A Night Out!

While I have spent many nights in the city of Ilorin with fellow volunteers, other Canadians, and various expats at beer gardens and at their (relatively) fancy-schmancy homes, when I title this post, “A Night Out!” I am referring to my escapades in the small town of Oro.

Night begins at 7pm here, and since Nigeria lies near the equator, this never changes. What does change is the cycle of the moon, which means that during a full one I can walk around sans flashlight. Often, especially if there is no NEPA, I will take a stroll around dusk down the hill to my friends’ compound just a few short minutes away.

In this cement compound, there are nine families in three buildings. The Aina’s live in the main home, and I believe they are the only family with a generator. All the families have electricity when NEPA is working, but none have running water. The three buildings come together to form U-shape, with open space in the middle and a well off to the side. The Aina’s place is the larger rectangular building in the middle. The two side buildings contain four homes each, all in a row.

Chickens run around freely, that is, unless they are being caught and killed for dinner. Children also run around playing and laughing, and I still haven’t figured out which children belong to which family. But here in Nigeria, everyone looks after their neighbors’ children, so the division of parenting is blurred. Around the house is “the bush,” though it’s not very thick since we live on a populated street. It’s thick enough for bush meat, though! (More to come on that)!

My main friends here are Mama Aina, my Yoruba teacher and Ola, my okada driver, who lives in one of the smaller homes.

During my nights I will wander into the compound and sit myself down underneath the drying Nigerian wrappers and other brightly colored traditional clothes hanging from the three clotheslines above Mama’s cement porch. I love to watch her prepare traditional Nigerian meals, which involves pounding in mortars, grinding over rocks, and cooking on small coal stoves. We talk about Yoruba and she teaches me a few more expressions and songs while she fans the coals and stirs the spicy contents of the pot. If her teenage kids are around and not immersed in their cell phones, I chit-chat with them, mostly about Nigerian politics and culture.

I usually mosey over to Ola’s house and I spend time with Mama Lovett (Ola’s wife) while she takes care of her infant twin boys and 4 year old daughter. Often I will sit on her porch and hold one of the twins while she feeds or bathes the other. We smile at each other and compliment each other about anything and everything. I offer to help her with anything she wants and she always laughs and declines. Ola usually comes home from his okada work around 7:30. He doesn’t like to work too late because of the dangers inherent in driving around on bumpy roads, with poor lighting, and the added risk of other drivers and passengers who may be intoxicated.

When Ola arrives, he is always pleased to see me, and greets me with, “Ahhh! JULIET!” He told me from the start that he preferred the name Juliet to Julie, so that was that. It beats being called Oyinbo (white person) anyday! So here we are, the three of us, taking turns holding the babies and laughing about nothing. When dinner is ready, they will invite me in. Most of the time I decline because I don’t want to impose, but I couldn’t say no when one night they told me that they had killed a bush rat that morning and had put it in their stew.

From what I gather, bush rat is like a mix between an oversized rat and a beaver. Perhaps it’s similar to the nutria we have in the southeastern United States? They run wild pretty much anywhere a rat would run wild, so I was a little hesitant at first, but I tell you what: Next to Kazakh horse meat, bush rat is the tastiest, tenderest, most succulent piece of animal flesh out there! I told him to invite me over anytime they caught one!

(On a side note, aside from bush rat, monkeys, squirrels, and cats also prove to be tasty treats in Nigeria. I don’t know if I could eat cat knowingly, but I’m sure if someone surreptitiously slipped some to me, I’d devour it).

I have also eaten freshly killed chicken at Ola’s house. I watched him catch it, kill it, defeather it, and gut it. It was good to actually see the whole process through since I’m so removed from it in the States. But I must admit, I had to hold back some tears when he first killed it. Poor Little Chicken!!!

So anyway, after spending a couple hours with my friends, I thank them for the company, and in traditional Yoruba fashion, they walk me home. The evenings here are cool and refreshing, and on a clear night the stars make the African sky sparkle, while the cashew and palm trees’ black silhouettes line the path back home. Now THAT’S what I call a Night Out!!


Eighteen Photos Are Better Than None!

The polling booth, with INEC and other agents explaining how to cast their votes

Some girls from the Catholic Church I attend

St. Augustine's Catholic Church

A snapshot of a compound in my town

A view from the minibus, waiting to depart from Ilorin to my town

A friend of mine filling up jerry cans with drinking water

The children at the college preschool

The outside of my house...it's probably the biggest home I'll ever live in!

Picking cashews in my yard

A view from the college campus

Pounding yams...a Nigerian delight!

The woman I stayed with when I first arrived in Oro. She is preparing a soup with greens from her yard

Me and Baby Happiness in the Abuja airport

My training group in Abuja and our counterparts

A Fulani cow in Kaduna, northern Nigeria

A road in Kaduna where some other volunteers live

A 'motopark' where you catch buses and taxis in Abuja

Getting on the plane from Frankfurt to Abuja

By Popular Demand: A BFF Photo

So you may have noticed that I have not included any pictures in my blog. Maria Montessori would say it’s because I’m allowing your imaginative minds to create your own mental images of the stories I tell. Sorry, Maria, but you’re wrong about this one. The truth is that I got the shaft when God was going around blessing people with patience, especially in regards to downloading files. I am working on a Flickr or Shutterfly account, but my wifi at work is rarely connected long enough to support the download.

Technology, I love and loathe thee.

Anyway, if you are my Facebook friend, you can find all my photos there. If you’re not, well get with the program, gramps and granny.  Social networking equals human evolution.

But I have included a blurry and small photo of my BFF lizard, who of course stopped visiting me after I gloated about him in that last blog. Just like all my prospective men, I scared him away with my overzealous enthusiasm.

I’m working furiously trying to figure out how to post some of my other photos as painlessly as possible. Stay tuned. Or just join Facebook.

By the way, my camera has taken a turn for the worse. I don’t know if I will purchase a new one, as it would cancel out two months of salary. On the bright side, Nigerians possess superhuman powers and can repair just about anything you put in front of them, so I will give that a try first!

Love, Julie

BFF in action. Sorry for the blurriness...he wouldnt let me get any closer.

A Small Town Morning

Every blog-writing expat writes at least one “Day in the Life” post, which attempts to smoosh the routine daily activities into a neat little package for friends at home to digest. This has been practically impossible for me to do up until a week or two ago, considering all my moving around and settling in, but I’m pleased to announce that I have reached that happy place where I can finally write my “Day in the Life” post. Well, not really. My days are still quite varied, but I have gotten the morning routine now, so the best I can offer is a “Morning in the Life” post!


I wake up between 6am-7am to the aux-natural alarm of roosters crowing and birds hooting (they don’t “sing” like the birds you may know). Sometimes, humorously, I’ll wake up to my night guard tapping on my bedroom window to say good morning (“E Kaaro!”) and to tell me he’s going home. Once awake, I immediately check my email from the browser on my phone, looking specifically for messages from friends as well as those from the Canadian or U.S. embassies informing me of security issues. No news is good news. I then clumsily crawl out of my 9-foot wide bed, which always takes me a while because I have to carefully gauge the distance between myself and the edge. Sometimes it feels like I’ll never make it off!

I go to the bathroom to collect my buckets which I will take outside to one of three water tanks in my yard. When the tanks are empty, I use the well. I love this early part of the day because the temperature hovers at a comfortable low-70s, which gives me a chance to breathe in something besides my evaporating sweat. I fill my buckets so that I will have one to flush the toilet with and one to bathe with. While the buckets are filling, I walk around the cashew tree with my long stick and knock down the highest, yellowest, juiciest looking fruits for my breakfast appetizer. I make sure to be on the lookout for solider ants…you know, the ones that kill babies.

As I walk back inside with my sloshing buckets, I say “E Kaaro” to the children who regularly peek their heads over my cement perimeter wall, watching me perform tedious tasks that would never interest them in the slightest were I of a darker complexion. They giggle with excitement (well, I’d like to think it’s excitement) after I greet them, and their heads quickly pop out of sight.

I prepare my breakfast, which occasionally means simply opening a package of crackers. Often, though, it requires lighting my counter-top kerosene stove and reheating the dinner from the previous night, which is always a combination of rice, beans, eggs, salt, tomatoes, okra, onions, and peanuts. On a special day I’ll have carrots, though you can’t always find them at the market.

After I sit down for breakfast, I tear open a satchet of Pure Water with my teeth and drink it down. Pure Water is purified water (theoretically and hopefully) that comes in little plastic satchets about 5″x5″. You drink from them by ripping one corner off with your teeth and sucking the water out. They are only 5 naira per bag (3 pennies), and I buy them in bulk since I drink about 2-3 per day. Pure Water is a good substitute for boiling water which always ends up tasting like metal and kerosene whenever I do it, not to mention it wastes my fuel and makes my kitchen hot and smoky. We are not recommended to drink Pure Water as it may not be as pure as it claims, but so far I’ve been fine, and so has every other volunteer who imbibes in this lovely convenience. The empty plastic bags can then be dried out and used as classroom materials, so I don’t feel bad about it.

As I’m chowing down on starch and water at my large dining room table, I listen to Radio Nigeria on my cb radio that a former volunteer donated to me. Recently the news has been reporting the nitty gritty of the 2011 elections, which are happening this month and really deserve an entire blog entry. Or twenty.

After breakfast I wash all my dishes and pots to prevent the “creatures” from throwing a blowout party while I’m at work. So far I have big ants, little ants, wasp-like insects, spiders, lizards, flying cockroaches, and I think a couple of rats/mice (though signs of excrement are the only proof of the latter’s existence). None of them really bother me, and it’s not like they’re always there, but that’s not stopping me from dousing my house with insecticide this week.

There is one creature, however, that I quite fancy and wouldn’t want to exterminate. He is a particular lizard that sits on top of the couch in my office at work every day and watches me. For hours. He just sits there, bobbing his head up and down, staring at me. Occasionaly he’ll race hysterically across the top of the couch to eat a bug, then meander lazily back to his preferred spot to resume the staring. His name is BFF. Those of you who are hip to youth culture know what that means, and if you’re not so cool, I’ll fill you in: Best Friend Forever. In reality, though, his name stands for Bob Freckles Friend, thanks to a successful Facebook poll asking what I should name my new lizard buddy. But I do like the double entendre.

I digress. So after I wash my dishes, I mosey to the tub in my cement-floored bathroom for my morning bucket bath. The funny thing about Nigeria (or at least from the little I’ve seen in a couple cities and small towns) is that many homes and buildings appear to have modern conveniences like indoor plumbing, heating/cooling, electricity, and the like. Unfortunately, due an long list of reasons, these kinds of amenities remain a faint hope or good intention. For example, my bathroom is fully equipped with a water heater (though I would never use it here; it’s so hot!), a sink with a hot and cold tap, a showerhead and tub, and a toilet. My bedroom and sitting room also boast an air conditioning unit, and I have two satellite dishes and a generator in my yard. Almost none of these things work. I do have ceiling fans and lights which function when we have NEPA (National Electric Power Authority, a.k.a electricity, a.k.a. Never Expect Power Anytime), so that brings me intermittent joy for a broken period of about 0-24 hours a day, depending. Also, the past two weeks have been spent with plumbers coming over to fix some pipes so that now I do have an indoor tap to fill my buckets and a toilet that flushes. And honestly, I have it much easier than most Nigerians who don’t have even the hint of these mod-cons, so I’m not complaining, just explaining.

Anyway, I take my bucket bath, which I really quite like. Some days I get a competitive rush and see how little water I can use for my bath. My best is 1/3 of the bucket. This morning, though, I splurged and used the whole darn thing! The water was just too cool and refreshing to not! I dry myself with a VERY small, superabsorbent camping towel I bought from REI. Best purchase I’ve ever made. I haven’t even had to wash it yet!! (Not gross, I swear). I dress myself in the coolest outfit I can manage because we are currently in the hot season now, and the weather gods don’t mess around here. Luckily the rainy season is fast approaching, which means several months of amazing thunderstorms, pounding rains, green vegetation, and cool weather. Of course it also means mosquitoes, damaged roads, and downed power lines, but I still can’t wait.

I finish getting ready, and there’s nothing too exciting to report about that. I pack my lunch (the same as breakfast, which was the same as dinner) and head out. I’ve been toying with the idea of purchasing a refrigerator which would allow me to vary my diet a bit, but fridges here are only as strong as their weakest link: NEPA. Besides, a fridge would put me back as much as at-home internet access, and I can’t afford both. I’m feeling a strong, 21st century pull towards the internet. What have I become!?!?!

So with a fancy padlock, I lock my barred front door (literally, the door is simply a design of bars), say goodbye to my daytime security guard, and with another big clonking padlock, the guard bolts the heavy metal front gate (adorned with Christ’s cross) behind me.

My 20-minute walk to work consists a dirt road, a paved road, then another dirt road. It involves chickens, goats, and greetings, Oh My! The greetings go out to pedestrians carrying impressively huge loads on their heads, schoolchildren, people honking at me from their okadas and cars, street hawkers peddling wares, security guards, and many more! I get to practice my Yoruba, which never ceases to impress them. They think I can actually speak it, which cracks me up. My walk also requires a bit of running, as there is this one area where this crazy biting fly starts buzzing aggressively (and very deliberately) around my head. I have found that if I run really fast – all the while looking like a complete lunatic – I can usually escape his menace.

I arrive at work and that’s where things get fuzzy.

So that’s my epic morning for you! Thanks for reading, and please feel free to email me any updates about your own lives. I miss hearing about them!

Love, Julie

P.S. I wanted to inform you that BFF  has been faithfully watching me from his couch-post for the last three hours. I love him. I’ve seen a LOT of these lizards, but I’ve never seen any so loyal as mine!  And to think he comes back every day and I don’t even feed him! Amazing.

Culture Shock Musings

Wow. Culture Shock is soooo predictable. It happens exactly like they say it will. You arrive in country, and you first experience the honeymoon stage (though I must admit, my “honeymoon” was a little less honey and a bit more molasses). Then the realization slowly sets in that this will be your home for the next two years.

Despite all the very real and exciting experiences you may be having in this new country, part of you feels like it’s just a dream. You wake up and forget where you are. When you come to, there’s a twinge of disappointment.

And Oh, the Paradox! This new world is exactly what you wanted! Wasn’t it?

You begin to miss the minutest of things from home, like the bright color of Oregon grass, the sound of windshield wipers on a drizzly gray day, and the predictable routine of daily life (you know, the hated routine that drove you to leave in the first place…yeah, you want it back now).

You deny yourself from fully embracing your new world because one foot is still stretched out the door with its toes gripping firmly to American soil. A portion of your heart still clings to the familiar beats and rhythms of your past. You’re afraid that if you let go, you will forget home, or worse yet, home will forget you.

The physical and psychological nuances of your new country morph from interesting novelty to upsetting absurdity. You don’t see your new home clearly; you see it through the foggy haze of a person who wants to be anywhere aside from where she is. You aren’t being fair, and you know it.

And then, right when you’re about to throw in the towel, you don’t. It’s as simple as that. And then, the next day, you don’t throw in the towel…again. And you don’t throw it in the next day, either. By then you have realized the worst is over. You have survived the initial bombardment of culture shock.

You begin to accept that this is now your home. You don’t feel the need to hang on to where you came from, and you also recognize that letting go is not equivalent to forgetting. You feel your heart relaxing and embracing the place which you presently find yourself, slowly easing its grip on the past. The haze that clouded your perception of your new world lifts, and you can begin to embrace and experience what you came here for….and you may even discover new reasons for being here.

You catch yourself smiling more, which brings further smiles, because you know you’ve gotten through the hardest phase of the initial transition. You know that there will certainly be cultural aftershocks, but someplace deep inside yourself you know you’ve made an important shift. You’re proud of yourself and excited for what the future (or rather, the present) will bring.

This morning I was hanging out with a couple of little girls at an expat friend’s house. They wanted to watch a Book-on-DVD and ‘lo and behold they put in “Going on a Bear Hunt.” If you’re not familiar with that children’s book, it is about a family who is going on a bear hunt and at every corner they meet some kind of obstacle in which they quote something like this: “Oh No! We can’t go under it, we can’t go around it, we have to go THROUGH it!” I laughed out loud when I saw the parallels.

Time to charge through!

Love, Julie