August 19

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Too Easy?

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It is axiomatic that living in the developing world is hard work.  When you’re coming from the “developed” world, things just seem more difficult. Having been in Abuja, Nigeria now for a couple of months, you get used to some of the challenges of life here:

  • that the power can be intermittent, that the generators will kick on and you’ll not skip a beat in your work (unless of course the diesel wasn’t purchased, in which case it stays dark)
  • that the plumbing is wonky at best, and water supply can also be intermittent
  • that everything is a negotiation- from the cabs, to purchases, to getting some staff to deliver on their jobs
  • things can be very bureaucratic- and processes obtuse
  • meetings often don’t start on time- or even at all
  • the pace can be slow to the point of glacial
  • there is a constant tension between those who are trying to push things forward and the cultural intertia to maintain the status quo
  • that you have to constantly reset your expectations for what success looks like.

And even as you get used to some of these challenges and they start to feel a little bit “normal,” you crave the simplicity and predictability of life you left behind- where most things work as they are supposed to, traffic follows some rules, work can be hard and frenetic, but you know that you can meet your goals.  I will admit that I’m more than ready to be done with dirty little cabs where you feel like you’re putting your life on the line every time you get in.  And I’m anxious to be able to travel where I want, without the worrying about the security situation.

And then you occasionally hear something that makes you re-assess your perspective.  Chatting with a neighbor last night over a bottle of wine (ok, not everything is hard!), she was telling me of her experiences running a restaurant here in Abuja.  As you might expect, it can be fraught with difficulties- obtaining useable ingredients at consistent prices, outrageous utility prices and trying to keep track of when the power is actually “on” versus when you’re paying to use the gen so that you’re not double-charged, trying to teach staff about proper customer service in a culture where that concept is foreign, maintain vigilance for internal and external fraud, including side deals made between servers and customers, food safety, maintenance, security, and on and on.

She had just returned from a holiday at her family home near Tuscany, in a beautiful and idyllic setting.  I asked her why she chose to stay here in Nigeria when she could live in such an amazing place.  After spending a year there with her family in order to teach her daughter Italian, she said that she was bored because things were just “too easy.”  Everything worked and life was predictable.  But that wasn’t for her.  She said that as frustrated as she gets as a business owner here, she thrives on the fact that things aren’t predictable.  It is exactly the challenges that provide her the vibrancy in her life. This reminds me of a scene from the movie “Parenthood” with Steve Martin when the family is going through turmoil and the grandmother says “You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Steve Martin’s character replies, “Oh?”  Grandma says “Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!” “What a great story.” To Which grandma replies “I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

Hmmm…

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