Teetering on the Brink

Yes, there is an excellent book on Nigeria subtitled “Dancing on the brink” but today I’m not talking about the abyss the country is falling into. I just got home after sending my beloved family back to Japan and I feel like I swallowed a chainsaw. I’m sitting here listening to Journey, that most nostalgic and emotional of greatest bands, writing this post to try to wring the pain out instead of using scotch and cigarettes to create bigger pains that block it.

We had the greatest time possible.  They got to see plenty of Nigeria, from the relatively high quality of life here in the city to the reality of life in Nigeria outside the capital. The Harmattan kicked in pretty hard the last week or so but they had great weather up until the dust blotted out the sun and began to sear our throats. The Eminent Wife is the greatest cook who patiently explained to me how to maximize the options here. The Eminent Child and I were together non-stop. I taught her how to play Hold ’em and she took money from both the Eminent Wife and me. She had pretty good instincts for a rank beginner and would was able to fold rather than lose in a showdown even though she often pay to see all the cards and then put hers down.  Plenty to work with there.

I bought her “No Stress Chess”, a chess game that comes with cards that explain the moves. It’s played by drawing cards from the deck; players can choose which of the pawns, knights, bishops, rooks to move but the deck picks the kind of piece. It’s a great equalizer and gives every player a chance to win. Good fun there.

The Eminent Cat bonded with everyone, especially after I was able to convince the Eminent Child that if she ignored the cat, the cat would come to her, but if she insisted on forcing the cat to see how much she loved it, the cat would always attempt to escape.  The Cat is pretty affectionate and needs daily “luvs”, but she gets pretty aggressive at night and will stalk ankles and toes in pursuit of a wrestling match. Ambushes from under the bed as one is crawling in are common. Needless to say, there were many shrieks and much fun had in playing up the threat of the deadly feline hunter.

We hit several craft villages repeatedly and learned the art of negotiating with Nigerians. Miku scored big and was constantly given free objects, including a keychain, a bracelet, a necklace, a leather wallet, and an alligator hide purse. We weren’t sure the alligator hide was legal for Japan so asked if we could exchange it and got a pretty cute black leather bag instead.  We also discovered that one of the sellers was selling these huge carved ivory tusks. I was surprised that he let us take pictures; I’ll try to get them posted but I’m still dealing with the aftermath of the photo catastrophe.

Their visit culminated in the assembly of a giant Unimog Lego Technic model. It took us about 5 days to assemble. It’s about 2 feet long and has fully independent suspension and a completely functional powertrain that drives a winch in the front and a crane in the back. You can divert the power to an aircompressor that drives the 3 articulating joints of the crane. The crane of course has stabilizers that must be dropped down and you can even detach it from the back and put it on the front (there is a compressed air nozzle in the front too!).  

The greatest thing about this was that she was capable of putting a lot of it together. I still did the majority but she did a fair amount and helped out with collecting pieces for each step.  We watched Season 17 of Survivor while we built it, coincidentally hosted in Gabon which is just down the coast from us.  Nigeria isn’t near as awesome as the Gabon depicted on the show though. I wish I had elephants living behind me…

We celebrated our 13th anniversary while they were here. We considered going out but decided to stay in as it we only had 2 days left and it was more fun to just hang out at home. The Eminent Wife found some frozen steaks I’d bought and discovered that not only were they huge T-bones, they were phenomenally good. We’d been invited to a Texas steak dinner by a good friend of mine the night before that was really good, followed by these steaks that held their own against the Texas and even the Japanese beef.  Some garlic rice and potato/beans with bacon and it was heavenly. The best anniversary yet.  

The goodbyes in Nigeria and when I moved out of Japan weren’t that bad. They didn’t stay all that long during the trips to DC and the nature of preparing for the move didn’t permit them to really settle into the apartment. But since they’ve been here, they’ve settled in, and the hardest thing now is dealing with all the little reminders of them.  It’s easier to be the one leaving then being the one left, I think, as  you don’t have to deal with that gaping hole where your happiness used to be.  

It was five months since I saw them last; hopefully we will never have to deal with that long of an absence again. I will be visiting Japan from mid-March to mid-April (3 months from now) and then again in July or August (3-4 months).  That schedule is going to be complex to figure out since I want to hit my 20th class reunion in late August as well as the “once-every-3-years” Idahoan camping trip in addition to seeing my family. I don’t think it is economically feasible to bring them to the States. I also want to go to some training in DC, but that’s going to depend a lot on the availability and timing of the classes as well as the needs and expectations of the section at the embassy.  

Since I’m working Christmas this year I’m hoping to be able to get it off next year. Ideally we’ll be able to afford a trip for all of us, maybe Hawaii or Dubai but I’m prepared for either them to come here or me to go there. If I can swing the leave, it’s cheaper for me to travel and I welcome the opportunity to get out of here for a break but it may be more likely that they’ll have to come back.  So that’s 4 months from August, but then it’s only 3 months until March 2013 when we’re expecting them to move down here at the conclusion of the 2012 school year. The only thing that would impact that would be if I get posted to Japan next; no point in paying for them to move down here then.  

I can tell that life here is affecting me at least a little because when the driver who brought me back from the airport mentioned that he’d just lost his wife, I was shocked by his loss but also noticed a little voice in the back of my head wondering if he was trying to see if I’d offer to “help him out”. He didn’t say anything in that sense at all and I do believe that he was sharing it with me because he and I are fairly friendly (at least as far as the quality of the relationship between a driver and passenger who never meet outside the parking goes). It added a little bit of a twist to my frame of mind as well as I’m thinking about the costs of this career choice on my family.  I don’t (yet) regret taking this job but considering that one of the reasons I took it was to give the Child wider experience in the world, I keep retracing my steps to find out how I ended up here without her.  As good as it is to have her here and as good as it is for her to be here, she’s well served by the opportunities in Japan at this stage of her life. She got to go to the local international school here for a day and it was a great place, especially for the elementary kids. She was pretty far ahead of them in maths though and it reminded me of the quality of Japanese elementary ed. Factor in the activities that she’s involved in and the value of having a place with roots, a “home” identity that will anchor her during the future years of constant chaos, disruption, and transition and I know that this is a good decision.  

It still sucks not having them here though.

My only option now is to return to the self-preserving strategy I’ve been operating under since taking this job. Don’t dwell on the absence and distance and find ways to stay occupied. Work is great, keeps me busy and makes the time fly by. Outside of work I’ve got plenty to keep me busy between cooking, exercising, reading, playing, and hanging out with others. I think I’ve got a temporary fix for brewing (a full post explaining that is coming up soon) until I get the piece I’ve been waiting on; the real question now is if the yeast in the kits I intend to start with is still active.  We’ll know this weekend, eh?

Travel safe, Beloved Family. The Cat and I miss you terribly.