While we say, “expiration date” and our friends across the pond use the more proper sounding “expiry date”, either way you slice it, the meaning is synonymous:
“The date on which something comes to an end, can no longer be used, or is no longer safe to be eaten.”~ Collins Dictionary
In Lagos, being mindful of expiry dates is crucial to one’s well-being. Take food, for example. While there are vibrant local markets filled with local and regional foodstuff, the quality varies, and there is no guarantee that an item available one week will make a second appearance the next. As well, the local variety on offer may not necessarily suit one’s tastes. You say poh-taay-toh, I say poh-tah-toh manifests in a local zucchini that is more gourd-like than it’s delicate skinned courgette cousin, while local tomatoes are best suited for the sauce pot and have no business adorning a tossed salad, much less the folds of a sandwich. With a few exceptions, namely fruit, I have succumbed to the lure of imported veggies. Most canned and packaged food makes a long journey from a variety of international ports. Once arrived in Lagos, a power supply in constant flux renders consistent refrigeration a concern, so we are discerning purchasers of frozen and refrigerated items, and we always check the “best by” date.
Likewise, there is a different relationship with the concept of something that can no longer be used. Unlike the consume and toss culture of the West, Nigerians admirably expend effort to repair, rather than replace. Case in point, our coffee maker. Barely two months old, the replacement for the original (which was so old the bottom heating plate was dangerously rusty) stopped working. Beyond the store return policy, my natural inclination was to toss it in the dumpster and grudgingly try again. Instead, our Stewardess had the faulty heating element replaced, a simple fix. When something wears out on the car, our driver find a certified “new used” part. In other words, a used part that is nonetheless certified as still usable; new-new parts are uncommon. But a culture that reuses and repurposes also tends to keep the no longer useable; broken household goods, piles of tires, and abandoned cars litter the roadsides, future “new used” parts waiting for a home.
And finally we come to the more human relationship to expiry dates: “the date at which something comes to an end.” A couple weeks ago, I had a long conversation with an expat that has lived in Lagos for nearly ten years. She spoke to her love for Nigeria; how it has been a transformative experience for her children and a valuable part of their life experience. But she also spoke to the growing understanding that perhaps it was time to consider moving on, time to start a new chapter in life in a new location. She quipped that “Lagos has a different expiry date for all of us”, and that she had very nearly reached hers. That thought has stuck with me.
Greg and I have spent many hours this year, our fourth in Lagos, analyzing our work-life balance, identifying our aspirations for the future, and checking in with our gut instinct to determine how much longer we should call Lagos our home. With three contract extensions and multiple school improvement initiatives, we have much to be proud of on the career front, and the siren’s call to stay just one more year has been strong. But it’s important to be mindful of expiry dates, and in the end, we have decided that ours is June 2020.
In two years, we will leave our flat for the airport to board a one-way flight home-home. We’ll take a year off to do a much needed rebalancing of the work-life scale that has become seriously offset. We will sail Journey until the weather turns, then work on making our house a home. We will have the luxury of multiple visits with family and friends over many days, instead of a few hours. I’ll learn to fly and Greg will learn to golf. We will become reacquainted with our own country through road trips, local events and getting to know our neighbors. And after a year off, it is likely that we will return once again to an international life. But that too, will have a final expiry date and we will come home-home for good.