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11:01 p.m. 2009-12-28

A Secret Santa guide

Yes, we had a traditional office gift exchange. As luck would have it I randomly picked the most recent arrival, other than me. This is that story.

Secret Santa gift acquired. But it wasnít easy. I followed these complicated steps.

1. Get an idea of what to give. As I have no car and cannot take public transportation, I needed to either get a ride or find something with in walking distance. I decided to check out the Nigerian version of a strip mall that has sprung up around a big traffic circle. The ďbig boxĒ stores in this mall were converted from shipping containers. The open sewers in close proximity to the food stores remind you why there are special super bleach products that are used to clean veggies here.

In this mall, I found lots of clothing that is purchased by the kilo in the states, but I didnít really know her size and didnít want to guess. I found tones of PVC piping. There were some plastic kitchen supplies. There were a number of stores selling locks. Luggage and haircuts were also there to be had. There was a lot of smoked/dried fish, but that didnít feel like a good Christmas gift. There was a store that had booze, which was something that I thought could be a fall back position. But inspiration did not strike walking around the market.

So walking back to my place, I passed one of those street side plant stores mentioned previously, and thought ďperfect!Ē She is new here, I bet she would love to get a plant!

2. Quality control. So now I have an idea, but maybe she had just been shopping for plants. Maybe her dogs will eat plants. I need to test the idea out. So I sit next to her on the boat and casually mention the aloa plant that I had just picked up. I mention how, as a white person in a super sunny climate, Iíd be dumb not to have one of these. She agrees, and says ďI should get one of those.Ē That sounds like a winner, but quality control doesnít stop there.

I also asked her about other types of plants, for instance plants with colorful flowers. This gets a more enthusiastic response. I feel like I found my idea.

3. Buy the gift. In the US, this can be a really easy step. Go on line, or drive to the mall, or call QVC. None of these options are available. Iím not doing any online banking from my home account, Iíve got no car, and QVC couldnít ship it fast enough. Nope, Iím walking to get this plant.

The good news is that the place with the plants that I wanted to get is 3 blocks away. So I walk there, find some hibiscus plants and in many home and garden shops, that would have been it. However, at this particular shop, they had plants but not pots to put said plants in. For clarity, we will call it the no pots/flower plants shop.

But like I said earlier, there are oodles of these shops around. 1 block away as a matter of fact, is the place I got the aloe. They have pots, so I head there to get some pots. I haggle, but as it turns out I was getting a fair price to start out with. And these are big pots, because at this point Iím getting excited about this gift. Also, Iím buying another of the same for me. Note, this place does not have hibiscus or really any colorful plants. The other place doesnít have aloe. Go figure. This store we will call the pot/no flower plants.

So now with these two really big pots, I and the owner of pot/no flower plant store go marching up the block. Each one of these clay pots is pretty big, way to big to carry both on my own. The owner is impressed that Iím even carrying one. He said that I was the first white person he has seen who carries his own pot. The obvious joke is that if he wants to see white people carrying pot, he should visit a college, but that wasnít where he was going with that. He just figured if you are white, you are rich, and if you are rich, you have people to carry these things for you. More on that later.

So we get to the store and it is very clear that the 3 blocks between the no pot/flower plants store and my home, let alone the 6 blocks to the gifteeís house, are more than what I am going to be able to do. I take a page from the Beatles and have a little help from my friends.

4. Shipping and Handling. So I call one of my very helpful neighbors who has just gotten herself a car. One block from our housing compound is a traffic circle, one block past that circle is a fork in the road, so Iím thinking there are two turning decisions that she will have to make to get to the no pots/flower plants store. I stay on the phone with her as she drives towards me, and to this day I donít know exactly what went wrong.

But it did go wrong. She ended up at a traffic circle about 6 blocks away. This was her first adventure into said traffic circle. She also ended up side swiping a car. She was in the bigger car, how could they think that they would get away with cutting her off? And all the while, she was talking on the phone with me. Hearing minor traffic accidents through stream of consciousness conversation might sound unusual, but really, in this town, not odd at all.

Finally she gets there with her SUV. The way to make these two big pots and 4 foot high plants fit? Trunk. But we canít just have them in there, they arenít that stable (they have iron stands to go with the clay pots). So I get in the back and keep the plants steady as we drive off to deliver the goods.

Well, as I said earlier there are 6 blocks between the giftee and the no pots/flower plants store. There are also about 300 pot holes on the way there. And the pots were made of clay. AndÖ lets face it, they might not have been up to the highest manufacturing standards. One of the pots cracked.

And I was in the back of the car trying desperately to keep dirt from spilling everywhere. Well, here is a tip to my loyal reading public. If a clay pot is a little bit cracked, it is only going to get worse. And there before my eyes it got worse. What started out as a big pot turned into a series of medium sized shards and a big pile of dirt. In my friends trunk. Sigh.

However, Santa doesnít complain if a reindeer makes a mess in the back of the sleigh. The gifts must go through! And they do. Pot was to big to sneak into place, but the giftee seemed very happy to receive her hibiscus and pot. Happy Holidays!

But the story isnít over, although the gift instruction portion is.

I and the driver went back to the pots/no flower plants store. The owner recognized both of us. Me because I clearly am a returning customer, her because during her odyssey to find the no pots/flower plants store, she had apparently done a U-turn in the middle of the store. When your shop floor is two street corners, I bet that happens all the time. They were great, helping clean out the store and I ended up splitting the cost of a replacement pot.

Finally, the plant made it home after about 4 trips (1 plant, 2 dirt bags, 1 pot/stand) up three flights of stairs.

The post script is that the plant in spite of its traumatic move is doing fine. Thanks for reading all the way through!

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