Monday, 29 June 2015

June Happenings

June was an exciting month for me, and even though I didn't do much travelling, I felt rushed off my feet and busy busy busy. Still, it was a great month, made even better by the fact that I am either achieving the goals I set at the beginning of the year, or on track to realising them before the end of the year. Anyway without further ado, here are the highlights of this month.

  • T finished his contract in Vienna and came to Brussels for a week, a WHOLE week! It was so lovely to be together for more than a weekend, and to just hang out, doing nothing most of the time. He managed to meet a few of my work colleagues and friends, and I guess it helps to put a face to the names I mention every so often. 
  • Still on T news, we found out he was moving to Prague in the Czech republic also in June, and he had to organise living arrangements etc. in just under 2 weeks. Of course both of us are a bit sad that it means we won't be in the same city for a little while longer, but I'm excited because it means I get to continue my ajala ways and discover Prague which I've always wanted to visit. In fact I booked my ticket as soon as he confirmed that he had accommodation, even before he himself arrived there! 
  •  Went out with my colleagues for our summer/end of year celebrations (we run September to June cycles), and got to see many of them in a new light. I had so much fun, made quite a few new friends and ended up with a VERY embarrassing French nickname.
  • Decided that I'll probably stay a bit longer here in Brussels, as it give us more time to decide (and find out) where we're going to settle down eventually. I have asked for an appointment with my manager tomorrow to discuss a contract renewal/extension. Fingers crossed that things go according to plan. 
Needed, and luckily highly discounted bikini, from TK Maxx
  • Following on from my biannual review, I decided not to make any more clothing purchases until the end of the year, starting from July. For some weird reason, the knowledge of this decision drove me to wandering stores, frantically wanting to buy something, anything before the new regime began. The fact that it's the sales period in Brussels certainly did not help that feeling, because I kept justifying things to myself by saying I would potentially be saving money, yes really. However, God be thanked, I was unable to find anything cheap enough or worth the price, and so I have managed to avoid all unnecessary purchases so far, apart from the bikini above which I really needed.
  • I went to London to see my Singaporean friend, had a lovely time with her and managed to catch up with a few other close friends with whom I'd almost lost contact.


 
Battle of Waterloo reenactments.
  • I worked this last weekend, and as we only had 3 boys at the hospital, the testosterone levels was just too high, and it quickly became really difficult to manage them. Luckily the sun was shining and the boys were up for a long drive, so off we went to the the battlefields of Waterloo to enjoy the  reenactments with our ice-cream picnic. 
  • Went to see a Nollywood movie with Hanna. It wasn't the best I've ever seen, but I supported my friend who was involved in the project, had a lovely evening at the cinema, and introduced Hanna to Nollywood.
  • And best of all, I received a letter from the Student Loans Company, with my annual statement, and what a pleasant surprise it was. I am pleased to announce that the gbese is going definitely going down, and fast too. I'm so so encouraged, and it is such a motivation to continue working at paying it off!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The London Edition (Part 2)


The Euroshuttle, a "train" for vehicles. It carries cars/buses/motorcycles 
the same way normal trains carry people!

After a great weekend with my friends, I was dreading the long journey back to Brussels, but was as usual kind of looking forward to being either on the ferry or going through the Eurotunnel. I actually prefer the ferry as it means you get to stretch your legs and enjoy a "boat" ride, but I also don't mind the shuttle because I'm always amazed at how such a structure/engineering feat came to be. Anyway I was happy to be going back home and was looking forward to a long but uneventful journey. Alas this was not to be so.

First of all, my ticket told me that my journey was supposed to start at 8.30, so imagine my surprise when I arrived (thankfully) 35minutes early and was told I had just a few minutes to spare before my bus left! Apparently they'd made a mistake and the bus was actually scheduled to leave at 8, so I had to hurry up and get registered/passport-checked, thanks to the UK not being a Schengen country. I made it by the skin of my teeth, and got on the bus, only for the driver to tell me off for being a latecomer. I was so pissed, I tell you! By this time, all the "good" seats had of course been taken, and I had to sit next to a girl in full Burka. Naturally, I had nothing against her, but I really didn't want to sit next to her because I knew I'd have to eat later, and it being Ramadan, I wanted to avoid being evil by eating next to a fasting person. In the end though I had no choice, and it was fine because she turned out to be lovely. 
Anyway almost as soon as we boarded the bus, we realised that we had a CRAZY co-passenger! As in the guy was completely LOCO. He started by singing loudly, and when one unfortunate girl decided to ask him to please keep it down, he went on a rant about being a British citizen and having as many rights as the next person. He said he'd been born in England, and that therefore no one could shut him up, in spite of his being black. He then claimed he had 1kg of cocaine, heroine and other raw materials for making new substances on him. From there, he moved on to talking about how everyone was against him just because he's a black guy who is expected to use/sell drugs and rape women. T happened to call me during one of his rants and heard some stuff, as well as the other passengers laughing nervously and I think he was a bit worried, the poor thing. 

We were N, originally scheduled to leave at 11.20 :(

Well after 2 hours on the road, we arrived at the boarding point for the shuttle only to be told that they were serious delays, and that no one had any idea when normal service would resume! In the meantime, we went through passport control, and of course our crazy friend continued his tirade the whole time. At one point, they called the police who spoke to him but sadly let him loose. We then waited for 2 another hours, during which we were thankfully free to wander round the small shopping centre and weren't stuck on the bus with the crazy guy, and during which I made friends, and ended up chatting with a lovely old lady and her husband who are horse-breeders. Sha, after all that time, they managed to sort out the problem and we were free to leave. Imagine our disgust when we get back on the bus to find our guy just as obnoxious as ever. He basically took up where he left, but added childish jokes, terrible rap, farting and burping to the mix! He even got to the point of saying he had some Semtex and was planning to blowup England as a revenge against Holland for Nelson Mandela (no, it makes no sense to me either). Anyway he got told off for the umpteenth time by the driver who warned him that he could kick him off the bus. That worked for a while, but he soon went back to his objectionable ways and continued for about 6hours, all the way to Brussels (because of course we ran into huge traffic jams). The whole time, I just kept wishing he'd told the bomb story while the immigration staff we on the bus, but I guess even obnoxious idiots have a sense of self-preservation. 

I was so happy to arrive in Brussels, but felt really sorry the the other passengers who were stuck with him for another couple of hours all the way to Amsterdam!

Clara's Travel Tales: The London Edition (Part 1)

It's that time of the month again, and as usual, your friendly (interweb) neighbourhood ajala is here to recount her travel tales. I have done a lot of short trips this year, and even though I have sometimes felt tired and frankly often a bit poor, I realise that I do really love travelling, and I enjoy the interesting things that happen to me on my travels. I mean at the moment, I am both child and husband free, and even my job and relationship permit me to travel, however deep down in my mind I know it's going to change at some point and I'm going to have to reduce my ajalaing one day. So yeah, I tell myself I need to make sure that I enjoy my current situation for as long as possible. Anyways, on to this month's story :)

Denise, one of my best friends, was coming from Singapore on holiday to London for two weeks, so I decided to meet up with her there, as it would obviously be much cheaper than going to her home to visit her. She kind of made up her mind a bit last minute and by that time the train tickets were exorbitantly expensive, so of course as a cheapskate with limited resources, I had to find other alternatives and decided to take the coach. As usual, I had a weird experience, but I'll talk about that in the second half of the post...

I had a really lovely time with Denise and got to see 4 other really close friends, and as London is kind of my hometown, didn't do any tourist things, instead the trip was based mostly around boy talk, general catching up, eating, laughing and re-visiting some of our old favourite haunts. It's going to be a picture-heavy post, but please enjoy!

At one of the many restaurants we visited, 
the theme of the (long) weekend

 Friday afternoon lunch at a correct 
Nigerian restaurant #thingsimissaboutlondon :(

 
 Refuelling with a delicious risotto and chicken/chips 
while wandering through Spitalfields

 
Nandos!

 Hanging out in bookshops, so much laughter 
(and hours wasted ahem!) on some of the content

 Tea, desserts and Denise's crazy impromptu sketch 
of a Chinese/Nigerian man. 
Click to enlarge.

Quick anecdote, as we walked into one of the art shops around Camden, Annabel suddenly cried out "but you're half Chinese and half Nigerian!" Some poor lady next to us took a look at me and became really confused. I guess the poor thing could see that I was with 2 Chinese girls, and that we seemed really close, but my face clearly contradicted all the information she was receiving! In my mind I was like gbeborun, mind ya own business lol.
 

Wandering round Brixton market with Vicky, 
and eating delish Thai food, 
for which the lady gave me crazy super hot chillies. 
Love love love this part of London because it's vibrant, 
cheapish and the food is always on point!

Riding the tube which I hadn't done in aeons, 
and going to my uni/old neighbourhood
 

 At the Southbank with the girls, 
seeing my old neighbourhood/hangout spots.

Southwark Bridge from the Southbank at night.

Monday, 15 June 2015

(try!)To-do List 2015: Midyear Review

 

I love list-making and goal-setting, and so it follows that I regularly evaluate my goals to see if I have achieved or am on the way to achieving them. Just before the beginning of the second half every year, I give in to introspection, reflect upon the past months and ask myself how well I have done. So, off we go with this year's resolutions

Health and Diet
  • Complete ban on caffeine and fizzy drinks (failing miserably on this count, really need to re-tighten my belt)
  • Minimise junk food consumption (doing ok)
  • Increase intake of water, fruit and vegetables. Practise quasi-vegetarianism (spot on)
  • Increase fitness, heart-rate and muscle tone (doing great)
  • Get rid of acne (failing miserably, thanks to all the sugary drinks)
  • Walk 2x15mins a day (going above and beyond, I regularly do 1-1.5hrs/day)

Relationships
  • Stay in touch; contact at least 4 friends abroad, each week (doing ok)
  • Spend more time making and developing Brussels friendships (doing great, thanks to church, internations, Hanna, Temi, Tolu, lovely work colleagues etc.)

"Self Improvement"
  • Learn German, I hope to have achieved a level C1 at least by December 2015
    (on track)
  • Use time wisely and improve punctuality (could be better, but I'm doing ok)
  • Read more books by Nigerian/African authors (failing, but this is because of the complete ban on English/French language books)
  • Go dancing, to the opera/cinema, sightseeing etc. Be cheesy, have fun! (not a lot of "high culture" opportunities at the mo, but between travelling, getting visitors and hanging out with Hanna, I'd say I'm doing just fine)
  • Be aggressive with my student loan, pay back at least 6000(on track, thank God even though some months are harder than others! I think I might even end up paying slightly more than the amount I initially decided)

While looking at the list this morning, I realised that with a few minor adjustments, I could make even more progress in the 3 most important areas of finances, German and my health. 

Since the beginning of the year, I have given myself a monthly budget and kept a strict record of all my expenditure. This helped me see that a lot of my money actually goes on junk food and unnecessary purchases of clothing items. I mean I have so many things that I wear rarely, or have never even worn in my wardrobe, yet I continue to add to the pile! I also have a stash of toiletries that I either bought on sale myself or was given by the MIL, J from ibibiogirl or other friends, however instead of using them, I continue to spend money on new ones. As someone who has a pseudo-nomadic lifestyle, it is even more important that I have as few things as possible, because moving as you can imagine is a pain otherwise. Another way of improving both my finances and my health would be cutting out the junk food which has slowly made its way back into my diet. My face tells the story of the countless grams of sugar my body has ingested recently, and my purse certainly agrees with it. Being radical and completely eliminating junk would mean killing one bird with two stones. So the conclusion here is that I will from July to December 2015, not be spending any of my own money on either clothes (except possibly for one swimsuit) or junk food/drinks (going to restaurants with friends/family is acceptable). 

As for German, I realise that I have reached a plateau again with my learning and have become very lazy. In fact, I can feel myself slowly losing the little I know, and I am worried that if I don't do something soon, I will end up with the same situation as I have with my Italian. In order to avoid that, I have decided to register for the TestDaF (an official German exam) in September. The exam tests from the intermediate level and there are only three levels (B2.1, B2.2, C1.1), with German universities systematically accepting the B2.2 and C1.1 for studying. Now even though I don't think I'll be studying at a German university any time soon, I'd like to reach at least the second level of the test, because who knows what the future holds? The exam is quite expensive at 175€, so as a bona fide cheapskate, I'm hoping wagering money on it will motivate me to work hard on my German and I have re-enlisted the help of T, Hanna and the MIL for this seemingly mammoth task.

So those are the major goals for the next half of the year, see you in December for the next review. Have a lovely week everyone!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Nigerianising My World Since 2000-gbogboro

This post was inspired by J's post on sharing her food culture with her husband. I read her post and found it weird to read that some people seem almost ashamed of their culture. I'm not sure if it's the parents' fault for not having instilled better pride in their children or society's fault for celebrating certain cultures over others. Whatever the case, I will never understand how anyone could be ashamed of their culture, because to me one's culture is one's identity.

Nigerian me at London's Notting Hill Carnival in 2012

In my case, inasmuch as I love experiencing and being a part of other cultures, you simply could not have any sort of relationship with me without learning about Nigeria, the Yoruba people and even more specifically the Ondo culture! My cultural identity is part and parcel of who I am, and I proudly share the good, the bad and even the ugly with my entourage. I do this mainly through sharing the things I love the most i.e. food (as per the original FFO), and books.

For instance, I bought Things Fall Apart for the MIL in German and Americanah for Hanna my German friend/conversation exchange partner. And when we lived in Paris, my sis and I bought my French family friends about 4-5 books by both Chinua Achebe and Chimmamda Adichie. Just last week, my Mexican friend told me proudly on the phone that she'd bought Things Fall Apart and was reading and enjoying it too. Chinua Achebe is one of my very favourite writers, and it is of course natural for me to introduce my loved ones to his writing and through it, the Nigerian culture!

In terms of food, my main thing is fried rice which seems to  have worked wonders on everyone for whom I've ever made it. My French family now loves fried rice and plantains to the point that my French mum said, as we walked past an African shop two weekends ago, "look another place we can buy plantain for dodo, let me note down the address." And few weeks before that, my Mexican and Italian friends suddenly sent me whatsapp pictures of them eating and enjoying food at a Nigerian restaurant I'd once told them about in Paris. In both cases, I was shocked...and at the same time proud of the good job I had done! When I went to Nigeria nko? I brought back a few bags of Kilishi from which I was planning to send some to my mum in England. The mistake I made was taking it to show them at work where it was quickly devoured, sotay I had nothing left to send to my mum lol. This in spite of the stereotype about the French being snotty about non-French food.

As for T, laisse tomber as the French say. He loves Naija food as much (if not more than) as he loves me haha! Pepper soup, dried fish and prawns, egusi, fried rice, spicy kilishi, ati be be lo, he loves it all. I'm pretty sure that our future home will be full of wonderful Nigerian food, as well as British, German and other countries' cuisines, inasmuch as we do not validate or denigrate any one culture over the others. 

I recently spent time explaining the Nigerian elections to colleagues who saw my Facebook statuses and asked about it. And since my uncle is getting married, I am finally learning about this aspect of my culture and excited to talk about all the rites and different ceremonies to anyone that will listen. I've been explaining the Nigerian(Yoruba) traditional wedding process to Hanna and my MIL who is looking forward to seeing pictures. I even showed people at work pictures of my mum in her traditional outfit. 

The thing is even though I think of myself as a child of two cultures, I celebrate and talk about Nigerian culture more because it is less known here than the British culture, although I often go on about that too. I don't force my culture down anyone's throat, or pretend that every thing about it perfect (no one culture is),  but neither do I hide who I am. Instead, I surround myself with open-minded people who love me and everything about me including the craziness that is my Ondo-Yoruba-Nigeran-West African-British-English-Kentish self.

Do you have a bi-cultural relationship or friendships? How do you share your culture with others?

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Bangladesh Edition (Part 3)

And now, because I don't want to pretend that everything was rosy throughout my stay, the lowlights

Remember the operation I mentioned in part 2? Well afterwards, I was told that we students had to wash the bloody beddings and sterilise the surgical equipment ourselves, even though we had hardly any gloves with which to work. At first I was shocked, then I became sad when I thought about the exposure of healthcare workers there (and in many other countries), to blood borne diseases. I donated some money when I left, but I wish there was a way to ensure the constant availability of gloves and aprons, at the very least.

And on Sunday evenings, all those Indian movies we watched came with adverts about skin bleaching. They usually started with a woman whose life was going badly, usually with no marriage prospects etc., that is until she discovers "fair and lovely." Again, it made me so sad to see that the same disease that has unfortunately infected many people in Nigeria, could also be found here. The funny thing is that the girls went on and on about how beautiful my skin and my hair were, but then they all talked about saving up the little money they had to buy these creams. I really tried to make them see that this made absolutely no sense, but I knew it was a futile effort because I knew I was going against the tide, in a society where pale skin had been celebrated and the darker hues denigrated for generations.

Related to the colorism above, is the explicit racism I faced a few times, even though most of the people in the community took me as one of their own. I'll never forget the particular incident that happened as I took a walk with my (white) friend round the hospital one afternoon. A lady, seeing us, rushed towards my friend and touched her foot in reverence. Slightly bemused at the look of panic on my friend's face, I tried to distract the lady by saying hello, but she shouted out a few words, looked at me in shock and fled the area. Obviously with my extremely shaky Bangladeshi, I wasn't able to decipher what she'd said, until my Bangladeshi friend shamefacedly explained to me that the lady had been scared that I would touch her with my "cursed black devil" hands. I kind of found it funny that I was supposed to have that much power, but it also make me sad to think of how she thought my (white) friend could bless her while I'd only curse her, all this based solely on the colours of our skins.

Another issue that I discovered was how the people of that area, being ethnic minorities, were discriminated against. In an unfortunate echo of certain parts of the Nigerian society, I learnt that intermarriage between the majority and minority ethnic groups is severely frowned upon, and I got to know of a few people whose families had disowned them.One of my friends was a product of one such marriage and she told me of how she'd suffered and still continued to suffer for the "sin" of her parents. It really was hard to hear that love doesn't always conquer all. 

Having always thought that leprosy was a disease that had been eradicated, imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was a leper's colony on the hospital site. It really was shocking to see people disfigured, with noses/ears/limbs missing, but it was even more heartbreaking to hear about the huge stigma they faced. "Sufferers" are often ostracised and shunned by their communities, and even their children, whether or not they have the disease are banned from living with the rest of the population. This means access to healthcare, education, work and normal life are denied to these people, in spite of the fact that leprosy is a disease that is hard to contract, when one has a well-functioning immune system. Thankfully, the hospital established a centre where the people could find a community, live in peace with their families, learn a trade and even earn a living.

I realised that in many ways I had taken on the negative traits of the stereotypical "westerner".

I was a vegetarian for years, and I particularly hated birds of any kind as well as their eggs, so imagine how I felt being fed eggs trice a day, every single day. I initially just gave the eggs and daily banana offerings to my dorm mates, but soon noticed that I was the only one that got any sort of animal protein as well as fruits. It turns out that the monthly tuition and boarding fees of 1000Taka (equivalent of £10 at the time), was not enough to provide a balanced diet for everyone. Of course the school could have raised the prices, but many families in spite of being middle class, already struggled to bear the cost of sending their children to nursing school. Here they were offering me special treatment and all I could do was grumble about not having a more diversified diet. Luckily I realised this fairly early on, told myself off firmly and tried to be grateful for everything I was given.

Another #firstworldproblem for me was one of personal space. In Bangladesh for instance, it is quite normal for people of the same sex to hold hands, but I found it extremely uncomfortable whenever one of my friends grabbed my hands. I found the constant touching and the physical closeness very very hard to bear indeed, and at some point even began to feel like I was being constantly assaulted. The other thing that bothered me seriously was the hand-feeding that sometimes happened between close friends. Within that community, it is usual for one to eat rice and everything else with one's fingers, and it is quite common to use the same hand to feed a morsel of food to a close friend or family member. After dodging this so many times, it inevitably happened to me one evening as we had dinner.  A dear friend tried to hand-feed me a ball of mashed rice and curry, and I almost lost the rest of my meal in the process. I sha managed to overcome the sick feeling, and in the end, even I got used to the idea of hand-feeding.

In spite of these negatives, I really enjoyed my time there and honestly would go back in a heartbeat, if ever the opportunity presented itself again.

Have a lovely Sunday! 

Clara's Travel Tales: The Bangladesh Edition (Part 2)

The Highlights included:

Getting invited to a traditional Hindu wedding the day after my arrival. As most readers know, I love food as per FFO, and was so happy to discover all the new food especially the desserts. At some point, I was so engrossed in my Jilipi and Gulab Jamun, that I didn't realise the ghee on face ceremony had started until I found my face being "gheed" up by one of the aunties.


Wearing saris and Salwar Kameezes. My student nurses' uniform was a white sari, while my operating theatre one was green. Imagine the fun my dorm-mates had with watching me dress myself 5days a week! I swear the "asian" women who wear them everyday and make it look easy are the original MVPs. Of course on Sundays, my friends liked to dress me up in their own beautiful saris and take pictures. The rest of the time, I rotated between the 5 Salwar Kameezes I had had sewn the day after my arrival. I soon learned about the Salwar Kameez and how it does the important job of covering women's shoulders, boobs and derrière twice, in order maintain pudeur and avoid tempting men.
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 In the operating theatre

 Yellow-belted 2nd year student

 Playing dress up, in one of my dorm-mates' saris



 My own stock of salwar kameezes and my super bling sari

And of course this brings me to dorm life and my four wonderful dorm-mates with whom I got on splendidly and had so much fun! They were obsessed with  Indian films, and we spent Sunday evenings singing and dancing to all the cheesy songs together. I tell you, when you're only allowed TV one evening a week, you enjoy every single minute of it.
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Friends!

Getting spoilt rotten. Healthcare staff and students were highly respected in the community, almost to the point of being revered sef, and as such we were treated very differently than I was used to in England. For instance, someone was employed to wash and iron our work-clothes, another to clean our rooms and yet another to cook for us. I was so thankful for the fact that I didn't have to hand-wash my 5 saris, each one yards long. And the food was beyond delicious; super spicy, sinus-clearing curries with warm home-made chapatis, rice or dhal...ahhh take me back please!

Dinner

Experiencing so many things that I would ordinarily never have experienced as an Adult Nursing student in England. In Bangladesh, nursing students spend 4years at school and learn to be general nurses, able to cover all the specialities, while in England we only do three years at uni, but specialise right from the beginning. This means that you get to learn a lot of things about your speciality, but are almost completely in the dark about the others. So, I was very happy to be able to work in the various wards and specialities, and got to see some amazing things including a caesarian section  as well as a natural birth (I was traumatised for a long time after that). I also learnt about some conditions that I would probably never have come across back at home, TB, leprosy, child malnutrition (and here I mean severe under-nutrition). I loved learning to take blood, doing post and pre-natal care, and teaching school-kids about cleanliness, diarrhoea prevention etc, through songs and plays. It was  funny to watch so many of them crack up at the badly dressed foreigner with her impossible Bengali and "unusual" looks.


 Community program with school kids

On one of the paediatric wards

The kindness of so many people. For instance, I was the only student that got eggs and bananas for almost all my meals, while the other girls only got the fish paste in the sauce as their source of animal protein. I guess they figured I was an ajebutter :( I also constantly got invited to parties and just random peoples' houses and was always treated like a honoured guest, to the point of people killing their  (precious) chickens for me.
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Doing mogbo, moya at a wedding, in yet another borrowed sari

Going on holiday to Peda Ting Ting, the remote island (with its beautiful tourist resort), on the Rangamati river. This is probably going to be a post on its own, but let's just say it was lovely!
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Being upgraded to business class for the first and only time in my life (so far), on my way back home. The lady at the check-in counter  apparently thought it was a bad idea for a "young girl" like me to travel with all those men. By the way, I was 23 or 24 at the time, perks of being a member of team #babyfaceforever I guess! ;)

(Side note, flights from Dhaka to the Middle East are always packed with migrant workers who are 99% of the time, men).

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Bangladesh Edition (Part 1)

It's that time of the month, when I suddenly realise that time has somehow done its thing and flown again! With only a few hours left till the end of the month, I have decided to take inspiration from my last post and write about my time in Bangladesh.... I hope you enjoy reading it.

My decision to study nursing was very last minute and as I couldn't be too picky, I ended up having only 2 requirements: a London university that offered study abroad options. This is something that was and remains quite rare amongst nursing students in the UK, however as your resident OCDer, I did my research  and managed to snag a place at the highly reputable King's College. Immediately after getting my admission, I asked about going abroad and was told that the very few places available were reserved for the best students. This was enough motivation for me to work hard and get a 1st (which without further motivation, only ended up being a 2:2 by graduation), in my first year. In the end, only a handful of people wanted to go abroad and even fewer qualified for the opportunity, and almost every one of them chose "safe" places like the US, western European countries etc. Me, I just wanted to use the opportunity to have an extended visit with my best friend Jenni, in her home country of India. (Un)fortunately it was difficult for me to find a nursing school and/or organisation that was willing to take me in her area, however, just before giving up, I stumbled across the idea of going to Bangladesh. I was like why not? India's just next door, and the culture (which I know quite well thanks to Jenni), is quite similar right? Wrong! I was to discover and fall in love with a new culture, language and people.

So anyway, I went with the organisation BMS, and was told I'd be going to a place called Chandraghona, somewhere in the south-eastern corner of the country close to the border with Thailand.  Arriving in Dhaka the capital, after almost 14hours in the air, I was overwhelmed with the crowds (especially the children running after me), the heat, the noise and the smells. Luckily I had people from BMS to collect me and we made the long arduous journey to what would be my home for the next few week. As soon as I arrived, I noticed that the people looked nothing like my stereotype of Bangladeshis, with most of them looking like they could be Thai or Malay. I asked and was told that this was a group of people that was collectively known as the Jumma; the tribal people of the Chittagong hill tracts. They were apparently marginalised by the rest of Bangladesh, and had been fighting for their independence for a few years. As a matter of fact, I was there during a period of political unrest, when a lot of guerrilla tactics were being employed by both the state and the freedom fighters. In fact there had been a spate of kidnapping of foreigners just before I arrived, but apart from having to apply for special permission to go on holiday in the area, (with my own special police convoy to boot 8-/), I personally had no problems. Anyways enough of my rambling, on to some of the highlights and lowlights of my time in Chandraghona.

 My Dhaka "fans" ;)

 The hilarious notice at a Café in Dhaka
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A Hindu shrine, with revered turtles. Those turtles lead a charmed, pampered life I tell you!

I have decided to break this up into a three part series because it would otherwise be a very long read, so look out for parts 2 and 3 over the next few hours.

Monday, 18 May 2015

One Man's Meat, Another Man's Poison

Two of my French friends are in Thailand at the moment and like all generation X-ers, have been taking lots of photos and bombarding my Instagram page with the weird and wonderful things they have seen, particularly with regards to food. This got me thinking about how each person's definition of food "strangeness" depends on their culture and past experiences. As a Nigerian, I know that we have a lot of foods that many non-Nigerians would find curious or even downright disgusting. I'm talking for instance about Bushmeat, goat's brain in Isi Ewu, Ondo people (my parent's tribe) eating dogs, chicken feet, cows' legs, the offal and innards of cows/goats/birds, fish head and eyes etc. Even as a particularly picky child, I managed to eat and enjoy many of these delicacies without the slightest feeling of revulsion. However, one of the results of my ajala lifestyle is the fact that I have often been confronted with foods that many people, Nigerian and non-Nigerian, would find a little too strange. Of course my inquisitive nature means that I have tried and even enjoyed some of these dishes. Anyway, here's a short history of my "foodie" encounters.

Growing up, my mum (unlike my very picky dad) was an aficionado of the "exotic," and often bought and brought home various kinds of meat including Turtle, Bat, roasted Frogs and even one time Snake. I soon learnt to be comfortable with considering a lot of these as food items, and although I sometimes refused to eat things that felt too strange to me, for the most part, I tried almost everything.

Years later when I went to boarding school, I got introduced to the idea of eating insects...yummy, crispy-on-the-outside, moist-on-the-inside Termites! I don't know who came up with the idea, (actually Google tells me it's a well-known snack in certain parts of Nigeria), but we'd wait eagerly for it to rain then put buckets of water under light sources. The termites, driven out of their holes in ground and attracted to the light would then somehow lose their wings and end up in our artfully positioned buckets of water. They fell in their thousands, and we schoolgirls, ecstatic about this literally forbidden "fruit" eagerly gathered up the harvest and cooked them over candle-flame. Yes I know what you're thinking, carcinogens, improperly cooked food, fire hazard etc. My school thought the same things too, and this activity was completely verboten. However as you can imagine, the taste of termites, the clandestine nature of our activity and the chance to break rules meant that we did this regularly in the rainy season. In fact writing this takes me back to the good old days of the crispy, buttery goodness that were candle-roasted termites. 

Moving to France after having being a vegan for many years, I quickly realised that non-meat diet was a misnomer for the French, and promptly gave up veganism. I then ate and enjoyed Frogs' Legs, having previously refused to touch this with a 10ft barge pole in Nigeria, and tried Caviar which I found much too salty for my taste. A few years later, I tried Horse meat while on a date and didn't like it one bit, although I put this one down to the cook who was also a disastrous date. Steak Tartare which I enjoyed, came later, but it made me worry for ages about getting sick from E.Coli.

For my first Christmas in Paris, I was invited to a friend's place and served Foie Gras (literally fatty liver), a traditional Christmas fare in France. As a former vegan, I was a little bit reticent about eating it, but then my natural curiosity won and I decided to try it...loved it! (Un)fortunately, my principles over the cruelty to animals (geese and ducks are force-fed to effectively make them develop liver Cirrhosis) still cause me to pause each time I am offered this quintessentially French delicacy.

Crocodile meat, I've had this before when I was younger, but I had forgotten what it tasted like and only got to try it again a few weeks ago when my sister visited Brussels. She tried it for the first time at a Congolese restaurant, and fell in love. And honestly, who could blame her? The taste was amazing! It reminded me a little of the Asun (spit-roasted goat meat) my father used to make when I was a kid. However, the fact that it was crocodile (CROCODILE!) stopped me from really enjoying and re-ordering it, unlike my sister who got addicted and ordered the same dish trice in one week.

In Finland, I tried Mykyrokka (blood-dumpling soup) while visiting the then boyfriend's family and had been enjoying the meal until I decided to be polite and ask about the soup. Let's just say I found it a struggle to swallow the rest of my dinner when I got their responses. During the same visit, I also had Venison (deer meat) which was absolutely delicious but made me feel so incredibly guilty. I felt like I was eating Bambi! :(
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During my year abroad in Sweden, I tried Surstromming (fermented or rotten baltic herring, depending on who you ask), and nearly died from the odour that had me nauseated for hours. It was an epic fail of an experience which will never ever be repeated. On the other hand, the equally pungent Shrimp and Fish Pastes fermented in earthen pots for about 6 months underground, which I regularly had in Bangladesh was the bomb! It was used to make beautifully spiced blow-your-head-off hot curries, which we ate with Chappatis or rice.

And to finish, I'm not sure how I came about this exactly, but I've had Kangaroo jerky before, and I loved it! 

So that's my strange food history. What is the strangest thing you've ever eaten?

Monday, 4 May 2015

Started From the Bottom, Now We're Here!

Pardon my brief descent into craziness, but I am feeling very proud of myself at the moment. Why you ask? Yours truly after only 4,5months has tested as an intermediate German speaker. Oya, everybody clap for me. Thank you, thank you! ;)
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When I decided to start learning German in the second week of December, I set myself some goals and panicked when I realised the magnitude of the task before me. Then in February or March, I booked a ticket to go see T's family in May, and promised myself that I would be done with all the lessons/exercises on Duolingo by the 7th, the day before I was supposed to travel. At one point a few weeks ago though, I started to panic because I realised that I was so behind that it was unlikely I'd achieve my goal, but for some weird reason I became motivated again and due to some intense work, managed to finish the whole thing one week before my deadline. During this time, I noticed that the more German I did (on Duolingo/by watching TV or through reading), the more I became used to the language, and the easier it was for me to learn further. It was a virtuous circle, and so efficient that it almost turned me into a German freak. I have had(and still have) so many ups and downs with this crazy language, and have often felt like abandoning it(even taking a few breaks when life got too overwhelming), but I am so glad I never completely gave up. Of course I am still far from fluent, but I thought I'd share how I did it anyway, because it might help someone else.


So a few takeaway ideas from my experience of learning French, Italian and now German:
  1. Set goals and try to be accountable! Even if your boyfriend and friends  side-eye you for your obsessive behaviour.
  2. Speak, speak, speak. People (again my boyfriend and even my conversation partner were guilty of this) will laugh at your pronunciation and/or just not understand your babbling, but don't let that discourage you. Practice makes perfect, and your efforts will eventually bear fruit. Oh and the same people who laughed at me now compliment me on the progress I've made.
  3. Living in the country and immersing oneself in the language and culture while important, is not essential. I learnt French a bit quicker than I am learning German now, because I was immersed in the language 24hrs a day, but I've realised that these days there are so many ways of surrounding oneself with the target language. Books, the internet, radio, watching TV are all ways of bring the proverbial mountain to Mohammed.
  4. Ups and downs are normal and to be expected in language learning (and with everything in life I suppose). Embrace them. Celebrate every high, mourn every low but never stay static. This is also one very good reason for evaluating and re-evaluating your progress regularly; sometimes we don't notice the progress we've made until we take an objective test or someone else compliments us or points something out.
  5. Surround yourself with "encouragers". Blog readers, my conversation partner/friend, my boyfriend's mum and T have all been very helpful, especially whenever the going became difficult. So yeah a big THANK YOU to everyone that encouraged(s) me, you guys have been absolute darlings. DANKE SCHÖN!!!
  6. No dream ever materialises without some effort, elbow grease and a good dollop of sweat. So to everyone that has some goal they want to achieve, my advice in the great words of Nike, would be to "just do it!"
Addendum:  After putting up this post, I suddenly realised that it might mislead people, causing them to think I speak German perfectly. Well I don't. I can communicate verbally and read without too much difficulty, and I understand a huge percentage of what I see/hear on TV/radio. However (due to insufficient interaction), my speaking language skills still need a lot of work, mostly with pronunciation and acquiring more advanced vocabulary. So yeah I'm definitely still a long way away from fluency!