Several months ago I set a goal of training for and running the Lagos Marathon. I was good and consistent about training for a while, and built up to a long run on the weekends of 13 miles, but then my motivation fell by the wayside. However, an opportunity arose to travel outside Lagos to participate in the inaugural Ile Ife Heritage Marathon, in the cradle of Yoruba civilization. Ife is the oldest Yoruba city, dating back to circa 500 BC. Not wanting to pass up this opportunity, I went for it with 2 friends, notwithstanding my lack of training. Continue Reading →
Two things we hoped for when setting off on this Foreign Service life abroad were being able to enjoy nature in its many varieties and traveling to other countries. Sadly for us Lagos, Nigeria has been a bit of a disappointment in both of these areas. There is lots of green space in Nigeria, but most of it not accessible to us without an escort. There is very little green space in Lagos. Nigeria is surrounded by four countries none of which are easy to get to thanks to Nigeria’s terrible roads. Due to volatile currency exchange rate fluctuations in recent years, air travel out of Nigeria is also very expensive. The exchange rates have been much more stable since we’ve been here than they previously had been, so maybe that will change, but the cost to fly anywhere with our family of 6 has been largely prohibitive for us. We aren’t quitters though!! Continue Reading →
Evidently my family members need to own shirts with the American flag on them and it is shocking that we don’t. I had no idea this would be a requirement to this lifestyle. We never even owned holiday themed shirts when we lived in the United State. Back in the days when I still had to do my own laundry, sorry guys :), I kept my kids on a pretty strict 7 outfit rule. Yes each child only had 7 outfits. 7 outfits was plenty of clothing. It meant I do could all of our family laundry in just a handful of loads every week. The kids only owned clothes they really loved so I never had to argue with them in the morning or find outfits they took off half through the day and tossed in the hamper. I would rotate out the clothes twice a year. In Utah we only had two seasons, warm and cold. Most of the clothes were rags by the end so hand me downs were few and far between but I didn’t care. This greatly simplified my life and holiday themed clothing isn’t simple. So back to the point of this post the kids are expected to dress in clothing that represents their country on International Day. I guess International Day is a common event at most American International Schools around the world because contrary to what you might expect based on the name most of the people who attend these schools are not American. American school implies the style of teaching, american/Canadian teachers usually and use of the English language. Unfortunately America also doesn’t really have a national dress since we are really a melting pot of so many cultures and we essentially tried to completely eradicate the Native Americans and continue to take their land to this day, Ahem,,,Utah Bears Ears. It would feel culturally insensitive to dress up as a Native American. So American flag clothing it is! Well not us my kids went out the door in white t-shirts, blue jeans and either baseball or cowboy hats. It is what we could come up with.
Entering the gym there were taped off sections all over the gym floor that were labeled for various countries. The school had flags hung all around in support.
The American International School of Lagos had students attending from 59 different countries. YES 59!
The kids all sang the Nigerian National Anthem then the band played a song and a few selected children were asked to read essays about their countries. Then in alphabetical order they showed a large flag on the screen and they played the national anthem as the children and teachers from that country walked across the stage in their native dress or flag colors. It was pretty amazing. Some countries were well represented like Nigeria, India, the United States and Lebanon, with my estimate at probably 60%of the school of these nationalities. Other countries only had one or two children proudly or reluctantly walking across the stage. It was lovely to see the different costumes. Mostly it just touched my heart to recognize so many of the children as friends and class mates of my own kids. Probably the number one reason Ben decided to apply for this job was an overwhelming desire we had for our children to explore the world and get a better understanding of different cultures. Seriously I was unabashedly crying.
After the assembly the students were released to the courtyard where parents had set up tables and booths filled with food from countries all over the world. The children got to go around and eat and experiment with new tastes to their hearts content. It was pretty awesome and delicious.
Greek, Indonesian, Chinese and Canadian food on my plate.
After the stellar food I went to go help and watch a presentation in Oliver’s class put on by three of his classmates and an acquaintance of mine from India. They did a great job and shared Indian food, famous Indian people, dances, flowers, animals, religions, etc. They ended their presentation with a group meditation as yoga is from India.
In Oliver’s class of 14 students the following countries were represented: Israel, Denmark, Ireland, India, USA, Lebanon, Indonesia, Philippines, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
It was a great day that I got to spend with my kids and I am reminded through all the hard that we are really happy and thankful to be here.
I do have other children I promise, the youngest just insists on the most pictures.
It was an interesting week but once again I am reminded how lucky we are to be from the United States where really you could survive much of your life and probably not have to count on Westernized medicine very often. Here, not so much.
People might have overheard me yelling to Ben “I am almost 37 years old, I deserve soft toilet paper in my life.”
I have been busy with a new and amazing volunteer opportunity. I had been looking for a volunteer opportunity in my field since we arrived. It was difficult to break into though. We live in the affluent area. There are travel restrictions etc etc. You never know where you will end up unless you take the chance and just get out and meet people. Lots of people. The expat world in particular. Follow this people chain-fencing tournament for my son(at the French School)-random woman(who happens to be Romanian) I sit next to who happens to teach violin and after getting to know me a little bit better over a few months she feels like she can recommend me with good conscience-a person(French/Brit married to an American) who she happens to know through friends runs an amazing nonprofit organization that runs medical clinics all over Nigeria. 99% of these clinics are far out of the area in which I am allowed to travel. But….I found a solution. Once or twice a week myself, driver and a mopol(hire-able Nigerian policeman) go to a medical clinic and maternity home. Because of security and privacy I won’t be sharing the name of the facility or tremendous details. But I am so thankful to have found a place to volunteer in my field.
The first day I arrived the car tried to park on the crowded street in front of the facility. There were so many people, chickens, vendors, people eating, cooking, doing laundry etc that we had to inch down the lane. When we finally did arrive the mopol jumped out of the car with his giant gun and ran around the vehicle to open my door. If no one noticed I was there they sure did now. This is just a simple example of what it feels like to almost always be the only white person in a room. When I originally met with the director of the nonprofit organization she decided that after reading my resume she could best use my skills at observing and evaluating the nurses and midwives in the facility and helping to provide continuing education courses for them to help keep their skills up-to-date and improve their communication and patient care. A big task and project but one that I feel like I am up to. So I arrive at this facility and basically my job is to just sit there or stand or move out of the way and observe all of these medical professionals and the setting. I don’t have a direct job to do I don’t have any tasks I need to accomplish my whole role is to just sit and observe. It is a challenge trying to break down the behaviors and medical procedures that I am seeing through my own thinking and biases, by asking questions, or more than anything just getting to better know the culture in general. Even after 8 months I still really struggle to understand much of what people say which doesn’t help. Truthfully it is pretty emotionally and professionally stretching. By stretching I mean it is difficult but I can feel myself growing and improving so I do it anyways. I picked up some self confidence somewhere along the line in my life.
So back to my first day this is an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. I know no one. They’ve been briefed with what my role will be and that I am arriving sometime this week but I literally walk in off the street. I’m in and I am instantly able to just observe them and see their interactions with patients. I instantly feel uncomfortable in my own skin and can feel the growth of this experience oozing out of me.
Below I will share just a handful of experience that help illustrate my attempted suppression of my very white skin and privilege:
One of the first things that a nurse did was take me around to do rounds with her and the oncoming doctor. She introduced us to the patients that were in the care facility. We walk into a private room where a father is sitting on a bed holding his child who has some type of lung infection and as I walk in the father instantly stood, waking the child that’s laying on the bed. As the nurse starts the rundown he interrupts and says “This must be my new doctor.” There’s always an assumption that I am higher educated then everyone around me, which isn’t necessarily true. The facility staffs three doctors and multiple midwives and nurses.
The doctors do a prenatal lecture by PowerPoint at the beginning of each antenatal day. The room filled quickly with all the available chairs being filled. I gave up my seat multiple times to expectant mothers as more arrived late. Ultimately I walked down the hallway to go to the waiting room to gather a few more chairs. I was followed by two pregnant women. The women gathered their chairs first and started walking down the hallway back to the lecture room when I picked up my chair instantly two men from the main waiting room jump to carry my chair. I was not the woman 9 months pregnant.
There is an assumption that I won’t be able to say, or remember, peoples Nigerian names. So they always give me their Christian name which is a Anglo style name of some sort. Alice, Blessing, Friday, Frank, Peter, are all examples. They essentially alter their names for us, to make our lives more comfortable. Unfortunately they are correct, even with writing down names I’m terrible at them and I definitely can’t remember them without a piece of paper and even with that can’t usually say them correctly. But I am really trying. The thing is, their names are really beautiful and they mean something. They are named with an intent and a blessing. This is the longest one I have heard lately. The baby goes by Bruno but his full first name is Ekwakwarakponabrunooghenebikosioemrano- 38 letters. It means” the burdens of this world is too much, God please remove some” For real. Awesome.
People have been shocked when they find out that I have four children as people think of Americans as “being selfish and only having one or two children”. They have also been surprised when they find out that I had all of my babies with midwives and three of them at home. Well really, to be honest most Americans are shocked to learn this as well. A father who was there supporting his laboring wife said that he assumed almost everyone in the United States had cesarean sections because they were afraid of pain.
Almost every person who talks to me in the waiting room asks one of a few questions: what I think of Nigeria to how do I like the heat and three why do I want to live in Nigeria when all the Nigerians want to move to the US.
Today I was helping a woman and her newborn who had been readmitted for jaundice complications. The woman was really surprised when I told her that there was no way for me to get her a job that the only way she could get a job at the US consulate was to apply herself. There is an assumption that things in the United States are run similar to things here in Nigeria meaning that a big portion of your luck in employment options and the amount of money you have is tied to one of two things: your sphere of influence or who you know, and corruption. They believe that you can bribe your way into any circumstance and in most instances in this country they are correct. Truthfully this happens in the states as well but the State Department and other agencies have gone through great measures to prevent it in the countries in which we serve. When I told this woman that I couldn’t help her get a job and I couldn’t help her move to the United States because I couldn’t even help my Stewart, who I trust so much,get a visa and she works in my home every day and she has worked for Foreign Service families for over 17 years before us. She just seemed so skeptical that this could possibly be true.
Today was a fun day, it was postpartum clinic where mothers would bring babies to be examined three days after delivery, a week after delivery, and onward for immunizations. That meant babies. Lots of babies and you all know how I feel about babies. I got the opportunity to hold and cuddle and care for quite a few. Nigerian women dress their babies very warmly. Even though it was 95° in the clinic which had no air conditioning running today, these babies are wearing long sleeves and long pants outfits, wool hats tied under their chins and wrapped in thick fleece blankets that have sown in caps, kind of like those special baby towels that have hats built in. I’m just noting this is has nothing to do with my story. Anyways, up until about the age of nine months if I pick up a baby they are as likely to pay attention to the ceiling fan above my head as they are to the shape and color of my face but right about 9 or 10 months, when baby starts to get object permanence and understand a lot more about the world, I’m a shocking site to behold. A number of babies who were crying from illness or from the reaction to an immunization stopped instantly once they saw my face. Toddlers were a different story they found me interesting but if I was helping to hold them down when they were getting an immunization, even though I wasn’t the one administering the shot, you had better believe that I was the one who was blamed. The pain would come and their eyes would jerk open and they would look right at me and scream. Why not? I was the only thing that was different, they only thing potentially untrustworthy.
I came out to the waiting room today and a little boy probably about 18 months old stood and froze and stared at me wide-eyed. He was so funny and completely shocked that people around the room started giggling after a little while. I finally asked where his mother was everybody shrugged their shoulders and one man finally said that he had walked through the front door unaccompanied. At this point I picked him up and walked out to the street. I ended up walking a few modest houses down before I finally found the boy’s mother. When I sat him down at her feet he looked at me with that same shocked look and she and all of her family members burst out laughing. They love to see children’s reactions to our visible differences.
Toward the end of the day my legs are getting tired from standing. First let me describe the nurses room. The nurses room is about the size of a king size bed. In this room there’s an exam table a small sink, a table that holds vials of medication, a small refrigerator, another desk that the nurse writes notes in the charts on, an infant scale and a chair for the patient to sit on. In this room all vitals are tracked for patients as well as infant growth charts and immunization records filled out(in huge government funded books about the size of two large pizza boxes), prescriptions filled including injections drawn up and then given, and all paperwork to refill charts are kept in drawers under the exam table. In this room it’s not uncommon to have a main nurse taking a patients vitals, a nurse assistant behind her weighing a baby on a scale, a second nurse filling out records of immunization, a third nurse pulling out IV fluids and filling bags with the appropriate dissolution of medication, and an additional patient in the room talking to one of the nurses about some concern or question. Then there is me. Standing, trying to stay out of the way, help when I can, and asking questions along the way trying to muddle through what is cultural, variance in education or just plain personal technique. But mostly I just try to avoid getting my toes stepped on. It is quite a lot going on in one space, so anyways I had pushed some record books aside and had taken a seat on the exam table after spending about seven hours on my feet. Things had calmed down a little bit after seeing more than 16 children with malaria and 5 adults with malaria——Take your antimalrial drugs State Department People. Seriously—- 2 sets of stitches, 1 broken bone, half a dozen other digestion and lung related issues and about 30 immunizations. As I was sitting on the exam table I looked down and noticed that some gauze and some vials/ampules from immunizations had fallen on the floor instead of into the trash can underneath the desk. So I stood and put on a glove and reached to pick up the items off of the floor to throw them away. One of the nursing assistants, actually it’s called a community health worker which is a program I will discuss in a different blog post, started to get up off of her seat to pick up the items that I was reaching for but she didn’t even have a chance to try before the mother started shrieking at her that she should be picking that up and I shouldn’t be on the floor. It was so disconcerting. It startled me and I dropped the glass ampule I was holding in my hand onto the floor and it shattered everywhere. So then the poor community health worker not only had to clean up the mess that was already there but then about 1000 pieces of broken glass that had spread everywhere. Class system is alive and thriving here for sure.
Several times every day at the end of an appointment, even if I do nothing other than sit there the entire time, a patient has looked at me and said “I hope to see more of you here”. It’s a very unreal feeling knowing that you are welcome completely into someone’s personal space, welcome into their country, and welcome into their community purely because of the color of your skin and nationaliy. I also hope to see more of them.
Really I walk around this country aware of how much space I take up. My money, my housing, the amount of water and electricity I use, myself alone being driven by a driver in my car with a minivan next to me packed with 20 men, how much I spend on food( per week is what an average housekeeper, driver or bank teller is paid for a month of work), my overstuffed house and need to purchase even more of it online. I sometimes feel like I am this white oppressive giant that everyone stares at aware that I am using far more than my share of space.
PS The lab tech, after my inquiring, is teaching me how to identify the malaria parasite under the microscope. Not only that, but also all of the stages of its life cycle PLUS how they look as they break down through various stages of treatment. I’m totally geeking out over it.
I was feeling so great toward the end of the year that I thought that I had missed my January/February slump, but no. I don’t know if it is the post Christmas blahs, illness, the cold or lack of sun but January and February are often difficult months for me. I struggle feeling motivated and spend much of this time in discontent. I have loved living in such a warm climate. St. George was warm, hot during the summer and lovely in the spring and fall but it got cold and windy often during the winter. I tended to want to stay in bed as much as possible to read and watch movies. Forcing myself to walk helped tremendously. I was doing the same here and enjoyed walks several days of the week well into December. Then all at once Lagos crappiness hit. I got sick. One illness after another. I missed the consulate Christmas party, book club and pretty much every other get together I was looking forward to in the month of December. Lots of people left to go out of town and the compound was pretty deserted. I was luckily well at Christmas and a bit afterward but Harmattan hit town with a vengeance. Dirt from the Sahara Desert was whipped into the air where is blows all over Western Africa. It was gross. The skies were brown. My lungs would burn when I went outside and biggest of all I started to cough. Luckily we got a little break away to Cairo and I came back with a better attitude. Two days after returning Harrison ended up in the hospital.
He started complaining that he was short of breath while lying on the couch reading. During dinner he couldn’t eat because he was gasping. By an hour later he was having a difficult time standing and his fingers and toes were tingling. When I checked his pulse ox levels they were fine but his heart rate was fast and erratic. Missing beats. We decided to take him to the hospital. Unsure of what traffic would be like I grabbed the AED- Automated External Defibrillator from the lobby of our building just in case his heart stopped. The hospital was great. The Med Unit from the consulate called in and let them know we were coming in. His EKG was normal at arrival but they could tell something was off. After two hours in the ER with no answers and Harrison feeling fine and back to his old joking self they decided they wanted to monitor him for 24 hours and have him see the pediatric cardiologist. So Harrison and I got to spend the night in the ICU. It was interesting. The doctors were attentive but the machines kept malfunctioning. His blood pressure was unusually high as well as his pulse. When he would stand his pulse would rise and never go back to his resting pulse. He had repeated apnea episodes. Just lots of odd things going on. He slept ok, I did not. In the morning Ben and I traded places and Harrison had another EKG, ultrasound and chest x-rays. I went home to sleep. It reminded me how much I hated staying up all night sleeping in a chair of a hospital room. Midwife memories! He was discharged with nothing notable wrong but definitely had an episode of some kind. He returned a week later to repeat all of the tests for comparison. The pediatric cardiologist seemed very knowledgeable and was willing to do what ever tests I requested. He even knew a fair amount about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which is always a bonus. All in all Harrison seems fine, it cost us about $1,400 which is significantly less than it would have cost in the US and we were happy enough with the experience.
Harrison is always so happy and content it made it a bit tricky for medical professionals to understand when he really doesn’t feel well or is hurting. They thought he was hilarious, which he is.
Our call light wasn’t working so the nurse gave me this hand alarm. You push that red button and everyone on the floor knows we need help. Toilet paper is a hot commodity here. When you are admitted they give you your own roll that you are supposed to keep track of.
A few days after Harrison’s hospitalization I got sick. Just a normal cold. I began coughing. I didn’t stop for 7 weeks. Once that original cold left Harmattan was here so all of the dust in the air just kept my coughing. I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes outside or I would begin to cough so much I vomited. An air purifier helped some but not enough. I was pretty miserable. Toward the end of the Time of the Coughing, as it will be known from here on out, I got another cold. Harrison was better within a week but mine led to wheezing and rasping in my lungs. I finally decided to visit the Med Unit at the Consulate. I hesitate to go in for cold or respiratory issues because I can’t take most varieties of cold medicine. After my radioactive iodine treatment my salivary glands were damaged. I can’t take any medicine that dries out mucous membranes or else I end up in serious pain and salivary glad infections. I figured if I went in I couldn’t take the medicine they recommended and I figured the illness was viral or Harmattan caused so nothing to do there. My nasal swab came up positive for a cold but negative for scarier things like the flu. My pulse ox was fine, blood pressure was high from coughing at least two times every five minutes.My lung capacity was that of a 5 year old. They decided to send me for a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia and bronchitis. Medical imaging services are unique here in Nigeria. Anyone can walk in off the street and request a test be performed. It took me about an hour to get my x ray done.
It was negative for pneumonia but there was still an awful lot going on in my lungs and with a couple of days of antibiotics and a nebulizer treatment there was still no improvement. They sent me to see a pulmonary doctor. So I got to enter my 4th medical facility in 7 months since our arrival. They got me in quickly and the doctor seemed very well educated. He took the most comprehensive oral medical history that I have had in years. He was especially fascinated with Harrison’s EDS diagnosis.
A full exam later I left with oral steroids. He said my lungs were just irritated by the virus and said that it wasn’t uncommon for people to cough 2-3 months after a cold in Nigeria. Will it may be uncommon sir but it sure isn’t normal! Back to another week of rest I finally started to improve. I’m skeptical that all the medication did anything and think that it is more likely that my cold ran its course and the rain finally came and cleaned the skies. Regardless I am finally a functioning human again and everyone is happier. I was a pretty miserable person to have around and was not enjoying my Lagos experiment. On top of these issues I am really struggling thyroid wise. My most recent labs were terrible and major changes to my medication were made. In the almost two years since my thyroid was removed I have yet to have my thyroid hormone labs be normal. It is exhausting and frustrating and I am sure doesn’t help to boost my immunity.
January and February and the cough of 7 weeks all coincided with months 7 and 8 of our time here in Lagos. It is not unusual for people to struggle when they have hit that time mark at post. The first six months after arrival you are just so dang busy trying to get everything up and running and figuring out how to function in your new life. Everything in new and excited. After about month 6 you begin to realize all the things you found quirky and interesting at first about your home or new culture are just plain irritating and time wasting. For example: I need to find a black t-shirt and shorts for my 12 year old. I estimate this will suck at least a day and a half of my time from my life.
A new kind of gloomy January and February has come and gone, the skies are blue, vacation is on the horizon and the world is looking up.
Foreign Service Officers posted abroad are authorized to own AFN decoders. Armed Forces Network is a tv and radio broadcast network operated by the Department of Defense, which provides US TV and radio programing for military servicemen and servicewomen and other US Government employees deployed abroad. My Dad got us a decoder for Christmas, and it’s been nice to have, as the internet speeds here are often not great for streaming through a VPN so that we can access location limited streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime. It’s been particularly nice during the Olympics. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympics, I just love watching them, either summer or winter. It was great fun to live in Salt Lake City during the 2002 games, and the advent of on-demand streaming and 24 hour broadcasts has been awesome. We’ve watched a lot of the Olympics the last few weeks. I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the US women’s hockey team. Their games are great, they play hard, and after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Canada in Sochi 4 years ago, they were hungry. The game in the preliminary round against Canada was a hard fought loss, and the intensity level of the play ratcheted up a notch or 5 when those 2 teams played.
An email came out from our CLO (Community Liaison Office) on Thursday while we were on “the line” adjudicating visas, stating that the Consulate had secured some tickets to the Nigerian premier of the newest offering from the Marvel Comic Universe, Black Panther. I foolishly didn’t may much attention, thinking I would have a chance to reply to the email in the afternoon. An hour or so later, a second email came out indicating that the first come first served tickets were all spoken for. Fortunately, a few of my colleagues who saw it that day were intrested in seeing it again, so we planned to go in a group to a showing this afternoon. We arrived at the local IMAX theater, which we’ve never had trouble getting into before, even during the Star Wars and Justice League showings. We underestimated the appeal that Black Panther has in Nigeria. There were LONG lines for tickets and for entry into the theater, to the point that we gave up after waiting a while. We were able to find another showing at another theater (not IMAX), and headed that way. What a show! I think this may be my favorite of the recent group of Marvel comic book movies.
Be advised, this will be a long post with many photos. What a great vacation we had! We decided that we wanted to start exploring some other countries. We initially planned a roadtrip during the kids’ holiday break from school, to neighboring Benin, and possibly all the way to Ghana to visit my colleague from A-100 who is posted there. We have had several friends who have really enjoyed a beach resort in Benin. Unfortunately, many other people had a similar idea, apparently, and despite a few weeks of emails in my rusty french (Benin being a francophone country), we were firmly on a waiting list for multiple booked up hotels. On a whim one night, we looked at flights to other places we’d like to visit (South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, several others), and found a reasonably good deal on flights to Egypt, so we made the plunge and bought 6 tickets. Of course, Murphy’s Law being in full effect, the next day we got emails from 2 hotels in Benin saying they did in fact have room for us, but I guess that adventure will have to wait. To Egypt we would go! Until Christmas morning, we kept telling the kids that the roadtrip was on. I nearly spilled the beans a couple of times, and I’m not sure how I kept it in, but I did. Unfortunately, in order to get the good deal on the flights we got to enjoy a 5 hour flight East to Addis Ababa, and then a 4 hour flight North from there to Cairo, instead of the 5.5 hour direct flight. We got in very late, about 2 or 3 in the morning by the time we made it to our hotel. We got a great start the next morning.
Day 1: The Pyramids of Giza, The Sphynx, Saqqara, Papyrus Factory, Carpet School
Most Wednesday evenings you’ll find me at the Kingfisher Club, operated by the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos, playing darts. It’s great fun. We get a fairly large turnout most weeks, expats from around the globe. Most of the time, my performance is fairly lousy, notable mostly for when I somehow manage to stick 1 dart into the end of another dart I’ve already thrown (seriously, I’ve somehow done this twice). Last night, I was on my A-game apparently. During this round of Mickey Mouse (known as Cricket in some circles), despite my team losing the round 351 to 284, I managed to throw a total of 10 bull’s eyes!