Signs of a New Year III

Another amazing year abroad, another weird sign safari year.  2016 features gems from Nigeria, Norway, and the USA.  If you’re new to Domestic Departure, please also check out the Signs of a New Year collections from 2015 and 2014.

Happy New Year, folks!  As always, thanks for reading and we wish you an adventurous and inspiring 2017!

Why We Do This

In December, I’m reminded this expat lifestyle comes with some sacrifices.  When I was young, the only more special night than Christmas Eve during the Holiday season was the night we decorated the house, a day chosen with purpose by my mother.  She would carefully set aside the year-round knickknacks and replace them with Holiday decorations, and my father would fight and cuss for a couple hours at the tangled tree lights.  My sister and I were in charge of decorating the Christmas tree with baubles passed through generations and dilapidated ornaments made in our elementary school classes, as my parents enjoyed a glass of cognac and watched in the glow of the Christmas tree.  A draft of cold, clean air would gust into the house when another log was retrieved for the fire, and old carols played from the stereo.  They were magical evenings, rituals honoring hearth and home that held a domestic comfort of glow and warmth despite the stinging chill outside.

Oh, Tannenbaum

Oh, Tannenbaum

I’ll be honest- our attempts to recreate this here in Nigeria have been only marginally successful.  To make the morning special, Cian and Áine switched between helping Sarah make Holiday French toast and decorating the tree.  The multicolored tree lights only flash, and the ornaments are cheap, plastic facsimiles of traditional decorations.  Sarah found a collection of carols, but they were renditions we thankfully didn’t recognize.  The whole thing was over in a half hour, and afterwards I put on shorts and went for my tennis lesson and the kids went swimming to stave off the African heat.  Perhaps it is only self-induced disappointment that my children are not getting an experience similar to the memory I treasure.  After all, this is what they know, the kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and Áine is very proud of the tree she decorated (but then, eventually so was Charlie Brown).  There just seems to be a loss of tradition, a lack of that magic.  It’s fleeting, but for a moment I felt a tinge of nostalgia for chopping wood, drinking warm apple cider and watching the fire wafting in the wood stove on a cold winter’s night.

A shipwreck along the shore

A shipwreck along the shore.  Photo by Megan Bagdonas

Like my Jewish friends in the States who order Chinese food and hit the movie theater on Christmas Day, the Id Holidays back in September or the one coming up next weekend sends us nonMuslim expats to the ocean.  Earlier this year, a group of us were invited to the US Consulate beach hut, a 30 minute boat ride down the lagoon and out of Lagos.  Despite the thick line of rubbish marking the high tide line and the dangerous surf that makes swimming prohibited, the kids were still able to get ridiculously sandy, and we enjoyed a day out of the city among the palm trees and ocean air.  With coolers of beer and trays of potluck food to accompany the barbecue, we lazed under the thatched pavilion and watched the waves crash onto shore.

Squatting like he was raised in a developing country. I love it.

Squatting like he was raised in a developing country. I love it.

Every once in awhile, as we move through this crazy international life that we’ve created, there are moments that remind me how truly extraordinary it all is.  They are heart stopping moments, when goosebumps ride up my arms, and they are moments of clarity, when the everyday washes away and I step out of the routine box and realize what we are truly experiencing.  At one point on the beach back in September, Cian and his friend Matteo went missing.  With riptides strong enough to drown adults, it was a moment of panic.  Adrian and I raced onto the beach scouring the horizon for the boys.  In the distance were a group of Nigerians chanting, pulling on a thick rope from the sea.  There in the middle of the African cluster were Cian and Matteo, their white skin in sharp contrast to their new friends as they tried to help drag in an enormous fishing net.  After the wave of relief and anger for going astray without permission, I had one of those moments.  As the fishermen tugged on the nets to the beat of their chants, Cian and his friends, trying to help, were pulled along the rope’s length, falling in the sand on a random beach in western Africa, laughing and being helped up by the Nigerians.  It is these moments, when we may not be experiencing anything grand, but participating in our adopted culture and people, I’m reminded why we do this.  We may not have chestnuts or Jack Frost, but what we do have is also something special.

 

Nigerian Culture Day II: Celebrating the South South

NigeriaPerhaps as a backlash to the reactions when outsiders hear we live in Nigeria, perhaps because of occasional life obstacles we face, our international community is defiantly proud to call Nigeria our home.  Therefore, students count down to our Nigerian Culture Day in the same manner as Christmas.  It is a whole school, all day event, and our PTO, teachers and community pull all the stops.  Stalls of Nigerian food fill the basketball annex, a traditional crafts market covers the tennis courts, and throughout the school, there are workshop sessions, cultural lessons and a variety of entertainment.  Our Nigerian faculty and staff relish the day as well; even the housekeepers from our campus apartments come out to witness the school’s transformation into a celebration of all that is Nigeria.  I saw Joy no less than three different times rummaging just through the food stands.  Despite our host country’s dangerous reputation and plummeting economy, this expatriate tribute glimmers with hope, and the Nigerians of our community rightfully swell with pride.

At the assembly

At the assembly

While last year we celebrated the Fulani and Hausa people of northern Nigeria, this year’s focus was the southern region, known in Nigeria as South South.  The predominant tribe is Igbo (pronounced ee-bo), who have a culture, dress and language distinct from the Yoruba, the tribe native to the western region of Nigeria, including Lagos.  During the late ’60’s, parts of the South South attempted to secede, creating the state of Biafra.  After a three year civil war and an import blockade that killed hundreds of thousands to millions from starvation, Biafran forces surrendered and the region was reabsorbed into Nigeria. That independent strength of the Igbo people, however, is still present.  The South South is also home to the Niger River delta, one of the largest wetlands in the world and the source of Nigerian oil,  which comes with a host of environmental and political issues.  The once verdant delta is too polluted to support its wildlife, and many residents consider the oil business a form of modern colonialism.  As a result, regions of the delta are now more dangerous than the northern districts infested with Boko Haram, and we regularly hear of sabotage and kidnappings in the South South.

Despite this, Igboland is still rich with culture and tradition.  White shirts are traditional, with distinctive black hats, wrap, and walking stick for men and beads with ornate head scarves for women.  Our students wore them with flair.  As I wandered around campus chaperoning my students, I would get an occasional glimpse of my own kids, also decked out in Nigerian garb with their schoolmates, whose nationalities span over fifty countries.  It was a profound reminder of how influential and extraordinary living abroad has been for our family.  At the American International School of Lagos, diversity is the standard, yet on Nigerian Culture Day, for just a few moments, we celebrate the adopted Nigerian spirit in all of us.

 

A National Geographic Moment

Vicious kitties

Vicious kitties

We were just getting the kids to clean their plates and complete their nightly routine.  Suddenly, Sarah leapt supernaturally from the dining room table, wrapping the corner in midair and landing in the hallway, levitating the children with her, screaming, “John, do something!” I looked up from texting blankly, trying to figure out what was going on, when I saw the cats looking very suspicious.  They had caught a gecko from the porch and herded the poor thing into the house.  For anyone who has lived in the tropics, geckos are ubiquitous residents, usually found stuck to the walls and loitering around lights at night, quick to nab an unsuspecting insect.  Our cats spend much of their time climbing the bars of our porch to get at the many lizards in our backyard.  This time they were successful.

Desperate to escape, the gecko slipped between the cats’ paws, scurrying across the ground, but the cats were faster.  So, the lizard tried another tactic- it dropped its tail.  Like a nature documentary, Boris and Natasha were distracted by the thrashing tail as the rest of the gecko dove under the table.  Miraculously, I managed to clap a bowl over the speedy lizard and put him outside.  I could now rescue Sarah, bravely locked up in the bedroom with the kids.  Ten minutes after wrestling the tail from the cats, it still continued to twitch.

The Supermarket Chronicles X: The Joy of Cooking

Not ordering from here (the blurry picture is because I took it covertly)

Not ordering from here (the blurry picture is because I took it covertly)

I don’t blame myself for avoiding Nigerian food.  Although street sellers are everywhere, fillets of raw meat sitting in the sun and covered with more flies than a Save the Children commercial isn’t that appealing.  There are many Nigerian restaurants as well, but when we’re eating out, we tend to eat where we can ease our homesick taste buds.  I do have the occasional shawarma, which is not Nigerian, and I’ve ordered the suya from our school’s cafeteria, but that isn’t anything more than spiced meat on a stick.  Before I left for the summer, I wanted to have a genuine Nigerian meal without getting intestinal worms.  So, I turned to Joy and the sanitation of my kitchen.

Preparation

Preparation. That log at the side is a yam.  Please disregard our mountain of laundry Joy can’t work on because she’s making me lunch

Our housekeeper has worked with expat teachers for years, and cooks for the Western palate well.  The pizza Joy baked last week was outstanding.  Joy and I have a great relationship.  I love to poke fun at all things oyingbo (white people) and make her laugh about things she’s not supposed to, and we joke that I take over for her as the night shift (this is true- my nightly chores earn me dart playing rights).  When I asked her if she could make me a Nigerian lunch she agreed, but I could tell she was suspicious of my motives.  Why would I ever want to do that?

Serving

Serving

The Nigerian staple is the yam, not to be confused with sweet potato we in the States sometimes call yam. The enormous tuber accompanies many Nigerian meals, boiled and sliced or pounded into a mashed potato-like paste and eaten with your hands.  Joy decided on a simple Nigerian food warm up: onion, tomato, piri-piri and egg mixture with sliced yam.  Piri-piri is a hot chilli pepper pervasive in subsaharan African cuisine, which Joy cautiously toned down for my lunch.  She said it was too hot for oyingbo.  As the yam boiled away on the stove, she fried the vegetables in a bit too much oil and let it thicken before adding the whisked egg at the end.  The starchy yam disks were lightly salted and delicious, especially when eaten with the vegetable/egg relish.  I made reticent Sarah try a forkful, and suddenly I had to defend my plate from her having “just one more bite”.  I’ll admit I didn’t have much promise for Nigerian cuisine, but this beginner’s lunch put me ready to explore more when we return in August.

Yam with vegetables and egg

Yam with vegetables and egg

Loose Ends

On the beach in Cape Town

On the beach in Cape Town

I gave my last final this past Friday  and a suitcase in the corner of our bedroom has started to collect things to go home for the summer.  Suddenly, our first school year in Nigeria is finished.  Living abroad, my feelings of heading home for a couple months have always been bittersweet- while many of my fellow teachers have been counting down the days (as I used to when teaching in the States), I find myself more content.  Don’t get me wrong; a couple months visiting family and friends at home, having a break from my rowdy and rambunctious seventh graders, and enjoying more than one bagel sandwich and coffee from Dunkin Donuts will be glorious.  What’s gone is that feeling of desperation for a break.  I enjoy living this adventure.  Lagos may be a dump, but it’s my dump.

We’re off for a return trip to France and another canalboat this weekend, then to the Connecticut shore in a house rental for the remainder of the summer.  There will be some excitement and surprises these next couple months, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, here’s some picture odds and ends from the year.  As always, thanks for reading, folks!

For the full lesson, be sure to watch the whole video:

Nigeria

Signs of a New Year II

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  My more sophisticated readers may find this post improper and immature, but then, so am I.  As we meander around our globe, I’m always on the lookout for some innovative use of the English language, misconstrued innocent mistakes, and the just plain weird.  At the end of this post should be a link to last year’s vibrant collection.

Another unbelievable year abroad!  Thanks for reading, folks, and Happy New Year!