My Commission arrived through the diplomatic pouch this week. I am equally proud of this document as I was of the law school diploma and certificates of admission to the Bar of the State of Utah and the Bar of the Federal District Court for the District of Utah which hung on my office wall the last 10 years.
That is an imprint of the Great Seal of the United States, which has reposed in the care of the Department of State since 1789.
Last week it was my turn to be opening officer. This meant that I needed to get to the Consulate at 6 am, to get things opened up and then help our Nigerian staff do intake and fingerprinting of applicants. While I did miss that extra hour or so of sleep, it was a cool experience. It was awesome to see the consular section come to life each morning as our Nigerian staff came in to work, and to have a few moments of relative calm before the arrival of roughly 1000 visa applicants. The Department of State has about 70,000 employees world-wide. I’ve read that about 50,000 of them are “Locally Employed Staff,” citizens or residents of the countries in which we have diplomatic presence hired to work for us. Nigeria is no exception. In the consular section in Lagos we have about twice the number of Nigerian employees as we do American employees. They are great colleagues. They have been teaching us pidgin and a small amount of Yoruba and Igbo, they have been teaching us about Nigerian cultural norms, they have been translating for us when our language skills aren’t up to the task, they have been laughing and joking with us, they have been working as hard as any of the Americans, and I count myself lucky to know them and work with them.
One thing about Nigerians though, is that they don’t do the “how’s it going?” “fine” perfunctory greetings that we tend to do in the US. A greeting here is “good morning” or “good afternoon,” there is no quick “hi.” Most of the time this is followed by “how was your night?” and “how is your family?” As the first of each month arrives, it includes “happy new month.” It took me aback somewhat when I first arrived, but I really enjoy this genuine greeting and inquiry. I enjoyed it all the more as I saw them greeting each other, singing a new version of “happy birthday” to someone, and getting to talk to them a little bit before they settled down into their hard work of preparing the days cases.
One of these days, when I get a little better at it, I’ll need to do a full post on pidgin. For now, I’ll just throw in the most Nigerian of phrases, “no wahala.” Wahala is trouble/problems, so no wahala is like no worries/don’t worry about it/it’s all good.