Keep Ya Head Up

“It’s gonna take the man in me to conquer this insanity.                                                Tupac Shakur in the song “Keep Ya Head Up”

Yesterday, while leaving the poolside party where we picked up P’s daughter after an afternoon of childhood revelry, I saw this little lizard sitting on a tree. His entire body was flat, but his head stuck up confidently, and in my mind, he looked determined.

Now, to go through life assigning such humanistic characteristics, like determination, to animals, and sometimes even inanimate objects, is a lifelong specialty of mine. I think I get it from my mother, who used to curse objects when either she or I bumped our toes and jammed our fingers against door knobs and unyielding furniture.

But this little guy, this little lizard, one of the most iconic things associated with Lagos, sure did look determined.

As I hurriedly took out my phone to photograph him, I thought, “Look at how flat his little body is, but how he still confidently holds his little head up. That little guy is tough.”

The lizard reminded me of what it takes to live abroad, in a place that is so, so very different from where home is.

Some days are good, like yesterday. Some days kind of suck, like today. Most days just pass with neither fanfare nor folly; days like that far outnumber the rest.

Moving to and living in a foreign country is not the sexy, exotic, every day is a crazy-ass day kind of experience that movies, books, and misinformed friends would have you believe.

Sure, if you move so some place like Canada, where I *imagine* everyone is somehow fit, delightful, friendly, and non-violent, all at the same time, then yes, you have a chance to live out your sexy, exotic, every day is amazing kind of experiences.

But, surviving the day to day trials of life, most of which are mundane, can really suck when you’re thousands of miles from home.

Over the course of this blog’s life, I’ll share a few things that suck about Lagos and my personal expatriate experience. Today, I’ll share the WORST thing about being here.

No Driving

Before I came here, all of my friends teased me about how cool it will be to have a driver. In their overactive imaginations, my driver would be like Fonsworth Bentley (does anyone remember that guy? Probably not, let me think of another example) or perhaps Morgan Freeman in “Driving Miss Daisy” or, in my OWN imagination, Alfred, from the “Batman” comics. God! How I would love an Alfred.

Wait, no, I’m getting side tracked talking about Batman. Because in real life, would I actually want an Alfred? OF COURSE NOT.

So, why not?

Lack of Freedom: Out of decency as an employer, my driver only works 9am – 4:00pm Mondays-Fridays and occasional Saturdays and even less frequently on Sundays. This means that any trips I take off camp are made during those hours unless I am taking a bus to the airport or a bus full other expats to some dreadful, seemingly “fun” experience like Taco Night. NEWSFLASH: Nigeria is NOT the place to have a taco. Mexico isn’t having Jollof Rice Night, I can tell you that.

The lack of freedom that is taken away by not being able to drive myself is maddening. Most of my life has been planned. I’m a planner. I like plans. I like lists and pens to check off things that are completed from the lists. But MY GOD what I wouldn’t give to be able to go to a movie whenever I wanted to. What I wouldn’t give to just randomly go for a drive alone at night, some place to watch the cars go by.

There’s something very magical about “going for a drive.” Going for a drive is therapeutic to the soul. The other day, I was listening to a podcast and one of the presenters said “Going for a drive is a very American form of therapy.” In America, if you say to someone that you’re “just going to go for a drive / ride” they already know what you mean. They know that you mean you need to just be alone, inside of a several ton machine, passing the time, clearing your mind, seeing new things along the road, and appreciating the things that are familiar.

I hate road trips; but I love to just “go for a drive.”

When I first moved to Houston in April 2005, I would frequently quell my fears and stress by going for drives up and down my favorite street, Westheimer Road, which I used to live near. I would just wait until it was late at night, after the traffic had died down, and go for a drive. It was glorious.

When I went home from Lagos to Houston in December 2016, I was ECSTATIC to receive keys to a rental car. I took photos of the rental car, just like it was a plate of fine caviar or a pastry that Martha Stewart had made herself. I was over the moon to have my own mode of transportation, to be behind the driver’s seat, to be absolutely free of anyone else’s time constraints, or work schedules, or preferences. To be free of any guilt of staying out to late. To even have the OPTION to stay out late. I learned a new appreciation for “going for a drive” that I would have never gained had I not lived in a place where it was illegal for me to drive.

I curse myself for all the times I drove home, in the horror of Houston rush-hour traffic, and wished it to be over. Because what I wouldn’t give right now to just get in the car and go SOMEWHERE.

So, sometimes, life abroad is hard. And that’s probably why I related to that little lizard so much yesterday. His little flattened body, flush against the tree, reminded me of how I feel sometimes while living here.

While I feel fortunate and I know that this time in Lagos is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity for growth and adventure, I also feel quite oppressed. Many days, I feel sane; some days I don’t. I struggle with feeling ungrateful when I get down because I miss the simplicity of my old life. I struggle with feeling ridiculous when I think about how I used to complain about my old life. I struggle with feeling impossible to please when I think about how much I do NOT want some parts of my old life back, even though I also miss them at the same time.

On days like this, I have to remind myself to be like the lizard. I have to coexist with both sets of feelings: a mostly struggling, oppressed feeling and my attempts at cultivating a determined and resilient attitude.

Besides, right after I took the little lizard’s photo, do you know what he did?

He got up and strolled away, like it was nothing.


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