Hello again from Frankfurt, Germany

Once again, I find myself in Frankfurt Germany — a place of beauty, a place of history but most of all, a place where I’m pretty much trapped in the airport for several hours, away from all that beauty and history.

The airport sure ain’t historic or beautiful. No offense intended.

I feared the worst for the first leg of my journey home from Abuja and I nearly got it. First of all, there were administrative problems checking out of my hotel. In my opinion, the management of the Transcorp Hilton could have handled that a lot better.

Then, Thursday was so incredibly warm. I found myself very tired and a bit dehydrated even before we left the newspaper for the airport.

I got to the airport hoping to buy dinner before I boarded. There was only one small restaurant in the Abuja airport, however, and I found it difficult to navigate. I ended up with a Coke Light and a pack of crackers.

When I climbed board the Lufthansa flight form Abuja to Frankfurt, I found my seat occupied by a man who refused to move. Apparently, the flight crew expected me to back down. Without a window seat, however, I can’t sleep.

And then the flight itself was uncomfortably warm. I skipped dinner because I didn’t think I’d be able to hold anything down. I certainly don’t want to get sick on an airplane. I spent a half-hour or so in the middle of the night battling a cramp in my left leg — very difficult when you barely have enough room to move. The more pressing problem, however, has been recurring  cramps in my left hand. I have one even as I type this paragraph, in fact. Kind of slows down the ol’ typing speed, if you know that I mean.

I dozed fitfully from Abuja to Frankfort. Once I freshened up and changed clothes — out of my Hawaiian shirt and khakis and into warmup pants and a T-shirt — I felt a lot better.

My next big choice decision here was: Do I rush to get my boarding passes lined up for my two United Airlines flights home? Or do I get breakfast? I decided to go for the boarding passes. Which is how I got separated from the McDonalds’ where I ate on my outbound trip, two weeks ago.

The Z terminal here in Frankfort simply doesn’t have a really good place to eat. I found a little coffee shop/deli that served a pretty decent chicken sandwich. That’s what I had for breakfast.

That sandwich was quite good, in fact, so I’m glad I didn’t settle for McDonald’s. But it sure was a crazy, brain-splitting morning. I find it very difficult to navigate this place.

The bad news is that I don’t have an electrical outlet, so I’m about out of power for my MacBook Pro. The good news is that I do have wifi and I also have a great view from my seat here.

At one point this morning, I could see three 747s at one time, outside the window here.

We depart here in about two hours:

I’ll arrive in Newark  at 2 p.m. EDT this afternoon, hang around the airport there for several hour and then take one more quick hop to Norfolk. Sharon and Elizabeth will pick me up at the airport tonight at just after 10 p.m.

UPDATE – 9:55 a.m. Central European Summer Time

After I posted that entry, my next task was to find another restroom.

What an adventure that is in this airport. In airports around most of the world, you find a men’s room every three or four gates. Walk in and you’ll find maybe eight or ten or twelve stalls with a similar number of sink basins.

Here, however, you walk in to find maybe two stalls and one sink. I don’t know how German travelers get by with so few bathroom facilities in their airports.

And, of course, every bathroom has a) a line of folks waiting to get in, b) at least one gentleman who’s in such distress that you feel obligated to let him go ahead of you. And c) one guy who’s tying up the entire room by brushing his teeth or shaving.

In this case, I ended up going back to where I had changed clothes: In an unused handicapped bathroom. I feel bad using a room set aside for handicapped people. But only so bad.

My next assignment: See if I can find a place to add some battery life to the ol’ MacBook Pro. Luckily, the airport has these kiosks everywhere, including one directly in front of my gate.

You don’t even need an electrical transformer or anything. Your laptop, cellphone, iPhone, iPad or camera charger will work fine in these outlets, provided you have the correct connection. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to being mine.

I juiced up for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, which gave me all I needed to last another couple of hours.

All I had to do then was to buy some bottled water, have a seat and wait for them to board my plane to Newark. Which would be this one right here.

Man, I’m hoping I’ll be able to sleep on this flight. My head is pounding. However, I suspect sleep might be difficult to come by. They’re already made one call for volunteers to give up their seats for folks flying standby.

One cool thing about the Frankfurt airport: They have restaurant-type tables arranged at each gate so you can sit down and do the ol’ wifi thing while you wait.

UPDATE – 7:25 p.m. EDT

I arrived as scheduled here in Newark early this afternoon.

You know you’re in the U.S. when you walk into the first men’s room you see and find a sign like this posted inside the toilet stall:

Since I arrived here, I have…

  • Breezed through passport control.
  • Waited forever to collect my one checked bag.
  • Been forced to stand in a long line so I could recheck that bag — because the tag on that bag was filled out by hand last night in Nigeria.
  • Been forced to wait a very long time to be checked yet again by security.
  • Eaten a cheeseburger and fries.
  • Replenished my fluids with four Diet Cokes, Two bottles of water, one hot chocolate and four beers.
  • Talked with my wife briefly on the phone.
  • Met a cool engineer from Queens and a nice young couple from Costa Rica on their way to their honeymoon in Belgium.
  • Written several blog posts and replied to a lot of email.

Yeah, I’ve done just about everything you can do in the Newark airport witout getting arrested.

And I still have another hour to go before my plane leaves.

The plan for tonight: Sharon and Elizabeth will pick me up at the airport and Norfolk and take me out to IHOP for a late dinner. I’m not sure I’ll even be able to do that, though. I’ve hardly slept at all over the past day-and-a-half. I’m totally exhausted.

Man, am I looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight.

I’m returning home from a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

Goodbye, Nigeria

I’m now in my last day teaching here in Nigeria.

I’ve enjoyed my time here very much. I’ve even managed to find areas in which the Transcorp Hilton may need a copy editor.

There’s no sense in wasting a not-quite-perfectly etched brass plaque. You can still make out the message, right?

I’ve written before about how much I’ve enjoyed the lounge singer and her somewhat tenuous grasp of American pop song lyrics. I’ve spent so much time grinning over her malapropisms that she’s apparently decided I’m a huge fan. I was treated this week to a personal serenade.

In fact, she’s very nice. In need of a karaoke machine, perhaps. But very nice.

Speaking of music, I walked out of the entrance hotel Tuesday to wait for my driver and ran smack into a miniconcert by various hotel staffers. On stage there are a cook, several waitresses, a maintenance guy and various other employees.

Note the electric piano player on the right. He’s a bellman, I believe.

See that hole in the ground on the right of this next picture?

That’s apparently what all this was about: The ceremonial planting of a new tree on the front grounds of the hotel. When I returned Tuesday evening, I found this in place of the hole.

There was a nice brass plaque commemorating the event and everything.

Notice there are no misspellings or errors on that plaque.

Also on Tuesday, I walked outside to find something I had not seen here before.

Wind. Not real strong and certainly not real cool. More like a blast of heat, in fact. But it was the first flag-flapping breeze I had seen in Nigeria since my arrival ten days before.

As I mentioned the other day, the heat here is just unbelievable. I’ve found it very difficult to stay hydrated. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t drink water fast enough to keep up with the heat. Gratefully, it never got quite as hot as it was supposed to. But it was still plenty hot.

I’ve mentioned a number of times the wonderful job all the visuals folks are doing here at Leadership. The paper looks wonderful, especially compared to how it looked before Robb Montgomery‘s redesign a month or so ago.

Every day, John Friday and his design staffers gather while he critiques the day’s pages, looking for style anomalies and missed opportunities.

With each day’s slideshow lecture, I’ve been showing pages with larger use of photos, greater packaging of text, graphics and sidebars and, yes, alternative story forms. Today, in fact — my last day here — I’m hoping to talk about photo usage and the good and bad things that can happen when you begin to play up photos and use tighter crops. That might be the next thing the folks at Leadership should focus on.

I’m near the end of my second week here but yesterday — Wednesday — was only the third day in which we had our artists present. Because of this, I spent all of last week meeting with editors and designers and discussing brainstorming techniques and alternative story forms and other graphic treatments that can be done without necessarily involving an artist.

The artists didn’t even begin work until Monday. Tuesday afternoon, we finally got their equipment set up in the room where I’ve been teaching. So Wednesday was the first day, really, when we could sit down side-by-side and draw graphics.

This gentleman here — Modestus Ukeoma — created an illustration of Nigeria’s female minister of finance for a cover story of Government, a new publication the company is launching over the next few days.

While he was at it, Modestus also did a little bonus work this afternoon.

This is artist Nnaemeka Noble, who started work Monday…

…and who — without even a good template to work from — produced this two-column map describing a horrific car crash that happened here in Abuja Wednesday morning.

Unfortunately, the graphic — Leadership‘s first real, live locally-produced locator map — ran in black-and-white, but that didn’t diminish the effectiveness of the page. Part of the lessons this week have been to plan to go either way with any given assignment.

Here’s how the map was used today, on Leadership‘s equivalent of the lead metro section page.

The battery of pictures down the right side were taken by design director John Friday and reporter Gabriel Ewepu.

John tells me the management here at Leadership is delighted with this start. The paper has even received a few calls from readers today. What a great start.

Here is the new graphics chief, Sulei Enejo. He, too, started work on Monday. As I write this, he’s working on a piece for next week showing oil imports.

Yeah, he’s in bar chart hell. In fact, when I took these pictures earlier this week, Sulei did something I’ve never seen before. He needed to make a few quick mathematical computations, but instead of pulling up the calculator on his computer, he used the one built into his wrist watch.

I was laughing so hard I could barely shoot that photo.

I also gave the new graphics editor a little gift — something I tossed in with my training: The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics by Donna Wong.

I don’t agree with everything Donna writes in that book. But I do agree with about 95 percent of it.

I think it’ll help Sulei and his staff get a grasp of graphics as they continue forward.

In addition, I also presented Sulei and his staff with a custom-built graphics template that will help them build pieces for their paper much quicker and faster from now on. Here, I’m walking everyone through the new template and how to use it.

Another thing we did today was a special session — not on infographics but on photography and ways to use it better in the newspaper.

Here, I’m giving copies of my slideshow to Femi, the photo editor.

Earlier, I said goodbye to the three young ladies who sat across from me most of the time I was here.

From left, those are Gloria, Bukky and Zoe. They were lots of fun. And they made me feel very welcome here.

John Friday, his designers, the artists and the rest of the staff then presented me with a thank-you card signed by all the folks here at Leadership.

Then, we dismantled my big, empty meeting room and restored it to what it’s normally used for: A bustling office for a big new section of the paper.

I had just enough time left over to get a picture of myself taken in the main newsroom.

Oh, what fun this week has been for us all.

My plane leaves tonight just after 10 p.m., so I’ll have plenty of time to do a little follow-up work here and then get to the airport — also, in plenty of time. I hope.

I’ll talk to you again from Frankfurt on Friday.

I’m at the end of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

My next-to-last day here in Nigeria

Despite what Tuesday’s headline might imply, I’ve been perfectly safe here in Abuja, Nigeria.

According to the story, the U.S. Embassy here in town says shots were fired nearby. But local law enforcement officials say it was just fireworks.

Either way, I’ve had no issues at all with security or even the slightest hit of crime. Had I not seen that headline — across the top of Tuesday’s paper — I’d never have known it happened.

In fact, there are political dignitaries staying here in the hotel this week, following last weekend’s big political conference. Armed guards are everywhere. I pity the fool who even tries something here at the Transcorp Hilton.

I’m having a great time here in my second week of teaching infographics. Our artists finally started work this week, so I’ve been able to do a lot more hands-on stuff this week. I hope to post more about tomorrow.

Yesterday, I focused on charts. Bar charts, pie charts, fever graphics. When to use them and — just as importantly — when not to use them. I recently built a big batch of small charts for my friends at the Huntsville (Ala.) Times, so I pulled in the raw data and the resulting graphics to show them how routine charting works.

Today’s focus was timelines. I’ve compiled some of the best samples I’ve ever seen, from my own archives, from over the years and even from my students at the Media24 papers in South Africa. One of my recent favorites is the four-page timeline covering the life of Steve Jobs that the San Francisco Chronicle ran last year.

Once we finished our daily lecture, we launched into live work. One of these pieces might actually run in Thursday’s newspaper. If it does, expected to fine one proud teacher here.

Tonight — in addition to wanting to blog a little — I need to begin packing up. After work tomorrow, I’ll begin the grueling trip home.

My schedule for the next two days:

Mmmm! Six-and-a-half hours in Newark, N.J. on a Friday afternoon! Please have some beer cooled down for me.

I’m near the end of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

*Gulp*…

I’ve not yet been outside today. And I’m not looking forward to it, either.

According to the Weather Underground

  • The temperature at this very moment here in Abuja, Nigeria — where it’s only 9:20 a.m. — is 93 degrees Farenheit.
  • The high forecast for today is 106 degrees.
  • The high forecast for Tuesday is 109 degrees.
  • The high forecast for Wednesday is 106 degrees.

Oh, surely this is an overestimate on somebody’s part.

Says Mr. Heat Miser: Stop calling me Shirley!

I’m in Day 9 of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

What it’s like to live in Nigeria for two weeks

Yesterday, I told you about how work has been going here in Abuja, Nigeria.

Today’s let’s take “your questions” about what it’s like to live and work in Nigeria.

Q: So, have you gotten out to see the city?

Not really. And for a very good reason: You can’t really see much of the city.

From the time the sun came up last Sunday through today, Abuja has been blanketed with a thick, yellowish haze. In fact, I had been here two days before the haze cleared enough for me to discover I have a mountain outside the window of my hotel room.

That’s Aso Rock, just north of the central part of the city. The highest governmental offices including the president’s office are located at the base of Aso Rock, I’m told.

The rock is 400 meters high — that’s about 1,312 feet — but sources differ as to how high it actually is over the surrounding area. If you’ve ever been to Stone Mountain in Atlanta, then you have a pretty good idea of what Aso Rock looks like.

Except Aso Rock doesn’t have Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson carved in the side of it. Obviously.

Abuja didn’t even exist in the 1970s. The Nigerian government at the time decided to build a brand-new capital city in the dead center of the country. Work began in the late 1970s and continued through the 1980s. The government was officially moved here from Lagos in 1991.

Because it’s so new, the city doesn’t really have what you’d think of as a downtown business district. So that one typical tourist “skyline” photo is rather difficult to take.

Yesterday — Saturday — a friend picked me up at the hotel and took me to these hills in hopes of getting that perfect shot of downtown Abuja.

Because of the haze, though, this was the best we could do.

Q: Those look like some very nice hillside neighborhoods. But where’s the city?

Exactly. You just can’t see the city. Not with all this haze. And because the city is intentionally spread out over a wide area, in order to avoid the kind of congestion they had — and presumably still have — in Lagos.

Q: So, what’s causing all that haze, anyway? Pollution?

I don’t think so. And neither do the folks I’ve spoken with here. This is the tail-end of the dry season here in Nigeria. In just a few weeks, the annual rainy season — with enormous amounts of rain and flooding — will begin.

What you’re seeing in the air here — believe it or not — is dust. From the Sahara Desert, a few hundred miles to the north.

Q: Oh, wow. How can you breathe that stuff?

Oddly enough, I’ve had no problems at all. I’ve had severe allergy problems for the last couple of years — you might recall me writing about not being able to stop coughing during my lengthy stays in South Africa. I’ve had problems this winter in Virginia Beach, as well.

But here? I’ve used a few of my throat lozenges. But not many. I’m breathing more easily here than I have in weeks.

Q: Really? That’s amazing.

Oh, it’s more than amazing. It makes me wonder if I should be begging Tracy Collins for a job at the Phoenix design studio.

Anyway — because of the design of the city and because of the dust — this might very well be the best “skyline” view I get of Abuja.

Q: Can you zoom in a little for us?

Certainly. The downtown area of Abuja is composed of many, many government buildings and, of course, office buildings.

I’m told there are a number of apartment buildings and homes downtown as well, but rents are so high that most citizens can’t afford to live downtown.

Meaning folks have to commute to and from work.

Q: Aha. What are the roads like there?

They aren’t bad, in fact. The government here was very careful to plan for plenty of generously wide highways. In this picture here, you’d swear you’re on an interstate or U.S. highway in any American city.

But look more closely at this one. Notice anything missing?

That’s right. On most of Abuja’s roads, I’ve noticed, there are no highway markings at all.

Q: No markings? How do drivers stay in their lanes, then?

Quite frankly: They don’t. Cars swerve all over the road. Is this stretch here supposed to be two lanes wide or three? Who cares? Drivers just do whatever and hope for the best.

Q: You’re kidding me! That’s nuts!

Well, yes, by American standards it’s pretty crazy. But hey, it works for Nigerians. I’ve not seen a major accident yet. I’ve also not seen a major traffic jam — with the exception of Friday evening. And that one was caused by the military closing down a major road downtown because of the huge political convention here in town Saturday.

Q: No crashes? No wrecks? Impossible!

Oh, I’m sure they happen. They’d just about have to happen. Especially when you get into the built-up area. Cars zoom back-and-forth with — as far as I can tell — only the most informal understanding of where the designated lanes might exist.

The interesting points come when lanes merge. The accepted method is to honk your horn — which is a signal to the other drivers: Grit your teeth because here I come — and then you just merge.

How the drivers keep from hitting each other, I’ll never understand.

In this picture, my driver is turning left through an intersection. Meanwhile, two rows of cars are coming from the right, also turning left — directly across our lane — to travel toward the way we just came.

Now, in America, we have things like traffic signals to govern how you pass through a “T” or “+” intersection. But not here. You just kind of plow right through. How fast or slow you do this — as far as I can tell — depends on your nerve.

Q: You’re kidding me! There are not traffic signals? No four-way stops? No traffic cops?

There are traffic cops, but not at all intersections. And even when they’re present, thy don’t appear to direct traffic at all times. This fellow here is mostly observing.

Q: So, then, how do they keep from having logjams? Gridlocks?

I’ve been wondering that myself. I’ve asked my various drivers and they just grin and shrug. This system — which might have a name but I’ll call it laissez-faire rules of the road because that description amuses me — works for them.

Damned if I know how it works. But it does.:

Q. What is your commute like every day? Are there any interesting sights along the way?

It’s not the most scenic of drives. If you can imagine, say, living in a luxury hotel in the outskirts of Charlotte and then commuting to an office in the suburbs of Charlotte, what would you see along your commute?

You’d see office buildings, hotels and highways.

I’m staying in the Transcorp Hilton hotel, by far the finest in the city, I’ve been told. We drive right past the second-best hotel in Abuja, the Sheraton.

We pass quite a few government offices — just like you’d expect to see in any capital city. This one, for example, appears to be some kind of justice department — perhaps containing law or police offices.

On the side is a big mural depicting the scales of justice. You can also see a sculpture atop the building of the blindfolded Lady Justice.

Q: Do you see any houses? Any neighborhoods?

Not really. At least, I can’t identify them as residences. When we were driving around Saturday, I shot this out my window.

My friend told me those are very nice homes for upper-class residents.

There is also an astonishing amount of construction in this city. I’ve seen a lot of ugly cinderblock buildings and also a number of beautifully-designed skyscrapers like this one here.

Q: And that’s it? Government buildings and business skyscrapers?

Not exactly. We also drive right past one of the most extraordinary buildings I have ever seen: The enormous National Mosque.

Like many Americans, I’ve seen pictures of mosques but I’ve not really seen a mosque up close. Especially one this big.

The Nigerian National Mosque was built in 1984, I’m told. I’m also told it’s open to tourists. No one seems to know if that’s the case right now, though, with so much unrest in the country at the moment.

In fact, a few folks I’ve spoken with suggested that I might not want to be seen taking too many pictures of the mosque. There is quite a bit of distrust between Muslims here and Americans, I’ve been told. But then others have laughed that off and told me to take all the pictures I want.

It’s probably best for me to stay as low-key as I can. Most of these pictures were shot from a moving car and with my iPhone camera.

There are also modern advertisements along the highways. This, for example, is the widest billboard I have ever seen.

Not far from my hotel is this electronic sign that has all sorts of glitches, burned-out bulbs and apparent programming issues.

Yet it seems to be constantly full of ads. I can’t imagine who’d want to buy an ad that nobody can read. But whatever.

The huge structure behind that billboard, by the way, is my hotel.

Q: Traffic doesn’t seem too bad in those pictures. How do most downtown workers find their ways home at the end of the day?

A number commute via private buses like this one.

And a number go by taxi. In the hours between commutes, in fact, taxi drivers congregate in huge numbers in spots like shady underpasses to while the time away until the next rush hour.

Q: So, other than that one traffic jam, you’ve not seen any other congestion issues?

Just one. And I’m told this is fairly atypical, although it does happen from time to time. Directly across from my downtown hotel are two gas stations. Early in the week, there were enormous lines to get in and buy gas. Which they call petrol.

I was baffled by this. Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil-producing nations. Why on Earth would there be gas lines of an hour or more to fill up a tank?

Turns out, there was a strike threatened recently by oil workers. That caused a minor shortage but a great amount of panic buying, I’ve been told. And I must admit, the lines did get shorter as the week went on.

By Saturday, you could drive right up to that gas station.

Q: Interesting. Those pictures were taken near your hotel?

Yes. There is a security checkpoint in order to drive into the enormous hotel compound. While my driver was sitting in that line, I shot those pictures out the back window of the car.

Once you get through the security check, you head up a nice little driveway lined wtih palm trees and flagpoles…

…past the gigantic meeting hall building connected to the hotel…

…you round another turn and emerge in front of the hotel itself.

It’s relatively peaceful in that picture from last Sunday. But on weekdays, the lobby area is packed with businesspeople and political dignitaries lining up to be picked up by their drivers. Some even have armed guards.

I’m not accustomed to having my own driver. So this has been new to me. I feel like such a VIP.

Q: Who is this driver you keep mentioning?

His name is Nafiu, which is pronounced very similarly to “nephew.” I made an effort to remember his name because he’s been so kind and patient with me.

As long as he doesn’t call me “uncle,” we’ll be OK.

I’ve been warned not to leave the hotel compound at all — ever — without Nafiu or another driver from the newspaper to keep an eye on me. Abuja is one of the safest cities in Nigeria. But with all the unrest up north, Americans just can’t be careful enough visiting this country right now.

Despite the warning, however — as I mentioned earlier — a friend picked me up yesterday for a Saturday afternoon outing.

Q: Yes, you mentioned you went in search of a city skyline picture. What else did you do?

She took me to an area shopping market geared toward tourists.

These little huts are designed to look like the sort of structures you might find in a small Nigerian village. In fact, though, they’re modern buildings with electricity and even air conditioning.

You’ll find just about anything made my artisans here: Masks, stone carvings, jewlery, clothes.

And lots and lots of art. I met these three folks from Germany who just bought a beautiful painting of a market scene.

Although it was fairly empty Saturday afternoon, this little market gets quite busy at times. There is a huge shopping complex going up next door, as you can see here.

The buildings in front of the new complex will be modern art galleries, I’m told.

The one purchase I made was in this building, which — in fact — is a bookstore.

The store is run by a local publisher of mostly fiction and children’s books focusing on life in Nigeria and Western Africa. Standing by some of the books is one of that publisher’s editors, Chinelo Onwualu.

Chinelo, as you might have guessed by now, is the friend who took me out for a Saturday tour. She was born and raised here in Abuja but then traveled to the U.S. to attend graduate school at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. After that, she worked at the Observer-Dispatch of Utica, N.Y. and then the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Va., before returning to Nigeria and becoming a book editor.

Q: Oh, did you work with her at the Pilot?

I did not. She joined the Pilot after I left in 2008. I heard a lot about her, though.

And she heard a lot about me, too, she said. I immediately began denying anything she was told. Until she assured me she heard mostly good things about me. Which was a relief.

On this particular day, I was attracted to children’s books that looked at various aspects of Nigerian and West African culture. I bought these four:

 

 

In particular, I’m interested in reading Eno’s Story, about a young girl who’s accused of being a witch. I’m told that still happens in this part of the world. The book was published in conjunction with the Stepping Stones Nigeria organization, which aims to help children thrust into a situation like that.

The books cost 700 Naira — or about $4.44 — each.

After we visited the shopping area and then drove up to the city’s highlands in search of a vista photo op, we sat down and chatted the afternoon away. I found her to be bright — brilliant even — and potentially an enormous resource for journalism in this country.

Q: Does Chinelo have a web site or something?

She does. Find her blog here.

Q: You wrote something on Facebook Saturday night about trying the native food there. That’s very much unlike you! Is this possible? Did you actually do this? What did you eat?

It’s true. Chinelo took me to a suya garden, an outdoors restaurant were we ate suya — essentially, beef sliced thin as if it were going to be stir-fried, but then put on a skewer and grilled over an open flame like a kebob.

Q: Those are kebobs? It looks like beef stew or something.

Yeah, well, that was the best I could do in the dark with the flash on my iPhone camera. They take them off the sticks and pile up the meat. You’re given toothpicks with which to stab and pick up the individual pieces. On the left are various bits of vegetables like cabbage and peppers.

Q: The fact that you tried local food is extraordinary! How did you like it?

Oh, I loved it. I love grilled beef anyway. This was just a bit spicier than I’d prefer. But still, very good.

And to answer your next question: Yes, I plan to have some more suya before I depart Nigeria.

Q: How much was a suya dinner, anyway?

Surprisingly cheap. You order suya by the skewer. The place Chinelo took me charged 200 Naira for each skewer. She guessed — correctly — that we would put away five skewers for dinner.

Therefore, we paid 1,000 Naira for the food last night. That translates into $6.34. That’s amazingly cheap. We paid more for our drinks than we did for our food.

Q: That’s a LOT cheaper than the food in your hotel!

You’d better believe it. I looked it up. They sell beef suya here, too, for 4,500 Naira per skewer.

Q: Are you going to try any of the other native Nigerian dishes?

Probably not. In fact, one of the most amusing moments last night came when Chinelo ran through the list of what we could order. I don’t recall, now, what all there was but I think I remember head of goat and brains of cow being among the choices.

Q: Seriously?

Seriously. I wonder if Chinelo was putting me on, though.

While I’ve earned a reputation — a well-deserved one — for being picky about my food, there are reasons for that. I’m diabetic. Also, I tend to get a sour stomach when I travel.

I still remember the time I went to a job interview in Harrisburg, Pa., and — trying to be good-natured — agreed to have dinner in an Indian restaurant. Oh, man. My digestive system did not like curry at all. Let’s just say I made a lot of stops on the way home the next day.

If I were here for vacation, I might try a little harder to experiment with my diet. But I’m here to work, not to spend the entire week feeling ill. So I stick to choices I know will not add unexpected sugar to my system, will not overload me with carbs and won’t make me sick.

Yeah, that makes me a wuss. So what?

Q: What else are you eating?

There’s a wonderful grill-type restaurant out by the pool. I’ve eaten there three times this week. Twice, I’ve had the T-bone steak with fries and broccoli on the side.

One night, I enjoyed the broccoli — marinated in a delicious butter sauce — so much that I asked for an additional, side-order of broccoli in lieu of dessert.

The waiter thought I was nuts, but he brought it to me.

Q: You asked for seconds on broccoli? You ARE crazy.

Yeah, well, for some reason I find myself craving vegetables when I travel. I’m not sure why.

On Friday, the pool bar had steak night: You pick the raw meat you want out of the buffet and they’ll grill it for you while you wait.

I picked out two modest-sized chunks of sirloin and planned to go back for more…

…but those pieces turned out to be as large as they were tasty. By the time I was done eating those — and my sides of mashed potatoes, steamed cauliflower and garlic bread — I was stuffed.

And, of course, I already told you about my Chinese meal on Wednesday night, when I had beef off the buffet and followed that with stir-fry shrimp from the Mongolian barbecue grill.

Very cute.

Q: What’s the local beer there?

It’s called Star. And yes, it’s quite good. The bottles are huge, giving you two full glasses per bottle.

Q: When you were in Cape Town last year, you were constantly writing about the vast quantities of beer you were drinking. I’m not seeing much this time about that.

That’s because I’m not drinking much beer at all this trip. The tremendous heat here has kept me dehydrated much of my stay.

What happens to you if you are dehydrated and then you drink a lot of beer? I don’t know either, but I’d rather not find out.

Several nights I’ve gone down to the lobby bar to hang out while I compile a blog post or the next day’s slideshow. Most of the time, I’ve been drinking Diet Pepsi. Much to the dismay of the waiters there.

So yes, I’ve had the local beer. But not quite as much of it as I usually drink.

Q: How’s your health? Any issues? Other than a touch of dehydration, I mean.

It’s been fine. No problems at all.

Sometimes when I travel, I completely forget to take my medicine. That’s not been an issue this trip. Here is a typical evening’s dosage for me:

The two large pills are Metformin, which help me control my diabetes. I take two in the morning and two at night. The little white pill is Actos — that helps keep my liver from manufacturing too much glucose while I sleep and holds down my wake-up blood-sugar levels.

The red pill is new for this trip. That’s for malaria. I had to start taking those pills — one a day — two days before I departed and every day while I’m here. And then also for seven days after I return.

Q: Malaria pills? Are you serious? Is malaria a problem in Abuja?

It is not. However, it can be a problem in some of the outlying areas. Therefore, they make sure Americans are prepared for Malaria, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis and a bunch of other things like that.

Funny thing, though: I spent much of last Sunday outside at the poolside bar/restaurant and then I’ve eaten dinner there three times this week. I’ve not seen the first mosquito there.

But in the lobby piano bar, I’ve seen dozens of mosquitoes. I’ve killed a number of them myself — I think the piano bar singer thinks I’m applauding her. One night I was bitten at the base of my thumb. Apparently I clawed at the bite in my sleep because it’s formed a bit of a mark.

That was back on Tuesday or Wednesday. The bite is still quite painful today.

Q: So in addition to a hotel full of colorfully-dressed political delegates, what other oddities have you seen?

Just a few. I spotted this decoration on the breakfast bar one morning and had to get a closer look to find out what it was.

That, in fact, is a carved watermelon. Just gorgeous… Although it does kind of remind me — in a creepy way — of the genetically-engineered “alien” creature at the end of the Watchmen comic book.

And then there is the house singer down at the piano bar. I’ve been fascinated hearing the way she changes lyrics to popular songs. At first, I thought that maybe she was trying to, y’know, “make the song her own.” But after several nights of listening, I circled back around to figuring she just doesn’t know the correct lyrics. Or can’t figure them out from the recordings.

In that picture from Friday night, she decided to serenade that gentleman two seats in front of me. She sauntered over and got up close to him. The problem was: The poor guy was on his cell phone at the time. Boy, was he annoyed.

Nearly in hysterics, I pulled out my iPhone to take a picture. She gave me the sweetest smile.

Last night, when it came time for me to go to bed, I packed up my laptop and then glanced over at her as I walked out. She beamed, waved and actually said: Good night!

I’ve been making fun of her on Facebook, but now I sort of feel guilty about that. In fact, she’s very nice.

I’ll leave you with this temporary sign the hotel management put up yesterday when the place was packed with delegates.

The sign, of course, means “exit.” But it seemed to me to be some kind of commentary on politics: Yeah, the politicians are standing over there. And, dude, those guys are way, WAY out. Far out. Completely out of touch.

Back to work I go tomorrow. A rough schedule for our morning sessions:

Monday: News, metro and foreign. Tuesday: Government. Wednesday: Weekend papers. Thursday: Photo.

Plus, the big thing this week: We have two actual graphic artists starting work Monday. I’m expecting to spend a lot of time specifically with them.

As always: Sounds like fun!

I’m starting my second week of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

More about my week teaching here in Abuja, Nigeria

First of all, I’m sorry I didn’t get anything posted Friday about the work we’re doing here in Nigeria. I edited down a few pictures Friday evening but when I tried to upload them to my blog, the ACES site went down.

I figured I had somehow crashed the entire ACES operation. Instead, it turned out to be a technical issue on the part of the web host. While folks “feverishly” worked to solve the problem — their word, not mine — I took the opportunity to go to bed early.

Before I get started on my weekend off, though, I wanted to show you what we’ve been up to here in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria.

Nigeria sits just to the north of the equator. And the first day of spring just, um, sprang. So yes, it’s been very warm here, by Virginia Beach standards.

Temperatures here get down to the mid-70s and low-80s at night, so I’m fairly comfortable in the mornings, waiting for my driver. He picks me up around 10 a.m. for a 15-to-20-minute drive to the newspaper.

As soon as I can get set up, I launch into a slideshow presentation of cutting-edge work on the topic they’ve laid out for me. Tuesday, we did sports. Wednesday, we did business, Thursday, we took on features and science. Friday, we did entertainment and politics.

Here’s another picture of Tuesday’s sports session, which gives you a good idea of the long, skinny room in which we’re meeting. It’s a lobby-like area with a long table down the middle and offices running down either side.

Note the two white boxes on either side of the screen. Those are air conditioners. Also note the ceiling fan directly over my head. Those AC units and that fan keep the room livable for me. As long as I stay on that end of the room, I’m comfortable. As soon as I walk to the other end of this room, though, I begin sweating.

In my slideshows, I try to present a little bit of everything. Basic ideas that the folks at Leadership might be able to try right now. Complicated things that they might want to work up to in the future. Straightforward ideas. Conceptual ideas.

Infographics. Illustration. Page designs. Part of my message here has been there is quite a bit of overlap between those three.

We break at 12 noon for an hour. There are a couple of street venders just outside the newspaper compound, selling common food items. I’ve not yet taken the opportunity to see if there is anything up there I can eat. Instead, I’ve been carrying my Snackwell-brand cookies for a quick lunch. I’m nearly out of them, however.

Some days, designers and editors use the break to sit down and ask questions about their work or brainstorm ideas. Of course, I’m always delighted to do that.

After the break, we meet up again in the same room to discuss ideas and concepts for page designs and graphics to run in their actual sections. This picture was shot during our business pages session on Wednesday.

We discuss the stories and topics they cover and we examine ways to tell those stories graphically. Ideally, we’d then push those ideas into print. The actual graphic artists won’t begin work here until this coming Monday, so that’s been difficult to do.

But then they turn around and surprise me at times. Here, you see the wonderfully talented and energetic design editor John Friday discussing ideas during one of our roundtable discussions.

I wasn’t able to buy a copy of the paper Friday at the hotel. So I was stunned when he walked up to me yesterday and presented the page-one graphic he had built advancing the huge political convention in town this weekend.

Please click for a larger view.

Ladies and gentlemen, my jaw hit the ground. These guys have no templates for this type of material. They have no graphic artists. In fact, they have a vast number of pages and only a sparse amount of experience and training so far.

But after I showed a large collection of political-themed pages — and, of course, shared my JPGs with anyone who wanted them — John threw this together for Friday’s paper.

Wow. These folks learn so quickly.

Now the morning slideshows are very similar to the kinds of shows I’ve been giving for years. If you’ve ever been to one of my sessions, then you have a pretty good idea of what I’m doing.

But those afternoon sessions is where I really try to fire up some imagination.

For example, during our entertainment session Friday afternoon, one of the reporters told me about a popular TV show here in Nigeria — they call it a “soap,” and yes, it sounds similar to American TV dramas — and asked me for ways to address that, graphically.

I went through a list of ways to do that, drawing mostly on my appreciation of the graphics I’ve seen in Entertainment Weekly magazine. Mental note: Next time I meet with entertainment writers, bring a stack of EW magazines.

A description of the main characters. A timeline of dramatic highlights in the show. But then I proposed something that is admittedly very complicated: A diagram that shows all the relationships between the show’s characters.

Character A is married to character B. But he actually loves character C. Who is the rival of character D. And so on. Once they expressed delight with the concept, I a) searched my hard drive for a diagram created by my former intern, Allisence Chang, showing relationships among a small Virginia Beach school, and b) hit Google for similar graphics on U.S. TV shows. Note the Mad Men example I found.

 

Will this result in a nice graphic for Leadership‘s entertainment page? I suspect it will. Perhaps one day soon.

A handful of the most promising “students” have gone away and then come back with sketches of their own. This one is a graphic concept to recap the political unrest in the northern part of the country.

It’s very exciting to see folks begin to think visually. Of course, it’s relatively easy to look like a wonderful teacher when you have wonderful, eager students.

One day, a woman came into my session and expressed interest not in infographics but instead in illustration. That particular day, I was focusing on number- and data-driven pieces. But yes, I explained, I was teaching illustrative-driven concepts as well.

I didn’t have my laptop handy, so I pulled out some paper and tried to illustrate my point by telling her about Merry Eccles of the Nashville Tennessean and a great piece she had drawn a couple of months ago regarding the President Barack Obama and his courting of celebrity support.

That was the way I quickly sketched out the idea for her. And here, of course, was the front-page illustration itself.

In the end, I think I made my point about illustration, I won over another convert and I managed to tell an entertaining story as well. That ended up being a really good day.

In the next day’s morning session, we actually covered visual solutions for political stories. Unfortunately, that particular reporter wasn’t able to make that session. You have to remember that, in addition to soaking up whatever they can from my head, the folks at Leadership also have a newspaper to put out.

Mixed in with the slideshows and the brainstorming sessions is a little bit of troubleshooting. In this case — which also happened on Friday afternoon — the design standing behind me found himself working on a weekend page with wonderful but awkwardly-shaped art.

Working with the design director, I advised him to get the best photo on the page as big as possible and take the other photos down in size. We also rearranged a couple of the columns and moved a pullquote.

We went through four or five versions of that page Friday. There, you’re seeing the next-to-last version. On this one, I advised him to push up the crop even more on the boy in the wheelchair. Tight crops magnify emotion. That’s even more true for an emotional story like this.

The folks here love taking pictures of me and posing for pictures with me. For just a few days here at Leadership, I’m treated like a famous person. When I go home next week — much like Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin –  I’ll go back to being a nobody.

That’s my Friday afternoon brainstorming group. That’s John Friday, the design director at bottom right. On the bottom left is Gabriel, a political reporter who’s full of stories he wants to tell graphically and who’s proven to be one of my more enthusiastic students.

The two women on the top right are entertainment writers and editors. The woman at upper left is Bukie (sounds like “Bookie”), a reporter for a new government-themed publication who has attended nearly all my sessions. Perhaps because her “desk” is there in the room where I’ve been teaching.

Yes, they had to move people temporarily in order to make room for us to operate these two weeks. This is an incredibly busy and fast-growing news operation.

Thursday afternoon, it was my honor to take off my “consulting teacher” hat for a few moments and put on my “duly-deputized representative of the Society for News Design hat.”

Just as he had done for my trip to South Africa last year, SND executive director Steve Komives was kind enough to give me a copy of the current edition of the Best of Newspaper Design — the huge book of annual contest winners — as a gift to our new visual journalism friends here in Nigeria.

The Society has individual memberships, of course — I’ve been a member for 25 years — but it also offers what it calls “corporate memberships,” specifically aimed at smaller newspapers and “in specific countries outside the United States where the price of individual memberships remains out of reach for most news professionals.” You can read more about that special offer here.

John and his staff, in fact, were not aware of the Society for News Design. It was my pleasure to introduce them to the society, to present this gift on behalf of the society and to point them to where they might consider membership.

John, in turn, addressed his staff and showed them the wonderful design book the society had given them.

Already, John’s designers are sitting down and devouring the award-winning work on the pages of this year’s book.

Naturally, I’ve also introduced the designers at Leadership to other resources open to them:

It’s been so much fun to watch these folks absorb these resources. For example, I pulled up NewsPageDesigner on my laptop while I was still connected to the big projector. After a moment or two, the splash-page slide show started. The room became animated as my audience became absorbed in simply watching the pages go by.

I’m tellin’ ya, the editors and designers are so hungry to do good work. And they soak up the examples I’m showing very rapidly.

I delight in watching all this. Plus, I delight in noticing all those little details that make life in Nigeria different from life in U.S. newspapers. For example, in 30 years of newspaper experience, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rest room sign worded quite like this before.

Across the way is another room, of course.

I’ve written at length about how warm it gets in the afternoons here. This one picture pretty much sums up how the journalists here deal with the heat:

They have small air conditioners. Nearly every room, it seems like, has a ceiling fan. And yes, you sometimes open a window to catch whatever slight breeze might come along. Despite the fact that the breezes here are warm ones.

For the most part, though, the heat doesn’t seem to bother folks here. In fact, I was amazed on Thursday — when I presented the SND book to John Friday — that he was wearing an American-style sport jacket. Despite it being more than 100 degrees outside and it being well over 80 inside.

Does this picture make the Nigerian afternoon look warm enough?

At 6 p.m., my work day here is complete. My driver takes me from the newspaper compound back to the sprawling complex that is the Transcorp Hilton hotel, by far the largest and best hotel in the city.

I’ve been taking a few pictures here and there to share with you a little later. But Friday, we ran into an enormous mess on the city’s roads: There is a huge political convention here in town this weekend. Security has been tightened. Roads have been closed off. My driver was forced to find an alternate route. And even that was jammed.

It was the first traffic jam I’ve seen here in Abuja. Naturally, I was fascinated.

I’ve not written much about the apparent lack of traffic laws — in fact, of apparent lack of traffic logic — here in Nigeria. Evidently, you can pretty much drive where you want, when you want and how you want. I’ve been watching this all week during the drive to and from work. And I keep thinking: Man, I’d never be able to drive in this country. I’d crash for sure.

Nothing illustrated this quite like Friday afternoon. Stuck in traffic — moments after I took that picture you just saw — the drivers behind us became impatient and decided that the beautiful, wide sidewalk might provide an opportunity to get around the jam.

So they just pulled across the curb and drove up the sidewalk.

Is driving on the sidewalk not against the law in this city? Evidently not. Because among the many vehicles taking this convenient bypass was this one.

After going to bed early last night and then sleeping very late this morning, I ventured downstairs to find a traffic jam of a different sort. Many of the delegates attending this weekend’s convention are staying here in the hotel.

I wasn’t sure how the delegates would feel about having their pictures taken, so the shots I sneaked with my cell phone aren’t high quality, I’m afraid. I tried not to be conspicuous, but being a fairly large white guy, I sort of stand out among this crowd.

But the delegates — wow, there are hundreds of them here. Hundreds. They’re all happy and loud and they’re ready for a long day debating the issues that face their country.

All this is happening at a convention center maybe a half-mile or so from here. Shuttle vans and buses lined up to ferry everyone up the street. The traffic jam in front of the hotel was crazy.

And it took a long time for this crowd to board and depart. Most of them ended up waiting an hour or longer.

I was fascinated by the colorful clothing. You guys know how much I love my Hawaiian shirts. Many of the delegates wore clothes made of fabric that displayed the political party symbol and colors. Some of the outfits even had pictures of their favorite candidates printed on them.

It’s not often that I visit a place where my loud Hawaiian shirts are outmatched. But that happened this morning. And I was delighted by the show.

I have the urge to ask a delegate where I might buy one of those People’s Democratic Party outfits.

What you’re most definitely not seeing in my (admittedly poor) pictures there are the enormous number of security officers. There are hotel security officials, national policemen and military men carrying enormous guns everywhere. I suppose a number of these politicians are important people. Yes, there have been violent incidents in the country over the past few months. I suppose they can’t be too careful.

I was standing to the side enjoying the show when there arose a gigantic commotion near the metal detector at the hotel entrance. Apparently, someone tried to enter and didn’t want to be searched or run through the security apparatus, so he tried to bolt around the line. He was chased down, surrounded and carried outside. Very quickly.

Hmm. Time to become scarce. I think I’ll eat breakfast.

I had my usual: Bacon, eggs, banana nut bread — which they call “English cake” here — orange juice and coffee.

Today, though, I was seated on the opposite side of the restaurant from my usual. I wanted a little salt and pepper for my eggs but I just couldn’t figure out how to work the shakers.

I shook them. I poured them. I twisted them. I did everything except toss them against the wall and break them. I could not figure out how to get to the salt and pepper.

Finally, the hotel manager noticed my discomfort and showed me what I was doing wrong. That little ridge around the top is a cap. You have to pop that off, then turn the shaker upside down and twist to grind your salt and pepper.

I was grateful for the help. But also regretful I didn’t pursue a degree in engineering. That’s about the only way I would have figured that one out.

After breakfast, I went down to one of the lobby shops to buy a copy of the big Saturday edition of Leadership. They only get one or two copies a day. If I’m not early enough, I miss my chance. And I had waited very late to go downstairs this morning.

Luckily, they had one copy left. But when I tried to pay the woman, she complained that she had no change.

With a heavy sigh, I walked across the way, bought two Diet Pepsis and then used my change to buy the paper.

 

I returned to my room to find my laundry had returned. This was a relief. I sent my laundry down Friday morning and expected it back that evening. When it didn’t show up, I wondered what I might have to wear to work next week.

Then — with the ACES web site servers back up and running — I spent the rest of the morning in the piano lounge, writing this blog.

No beer for me today. It’s much too early for that. Diet Pepsi only for me.

In a few moments, I’m meeting someone for lunch — someone who once served an internship at the Virginian-Pilot, but long after I left. She’s offered me a quick look at the city.

I’m halfway through a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

I’m loving Nigeria

Last night, I returned to my hotel here in Abuja, Nigeria, completely exhausted and a bit dehydrated. I dropped off my briefcase in my room and immediately headed back downstairs for dinner so I could try to get to bed early.

Among the several dining choices here at the Transcorp Hilton is a nice Chinese restaurant. I haven’t been there yet. I decided last night was the night. It was still early, so the place wasn’t crowded at all.

Not only was the buffet there wonderful, but also they had a Mongolian barbecue grill. I had eaten beef off the buffet, so I decided to try the shrimp. I chose my ingredients and walked my plate over to the grill.

The two chefs greeted me warmly and — although we have quite a few Americans in the hotel this week — they seemed delighted to ask me very kind questions about the U.S. Everywhere I go, it seems, Nigerians are curious about life in America. Most of all, they want to know: Have you ever met President Obama?

After a while, I returned to my seat. Once my dinner was cooked, my plate was returned with the cooked shrimp and noodles — but my new friends had added a little surprise:

Oh, you just have to love Africa.

Today: At Leadership — a large newspaper here in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja — we’ll be talking features and science graphics and illustrations. I’ve pulled tons of samples from the Washington Post, the Times of Oman, the Huntsville (Ala.) Times and even from the little paper in Casper, Wyoming (Hi, Wes!).

Everyone’s eating up the lessons so far. Just like I ate up last night’s stir-fry shrimp.

More later…

I’m just starting Day Four of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

Teaching infographics in Abuja, Nigeria

I’ve been hard at work this week teaching infographics at Leadership, a national newspaper here in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria.

Leadership is a seven-year-old newspaper that is distributed throughout the country. It’s a thick tabloid, heavy on news, politics and analysis. The paper redesigned over the past couple of months and now wants to take the next step into visual journalism. I’m honored to draw the assignment.

The staff works out of this compound on the outskirts of Abuja. That gate is the main entrance, of course. The press is located in that large building to the left, here.

Next to that building is the administration building. Note the very nice shaded balcony.

Walk in the front door, through a small vestibule and down a very short hallway and you’ll find an office directly in front of you, with the logo of the newspaper frosted on the window.

That’s the office they’ve given me to use while I’m here this week and next. You can’t see it here, but I have my own air conditioner. Very important for a spoiled American like me in this sub-Saharan environment.

If you walk back out the front door and turn to your right, you see more buildings in the rear of the compound. That larger building houses offices of the managing editor, the IT department and a number of other folks.

Also there is a long main room that would make a fabulous banquet hall. They’ve cleared out all the folks from this area to give us a place to hold our sessions this week.

Second from the right in the bright blue outfit is the managing editor, Iyobosa Uwagiaren. Standing behind him is another managing editor, Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe. The gentleman on the far right is the creative director, Isiaka Gbodiyan, or “Easy G.” Seated on the left — in the blue-grey outfit — is the design editor, John Friday.

We started out Monday with an introductory session: What are infographics, what can you do with them and — perhaps more importantly — what do you not do with them?

Unlike most of our sessions this week — which are targeted to specific groups of journalists — this opening session was open to the entire newsroom. Although we had a very large room and a lot of space, more and more folks trickled into the room. It was standing room only, for most of the session.

Folks seem very enthusiastic about graphics. They already have the software lined up and they’ve hired a couple of artists to work with me. The pattern so far is that I give slideshow-illustrated lectures in the morning and then I meet with staffers for brainstorming sessions and individual work in the afternoons.

Back in the main compound — again, coming out of the admin building where my office is located — you see this one-storey building on the right. That’s the main newsroom.

Inside, dozens of reporters, editors and designers work elbow-to-elbow to put out each day’s edition.

I’ve been in a lot of newsrooms around the world. Each has its own rhythms and pace. This is one of the faster-paced places I’ve seen. It wasn’t what I expected at all. But it makes sense, given the product they put out here.

The paper publishes six days a week. The Saturday paper isn’t just the big edition of the week. It’s enormous. It takes a lot of resources to produce all these pages.

I believe they told me they had 19 designers. Here are four of them lined up, side-by-side along the front wall of the newsroom. The gentleman in the striped shirt is working on page one. To his right, the woman in blue is working on the next day’s editorial page.

Leadership is very heavily focused on news and opinion. They take their name very seriously and offer thoughtful commentary on their country’s government. Consequently, the editorial page is on page three. Open the front page and — Boom! — there it is. I don’t think I’ve seen this in any other country.

Despite the frenzied activity of the newsroom, staffers still take a moment to indulge their curiosity in that strange American visitor they’re finding roaming around their offices.

You write this blog? Really? Dude, you need a copy editor!

I hope Timothy, there, enjoyed the blog.

The sessions have gone very well so far. The one problem I’ve had: Staying hydrated. A thick haze that’s hanging over Abuja this week has kept the temperatures from rising too much, so I’ve not yet seen the 104-degree temperatures that had been forecast. But still, it’s been pretty steamy at times. I’ve learned the hard way to take it easy and to drink extra fluids.

Mixed in with my sessions, of course, is lots of hard work for the designers. Here, John Friday — again, the design editor to supervises much of the day-to-day look of the paper — addresses his staff on how they’ll schedule their week in order to a) get their work done while b) freeing up folks to attend my sessions.

The paper has bent over backwards to allocate resources for training. You have to love that.

While Monday we focused mostly on introductions and basic information, we devoted most of Tuesday to sports: Sports graphics, sports pages, sports promotional ideas from the editorial side. How to use visuals to tell sports stories.

Everyone listened with rapt attention.

This young lady seemed to enjoy the sports sessions yesterday…

…as did another journalist who had studied in England and who had a very cool cover for her laptop.

After an hour-long break at midday, we reconvened to brainstorm ideas. I found it just a little difficult at first to get folks to speak up. But they’ve never done this sort of visual free-association thinking before. So it’s going to be slow at first.

We eventually cooked up an idea to look at the poor success of the Nigerian soccer program and the turnover of coaches. A reporter was assigned to pull data for a graphic. If all goes well, we may end up with an interesting full-tabloid-page infographic for Saturday’s paper.

Or not. We’ll see. If nothing else, we’ll learn from the experience.

Once the ice was broken, ideas started flying. Here, one of the more talented prospects — Adeola Adebayo — sketched out an idea on how to produce a graphic look at one of the star players for the soccer team.

The concept was a good one. The design director and I then discussed the idea of “evergreen” graphics that we could build and then run whenever we have space for them.

Yeah. I think they’re catching on. I just love watching light bulbs go on over people’s heads.

Today, we’ll focus on business graphics and we’ll look at sports ideas the designers bring back. Thursday, we’ll get into features graphics: Science and technology, health and so on. Friday, we’ll focus on entertainment and politics.

I’m just starting Day Four of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

Oh, the Google ads you see when you travel

I zipped over to the Huntsville Times web site last night, in search of that paper’s front page.

I didn’t find what I was looking for — that’s so often the case for that paper; I love the print edition but the web site is a mess.

However, I did find myself laughing at the ad that inserted itself into the Times‘ web site.

That’s right: I’m in Nigeria. The Times‘ web site detects that and just assumes I might be interested in immigrating to the United States.

As I sat there staring at it, the banner flashed back and forth…

…between that image and this one.

A green card! What a delightful idea! Perhaps I’ll look into it.

Or perhaps I’ll squirt Coke Light out my nose as I’m laughing. One or the other.

Along those same lines, I was checking my Twitter feed this morning and I saw this picture posted by my pal Chris Olds of Beckett Media, describing Star Trek movie props that are to be auctioned off.

Very interesting. But what really caught my attention was that little ad over to the right. We’ve all seen those ads that ask us a question about political leaders as if it were some kind of survey. It’s not really a survey, however. If you click on it, however, you’re taken directly to a web site. What, exactly, is being advertised, I don’t know. Because I make a point of never clicking on these ads.

Take a closer look at this one, though.

Is that Arabic?

Wow. I’ve never seen that before.

Very strange. And interesting.

A lazy Sunday relaxing at the Hilton in Abuja, Nigeria

Oh, I’m in paradise this afternoon, my friends. I’m writing to you from a poolside bar, here at the Transcorp Hilton hotel in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria.

It’s very warm out today but they have modern ceiling fans in the shady thatched-style shelters of the bar. Which gives you a very nice, constant — if slightly warm — breeze.

I’m sitting just to the left of that gentleman you see there wearing the white shirt and looking suspicious at the nut case American shooting pictures. Folks here seem to be very conscious about cameras. So everything you’re going to see here today was shot with my iPhone. I’ve shut down all the 3G and phone functions and just using the thing as a camera today. Out of respect for the other guests. And out of fear of getting myself in a lot of trouble.

This is nearly – but not quite — the view from my table here.

I say “not quite,” because there are a couple of tables of gorgeous women sitting between me and the pool. I’d love to shoot a few pictures of them, but I fear I’d owe them some kind of modeling fee.

[Update: Turns out, I’d owe more than a modeling fee. If you catch my drift.]

It’s very warm and slightly muggy, but it’s not nearly as hot as I had expected today. The forecast high was something like 102 degrees. But there is this persistent haze hanging over the city today which is not terribly attractive. But it keeps the temperature down.

There are all sorts of folks enjoying the pool today. Mostly families. You can apparently come here for a fee, even if you’re not staying at the hotel.

Here in the bar, the main attraction appears to be Premiere League Soccer from the U.K. Manchester United is playing on the TVs — the one you see here, plus a big one behind me. As the afternoon has progressed, the other patrons have gotten more and more wrapped up in the match.

I don’t understand at all the fascination folks here have with English soccer. Yes, Nigeria used to be a part of the British empire. But it earned independence more than 50 years ago.

I parked myself here early Sunday afternoon to relax, blog a little and enjoy the largest Heinekens I’ve ever seen.

I’ve not yet learned what’s the local beer here in Nigeria. Once I figure that out, I’ll try it.

There were a few anxious moments when I found I couldn’t connect with the wifi here in the pool bar.

But then — Boom! — the router popped in and I was all set.

Hey, Ken Marshall! What are you doing here in Abuja?

I dealt with a little correspondence and then began writing this blog post. By the time I was ready to upload the 51 pictures I have for you today, the connection had disappeared again. So while I’m writing most of this here at poolside, I’ll likely have to go inside to the lobby bar, where I’d be closer to the wifi servers — or upstairs to my room where I have an ethernet connection — to actually post this.

[UPDATE: And this was before I became distracted by the young ladies at the next table over. Which pretty much ran me away from the poolside bar.]

And that’s a shame, because the folks down here in Fulani, the pool bar — took good care of me this afternoon. I’m quite serious when I say this has been paradise.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let’s back up a day or so, shall we?

MY PLANE RIDE HERE FROM GERMANY

When we spoke last, I was in Frankfurt, Germany, preparing for a most-of-the-day flight to Abuja.

The ride — on Lufthansa, the big German airline — was very comfortable, as opposed to the United Airlines flight I had been on the night before from D.C. to Frankfurt. My comfort was aided by the fact that the plane was maybe 20 percent occupied. If that.

I don’t know when I’ve last seen an American airline with that many empty seats. Entire rows were empty. These days, American carriers will cancel a flight before they launch an empty aircraft.

Yet, another passenger plopped down next to me anyway. For a moment, I considered asking him if he minded if I moved to an empty row. But then I noticed he had a tablet. So instead, I asked him how he liked his tablet. That’s when I found out that Solomon — that was his name — is a computer programmer from Ethiopia, living in Europe and doing fascinating work.

We had a great time chatting most of the afternoon away. This is why I enjoy traveling. I love meeting folks like Solomon.

The flight lasted for hours, though. The good company I enjoyed made the ride go that much better.

See all that brown area at the bottom of this picture?

That’s the Sahara Desert. It really does go on and on, as far as the eye can see. Just amazing.

No less amazing — but on a slightly smaller scale — was when I admitted to the flight attendant that I was running out of room on my tray for a beverage. She reached across me to this plastic ring on the chairback in front of me and pulled down an actual, built-in cupholder.

Oh, very cool. What will they think of next?

Our flight from Frankfurt to Abuja was very long, in part because there was a stop I hadn’t known about before: We few past Abuja to a little place called Malabo, the capital city of Equatorial Guinea. I had to admit, I had never heard of it.

We flew there, landed, took on fuel and a fresh flight crew and only then took off for an hour-long backtrack to Abuja.

When we arrived in Abuja — around 9 p.m. or so — something interesting happened. The plane aborted its landing. In all my travels, I’ve never had that happen before. The pilot apologized and blamed the problem on a greater-than-expected tailwind.

But when I finally left the airport an hour or so later, I noticed no wind at all. I’m not sure what was actually the problem, but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a tailwind. Or a wind of any type.

There were a few anxious moments and a bit of a delay while we circled Abuja. Eventually, though, we were on the ground, deplaned and through passport control. I located my one checked bag, breezed through customs and met a man from the newspaper named Mr. Moses, who was waiting for me in the lobby. Along with a driver, Mr. Moses took me to my hotel, checked me in and asked me to relax Sunday so we could get started with our work Monday morning.

I called my wife and daughter via iChat before I even unpacked. But it sure wasn’t difficult getting to sleep last night. I was dead-tired.

THE TRANSCORP HILTON ABUJA HOTEL

The place where they’re putting me up is most definitely the most outstanding hotel in all of Abuja. This place is vast. There are three wings, like you see here.

And yes, I keep getting lost. Even on my floor. Moments after I snapped that picture, I spotted this cute little fellow, scurrying up the slanted wall on the left.

It’s a lizard!

I’d love to have chased him down and chatted. Do you suppose he has Geico insurance?

Here’s the grand entryway of the place, under heavy cover to protect arrivals and departures from the equatorial elements.

You can’t tell it there, but there is a lot of security here in the hotel. In case you’ve wondered — and I get this a lot when I’m on the road — yes, I feel quite safe here. This place is a fortress.

On the hotel compound but off to the side — just beyond a small reflecting pool — is an enormous conference center called Congress Hall.

There was something going on there today, but I’m not quite sure what it was. Even as I mulled around outside, I could hear cheering. Maybe they were reading my blog.

Just beyond the fence is the relatively new metropolis of Abuja. Not that I could see it today, given the heavy, low-lying cloud cover.

I’m not complaining. The clouds kept today from being nearly as warm as it could have been.

I know the city is there, though. I can see just a bit of it — and the wonderful construction that’s going on there — from my room.

On the right of that shot, you see a row of buses that brought folks to Congress Hall today. That’s the hall on the right of this picture.

My room is not just comfy, it’s downright luxurious.

The two twin beds are pushed together, but that doesn’t bother me. I only need one.

The room doesn’t have wifi, but it does have a very fast, very reliable ethernet connection. So iChatting with Sharon and Elizabeth hasn’t been a problem.

The bathroom includes something I’ve never seen before in a hotel: a bidet.

Being a Hilton, of course, the hotel offers a complimentary robe and slippers to use during your stay. I don’t really need the slippers — I brought my own — and the robe, most likely, won’t fit me.

However, I couldn’t help but notice the typo in the embroidered Hilton logo.

Abuja is spelled “Abu Ja.” Pretty funny. Someone needs a copy editor.

My room is on the third floor. There are three separate banks of elevators, each oriented in a different direction. And then there are three wings to this skyscraper, each running off in a different direction.

The result is a place where it’s very, very easy to get lost. If you happened to go to the Society for News Design conference in Orlando back in 2006, then you might know what I mean. This place reminds me of that hotel. It’s massive.

Mixed in among the hotel rooms, oddly enough, are actual business offices. I’ve spotted several of these so far, while in search for the corridor in which my room is located. Here, for example, is a law office.

The top two floors of this place are executive rooms, which I can’t imagine needing. The room I have down on the third floor is more than adequate for my needs.

The bottom three floors, however, contain a dizzying array of restaurants, shops and other offices, including a medical clinic and even a dentist’s office.

EATING BREAKFAST

As exhausted as I was, I slept in late this morning and then dragged myself downstairs to try the breakfast buffet. The hotel has four full restaurants, plus a sports bar, a lounge, a nightclub and a pastry shop:

  • The Oriental Restaurant: That’s the name of it. Only open for dinner, they have a Mongolian Barbeque and a buffet. It appears to be very much upscale, so I’ll have to wait until I’m wearing khakis before I give it a try.
  • Bukka: An “African style” restaurant, with themed decor and menu to match.
  • Zuma Grill: An upscale restaurant with a “Mediterranean” menu.
  • Fulani Pool Bar: I started my post today telling you about this place. They specialize in grilled meat. They hold “family barbeque” nights on weekends.
  • Piano Lounge: A piano bar-plus-restaurant.
  • Capital Bar: A typical sports bar.
  • Safari Night Club: Apparently, the place to be seen when you’re in Abuja. The place was certainly hoppin’ when I checked in last night. It’s kind of a shame I aged out of that sort of thing two or three decades ago.
  • Pastry Corner: A little coffee, deli and breakfast joint.

Wow. One thing’s for sure: I’m not going to starve to death here!

Of all those places, the only two open for breakfast is the Pastry Corner and Bukka, where a fairly typical breakfast buffet was open. Naturally, I headed there first.

The buffet table was huge. There must have been a good 40 or 50 items there — many of which, I’ve never heard of. As you all know by now, I’m not adventurous at all with my food. I simply dared not try most of the items.

I was tempted to shoot pictures of the signs, though. I resisted the temptation for fear of getting thrown out of the place.

I was delighted with my breakfast selections.

Those are three scrambled eggs, American-style bacon (which they called “streaky bacon” in South Africa), sausage, a slice of “English cake,” coffee and orange juice.

I was in search of toast when I stumbled over the “English cake.” Intrigued, I added a slice to my plate. Turned out to be good, old-fashioned banana-nut bread. Yum.

I didn’t care much for the sausage, but everything else was perfect.

Initially, I was worried about sweetening my coffee. All they had there on my table was regular sugar and brown sugar. I asked the waitress for “non-sugar sweetener,” but she didn’t understand. Finally, she explained that this was all they had.

OK, not a problem. I’ll just drink my coffee unsweetened. I understand there is a pharmacy/convenience store elsewhere in the hotel. I’ll see if I can buy some sweetener and then just bring it with me each morning to breakfast.

When I finished the buffet line and returned to my table, though, I found this added to my choices of sweeteners.

Those packages don’t specifically say they’re sugar-free. The packages identify Tropicana Slim as “low-calorie sweetener.” I suspect that’s what they meant, though.

I used it in three cups of coffee this morning and I didn’t go into a diabetic coma. So I presume it was OK.

The only complaint I had with breakfast was the cost.

My clients are paying for my stay here but — wow, that translates into just under $30. That’s a lot to pay for breakfast — even a buffet. This is why I like to walk down the street in search of a Hardee’s or McDonald’s whenever I travel in the U.S. Breakfast is supposed to be a cheap meal.

Mental note: Perhaps I’ll check out the Pastry Corner tomorrow morning.

THE SHOPS AND STORES HERE IN THE HOTEL

Before I even tried to take pictures of the lobby and shopping areas of the hotel, I checked with both the front desk and the security chief. Hey, I’m going to be here for 12 days. The last thing I want to do is get in trouble.

Here’s the sports bar, which didn’t open until lunch today.

Here’s the piano lounge, which is actually a big part of the lobby. Note the cheetahs standing guard over the entrance.

On the right, you see a cellular phone store. Beyond it all is a small casino.

In the lobby are a row of ATM machines. I’ve never seen one quite like the little red one on the left. It sings — seriously. It plays old-style, eight-bit-like music — much like video gamed did back in the 1980s — in hopes of attracting customers.

What song does it sing? Glad you asked: Centerfold, by the J. Giles Band. Seriously.

Corridors lead to rows of small shops and offices. Most were closed Sunday morning but I’m told this place gets plenty of traffic throughout the week.

This place proudly proclaims to be “the dollar shop.” In the U.S., that would typically mean that all items in the store cost only a dollar or less.

However, displayed in the window here are luggage, fine clothing and other high-end items. Not quite the same as a Dollar Tree or a Five Below.

The sign says this is a “lingerie” shop, but nothing in the window appears to be even slightly like lingerie.

I was tempted to get a closer look, but I figured the management takes a dim view of 49-year-old men with their little noses pressed up against the window of a women’s underwear establishment.

And there aren’t  just retail stores. Here, you see a furniture importer and the offices of a landscape architecture firm.

Way in the corner on the left, here, is the Pastry Corner. The stairs lead to more shops on the second floor, which they helpfully call “01” here.

The little convenience store I mentioned earlier is just beyond the stairs and to the right.

I also saw several banks, cellphone stores, travel agents.

Now, at that convenience store, I found a children’s book about Nigeria that I thought might help bring me up to speed on the country — especially since I didn’t really have time to buy a travel guide.

I had been warned by my bank that my cards would not work here. As an experiment, I whipped out my bank card. Sure enough, the charge was rejected. The folks in the shop couldn’t accept U.S. money, though — not surprisingly — so that meant I needed to stop my rambling around and look for a place where I could exchange dollars for Nigerian Naira.

There were several banks in the shopping area, but they were all closed. So I simply went to the front desk. Their exchange rates weren’t the best possible rates. But they were good enough, for the small amount I had in mind.

Which brings us to a quick look at…

NIGERIAN CURRENCY

The unit of money here is called the Naira.

As of this afternoon, the Naira is worth only 0.00634518 of a dollar. Or, just over half a cent. Meanwhile, one U.S. dollar is worth 157 Naira.

Here is a 100 Naira bill.

It’s a beautifully-designed piece of money. But it’s worth only 63 cents.

The 500 Naira note…

…is worth a shade over $3.17.

The primary bill in my wallet now is the 1,000 Naira note.

It’s worth $6.35.

And that’s the biggest note they use here. Imagine walking around with nothing but fives and ones. It gives a nice, full feeling to your wallet, that’s for sure.

When I admired the artwork in the currency itself, the very nice man at the desk told me the portraits were of Nigeria’s political leaders. “And they were great leaders,” he said proudly. I just laughed and told him we never seem to elect great leaders in the U.S. We usually wind up with the other kind.

That cracked the man up. That’s been one constant, in all my travels around the world. If you’re American and you want to connect with folks in other countries, make fun of our own political leaders. Everybody, it seems, can identify with that.

Once I changed dollars for for Naira, I walked back to the convenience store and bought the children’s book.

It’s not exactly new. But again, I couldn’t find anything like this in the U.S. If nothing else, it makes a nice souvenir. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have next weekend for sightseeing.

I did check at the front desk. There is an independent contractor around who will hire himself out for tours. He quoted me a price for a six-to-eight-hour expedition throughout the metro area. Frankly, I had something a little less ambitious in mind. But we’ll see. By next weekend, I might be ready to get out of here for a few hours.

The front desk did loan me this tour book of the area. Hey, now this is the book I would have been happy to buy… if only I could find a copy somewhere!

This is a very interesting city, you see. The metropolitan area of Lagos, down on the coast, was the capital of Nigeria for many years. But then the new government decided it needed a) a more centrally located capital city, and b) a capital that wasn’t in overcongested Lagos. So they selected a promising spot of land here in the center of the country and laid out plans for a grand city.

They started work on Abuja in 1976. The government began moving here in 1991. By 1995, the migration was complete.

That’s why Abuja is a modern city. But not quite the metropolitan behemoth you see elsewhere. I’d love to get out and see the place. Perhaps later.

That little softcover tour book cracked me up, though, for another reason entirely: On the back is an advertisement for a cook book of African recipes.

You see why I’m laughing, right?

By now, it was early afternoon. I had 1) Eaten breakfast, 2) Explored the hotel, 3) Taken a few pictures for my blog, 4) Exchanged money, and 5) Bought a small book.

I decided to go back to the poolside bar and see if I could blog from there today. Unfortunately, I didn’t come to Nigeria prepared to spend much time poolside. I didn’t bring a swimsuit, I didn’t bring my flip-flop shoes and I didn’t even think to pack my nice khaki short pants. But if I was going to sit outside, I’d roast in my jeans.

I did, however, pack a light pair of blue gym-type shorts that I sometimes wear around my hotel room. Luckily, I didn’t look too bad in those shorts.

So I changed to my gym shorts, loaded up my laptop and headed downstairs to Fulani, the poolside bar.

Which is where I started my tale today.

Tonight, I’m going to pick out a place here in the hotel for dinner. Then, I’m going to try to go to bed early. Moses is picking me up at 9 a.m. tomorrow so I can begin work over at the newspaper office.

I’m on Day One of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey:

Ich bin ein Frankfurter

Sunrise over Belgium early this morning from the very last row of a United Airlines 777:

Yeah, that was gorgeous. And the perfect end to the overnight leg of my voyage to Abuja, Nigeria.

We landed as scheduled in Frankfort, Germany for a five-hour layover. So, y’know: Eich bin ein Frankfurter. At least for the moment.

Once I got my bearings, I headed for the Lufthansa service desk to pick up my boarding pass. Which was simple. I even remembered to thank the guy by saying danke.

He was most amused. I’m sure I butchered even that simple word.

I then went through a security check — every bit as thorough as in the U.S., except you don’t have to remove your shoes — and found myself staring at a row of restaurants.

I made the typically American decision to wimp out.

Two bacon, egg and cheese McMuffins and a Coke Light. Breakfast set me back 6,27 Euros, which translates into $8.26. Almost exactly what this would have cost me back home.

Pop quiz: Who can tell me what “ich liebe es” translates into? Come on, people. You know this one.

The McDonald’s here offers a fabulous view of the entire airport.

I’m just relieved to be on the ground again. Man, that was one long flight. I didn’t sleep at all. Just call me Mr. Irritable today.

I completely forgot to bring Sharon’s little point-and-shoot, which I use as an auxiliary, quasi-stealth-mode camera when I travel. It suddenly occurred to me I could use my iPhone for this. Simply put the thing into airport mode so I won’t be pulling in a signal and running up any roaming charges.

It took me a few minutes to figure out how to import images directly from the iPhone to my MacBook Pro. Once I got the hang of it, it was easy.

It’s nearly 9 a.m. here, as I write this. The time difference is only five hours, not six hours as the formerly-trusty time zone converter web site told me it would be. Meaning it’s nearly 4 a.m. back home.

We’ll begin boarding in an hour-and-a-half. Looks like today’s flight will be even longer than last night’s was.

Man, am I going to be tired tonight.

Departing for my next big overseas teaching expedition

You may have noticed that I didn’t post much here in the blog Thursday.

The reason for that: I spent the day preparing for my next overseas teaching expedition: To Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria.

I’ve made four separate trips to South Africa over the past two-and-a-half years, but this one will be very different. For starters, I’ll be much closer to the Equator.

What will that mean for me? I’m told it’s going to be a bit warm there. Very warm, in fact.

In fact, the hottest place on the planet Thursday was Yelwa, Nigeria, a hundred miles or so to the west of Abuja. It hit 108 degrees yesterday in Yelwa. The low of 67 was measured at 7 a.m.

It was pretty warm in the Philippines when I traveled there in 2007. But nothing like this. I’m not quite sure what to expect. Except to drink a lot of water.

I’ll be working in Abuja at the offices of Leadership, a daily newspaper launched seven years ago. The paper is printed in both Abuja and Lagos, the larger Nigerian city down on the coast.

As I mentioned last night, my old Chicago Tribune colleague Robb Montgomery recently redesigned the paper.

In addition to modernizing the look, Robb has been urging Leadership to use modern storytelling techniques like ASFs and infographics. Which is the reason for my trip. I’m spending two weeks at Leadership teaching infographics basics.

It’s going to be great. I can’t wait to get started. As you know, I live for this stuff.

TEACHING INTERNATIONALLY

My first overseas teaching gig was a bit of a fluke — I was invited to Sunderland, England, to teach graphics for a week at the Echo newspaper in October 1989.

Wow, it’s so amazing to see that picture and remember: I used to have hair!

The fact that I was invited was a fluke. But thankfully, I found that I wasn’t too bad at teaching. I began accepting more invitations to speak and teach. And I got better at it.

In 2007, consultant Peter Ong invited me, Tonia Cowan (now graphics editor of the Toronto Globe and Mail) and Kris Viesselman (now creative director of U-T San Diego) to teach for a week in Manila.

That, too, went pretty well. By that time, of course, I had begun blogging. It fascinated me that I could shoot pictures of my colleagues speaking, upload them to my blog, type up a few sound bytes and then post them before they finished their presentation.

It was that trip that caused me to really fall in love with blogging.

Two years later, I was invited to South Africa to teach a two-week session on infographics.

That two-week session stretched into a third week when they asked me to teach ad designers too. I had never taught advertising before, but that, too, came out pretty well. So the company then asked me to come back for two months of teaching and consulting work. And in 2010, they hired me to go back for five months.

Which, naturally, I was happy to do. The visual journalists there learned a lot. I had a great time. And, yes, I got some entertaining blog posts out of my adventures there.

MEDICINE FOR MY TRIP

Because this voyage will be in places of the Earth where I’ve never been before, I had to prepare a little differently this time.

For starters, I had to get immunized for some pretty exotic bugs.

  • Yellow Fever: This was a biggie, required by law.
  • Meningitis: There has been an outbreak in parts of the continent. And this is something you don’t mess around with.
  • Hepatitis A: I had one shot earlier but needed a second shot to round out my resistance

All this required shots. Several of them. I asked the doctor if all these needles would turn me into Captain America.

Don’t feel bad: She didn’t laugh, either.

  • In addition, they gave me four pills — keep them refrigerated, please — for Typhoid. I had to take one every other day. In this world of electronic gizmos and whatnot, I used only the most cutting-edge technology to keep track of my schedule.

In addition, they prescribed pills for Malaria. I started taking those Thursday. One a day, every day through my plane trip, through my stay in Nigeria and seven days after my return.

Now, did I really need all this medicine? I suspect not. Robb tells me in all his time in Nigeria, he’s never once seen a mosquito. But still, this stuff is pretty standard for traveling outside the U.S. I have friends who have served in the Peace Corps who tell me of the battery of shots they receive.

In case you’re curious, all this cost $222, plus $37.39 for the Malaria pills.

Naturally, I also have to make sure I take my normal medicines with me: Metformin and Actos, which help me deal with my diabetes. Plus, I’m taking sunscreen and some pretty strong insect repellant.

And cough drops. Plenty of cough drops. That persistent cough you might remember me writing about during some of my trips to South Africa? Never really went away. They tell me my childhood asthma has returned. I’ve gone through several brands in order to find one that won’t screw up my blood-sugar levels and won’t cost too much. I’m sucking on a black cherry-flavored sugar-free Halls, even as I type this sentence.

OBTAINING A VISA

In addition to all this medicine, I had to apply for a visa to visit Nigeria. I’ve never had to apply for a visa before. This was totally new to me. You fill out forms, pay fees and you actually send off your passport via FedEx. That was the scary part.

Amazingly enough, though, the passport came back, with a huge green sticker attesting that I’m officially sanctioned to enter Nigeria.

Not bad.

A visa to visit Nigeria runs just over $100. We were on short notice, however, so we worked through a visa agency called Travisa. The total bill was $314.

SHIFTING MY SCHEDULE IN HOPES OF AVOIDING JET LAG

In addition to getting my shots and applying for my visa, I also began shifting my hours last week. Nigeria is currently six hours ahead of the Eastern U.S., so I needed to condition myself to getting up much earlier in the morning and going to bed much earlier at night.

Years ago, I started time-shifting a week or two before my trips. I try to get up an hour earlier each day. And it’s worked pretty well for me: I’ve never suffered much from jet-lag. Except for the time I went to Manila. The time difference there was 12 hours. There’s not much you can do about that.

So anyway, I drew up a plan and started last Tuesday.

You’ll notice a little stutter in the pattern last weekend. That was caused by Daylight Saving Time starting here in the U.S. So I moved my schedule back an hour to cause a net gain of zero and then moved up only a half-hour on Monday.

The schedule breaks down at the end, though, because it’s not really possible to go to bed before 6 p.m. without seriously disrupting my wife and daughter. You’ll notice I originally scheduled myself to get up at 1 a.m. yesterday and today. I got up at 2 a.m. Thursday and slept in until 2:30 today.

But time shifting has worked again. I feel pretty good, despite the fact that I loathe getting up early. I’ve been getting an awful lot of work done in my mornings. I didn’t want to be compiling birthday posts for the blog while I’m in Nigeria, so I spent some of my mornings writing those in advance. As of Tuesday, I have every birthday post written though Wednesday, April 4. It’s been a long, long time since I was so caught up with birthday posts.

The weirdest part of getting up so early: Craving lunch at 9 or 10 a.m.

THE FLIGHT PLAN ITSELF

My wife took the morning off from her school teaching job. Shortly, she’ll drive me to the airport in Norfolk. My plane departs at 11:01 a.m. I’ll have a bit of a layover at Dulles airport in D.C. before an overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

I’ll have another layover there and then a long Saturday afternoon flight south to Nigeria.

Here’s the detailed schedule — including time differences — if you’re curious:

The final leg of my trip out will be on German airline Lufthansa. I’ve never flown with them before. I’m looking forward to that.

I’ll fly back on the 29th and 30th.

MY LAST DAY AT HOME

…Was, like I said, busy. I spent my morning polishing off a big freelance project. I set out clothes to pack. And I ran a few last-minute errands. When Sharon got home she packed my suitcases for me — she’s the only one here who knows how to avoid wrinkles — so by suppertime I was exhausted, ready to eat and then go to bed.

Which was a problem. With all the fuss, we didn’t have time to prepare supper. So we took a quick trip up the street instead to Firehouse Subs.

It was a nice little outing for us and a few nice moments of quality time before I disappear for two weeks.

UPDATE – 10:15 a.m.

Here I am on the way out the door this morning. Maybe it’s because the hot weather I’m expecting, but this is one of the lightest packing jobs we’ve ever done.

I have my carry-on, which is by no means stuffed. And my computer bag.

I have only one bag to check: My large spinner, which weighted 46 lbs at check-in. That amazes me, because it was only two-thirds full.

Typically for overseas flights, you’re allowed 70 lbs. in a checked bag. You get only 50 lbs. for a domestic flight. I’m flying domestic to D.C., but making a connection to an international flight. So I get the international rate. Plus, United didn’t charge me a fee to check the bag in the first place. I’m one happy camper this morning.

I got to the airport in plenty of time and found myself through security with an hour to spare. It’s too early for a beer, so I’m just having a Diet Coke at the newly-remodeled Back Bay Bistro until time to board.

The flight from here to D.C. is officially listed as 59 minutes, but I’ve made this trip before. In fact, it’s closer to 30 minutes. We typically spend about as much time taxiing in Dulles than we spend in the air.

UPDATE – 1:15 p.m.

The trip from Norfolk to Dulles was, well, dull as could be. Typically, you spend nearly as much time boarding as you do flying. That was the case today.

I now have a few hours to burn off. And I need to eat a decent lunch, because I never know what kind of meal I’ll get on the plane. (Baked O-rings, anyone?)

So I had hamburger sliders and Yuengling. With an emphasis on the latter.

Memo to Sharon: Yes, I’m watching the bill. I won’t drink too much

Leadership, a 7-year-old daily in Abuja, Nigeria, redesigns

I mentioned a while back that my old pal Robb Montgomery — as in famous international newspaper and multimedia consultant Robb Montgomery — was redesigning Leadership, a seven-year-old daily newspaper printed in both Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria.

It’s taken me a while to get around to showing you before-and-after samples.

On the left is an older front; the new-and-improved front page is on the right.

 

Clearly, Robb and his redesign team worked on making Leadership‘s front-page centerpiece pop off the page.

Here are a couple more new front pages:

The inside pages are an even more dramatic difference. On the left is an old page, on the right is a new one.

 

You’re seeing more “modular” design going on here. And more thought being given to packaging of inside stories.

Some of the lengthier features are now being pushed into themed pages that remind one of magazine-type formats.

 

That magazine feel is especially strong on briefs pages. Note the world map on the left, here, keyed to the three main stories.

 

There are a number of themed pages throughout the edition. Two examples:

 

Note the larger photos and the more dramatic cropping of those photos. Part of the reason this project came about: Leadership got new printing presses. The redesign helps the paper make better use of its color positions.

Here is a before-and-after look at the editorial page…

 

…a before-and-after look at the new sports “front” page…

 

…and a before-and-after look at an “inside” sports page.

 

The next step for Leadership: They want to dive into the world of infographics. So they contracted Robb’s consultancy for infographics instruction. And Robb hired me for the job.

This is why I didn’t post much in the blog Thursday. I spent half the day finishing up a freelance project and the other half packing. My flight departs tomorrow morning. I’ll arrive in Abuja — Nigeria’s capital city — late Saturday evening.

I’m going to get to see a part of Africa totally different from South Africa, where I’ve spent so much time over the past two-and-a-half years. This is going to be an adventure, to be sure.

To prepare, I began time-shifting last week: Getting up an hour early every day and thing going to bed an hour early as well.

Despite Daylight Saving Time starting smack in the middle of my cycle, I’ve managed to get used to an earlier start. This morning, I was up and working on that project at 2 a.m. This time-shifting process worked well for my first overseas teaching trip to England in 1989, so I’ve used it — successfully — for all four of my trips to South Africa.

Right now, it’s nearly 8 p.m., so I’m waaaay past my bedtime. I’ll tell you more about my trip in the morning.

A sneak peek at a redesign of a Nigerian newspaper

My old pal Robb Montgomery has been in Abuja, Nigeria, lately, working on a redesign for Leadership, a seven-year-old daily newspaper printed in both Abuja and Lagos.

In this video, Robb talks to design director John Friday, overseeing production of the launch edition.

The best part is when they look at the food page. “Beer and potatoes,” Robb notes. Heh. Sounds like my kind of food page…

Find Leadership online here. Find Robb’s web site here and his Twitter feed here.