Wednesday 6 January 2016

(try!)To-do List 2016 :)

Happy New Year! E ku Odun Tuntun! Bonne Anneé! Frohes Neues jahr! Buon Anno! 
May your 2016 be full of only good things.

So, blogging kind of fizzled out for me towards the end of last year, as I became busier and busier with work and life in general. I currently have two part-time jobs, and at the time of signing the contracts, thought only about the positives, i.e. the chance to explore two very different work environments. Since then, I have had to re-think my decision as I gradually began to realise that two part-time positions doth not one full-time job make! Instead, I feel like I have at least 1.5jobs, and I'm struggling with keeping up with both places, as well as doing my usual gallivanting around Europe. In the light of this, I've been thinking about making 2016 the year of lying low in Brussels and picking up other more...non-nomadic habits. Still for some reason, I'm super excited about this year!

Anyway, as is traditionally the case every year, I have thought about and decided on this year's (much shorter) new year's resolutions. I know many people make fun of these, but I find them very helpful because as a bona fide list-checker, I am motivated by the pleasure I get whenever I can cross something off my list. Looking at last year's list, the major seemingly impossible goal was learning German and reaching a certain level before the end of the year. I somehow managed to do it, and it has both given me the skills I need, as well as inspired me to pick up Italian again. So, without further ado, I present my 2016 new year's resolutions. 
  1. Learn Italian, get the CELI4 certificate by November
  2. Improve German
  3. Read 24books this year in Italian and German
  4. Make more of an effort with my appearance
  5. Take care of health: exercise, healthy diet, drink 2L water daily, good sleep routine 7-8hrs daily
  6. Give up fizzy drinks except for the rare beer
  7. Clear face
  8. Finish paying student loans
  9. Start MPH
  10. Put up 52 blogposts 
Will I attain every goal on the list? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, putting them up on the blog makes me feel more accountable, and I'm also hoping I'll get the same amount of support and encouragement as I did last year. So are you a resolution maker? What are your plans for this year? Please share!

Thursday 10 December 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Christmas Edition and Conclusive Post

Hello everyone, happy December. Can you believe it's now only just over two weeks until Christmas?!?! As for me, I'm enjoying the chocolatey countdown this year with my first ever advent calendar from the mother-in-law. Advent isn't a big deal in Nigeria or England, but it is HUGE in Germany, and I get to celebrate it like the Germans now, thanks to the boy's family. This for me, is one of the best things about having a multicultural lifestyle. Honestly, living as an expat, being from two countries and dating a guy from yet another country/culture has greatly enriched my life. Anyway all that sugar has inspired me to write a short post about three of the important Christmasy feast days celebrated in Europe, which are not really big in either of my two home countries.

First there's Saint Nicholas which is celebrated in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and a few other  countries. According to Wikipedia, 

"Saint Nicholas' Day, observed on December 6 (in Western Christian countries) and 19 December (in Eastern Christian countries), is the feast day of Saint Nicholas. It is celebrated as a Christian festival with particular regard to his reputation as a bringer of gifts. In Germany and Poland, boys would dress as bishops begging alms for the poor, while in Ukraine, children wait for St. Nicholas to come and to put a present under their pillows provided that the children were good during the year. Children who behaved badly may expect to find a twig or a piece of coal under their pillows. 
The American Santa Claus, as well as the British Father Christmas, derive from Saint Nicholas. "Santa Claus" is itself derived in part from the Dutch Sinterklaas, the saint's name in that language. However the gift giving associated with these descendant figures is associated with Christmas Day rather than Saint Nicholas Day itself."

Then there's advent which as the name implies, celebrates the advent and anticipation of Jesus' birth. A sort of countdown to Christmas, it begins on the 4th Sunday before, and continues all the way to the 24th of December. It is usually celebrated with the lighting of advent Candles each Sunday, as well as a special Calendar with windows, which are opened each day and which contain little presents or sweets.

My first ever advent calendar!

And finally, Epiphany feted on the 6th of January, which marks the visit of the three wise men to the baby Jesus. Again Wiki to the rescue for a more detailed explanation. 

"In the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and neighbouring Germany, children in groups of three (symbolising the three kings) proceed in costume from house to house while singing songs typical for the occasion, and receiving a coin or some sweets at each door. 
In Belgium people eat the galette des Rois, a round, flat, and golden cake made with flake pastry and often filled with frangipane, fruit, or chocolate. The cake usually containing a charm (a porcelain or plastic figurine, called a fève (bean in French)) is cut by the youngest (and therefore most innocent) person at the table to assure that the recipient of the bean is random. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes "king" or "queen" and wears a paper crown provided with the cake. This person has a choice between offering a beverage to everyone around the table (usually a sparkling wine or champagne), or volunteering to host the next king cake at their home. This can extend the festivities through all of January!"
Last year's Galette des Rois at work

As you can see the children in these countries have it made, they can rake in the goodies from all these fetes, as well as from good old Santa Claus. The parents on the other hand, not so much! Now imagine being a half British-Nigerian, half German child growing up in Belgium with long-distance but involved and loving grandparents, with all those feast days. That particular child has hit the presents-jackpot niyen! 

This post brings me to the end of the 15-for-15 Challenge and thankfully it's a far cheerier one than my last update. It's also a fitting topic with which to close the year. I am so happy I decided to participate in the process, because it kept me blogging and kept my blog alive.  I am also proud of myself for making it all the way to the end, especially because I had periods where I was particularly stressed in my normal life and struggled to keep up. So I'd like to thank Janyl for the idea, Duru, Oyinda and all my other readers who encouraged and cajoled me to keep going, and everyone who supported by reading and/or leaving comments. Sometimes I was too busy/stressed to respond, but I loved having that interaction with my readers. 

There will likely be at least one more post before the end of the year, but just in case life happens and I don't get round to posting again, I'd like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season. Have a merry Christmas, and a happy new year. May all your wishes come true in 2016! 

Friday 4 December 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The November Edition

This month's edition isn't very cheery, but the world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket, so I have no choice but to be real and write about current affairs.

So three Fridays ago, my sister was supposed to go to Paris to give a talk at a conference as part of her PhD work, but she decided at the last minute to go on the Saturday because for some weird reason, she didn't feel like staying for two nights. Thank God, because the Paris attacks happened that same Friday and she was luckily still in England and therefore protected from the danger. Not knowing that she'd changed her plans, I woke up Saturday morning at 5am for work and saw the tweets about attacks on Paris. You can imagine how scared and worried I was when I got to work and and got more information from the news. I immediately started calling my sister and my parents repeatedly, then not getting through to either party, called T and told him to keep trying. I only calmed down when he told me he'd spoken to my sister and that she was only leaving for Paris that morning. 

One week later, in this climate of fear and uncertainty, I took the very early 6.25am train to Cologne to see the parents-in-law as planned. However, having left the house at 6am without checking news, I was completely unaware of the fact that Brussels had been effectively shut down because of serious threats of terrorist attacks. I arrived in Cologne as planned and spent the day having fun and hanging out with J without realising that my phone (which wasn't online) was going off with messages and calls from my family and friends. Everyone was worried about me especially because I wasn't responding, and because no one knew where I was (I had forgotten to tell my family I was travelling🙈). In the end I went home to T's parents who told me they'd also been worried about me and that they'd even wondered if I'd be able to come after all. I had a lovely time as usual, spending the weekend alternating between sleeping, eating good food and (window)shopping. I also got my first advent's calendar, chose my own Christmas present and got to see the first snow of the season. After such a wonderful weekend, on Monday, it was time to decide if and when I'd be going back to Brussels. 

My mum wanted me to stay until Brussels was safe, and so did T's parents who even offered to buy me a new ticket. I was tempted too, but I knew I'd have to go back to Brussels soon, especially since I was already scheduled to fly on the Friday to Prague for T's birthday. The Belgian authorities didn't make the decision easy either, because they kept giving updates that contained no new information. In the end I stayed glued to the TV, watching until the last minute possible, trying to get to some sort of decision. Around 4pm, they gave an update which stated that the city would remain at high alert for another week, and seeing that I couldn't stay in Germany for that long, I decided to take the plunge and go back home. At Euskirchen a man got on the train, left his bag on one of the seats and walked away for about 5minutes, during which time all manner of thoughts had gone through my head! Then once in Cologne, the Thalys (normally almost always late) arrives 15mins early, everyone gets on and we leave on time! Apart from being the only girl in my entire carriage, the journey itself was uneventful journey until we got to the eerily empty Brussels Midi station. No metros and none of my buses were running, all the taxis had been taken, and they were heavily armed police everywhere. I even saw an army tank on the streets of Brussels!!! In the end I walked the 20mins home with my many bags, all the while bitterly cursing the terrorists for making my life stressful.
The eerily empty Gare du Midi

Once home, the alert level remained at the highest level of 4 for a few more days with disruptions to public transport, and schools/universities/some businesses closed until Thursday when they finally brought it down to a 3. The next day when I got to the smaller, usually-very-busy-on-Fridays airport, it was empty. Now I'm not sure if this was linked to the threats or not, but I personally found it weird. In Prague we were received by (friendly) police officers who checked our passports. It made me wonder if the internal borders were slowly being brought back into the Schengen area...? Hopefully not! And this weekend, I found out that my friends who were supposed to visit this week from Paris have decided to cancel their plans because of the attacks and threats. It made me really sad because of course this means I have to wait a while longer before seeing my friends. It also makes me very angry, because apart from killing people and sowing fear and mistrust among them, the terrorists also seem to be winning by limiting our freedom and taking away our civil liberties.

Anyways I think I'll stop here before I start ranting. Here are a few pictures to lighten the mood, they were all taken during this month's travels...


The lovely J!

 Watching snow fall from the comfort of a warm room

A weekend of good food; celebrating the boy's birthday in Prague
 The best Mexican food I've ever had

This Italian restaurant was pretty good too

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Belgrade Edition 2

Later we went out and had  a lovely time sightseeing, until late in the evening when she mentioned that she still didn't know what time she was starting work the next day and needed to text her "stupid" boss. Seeing that she was getting stressed because she found out she had no more credit, and trying to protect myself by sidestepping any more crises/outbursts, I offered my phone (even though I knew it would cost me loads, Serbia being outside the EU). She immediately turned to me and said it was her life and I should please stop trying to control her. Seeing a repeat of the previous incidences on the horizon, I beat a hasty retreat and said I was sorry, but it was apparently too late! She  started going on about how again my life wasn't a real life, I tried to hard to control everyone, was judgemental, stupid and a lousy guest. The last one was particularly shocking to hear because on the way, she'd told me how she thought I was really modest and easy to host because I wanted nothing, and that she was so happy I'd come because she'd been so lonely and my visit her made her house a home. I was so upset that I made the terrible mistake of telling her I'd leave her to calm down. Crying, I walked a few steps ahead and found a bench to sit down then a few minutes later, looked up to see that she was gone!

Homeless, and later at the colourful reception of my hostel

My first thought was that she'd just gone to buy credit, because I honestly couldn't fathom her leaving me there just like that. Initially I looked everywhere for her and tried to call multiple times, then calmly found myself a bench and began to read, until with the passing hours, it slowly dawned on me that my friend had truly abandoned me in a park in the middle of Belgrade. Here I was in a huge place (the old city), lost, with no internet connection and no idea of how to get home. I tried calling again several times and sending messages, but she'd turned off her phone. As the time went on, I became more and more worried (also about her because I was sure something bad had happened. She surely couldn't have abandoned me like that!).  I thought about calling my Instagram friend but didn't want to bother them, so I called T without telling him my predicament, and hearing his voice calmed me enough to gather myself together and find a solution.

Thank God my guardian angel was awake as usual, because I heard 2 boys; a Serbian with his Somalian (Somali!) friend, speaking English. I went up to them and explained my situation and as luck would have it, one of them worked at a hostel which he called, arranged a room and directed me to even though it was his day off! Thank God I always have some cash as well as my passport on me in strange countries!!! Thankful, I set about finding the hotel even though I knew it would be a challenge with the street names being written in the Cyrillic alphabet.  Still thanks to the kindness and great English skill of the Serbians, I was able to find my way after only one or two wrong turns.

Side-note, I have a "bad" habit of carrying my passport, tickets/boarding passes and a certain amount of cash with me whenever I'm in a foreign country. I sometimes worry about things getting lost/stolen, but my theory is that one must always have the minimum required to get the hell out of any country in case of trouble. For the first time in my life, I can say that my obsessiveness paid off, as thanks to having my ID and some cash, I was able to pay for one night's accommodation.

Imagine my surprise when with WiFi I finally send my friend a message on Facebook telling her where I was and begging her to kindly bring my luggage to town with her the next day (she lives outside Belgrade but was scheduled to work the next day), only for her to reply saying that she wouldn't. She said it my responsibility as an adult to sort that out myself, and that she didn't like me as a person. Then added that I should come get my stuff from her place at 9am the next day, without giving me the address. In spite of several phone calls and further texts/facebook messages, she ignored me and then in the morning finally replied with a one line message giving me her address and the bus number with no further directions.

Thank God for the kind Serbians who decided to look after me, starting from the bus drivers who refused my payments to the one who tried to call my friend with his own phone. The elderly women who tried to help me, and being unable to speak English, found a younger woman who in turn left her baby at home with her mum and drove me round Umka asking people for my friend and eventually through lots of Facebook sleuthing (turning on her data and spending money on me!) led us to her. Even though I didn't tell anyone the events of the night before, they all found it really strange that she'd asked me, a foreigner, to come to her place but wasn't answering her phone.

When I finally got there, she'd packed my stuff and left it at the gate, even giving me back the present I brought for her. She sat at the door in the sun, wearing her coat all buttoned up in 30°C weather. The whole set-up felt so bizarre that I actually felt some pity for her, especially because she looked so alone and terrified. I sha picked up my stuff and said goodbye, but she couldn't bring herself to even look at me or respond. After getting back to my hostel, I decided to contact her on Facebook again because everything was so weird, but she'd either deleted me or her account. Either way I had/have no more contact with her, which is sad because I'm worried about her, and also more practically because as a result of her not letting me past the gate, I left my lovely jacket there. I still honestly don't understand what happened, because all that set off the last "fight" was me offering her my phone. Was that really such a horrible controlling thing to do? I don't know... At the moment, all I feel is an overwhelming sense of confusion, tinged with sadness at the double loss of my friend. One because she's change so irrevocably, and also because this is clearly the end of what had been a long and wonderful friendship.

Oh and not to end this on a negative note, Belgrade is incredibly beautiful and the people so warm and friendly that I felt I was in Nigeria, sometimes! And for the first time ever, I got to use my German in a new context. On my way back to Belgrade after picking up my stuff, I met an elderly man at the bus stop. He was rather curious about me, but we couldn't converse because he spoke no English and my Serbian is currently sadly only limited to thank you, yes and ok. He kept trying though, until frustrated, a German word slipped out! He had in fact travelled a lot around Europe and even worked in Germany for 15 or 50years (the exact figure was lost in translation). And he was so pleased to hear I spoke German that he chatted with me all the way back, pointed out many important landmarks, and went out of his way to show me my hostel. Just amazing! The chance to "meet" new people and create human connections is really why I enjoy learning languages.

Clara's Travel Tales: The Belgrade Edition 1

I wrote this about 6weeks ago, while I was gallivanting around Eastern Europe, so the political landscape might have changed since then... I spent about 10days in Serbia and Hungary, and as usual had some pretty weird things happen to me. I thought it'd make more sense to make it into a 3-part account, so anyway here's the second one. Enjoy.
I wanted to go somewhere cool to celebrate writing my German exams, so I decided, having exchanged a few emails with one of my oldest friends from Paris who had returned to her home country of Serbia, to visit Belgrade. I really wanted to see her again as we'd been quite close in Paris, and it is easier for me to go than it is for her to come to me (I don't need a visa/other financial considerations etc.), we decided that I'd do the travelling.
A few days before my trip, I heard about the main train station in Budapest closing (yes the very same one from which I was supposed to travel to Belgrade) because of the refugee crisis, and with every new report I saw, things seemed to be deteriorating rapidly along the Hungary/Serbia border. I became a bit worried about having to deal with the situation, and wondered if it would even be possible for me to travel, but you know I like living on the edge, so I decided to continue with my plans. I checked in and printed my boarding passes only to discover that I had spelt my own name wrong while booking! The ticket cost only 55€, but I found out that it would cost £110 (almost 140€!) to sort out the problem. I was so upset that I almost cancelled the entire trip, because I felt everything happening was probably a sign that I should stay home. However, thinking of all the money I'd already spent made me decide to try one last thing and look online for how my fellow silly travellers had solved the problem. Luckily I found a blog where someone advised I contact Ryanair on twitter, as apparently contacting them on social media makes them respond faster. Anyway I did that, and it was just as I was told, with the extra benefit of them resolving the problem for free. Happy at this wonderful turn of events, I decided I was going to have a lovely time with my friend and enjoy my holiday to the maximum, as I knew I probably wouldn't be visiting any more "exotic" locations this year. Little did I know what was to come...
Ok, so let me start with the good. The weather, amazing! It was almost always around the 30°C mark and sunny, a real treat and a change from the Brussels I'd left behind. Other good things include meeting my Instagram friend and her family, the friendly helpful people and of course their beautiful 

The good; friends, fun and beautiful architecture
The bad was the constant staring. Although it wasn't hostile at all and seemed more from curiosity  than anything else, it still felt a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes, one just wants to blend in with the crowd ya know? Yeah that wasn't too possible in this case. In fact I stood out like a sore thumb, but my "exoticness" helped me later on, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much!

Now to the downright ugly.
Right from the first day, I noticed my friend seemed different. She repeatedly apologised about how everything was so "third-worldly", talked about how everyone were peasants and basically slagged off the country. I found the new M very difficult to handle because she seemed so hard and judgemental.

Anyway the problem really started on the second day when I met the friend from Instagram. M had instructed my friend to bring me back by 7pm, but we got lost and ended up arriving about 10mins later (actually 7mins, I checked) and she was so upset! She said lots of horrible things about my friend and her family, that they were stupid peasants, a family made of a controlling husband, a depressed mother and a spoilt child. I was shocked because she'd only met them for 5minutes and I though her reaction was a bit exaggerated! She later apologised though, and told me she'd been upset because she thought I'd been kidnapped and trafficked to Albania and then Italy. I again found this extremely weird, but also a bit sweet when idiot that I am, I should have seen the signs.

A little later on the bus back home, I randomly said something about hoping I could talk to T before he went to bed, without keeping him up too late. Imagine my surprise when she went off on me, telling me that what T and I have is an unhealthy relationship. She said we had a bad mutual mother-child dependence thing going on, and then basically talked rubbish about us being together! I found it so strange and upsetting that I shut up (and down) from the stress of it all. In any case, I didn't want to bring even more attention to myself on the bus, because people were already staring at me and that only worsened when M started shouting at me on the bus.

Later, still hurt by what I felt was an unjust and uncalled for assault on me and my relationship, I excused myself politely and  told her I was tired and needed to sleep. Once I got into the room, I called T because I needed to talk to someone, plus I really needed to calm down a bit. Anyway just after our conversation she came into the room, ostensibly to apologise, and asked me what had been said (T had asked me to ask her if she knew the few Serbian words he knew). I replied jokingly that he was showing off with the words he'd learnt from an old friend, however she seized on one of my phrases and said I was always talking about the same thing, completely bizarre and untrue because this was the first time anything like this conversation ever came up!

She said I was obsessed and that my life was not a life at all, I was living in a fairytale make-believe world. Then went on to add that I was judgemental and unfair and wicked. To top it all, she said T was only a boyfriend temporarily, and that things would soon change! The cherry on the cake was when she started talked badly about my family; my mum, my sisters (she was friends with them too!), and even my lovely MIL, no one was safe from her verbal attack. Again, to say I was flabbergasted would be understating the point. I had (still don't understand even after lots of reflection) no clue why she'd be so vehement and venomous about such a banal comment. It was all so strange, especially because she kept "advising" me on how to have a better non-dependant relationship! I tried to tell her in a diplomatic way that it was none of her business, by repeatedly saying "that's your opinion, and I understand, but don't necessarily agree with you". Yes I am British and that how we disagree. In the end she said she couldn't bear talking to or even looking at me any more, and went off in a sulk into the other room to sleep. Confused at the events of the last couple of days, and shocked at the new M, I was sleepless until the early hours of the morning.

Day 3, I got up and stayed in the room because I was tired and to be honest wasn't sure how to deal with this new persona. Imagine my surprise when she came to me and started apologising! She said she was sorry for being a Jekyll and Hyde, and said she was stressed because her life was in flux after all the therapy she'd had in the last 2years. Said she'd always been too sensitive (she was indeed a lovely sensitive person when I knew her!) and that she'd now unfortunately gone too far the other way and needed to find the right balance. She then thanked me for helping her see how she'd started according to her, "losing her humanity", and begged me to forgive her. Finally she told me all the mean things she'd said to me were actually directed at herself. I still felt very upset, but forgave her even though I privately thought it was a bit much that she kept saying she'd never forgive herself.

***This is getting a bit long so I think I'll break it up into 2parts :)

Saturday 24 October 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: Travelling in Times of Crisis

I wrote this about 6weeks ago, while I was gallivanting around Eastern Europe, so the political landscape might have changed since then... I spent about 10days in Serbia and Hungary, and as usual had some pretty weird things happen to me. I thought it'd make more sense to make it into a 3-part account, so anyway here's the first one. Enjoy.
I don't know if any of you has been following the news recently, but in the last few weeks, Europe has experienced a surge in number of people seeking refuge. Most of the people are Syrians fleeing the conflict in their country, and this has been a challenge for the European union, especially the border countries of Italy/Greece and Hungary for a variety of reasons.

One of the most important being the Dublin protocol, which states that people must seek asylum in the first country they land in. However, the sheer numbers this time meant that a change had to happen, and after lots of negotiations, an agreement was reached about how to redistribute the people fairly within the EU, based on factors like the economy, population, country size etc. In spite of this new agreement however, many of the migrants prefer to continue on to Germany and western Europe where they feel they will get better help. As you can imagine, the combination of thousands of people arriving daily, and the fact that many didn't want to seek asylum in the border countries (sometimes less welcoming), meant that things quickly heated up. The Hungarians responded to this by closing the main station from which people were transported on to western Europe.

Ok quick explanation, as an EU citizen, I have the right to visa-free travel within the community.  I also, as a Brit, have the right to stay visa-free, for up to 90days in Serbia (non-EU). Now with that brief introduction out of the way, I'll move on to the rest of the story.

One of the negative results of the recent refugee crisis, is that local populations in some countries e.g. the Eastern European and shamefully for me the UK, have shown increased hostility to people who appear non-native (they are also of course, many in these and other countries, who have shown love and given generously to aid the plight of these people). I was obviously aware of this, and had the slight worry that I being black and obviously foreign, might have some untoward experiences, but  I'm glad to say that contrary to my expectations I able to witness kindness from one or two Hungarians. Notably the guy who paid for bus tickets and helped a family of Syrian refugees we met at the night bus station.

I arrived in Budapest at 11.15pm and by the I got out of the airport, the last metro was shut, so the only option was the night bus. As I stood at the bus station together with the other travellers, a guy in his 20s, looking almost scared of bringing attention to himself, spoke quietly with a Hungarian man. Apparently, he had no clue where he was, and was trying to figure things out. He asked the man for the name of the country and city, and asked how he could buy himself a SIM card, so he could call the other people in his entourage. He'd managed together with some members of his family to arrive somehow at the train station/night bus station and wasn't quite sure how to continue from there, and of course had no Hungarian currency. He also seemed particularly worried about identifying himself as Syrian when the Hungarian asked him some questions. Anyway, the kind (but loud) Hungarian destroyed my stereotype of "Eastern Europeans," and revived my faith in Humanity, when he loudly stated that he didn't agree with the actions of his country/government, bought them tickets and then decided to go with them (out of his way), all the way to the main Keleti station where they needed to be for further trains in the EU.

The next morning, I got to the newly re-opened main station to find it a complete mess. They were people and tents everywhere, women and young children, in what looked like a mini UNHCR installation. The air felt palpably tense, and there was a very obvious armed police presence. Even entering the international ticket halls required passports with a valid visa! I had travelled a lot, and been to Budapest once before, and this was the first time in my life I ever experience something similar. The atmosphere was quite unpleasant, and made me extremely anxious for my well-being. It also made me question my ajala ways, briefly ;)

Just after boarding the train

Sustenance for the 8hr journey

Anyway after all the kerfuffle, I managed to catch my train, and settled in for the 8hour journey to Belgrade. 3.5hours later, we arrived at the border town of Kelebia where the scary border police got on and checked our passports. I knew I didn't need a visit for either country, but even I got scared as they spoke firmly with passengers and kicked  people off right left and centre. After a 30min wait, we crossed into Serbia and immediately had a repeat of the passport control event. The Serbs seemed friendlier, and the lady that checked my passport even seemed nice, but next to me was another border control guy who asked a fellow passenger for his ID card and kind of insisted on it. The thing is we Brits don't have ID cards! We can only use our passports as travel documents, unlike in many other countries. I luckily have a Belgian ID, as all citizens/residents must have one, but that's obviously not a travel document for me , especially outside of the EU. In the end he sha let the guy go, thank God!

Last Serbian town before crossing into Hungary

 The not so nice Serbian border guard

On the way back, T called me because he'd heard on the news that interesting things were happening at the border. Me, having been off the grid and dealing with other more pressing stuff, didn't know what was happening and so was completely calm. The journey went smoothly without any excitement until we got to Subotica, the last town before crossing into the Hungary. Here the previously friendly Serbian border guards burst into the carriages with some relish and started shouting "Syria, Syria!" When no one responded, they turned to some "Mediterranean" looking guy and screamed "passport!" at him. Lucky for him, he was Italian, and was let go fairly quickly. They then checked everyone else and the atmosphere became rather tense and I scared. For the first time in my life, I was specially glad about the normally unremarkable fact that I am black! It's sad to say this, but no one shouted at me or treated me weirdly, because I did not have the "Syrian" phenotype.

Tune in later for parts 2 and 3 of Clara's great Eastern adventure of 2015 ;) 

Friday 23 October 2015


I got a request from the lovely Miss Pynk two days ago to update (thank you for the encouragement!)  and as an amenable somebody, I decided to acquiesce and put up a post. 

I know, I've been a super lazy blogger in the last few weeks and in fact I think the last time I put up a post was over a month ago, but I have a valid excuse. My life has been just cray cray! I've been travelling A LOT, and in addition to this, have had many life-changes occur in the last few weeks. I'm not sure if everyone knows this, but I moved here to Belgium last November, almost a year ago. At the time the move was meant to be temporary, a grown-up (working) Gap year if you will. I wasn't quite ready to move back home to England, and as we still weren't sure where T and I would settle, I decided to do a sideways shift from Paris to Brussels. I got a job as a maternity replacement and a flat for 9months, however as the time slowly elapsed, I realised that I'd probably stay here for a while longer, and needed to look for a new job and a new accommodation. The job search was relatively painless and I soon got myself something interesting, however, the situation on the flathunt front was completely chaotic. I had decided to give up my apartment, and look for a flatshare, because I wanted to save more money so I could pay back my student loans faster, besides, as I was never in my flat #ajalatinz, I thought it made more sense to get something smaller and cheaper. 

Easy peasy right? Wrong! From the hollywoodesque flat, with a swimming pool, where the en-suite rooms were bigger than my actual flat, to the super grotty room in the middle of nowhere, I was exceptionally unlucky. As in people would say yes, ask me to come sign the contract, then turn around and send a message retracting their offer. The last one was particularly painful, as I truly believed I had the place, only for the guy to send me a message at 11.50pm on the Wednesday night (I was supposed to move on Friday morning!), saying they'd decided to give the room to someone else. To say I was distraught was an understatement! Anyway, I remembered that I had details for another flat, so I sent the guy a long message explaining my plight and thank God he replied immediately and even agreed to show me the place the next day, Thursday after work. With the money, as well as all my paperwork (passport, Belgian ID card, work contract etc.) in hand, I turned up without a lot of faith, since I'd been burnt so many times. Imagine my surprise when I arrived and met the guy who being in a hurry, gave me a quick 5minute tour of the house, and then handed me the keys just like that. No payment, no paperwork! He was like "we can sort all of that out in the days to come". I'd found something only a few hours before I had to be out of the other place, I couldn't believe I wasn't going to be homeless! I had to stay up all night to pack and clean the old flat, then with the help of my amazing colleagues, moved into my new place at 9.30 the next morning, sleep-deprived but so so happy. That was last Friday, and I have been trying to recover since then, with working the weekend and doing all the admin stuff (medical visits, HR etc.) for the new job.

In other equally exciting news, I got the results of my German exams yesterday, and not only did I not fail, I did well!!! I wanted to get 4s in all the sections, but knew that I was probably realistically only worth 3s. I mean I only started learning in January, by myself, and I'd had moments when I was quite lazy and didn't do any work for weeks. Plus I kept reading online that the people who did well in the exam, often took classes for years, then attended special preparation courses and bought/used the practise books. Me, being a cheapskate couldn't be bothered with all of that, especially since I had already shelled out 175 for the exam and was taking it just "for fun" anyway (other people take it to prove that they have an academic-level grasp of German, for Uni). I sha did my best in the last few weeks, revised a lot and went off to spend 4days in Germany at T's parents place, and hoped for the best. And it worked! I got 4s in 3 of the sections, and even a 5 in the speaking part, meaning that I am now at the upper Intermediate/advanced level, after only 8months of self-study. I achieved the goal I set in January 3months early!!! The best thing about all of this is that the certificate is valid for life, and should I wish to apply, I will be exempted from all German university language requirements forever. Anyway below is a picture of the results, live and direct. 

So, I'd like to thank and dedicate this award I mean certificate to T's mum, the person who inspired me to learn German, and the most patient teacher ever. I'd also like to recognise the hard work of Hanna, my language partner who started with me "from the bottom" and accompanied me till I got "here." The poor thing had to deal with me shooting unimaginable grammar bullets at her, but she survived, and made it her job to encourage me at every turn. A huge vote of thanks also goes to Jen and Shahida, my blog readers, Instagram followers and Periscope audience, for the support and encouragement in those times when I was fed up of German and/or lazy. And last but not least, I'd like to thank God, my family, T (side-eye though for the times he laughed at me), the city of Cologne, the German TV channels online, the Conversation Exchange community, my poor colleagues who had to deal with my Franco-Germano-English words and phrases, my credit card for covering the (in no way negligible) cost of the exams, the various restaurants where I met Hanna every week to practise German and sample the wonderful range of Belgian beers, the Belgian train company for not doing their usual thing and striking on the day of my exam and Haribo for making the gummy bears given to me by the MIL as nerve-calming medicine. I will think of each person/party whenever I look at the certificate, and of course you should know that you each own a tiny piece of it ;)

Now I really am motivated to keep improving, plus I need to get back to my Italian. This has reminded me that I CAN do anything I put my mind to!

And, #godwin is definitely the phrase for this week!

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Köln Edition

As you may know from my constant blathering, I have been learning German since January and I was scheduled to take the early September TestDaF exam. Well I realised that I wasn't perhaps as prepared as I could be, so I decided to go visit T's parents for 4days so that I could really practise my German intensively. It was obviously good for my language skills (T's mum was a teacher), but not only that, also my physical and mental well-being. I was spoilt by the MIL, and really got to relax and do nothing but hangout, watch silly TV, laugh, sleep, eat and (window)shop. It was exactly what I needed after the hectic lifestyle I had leading up to the visit, and it also signalled the beginning of my week long travels/holiday in Budapest and Belgrade. This post is just a quick update, and I will be writing about my adventures in Eastern Europe, over the next few days and weeks. Have a lovely week!

Had to pack 2 different luggages 
for my 2 very different trips

Lots of girly dates with the MIL

Broke my no-shopping rule to 
buy this lovely pair of rain-boots

 Spoilt rotten! I got a lovely welcome, late birthday surprise presents 
and of course a mini-haul of goodies to take home with me

Yet another lunchdate with the MIL, 
the theme seemed to be Italian this visit

Monday 31 August 2015

The Good Old Days...

Hi everyone! Wie geht's? So, a brief sortie from my German bunker to talk about today's topic.

I have a rare day off on this wonderfully sunny Monday, so I decided (as you do), to waste some time on Facebook. And luckily too, because I saw that I had been tagged in a conversation about our old secondary school days. And my God, was it a (bad)trip down memory lane! 

Ok, for those who may not know, I went to a Unity school in Nigeria. They are the equivalent of the British Grammar school, or the French's Grandes écoles, but at secondary level. You usually have to take an entrance and score above certain cut-off marks in order to make the list. You were then "randomly" allocated a place in one of the Unity schools anywhere in the country. These schools were heavily subsidised, with respect to the quality of education they provided, because the idea was to train a selection of "gifted" children, while at the same time strengthening each child's Nigerian identity (they were established after the horrible civil war of the 60's). All the ethnic groups were mixed, and as you could be sent anywhere in the country, many of the students were boarders, as many lived far away (mine was about 6hours away for instance). We had three terms, with holidays and mid-term breaks, as well as monthly visiting days, but you effectively spent a huge chunk of your life at school (from about 11-17). So with that quick explanation out of the way, today's Facebook conversation was about SOME of the scary things that happened to us. I'm just going to put up a few snapshots of the comments, keep in mind that they were actually a lot of replies and almost everyone experienced something strange. Anyways, here goes...

"Great" memories of exciting times indeed. Can you imagine this stuff happening anywhere else? A rampaging (or several) paedophile(s), snakes, owls, Bush babies (Galapos), not to mention the evil senior/older students and teachers in a school of about 2000young girls (no parents!!!). I still wonder how we survived, and who chose the idiots that were our caretakers?! Still I guess that's why we are all so independent, adventurous and fearless today. I mean when you experience all these things as a kid, it becomes hard for anything else on earth to faze you. So guys, especially the Nigerians in the house, any "strange" or usual boarding house/school experiences you care to share with us? Please go ahead!

Thursday 6 August 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: Why I am always Poor! :(

We got paid about a week ago, and doing my budget/finances today made me realise I'm already quite broke even though it's barely the end of the first week. Yet I am not a big spender, as is obvious from my bank statements, where the biggest expenditure by far is from travelling.

I mean I'm off to Prague again in one week, and then two weeks after that, off to Köln for a few days, so that I can polish my German skills right before my exam. And of course I haven't seen a few dear friends (Engefreunde as the MIL told me yesterday), in a long time and I miss them all very much. I would like to see everyone, but realistically know it's impossible because my middle name is Ajala, and sadly not Bill Gates.

So, I decided to do a list based on how long it's been since I saw each loved one, and even with all that careful prioritisation, I still ended up with this urgent "to-travel" list! It's beginning to look like Budapest(Hungary) and Belgrade(Serbia) in September, as I want to go before it gets colder so that I can enjoy myself and possibly go to the beach (haven't caught even a glimpse of the sea this year). I'm also hoping it'll motivate me to work hard over the next few weeks as I prepare for my German exams. What this means is that I'll be travelling on the day after I get back from Germany, right after the exam, in fact I think I'm going to have to go to the exam-centre with my luggage!

Paris and Sweden also need to be planned at some point, and naturally Prague remains the regular "home away from home" for now. England will be for Christmas, and Nigeria hopefully early next year, and then of course the US ati be be lo, after that...let's just hope I don't bankrupt myself soon :( 

So, are you about the ajala life? If not, what is your particular brand of "money-waster" or "hobby"? Please share and help make a girl feel better about her vices!

P.S. I'm supposed to be doing a practice essay for my exam, but then procrastination (abi na inspiration sef) struck, and I decided to do a quick blogpost instead. Shakes head in German...

P.P.S. Since I haven't done much travelling this month (apart from Prague), and being really busy at the moment with revision (only 19days left!!!), I have decided to make this my 15-for-15 entry for August. Stay tuned for September's exciting posts...will be visiting Köln/Louvain-la-Neuve/Budapest/Belgrade, all in 12days!