The morning that I arrived in Abuja, my luggage did not arrive with me. I left Baltimore with two suitcases and one carry-on. However, I arrived in Abuja with just the carry-on to my name. So, I filed the necessary claims (sans one of my luggage claim receipts) and proceeded to begin my new life with my ONE piece of luggage. Initially, I thought it’s cool, I’ll have to wait maybe a couple of days. Well, what I thought would be a two-day wait actually turned into two weeks. That was two weeks wearing about 5 of the same outfits and two pairs of shoes TO WORK. Needless to say, I was super excited when I received the call that my luggage had finally shown up to the airport. So I go to the area where the luggage is being held with my happy, excited American self and say “Hello. I received a call that my luggage has arrived. Could you please tell me where I should go?” The man looks at me with disgust and says “If you’re going to be here, you need to learn the proper way to greet us. It’s ‘Good morning’ and then you ask a question!” He continued to fuss and I drowned him out with “Good morning. Good morning. Good morning.” He waved me off in a general direction and I eventually got my luggage. Continue reading “Nigerian Cultural Norms”
Seeing the Pyramids in Egypt- Khufu, Khafre and Menkare
This past Spring Break the kiddo and I journeyed to Cairo, Egypt and Rome, Italy. And what a journey it was. We had no idea what to expect from Cairo, but I made sure to fit in as much as possible without overdoing it physically, as well as, financially. This was going to be a 12 day trip and I needed to make smart budget decisions so that we wouldn’t be in any kind of uncomfortable situations, you know…like unable to eat. Lol. Nonetheless, Cairo did not disappointment and we had a great time. Continue reading “Seeing the Pyramids in Egypt- Khufu, Khafre and Menkare”
Gratitude in Da ‘Buj
The hardest thing about living abroad in general for me is being away from my family, my mother and sister specifically. If I came from one of those globetrotting families who travel all over the planet and meet up in exotic locations, it would be much easier. If I had my way, we’d meet in London during fall break, South Africa during Christmas and some sexy beach locale during the summer. But whether or not I see my family and friends back home depends a lot on me. Folks simply don’t visit. I’m sure they’ll say money is an issue, but hell, even when I’m home I don’t see them unless I go to them and sometimes that requires me traveling an additional two to three hours even though I’ve traveled thousands of miles and most of the times, more than 16 hours. Continue reading “Gratitude in Da ‘Buj”
Is Nigeria Safe?
The question I get asked the most about living here in Nigeria is whether or not it is safe. For me, this is such a loaded question. Is Nigeria safe in comparison to where? What’s the scale being used to determine the level of safety? When living abroad there are numerous factors I have to consider to determine just how safe I am in my new environment. Access to good healthcare, police/military presence, terrorist activities and cost of flights out. I’ll discuss a bit about each of these factors in relation to Abuja, Nigeria. Continue reading “Is Nigeria Safe?”
How to Survive and Maybe Even Enjoy Road Trippin’ in Nigeria
I love a good road trip. Packing snacks, creating playlists, singing, taking pictures and just bonding (hopefully) with your road trip crew. I’m not a fan of driving mind you, but I absolutely love being a passenger on a good road trip. Of course, road trips in America are easy. There are certain things we don’t have to worry about, like military and police checkpoints, having to pay bribes to avoid an illegal search or asinine detainment, horrible roads just to name a few. But for me, that’s part of the adventure. Yes, it’s annoying and if you’re not careful it can be dangerous especially if you encounter an aggressive officer, but mostly it’s a great way to see all the beautiful landscapes that Nigeria has to offer.
The first thing you want to do is let go of any and all expectations you could possibly have regarding the trip. Whether or not you think you’ve taken a comparable trip, it’s best to simply approach a road trip in Nigeria with no expectations – AT ALL. I made the mistake of expecting the highways to be paved, but soon learned that the government doesn’t seem to care much about maintaining paved roads. So trips usually take about two to three hours longer than they actually should. Here’s my videoed reaction to the “highway”:
The second thing is to make sure you’re embarking on the trip with someone you actually like. Trust me. Your road trip crew will make or break the experience. Perpetual complainers, worry-worts or chronically unhappy people would make it the trip from hell. This is not the kind of trip for them. This trip is for the glass half full kinda people. The laid-back and nonchalant folks who rarely get their feathers ruffled. Now, understand what I’m saying. YOU may very well be one of the former types of people I described, but you cannot, I repeat, CANNOT go on this kind of road trip with another one. You need someone to balance out that energy and influence your mood in a positive way. And the more of these types of people, the better. Their energy alone will make the challenges you encounter less of a big ordeal.
The third suggestion is take pictures and don’t be afraid to explore. Nigeria is much more mountainous than I would have ever thought. There are so many lush, open, green spaces, clear, blue skies and gorgeous, untainted hillsides. The unspoiled landscapes often look picture-perfect. And there are always tons of farm stands to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. You can buy anything from bananas to cocoa plants to rice. You could literally complete all of your unprocessed food shopping. And this is not a bad idea, because there are no fast food restaurants to make stops. Just pull your vehicle over and they’ll all run over with whatever they’re selling. Our last trip we purchased plantains, bananas, cocoa beans, snails, soursop, papayas and pineapples all from the roadside stands. Spending no more than $20 USD for it all.
Finally, I will say make sure to bring along someone who knows how to navigate those Naija streets and drive an SUV if at all possible. Seriously. You need someone who can navigate the check points, maybe even knows a better, more acceptable road for your destination and someone who can navigate the bad roads when there is no other choice. There is a lot of pothole dodging that has to be done and you want someone who is skilled enough to do this without damaging your vehicle. And most importantly, will allow you to just enjoy the ride.
You Are Welcome…Sort of.
When I first arrived in Abuja, I had been traveling for nearly 36 hours. My first flight out of BWI was canceled resulting in a rebooking directly to London. I arrived in London at 11 am the next day where I “enjoyed” an eleven hour layover before finally arriving in Abuja the following morning at 4:55 a.m. Needless to say, I was tired and in dire need of an attitude adjustment which was bound to happen as soon as I indulged in a hot shower and lots of sleep. After a long wait in customs, I arrived at baggage claim ready to grab my bags and leave for my new digs with the transportation sent by my new employer. Unfortunately, the baggage I hoped would have made it to Abuja, in fact, did not. And I quickly realized that the experience of lost or delayed baggage was my first lesson into how my expectations needed to drastically change…and fast for my peace of mind.
The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (ABV) is a very modest airport, so there isn’t a department or even a window to go to when your baggage doesn’t arrive with you. In fact, you’re lucky if the airline has a designated bag agent at the airport upon your arrival. Luckily, British Airways did have an agent there and I immediately filed my claim with him. Yay me! Right? Well, not so much. The agent proceeded to inform me that since I didn’t have one of my luggage stickers that they were not liable for that bag. Well, remember that attitude adjustment I mentioned I needed? Yeah. I pretty much lost it at this point. I was tired, hungry and frustrated and it all came out in that moment. Needless to say, it was not my finest or classiest moment. But the agent looked at me and began to lecture me about how the process worked. Needless to say, I ignored him. What energy I had left, I used fussing at him moments ago. I simply walked away and proceeded to leave with just one measly bag.
I called him everyday for about a week, inquiring about my bag. A few times he simply hung up on me after I asked him to double check that my bags had not shown up. After a week, I received one bag. And while I was happy to receive it, it wasn’t the bag that contained all of my clothes, so I still had to continue to call the agent daily. Of course, I filed reports with British Airways and American Airlines (that is with whom the ticket was purchased), but it was the agent who the gatekeeper to my bag. All calls returned to him. Finally, I decided it was time for me to breakdown the walls of Western expectations and add a lot of honey to the vinegar I was spewing. I took the time to talk to him and explain the importance of the lost baggage. I greeted him properly “Good afternoon” because greetings are VERY important here in Nigeria and while he responded rather nonchalantly he didn’t hang up on me this time and promised he would call as soon as it arrived. Two days later, I received the call that my baggage was available for pick up.
So far, Nigeria has demonstrated stark contradictions in culture, expectations and reality, but I quickly found that my Westerns ideals and expectations will either make this experience unbearable or grow me in ways I never imagined. And since it’s up to me, I choose the latter. Here’s to growth and evolution.
Reaction to the U.S. Presidential Election (WTF America?!!!)
Living abroad does not lessen the impact of government issues at home. In fact, I would venture to say that living abroad places those issues under a microscope of scrutiny and never-ending questions. This presidential election especially shone light on just how confusing Americans and their politics appear to the rest of the world. Countless times I’ve been forced, unwillingly, into conversations about the two presidential candidates, expected to weigh in on my choice and reasons behind it. This campaign season definitely contributed to sharpening my sidestepping and redirecting conversational skills. It has been utterly exhausting.
And now, while the election is over, the questions, confusion and bewilderment is not. My students look at me discontentedly and wonder what this means for them and their goals of higher education. Will it be safe for them to pursue their collegiate goals in America? Should they use the election results map to determine which college is better situated geographically to make them feel comfortable…welcome? And I honestly have no idea how exactly to respond, because much like them I, too, have questions.
I think the absolute worse part, is that I am expected to speak on behalf of the American people. I am expected to provide answers to the unanswerable when the truth is I have no idea how we knowingly elected a bigot, xenophobe, misogynist and just all around “mean” man as one student put it. What does it say about us, Americans, that we elected someone who spewed divisive rhetoric from the very beginning to the end of his campaign? What does it say? And I think that’s the scary part. It says a hell of a lot.
Those of us who didn’t vote for him can attempt to detach from the election results and even the president elect by saying we didn’t vote for him, but at the end of the day, does that matter? Does it matter to people abroad? When I navigate this globe, I do so as an American and I am, therefore, judged as such. Does it matter that I didn’t vote for him? I don’t think so. I think ultimately people will expect me to give them insight into what the hell happened in my country on November 8, 2016 and they’ll want answers. But where do I even begin? Because the truth is, a response to that question requires historical context that can’t be explained in a quick conversation and I don’t know that I would even want to do there in the first place. You know…there. Nah, I’ll pass. So for now, my response is simply, well, America can’t hide who and what it truly is any longer. The proof is in the pudding and will shortly be in the White House as well.
A New Chapter, A New Journey
Leaving China was not a hard decision for me. Initially, the plan was to hunker down and create some semblance of a life there for me without the kiddo. See, early on in the decision making process of trying to figure out if I would stay or leave China, the kiddo was pretty adamant that she WOULD not be returning. So, when I decided to stay I knew there would the added of adjustment of trying to navigate my new environment without the company of my kiddo. And while I wasn’t looking forward to being in Foshan alone, I was looking forward to furthering my career and working under a pretty great administrator. And that was my sole reason for considering to renew my contract.
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” I knew that in order to survive another year in Foshan, I needed to make my life as comfortable as possible. So I began to increase my social circle, obtained a part-time job, created a natural hair Wechat group and started to explore the city a bit more. And I fell in love with iherb.com, ordering and stocking up on some the products that I had so desperately missed. But ultimately, it was all for naught. My administrator soon after broke the news that he would not be returning to the school and I knew there was NO way I could stay.
It didn’t take long, however, for the Universe to work its undeniable magic. By week’s end I had secured a position at another international school in a much more desirable location, Abuja, Nigeria. And it was the best decision I could have ever made. The school is much more established and I’m using my gifts and talents on a daily basis. The school community is diverse, vast and supportive. And most importantly, I have a family here comprised of friends, colleagues and well…a beau. J That always makes a difference. My kiddo still elected not to take part in this journey…but that’s a work in progress…stay tuned.
I can’t say that I miss China, but I am so grateful for the people I met and the relationships I forged while there. Moreover, I am especially grateful for the beautiful memories Baby Girl and I created while there. But I can’t wait to create memories just as beautiful and significant here in Nigeria. Actually, I already have.
The Hype of the Canton Tower
Two issues. Overpriced and overrated. I won’t tell anyone not to go, because others may very well have a completely different experience from the one I had. Nonetheless, I will share the details of my experience so that those who choose to go will have the benefit of being informed. A benefit which I was not afforded at the time. Granted I read on TripAdvisor that it was somewhat overpriced, but I thought it would at least be worth it. And to be honest, I suppose I got exactly what I deserved seeing as though my sole motivation for wanting to go was based on one of my favorite reality shows, The Amazing Race. Continue reading “The Hype of the Canton Tower”
Egg Foo Yung Please!
Call me ignorant if you choose, but I’ll be the first to admit that I miss with all of my heart American Chinese food. I would give anything for a simple order of shrimp fried rice or Singapore noodles with tofu or General Tso’s shrimp or even shrimp with broccoli. Oh how my mouth waters at the thought of egg foo yung and crab ragoon and chicken lo mein. Call me crazy for assuming that living in China would put me in close proximity to a limitless supply of those dishes I now long for. Imagine the shock and horror when I discovered that the Chinese food I loved is, in fact, not authentic Chinese food at all. For shame!
Don’t get me wrong, there are some dishes that are close to the ones I grew to love in America, but here in Foshan where Cantonese food reigns supreme, it is quite difficult to find Chinese dishes that make me crave the local cuisine. The lo mein or chao mein is probably the closest, but even that is prepared differently. Ginger and garlic are the go to spices for most local chefs. This leaves their food mildly seasoned and just lacking flavor. But hell, I’m no food critic; I just like to eat.
I’ve asked several of my Chinese colleagues about these dishes which I cannot and they often just give me a blank stare. They don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. However, I haven’t determined if it’s because most Chinese tend to eat the local food they grew up on or if it’s because American Chinese food really is solely an American thing.
There have been a few dishes which have tickled my taste buds like the sautéed squid rings, the grilled, garlicky oysters and the steamed scallops with rice sticks. Despite bemoaning the food, one of the things I absolutely love about living in Foshan has been the access to fresh and varied seafood. Nonetheless, ultimately, I am still in search of good, really, really good authentic Chinese food. In the meantime, I’ll take complete pleasure in the search.