand, but this one just stated the options and left it at that – so extended interrogations with the waiter were required to figure out what each one of us wanted to try. The food arrives – it is tasty, but fiery.

 The IBM SCC team –  at a fortuitous roadside sign

On to Abuja Arts & Crafts Market – our third visit there. I’d scoped out a few things to take back home, and I pick them up, but not before some entertaining price negotiations. I offer up my honed-in India bargaining skills to my team mates – but I soon realize that Divine and Maria have raised price haggling to an exalted level.

Back to the hotel. After our late lunch, no one was really in the mood for dinner, so we settle for a glass of wine at the hotel lobby and deconstruct the happenings of the day.

Marvin and Sameh head out to Lagos on Sunday morning for a day trip. I decide to take it easy, and spend the entire day in my room, getting some much-needed alone time to restore the balance after all of the group socializing over the past couple of weeks. In a frenzy of blogging, I post two updates. I take care of some video and photo processing. By the evening, after my run, I am ready to re-establish contact with humanity. I coax people to join me at the BluCabana for dinner. Marvin and Sam are back from Lagos, and tell us about their trip, the highlight of which was their visit to the Badagry Slave Museum, which stands as a stark reminder of the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We are joined at the table by the Lebanese manager of the restaurant, Johnny – he has some funny stories. We are treated to some birthday cake from a nearby table where a group of young women were celebrating – delicious! We head back to our rooms ready to nod off, to no doubt emerge re-energized and ready to face our final week in Abuja !


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