Year four in Lagos will officially end on Friday, June 8. If all goes according to plan, a bit after 10:00 pm, Greg and I will leave the Delta lounge for a final security check and boarding call. We’ll find our seats, plug in, enjoy a glass of champagne, and settle down for a twelve-hour transatlantic flight to Atlanta. We’ll endure a relatively short layover that includes customs and bag transfer from international to domestic, and perhaps a quick stop at the lounge before boarding a five-hour flight to Seattle. Greg’s eldest will mercifully pick us up for the ninety minute drive south on I-5 to home. We’ll drop our bags at the house, take a shower, then pick up a few basic groceries for an early dinner. Our goal: to stay awake until 6:00 or 7:00 pm- long enough to sleep through the night, giving us a jump start on an eight-hour time zone adjustment.
We’ve completed this annual migration between Lagos and home four times. Add-in travels to and from elsewhere (Mongolia, Bolivia, Indonesia) and we reach the nine year mark. Add in an additional coincidental Egypt experience before “us” and separated by five years, and we’ve each dedicated more than a decade to this migratory pattern. In my case, the math adds up to over a quarter of my life. And while the location varies, the feeling of leaving our overseas home for the summer, or permanently, is inevitably the same mixed bag of emotions. For me, there is always a subtle, dull ache for home; a distant, yet persistent memory of the familiar that sends me back home each year. But like a dance partner that keeps perfect step, there is also a yearning for the unfamiliar that infects the subconscious like a low-grade fever. Perhaps it’s a hold over of carnal instinct embedded in the DNA by prehistoric predecessors; a basic instinct that drove our ancestors out of East Africa and into the hinterlands. In my case, out of Oregon- first to Egypt, then Mongolia and beyond. But the call of the wild works both ways; that same instinctual urge drives me back home each year to nest. Betwixt and between can be a tough road to navigate.
Regardless, like everywhere we’ve lived, there’s much that I enjoy about Lagos, especially a Sunday morning run. This time of year can be a gamble. We’re smack dab in the middle of the rainy season which brings frequent, torrential downpours. Preceded by a sudden directional shift in the wind that picks up enough speed to dislodge our heavy balcony plants, a summer squall sends people running. But it’s also the hot season now, and with only four degrees of separation between Lagos and the equator, we experience frequent ‘feels like’ days that regularly reach 107 degrees by mid-morning. Clear skies mean an early run; starting after 8:00 am risks heat exhaustion. But today was ideal; a moderate rain shower that cleared by 9:00 had me on the road by 9:05. A persistent cloud cover kept things cool, despite the high humidity.
The usual suspects made their appearance today; loaves of white bread perched high on women’s heads, men enjoying a dry shave at the open air barber shop, pecking chickens and grazing goats, and a cacophony of KeKe’s, micro buses, taxis and 300cc okadas moved people and their cargo from one place to the next. Joining this rotating cast of characters were some cameo appearances. I rounded a corner to encounter a brightly, if not expertly, painted bus carrying congregants assumingly on their way to church;. The children promptly dropped their windows, all the better to shout out friendly hellos in response to my wave. Another turn took me past a trio of siblings of descending age and size, each wearing an outfit fashioned from identical Ankara print. After a mutual exchange of good morning, they continued about their business, hand-in-hand. A blind grandfather and his granddaughter-guide stood along the median waiting for the light to turn; they were working the stopped vehicles. Frogs, encouraged by the sudden appearance of large, watery holes- perfect nurseries for the next generation- advertised their virility through strident croaking heard half a block away.
I avoided these mud and sewer-filled puddles through most of my run, dodging behind low growing bushes on higher land. But I exchanged one hazard for another; mindful of the lack of public toilets, I tread lightly, intent on avoiding the piles of last night’s Indomie discreetly deposited behind the shield of bushes. Inevitably, I reached a street flooded beyond the low-lying curbs, reaching to the very tip of either side. I gingerly skipped and hopped down a side street, hopeful for a solution. But, I finally gave in. My first run back after a nasty sinus infection that kept me out for two weeks, I wasn’t willing to increase my run past 7 miles by retracing my route. Reluctantly but with resolve, I crossed the ankle-deep, stagnant water recalling a similar walk through mid-calf deep flood waters in Indonesia with Greg. Given that I survived that uncomfortable, but ultimately inconsequential experience, I felt confident that a hot shower with an added dose of disinfectant would take care of any water-borne critters. But we do take our health seriously, especially in Lagos.
I’ve commented before that I didn’t truly understand poverty and high mortality rates until I came to West Africa. It seems every year, a local Nigerian that is somehow closely associated to our daily life, suddenly passes. This year is no different; my heart aches for the soon to be mother of two, who’s husband fell ill on a Tuesday, and had passed by that Sunday. A collection has been organized, and we will give generously. But even though we didn’t interact beyond a daily exchange of ‘good morning’, I can’t help but feel somewhat preoccupied by this man’s passing, and the reminder it brings that our time here is transient, and of an unknown duration.
The urge to return to spend time in our house and on our boat, to visit with friends and family, and refamiliarize ourselves with all we’ve left behind is strong. But just as strong is the realization that the joy we feel from our brief time spent back at home during summer break is most certainly heightened by our long absence the remainder of the year. So I am determined to enjoy these final days of our fourth year in Lagos, and I’m certain there will be adventure and insight that will come from two more.