Well, we survived our first week in Lagos, Nigeria and never came close to re-packing our bags screaming to be taken to the airport. That’s the advantage of having little or no expectations about this place. After reading and hearing unflattering comments and negative reviews about the second biggest city in Africa (in terms of population), we were pleasantly surprised that it is not as bad or as expensive as we were told. Of course we live on campus in Victoria Island, and have only seen parts of the mainland, Lekki and Ikoyi.
We do miss Islamabad, it is a lot prettier with the hills, trees, and flowers plus wide streets and minimal traffic. But I was thrilled to walk in a couple of malls and supermarkets here nonetheless. The shelves carry some familiar brands and labels, such as Dove, Pampers, and Colgate. But milk, rice, and olive oil are incredibly expensive, while pasta, beer, and wine are surprisingly cheap. The toys are also pricey, like a box of Matchbox cars that cost $5 in Pakistan and $10 in the US is selling for $30 here.
“Do you know how far China is from here,” my husband teased me.
The people seem friendly. At least the local staff in school and at the US Consulate are ready to greet you. But the sales ladies are surly. They look bored but get annoyed when you ask them a question. At least everyone speaks English and all signs are in English.
Most of the locals look colorful in clothes with bold prints. I enjoy watching those with elaborate headdresses and those who wear their babies around their waist. And they look so graceful when they carry all kinds of things, like a jumbo sack of water bottles or basket of produce, perfectly balanced on their heads. The men are not to be outdone, because they also love to dress up, some of them in cotton with lace trimmings.
We like our place, too. When we first arrived it felt like we were still in the US, because the furnishings are very modern and Western. We even have an AC in the kitchen. (The intermittent brownouts do remind us we live in a developing country.) After adding the rugs we brought from Pakistan, some wall decorations and sarongs from Thailand, and our framed photos it now feels very comfortable. Even James likes to spend more time in his room today after we spread his toys and added two colorful batik artwork left by the previous music teacher.
The adjustment period has been the most difficult aspect of our arrival. We’re always tired, sleepy, and feeling a lot of stress. There is so much to do and a lot of information to digest, with classes starting in two days. We had to get acquainted with the newly-hired cook/steward, nanny, and driver; negotiating and discussing their work schedule, duties, and salaries after being in their country for only a few days. Even if everyone speaks English different terms are used sometimes. We had to learn a whole new set of procedures for preparing lesson plans and new software for attendance and grading. Where is the printing room? Where can we get supplies?
And we not only had to adjust to our Mac laptops (damn, where’s the taskbar for the minimized windows?), but also had to get our toddler used to a different sleeping schedule, new nanny, new environment, and often had to leave him screaming and crying when we go to work. He is a smart kid. As soon as I pick up my bag or the nanny walks in he starts crying and would cling to me. I hope things will improve when he starts daycare/playgroup this Monday. It’s only 5 minutes from school, and he’ll be with some familiar faces, two other toddlers of our colleagues everyday for half a day.
While I worry about our son’s well-being I have relaxed a bit about malaria. There are not as many mosquitoes here compared to Islamabad or the Philippines. And we live in a compound with other families, so James gets to play with other teachers’ kids, whose ages range from 18 months to maybe 14 or 15. It’s like having so many cousins to play with. Right outside our building is the pool, playground, and soccer field. From where I sit, James is in a good place. As long as he’s happy and safe, that’s what matters.