Thursday, September 16, 2010

Part V, Idiosyncracies: Things you wouldn't expect

Hi everyone!

Though it is not easy to keep up with the demand for "more," in this case, unlike the master in Oliver Twist's orphanage, "More, please!"  will be rewarded.  

When you travel, if you do not think about recording some of the things that, at first impression, are different when they are first impressions, it is easy to forget them and to begin to accept them.  Of course, eventually, I must accept them all.  I cannot change much about the way life works in Lebanon.  People are amazingly versatile and adaptable, as we saw, over and over during the natural disasters we've watched in Haiti, Chile, Pakistan to name only 3.  Of course, I am not classifying any of this as a "disaster" really, though it has seemed so at times.

I read before I came that the electrical grid here was very unstable.  That's not true!  It's very stable.  It goes off on intermittently but very regularly.  Some say you can set your watch by it. In other words, there is not enough electricity to go around so the company has planned blackouts for 3 hours at various times during the day throughout the country, region by region.  I remembered about this my first night when the lights and everything went off at midnight and then came back on a minute later because of the university generators.  So, what folks are not paying in electricity, they are paying in diesel to run their generators.  Most hotels, malls, public buildings and many apartment complexes and private homes have generators that kick on when the power dies.  My first day, I found myself in a bookstore, looking at the English book collection when the lights went off.  No one panics; instead, everyone continues to shop as best they can in the dark.  I couldn't read titles until the lights came back on.  It was merely a temporary nuisance in a mall with a generator.   This electrical issue is a result of the last war when all the power plants were bombed, 2006.  The country is struggling to get everything working again, years later.  This habitual loss of power makes me think about things I wouldn't otherwise:
  • Caught in the spice aisle of the supermarket, I thought, "This is a great place to be right now, where the print is tiniest and all in Arabic or French."  There was no way to continue until the lights came on several minutes later.
  • There is no point in digital clocks.  The one on the microwave rarely gets beyond 9:30 before beginning over again at 1:30.  I've been using my cell phone for an alarm clock.
  • What is the cost of diesel compared with electrical units?
Lebanese Arabic
CNN, just last night, had this topic featured on their "Connect The World" program, Becky Anderson.  They are discussing languages that are being lost with this one, Lebanese Arabic,  featured as one of them.  The reason this is unique in the Arab world is because of the cosmopolitan nature of the country, Beirut especially.  Many people, probably a majority are bilingual or trilingual and many parents speak to their children in French.  The standard greetings and polite exchanges are often in English, "Hello, Hi" rather than "Marhaba" or "Sabachel Kheir." "Merci" rather than "Shukrahn."  I had read this before coming--that the French and English borrowings were now a standard part of everyone's language but I couldn't have imagined the extent to which this was trueIt is strange to hear Arabic and French mixed together.  I suppose I'll get used to it and then accept it, and then wonder why my friends in Jordan don't sound the same!  The polyglot spaghetti that inhabits my brain is only going to get worse, I fear.  Nevertheless, I will study Arabic again because Tripoli, the next closest city is more Arab than anything else and though many signs are written in English and French,  in this part of Lebanon a great many are not.

Hot Water
I was without hot water in the apartment for about 4-5 days.  No one told me that there was a special technique for getting hot water until the Facilities Manager came by to go through the apartment and address my questions. He opened the fuse box and there, clearly labeled, was the word "Boiler."  20 minutes or more before you need it, you flip the switch, use it, and then remember to turn it off because it uses (gas? electricity? some unnamed energy?) a great deal of energy to keep it hot.  Then, I remembered the Jordan hot water drill.  The difference this time is that "on" and "off" are clearly labeled.  In Jordan there was a 2-switch process and I never, ever figured out.  I always thought it was kind of like magic to have hot water at all!

The Oven
The stove is a gas stove, needing matches for each time you light the oven.  The burners have an ignition spark that lights the gas.  I have lit the oven.  That is not the problem.  The issue is this:  There are no temperature numbers nor is there a setting that uses even heat, top and bottom at the same time.  The oven is either high, low, on, off, top to broil, or bottom.  That is all.  I have eaten dried chicken (that wasn't supposed to be dry), and baked a pizza crust for a family who is still stuck in a hotel for the next 2 more weeks, that was not done on top but starting to burn on the bottom.  I found a counter-top oven in my travels with my friend for $50 but I am going to keep trying to figure this oven out.  I do think souffle is definitely not on any menu anytime soon.  So far it hasn't singed my hair off or blown up like the oven in Jordan did.  

My office
Ugh!  It is half of a tiny, claustrophobic, rather untidy and seemingly dingy  room.  I do not plan to spend much time in it--just what's required.  Perhaps I will find a quiet, peaceful place to work and meet students, a recommendation from a friend who'd resolved her own office issues that way. Living on campus will be a huge benefit in this case.  The steep side of the mountain that I will climb at least once a day will be good, aerobic exercise and make my sisters happy!  Today I was almost wheezing as I went up.  It was humid, warm, and the climb tough. However, it is not long, so that's good.
Notes about several things
  • My shipping has arrived and I did not think it was very expensive--certainly not as expensive, including the transportation here, as the nightmares I was having about it that were waking me up or keeping me awake.
  • I still do not have a syllabus for either class I will teach.  A team meeting for one of the classes will be next Wednesday and the other, in a week, the Friday before classes start.  Lord, give me patience!
  • The wonderful women I met a week ago now have continued to help.  One of them, after driving me around for several hours to see televisions and irons, gave me a tv they were no longer using which is just fine and is now connected to even more channels in English than I had before.  She also gave me a medium-sized travel iron that, with steam, does a fine job.  This is good because the washing machine (no, this one does not dance like the one in Jordan did) has a special spin cycle that is particularly good at wrinkling clothes.  I am not sure what causes this but there is not one thing, other than towels (yes, I have those too), and underwear that doesn't need ironing.
  • Facebook and Twitter--Facebook is blocked during school hours,  8-5; Twitter is blocked completely.  Skype is also blocked for everyone unless you write a letter requesting the service and stating the reasons for needing it.  Then, it is usually limited to after-school hours but I requested it 24/7 and they've honored that.  I have also noticed that some live-stream radio is impossible at any time.  However, I can get PRN, NET, and KQED among others so I am not missing anything.  Fortunately, the blog still works.
Hugs all around!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

First Views of Beirut

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Part IV: Multiple Problems: A few Solutions

Thursday morning, as promised the Chair picked me up and we drove around the mountainous campus.  What you notice first of all, is that the ground is rock and dirt--lots of rock.  What I noticed, when the sun was up, was that my apartment did have a view of the Mediterranean...when you were standing up and could see over the cars in the parking lot.  Furthermore, being on the ground floor meant that the constant breeze bringing in the dirt and dust and traffic in and out would become part of my living space if I was not careful.  I decided that the kitchen curtains could be open only when I was completely ready for the day and that the patio curtains probably never would, nor would I open any of the windows.  As you saw from my pictures, the "garden" area is not planted and the dirt rides on the breeze all the time.  It would not be a problem in one of the upper apartments, I think.  The other issue is that multiple families of children use the parking lot to play in so, with school still out, it can be noisy.  Most of these children are precocious and gregarious.  When they see you, they will say, "Hi!  Where are you going?" and "Are you coming to visit us?"  The Dean of Business lives right above me and has 5 or 6 children.  He's already asked if I babysit!

After driving around, the chair parked and we went into the building for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and up to her office.  If you remember and were reading back then, like Jordan, there is someone usually available to make tea and coffee so the chair ordered Turkish coffee and we sat in her office to chat and to wait for the Dean to have a minute to meet. When the Dean called the chair into his office, she offered to let me use her computer to check on and send an email to my friends and family.  I did that as quickly as I could, begging them to pass the word on to whomever I'd left off the list.  I noticed a number of posters advertising performances of oratorios, cantatas, and other music  with the Chair as the main soprano.  Then my eyes were drawn to a whole bookshelf loaded floor to ceiling with CDs,  music texts and scores.  Clearly, that was going to be a first question when she returned.

I think we've hit it off right away.  For one thing, she has an MM in vocal music and then switched to Education, while I switched to Literature.  She's hoping we can get some musical events going.  There isn't a music department but there is great interest, as there was at LCC, proving that the Arts are a necessary part of one's life if not one's formal education.  But I'm not a choral conductor so I'm not sure what will happen.  Nevertheless, finding a fellow musician is a huge plus.  The dean is an Arab and said all the right things about being pleased to have me aboard, hoping that I will be happy, hoping that I will stay, looking forward to my contributions, etc. Then he said, "I wish you hadn't shipped anything but, well, it's too late now!"  That definitely put a damper on things.  Oh my!  Later, I clarified with the Chair that I do not own a home in Lithuania from which I'd just traveled.  They were under the impression that I'd left from the US and had made choices about what to bring.  The chair said that I was not the only one to ship things, that it would all be worked out eventually, but that there was a mile of red tape between me and my belongings.  The man who took my passport to get things finished ended up with a family crisis so now I have neither things nor passport.  The Dean went on to say that personal safety is not an issue here.  People are generally very honest, generous, hospitable, and helpful.  So true!  As far as national safety?  The chair said that they are fairly oblivious up here about things that happen in the south and off the mountain.  I responded that I thought the endurance of a 12th-Century monastery was a very good sign.

After that we went to IT to try to get the internet connected at home.  They said they couldn't do it that day but would come first thing in the morning to do it on Friday, the next day  Despite my frustration, there was nothing more to do or say about that so we left the campus so I could pick up some necessities--towels, food, a pan, a couple of utensils, a lamp, an extension cord and most critical of all--some hair gel.  I'd dumped absolutely all my hair products to save on weight without realizing it so here I was, meeting folks for the very first time with the wildest, craziest hair possible.  Really!  I don't think I've ever allowed anyone, even on a skype call, to see me this way but I could hardly sit at home waiting for hair gel to drop into my lap before going out.  May I never do that again!

We went to Bou Khalil, a mini mall on the outskirts of Tripoli.  Had we not driven to the center of town first I would not have known what kind of miracle it was that we had arrived safely without a scratch on the car or ourselves.  Though the dean's advice for me included encouragement  to purchase a car, I am less than enthusiastic about it.  I'm not sure I could survive the stress. I think it was much better in the dark, the night before when I couldn't see as much.  In the bookstore, I found a number of bestsellers in English but since I don't usually read the NY Times Top Ten I took the recommendation of the chair and we left another new prof up there, still perusing the shelves to go downstairs to the supermarket.  I had been looking forward to labneh (yogurt the consistency of heavy sour cream, but healthier) ever since I left Jordan so, after the other things I mentioned, I picked up labneh, hummus, and flat bread as well as some vegetables, couscous, and pasta, and chicken.  In the midst of all this, the professor from the bookstore came down and finding me, handed my debit card to me.  It seems it fell out of my wallet in the bookstore and the mall manager, hearing his English called, "Geri Henderson?"  Jeff replied, "No, but I know her." Honesty?  Indeed, twice proven when a cab driver would not take the amount I believed he'd said, instead, returning change to me for the bill I'd given him.

To answer questions you've asked:
The HR director who'd promised me internet on arrival, a balcony, 2 bedrooms, etc. is no longer here.  Furthermore, none of what he promised or said was passed on to anyone so that when the requests for on-campus housing poured in, families who absolutely needed the beds were assigned those apartments.  I have been promised that as soon as something else is available, I will be given priority.  Plans are to have new faculty housing built in the coming year.  They see this as an important recruitment/retention tool and know it's important.   In the meantime, I will stay here.  I have plans to add a futon in the study and give guests the master suite when they come--as I am planning that they will!  Pay attention to this, one and all!

To cover, briefly, the issues in Part III:
I met some amazing people who live in the town next door to the university as a result of wandering through the monastery and meeting a daughter-in-law who was visiting.  She was gracious enough to offer to show me a bit of the area around the university.  Meeting her family, I was invited to spend two days in the company of women who were intelligent, strong, educated, and  members of  the Lebanese Orthodox  society: One, a professor of Arabic at the Lebanese American University and the other, a member of Lebanon's Supreme court.  Another, a sister-in-law who lives in the village has also  taught.  All spoke English well but the judge told me, "You understand French and enough Arabic and I am tired so I will use them all!"  She has offered to take me to an electronics store on Monday in Tripoli.  I need to price TVs, an iron (which I need more than a TV), and another extension cord.  I am hoping that the inexpensive lamps I ordered will have arrived  by then as well.

Perhaps these women will become friends or perhaps they have been angels, dropped into my week to help save my mind and keep  a space on the planet open for me.

Hugs to all of you!  I have appreciated your comments.



Friday, September 10, 2010

Part III, No Man's Land (No Person's Land)

I am caught in a "wrinkle in time" that has placed me between one thing and another, depriving me of structure, teaching, students, and people.  It is a very strange place in which to find oneself.  I'm an introvert and that's really no secret but hours and hours, days really, of solitude have forced me into a place of self-reliance, emotionally, that I never expected to be. It is no one's fault that I had to leave Lithuania, for several reasons, on September 1st, almost a month before classes start in Lebanon.  What is more, professors here are gone on holiday, the few weeks they have after the summer session and before the fall session begins.

The difference between what I left in Lithuania and what I have found here, during this time, is so dramatic as to be nearly at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, emotionally.  I was, as I said, in the center of the city, surrounded by everything I needed and, for the final 2 weeks there, I spent at least one and sometimes more meals or coffees each day visiting with and saying goodbye to students and friends.  I moved about the city as I wished, either walking, taking the bus, or calling a taxi if necessary.  At times I had all I could do to prepare to leave and to keep my appointments.  

For days I have seen no one unless someone from maintenance needs to come into my apartment to fix something.  I have seen the chair 3 times and 3 faculty members on 3 separate occasions in eight days.  That is the sum total of my human contact here.  That is NOT the sum total of all my human contact however; I have had several chats on skype with friends and family.  Without those, I would begin to wonder if I had been transplanted into an alternate reality somewhere.  Without human beings around, it is easy to believe that I do not have a place in the world at all.  There's  a frightening sense of unreality about this experience that makes me wonder, "When there's no one mirroring our existence back to us, validating our presence, do we exist?"

Of course, this is not the first time I've felt this way.  There were many times in Jordan and in Lithuania, especially in the first years, where I felt dreadfully alone.  However, I was always busy and never, ever had anything longer than a weekend to be alone.  By comparison, this period feels monastic, completely isolated.  What's worse is that the more I stay indoors, the more I want to stay indoors.  A friend and I were talking about the recurring dream we've had of a cottage in the mountains, a getaway place of peace and quiet, a time to read, to think, pray, and write.  Mountains?  Check.  Quiet? Check. Time? Check.  Peace?  Not-check.  The difference here is that this is forced, not chosen.

The other issue is that I finished teaching at the end of April but because Balamand starts so late, I  do not begin teaching again until the end of September.  I have taught ever since I was 17 when I had a class of 1st graders in Kingston, Jamaica, and a few piano students.  I have never, ever had that kind of teaching break since I began. Who am I, when I'm not teaching? And who am I when no one knows me?    Now I am a non-teaching teacher who feels as though she's lost her identity.

This could be a time of real growth--a time to gather the inner resources to deal with the loud chatter in my mind that seeks to create chaos and misery, a time to recognize my ability to do this hard thing.

Limbo is not a dance but Level I in Dante's vision of Hell.


Friday in Lebanon, Eid al Fitr

Planks embedded with sharp stones for grinding wheat. These were dragged around the millstone by 2 cows, yoked and muzzled--below.

Flowers from Saba's garden.
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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Part II: Beirut and Balamand

As promised, there was more to the story and now, attending to the questions of "what happened next?" I will fill in some of the missing pieces, in between working on a a long-overdue academic paper.  (All my papers and projects are overdue.  Perhaps I can start leaving off the pejorative and you can just assume that whatever it is, it is "long-overdue.")

I settled into the back seat of the car, surrounded by the dark interior, my Iftar supper, violin, satchel, purse, and documents, still hanging around my neck.  As soon as the driver got in I asked, in my best Arabic, "Entebtaref Ingleezy?"  (Do you understand English?)  He answered, in Arabic, "No, I only understand Arabic.  But you speak Arabic well."  Me, still an Arabic sentence or two left, "No, I do not understand Arabic and only speak a little, very little."  That was it.  My curiosity in my surroundings and what we passed would have to wait and that was just as well.  Driving is no small matter in the Middle East.  It should take all your attention at all times because the rules of the road are inscrutable, if there are any.  Unfortunately, my driver started to text a number to return a call. I held my breath, wondering if I should yell, "La'! La'! La'!" (No! No! No!) but with the situation as difficult as it is on the road more sensory input would not help, so I held my breath.  We passed one military check-point and then dove off the main road to avoid more traffic jams and the traffic that clogs the roads even more during the mad dash to break the fast with an Iftar. dinner  I was immediately reminded that in Jordan especially, I became adept at ignoring the road and the driving, marking papers, looking out the sides of the windows, not the front, etc. As in Jordan, the tendency is to drive down the center, lining the hood ornament up with the white line.  It precludes anyone's ability to pass you.  If that's your goal, it works fine until some more aggressive person honks and forces you over.  So, I settled back and enjoyed my supper.

It seemed to take forever to get out of Beirut.  We drove through the city on back roads that distinctly said, "No entry."  All the advertising billboards are in English and French while all the official signs are in Arabic with English underneath, proving what I'd heard about Beirut, "Paris of the Middle East" and most cosmopolitan city in the area.  Folks there, I've heard, are proud of their multilingualism.  I would be too.  Gradually, the lights thinned and so did the traffic, slightly as we headed up the coast but resort hotels line the coast and there was no time that we seemed to be in a strictly rural area, judging by the continuous lights and the glitter they made on the Mediterranean.  

After awhile, almost 2 hours, we turned away from the coast and followed the sign that said, University of Balamand and up a steep road.  After several switchbacks and a steep climb, we came to the main gate, up to the guards,  stopping to identify who I was, and through the campus.  Faculty housing, as I'd seen from many pictures and Google Earth, is almost at the top of the campus so I was familiar with the route and the final turn into faculty housing and the parking lot.  In minutes, security drove up with the keys.  The driver helped me in with my things and left.  Security showed me how to use the remote to turn on the air conditioning and then left.  

Is it possible to write about nothing?  Sure it is!  Students do it all the time!  So:  There were no towels, no pots, no pans, no glasses, no mugs, nada, ninguna cosa, zip.  It is much easier to say what there was:  Sheets, pillows and cases on the bed, a filthy floor rag (never washed) in a heap on the back of the bath tub, dish soap and two new sponges, 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 saucers, 4 forks, 3 knives, 4 large spoons, toilet paper ( a little), flat bread, cheese, water.  That was the inventory.  TVs are personal items so there is no television.  I'd be happy with Lithuanian channels and Lithuanian basketball!  (They're winning it all by the way!)  It didn't take me long to assess the place--not clean, full of Sauder furniture except the fairly nice, nearly new sofa and side chairs,, dining room chairs and table, multiple square feet of white tile, no rugs, a decrepit washing machine, a gas stove/oven, a new microwave, a refrigerator (disgusting), AND worst of all NO INTERNET!  My cell had quit sending SMS (text) messages so I was utterly and completely cut off.

Since there were 2 twin beds I took one of the sheets off to use as a towel until I could  get towels and thought, "You have a bed.  Get in it and try to forget all this."  As soon as I  cleaned the bathroom as best I could, I showered (a sheet is really awful for drying off!) and got into bed. I began to realize that I was not in the apartment I'd been promised.  What had happened to the "balcony"?  I had a patio.  What had happened to the second bedroom?  I had a furnished study.  Perhaps I was in the wrong apartment!  I did fall asleep, mercifully, though it was not a good night.  

I made a breakfast of coffee, pita bread, and Kiri cheese.  I felt fortunate to have coffee since I'd saved my little electric pot, Britta pitcher and new filter, some coffee filters and coffee, the last of the Starbucks I'd been given, all for my luggage to bring with me.  The little cup I'd been given in the Egypt Air supper container was the lifesaver--something to use for coffee.  Fortified, I dialed "0" and asked for the chair's office.  Amazingly, she answered!  Human contact!  A real person.  We made a time to meet, she offered to pick me up and give me a tour of the campus by car, have Turkish coffee in her office, try to meet the Dean, and go shopping.  I agreed and got ready. 

(I am not attempting to create cliffhangers here but must stop for now.  Part III coming up!)

Hugs to all!


Saturday, September 04, 2010

#1: A Day of Travel, An Evening at the BEY Airport during Iftar

I left Klaipeda on Wednesday, September 1st, and I don't think I will ever forget that morning.  When I awoke I realized that the day I never expected to arrive had, indeed arrived. I have come, gone, traveled, packed so often that I can easily do that without thinking, which is what I did.   Thinking too much about what I was leaving and what was really happening would have made it impossible to keep going.  Knowing that  new faculty, temporarily in the apartment below me, were planning to move in later that day, I tried to leave things in good order.  Nevertheless, there was still a long explanatory note at the entrance as I closed the door for the last time.  I had been truly happy there--definitely happier there than anywhere else I'd lived in Klaipeda.   The charming Old Town always seemed safe, the walk to the bus, the grocery store, the old market, church easy and my well-appointed apartment, one price for cable TV and 4+ news channels, a classical music channel, wireless and all utilities; life there was good.

My friend drove me to the airport at the ungodly hour of 5:10 am, arriving in Palanga at 5:43.  I knew I was in trouble and worried about it all night until check in.  I'd weighed my 1 large suitcase and knew there was no way I could escape paying overweight.  I only prayed for mercy.  The pleasant surprise was that, rather than 20 euros/kg. I was charged much less in litas.  Perhaps they were tired or took pity on me because I looked tired?  Not sure but I escaped a serious problem and took my too-heavy carry on and violin and handbag and satchel on board.  That too was a miracle these days.  By airports, my travels on Wednesday took me from Palanga, Lithuania, to Copenhagen to Athens to Cairo and finally to Beirut.  I did all that to arrive 5 hours earlier than the direct flight from Riga, Latvia.  I also was allowed more kgs. in luggage on SAS than Air Baltic.  Other than getting snagged in Athens at the Egypt Air desk and having to check my carry on (for free) the schedule worked perfectly.  I was not sorry to let them take my carry on after I retrieved my laptop.  It was too heavy.  They were right about that!

We were given a cold tray of snacks, juice, etc. on the final flight so that as soon as the sun went down observing Muslims could break the fast.  Sitting in my row with 2 Muslim men, I refrained from eating, putting the whole thing in the plastic sack provided for later.  As you'll see in the next post, that proved to be a smart thing for other reasons.  When we arrived, the sun was just going down which meant that every observing Muslim was on a mad dash for Iftar, the feast breaking the fast.  On the face of it, Ramadan sounds like a harsh sort of observance and, in the heat of the day, it is--not even any water for most people during the day.  On the other hand, the evening celebrations more than make up for any deprivations.  They also complicate, delay, and destroy any efficiency one might expect in services--here read, "Immigration."

I got into the line marked "All Passports" and, after waiting, being forced back by an Arab businessman, always more important than a white woman, I made it to the official's window.  Not unkindly, he saw my letter of invitation from the University and sent me over to the far end of the room to stand in another line.  Getting up to that window, the official said I should walk to the back of the room, a bank window, to pay for a stamp I needed.  In the meantime, a young man, looking at my letter, took it to another office. After being displaced in the bank line several times by several businessmen who either ignore or don't see women, I got to the front.  I explained I didn't have my letter but that I was sent to this line.  He asked where it was and I told him it had been taken and pointed to the young official running back and forth between one office and another.  Casually, without any special urgency, he left his window, went out his door and across to the office diagonally across from us, another long walk.  He walked back in a few minutes, got behind his window and  said, "$34.00 please" and I slid him my Visa Bank card.  He said, "We don't take cards."  I said, "Oh, OK.  Show me an ATM, Cash Machine so I can get some cash for you."  Had I known, I would have gotten money in dollars from a bank in Lithuania but no one in HR had said a thing about this.  The bank man said, "There is no ATM inside the terminal.  Go over to that office and tell them.  Maybe they'll let you out to get money!"  Visions of Tom Hanks ran through my mind only these visions weren't funny.  This is not the first time I've felt stateless but one of the first times it might have affected me seriously.  

I came to the office, explained my story.  Under no conditions could I leave the airport, of course!  I should take a seat and relax.  All this time I'm thinking, "Who is the university person who should pick me up?  Will they wait?  Can they help?"  Ahead of me were two Nigerian men.  The main  official guy said, "I'm going to call the university and get the number of the driver who has come to pick you up.  Then I'm going to call him and ask him to go to an upstairs office and pay the fee.  He'll call the bank and tell them it is paid and they'll issue you a stamp."  So, I was invited to sit down and wait.  I did.  When the 2 Nigerian men finished one of them turned to me and said, "You are a professor?  So am I.  I will pay for you."  He handed me $100.00  He said, "I'm a professor here for meetings from Abuja. I'm happy to help."  I accepted the bill and was explaining that I would get to the ATM outside the aiport to repay him before he left.  At that moment, the phone rang and the official said, "I have the number of the university representative.  I will call him now."  I handed the professor his money back hoping I had not lost my last chance to get out of the airport that night.  The official called the driver, as it turned out,  and he agreed to go pay the fee.  I was told to go back to the Bylos Bank.  I did.

When the Bank Man saw me again he said, please have a seat and I will call you when I hear from them upstairs that it has been paid.  I sat down to wait...again.  Some 5 minutes later I heard, "Professor!  Professor!" so I came back to the window, was handed a little postage-looking stamp and a receipt and told to go back to the second line I'd been in.  I did.  When I was the very next person and motioned forward, the young official--the running-around one--said, "No!  You need to be in that line."  The line was behind me at a side desk and not one I'd been in before so, why not?  I explained that I'd been told to come forward.  He insisted I should go back where he pointed, so I went.  In front of me were about 10 Asian women, probably domestics, being led through the process by an older, in-charge Asian woman.  After 20 minutes while the official went through each passport, each document of each woman, he called the young running-man back and told him in Arabic that I should not be there.  By now, there was no one left in the "Passport, with Visas" line to help me.  The young man said, "I will help you."  Why did I trust HIM?  "Please follow me" and he proceeded to walk out of the restricted area.  I hung back thinking, after all this time I'm just going to walk out of here?  He said, "No, come!"  So I did, violin case, satchel, purse, and travel documents around my neck. 

We came to another row of windows with only 2 people left in them, one munching something as quickly as she could.  The young running-guy said, "Sit here and wait.  Everyone is at the feast and I will try to find my friend to get the visa for you."  Really?  So, I did.  (Did anyone count?  That was 7 lines and one, the last one, un-line--waiting by myself.  Elapsed time:  1.30 hours so far.)  After a long time he said, "I have it.  You can go."  I said, "No, I can't.  I don't have my luggage and by now, have no idea where it is."  He said, "Follow me."  I did.  I was stunned to see my two pieces circling in the carousel still.  Amazing.  So, all the loudspeakers warning us to mind our luggage, etc., etc. ?  Sure. 

As soon as he saw that I had my luggage, he bolted, yelling after himself, "See?  All is well, Have a nice time!"  I managed to take it all out through the "Nothing-To-Declare" gate and saw the driver with his "Dr. Geri Henderson" sign.  We made it to the car and I climbed into the back seat to eat and see what I could in the dark, nearly 2-hour drive to faculty housing on campus.  (To be continued.)