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.
We were now on the road from Ouarzazate to Marrakesh. Today, back in Lagos I was watching the movie Queen of the Desert with Nichole Kidman and recognized some of the places from the film which was filmed in Marrakesh and Ouarzazate. So cool. Marrakesh is a desert city. Much of it is just like any city but it has a beautiful medina in the center. Our raid was in the medina. Luggage hauled in by cart past venders and restaurants. It was quite the maze.
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.