Our decision to move to Nigeria (back in 2004) felt like stepping off a cliff. We wrote a pros and cons list and mulled it over ad nauseam. Many of our Melbourne friends and family were aghast, especially as Brutus and Maximus were only five and three years old.
By contrast, my boss at the time, the insightful Ted Davies, said, “It will be life changing. You’ll never regret it.” He spoke from experience; he was from the UK and had done stints in the Netherlands and the US.
In the end, Marc and Kerri Hakala tipped the scales. These American expats, who are now our second family, were already in Lagos with two boys of similar ages and they made no secret of the fact they wanted to bolster the number of children in the compound. Kerri was a nurse, so we figured she wouldn’t have gone there if the medical services were too bad. They persuaded us that if they could do it, we could do it, so we packed up our house, took a million shots to prevent every imaginable disease and said goodbye to Melbourne. The assignment was nominally for three years. Ha! By the time we came home, it was closer to thirteen.
There are some excellent blogs about the motivations for and experiences of expat life. Two great examples are Making Here Home and Four Kids, 20 Suitcases and a Beagle. For me, besides adventure and travel, my ulterior motive for moving was to find time to write. 29 Brown St (my first novel attempt) was abandoned in favour of Sunrise Court—a book about the lives and loves of the people in a compound in Lagos. Meanwhile, in real life, I settled into Mobil Court (any similarity to Sunrise Court purely by coincidence) where within several weeks, I met someone who had a profound impact on my writing career.
I was invited to morning tea to meet other company spouses. Our gracious host, Kathy Eckert, asked us to introduce ourselves by sharing something most people didn’t know about us.
A slim, brunette said, “Hi, I’m Gail Collins. I’ve been here two years, so most of you know me. What you might not know is that I’m an aspiring author.”
In that moment, she demonstrated a valuable lesson: you have to state your goals out loud. It doesn’t matter whether you want be a writer, artist, sportsman or musician; vocalizing it will lead to action. If nothing else, it will help you to make connections.
Several months down the track, I was brimming with ideas. The expats had stories to tell and photos to share. Little had been published about expat life in Nigeria. An anthology was ripe for the picking. At the same time, a small school in the remote village, Ishahayi Beach, was struggling to finish a building. Why not use the book to raise funds for the school?
There were a few minor roadblocks, such as, I’d never written or published a book before, but that didn’t stop me. What I needed was a writing buddy with a heap of experience.
I approached Gail one Friday evening at wine time by the pool. “How would you feel about helping me to write and edit a book about expat life in Lagos?”
Without batting an eyelid, she replied, “I’d love to, but only if we do the job properly. I don’t want to be part of something half-baked, I want a top quality product—not something spiral bound, but a professionally bound and printed book.”
I replied, “Trust me, I want a proper book too.”
Never trust someone who says, trust me. But in any case, Gail was sold, and jumped on board.
Looking back, we ask each other, “If we knew then what we know now, would we still have done it?” Of course, the answer is, yes, but we would have gone into it a lot wiser and better prepared for the adventures ahead.
Note: Gail G Collins is now a successful freelance writer, author and photographer. Read all about her here.
Next time: Ishahayi Beach School Foundation.