Fire, friends and fortune.

The last month has been quite the experience for many people here in Nigeria, as well as for me personally. Some major troubles and some lovely ups.

Tragically there have been some horrific fires, wherein many homes and businesses have been lost. Including for that of a kind-hearted elderly colleague of mine, who lost his entire home and family belongings in the space of an afternoon. There have been video clips sent around of desperate people trying to dampen the outrageous fires with a single water bucket, as they put their lives at risk walking along the rooftop beams, as well as clips illustrating people so caught out by the panic and fear that they were simply standing in crowds aside to the fire and screaming, rather than running for their own safety.

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Happily, in the case of my colleague, I am to report positive outcomes, at least of sorts. My work has rallied around to collect monies for him, and due to my wide-ranging business network, I have been able to grace him with an abundance of donations (clothes, shoes, household goods). Interestingly, when another colleague greeted him and gave her condolences, he in fact shrugged with his friend who looked back at her and said – it is just that, it is not bad. We later discussed this, wondering if we would be able to feel the same way…. Would you?

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Amidst the devastating fires, I also co-hosted a 5th November bonfire for my students. It was a delight to see them so enthralled by it, yet knowing another fire nearby was destroying livelihoods, I had an eery feeling inside.

There have also continued to be numerous reports of tankers falling in the road, causing extreme traffic issues and again, major loss of earnings for the people involved. In other areas, drivers have chosen to purposely block major roads, due to the fact that their contracts have not been paid. One evening, I found myself caught up in such a road block, and not less than two hours had passed before we moved 100 yards. It quite literally took the best part of the night to get home. Days like these are exhausting. And for many Nigerians, it is part of their daily experience. Often getting up at 4am in order to begin travel and ensure they arrive to work on time. Colleagues of mine will often report of not arriving home again until 9/10pm each night. It really is a wonder anyone can be productive in this situation, let alone get any sort of rest or quality time with loved ones.

Along one such road, (the one I had been stuck on for so long), there later came a report of a man having kept a lion in his home (unbelievably since February!). Questions have naturally been raised as to how this could have gone unnoticed or how he was able to bring the rather large feline into the country in the first place. To me, it really begs the question – how far can you take corruption…. And does it ever serve a positive purpose….

Meanwhile, it is becoming the festive season and with that, it is my busiest time at work. Lectures, meetings, reports, assessments, therapy sessions….these have all taken their toll on my energy. There’s only so many plates one can spin at once! However, I can say with a thankful heart that the month has been utterly filled with joy, through new friends, beach time, playful cats, and spending time alone too. (And the odd exquisite kiss too…not just from the cat!)

I have been part of a catwalk team to raise money for charity; I have enjoyed a Hawaiian beach party (admittedly whilst also studying and marking books); I have played table football (badly-im far too gentle) and lapped up delicious meals (Lebanese, Spanish, Italian). I have supported the wonderful Kinabuti team through clothes purchases (including the most exquisite silk dress that feels like it is part of my skin) and I have managed to squeeze in a couple of games of darts. I’ve also sung on stage, both making a fool of myself with the others as we sang some random bird song amounting to us sqwarking and tweeting in front of a hall full of people, as well harmonizing beautifully to a delightful Yoruba song “Ire Ire”Ire.

Each day that I’m here, I marvel at the experience. Sometimes I do find myself taking a huge inhale, in order to really grasp that I’m living in Africa as it can be easy to just get caught up in the whirlwind of the place and not really appreciate it all. I’m so thankful for all that I have created in my life. And how much I would still have, if my house were to burn down too. Each day I see extreme suffering around me, yet I am in a bubble of wonderful experiences. It can truly be hard to stay grounded sometimes.

I have worked hard to embed this country into my heart and to invest into my life here. And I feel assured that I have achieved this, when I consider how easily I could raise the donations for my colleague, or how the children I teach, talk to each other, mirroring my words and actions.

I am now a moderator for the British Business Group, which keeps me on my toes. It also gives me insights into the use and abuse of social media; how easily things can be misinterpreted when non-verbal cues are missed and the vernacular not always shared. It takes some brain power for sure, but I enjoy the role, considering different perspectives and arguments.

I have also had the great opportunity recently to become involved with a new friendship group. When my best girl and best guy departed, I was sure I would find myself lost at times ahead. Meditation, reflection and my own heart song however, led me to trust this would not be so. And this is the case. I’ve had my heart filled with more love in the last month than I remember feeling, perhaps even ever. I have been asked to be the course rep for my Masters due to my community spirit. And I feel like I am receiving gifts of love in such a plethora of ways, that I would not know where to begin. There may even be glimmers of a love story. At least for a moment in time, which is all we ever really have anyhow.

My biggest struggle with my own life here, is not the here but the what. Having traveled all my life, and often solo, I am used to comings and goings. New friends, new love. New homes, new cultures. Recently I became very sick. My nephew called me and asked – could you just be allergic to Africa? This is not the case, by any means. But I do adore having my people around. And I am getting to a stage where I’d like to invest more of me with another. And I am also turning into a bit of a mad cat lady, filling my phone’s storage with cat escapades rather than my own!!

A beloved friend of mine recently gave birth and I happily spent hours with the baby Buddha, as she wriggled and jiggled herself in my lap, moving my supportive arms out of the way in order to sprawl out as much as she could. Unlike me, I was very broody. And funnily enough, lots of people later told me how much it suited me….

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The kids I teach right now, are absolutely ones who stole my heart and will keep it forever. I taught them for their first year of school and I am now fortunate to teach them again for their third year. I am not a mother, and it has been a long time since I have had cause to consider being one. But my heart is full of love and I admit, some things are stirring in my mind. Instead of getting so caught up in the humdrum of work, I am slowly slowly allowing other things into life instead.

Different tragedies have beset people around me here (including the devastating news that another friend of mine lost her newborn) and I don’t want to be so busy making a life, that I forget to live it. Times they are a’changing…

Living life as a marathon or a sprint…

Lagos life is becoming reminiscent of my old London life; fast-paced, not enough ‘end’ in my week, long journey times to reach nearby destinations, and opportunities to do so much, that I couldn’t even write it all into my diary let alone fit it in.

Rainy season this time around has been like no other I have known, for this time of year. Having returned to Nigeria at the end of August, it seems like not a single week has passed when the skies haven’t darkened, day has somehow turned into night skies, and plans have been set aside due to heavy downpours. Even yesterday, as I traveled to the beach hoping to get some ‘fresh’ sea air into my lungs for a reprieve, we found ourselves amidst a full canvas of rains, leading us to be wetter than if we had simply jumped from the boat and immersed ourselves within the lagoon. Arriving at the beach house, shivering and having the sensation of being a drowned rat, my simple choice was to submerge myself under the pool’s water. Despite it generally giving me an initial chill to the bone upon entry, I found myself warmed and soothed. Better under the water than it crashing down upon me.

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Making a personalized Irish coffee, to warm me through the rains,

There is so much of this place that I love. Yet I am working all hours that I can manage, still I find I am behind in almost every deadline that I face, and thereby of course, I feel like I don’t see much of these loves….

I have more invitations that I can keep up with, even in memory let alone in action, and I have missed some fabulous creative events, that generally make my life here all that richer. I missed the Lagos Photo festival,Lagos Photo festival, the Lagos Fashion week, many operas, meals with friends, dates with potential new relationships, the incredible Art X exhibition, jazz nights, embracing the spectacular Felabration, enjoying the incredible Ake Arts and Book festival held at the newly built Alliance Francaise that is no less than five minutes walk from my house.

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Mauritius, myself and I

So, I have now been here for two weeks and have just arrived in my third and final hotel. The weather has not been as good as anticipated; though I knew it was winter here, that had meant for me some very cool evenings but mostly fine days. Instead there has been a lot more rain within this than expected. Yet I admit, I have no reason to complain. I have been off from work, in beautiful surroundings and the wet weather has given me more chance to study.

I would like some more sun rays now though, for my last week here! That said, I have been delighted with stunning sunsets, and glorious rainbows.

It is indeed romance-central across the island, and though I had been pre-warned that much of the island’s draw as a tourist are the spectacular 5 star hotels it boasts, I could never have imagined this until I saw them with my own eyes. (My drive up the East coast yesterday opened my eyes to hotel complexes I have never imagined could exist). Meanwhile, I have now spent time in both the North and South of the island, and thanks to having hired a little car, I have also circumnavigated the whole perimeter of the island and feel I have a good semblance of how it varies from region to region.

I can certainly state that it isn’t an easy place to meet people as a solo traveler, as this seems to be quite unheard of here. And I would most definitely recommend getting a car if you are coming here, whether solo or with others. It takes a lot longer to get to places than I expected given the size of the place, and though the beaches and the hotels are the main draw, you cannot easily get to one from another without transport. Also, in times of inclement weather it is useful to reach another quarter of the island, as chances are where the rainbow ends, the sun will be shining.

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Mellowing out in Mauritius

I love my life. Truly. And each day, even in difficult times, I acknowledge the blessings within it.

Few people can tell the tales I have told, nor wander the walk-boards I have walked.

I am unmarried, childless, ageing, wandering, and wisening.

Often people look at me with a certain trepidation when they realise how often I am alone, both at home and away. They share a worry or fear, of how lonely this must be, and how terrifying also.

Yet literally as I’m typing, James Blunt comes onto the airwaves and states “My life is brilliant”. And it is.

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Goodbye is not forever

This expat life is not the one I ever saw myself taking. I got on that plane years ago, because I wanted to live in Africa. I wanted to wake beneath the African sun, hear the songs of the African sky, and sleep beneath the African stars. Uganda was to be my forever home.

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And then it was no more.

It has been a few years now since I have lived in Lagos, Nigeria, and at times it is hard for me to ever imagine living elsewhere, least of all the UK.

It has it’s ups and downs, of that I can be very sure! And often I wonder why I am still living there when it has caused much separation from loved ones and favored foods and places. Yet ultimately I land back upon the same conclusion. Africa continues to live in me. I do not fully know what the magnetism is for me, but it remains. And for now, this pole is centred within Nigeria.

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Life is a beach…until it’s oh so not

Life isn’t always a beach. This is true indeed. Nor is it always plain sailing. Would we want it to be? Would we feel inspired, invigorated, challenged, awakened, aware…any of these things, if it were?

It is fair to say I have been feeling incredibly jaded. I have been reaching a level of emotional burnout, through the effect of various pressures, both externally and internally. And this takes its toll. Once stress is enabled to build-up within us, the effects become long-lasting, have damaging results health-wise, and our mental state feels the hit, hard.

Happy to say however, that though my pressures continue, I have turned some corners. With workloads and with facing some social anxieties head on, (by reconnecting with an old female friend), as well as treading the boards of my beloved dance floor once more. Is it fair to put the blame of all these stressors onto living in Lagos? Maybe. But not entirely.

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When in Rome…

So, the old adage clearly states, when in Rome, act as the Romans do. And I have been firmly brought up against this backdrop.

It is not for me to put my values upon you, when I am a visitor in your land.

Yet, does this really ring true in today’s interconnected world? It can be extremely hard sometimes, within the West, to find truly authentic experiences of culture, heritage and tradition. Whilst on the traveling scene, this becomes even more prolific, as countrymen scramble to market what they perceive to be the most likely money-spinner the tourists will jump on board with.

In Africa, (based on my growing experience of the continent that is), it does however remain relatively “real”. That is, if you’re ready to leave the big cities and venture out.

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Disparate days

I’ve lived in various countries and many, many cities. I have worked across many of the workplace realms, at differing employment levels (from Social services, to Education, to hospitals, to catering and hospitality). And I have traveled to, and explored, quite a few countries also.

But never in all of my experiences can I ever recall days as disparate as the ones my eyes see and my feet tread here, in Nigeria. It is truly a fascinating, if not deeply heart-wrenching life I feel I am wrapped within. I often find myself spinning inside the spider’s web of confusion, intrigue, wonder and sadness.

Take for example this past week. I myself have been experiencing some health issues. As I am assigned a hospital through my workplace, I have been having tests with them. I have then been administered drugs to relieve symptoms. Yet for the second time in less than a year, the meds prescribed are ones I am highly allergic to (to the point of possible death)…

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Locked-down or locked-in?

Somehow almost an entire year has passed since I have put pen to paper (so to speak) and here I sit wondering how on earth so much could have gone unscripted. Much has happened, many countries traversed, friends made, friends lost, and one thing is for sure, many illnesses and adventures have been had.

Right now I sit here in my apartment watching the kestrels flying above the treetops and waiting to see if my newly found friend, a wild Egret, will deem to sit on my balcony once again and just stare at me nonplussed for some time. (He is quite the amusing fellow I can tell you; looks at me with his earnest eyes as if wanting food, yet when I put flaked fish out for him, he is too hesitant to take it. However when any other Egret dares to breach his boundary walls, he becomes almost apoplectic and I become certain he will fall off to his sudden death…..Yes I know, a bird can’t fall, but you get the jist).

Whilst it sounds tranquil and somewhat of a nice way to begin the weekend, it is also beyond my choice. It is Stage Two of elections here in Nigeria, this time for the State Governor roles. I will definitely not make any comment on this, nor the Presidential Election, as it is indeed not my place to do so. But what I can remark, is that when these take place, the whole place gets put onto “Lock-down/curfew”. No vehicles are allowed on the road during the voting process and due to any potential safety issues, we are asked not to venture beyond our premises.

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Bouncing in and out of Benin; la voyage est la destination

Time is faster than many of us would like and much of it is spent working in order to be able to afford the homes we live in, the clothes we wear, the activities we enjoy doing in those snippets of time when we are no longer at work. There is an adage that many of us are working so that we can reach death, whilst not having the chance to experience life.

This is not the way I want to be.

Osho Quotes on Life and Death

Taking Sannyasin many years ago was not an easy choice for me. I can get overwhelmed by anxiety within my own mind and I can feel reproachful and guilty for things that have long since been said and done. Most likely forgotten by others, but remnants that stay in my mind and heart. However, as part of my dedication to self-love and also a life of service, I consciously chose to ascribe to Osho’s teachings, practice and guidance. To be accountable for my choices and actions always, but not to be laden down by what has gone before. To grasp life in each breath, to continually make the best choice I can, in that very moment, and to trust that this may not be the same choice I make again, even in the next five minutes, let alone years later. To come from my heart always, and to live, fully, in every breath. Conscious choices, loving mind, practices of kindness, service and honesty. I am often heard repeating my personal mantra –

I will only die once, and in that I will most likely have little say. But I can live every moment, and in that I have all the say in the world.

Continue reading “Bouncing in and out of Benin; la voyage est la destination”