Quitters Sometimes Never Prosper

I’m approaching August 13th, my six-month mark, and as many of my friends and family know, that was the day I was going to allow myself to pack up my bags and a few Nigerian souvenirs and go home. During those first three months, when a general underlying misery got the better of me, I told myself that I couldn’t leave before six months were up. I knew I had to give this experience time, and I also felt that it would be very irresponsible and unfair to CUSO-VSO and VSO to leave so prematurely. I had to at least stick it out for 25% of my commitment.

And I’m really glad I did. Like REALLY glad. This is not to say I don’t ever miss home or that I don’t have those moments where I wish I were at the 23 month mark instead of the six. Disappointingly (to myself), I’m not one of those volunteers who integrates into her new environment so much that she disappears into the background like Waldo from those 1990s Where’s Waldo books. No, unfortunately, up to this point I’ve been the volunteer that still feels and lives like an outsider looking in. A happy and lovable outsider with a growing number of Nigerian friendships, but an outsider nonetheless. I guess I’m less like Waldo and more like Clifford the Big Red Dog.

I’ve been finding that when I get in downer moods here, I get a strong urge to throw in the towel and call it quits. But when everything is hunky dory peachy keen, I absolutely love this place and never want to leave. (I call this the Pendulum Syndrome). In Oregon I didn’t have the luxury of “quitting” and going home when things got rough, because I was already there! There was no home to go back to. But if I dig a bit deeper, I can discover quite a bit of hidden irony: I did indeed quit my life in Oregon, which is perhaps one reason why I’m in Nigeria. But that’s waaaaay to deep to get into here. Let’s just agree that moods are moods, and they happen everywhere you go, whatever the circumstances. It’s just that they feel far more intense when you’re Clifford instead of Waldo.

But despite the ups and downs, life here is pretty darn amazing. So the rest of this post is just going to dish out a few of the reasons and stories that explain why staying here, despite any personal hardship, is worth it. The cake is most certainly worth the candle.

1. A Kindred Spirit.

I have made a friend here that I never would have expected and who is changing my life at every corner. I just thank my lucky * stars * that we met. He’s helping me gain so many new perspectives on life, myself, living in Nigeria, and everything in between. And on top of that, he’s just loads of fun and a breath of fresh air. Merci, D!

2. The Neighborhood Children.

LOVE them. Seriously. It all started with a little 11-year old who I invited over once a week to “tutor.” His mom thought we were being all academic and responsible, but really we just ended up playing games like hangman and making puzzles and coloring (which, by the way, is just what the doctor ordered for both of us). He started opening up to me about all sorts of things – some sad and some shocking – and I know that just me being me is changing this little guy’s life. The other day as he was leaving my house, he turned around and said, “I will never forget you, Julie.” Like WOW.

Because of my visits with this little guy, word on the street is that Julie’s house is fun. So now I find myself in a situation like yesterday, with one young girl absolutely absorbed in a storybook on my couch, another little boy drawing, five other kids “bowling” on my veranda with a balled up reusable shopping bag (Thanks Mom!) and fifteen plastic bottles, and me and another boy keeping score. Every now and then they would break into dance when my iTunes started playing something groovy like electronic raver music or Kathryn Claire’s KinderQueen. It was just too awesome for words. The best part was when I turned around to see one tiny three-year old girl giggling behind the visor of my full-face motorcycle helmet, her neck swaying to keep her heavy head in place. I don’t know how she didn’t tip right over with the weight of it!

And just a few days before that, I had four children of various ages, reading silently for over an hour on the couches in my sitting room. When they were done with one book, they went quietly over to the box of storybooks I have (that are actually for a school but I haven’t delivered them yet) and would choose another one. In the midst of this, I was trying to read Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, but it’s near impossible to read about existential despair when you’ve got four adorable children sitting around you with their heads buried in books because there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing.

3. Animals.

Oh, the joys of fauna here in Naija. The other night as I was walking across my yard with my neighbor friend, I felt a sharp bite on the top of my foot. I lifted my leg to brush whatever it was off and noticed that it was just an ant. But oh, no! Don’t be fooled! There is no such thing as “just an ant” when it’s the biting kind! I gulped, looked down around the steps to my front door, and saw exactly what I knew I’d see but hoped I wouldn’t. Soldier ants. Thousands of them. And the little terrors were marching not in lines but in blobby masses right toward my front door and into my veranda. At this point I already felt at least three more pinches, from my feet all the way to my chest. They can get under your clothes and up your body in seconds! If you’ve ever heard stories about ants in the millions killing sleeping infants and small children, these be the ones. Thank God I’m a 5’10” adult. And if you haven’t heard the stories, Google it. (Sister, I know what you’re thinking…don’t you DARE back out of coming to visit! Read on!)

Anyway, long story short, my neighbor ordered me to take off my clothes immediately and hang them up on the washing line. She then got some insecticide from my kitchen and doused the area where the ants were invading. In minutes, they were dead. My security guard refused to go home when I told him to, even though he spends the night in the open-air garage of my house. That night I slept with my door shut tight and the insecticide bottle by my door, ready for action. The next morning, I was pleased to see my brave guard alive and well, yet not so pleased to find him laughing jovially at me and my previous night’s display of trepidation. I guess this wasn’t his first time with soldier ants. Eventually some guys came over and sprayed chemicals on my lawn and cut it down with handheld tools called grass cutters.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let the Soldier Ants Bite. (See, Sister? It’s all okay now! See you in a couple months!)

And on a lighter and less lethal note, the other day when I was going on a run I came across about twenty Fulani cattle and their herder (quite an adorable young man, might I add). I didn’t want to scare them, so I very considerately slowed down to walk past them. As I was greeting the herder with a wide smile and wave, I ever so gracefully stumbled over a rock and yelped. ALL the cattle (and about five goats) started bolting in every direction imaginable. The herder looked quite bemused but not without a slight trace of annoyance. He went along to regroup his herd, and right when he had them all back together, I skidded a bit on a rocky little dip in the road, and the poor beasts started running away again, this time back in the direction from which they came! Oh boy…the cute herder man was not amused this time! He rounded them all up again, and – with intense concentration – I managed to get past them without a stumble.

So hello and goodbye August 13th; you’re just another day on the calendar now.


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 15:13:58

    Glad to finally hear from you again. It has been a long time since your last blog, and I was feeling concern for you. What a gift you are to those children.
    Aunt Suzanne


  2. Violetta
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 17:13:42

    JULIE!!! None of those children will ever forget you!!!! YOU ARE A BREATH OF FRESH AIR TO THEM!!!!

    P.S. And how about our dear Dr. Montessori’s theory in practice?!!!… – Children Want To Learn!!! And will do so of their own free will!!!! I love the silent reading story!!!

    P.P.S. You make me proud to be your friend!!!!



  3. Steven Fulmer
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 18:07:29

    What a beautiful soul you are, Ms. Julie! It is such an honor to watch your journey unfold. I am so glad for you that you are staying. What a significant milestone in your life.


  4. Dana Regan
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 19:25:51

    I really enjoy reading the good the bad and the ugly of your adventures. Carry on!


  5. Julie Surface Johnson
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 19:34:40

    Such a wonderful update, Julie! Sounds like things are coming together for you and that you are growing stronger in every way day by day. Sending love and prayers, Julie J.


  6. Anonymous
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 01:39:34

    Hi there honey. So love reading your posts. They give me so much to think about.

    By the way did my package get there yet? Wonder if it will or not too. Hope it does, but it isn’t anything special except it is for you.

    Take good care (for crying out loud, look where you are going there kid !! haha),

    Love you,

    Aunt Carolyn


  7. kelly
    Aug 07, 2011 @ 23:32:09

    i thought i’d die laughing just picturing you scattering cattle. twice. love it. and, of course, enjoyed the rest of the blog as well.

    it is funny, isn’t it, when you catch yourself in a moment and realize how amazing and strange and fabulous life is here…i was in the back of a shared taxi the other day, crammed in with five 11 yr old girls, and a very popular song came on the radio (“oh-oh, i love my life”) – we all started singing it together and laughing (although i think mostly they were laughing at me). i got out at my stop and just had to pause, and seal that memory in my head.

    and i really liked what you said about clifford. there with you. 🙂

    talk soon julie –


  8. Lehyla
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 21:19:50

    Hi Julie,

    I haven’t been following your blog for long, but what I’ve seen I’ve really enjoyed. I wanted to search out more about how expats feel about Nigeria, and mostly what I’ve found are VSO workers’ blogs. Yours is, by far, my favorite, though. I just like the way you keep a clear head.

    I recently spent a year in China teaching English at a small school in Yanji, which is about 40 minutes away from the North Korean border. It was definitely an experience from which I learned a lot. One thing I could’ve done better, however, is learned how to blog about my emotions (both the difficulties as well as the triumphs) in as pleasant a way as possible. Thank you for being such a great example. I look forward to more posts!


  9. Erin
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 03:43:36

    Aw I love this Julie! I’m so happy you made it to the 6 month hump. It’s hard to see reasons for staying in a foreign place when you’re down in the dumps but you’re so right, just waiting out the rain will show you what a good thing you have and you actually love it after all. I definitely felt that here in Kz. There were so many times I wanted to go home after my director yelled at me, I wasn’t doing ANYTHING, etc, but when some random kid tells you you changed their life it IS like “wow”. I’m so jealous of your experience, you get to do humanitarian work, but in a really beautiful place! Haha you have the best of both worlds. Keep posting!


  10. Pat Thurston
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 23:19:08

    I love your stories, Julie. They make me smile. And i am so glad that you have made some good healthy connections sans the ants. I have seen those boogers on television and they look darn scary. Hang in there. All is well here. We are gearing up for 650 or so darlings. PT


  11. Julie
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 12:04:44

    Wow….Thanks again so much for all your comments. They mean so very much to me. I’m really glad you’re enjoying the blogs, and actually taking the time to follow me on my journey! I hope all is well in everyone’s world, wherever you all (and from the comment list that would include Ghana, Kazakhstan, the U.S., and Unknown!! Seriously, thank you thank you thank you. Much love, Julie


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