So, here we are, weeks into lockdown, no idea when we will come out of it. For me, and many families around the world, this is also the Easter holidays. Whilst so many people around the world are struggling to adapt to the enforced stay-at-home protocols, as they adjust to the dramatic change in social situation, and the absence of schooling and usual work life, there are also many, many people, including myself, who are working somehow harder than ever before.
My phone and social media are rife with messages, of frivolity, dark humour, inspiration, risk rates, health care guidance, let alone melancholoy, anxiety, frustration and some despair. Loved ones with children are somewhat overwhelmed with their newfound 24 hour parenting regimes, single friends and loved ones are verging on the balance of gratitude and loneliness, and then there are us teachers, finding their way through the mud. Somehow, akin with the parents, we need to keep children reassured that everything is fine, fine, fine, and that it won’t be long at all until we are back together , when they can return to their daily squabbles, curious moments, and mind-opening sessions and routines.
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.
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?
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….
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…
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.
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….
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.