“You are going to be the one to tell your grandmother,” my mother informed me after the dreadful silence over the phone last January when I admitted our next teaching post. I already figured I was going to tell her, but hearing I had to spoke volumes about the whole situation. My grandmother was raised in a remote Hungarian village until the age of 18, when she left for America alone, her appendix busting on the voyage over the Atlantic Ocean. We’re convinced she is healthy at 95 because my grandmother is stress free knowing she’s absolutely right about everything. If she gets irritated, my grandmother can give you a look that could down a charging bull, even to this day. I have more admiration for her than almost anyone else on the planet, but the thought of telling her our next teaching post in person was, um, unpleasant.
Let’s face it, Nigeria is a country that has American news stations swooning with sugar daddy love: Ebola, Boko Haram, dramatic presidential elections, fuel shortage crises… you name it. The truth of the matter (as you probably already know) is that the news and its flavor of delivery (particularly American news) is determined by what the stations’ watchers want to watch, and Nigeria is ripe for the picking. Now, I’m not going to try and make the case that Nigeria is secretly safe. The evils of Boko Haram and the horrors of Ebola are very much a reality. In fact, I’m typing this from my apartment on school grounds, which is surrounded by so much high walls, armed security, barbed wire and cameras that we live in a virtual fortress. I’m saying that much of the news hype, like much of the news, is just hype, and our idea of safety is perception. After all, we spent 10 years living two hours from the World Trade Center bombing, one hour from the Boston marathon bombing, and 45 minutes from Sandy Hook Elementary School. Boko Haram’s dwindling strongholds are on the opposite side of the country, made much farther by Nigeria’s poor infrastructure. All that being said, we’re not in Indonesia anymore, Toto.
Our trip here, despite 12 checked bags, two kids and variety of small carry-ons, both living (wait for it) and nonliving, was uneventful. We flew Lufthansa to Frankfurt, then down over the vast Sahara Desert to the southwest coast of Nigeria. We arrived in Lagos Airport at night and were greeted by Mr. Joseph, an employee of our school AISL (the American International School of Lagos), who guided us through immigration and customs. As soon as we entered the absolutely dilapidated airport, it felt great to be back in Africa. Our new principal for middle school, Dan and his wife Amanda (Cian’s grade 1 teacher) met us outside at the bus and brought us back to the school and our apartment, a palatial estate compared to our shoebox-sized home in Jakarta. Two baths (with tubs!), a huge kitchen (with a full sized fridge, another full-sized freezer, and oven!) and three huge bedrooms (with big beds!) greeted us and we couldn’t believe how excited we were for such (relative) luxury.
Our school is situated on Victoria Island in the country’s financial capital, Lagos. Over 50 nationalities are represented in the student body, many the children of consulate and wealthy oil families. Our apartment is within the campus walls, just across from the swimming pool and playing fields; the commute to my classroom is a one minute walk just around the corner. Since our arrival August 1, we have found the Nigerian people to be exceptionally warm and friendly. Although we are much more on our toes than in Indonesia, we have never felt unsafe or threatened. During a run around Victoria Island, Adrian (yep, he’s back!) said to me sarcastically, “Can’t you sense the danger?” People were waving, smiling and cheering us on as we ran by. The Nigerian’s warm greeting is a meaningful “you are welcome”, and you hear it regularly through the day. So far, we definitely feel welcome.
Being walled into campus also means that the teacher kids have free reign around the school, and we haven’t seen much of our children since our arrival. Occasionally, an assorted variety of them will scooter by or raid the nearest parent’s kitchen for a meal before racing off again outside. Playgrounds, the gym, the pool, unlocked classrooms and the playing fields are all close by and at their disposal. Ironically, being confined into the campus has allowed the kids to have the “just make sure you’re back for dinner before it gets dark” childhood we had in the ’70’s. When in our apartment in Jakarta, we had to do all sorts of preparation work to get the kids down the elevator and out, even to the playground. Now, half the time we can’t find the kids when we need to- they can just walk out the door. By the end of the day, they are delightfully exhausted.
Our living abroad soap opera takes a few twists this season for your inevitable entertainment. First, we have the return of my infamous partner in crime, Adrian Horton. Some of my long time followers will remember the limey Brit from posts during our first year in Indonesia, and there were many more adventures that were… well, let’s just say, not permissible to be posted. Adrian has already completed a year in Nigeria with our other friends from Indonesia, head of school Greg Rayl and his wife Kim (our curriculum director and blogger of Miss Chicken’s Adventures, linked over to the right, there, under “Blogroll”). To kick off our reunion, Adrian and I met up at the beginning of the summer in Portland, Oregon to attend a teacher conference and wreak havoc on the city before spending time on Greg and Kim’s beautiful sailboat in Olympia, Washington. He later joined us for a few days on the Cape. I was able to meet some of our new AISL coworkers at the conference as well, and I can say without hesitation we are in for a great year. When you live, work and play with the same community, it needs to be good people.
We also have two additions to our family, Boris Badenov and Natasha Rainbow Fatale (the Rainbow part was christened by Áine. If you say Natasha while Áine’s around, she will immediately correct you forcefully with “its Natasha Rainbow“). Back in Indonesia last school year, I would occasionally pop into the library and catch Sarah looking at images of cats with our friend Darlene, whose family is also joining us in Nigeria accompanied by their newly acquired guinea pig small dog, Jasper. When I asked about the cat pictures, I got a dismissive laugh and a “nothing for you to worry about” until suddenly we were putting a downpayment on two purebred Siberians (a cat downpayment?!). I was informed that we were to pick up the cats at the end of the summer from our friend-turned-cat-innkeeper, Rebecca and bring them along with their skyscraper of immigration paperwork as carry-ons to Nigeria. We are now the proud owners of the most expensive cats in western Africa.
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The day after we arrived in the States to start our break this past summer, I went to my grandmother’s assisted living complex to drive her to a party at my father-in-law’s. When I picked her up she hugged me tight and long, like she does when I’m leaving, knowing we’re not definitely sure we’ll see each other again. As soon as we got into the car, she lifted one eyebrow and said in her no-nonsense Hungarian accent, “So, where are you going next?”
My hours of preparation for the question fell apart. “West Africa, Grandma. Nigeria.” It was all I could say.
“Nigeria…that sounds familiar…” she said to herself, trying I’m sure to remember why she had heard about the country recently on TV.
“Don’t worry, Grandma. We’ll be safe,” I said, purposefully interrupting her train of thought.
“You’re like gypsies, you are,” she proclaimed, “not happy in one place!”
“I guess you’re right, Grandma,” I said and quickly changed the subject to the rising cost of groceries, successfully dodging “the look”.