I know it’s cliche to wonder where the year has gone, but we’re looking at leaving Lagos for summer break in eight weeks. Eight weeks! When I wonder where the [academic] year has gone, I quickly remember that this was a busy one. We had our five-year accreditation report due and site visit, a steady stream of visiting consultants (new math program, project-based learning, technology integration and Early Childhood) to plan for, the hosting of our first regional conference, and everything else running a school entails. My work-related travel took me to Senegal, Amsterdam, Kenya, San Francisco and Johannesburg, and Greg spent his typical considerable amount of time traveling for work as well. Though this year has been mostly focused on work, we’ve still figured-out ways to keep ourselves amused, and sane, while away.
One of the perks of my job is the opportunity to do a bit of traveling to places in Africa that I would not otherwise fit in; we only have so many vacations. I really don’t get to see much when I travel for work, but I do get enough time on the ground for a dinner or two out, and a small taste of an African vibe different than Lagos. In September, I was with a colleague for a two-day training in Dakar, Senegal. The hotel was stunning with an infinity pool perched on the edge of the Atlantic and I found a grocery store with interesting local foodstuff to bring back. But getting there from Lagos was ridiculous. I knew about the two-hour layover in Lome, Togo, but the two additional unscheduled tarmac stops in Sierra Leone and The Gambia nearly put me over the edge- it was like playing West African leap-frog. None of the flights left on time and there was no food once we left the scant offerings in the Lome airport. Fourteen hours after leaving for the airport in Lagos, we arrived at the hotel in Dakar. Ah, the joys of travel in Africa!
Nigerian Culture Day
Nigerian Culture Day is colorful, energetic, and a great way to connect with our host country. We celebrated the South-South this year, and outfit-wise, it was probably my favorite NCD so far. Traditionally, the PTO arranges Admin’s outfits, and since I am useless at choosing fabric (as noted in previous posts) I am happy to leave the dress-up decisions to those with a better sense of culturally-appropriate fashion sense than I. This year, Greg and I were dressed to represent a King and Queen from the River State, located in the South-South of Nigeria. River State where Carnival originated; it’s still celebrated during the month of December. I have not been to Carnival in Nigeria, but the dancers at NCD came sporting shiny, beaded, feather-adorned outfits that left little to the imagination. However, unlike their less dress-code conscious counterparts in Brazil, these Carnival dancers limited the wearing of thongs to just their feet.
NCD was a wonderful day of celebration and cultural exploration, but all good things must come to an end. My brief sojourn as monarch ended when, towards the end of the day, I discovered a ring of indentations regularly spaced across the curvature of my forehead as I adjusted my tightly fitting crown. Despite my burgeoning monarchical aspirations I decided it was time to abdicate, and went in search of Ibuprofen.
Spending October Break in Amsterdam was not on my travel radar this year. We had been talking about a driving trip to neighboring Benin. The plan was to drive a couple hours to the border and cross, then continue on a few more hours to Cotonou, the capital city. We would spend the week exploring the derelict cultural centers and voodoo markets, with a day or two at the beach thrown in for good measure. We had our driver change a couple hundred dollars in CFA’s- Central African Francs, updated the car’s licensing to allow for a border crossing, and I made a six-day travel plan. But it wasn’t meant to be, at least not this year. We had heard that border crossings were becoming difficult and the drive dicey; with the devaluation of the Naira, desperados erect roadblocks at regular intervals demanding payment to pass. I’m okay with a bribe or two, but when the opportunity to give skyrockets to ten to fifteen shake downs per trip, I’m out. Our not-too-shabby backup plan was a quick hop just beyond Benin to neighboring Ghana and the castles along the slave coast. But, outside forces intervened and I ended up in Amsterdam for workshop that ended a day or two after our break began. It didn’t make sense to fly back to Lagos on Saturday night just to return to the airport Sunday morning- I just couldn’t stomach the airport hassle so soon after arriving. So at the last minute, we settled on Greg flying up to Amsterdam once break began. Not a bad substitute, and the truth is, we’re ready for the ease of first world travel by the time October break rolls around.
It’s been about eighteen years since I spent a long layover in Amsterdam. On that brief trip, I had enough time to find some breakfast, indulge in a canal tour, and take a two-hour snooze in a park. An easy train ride took me back to the airport and onward to my home in Cairo. A quick trip for sure, but Amsterdam left a lasting impression and I knew it would be everything Greg and I relish on our first trip of the school year out of Lagos. This is why- once the excitement of returning home in August recedes into the background, and the realities of long days at work, noisy generators and a heat index of 107 degrees creeps back into the forefront of our daily pattern, it’s time to recharge the batteries. What is it that we need? Walkable streets, cool weather, neighborhood restaurants and coffee shops, and most importantly, access to groceries.
Ah yes, food is always the biggest draw, and Amsterdam doesn’t disappoint. Once the workshop was finished, I relocated from the orderly suburbs to our hotel located smack in the heart of the museum district in central Amsterdam, and quickly reconnoitered the food situation. I seem to possess an internal food compass that leads straight to nourishment nirvana in every country I’ve traveled. On this day, my compass pointed to a high-end neighborhood grocery store overflowing with organic and fresh delights, the sort of which I hadn’t seen since leaving the Farmer’s Market and Olympia Seafood behind three months earlier. I gasped out loud when I walked in, then spent the next thirty minutes caressing and smelling the fruits and vegetables…and then I found the cheese. Needless to say, I bought as much as I could carry, filling our hotel fridge with cheese, salads, olives, chocolate and KimChi, then awaited Greg’s arrival with a lovely bottle of Spanish wine for company. We went back for a fridge refill twice during our stay.
Once Greg arrived, true to form, we rambled through Amsterdam on our own terms. We slept in, then enjoyed a leisurely late breakfast before venturing out. We rarely had a final destination in mind, preferring to criss-cross canals and mine Google for recommended neighborhood coffee and pastry shops. For dinner one night, we tried a traditional Dutch meal, a sampler stamppot which is a hash made from cabbage, potatoes and various additions like pork belly and caramelized onions. We took a taxi to both the Maritime and the Dutch Resistance Museums, completely avoiding the more popular and crowded VanGoth and Rijksmuseum. We took a chilly canal ride with a Captain that prided himself on sharing the history and architecture of the city. While scouting out bakeries, we happened upon a fabulous print shop and bought an original print that we’ll have framed, a remembrance of our time in Amsterdam. I took long runs through quiet neighborhoods and Vondel Park, enjoying the break from running in the heat and humidity of Lagos. We held hands, walked and talked, made friends with a purr-purrs in an Italian cafe and simply regrouped before heading back to Lagos and work.
In February, I flew to a conference in San Francisco where I was to meet Greg. I took the Friday-night red-eye out of Lagos, had a short layover in Paris, and arrived in San Francisco early afternoon on Saturday. I was tired and hungry and had nothing more than a shower and a decent meal on my radar. Imagine my surprise when a dozen long-stem red roses were delivered within minutes of checking into the room- thank you Baby! After my shower, a walk along the waterfront was in order- a nap is dangerous territory after a long flight and an eight hour time zone change. Off I went. I ambled and strolled with no destination in mind, I simply wanted to breathe in the salty air, catch a glimpse or two of sailboats playing in the Bay and enjoy the perfect weather. It was a stunning afternoon and exactly what my jet-lagged body needed.
Always in search mode, my food compass soon led me to the Ferry Terminal Marketplace and my favorite indulgence- a hot pastrami sandwich. Surprised? Don’t be. Every health-conscious girl has her price, and hot pastrami is mine. I’ve been on the hunt for a good hot pastrami for a while now, but have finally come to terms with the realization that a sandwich made of brined, smoked meat piled high on a mustard streaked roll just doesn’t exist in Oly- but it sure does in San Francisco. I had already devoured a steaming pork bun to take the edge off prior to stumbling upon the hot pastrami; I ate it piping hot with a generous squirt or two of soy sauce and zero guilt. My final splurge was some Ghirardelli chocolate and a bottle of wine to keep me company; Greg wouldn’t arrive until dinner time the next day.
The next morning I went for an epic walk. I wanted to take full advantage of my time in San Francisco prior to the packed days and nights of the conference, and I was anxious for Greg to arrive, so needed to keep occupied. I walked along the Bay, passing high-end waterfront restaurants and hipsters skating on long boards. I kept my distance from a homeless man as he gesticulated and argued with a nemesis only he could see, and I cut a wide path around a woman shoving religious leaflets in passersby hands with the frenetic energy of the converted. I oohed and aahed along with the rest of the tourists as bloated sea lions hefted their considerable bulk onto the floating docks alongside the pier, warming themselves in the sun. I gazed longingly at the broad loaves of San Francisco sourdough bread prominently displayed in the eponymous storefront, reluctantly leaving them behind. My favorite discovery? Stumbling upon the Mechanical Museum; a hidden gem located down a long alley where the Jeremiah Brown is docked. Entry is free, and indulgence in an old-time game can be had for 25 cents; the dolls look as if they might come alive when the tourists leave and the lights turn off. I wandered until mile six, turning back for an enthusiastic search for lunch at the Ferry Terminal and Greg’s arrival.
As it happened, I used the weather window well. Cool and breezy while on my walk, it rained the rest of our time in San Francisco. I suppose this was good in a way; time indoors is harder to swallow when the weather is temperate and good eats beckon. Still, we had time for dinner out with a good friend at an Italian restaurant that seemed to specialize in small, indecipherable offerings. I’m pretty good at deconstructing a menu, but I fall short when the various foams and essence of... demands multiple explanations from the server. But, our meal was memorable and surprisingly good, and the company even better; time well spent with friends. On another night we asked the concierge for a good local hangout, the subtext of our request was a menu we could navigate on our own. We wound our way to a restaurant that while still popular with the hipster crowd, featured an approachable menu. After five weeks apart, it was nice to share a good meal and time together.
Our conference is in New York next year. Along with seeing old friends from around the world, and learning new ways of thinking about leadership, teaching and learning, I can’t wait for a run in Central Park and I have high hopes that we can manage a five-course dinner in Little Italy. The conference comes at a time when we will have spent many weeks apart, so mostly, I’ll just look forward to being with Greg.
Spring Break Staycation
Spring Break has traditionally been a time that we stay put in Lagos for some seriously needed R and R. This year, I have traveled out every single month since arriving in August, and Greg leaves for Dubai on Tuesday. Most people leave for spring break, so campus is quiet and we have the place almost entirely to ourselves. We indulge in the usual staycation activities; movies, naps, books, jigsaw puzzles, a lunch or two out, and generally just try to relax. This break, I wanted to try something new, salsa lessons. Greg and I have been flirting with taking salsa lessons pretty much since we met. Prior to meeting, we each had brief dalliance with this genre of dance; we enjoyed it for the workout and there’s no denying, it’s just damn sexy! I asked around for a recommendation of a good instructor and made sure my Christmas present request was salsa lessons. Greg quickly agreed, but our travel schedule made it difficult to arrange until Spring Break. We ended up scheduling three of our five, hour-long lessons over the break. Our instructor is brilliant; nice, easy going and great with beginners- I had set the expectations low telling him not to expect any magic.
And I was right. I can’t say that much magic is happening yet, but we’re having fun and after only three lessons, we had the basics down, plus a few turns to keep it interesting. We’ve had one more lesson since this video was taken (and we’re much better already), and still have one more to go. We, or maybe I, have reluctantly promised our instructor that we’ll come out sometime to a local club where he hosts a regular Friday night salsa dance. I know we’ll be the newest dancers in the troupe, but an hour or two spent on the dance floor with Greg is worth the embarrassment of two left feet.
There are myriad other ways that we’ve passed this school year. We spent Christmas in our Tumwater house this year. Greg got to see his kids, mom and sister, and I hopped a flight to Medford to see my Dad and Roma, and one of my best girl friends. We had dinner with my brother’s family and got to meet his tiny mother-in-law who was visiting from Japan, and we caught up with Uncle Bruce, Janie and Charlie over a lovely lunch. It was a whirlwind trip, but time well spent with family and friends.
For the first time ever, I’ll leave for summer break before Greg. We always stay after everyone else to finish up the year, so leaving before Greg feels weird. But, I’m going early to fit in a stop in New Mexico; I’ll spend about six days with my Mom and Joe. It’s been five years since Greg and I took a long road trip out to Datil (truly in the middle of nowhere) to visit, so I need to maximize my time. Greg will stop on his way back to see one of his daughters in the DC area; summers are all about divide and conquer. But, we arranged our flights to land in SeaTac within an hour of each other so we can go home-home together. After about ten days of errands, annual doctor and dental appointments, and a trip over the mountains to see Greg’s mom, we’ll be on the boat for close to three weeks. We plan to cruise Journey up into the San Juan Islands; our cruising wish list is already longer than our allotted days, but it’s fun to plan all the same. Once back from sailing, we’ll have about five days to squeeze in any last minute provisioning and host our annual going away dock box party; we fly-out on Greg’s birthday. We’ll stay in Atlanta for two nights to break up the trip, and allow time to sample some authentic southern food before the flight back to Lagos and the start of the new year.
Undoubtedly, we’ll soon be mired down in the all-encompassing nature of our work. We’ll take off for October break- Portugal is on our radar; fabulous food and trains! I’ll travel to Kinshasa in the DRC for my work with our regional association, and I’ll cook a turkey for Thanksgiving. We’ll go on Safari at Christmas break and Greg will be gone for long stretches at a time for hiring fairs and alumni events, and we will both travel for conferences. We’ll probably stay in Lagos for Spring Break, why break tradition, and at some point, I’ll begin writing Staying Sane While Away- Year IV. We’ll wonder where the year has gone, but we’ll be looking forward to another summer at home-home, on the boat and in our house, and time spent with friends and family. We’ll see you soon.