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.

Behind Handlebar and Steering Wheel: Across America

Reserved motorcycle parking in our Connecticut drivewayMy love affair with motorcycling began as a coerced blind date.  I used to think bikers were a bunch of self-absorbed douche bags who cut you off on the highway riding a direct extension of their dicks.  Sarah’s brother (not a douche bag) has anywhere between 6 and 11 motorcycles in various states of repair, and he prodded me years ago to “just give riding a try”.  Half-hearted promises put me one evening at the local community college for the motorcycle safety course.  The first day was like an out-of-body experience, detached from the goings on as I wondered what the hell I was doing there.  It was in the parking lot, when the instructors put down cones for us to weave between, that I felt it.  I can’t quite describe the ‘it’- bike and body melding together, leaning into turns over the moving road, defying gravity- ‘it’ made the blood drain from my face in exhilaration.  At the end of the exercise, I ripped my helmet off and looked in astonishment at my instructor.  A trained motorcycle racer who noticed my previous scepticism, she nodded at me knowingly.  I bought myself a Suzuki V-Strom soon after and began commuting, touring New England, and riding through all four seasons while my truck stayed parked and abandoned in the driveway. Continue reading

Life, Great and Small, on the Salt Marsh

Salt marsh house

Salt marsh house

As we pulled our anything-but-chic rental van down the secluded gravel driveway to the house, we knew we had landed something special for the summer.  Flanked by the thick Northeastern coastal forests native to much of Connecticut, the lawn flared out on either side of the drive in a V, with the house settled in the center.  Through the multi-paneled front door was a breathtaking view into the house and out the back wall of windows to a vast tidal salt marsh.  As we got out of the van we were gobsmacked, awkwardly catatonic as the owner of the house sat inside waiting for us to enter.  The kids, however, a bit too accustomed to house rentals, ran inside screeching with delight before us, helping themselves to an excited and rapid self-guided tour.  Fortunately, our gracious hostess patiently smiled, as she was happy children would appreciate her home we rented for the summer.  After a few lessons on the house’s ins and outs, the owner left us and we found ourselves wandering around the property trying to take it all in.  “Well, it looks like your wife really came through for you,” said Sarah, who found the home on Airbnb. Continue reading

Sacré bleu! Canalboat Part Deux

Aine fighting off a fever on the train to Agen

Aine fighting off a fever on the train to Agen

Here was the plan, simple and elegant, designed by veteran travellers- Sarah, the kids and I would arrive in Paris at 6:30AM and sort out transportation to Agen, France, while Adrian’s plane comes in at 10:00.  Adrian Vibers me once he’s landed, we rendezvous at the train station, and we’re off to Agen where we meet my parents who guide us to the canalboat for a week excursion.  Wine, cheese, and salty, cured meats on deck while we coast through locks and canals of southwest France?  Mais oui!  Here’s what really happened- both kids were running fevers (Áine threw up on Sarah in flight), Adrian’s plane arrived an hour late, the internet was not working in Charles de Gaulle Airport for Viber, the annual French strikes stopped the trains to Agen and every transportation alternative was different and undecipherable depending on who you ask.  Zut alors!  Here was the solution- I procured directions to another Parisian train station, power-walked the airport to scour for Adrian (only to find him headed my way), scooped up the family and headed to a minibus that whisked us to Gare Montparnasse, hoping to catch a train there.  And here, mes amis, is the coup de grâce- we made it to Montparnasse at 12:20, racing for a 12:25 boarding and were informed that the train was full and we would not be allowed on.  So with a wink from the conductor, we rammed our oversized luggage onto a train we were 70% sure was going to Agen and hopped in without tickets. Soon, we were speeding south through the French countryside.  My parents never heard from us that day, so it was with fleeting hope they waited at the Agen station for the last Paris train to arrive, from which we disembarked, disheveled and exhausted, but intact and ready for a glass of wine.   Continue reading

This Summer’s Blockbuster

I’m sure like you, faithful readers, it’s been a busy and adventurous summer with lots to regale. I would tell you I haven’t had a moment to write, but somehow I did find hours of editing time to put together another movie trailer with Cian and Áine (you may remember last year’s award winner).  Posts on boating in France, an intrepid trip across America, and life on the Connecticut shore to soon follow.

Without further adieu, the kids and I humbly present to you this summer’s film drama.  Just soak it in.

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