Saturday, May 20, 2006

Adjusting to a foreign land

Such a frenzy getting things ready -- first at home in the High Desert and then at the Burbank house/office. I had to empty the house so that the contractor can repair, paint and carpet the interior for the family move when I return from Nigeria. I'd ask for helpers, but I've learned an important thing about life: for every person from whom you accept help moving, you'll receive at least one reciprocal "help me move" requests. Nope. Too old. Too tired. Too busy. You're safe.

By the time I got on the plane I already felt like a rental stable horse at the end of a kids' holiday. I pity the poor woman from India who had to sit next to me for the 10 1/2-hour flight. Upon arrival, I made the mistake of asking someone at the "Information Desk" for the easiest way to get to my hotel. He convinced me that taking the commuter train would be a piece of cake.

It wasn't.

I had to endure young hoodlums whose presence bothered many of the other passengers as well. I could hardly understand their language, even though they spoke English. I couldn't tell if it was the African English accent or just the slang of a younger generation. When I reached my stop, I spent the longest time trying to figure out the signs that would lead me to the street exit I'd need to catch a taxi. The long, long, long walk didn't bother me as much as the fact that I couldn't find an elevator or escalator. I muscled my bags up flight after flight of stairs.

I hadn't been in the country more than an hour and I was already feeling as if this assignment was going to be taxing. The taxi driver said I looked "neked." I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, but it was far from naked. I had to ask for a translation. In his thick accent he told me that "neked" means "tired."

He was right. If things were this tough in London, imagine how things will be when I actually arrive in Nigeria!

I took a long-overdue shower and eventually took to the streets for some food. I was now wearing a clean T-shirt, but I began to feel very self-conscious about my appearance. Every time I'd look down, I would see the words "Look right." I was sure I looked wrong. After all, everyone else was in long-sleeves or jackets.

For newcomers to this blog, you need to know that I took a lot of heat for making reference to the "S" word -- "stupid." That came to mind when I was standing and looking down at the words. From out of nowhere it seems, a giant flash or red blew past me from the right.

I tried to recreate the scene here:

It's actually scary. It's so easy to look to the left and step into the street. It takes just one double-deck bus to make you aware of just how close Yankees are to death when they come to the United Kingdom.

Now, when I walk, I keep repeating to myself over and over: "Look right! Look right! Look right!"

To be fair, there are also signs that say "Look left." I pay attention to them also.

The hotel I ended up in is close to the Nottinghill area. It didn't take me long to learn that it's the high rent district. I stopped for a pizza and ended up paying more than $20. I looked all over the menu for a pepperoni pizza and couldn't find such a label. Then I asked the waiter if they had pepperoni pizzas. He pointed down to the menu and said, "Yes. We call it an 'American Pizza." It only makes sense. We invented the pizza, didn't we? Or was it enchiladas or teriyaki chicken?

Don't yell at me or anything, but this morning I discovered a McDonald's in Nottinghill. It was easy and not nearly as expensive as the meals in the hotel or in the trendy pubs and restaurants.

I went into one of the neighborhood stores to pick up some bananas and what looks like orange juice. They call it "orange squash." I asked the clerk what the "squash" part meant, but he didn't know.

"I think it means they add a heck of a lot of water to it," he said. I'll try some later.

I walked past my hotel on the return from breakfast and crossed under a major street and into a much more affordable neighborhood. It looks like there is a variety of shops and restaurants there.

I went into a 2-story mall to look around and found a nice little hardware store. I picked up some electrical adapters that will work in Nigeria and I chatted with the proprietor, a very nice gentleman named Shariff Parkar.

He's been operating the store for 22 years. He's of Indian descent, but he was born in Uganda. His family was from the Bombay area of west India, he explained. For centuries, people from that region have been taking to the seas. His great-grandfather moved the family to Zanzabar and then to South Africa. Later, his father ventured north to Uganda.

They lived under the rule of Idi Amin until the former boxer kicked out all Asians from his country (If you want to take a cook quiz about Idi Amin, go here: -- You should be able to get two of the questions right).

Shariff and I agreed that, no matter where you go, the people are mostly kind and good and friendly. He was a good example of that sentiment.

Now I'm about to go shoot what I believe will be a most interesting interview. I'll tell you more later. Posted by Picasa

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