African Marriage Proposals



One summer I was living in Ibadan, Nigeria, working for my father at an agricultural research institute.  Ibadan was the largest village in Africa and sprawled across the countryside without any particular order.  There were a few hotels and “proper” restaurants but not many and we rarely went to them.

My British and American friends, Simon, Ed, David, Francis, and a couple of others decided to have a night on the town. We went to a rooftop Lebanese restaurant for a filling dinner of kabob and hummus and then on to a proper Nigerian nightclub.  It had a fence around it and a large grass roof and a dirt floor but no walls.  There was a very loud band playing at one end of the room and an area to dance.  We took over a table at the other end of the room and ordered beer all around.

Francis was being very protective of me and it kind of made it look like we were “together”.  Francis was married with five children.  A Nigerian came over to our table and asked Francis if he could dance with me.  Francis, quite embarrassed, told him he would have to ask me himself.  Of course he came right over asked me to dance. I had been in Nigeria long enough to know that this could only lead to trouble.  I was getting ready to say no, thank you very much, when Simon started kicking me under the table and making gestures like I should really go have a dance.  Simon, of course, was a trouble maker himself, but I got up and danced with the guy.  Keeping in form with most of my other white American girl/ black African boy experiences, by the end of the dance he had asked me to marry him.

About half way through the evening I really had to go to the toilet.  Everybody said I should just forget about it.  I said, “no really, I gotta go”.  So David escorted me to the ladies’ toilet. We went through a beaded doorway where women were just hanging around and inside there were two stalls with holes in the floor.  There were no doors to the stalls.  I went in and squatted and David stood guard.  It wasn’t that terrible, partly I’m sure because I was a little tipsy by this time, but it was interesting.  The women were obviously just waiting for business.  I didn’t get a chance to look around but I assume there were other rooms in the back for other activities.  David seemed very nervous about the whole thing and said I was not allowed to drink any more beer.  I think David might have been back there before.

Back at the table my dance partner had re-appeared, apparently not finding any other takers for his marriage proposal.  I was the only white girl in the place.  He insisted that he would be a good husband and would have no problem accompanying me back to the United States.  When we got up to go home, he said he could come with us.  He had no plans for the night and was happy to stay with us.  He followed us all the way out to the car and the guys acted like they were going to let him in.  I was totally appalled.  How could they be so mean?  Finally they got tired of him and kicked him out.


Friendly me










Later that summer I had a stalker show up at my office.  He knew who I was and all about me and said he worked in the building.  I asked around but nobody seemed to know him.  For a couple of weeks he was standing at my door at the end of the day and wanted to walk me home.  I never led him on or agreed to anything.  He kept asking to take me for a drink or to walk me home.  Finally I said I would have a drink with him.

He said he wanted to marry me and he had it all planned out.  We would be married and he would return to the United States with me and he would go to school with me and we would always be together.  I told him politely all the reasons why it was just not possible, the least of which was that we did not know each other at all and I was leaving the country shortly. And he had a counter proposal for every one of my reasons.  Finally I just became quite rude and told him to leave me alone.

I was sad to see the summer end but I was very happy to leave that situation behind when I returned to college in the fall.  Nigerian women were very blunt and straight forward.  They didn’t care if they hurt men’s feelings, they gave it to them like it was.  I think Western women had difficulty being so cold about it and in turn perhaps were more approachable.  On my next trip to Africa, I was much more Nigerian than Western when dealing with African men.  Its all about adapting to new cultures.


African Ants



Many years ago I spent my summers  between semesters at college at an agricultural research station in Africa.  One evening I was on my porch in Ibadan, Nigeria, having a beer and bored out of my mind when I happened to glance onto the floor.  The ants in Africa are large and can be lethal.  Fortunately the ones I saw that night were not Army ants.  I think they must have been vegetarians.

I followed the river of ants and found they were coming out of the kitchen, across the dining room, over the sliding door tracks, onto the porch, and out a hole near the floor to the outside.  I was mesmerized by them.  Scouts ventured out at regular intervals to either check for danger or look for food.  They would report back and another one would be dispatched.

Pretty soon I noticed a potato chip moving across the floor.  Several of them had hoisted it onto their backs and were carrying it out.  I couldn’t believe my eyes at first.  After a while I saw another one.

This got me thinking.   I just happened to be eating chips myself, although I’m pretty sure they were plantain chips.  I wondered what would happen if I placed one where a scout might find it.  Sure enough a scout found it.  He reported back and the river actually split off!!  None of them missed a step.  They picked up the chip and rejoined the parade.  I was amazed.

That same summer I went on a day trip to a large forest in western Nigeria with six other people in a pick-up truck.  The trip to the forest was pretty uneventful with the usual bickering between friends about the problems with transporting orchids.  At one point, I was watching everybody gathered around a tree stump discussing the orchid growing on it and suddenly I realized I was being eaten alive by army ants.

Army ants have pinchers instead of front legs, are carnivorous and can devour a lizard within seconds.  The ants crawl up your legs inside your pants (unless you are smart and tuck your pants into your socks) and when they reach the thigh or pelvic area, they latch on! And they hurt! You can’t just brush them off; you have to actually pull them off.  I had to completely take my pants off to get rid of them.

Another friend of mine used to love to take his father’s car out onto the dirt roads and look for army ants.  When he would see a river of them crossing the road, he would speed up and then slam on the breaks to slide the car over them.  I don’t think it did much damage, they seemed to continue on their way unfazed.  He got a thrill out of it, though!



Growing up in Nigeria




I am re-posting this from Eclectic Global Nomad

I recently finished reading Gods of Noonday: A White Girl’s African Life by Elaine Neil Orr.  It is a memoir of a Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Nigeria, West Africa.  She writes it while she is waiting for a kidney transplant and possibly facing death.

I’m still not sure what I think about this book.  I don’t usually identify with MK’s since they often have issues regarding their faith and feelings of abandonment I just don’t relate to.  However, her description of life in Nigeria is beautifully written and brought back a flood of memories for me.  The book is also interesting historically because she lived there during the Nigerian civil war.  The war was all around her.

Continue reading…..     Growing up in Nigeria


Global Nomads at the Spanish Steps


In high school I spent a long weekend in Rome with my best friend, Pearl.  We hopped a train in Lugano and arrived in Rome after dark.  Pearl had grown up in Rome and her godmother was going to put us up.  We had to wait a while before our ride showed up and the Italians were swarming us trying to fix us up with a cheap hotel.  A woman who was traveling with us went off with one of them.  We wondered if we would see her again.

We wandered around Rome for a couple of days seeing the sights.  St Peter’s, the Pieta, the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel, the Coliseum.  But our most favorite thing to do was walk down the Via Veneto and eat gelato.

On one occasion we ended up at the Spanish Steps.  We were thinking about climbing them when this guy came up to us and said,

“Where are you from?”

Not a good question to ask us.  We were both Third Culture Kids who had lived our entire lives moving from one country to the next.  Pearl had grown up in Rome, was half Japanese, and currently called Tokyo home.  I had already lived on five continents and currently called Nigeria home.

“We’re not from anywhere”

“Come on, you have to be from somewhere.  Where are you from?”

“I’m from Tokyo”

“I’m from Nigeria”

“Okay…. Hey I’m from California!!  The greatest place on Earth!  California is the best!”


Pearl and I looked at each other, turned, and walked away.  The last place we wanted to be was with a loud American who though he was great.

So we didn’t climb the Spanish Steps.

But we did enjoy an amazing 5 course meal in a packed restaurant where we never heard a word of English. I remember the tortellini soup to this day.

Now that was Roma!!

On The Road in Nigeria

I met both Ed and Simon up a the bar over some beers.  I immediately had something in common with Ed because we had both lived in Colombia and enjoyed it very much. Simon was just fun.

We were living on a fenced-in agricultural research compound in Nigeria, West Africa.  In order to break the monotony we started going on Sunday expeditions out into the countryside.  I met Francis on our fist expedition.  That Sunday we didn’t get back on site until midnight.  By that time my mom and Francis’ wife were worried and were starting to get a search party together.  This was mainly because Nigerian roads were deadly anyway and at night they were even worse.  To give you an idea of what a Nigerian driver is like, a friend of mine, Tim,  who was 18 at the time, went in to get his driver’s license and he told me about his test:

Officer:  Tell me five times when you should not pass

Tim:  On a round about, on a hill, at a corner,

Officer:  Do you know where I could get a dog?

Tim:  Well, at the moment I don’t know of any, no

Officer:  Okay, drive straight on until I tell you otherwise

Tim drives

Officer:  STOP!

Tim stops

Ofice:  Back up to where we started

Tim backs up

Officer:  Okay, you passed

Now you can imagine what kind of drivers you would find on the road if that is all they had to go through to get a license.

So my mother imagined me sprawled out dead on the road someplace. The day we were going to climb Ado Rock, she told me I had better be home before dark!  Naturally this created a scene since I was 20 years old and resented being told to get home by dark for such a ridiculous reason.  Nothing was going to happen. I wandered over to Ed’s place and knocked on the door.  Simon was already there.

“Good morning, we were just going over to pick up Francis.”

As we were walking to the car I said, “I’ve got to be home before dark.”


“I don’t know! Pretty idiotic!”

We got into Ed’s car and rode over to Francis’ house where his wife let us in not looking too happy to see us.  The three half-dressed children were sprawled around the table eating breakfast.  Francis had been out until three a.m. carousing so he was still in bed.  Ed and I sank into the couch, mumbling to ourselves.  Simon fixed himself some tea.  Ed wanted some coffee and couldn’t believe it when he found there wasn’t any.  I think it was a cultural thing, him being American and the others being British.

Simon sat down at the table and had a second breakfast.  After a while Ed said, “Are we just going to sit around here and wait until Francis feels like getting up, or what?”  He was getting impatient and annoyed with the whole situation so, as I had discovered I had forgotten my camera, I asked him to take me home so I could get it.  That killed a little time and soon after we got back, Francis showed up popping pills and looking for something to eat.  Francis was a pale, thin person and this morning he looked more pale and fragile than usual but he stood up amazingly well throughout the expedition.

We were on our way to climb Ado Rock and none of us knew how to get there so we asked people on the way.

“Which way to Ado Rock?”


“It is this way?”


“We be for going Ado Rock. You know it dis way or dis way?”

“Oh no!  You mean Ado Rock?”

“Yes, Ado Rock”

“You go dis way for small small and den up dis way, eh heh!”

They were all pointing in different directions.  Francis was getting irate, “Oh, forget it!  I think I can find the way”  So with Francis’ ingenious naviational abilities we finally made our way out of town in the right direction.

Related Posts:  Ado Rock,  Travel

Expat Alien


Today I am happily re-posting a review of my book.  Maggie at FlyAwayHome was kind enough to share her thoughts.  Have a look at her blog and her book as well (it is a good one!)


With all the traveling I’ve been doing this summer, my blog is starting to resemble a travel blog. To mix things up, I thought I’d try writing a book review. I just finished reading a good book, so here goes…

If you’ve ever lived or simply dream of living in a foreign country, then Kathleen Gamble’s book Expat Alien: My Global Adventure, is for you. I was first introduced to Kathy and her well told stories of travel and adventure through her blog, also known as the Expat Alien. Kathy and I are two American girls who were both born in the fifties, but while I grew up on the steady shores of our homeland, she grew up wandering the world.

Click here to see the rest!

Cookbooks Around the World

Building on the International/Expat/ local cookbook theme, today we have the Ibadan “Chopping” Guide from Ibadan, Nigeria.

“All recipes, hints and substitutions were chosen primarily for use in Ibadan and areas where ingredients are limited.

October 1969”

The “Chopping” refers to Nigerian pidgin English.

According to Babawilly’s Dictionary of Pidgin English Words and Phrases:

Chop: 1. Food 2. Income 3. Bribe 4. Embezzle money

e.g Dat Oga chop belle-full bifor e retire.

Chop bottle: Eat glass. Part of pre fight preamble during which various threats and questions are asked to measure of toughness of the opponent

e.g. you dey chop bottle?

Chop bullet: Get shot.

Chop life: Enjoy life.

Chop money: Monthly or weekly house keeping allowance.

Chop mouth: Kissing.

Chop-remain: Leftovers of meal.

It is a colorful language with a sense of humor.

Here is one important recipe I extracted from this book and used often in Moscow.  My son still reminisces about it.

Maple Syrup

  • 1 bottle Sprite or 7-UP
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • Boil until syrupy

If I had any maple flavoring, I would put in a teaspoon.

My favorite Nigerian dish does not appear in this cookbook but one of my mother’s friends did provide a recipe:

Ground Nut Stew

  • Cover with water 1 ½ lbs. of chicken (in pieces with bone) or beef cut into chunks, bite sized, and cook until meat is done.  Salt for cooking.
  • In blender:  3 medium onions, equal volume tomatoes, and 2 or 3 little hot red peppers.  Blend.  Add to meat sauce.  Cook 10 or 15 minutes.
  • 3/4 to 1 cup roasted toasted peanuts liquidized in blender (separately) or readymade peanut butter (less messy)
  • Add peanut mixture to meat & vegetable sauce and stir out the lumps.  Simmer for 15 min. or so and taste.
  • Add salt, pepper to taste
  • At this point if you haven’t added hot peppers fresh, canned dried red hot ground peppers to taste.
  • Serve with rice.  Serves about 6.

Learning to Drive

My father with car and dog


I am learning to ride in a car with a sixteen year old driver.  I am learning to quietly cringe and hold my tongue.  I am learning to resist slamming my leg down on the break that isn’t there.  I am learning to look out the window and observe things by the side of the road I have never had a chance to enjoy before.  I am learning to trust.  And to quietly guide.  And sometimes to shout out in a panic.  But not too often.

He is actually pretty good.  Baby steps.  He has time to learn.  And I have a built in designated driver!  There is always an up side!

I have been re-reading my father’s memoir and came across the following passage that seemed kind of relevant.  My father grew up on a farm in southern Iowa, the youngest of seven children.

“When I was about 7, I started driving teams of horses for some field work.  Dad, or someone, would harness and hitch up the horses to a wagon or a machine since I was not big enough to put on a horse’s harness.  Another of my chores in my early years was to walk to the pasture to herd the milk cows to the barn at milking time.  No one in our family drank much milk but we made our own butter and cottage cheese.  The only time I really remember drinking milk was on Sunday evenings.   I would fill a glass with popcorn and then pour in some milk.

When I was 11 or 12 (1931-32) the country went into the Great Depression.  Many neighbors gave up and sold out or were forced out because they had defaulted on their loans.  Livestock prices were very low and grain prices were the lowest on record. 

One of the things that helped my family survive the Depression was my parents started a small dairy and my brothers Bob and Floyd did the milking and delivered the milk door to door and to stores in town before school.  By the time they had finished high school, dad had purchased a heard of very good dairy cows.  I was the only boy left at home and had to take on this job.  My sister Margaret had recently been married and her new husband, Lee, helped with the chores and milking.  It was Lee’s and my responsibility to milk the cows twice each day by hand and to take care of the cows and the milk.  After Lee left, it became just my responsibility.  When I was 14, I was able to get a driver’s license and began to deliver the milk in bottles door to door in Shenandoah each morning as well as to two grocery stores before school.  Floyd had taught me to drive our Model T Ford when I was about 10 years old, so I had no trouble getting a driver’s license.  The dairy really saved us during the Depression.  When I left home to go to college, dad sold the dairy cows since it was too much for him and at that time larger dairy farms started up in our area, forcing out the small producers like us.”

When I was 16 I was in boarding school.  No driving there.

Between high school and college, I spent the summer with my parents in Ibadan, Nigeria.  Driving in Nigeria was kind of like playing Russian Roulette.  You never knew when somebody would come barreling around a blind corner straight at you.  I was not yet 18 so technically I couldn’t get a license anyway (although I doubt they checked).  An American guy I knew, Tim, turned 18 that summer and decided to get his license.  He went down to the Motor Vehicle department and an official actually got in the car with him:

Official:  Drive forward!

Tim drives

Official:  Stop!

Tim stops

Official:  Drive backwards!

Tim drives in reverse

Official:  Stop!

Tim stops

Official:  Would you be interested in a German Shepard puppy?

Tim pays his fee and gets his driver’s license and a dog.  Such a deal!

The following summer I went to live with my brother in Minneapolis, and his wife taught me to drive.  At 19, a college sophomore, I was a licensed driver!


Ado Rock

I spent the summer of 1976 in Ibadan, Nigeria.  I made a few friends and we went on day trips exploring the surrounding countryside.  I lived on an agricultural research farm so the guys I went exploring with were mostly scientists.  On our trip to Ado Rock there was me, Simon who was a British summer intern in the farming systems section, Francis, also British, who had three children and loved to collect orchids, and Ed, an American scientist who loved to party.

The day we went to Ado we stopped for some fruit along the way and pulled up to some stalls by the side of the road.  Ed and I stayed in the car in the back seat.  I was smoking a cigarette and a group Nigerian women gathered around my window and started pointing and laughing.  Ed and I were feeling a little paranoid at this point, and we could not figure out what was so intriguing about us.  By the time Francis and Simon returned, we had seen some of the women mimicking me and we had figured out that it must be a rarity to see a woman smoking.  Of course, once we figured it out, we started giggling and could not stop.

We had heard of this village not too far from Ibadan that had a huge rock sticking out of the plains and once you had climbed up it, you could see for miles and miles.  We decided it would be a good day’s outing.  Of course we didn’t have a map and only had sketchy directions, so we kind of had to feel our way there, stopping to ask people who invariably had no idea what we were talking about and made up whatever they thought we wanted to hear.  But we did finally did find Ado village and right next to it was Ado Rock.  It must have lodged there when the glacier receded, because landscape-wise it was very out of place.  The village was on just one side of the road and not very big.  We walked through it and watched women weaving cloth and saw a group of children studying the Koran. As we got closer to the rock, we started to look for a path up.  By this time all the children of the village had latched on to us, and started following us around.  We asked them the way up but they didn’t speak English and would just point in different directions.  Finally, they led us to the Chief’s hut and we figured out that we had to ask permission to climb the rock.  The Chief was building a new house and would welcome any contribution that we could give him since he was generous enough to allow us to climb his rock.  We told him that we were just poor students and could only afford five Naira (he wanted 20).  He said that was not enough so we turned and started to leave at which point, of course, he accepted the money. After some more discussion, he agreed to let us go alone without the children in tow.  They showed us the path and left us to it.

View of Ado Village, Nigeria

The rock was flat on top but slanted up at one end.  We climbed up at the lower end and worked our way to the higher side. It was about a mile from one end of the rock to the other and about two thirds of the way down, here was a small gully where trees and long grass grew.  We could see vultures circling above this area and we were a little leery of crossing it.  We also thought there might be snakes in the grass so Ed went first making a lot of noise and clapping and I was last in line listening to Ed shout back at me “It’s usually the last person in line who gets bit, you know, Kathy”.  Very funny, Ed.

As we came up the other side, we saw a small cave with animal droppings in it.  But it wasn’t until we got to the highest part that we realized what lived there.  We just caught a glimpse of a hyrax jumping from the rock onto the ground.  The hyrax is a distant relative of the elephant that is about as big as a large rodent.  They make a shrill screeching noise.

The view from the top of the rock was really spectacular.  You could see miles of green trees, bush and flat land.  It was so quiet and peaceful up there, I wanted to stay forever.  We sat in silence and admired the view for a long time.

Two years later Ed and I returned to Ado.  I couldn’t believe how much it had changed.  The village had doubled in size and was now on both sides of the road.  The Chief had a big new house on the other side of town and the going rate for climbing the rock was 40 Naira – non-negotiable.  We climbed up and had a picnic but didn’t go all the way to the other end.  Ed told me that he had taken a girl we knew up there not too long after we had gone up the first time because she wanted to do some hang-gliding.  He said she almost got killed.  She fell and fell before she caught any wind and there wasn’t that far to fall.  After that, she took her glider to Mount Cameroon, and jumped off of there.  She landed in some small village, and all the people thought she was an angel, fallen from the sky.  They practically worshipped her for days.

When we came down from the rock, we had to go across a stream and through some bushes before coming out into the village.  I was first in line and as I was going through the bushes I came upon a child alone on the path who must have been about two years old.  When the child saw me she started to scream – it was as if she had seen the scariest site possible; she was terrified.  Her mother came running up from the stream and picked up the child and started to laugh.  Ed came up behind me and was laughing.  I was confused.  Finally Ed caught his breath and said “you are the first white person she has ever seen”.  And I realized he was right; she probably thought I was a ghost.

Years later, I was traveling with my two year old on an airplane from Moscow to the USA.  We lived a pretty “Russian” life in Moscow, not coming across many foreigners and virtually no Africans.  My son and I came out of the toilet and a beautiful African American woman was standing in the aisle.  All of a sudden my son exploded into screams of terror.  I immediately thought of that day in Nigeria.


The Nigerian

I came home the other day and my son told me he had been vacuuming up ants.  He showed me a small hole near the kitchen that was the source.  The ants had traveled out of this hole, down the hall, across the living room and over a barrier into where our plants are being kept temporarily while the balcony is worked on.  He explained to me how the ants must move up the high-rise from floor to floor and arrive at our apartment through this little hole in the floor.  They are those very small ants that you can barely see but when they are traveling across the floor you notice them.

This reminded me of an evening I spent on my porch in Ibadan, Nigeria, many years ago.  I wasn’t much older than he is now.  I was by myself one evening having a beer and bored out of my mind and I happened to glance onto the floor.  The ants in Africa are large and can be lethal.  Army ants can devour a small lizard in a matter of minutes.  Fortunately the ones I saw that night were not Army ants.  I think they must have been vegetarians.  I followed the river of ants and found that they were coming out of the kitchen, across the dining room, over the sliding door tracks onto the porch and out a hole near the floor to the outside.  I was mesmerized by them.  Scouts ventured out at regular intervals to either check for danger or look for food.  They would report back and another one would be dispatched.  Pretty soon I noticed a potato chip moving across the floor.  Several of them had hoisted it onto their backs and were carrying it out.  I couldn’t believe my eyes at first.  After a while I saw another one.

This got me thinking.   I just happened to be eating chips myself although I’m pretty sure they were plantain chips.  I wondered what would happen if I placed one where a scout might find it.  Sure enough a scout found it.  He reported back and the river actually split off!!  None of them missed a step.  They picked up the chip and rejoined the parade.  Ever since then I have had great respect for ants!