Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 6° 27' North- Lagos, Nigeria

December 26, 2019
by Dy
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Cub Scouts 2017-2018

Ben and I were able to be Oliver’s Wolf Scout Leaders this year. It wasn’t how we planned to spend every Saturday but scouts is really important to our family and the boys enjoy it so. American style Cub or Boy Scouts in Nigeria can be a challenge. There isn’t much access to nature, items can be difficult to find, we have to order our patches and belt looks from the US and have them shipped,because of habits and traffic people are so incredibly late, everything in general is more relaxed. It was a lot of work but the boys had fun, we made some good friends, and had an experience to remember.

Roger received his Arrow of Light award, the last award in cub scouting

Here is Roger crossing the bridge to join his new Boy Scout Troop.

Mr. Arias was a great scout leader. He is also the schools elementary principal.

We had fun being Oliver’s Wolf Den Leaders. It was great getting to know the boys.

My favorite part of being the Wolf Den Leader was having the boys present on their Duty to God, which they did at home with their parents, such a wide variety of beliefs.

The Pinewood Derby is always a fun event.

They recycled trash into fun statues and learned about the 3 R’s. Reduce-Reuse-Recycle which is very applicable here in Africa.

We had a friend from the FBI come and tell us about the work he does for our government. The boys were so inspired especially with bullet proof vests and handcuffs. Roger joined in the fun.

Camping is a bit difficult to do here in Lagos but the boys got to camp at the Consul General’s beautiful residence. The CG is basically the ambassador of Lagos for those not in the State Department.

Harrison got to camp several times with the Boy Scouts. With so many oil kids in his troop they have great security and he got special permission to attend.

Lekki Conservation Center for our hike. They got to climb up into this huge tree house. They saw no monkeys though. Probably because quiet, six 8 year old boys are not.

Cute Oliver. Oh how everyone loves his little personality.

More outdoor food prep at the CG residence.

The Raingutter Ragata was a blast. With all of our years in scouting we had never participated before.

Oh every Saturday morning spent in the hot sun at the school. These are the things you hope your children remember how you sacrificed for them. LOL.

You cant get more American than dodge ball.

A year well spent. Harrison will have participated in 4 different Boy Scout Troops on three different continents before he is 18.

December 22, 2019
by Dy
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Summer in Maine 2019

Maine holds a special place in our heart. Ben and I met and began dating between our Junior and Senior years of high school (I should really do a post on that). We were still together after high school graduation and Ben joined my family on a trip to Yosemite National Park and his step dad invited Ben and I to travel to Maine in 1999 and stay in their family cottage and meet his parents. I fell in love at first sight. I had never spent any time on the east coast and not much time further north. I was a desert girl. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful thick forests and brackish tidal estuary rivers. It was my first time sailing and first time clamming. So many great memories.

We were invited back as our family grew. Ben’s stepdad’s parents passed away and his brother tore down the cottage and built a beautiful new cottage in its place. His siblings get use of the property a couple of weeks a year and occasionally they are allowed to invite extended family. We traveled back in 2008 with three kids in tow and again in 2016 while I was in treatment for my thyroid cancer with 4 kids in tow. When we were thinking of someplace we wanted to enjoy time after our return from Africa there was no where else in the US that sounded more relaxing. They generously hosted the boys and I for two weeks in August.

The dock off the property into the Damariscotta River
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December 21, 2019
by Dy
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Upstate New York

Spending much of July in upstate New York was a dream Lagos detox! So how did we end up in this glorious place? A great state department friend from Lagos listened to me whine for months about not wanting to be stuck in Lagos during the summer. It was the middle of the rainy season and most of the kids friend left the country even before school was released. Ben and Dannica would both be working at the consulate and I imagined a summer of trying to entertain 3 restless boys. Sarah was kind enough to listen to my plea and after discussing things with her parents offered the Gordon crew up to house and pet sit for them while they were on summer vacation themselves. Everything aligned just right and we were able to drive to New York a few days after landing in Virginia first to get the kids registered in school. Martha and Jim kindly welcomed us with open arms.

This beautiful home was built in the 1850’s?? I love that screened in porch so much coffee, reading and relaxing.
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December 21, 2019
by Dy
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Leaving Nigeria

I was never going to do this post. It was just too hard. But while training at FSI this fall Ben and I were approached by a fan who reads our blog…yes there are a couple who aren’t family and friends. 🙂 And she pointed out that we hadn’t written in ages and she thought we were here for training but she wasn’t sure and she was so glad she got to meet us and most importantly “Why aren’t we still writing?”

Leaving Lagos was hard. For many reasons. It had become our home. It was also not the easiest place to live. It sucked and was great all in one giant uncomfortable emotion. Some say the love for your first post will never be matched. We miss the people and the friends we made every single day. These are some of our final good byes. The kids each have dozens of pictures saying farewell to their friends and I didn’t feel like I could begin to share all of their emotions so these are mostly just mine. On top of the difficultly of leaving we were being separated as a family. Dannica got a summer job at the consulate and Ben wouldn’t be joining us in DC until October.

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September 2, 2019
by Ben
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Kenya 2019

After spending a fantastic week in Malawi, our next stop was Kenya. We are very fortunate to have friends literally all over the world, who are willing to open their homes to us when we come visit. These trips would be much more difficult for us to do with our family of 6 without this (free) hospitality. We wanted to get in a bit of a safari type experience on this trip, while we’re in Africa, and we did great in Kenya! We looked at days/week long safari’s in the bush but they were so expensive and with several family members who get severe motion sickness bouncing around on dirt roads for days on end just wasn’t going to cut it. We were also really realistic about our amazing kids attention spans. They are up for just about every type of adventure but just as we would never schedule a trip with day after day of nothing but museums we knew too many days of animals, no matter how amazing, would be pushing their attention levels. So we made plans to see as much as we could with as little cost and driving and maximum time in the outdoors.

We had made arrangements with a driver to provide all of our transportation needs, including airport pickup, and 4 wheel drive vehicles when needed for the game park. Nairobi National Park is right in Nairobi, not far from the airport, and many species of animals can be viewed there, for far cheaper than the safaris in the Masai Mara and other wilderness areas.

We were very fortunate, and saw lots and lots of animals, including some which are apparently not frequently seen in this park, including black and white rhinos.

Many many species of grazers.
DyAnna loves guinea fowl. We had a pair back home in Utah with our chickens – they were the most effective protection against raccoons that we found.
Yes! We saw lions!
The down side to a safari in Nairobi National Park is that lots and lots of other people are doing the same thing. This was at the location where we saw the lions.
We stopped at an overlook with a view, and this cute little guy was looking up at us from down below on the cliff.
We were shocked at how wide this baboon’s mouth opens when he yawns, and at the size of his teeth! We later found out that this is an intimidation tactic they use, not an indication that they are tired. It worked, I was intimidated!
The kids thought this photo was hilarious, nicknaming the bird the “Angry Bird (TM)”

Our second day we went to Karura Forest, also in Nairobi. They had adult size bikes available for rent, and an Embassy family with kids was kind enough to lend us some kid sized bikes, and we had a beautiful bike ride among the trees and monkeys.

The next day we visited the giraffe sanctuary, and went on a nice little hike there, then visited the elephant orphanage. At the giraffe sanctuary, we purchased bags of feed and were able to hand feed giraffes, to get very up close and personal. Some of the kids got VERY up close and personal, getting a “kiss” from the giraffes as they fed them pellets of food out of their lips.

Dy’s favorite animals were the hedgehogs. We later learned that “pumba” in swahili means stupid. Poor cute pumba!

The elephant orphanage cares for young elephants whose parents have been killed by disaster or by poachers. They spend much of the day out roaming in an open area of the park, and then in the evening they all come running down this path to the stalls that they stay in at night and to be fed milk and hay. It was shocking how fast they moved!

How else to feed a bunch of hungry young elephants, than a wheelbarrow full of milk?

The following day we drove to Naivasha for an overnight and to spend time at Lake Naivasha and in Hells Gate National Park. Lake Naivasha is full of many many birds, and home to Crescent Island. Crescent Island was where the film “Out of Africa” with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford was filmed. Several varieties of herbivores were imported for the filming and were left there. With no natural predators on the island, their populations have exploded, and they are very accustomed to having humans wandering among them, so again we were able to get very close views of them.

Note: we were very content NOT to have an up close and personal view of the hippos. These were taken with a zoom lens.

Once again we rented bikes for a ride through Hells Gate National Park. It was beautiful!

There was lots of obsidian laying around, some pieces as large as a beach ball! Dy’s father had taught her how to flintknap, so she took the time to show the kids this skill. They were very impressed!

Unfortunately, dispite our warnings about how sharp obsidian flakes are, Oliver then demonstrated to us exactly how sharp they are. (it did cut through the piece of grass he was testing it on, and then into his finger)

After riding the dirt road through the wider canyon, we reached the gorge itself, which called for a hike.

It turned out to be a slot canyon. Very reminiscent of the hiking back home in southern Utah, except much more lush and not as deep.

My love is drawn to hotsprings like iron to a magnet.

Our last evening back in Nairobi we went with our friends to an escape room. This was the first one our family had done, but it won’t be the last! It was super fun, each part of the group contributed to solving at least 1 puzzle, and there were some very creative puzzles to work on. Team “Major Lifestyle Changes” has been our trivia team name since we were in training, and so it was good to reprise that team name with one of my colleagues from training. We made it onto the leader board for the Inventor’s Workshop at Escape Room Kenya!

August 4, 2019
by Dy
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30 Things I Will Miss About Lagos Nigeria

Well it has happened. Our time in Lagos Nigeria is complete. The boys and I have been back in the USA for the last two weeks and Nigeria is already starting to feel like a fuzzy dream. I shared 30 things(really 31…why didn’t anyone point out I did #22 twice) that I would miss about Lagos on Instagram and Facebook. I decided I wanted to compile them all together here. A part of my heart will always be in Nigeria.

Things I will miss about Lagos #30 the kids have life experiences here hard to replicate anywhere else. Here is Roger enjoying his lesson on how to drive the boat they ride for their school travels. Just in case of an emergency the older kids are taught how to take the wheel.

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July 7, 2019
by Dy
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Malawi 2019

We live such a fortunate life. One of the benefits of being sent to a post like Lagos is that we get to take some R and R (rest and relaxation) flights. A post might have an attached R and R when it is a harder place to live in or if it is a very far, expensive or complicated flight from the United States. Lagos currently has 3 R and R’s in a two year tour. The only places whith more tend to be places where the employee can’t bring any family along because of safety or war torn countries. Most of Europe and Asia don’t have R and R’s. We will not have any when we are in Spain for example. With our R and R only our flights are paid for and only to a certain amount. All living expenses once you land are on your own. Because of our large family size and so many moves in a couple of years we don’t have much of a travel fund built up but we still have been able to do some amazing trips.

Our first was to Denmark and Sweden followed by time spent in the USA, Utah,Washington, California

We economized by staying with gracious friends and family.

Our second R and R was to Germany (Lechbruch, Munich) and Austria( Vienna and Salzburg) with some of Ben’s family. His mother and step dad kindly paid for our portion of our AirB and B’s as our Christmas gift which helped to diffuse much of the cost for that adventure.

For our third R and R we wanted to explore more of Africa. Kenya is the go to place for safari and we are fortunate enough to have friends from Ben’s A-100 class posted in Nairobi. They were amazing and said they would be happy to host us. In southern Africa Ben had a cousin who lives in Mali. Jessica is Ben’s grandfathers cousins grandaughter. So a distance cousin but both the grandfathers were only children so they were raised more like brothers. Ben and Jessica spent time together at family events while growing up in California. After graduate school she traveled to Malawi to work for a NGO, fell in love and now 8 years later has a beautiful life and two amazing daughters to show for her troubles. Ben thought it would be wonderful to reconnect with Jessica and explore more of Malawi, a less known African country. After she and her husband Clayton kindly offered to host our huge clan including use of a van(AMAZING!) we booked our tickets.

Harrison got to celebrate his actual birthday in the Nairobi lounge during our stopover. Breakfast crepes with nutella hit the spot.
Play station is a genius lounge idea. We have spent so much time in airport lounges the last year. Our favorite credit card, Chase Sapphire Preferred includes lounge access so if we have any type of a layover we make ourselves at home. I estimate our family has saved $500-$800 in food costs as we never have to buy food at airports when we travel.
Just reading a book.
Almost all flights out of Lagos are red eye flights. It gets exhausting. Some lounges have reclining chairs but Dannica made do with what we had.

Lilongwe is the most adorable little airport ever. It reminded me of flying into the St.George airport. They just have a handful of flights a day and people can watch the take off and landings from a viewing deck. The population of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city is about 650,000 people. so Lagos is approximately 30 times larger.

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May 30, 2019
by Dy
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South Africa- Happy 18th Anniversary!

Ben and I have been married 18 years and been together for 21 years. Our relationship is now old enough to get married and drink! It really has been a magical ride and even though it is cliche we really love and enjoy each other even more than we did years ago. We have always made making a big deal about our anniversary a priority and have done some really great dates (more about that in another post). We knew we wanted to do a trip to South Africa as soon as we were posted to Lagos. I visited 20 years ago and fell in love with the country. Ben was eager to get his chance. We hoped to take the whole family but other vacations used our available time and money and SA got pushed to the side. We have been aggressively working to pay off the consumer debt we acquired through all of the recent changes in our new life so we had decided that sadly an anniversary trip was off the table. Ben decided to check into how many credit card points we had accumulated- it was enough to cover our tickets. We reviewed our Marriot Hotel reward points- it was enough to cover a couple of days of hotel. Ben had been working so much overtime that he had leave time he needed to utilize because it would be forfeited once we moved. Margaret our housekeeper and nanny could stay with the kids. We were assured over and over that SA was very affordable and that food and transportation would be a lovely surprise. It was a perfect storm of wonderful and we made our plans.

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