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


 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)

  • 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?