Meredith: We Found Happiness
There are dozens of good reasons to start a blog: to keep friends back home up to date on your expat life, to help out others with all the vital information for the first few turbulent weeks after relocation, to have a creative outlet, or just to keep an online diary. Meredith from the US may have started her blog, We Found Happiness, for only one of those reasons – after three years, however, it transformed into a mix of all of the above.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Nigeria, etc.
My Name is Meredith Salinas, and I am from the United States. My family and I moved to Lagos, Nigeria from Houston, Texas in July 2009. I was a kindergarten teacher for almost 7 years before I stayed home with my children. I am very involved with my children’s schools and am a board member for a school charity here in Lagos.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I decided to start blogging originally because I wanted my family and friends to see what our experiences were like living abroad, but over the last three years, it has become a place in which I can reflect on my life here. I try to write about all aspects of life here… sometimes they are great, and sometimes not so great. I want to remember how I felt while living here and reflect on things I have learned and how I have grown.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I think my favorite blog entries so far have been in the beginning when I was so “green”. A few of the entries I remember were “Just a Lollipop” from the first time we went to the beach here. “My Attempt at Yoruba” while trying to speak Yoruba to my driver. “All of God’s Blessings” which was my first taste of how the Nigerian police can be pretty intimidating to a new person here. And, “The Children Behind the Wall” because that was one of the first times I really realized the divide between the “rich “and the “poor” here. It was in my face Every. Single. Day. I couldn’t ignore it.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Lagos differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I definitely experienced some culture shock moving here. In the U.S., I was not accustomed to having staff work for me. It was hard for me to think about having someone cook and clean for me and be in my house all the time. But, I have THE BEST STEWARDESS/COOK/ NANNY in all of Nigeria…..or possibly the world! Her name is Happiness and she is the reason I named the blog “We Found Happiness”. She is a major reason my transition to living here was a good one. She is referenced in many of my posts and she is really true happiness! She has taught me so many things about Nigeria. She lives right up to her name! The culture shock set in pretty much as soon as I arrived here. I have never lived in a third world country and the only time I had even set foot in one was when my husband and I flew to Guatemala to adopt our son. There are several things which were shocking to me. First was the traffic. Everywhere. Every. Single. Day. You could sit in your car for hours and only go half a mile. Second, I was not used to (and still am not used to) the huge divide between the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor. You can see a filthy rich person walking along the same street as a person walking on their hands and begging for money. Having my staff call my husband and me “Master” and Madame” is still a hard one to get over. It kind of makes my stomach hurt… even after three years! I didn’t realize that I would meet so many people from all over the world while living here. There literally are expats from every corner of the globe living here in Lagos. It has been so fun learning about different cultures and having my children meet friends and experience cultures from all over the world.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Nigeria? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I do think I was as prepared as I could have possibly been before coming over here. My husband’s company really took care of us and had things set up for us for when we got here. My husband is a very good planner and he really worked along with his company to have things set up and ready to go. We were very fortunate that we had a large company take care of us.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
When I had returned from our first Christmas gone from Lagos, Fatai (my driver) was driving me and my son to school. He said to me “Madame, while you were gone, I had feelings for you.” I remember looking at him and feeling so surprised (and wondering if this was a pick up line). Then, I realized it, and it hit me that he was trying to tell me he missed me when I was gone. Sometimes, I know we all are speaking English in Nigeria, but the translations are hard to understand! (His first language is Yoruba)
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Nigeria?
Pack a TON of patience. I know I didn’t pack nearly enough when I first arrived here. Just remember things don’t always…or usually don’t flow as smoothly as they do in the U.S. Think of your move here as a new adventure in your life. Having that kind of attitude helps keep your spirits up when your day seems a little low. Try to hang around as many people who can say positive funny things about Nigeria. If you hang around with too many people who are down, you’ll end up there, too. Don’t take yourself too seriously; you really need to have a good sense of humor when you’re here! You have to be open minded. I never flicked an ant off a sugar cube and put it in my coffee anyway….that is, until I moved here!
How is the expat community in Lagos? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Lagos is HUGE. There are so many people from all over the world living here. I think it was very easy for me to meet other expats because of my husband’s company and also because both of my children attend school with other expat children. There are also tons of organizations and clubs to join when you are here to meet other people as well.
How would you summarize your expat life in Nigeria in a single, catchy sentence?
Life in Lagos, Nigeria has been a frustrating, exhilarating, heart -breaking, time-of-your-life adventure that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!