We made it!
Thursday night: We left in a windstorm from my parents house with lots of tears and barely made our flight to Paris. 13 bags, 4 carry-ons, 2 kids, and a cat. Hope had some sedatives a few hours before and she went nuts on the flight. Note to self: Hope don't dope. About 20 minutes into the flight, with her eyes rolled back in her head, she started acting like a raging lunatic. She was biting through the travel carrier in the most ferocious way and got her teeth stuck. I had to pry her tooth out of the netting and then she bite through my finger in the process. It was all a little crazy but finally my sweet kitty returned hours later and calmed down. She literally almost bite through it enough to escape. We were grateful to be able to have her at least on the flight with us and not underneath. The kids were a little out of control the first flight. We were thinking Landon would fall asleep around 8 pm in his carseat, but he wasn't having it, and finally fell asleep for a few hours around 11 pm. The only way to get Cami to calm down when she was half asleep and her ears were hurting was to tell her a story about the "magical chocolates" of Paris. We arrived in Paris and had 2 hours to get on a tram, to the bathroom, fed Hope, go through the security lines, and run to our next flight. And of course, get chocolate. The first thing Cami said as she got off the flight (it was 2 am to us) was "I can't wait to get my Chocolate in Paris!" Thadda girl.
Friday afternoon Abuja time: When we got to the terminal, things got real. Waiting outside the gate everyone was either African or a military personel. We were the only white family getting on the plane. The flight was a miracle, both kids and the cat slept, and Landon played happily in my lap listening to my music when he wasn't sleeping. They gave us ice cream bars, french cream puffs, cookies lain with chocolate, we were loving the French service. Finally, 6 1/2 hours later we landed! As soon as we got off the plane, the thick humid air hit us. The infrastructure of the airport itself with it's leaks, mold, and broken tiles definitely looked third-world, but it felt like home at the same time. There were policemen lining the hallways with their brown barats and outfits, almost looking like loiterers as they sat, stared, slouched. We walked ten feet to customs and the policeman pointed us to go through the diplomatic line. A beautiful African-garbed native lady with a big bright smile on her red lips was waving at us from across the room. She ecstatically held up a folder with the State Dept seal. Tanner's co-worker with his suit and aviators on was also in the background. Patricia, in her bright blue dress, beautiful weaved long hair, and chunky royal blue jewelry gave us the traditional African hello with "You are welcome!" and immediately hugged my kids. So warm, so loving! The kids were cute and excited to wave at everyone. They really were amazing sports given their traveling state of exhaustion. All 13 bags were there. They check against your baggage label to confirm the bags go to the right person (no stealing bags here) and on the way out a bored and somewhat apathetic police officer barely glanced at my folder containing my 10 page cat paperwork I had to get processed for weeks. (okay then!) I think it helped that we had 4 State Dept employees helping us, 2 huge armored SUVS picking us up, and we kind of stuck out like sore thumbs when we stood outside of the airport. We weren't there for light travels and it was obvious. People were EVERYWHERE. Just sitting, watching, looking. Mostly men. Up in the hills, over on the sides of the streets. It was authentic Nigeria in those couple of miles coming home from the airport and i loved every second of it. Apparently it's outside of the "safe zone" so I will only see it again when we travel. Women in full African apparel with woven baskets on their heads full of fruit and vegetables, children running around their parents who were selling everything you can think of on the sides of the streets, many men with with sullen dark eyes staring as we drove by. There were cow herders with big sticks and skinny cows with great white horns running around the hills, live fish for sell, darling puppies just being held up for sale on the side of the street, fruits, meats, anything you can think of was basically being sold. Then, as we got more into the city, the African "country folk" you could call them dissipated and were replaced with men in their African dress with hats and long colorful tunics. That is a tribe called Hausa our local driver told us. Hope sat in Landon's nap and was just as entranced with the scenery as we were. We also saw this most amazing policeman who danced his way through the job. He was directing traffic but also putting on a full on dance show. As the driver said "you have to have fun with the work." Amen brother. Then we got to the hotel and the security came out in full force. They checked all of the vehicles (we were exempt I guess b/c we were diplomats) and had to clear every vehicle before entering behind these huge gates. The Sheraton was nice. Probably one of the nicest hotels in Abuja. I'll include some pics. We went through security and at that point I was really delirious. All I remember from there is checking into a mansion of a suite (Presidential oo lala) that is literally bigger than our previous place. It is 1800 square feet complete with two king-sized beds, three bathrooms, a kitchenette, a huge dining room and massive master bathroom. We were set. The housekeeping men (by the way, when you think Nigerian men, think TALL and STRONG, and when you think ladies, let pure beauty come to your mind. Their skin is flawless, their dress pristine, their mannerism proud and proper) were so cute and wanted to show us every room and have us gawk over it. Gawk we did. The kids went crazy. In a good way, running around from room to room, showing us everything that needed proofing within minutes (Landon: i.e.: phones/plants/anything in his reach) and Hope went with Mike to stay at a friend's house for a few days till our hotel is ready. She is in the best of hands, but I hope she remembers me! And doesn't hate me for leaving her! No pets allowed at hotel :(. We all went to bed I'm pretty sure at 12 and then the kids woke up at 1 and ran back and forth from corridor to corridor until 3 am. Tanner, the good soul, let me sleep. He said they were running laps around my bed for an hour and I didn't even notice. Dead.tired.
Saturday: I woke up earlier than everyone and ordered breakfast. And Cami ended up in my bed with Landon on top of Dad in the other. We ordered breakfast (let's just say sausage means hot dogs and cereal comes with hot milk. And the hot chocolate was questionably coffee-tasting, but Cami sure didn't complain). I went to the gym and enjoyed my pool view with colorful (and BIG) lizards hoping on the rocks. A cat ran by with a lizard in her mouth which motivated me nicely to keep at it myself. Then I ran upstairs, got ready, and we headed over to Harvard Compound where our sponsor Steve was waiting to greet us and show us around. Talk about a whirlwind, no time to even think! The compound was even more beautiful than I imagined it. As soon as the ginormous gates opened up, I thought, here we go! Cami exclaimed "that's the house from the pictures that I saw; that's our house!" Having a year to prep her has it's advantages. The playground was right in the center of all of the duplexes, and the stone houses have tropical flowers, lush plants, and even a green yard. It really is beautiful and authentic. Cobblestone roads and the best playground the kids could ask for! We pulled up to Steve's house (which shares a wall with us) and looked around. Lizards in the rocks, bananas on the trees, and our house next door with some serious construction going on. Looks like they are working overtime which is great news. Steve is a Nigerian-American and his wife is Philipino-American. Salt of the earth. Had a beautiful home all decorated from their last post in Kenya for 5 years. Steve is brilliant and kind, his wife warm and so hospitable. They made us delicious cuisine I could have eaten all day as well as some desserts. Cami and Landon loved their dog. It was so nice to get a tour of the house and see our potential layout. The preschool room is going to work perfectly. The house is huge. We were feeling super blessed. We chatted with them for awhile and then Cami anxiously pushed her way outside to the playground. The kids went nuts out there. If there is anything that is truth about my kids is that they love to play and explore. Within minutes families started coming out of their homes and introducing themselves and the empty playground was soon filled with 10-15 neighborhood kids just like that. Kids of all ages from 1-12. Ideal! Cami ran around with a girl named Lily who is also 4, and just like that they were friends. I honestly didn't keep track of my kids. There was no where for them to go to get hurt, no cars on the streets, and if a car did enter the compound it went slowly to its driveway. This is haven for my crazy Landon and going be just a blast for social Cami. There is another park above with basketball, pool, gym, playground and I didn't even get to it, but the kids did. I was too busy socializing myself! I met some many friends that I had already corresponded with, and because of it, it almost felt like reuniting with old friends. Just a huge blessing, there was no way to feel the least bit sorry for myself or alone on our very first day. A friend offered to take me to the store, we loaded up and drove the streets of Nigeria to a secured store with a gate and policemen, got the shopping I needed and even had the butcher make "mozzarella fingers" for me so my kids had their comfort foods like "cheese sticks"and learned that $100 bucks cannot go along way here. Good thing Costco and I became chums and my consumables will arrive in the near future A friend here mentioned you feel like a drug lord pulling out your Nigerian naira because the bills are in 1000s and that equates to about $3. Therefore, I paid about 40,000 N for my groceries and just kept counting the bills one by one like the gringa I was.
We went home and basically crashed. I made spaghetti with a pot I borrowed and some stuff from the store. We ate homemade bread from a neighbor. We got some desserts room service that were eh. We played, I cannot even remember to be honest. We took shifts napping b/c the kids stayed up super late. I was up with Landon until 3 am last night.
Sunday: Everyone woke up at 1 pm. Ridiculous I know. I can't handle it in the evenings. Landon is up right now and it's 2:23 am. I have no clue what to do, other than wake him up early tomorrow. We had a good day overall, ate breakfast at 1:30 pm ha. Explored the hotel, went to kid playground, saw more lizards, some beautiful Nigerian artwork I want to buy, Cami gave high-fives and handshakes to so many (the people here just love her, I think she likes that. It's almost like she's a celebrity or something) came back, had a mini church where Tanner prepared a talk on peace and I did a lesson on charity. It was nice. We have a goal of finishing the Book of Mormon as a family by the end of Nigeria. That is a page a day in our big book that has questions and definitions, etc. I think that is manageable and feels good we can apply something new daily. As Tanner quoted today "learn of me and listen to my word, walk in the meekness of my spirit and ye shall have peace." no matter where we are or what we are doing, we can have access to that peace. Tanner works tomorrow and I feel so bad for him because he went to bed around 12. I guess it is better than my 230 going on 3 am. He just won't sleep. He fell asleep on the chair during our "church" and we were trying to keep him awake. He wouldn't even move he was so tired when we were changing him and getting his PJs on. We were hopeful maybe he would sleep through the night and catch up but at 11 am out he came with a huge tired smile on his face. I think it is a smug smile because he knows he can crawl out of his crib now whenever he wants. #trouble
So yes, this was super long and probably boring. But I figure it will be worthwhile to me to evaluate my emotions and feelings as we go. And capture the fun the kids are having. And the culture we are digging. YOU ARE WELCOME!!! :)