Life Unparalleled

Loving Life as a Foreign Service Family – Current Parallel 38° 50' N, Alexandria, Virginia USA

February 27, 2020
by Ben
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A Day in the Life of a Language Student

The opportunity to be paid to learn other languages was no small part of my motivation to pursue a career in the Foreign Service. I started my Spanish training course at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in November. I’m a bit past the halfway point now. So what is a day in the life of a NFATC language student like?

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February 25, 2020
by Dy
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Fall 2019

The last five months in the US have flown by. New home, new schools, new friends, new activities. Here is a quick over view of our August- December.

We absolutely love our house. When we were looking at coming back to Virginia for training we knew we would have a few hiccups to utilizing they typical government provided apartments. First of all there would be 2 months at the beginning of our stay and 2 months at the end of our stay where Ben wouldn’t be with us(so the kids could complete a full school year) which meant our housing wouldn’t be covered by the department during those times. The bids to stay in government provided housing for those months were insane, close to $6,000 a month, for 4 months was $24,000 we would have to pay out of pocket. Issue number two was the largest government housing available was a 3 bedroom apartment, which we can utilize but it isn’t fun. Number 3 after being in an apartment in Lagos for 2 years and destined for apartment living again in Barcelona we would love to have a yard for us and for the dog. We decided paying $24,000 for a small apartment with no yard didn’t sound fun so we decided to find our own place and then have some of the housing covered by Ben’s job and make up the difference ourself. We found another foreign service officer who had a 5 bedroom house with a yard to rent. It was more than we had hoped to pay and she wouldn’t allow our cat but we decided to go for it anyways. We are glad we did. The house is great. Large enough for visitors, a huge yard with BBQ, fire pit and hot tub. There are nature trails to walk and ride our bikes and it is close to shopping and about 2 miles from FSI where Ben is taking language training meaning he can walk or ride a bike.

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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.

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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 friends 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.

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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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