After a long day of driving we arrived in the small city of Merzouga. I don’t know what it was but Merzouga reminded me of a college town. Hotels full of young people who were completing various treks across the desert and much of Africa. Coffee shops and kitch shops focusing on the abundance of fossils in the area. I truthfully didn’t read up enough and had no idea this was such a fossil heaven. Harrison would have loved it. The shops were pretty cool. In my dream house I would have a sink made from these fossils. Also date orchards everywhere, there are over 100 varieties grown in Morocco. Such a cool country.
This photo of Driss Fossils & Minerals Shop is courtesy of TripAdvisor
We left our cushy van and met up with a four wheeled drive vehicle which then proceeded to drive us the long way around through the desert to our camp site. Seriously this was unnecessary which we didn’t know until we got to our campsite and saw not far in the distance a paved road. It was fun none the less.
A public service announcement: Check your glove box. I understand the desire to keep your passport in the glove box. I used to love the idea of spontaneously deciding to go somewhere fabulous, and just driving to the airport and being ready to go. All of my actual travel has been much more deliberate. However, if you do keep your passport in the glove box, or the center console, or any other part of your car, please make sure you get it back out when you dispose of the car. We’ve had 2 U.S. passports brought in to the consulate by people who had purchased cars at auction and had them shipped to Nigeria, and then found the passports in the glove box (today was the second one). I’m glad that these 2 passports ended up in the hands of people who weren’t inclined to do nefarious things with them.
If you do leave your passport in your car when you sell it at auction, you should contact the State Department to report it lost. You can do it online, no muss, no fuss, here. If you lose your passport when you’re overseas, you should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate. We can print you a temporary passport on the spot.
Day 2 in Morocco and we were on the road again. This time on the road to Fez. Coming down the back side of the Rif mountains was quite the winding road. Charming with little farms all around. Donkeys backs packed full of firewood or produce. I don’t know how they trained the sheep, goats and donkeys to stay off the roads but they did. Some of the hills were so steep they were furrowed for planting. Full of beauty but also full of tight winding roads. The first two hours of the drive were pretty miserable. Both LeAnn and I are prone to motion sickness. Very prone. Every morning Dramamine tablets accompanied our breakfast but it still wasn’t enough. Within minutes of hitting the road we were begging our very confused driver to please turn on the AC, full blast. We would brace our feet against the seat in front of us, hold on tight to the “Oh Shit!” handles on the ceiling and blast upbeat music. This was our on the road anthem blasted from my Bose speaker first thing every morning.
We made it through with out either of us officially getting sick but I think we ate 20 packages of Mentos and dozens of packets of gum. Every time we stopped anywhere we bought more. Our driver and guide were so confused. Once we were finally down the mountain we drove through beautiful agriculture fields. Alfalfa, strawberries, lettuce, artichokes, carrots, tomatoes, even banana trees under tarps. We passed orchards full of blooming cherries, apricots, almond and apple. The air smelled continuously of orange blossom. Cork and olive trees were everywhere. It reminded me so much of California and LeAnn of Ohio. I was lovely. As we got closer to Fez we began to observe an abundance of picnics laid out under olive groves. We passed hundreds of families on blankets and kids playing soccer and climbing trees.
When we began discussing which performance we’d be doing this year, our choices where Mama Mia or Beauty and the Beast, and both of those were shot down. Mama Mia because there is a gay character and the mom doesn’t know who the dad is, and Beauty and the Beast because in the recent movie remake there was a gay character. Looking back I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad this school is so conservative.
I live a charmed life. I have made the best of friends here in Lagos. When we first arrived many other people were also coming to post. I heard that there was over 60% change over that summer. I became friends with a lovely group of women. We got to enjoy exploring Lagos together and were able to spend even more time together than we anticipated as there was a delay in most people getting jobs. The head of the state department at the time had put a hiring freeze in place for all EFM(eligible family members). This meant that many spouses who would like to work at the consulate were not allowed to apply. Sad for them but great for me as we had a wonderful 6+ months getting to know each other.
About six months into our post many of us were starting to get a bit stir crazy. We watched our husbands go on different trips for work(not so fun) and on trips for fun to places to do amazing things like hike Kilimanjaro and we felt green with envy. We decided a girls trip was in order. Morocco is one of the few short flights coming out of Lagos and someplace many of us had never been. At first our trip was going to be a bigger group of women but R and R’s, work and other obligations fell in the way until is was just LeAnn and I able and willing to go. I will be honest, I almost canceled. Ben was thoughtful as ever and insisted that despite a larger then anticipated cost and a much smaller group, that I really needed to go. I know LeAnn went back and forth as well but in the end we were both on board.
LeAnn is great but with me working at the clinic and she teaching we hadn’t been able to spend as much time together as we had hoped coming up to our travel date. I have big kids, she has little kids. She lived in the building across the compound so we didn’t see each other in the elevators etc. There was some small concern about whether or not we were close enough friends to spend 8 DAYS together exploring another country. I am so so glad we didn’t cancel the trip. It was breathtaking and a complete blast and LeAnn has firmly planted her feet in my heart as one of my favorite people. We were well matched she has boundless energy and a let’s do it attitude that is infectious and I have the travel savvy to keep expectations reasonable and keep us safe while having plenty of freedom.
I was on the fence about whether or not to run this race. After I ran Boston in 4:52, I swore to myself that I would not do another marathon without an appropriate cycle of training leading up to it. It is much more fun to be able to run the full distance instead of petering out and having to walk, while swarms of other runners pass you. In prior marathons, I had run a total of between 500 and 800 miles in the 4-5 months leading up to the race, which gave me a good level of fitness. Then last year, I ran Ile Ife, because I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to run a marathon in Nigeria, and I did a little better training for it, but still clearly not enough, as I ran a 5:23. Once again I told myself that I wouldn’t do another marathon without a full training cycle. I had an eye on February’s Lagos City Marathon, and starting last summer I had established a fairly consistent habit of 3 runs per week, and started increasing my miles a little and even working on lengthening a “long” run on the weekends. Between the heat and humidity, the traffic, the rough roads, the fumes from traffic and generators, and the harmatan, Lagos is a difficult place to run. It’s very different from the beautiful dirt paths and red rocks of southern Utah. Those factors got the best of me again, and I still didn’t get in the miles that I should have to enjoy a marathon. Nevertheless, as my wife pointed out, this would be our last February living in Lagos, and if I didn’t run it now, I’d likely regret it. She was right. So I signed up, and even pressured/encouraged a few friends to sign up as well.
I’ve always loved enjoying the outdoors. Some friends and I decided that we haven’t had enough hiking in our lives recently, so we decided to remedy that with a visit to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. We took advantage of the long weekend observed in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr, to fly south and soak up some vitamin N (nature). We set our sights on Mount Bisoke. While there are several options for a guided tour which nearly guarantees a sighting of mountain gorillas, those options are quite pricy, so we planned to just pay for the standard entry fees for the park and to hope for the best. We’ve heard that only about 1% of visitors to the park via this method see gorillas, so it was a long shot, but it was definately in the back of each of our minds.
January, home from vacation and thrust right back into real life. Actually coming home is always nice. And Lagos is home for us right now. It warms my heart hearing my kids say that. We didn’t see the kids for almost two solid days once we returned. Tired from a fun trip and glad to be with their own beds and toys. Now that 3/4 of my kids are t(w)eens do I say they still play with toys? What do we call our special entertainment items once we aren’t children anymore?
We are in this odd time warp. People warned me that life in the Foreign service was split into 6-12-6 and I didn’t really understand it. Well, I do now. The first 6 months at a new post you are just so in awe of everything. Trying to figure out a new culture, where to shop, kids in school, different language, making new friends and living without your personal items because they haven’t been delivered yet. It can be an emotional time. Then comes the next 12 months. You have found your people, your work, your stores, your stuff. This is the honeymoon phase, and truthfully it was lovely. Last comes the last 6 months at post. You are preparing for your onward assignment, wrapping things up, desperate to complete things from your to do list knowing that you are leaving people and a place you have come to love possibly never to return. It is really difficult to live in the moment in this life style. So we arrived back in Lagos after our time in Europe and bam!, we are in the last 6 months of our tour here. Wow! I feel like the days are long and the weeks are short. So I am essentially taking pictures of everything, in a tearful way.
Two years ago, back before this life of living abroad began, my children made some friends. Our home in Utah backed against National Forest. It was lovely. So much clean land to explore with red rocks, wildlife and flowing water. One day after the kids had gone out to play they came home excited that they had made some friends who lived in a bus. I was a bit confused and mildly concerned. Oliver wanted to invite the new friends over to play so I accompanied him to go meet his new friends. They were a German family taking a year to travel around Canada, the US and Mexico in a converted school bus. They had done a similar trip around Eastern Europe and Asia a couple of years earlier. Heike and Tom along with their two daughters, Paula age 7 and Emma age 10, and their dog published books sharing their escapades along with helpful tips for others craving a similar adventure. We liked them immediately and they spoke english well enough to have a lovely conversation. We invited them for coffee and tea the next day. We enjoyed their visit and learning more about their lives abroad and at home in Germany. The kids continued to play together for the week that followed.