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”
Category: Teacher ABroad
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.
“Unromantic Realities of Teaching in a Foreign Land”
I thought about this piece while walking to work this morning. The lone unicorn walking down these China streets powering through the stares and scowls of those around me. When I first made the decision to move abroad I was at the juncture in my life where I knew that if I didn’t change something and in a very big way, I was going to leave the world of academia behind altogether. My life in the U.S. was fine, but something always seemed to be missing or askew or just not quite right. And the constant threat upon my black skin from sources concrete and abstract made living there scary and seemingly dangerous. So like the romantic that I am, I decided living and teaching in a new country would be the answer. I fantasized about the impact I would make, the lessons I would perform and how I would grow to the heavens in my teaching practice. I imagined myself and my daughter in our exotic new locale indulging in new foods, visiting new countries and learning new languages. And while the things that I’ve imagined have, in fact, taken place, my main reason for living in China has been the most challenging aspect of our new journey.
You see, teaching in China has many more challenges than I anticipated. Aside from the obvious challenge of a language barrier, there have been three distinct challenges with which I have had to contend: unrealistic expectations from parents, lazy, under-motivated students and lack of resources. Teachers everywhere are reading that thinking, “I deal with the same issues!” Believe me, I know. Like many teachers, I thought teaching abroad would be a teacher’s utopia. And I especially thought teaching in China would be easier. I was a victim of the same preconceived notions as many other Americans are, “Chinese students work hard”, “Chinese students are naturally motivated”, “Chinese students are blah, blah, blah. Just wonderful”. The truth is Chinese students are, well, students, merely children who suffer from many of the same ailments and conditions as other children – laziness, self-indulgence, self-centeredness and just plain incorrigibility. Now, of course, it’s not all students all of the time, but the model student that many of us believed existed in China is in actuality a rarity not the norm.
The good thing about this realization is that being a trained, certified, experienced teacher in the U.S. properly prepared me to successfully handle this reality. Therefore, it is business as usual in my classroom. I simply employed the same strategies and expectations that I would in my American classroom. The biggest difference is having a teaching assistant/translator. Somewhat similar to the co-teaching model without the collaborative planning. Of course, many of us who have had co-teachers know that collaborative planning doesn’t always happen either.
Nonetheless, those realities aren’t enough to make me regret my decision to teach abroad, especially since I would be dealing with the exact same issues in the U.S. Moreover, just like back home, the students always make it worth it. I have students with big personalities, students who are exceptionally quiet, some who are extraordinarily loud and some who love drama. There are comedians, fighters, actors and natural leaders. Their personalities are just as varied as any group of young people would be and so are their academic levels. They definitely have helped to make this journey quite interesting.
The Six Best Places for Expats to Shop for Clothes in China
No matter what you know or don’t know about China, one thing we can all agree on is that the Chinese are rather small. The Northern Chinese may not be as small as the Southern Chinese, but they all are still smaller on average than most Westerners. Therefore, shopping for clothes can be quite challenging. However, expats have a few choices to accommodate those extra inches. Continue reading “The Six Best Places for Expats to Shop for Clothes in China”