Three days after the citizens of Nigeria went to the polls to cast their votes for the next president, results are still filtering into the Independent National Election Commission (INEC). Results have been slower than expected because the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IReV) failed or was not used to record votes. BVAS and IReV were created to enhance the transparency of election results and instill public trust in the election outcome.
Graphic from Premium Times – www.premiumtimesng.com
But even before results were recorded, INEC struggled to start election day on time. Many polling units did not open on time, and the large number of voters at polling units overwhelmed INEC polling unit staff. According to Yiaga Africa, an NGO in Nigeria tracking the election process, only 41 percent of polling units in the country opened by 9:30 am, an hour after the scheduled opening of polls. A friend, who was broadcasting on Instagram from her polling unit in Abuja said that election staff and materials arrived after 10:30 am. The late start of her polling unit created significant delays in citizens trying to cast their votes. Voting went well past the 2:30 pm closing time due to the late openings of many polling units.
Unfortunately, there were numerous accounts of violence across the country. A photo that went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms was of a woman with bandages on her face exercising her right to vote. According to reporting from various sources, including the BBC, Bina Jennifer Efidi was attacked as she waited to vote in Lagos. A broken glass bottle hit her in the face. After she received medical attention, she returned to her polling unit to cast her vote. She said in an interview that she could still walk, so she wanted to cast her vote. She said, “I know my vote can make a difference; it can make a change. It’s important that I vote…I am not a politician, I am just a Nigerian performing my civic duty.”
Political parties, Labour Party (LP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are calling for the cancellation of the presidential elections, alleging manipulation of results, and demanding a new ballot. The two opposition parties say failures in the BVAS and IReV systems allowed for manipulation and disparities in the results. LP chairman Julius Abure told reporters, “The election is irretrievably compromised, and we have lost faith in the entire process. We demand that this sham of an election should be immediately canceled. We also call for a fresh election to be carried out.” He went on to call on the sitting president to intervene. “President Muhammadu Buhari, this is the time of a great test of your integrity. Use your office to save Nigerians from this electoral mismanagement,” Abure said.
The presidential race has become highly competitive between three candidates, Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the primary opposition PDP, and Peter Obi of LP. According to Premium Times, a news outlet in Nigeria, the APC candidate leads the PDP and LP candidates by narrow margins. According to the constitution, to be elected, a presidential candidate must receive a plurality of the votes and more than 25 percent of the votes in at least 24 states and the Federal Capital Territory. A run-off is organized if any of the candidates do not meet this threshold. The candidates with the greatest number of votes are eligible for runoff and the candidate with a majority of votes in the greatest number of states.
A discussion has started in Nigeria on whether the winning presidential candidate will need 25 percent of the votes in at least 24 states AND the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) or if a candidate needs 25 percent of the votes in at least 24 states, as the Nigerian constitution counts the FCT as a state when it comes to these matters. Section 299 of the Nigerian Constitution says the FCT shall be treated like a state. This debate will probably make its way through the court system as there is a concern that neither the APC nor PDP candidates received 25 percent of the votes in the FCT.
Voters in Africa’s most populous country go to the polls today to elect its next president and decide the political party makeup of its National Assembly. Over 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote. More than a third of those registered voters are youth between 19 and 34. There are 18 candidates in the race, but only four have the notoriety and money to compete for president. The four are Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).
All eyes have been on Nigeria for weeks as the government and electoral management body have prepared to conduct Africa’s most significant elections. While Americans have been focused on internal politics across Africa, the question I continue to get is – Who will be Nigeria’s next President? As I have traveled to Tanzania and Rwanda in the past few months, friends and colleagues are curious about Nigeria’s election. Many of these individuals might struggle to name the candidates of the APC or PDP but are quick to ask me about the fate of Peter Obi! Many young Nigerians have put their electoral aspirations on Obi and consider him an outsider. Despite this label, Obi was the former governor of Anambra State in Southeast Nigeria and the 2019 vice presidential candidate for PDP. However, young voters have latched on to his promise to fight corruption and create jobs.
I often tell my friends who ask if Obi will win that it is hard for me to see Obi winning in the Nigeria I left in 2019. That is not to say he cannot win, it’s just to say that he has much work to turn out his base to take him across the finish line. Political parties’ matter in Nigeria because they provide the infrastructure and financing to turn out voters. The APC and PDP, because of their years as the ruling party in the country (APC eight years and PDP 16 years), have extensive structures not only in their favorable territory but also in locations where the party is not so popular. Most importantly, both parties have governors across the country will help ensure their party voters will turn out on election day. Obi has become the darling of social media. You can’t go through Twitter or Instagram without seeing someone declaring themselves ‘Obident,’ a phrase given to Obi supporters. But it’s hard to gauge the impact of social media users in Nigeria. Many voters who will queue to vote on election day don’t engage on social media. The election will not be won on social media but at the state level. And this is where it is hard for me to see Obi winning.
I met Peter Obi (center) in September 2022 in Abuja.
To win an election outright, a candidate has to win the most votes, with at least 25% of the vote share in at least 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states. If a candidate doesn’t meet this threshold, the election will go to a runoff between the top two candidates. For the first time Nigeria’s return to Democracy in 1999, a third-party presidential candidate has a legitimate chance to win the presidency. But while most of the attention has focused on Peter Obi, another candidate can play the spoiler role in today’s election. That candidate is the red hat-wearing Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. Kwankwaso is a former defense minister, former senator and served two terms as governor of Kano, one of Nigeria’s most populous states. He is the presidential candidate for the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP). While has candidacy has gotten the same level of attention as Obi, his candidacy can take votes away from other presidential candidates.
Despite coming to power declaring he would fix the economy, tackle corruption, and strengthen security in the country, President Buhari has struggled to connect to the citizens. I remember his powerful advertisement in 2015. However, the economy has suffered two recessions in the last five years, and the naira has plummeted to one-third of its value. When I arrived in Nigeria on May 25, 2014, one US dollar would get me 162 naira. When I left Nigeria in November 2019 one US dollar would get me 361 naira. Today, one US dollar equals 460 naira. And this is the official rate. The black-market rate for naria today is one US dollar equals 755 naira. There is also insecurity, especially in the northeast, northwest and southeast, where armed groups continue to conduct frequent killings and kidnappings. In addition, the power supply has dropped, leaving many Nigerians in the dark for days at a time; fuel queues have started again, forcing Nigerians to spend hours, if not days waiting to purchase fuel, and the introduction of new naira notes has made it almost impossible to access cash. Just last night a friend told me he had to pay 5,000 naira to take out 20,000 naira from his account.
Nigerians are fed up, and once again, the country finds itself “Dancing on the Brink.” But let me end this blog by crediting the electoral management body. Last month, the body’s chairman declared that the election could not be postponed. 2011, 2015 and 2019 elections were all delayed to a later date. The 2019 delay came as people were queuing to vote at polling units. It was pushed back by a week. Earlier this morning, I talked to a friend who was about to leave his house to go vote. The electoral management body seems better prepared for this election than 2015 and 2019. The success of any election starts with the preparation of electoral management body.
Meeting the Chairman of the electoral management body (INEC) in 2018. With the president of IRI (center) and my former Africa Director (over my shoulder)
Here’s to a safe, free, fair election in Africa’s most populous country and my home for nearly six years.
I wrote this blog a few months ago and never posted it. I wrote it after traveling to Nigeria in August 2022. https://fredayinafrica.com/2022/09/24/my-return-to-nigeria/. I was excited to return to Nigeria, two and half years after we departed for South Africa. But I am not sure what I expected when I landed in Abuja. Reading newspaper articles outside of Nigeria painted a picture of a country where passengers on trains were being kidnapped (which is true) and people “snatched up” just walking along the road. While certain areas in the country have faced new security threats or rising insecurity because of kidnapping, cattle raiding, or banditry, Abuja still had the same feeling when I was there in 2019. However, once the plane touched down, I was quickly aware that it was not the same Abuja I left in November 2019. First, a consistent face that always met me at the airport in the many years of departing and arriving in Abuja was not waiting for me on arrival. Daniel Jonah was IRI’s driver for many years and by being IRI’s driver, he became the director’s right hand. He was the first staff person I saw every morning and the last staff person I saw in the evening. He took me all over Nigeria before it became too unsafe to travel by automobile. I met his family, got to know his children, and spent many days providing counsel for issues he was experiencing (and created). He was the office gossip and never missed an opportunity to use the information to gain power in the office. I learned quickly in my tenure that Daniel would share any and all information he had to get a favor. When I was new to Nigeria, I had an incident where I utter something in front of Daniel and was amazed when someone challenged me on what I said.
Most times as the director, I found myself serving as a referee in the office as someone would accuse Daniel of an offense and I would have to intervene. But Daniel was a stable force in my life in Nigeria. Even with his hot-headedness, Daniel was loyal and a very good driver. I can think of numerous occasions where Daniel’s quick thinking saved us from potential harm or removed us from a situation that quickly deteriorated. One occasion that sticks out to me was a day road trip we took to the neighboring state of Kogi. Some political party members had advised us that we could meet their Vice-Presidential candidate if we attended a rally in the state. We drove two hours to Lokoja, the state capital of Kogi to attend the rally. It was a long day and while I was within feet of the Vice-Presidential candidate, we never officially met during that trip. It would be another two years before I met the candidate, who became the Vice President of Nigeria. I just wanted to get back to Abuja. Typically, we didn’t drive between states in the dark. But since we were only two hours away from the capital city, I approved the drive back to Abuja. We encountered an overturned tanker (a fuel truck) along the way. The tanker was blocking both sides of the road and drivers were using a dirt path on the side of the road to clear the wreckage. We didn’t think much about it as we approached the truck and noticed a glowing flame. However, that flame quickly became an explosion that lit up the night sky. The explosion rattled the car’s windows and sent pedestrians walking along the dirt path into a panic looking for shelter. Daniel quickly put the vehicle in reverse, turned around, and headed back down the dirt path. We headed back towards Lokoja until we found ourselves in the Vice President’s motorcade. Our car was a black SUV, so it fit right into the motorcade. Thanks to Daniel’s quick thinking and driving tactics we found ourselves back in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in no time.
After I left Nigeria, we continued to catch up and stay in touch. The office reduced in size and then COVID-19 brought additional changes. Eventually, Daniel’s position as a driver was no longer needed and he left IRI. One random Friday in July, as I was working remotely from a makeshift desk in my brother-in-law’s apartment, I received a message from a friend in Nigeria informing me he had terrible news. I’m not sure what I expected from this message, but the rest of the message completely ruined my day. He said that he was just informed that Daniel has passed away! I was utterly not prepared for this news! Again, Daniel was such a consistent part of my time in Nigeria that everyone who knew me in Nigeria or had ever visited me in Nigeria knew Daniel! Even to this day, people ask me about Daniel! As I arrived in Nigeria, there was no Daniel to excitedly meet me at the airport and ask me about “Madam.” Instead, a young enterprising man named Prince met me at the airport and whisked me off to the Transcorp Hilton. Now, the Transcorp Hilton is a very interesting place and if you have ever traveled to Abuja, you already know what I am talking about. However, I will save that discussion for a later blog.
There is a an old saying that says lightning never strikes the same place twice! We love repeating this phrase when lightning strikes during a thunderstorm. Again, the phrase is so common that it is often used when we think of unusual events happening multiple times to the same person. Unfortunately, this theory, when lightning strikes and unusual events happening to the same person multiple time has been proven false. I recently learned that the Empire State Building in New York City is hit by lightning multiples times a year. In addition, former Wisconsin Representative Jim Sensenbrenner is a three winner of the lottery, twice in Wisconsin and once in Washington, D.C. It seems that lightning can and does strike twice!
Unlike the old saying that lightning never strikes twice, tornadoes can and sometimes do hit the same location. Unfortunately, my hometown of Movico, Alabama and the house that I own is testimony to that fact. In 1990, my house, which at the time belong to my grandmother, was hit by a F0 tornado. An F0 tornado is the weakest tornado on the retired Fujita Scale. Thirty homes were severely damaged, and 20 others damaged. My grandmother’s house was one of those homes severely damaged. A tree standing next to her carport, split and came crashing down on her den. She often sat in the picture window in the den watching TV and the traffic passing outside. On this day, my uncle was visiting and thought the weather strange. As the winds picked up outside, he lifted my grandmother and raced down the hallway. As they entered the bedroom, the tree came crashing into her house. It took nearly a year for contractors to repair her home. She lived with us while her home was repaired. It was a great year because someone was always home when I arrived from school! Did I mentioned there was always pound cake and orange slices!
A photo of our house (my grandmother’s house) taken in 2020. My grandparents’ last name was on the fence that welcomed visitors to the house. Sadly, that gate was destroyed by the tree that came crashing down during the tornado.
On Thursday, January 12, 2023, Movico was hit once again by a tornado. The tornado roared through my tiny community flipping mobile homes, removing homes from foundations, ripping off roofs as well as bringing down trees. It was a frightening afternoon for those living in and around Movico. Once again, my grandmother’s house, which now belongs to Sheila and I was in the path of the tornado. The tornado ripped the roof off the house and brought down numerous trees in the yard. Unlike the 1990 tornado that left my uncle’s mobile home next door untouched, this tornado stood the mobile home on its southern most end (as the mobile home was standing south to north) before bringing it to the ground in devastating fashion. This account was provided by a commuter who was traveling along US highway 43. In an interview with the local media, he described how the mobile home stood up and then crashed to the ground. He said the storm was moving from the east and crossed highway 43 and continued its destruction of homes. Here is the link to a story about the storm and the interview of the individual that witnessed the storm. https://www.wkrg.com/weather/photos-storm-damage-in-south-alabama/
Relatives living behind my house (grandmother’s house) also experienced a direct hit from the tornado. Large tree limbs were slammed into my cousin’s house where my she tried to protect her grandson from debris. Her brother was in his house when the tornado lifted it up off the ground and dropped it a few feet from its foundation. A news article compared the event to the Wizard of Oz. Thankfully, everyone was able to walk away from this tragic event.
The mobile home that was destroyed by the tornado (picture from September 2020). Sheila and I stayed in that home during COVID19. We didn’t want to immediately move in with my parents after traveling from South Africa to the United States. We ended up staying in this home for two and a half months. We moved out before Hurricane Sally hit the area in September 2020. Hurricane Sally brought down the tree in the distance.
Unfortunately, Sheila and I have not been able to survey the damage. The tornado happened the day before we were preparing to fly back to Tanzania . Since all family members were able to walk away from the disaster, my parents told us to catch our flight and get back to Tanzania. It’s hard to imagine what the area will look like when we finally get an opportunity to return to Movico. I’m sure the emotions will roll in when we see vacant lots where houses once stood.
A return to Nigeria is never without drama! The people are dynamic, expressive and at times, combative. When I moved to Nigeria in 2014, I asked a friend who is a flight attendant if there were punishment routes for cabin crew? She responded no but I believe that a flight to Nigeria is either a punishment or only for the very experienced.
Last month I boarded a flight to Nigeria from Tanzania. Even before departing from Dar es Salaam, I became acutely aware that I was traveling to Nigeria. As I was standing in the immigration queue waiting for my turn, I could feel the presence of an individual standing too close behind me in the queue. Nigerians don’t believe in the personal space bubble. My queue was moving too slow for him, so he jumped to another queue and presented his green Nigerian passport to the officer. My suspicions were correct.
On our connecting flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Abuja, Nigeria, we had a technical issue before taking off. This issue delayed our flight by two hours. Technical issues on planes are always unsettling when you are about to ascend into the heavens. But I have watched several documentaries about airplanes and why planes crash and have come to a basic understanding that most planes crash because of an unknown issue or an issue that occurred mid-flight. Usually, an issue on the ground is fixed or the passengers are rebooked for another airplane.
On the flight from Addis Ababa to Abuja, the passengers were not having it with the cabin crew when the pilot announced that we would be finally taking off. We were taxing down the runway when murmuring began among the passengers. A woman yelled out that people on this plane are too calm after we just experienced a technical issue. She declared that she wanted to get off the plane. She continued by saying that she “used her money to buy this ticket and demanded to get off.” Her comments were like a fuse as others began to talk loudly about getting off the flight. Then other passengers began standing up in the aisle demanding the pilot make an announcement. The flight attendant pleaded with people to sit down as we are about to take off. At one point she was drowned out by the cacophony of complaints from the passengers. When there was a pause in their complaints she said, “why do you think we would risk our lives if we didn’t think this flight was not safe.” Minutes later the pilot made an announcement. He explained the situation and apologized for the delay. He also apologized for not communicating with passengers on the issue. While this settled the passengers on the plane the initial woman continued murmuring about not wanting to be on the flight and her desire to get off.
I understand their concerns as flying through the sky is unnerving! As a passenger your life is in the hands of a few pilots that you have never met. You must trust that they understand the plane and will do their due diligence to safely land the plane at its destination. However, flying is a very safe travel option. At any given time, there could be close to a million people flying through the skies to a destination.
But for a Nigerian, their fear steams from a country where institutions are weak, money can circumvent regulations, and no one is held accountable for their actions. I used to wonder why Nigerians, when airlines call for boarding would rush the door to be the first on the airplane. However, I was informed by my colleagues that there was a time when airlines would book multiple people for the same seat. The person who sat in the sit first would be the one to keep the seat! In addition, a series of plane crashes between 2008 and 2012 in Nigeria affected Nigerians perceptions of the aviation sector that lacked institutional controls. There is even a story that Nigerians tell of a former Governor who died in Lagos and as his body was transferred back to his home, the plane crashed minutes after takeoff. Nigerians say he died twice.
But this isn’t the first flight where Nigerians tried to storm their way off a plane. In 2016, as my parents and I were traveling to Kigali, Rwanda from Lagos for my wedding, a group of Nigerians stormed the front of the plane in hopes of forcing the flight attendants to allow them to get off the airplane. They were angry because the airplane was unable to provide air conditioning while boarding. The pilot promised that once in the air, there would be air conditioning. The reassurance from the pilot didn’t stop these individuals for attempting a coup of the airplane. The flight attendant told them that if they left the plane, the flight would take off without them. The quietly returned to their seats and the plane pushed back for take off.
I am back in the land of green and white…as eventful as ever!
It has been eight months since we arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and we are ready for visitors! While we are still “settling” into our new home, we wanted everyone to know that we want visitors! “Settling in” hasn’t been easy as we are still waiting on our personal effects to arrive so we can be comfortable in our new home but that should not stop you from hoping on an airplane and coming for a vacation of a lifetime.
Tanzania is a beautiful country, and our apartment has amazing sunset ocean views. Each evening I am transfixed by the beautiful orange and blue sky outside our balcony window. We are often put to sleep by the sounds of waves crashing against the shore. We can tell the moon stages by the sound of the waves outside. A heavy, crashing sound means that we are in a full moon because the waves are crashing against the rocks nearby. Watching the tide has become a newfound obsession for me. Tide-Forecast.com is my favorite time-wasting website for following the tide. https://www.tide-forecast.com/locations/Dar-Es-Salaam-Tanzania/tides/latest
A trip to visit us in Dar es Salaam will also include a trip to Zanzibar! For most of us with limited knowledge of Zanzibar, it turns out that Zanzibar consists of many small islands and two large islands. Those islands are Unguja and Pemba Island. Most travelers to Zanzibar only go to Unguja which includes the capital, Zanzibar City. The historic center of Zanzibar City is Stone Town, a World Heritage Site. Stone Town is an old, fortress city that is rooted in Swahili, Arab, Indian, and European design.
Zanzibar was a slave trading port used to transport African slaves to the Middle East and other places via the Sahara Desert and Indian Ocean. Americans are familiar with the West African slave trade, but we are not familiar with the East African slave trade. We don’t know how many Africans were sold from East Africa to North Africa. Many of the slaves perished before reaching the market where they were to be sold. The introduction of the cloves trade in Zanzibar created a need for slaves to work the planation and eventually lead to slaves occupying Zanzibar. Zanzibar’s reputation changed from being the center of the slave trade to a center of slavery. In 1873, under pressure from Great Britain, the Sultan of Zanzibar, signed a treaty that made the slave trade illegal. Like the Atlantic slave trade, the decree was not enforced, and the illegal slave trade continued. It was not until 1909 that slavery was finally abolished in East Africa.
Back to the reasons you should visit us in Tanzania. Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam are just six degrees from the equator and have a warm year-round climate. A on a bicycle ride around our community throughout the day selling coconut that he will cut open for you to drink it’s refreshing waters. And we can’t forget about the white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters that will make any visit to Tanzania, a holiday to remember.
And if that hasn’t sold you on your next vacation to Tanzania, then consider experiencing the wildlife in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and getting a glimpse of the tallest mountain on the African continent, Mount Kilimanjaro. The Serengeti is famous for the wildebeests that stampede across the grasslands of East Africa every August and September. In a single year, the herds can migrate nearly 1,000 miles.
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Levi has had thick black hair since birth. He came into this world with his hair, fried, dyed and laid to the side! As he has gotten older, his hair has taken on a personality of its own. Initially it was slick down and laid close to his hear but it soon became curly and thick. Now we are starting to see it take on new dimensions and what we can expect his hair to look like.
His unique hair has made him stand out especially as we have settled into our life on the African content. People always comment on his curly Afro and how it stands up on the top of his head. At Christmas, we were visiting with cousins in Kigali and one cousin was really fascinated with Levi’s hair. He pulled at Levi’s curls and rubbed his fingers through his curls. Eventually he asked, “why is his hair like this and my hair is like this?”, pointing to his own head. After we laughed at this comment, I tried to explain that Levi‘s ancestors not only include Rwandans, but Nigerians, Ghanaians, English, Scottish, German and French. So all those genes have come together to produce this curly Afro. The cousin looked at me, not fully understanding what I was saying and moved on to play with the other cousins.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, various countries have a word for white that is often used when they see a white person. As a black person from the US, that word has been often directed at me. Not because I have white skin but my mannerisms and speech are reminiscent of their interactions with white people. This has created a long agonizing relationship with being called white, especially in Rwanda and in Nigeria. I have gotten use to it and have now started doing the same thing. I now have to face reality that Levi will face the same of often being called white. It happened a few times when we were out for a walk with Levi in his stroller and the children called him Mzungu (white in Swahili). To stop and engage will only make it worst with my Americanize English and few Kinyarwanda works (the language of Rwanda).
When I think about Levi, what people say of his hair, that other Africans call him white, I’m reminded of his complicated ancestry. He is the descendant of enslaved people, the enslaver, refugees who fled their homeland, proud African tribes as well as European clans. His skin tone and hair reflects these diverse ancestors. But we live in a world where color defines who you are before where you are from. I will start early teaching Levi about his ancestors and his homelands.
Moving is stressful! Anyone who has ever had to pack up their house and move to a new location knows how stressful moving can be! And moving between countries has its own level of stress and challenges. Sheila and I moved out of our apartment in South Africa on December 13, 2021, and we (or rather I) moved into our Tanzanian apartment on January 12, 2022. Now, in all honesty, there was not much Sheila and I had to do regarding the move out process. My organization hired a moving company that showed up at our house and packed our things. Our role was to direct the movers and to separate our items into three categories – items for air shipment, items for sea shipment and items to travel with us on our flight out of the country. Now, I know you are asking yourself, “where is the stress?” The stress is in deciding what goes where and when. And each item category has a weight limit. What makes this process rather difficult is that you don’t know what you will need when you arrive at your new location. When we moved into our apartment in South Africa, the apartment was fully furnished. The apartment had kitchen items, sheets, towels, laundry items, WIFI and DSTV (satellite TV). It was the type of furnished apartment that could easily double as an Airbnb rental. On the other hand, our new apartment in Tanzania has nothing outside of furniture and appliances. While the Tanzanian complex likes to rent out apartments on a nightly basis to make money during the pandemic, complaints on booking.com and other travel sites have focused on the lack of kitchen items needed to use the appliances. The other night I had to go buy pots and pans (even though we have pots and pans in our shipment), cutlery, pillows, and towels.
The moving process is even more complicated with a child. Trying to decide what to send by air, what to ship by sea and what to bring with us has its own challenges with a 15-month-old. If we put his clothes in our sea shipment and we don’t receive that shipment for three to six months, then he could outgrow his clothes. In addition, we struggled with where to put Levi’s crib? Levi lived the first year of his life sleeping in a travel bassinet, a Graco pack & play and at times, sleeping in the bed with us when we didn’t have a bed for him. When we arrived in South Africa, he finally had a bed to himself. But that was short-lived because three months later, we were on the move again. We decided to sacrifice our air shipment allotment to include his crib and related items. This ensures that when he does arrive in Tanzania, he will have a crib that is familiar and belongs to him.
It is also safe to say that we under packed our sea shipment and over packed the bags that traveled with us to Tanzania. We left South Africa with ten bags to start our new life in Tanzania. However, I have since come to believe that we left some very important items out of our travel bags. As I mentioned above, pots and pans, cutlery, pillows, and towels. In addition, we packed our iron in our air shipment. I have been trying my best to get by without an iron and I guess this is made easy as my office is still working from home.
We clearly overestimate space in our checked baggage and had to leave a few items in South Africa. On my way to Tanzania, I traveled to South Africa (from Rwanda) to pick up our final items. It was strange being back in a city where you once lived and had an apartment. Sadly, I had to get a hotel room for the two nights when I was in town. On my final day, as I was preparing to check out, I decided to take a late shower since I was traveling overnight. I closed the bathroom door in case housekeeping came into the room. After exiting the shower and drying off, I tried to exit the bathroom, but the door refused to budge. I thought, “hmmm, that’s strange.” I tried the doorknob again and this time gently leaned into the door but again, it refused to move. I then became more forceful with the door. It became obvious to me that (1) the door was not going to open without force and (2) I didn’t want to be blame for breaking the door. Lucky for me I had my mobile phone so I called the front desk to inform them that I was locked in my bathroom and unfortunately, the top lock on the outside door was engaged…which meant it would be difficult for someone to access the room. She was a bit surprised with my call and constantly apologized but told me that someone from maintenance would be there to help me. After about 15-20 minutes, there was a knock on my hotel room door. Before entering the room, the maintenance man knocked on my door to make sure it was ok to enter the room. I called out to him several times that I was locked in the bathroom, but he could access the room. Finally, there was a loud thud as he broke the top lock of the door my ramming it with his shoulder. He stepped into the room, looked at the door and with one twist of the doorknob, he opened the door. And just like that I was freed from my temporary prison and able to move on to our new life in Tanzania.
2021 was a very challenging year for the Barnes Family. We started the year in Mount Vernon, Alabama, eventually made our way to Kigali, Rwanda and finally returned to our home in South Africa in October. During this time, we made three trips to the US and took a much-needed vacation to Dubai. Sentell also had to travel to Tanzania for work twice. A baby dedication ceremony was held for Levi at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church (my dad’s home church) in January and Levi had two birthday parties to celebrate turning one. Levi began to crawl at four months and he walked at ten months. We had numerous flight challenges which included extensive delays, a missed flight, delayed COVID19 test and rental cars being left in the parking lot. COVID19 defined our year and we tried to make the best of a difficult situation. These are our top memories from 2021.
Levi Meets the Snow
We were late getting on the road to Atlanta for our Turkish Airlines flight to Kigali. It had been a stressful few days as we were trying to get a COVID19 test within 72 hours of our flight. We found a clinic in Jackson, Mississippi (Trust Care Clinic), a six-hour drive round trip from our home in Mount Vernon, Alabama. The drive was even longer because we were traveling with a four-month-old. After securing our COVID19 test, we were off to Montgomery for a quick rest break before making the final journey to Atlanta. We arrived at the airport with exactly one and a half hours before our flight. When we entered the airport, the line at Turkish airlines counter was chaotic! I needed to check in quickly and then return the rental car. The closer we got to the ticket desk; it was clear that our flight was delayed. I was delighted as I would have time to return the car. However, once we checked-in, I was informed that security would be closing at 10pm, even though our flight was now scheduled to depart at 1:55am (the originally departure time of the flight was 10pm). I had a call in a favor from my brother to come to Atlanta to return the rental car on our behalf. It was also clear that we would miss our connecting flight in Istanbul to Kigali. As the plane descended into Istanbul, we could see snow on the ground. Once off the plane, we were informed that the next flight was in two days so we had an unscheduled layover in Istanbul. Unfortunately, we left all our winter clothes in Alabama and all Levi’s items for sleeping. We decided to go to a hotel that we had stayed in previously during a stop over in Istanbul to wait out our flight. After two days we were finally on our way to Kigali.
A COVID break in the Desert
After living in the homes of others, we needed a break. COVID19 made it difficult traveling to many parts of the world and we didn’t want to make the long journey back to the United States (only to be back in other people’s spaces). Dubai was encouraging tourist to return for Ramadan so, after some discussion, we decided to jet off to the city in the desert. We spent an entire week enjoying time at the pool, hanging out at the enormous shopping malls, and enjoying some time to ourselves. We were joined on this trip with Sheila’s brother Bob and his wife Vanessa. It was one of the nicest visits to Dubai that I have experienced.
Levi Turns One
Levi turned one in October 2021. It is hard to believe that he is already one years old. They often tell you that times flies by…and it truly does fly by. I think we were so focused on responding to his needs that when we finally looked up, he was walking and almost talking. Levi had two birthday parties. Since we had spent so much time in Kigali, we decided to throw a birthday for him in late September. Because of his love of animals, we threw him a farm themed birthday party. We had a second birthday party once we returned to Johannesburg. The South African birthday party was small and intimate with Levi having a cake to smash. We also took Levi to the Johannesburg Zoo on to celebrate his birthday.
Brenda and Freddie’s 50th Wedding Anniversary
On November 5, 2021, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. When we initially started planning for their celebration, we wanted to go all out and host a gala. However, COVID19 forced us to change our plans. In the end, my parents requested that we all be home for their anniversary. While Sheila and I did not want to travel back to the US for a second time in three months, we also did not want to miss this momentous occasion. It turned out to be a beautiful day, joined by family and friends. And in the end, my parents spent their anniversary with their two children, their spouses and three grandchildren.
A Wedding in Uganda (Round Two)
Sheila’s brother Bob and his wife Vanessa were married in September of 2020. Unfortunately, it was doing COVID19 restrictions so many important people were unable to attend, including Vanessa’s parents. They planned to hold a second ceremony in Uganda for Vanessa’s family to attend. After some discussion and waiting to see how the various COVID19 variants would play out, a wedding date was set on December 18, 2021. Despite the rise of the Omicron variant just weeks before the wedding, the happy couple decided to continue with their wedding date. It was a beautiful affair with family and friends in attendance.
Our New Home in Tanzania
After two years in South Africa, most of it spent outside of South Africa, my organization decided to transfer us to Tanzania. We are sad to leave our home in South Africa. We really enjoyed our brief time in the Rainbow Nation. South Africa is a unique place. For an American, you can easily create a life that reflects a western style life. Fancy shopping malls, Michelin level restaurants, internationally recognized wineries, and exotic animal parks. But behind all of this is violent crime, poverty and racial divisions that continue to fester from the apartheid days. We only wish that we could have had more time to experience all that South Africa has to offer. However, Dar es Salaam is located along the Indian Ocean with breathtaking ocean views and sunsets. In addition, Zanzibar, is a short flight or ferry away from Dar es Salaam. Our offer still stands for visitors!
Sheila and I left Johannesburg, South Africa on July 12, 2020. We spent 447 days away from our house, sleeping in other people’s beds and having little to no personal space. July 11, 2020 was the last time we ate dinner in our own space and watched people walk up and down our treelined street. Let me say this again, for 447 days we lived with other people and slept in someone’s spare bed. Some of you may read this and think, what’s the big deal? Others may say, at least you had somewhere to say. But it’s challenging living in other peoples’ space, especially during a pandemic and with a new child! When we arrived in the US in July 2020, it was just the two of us. Now, there are three of us and one in particular is not concerned with respecting the rules of the house!
We are grateful that we have family that allowed us to take over their house. Our families have been gracious in taking us in, feeding us and providing free baby care. But we are happy to be back in our home in South Africa.
We attempted a return to South Africa in May 2021 but I had to travel to Tanzania for work. When I returned to Kigali, Sheila and I planned to return to South Africa. But each day we watched as Covid19 numbers increased in South Africa. South Africa begrudgingly went into a level four lockdown. In addition, other countries were putting restrictions on South Africans or those who had been in South Africa. The United States put in place a restriction that if you had been in South Africa in the previous 14 days you were not allowed to enter the US. Now Sheila and I were exempted from the restriction but we were concerned if other countries would establish a similar type of restriction. However, the US Government recently announced and have implemented rules for passengers arriving in the United States. International visitors must present airlines with a paper or digital certificate that shows they are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Travelers must also provide a negative Covid-19 test result taken no more than three days before departure. Travelers under the age of 18 and those from countries where the vaccination coverage is below ten percent due to vaccine shortages will be able to enter the United States without being fully immunized.
I know that Levi will not remember any of this…he won’t remember the four months we lived in Mount Vernon, Alabama after he was born and he won’t remember the seven months we lived in Kigali…he won’t remember the snow delay that forced us to spent two nights in Istanbul or a recent stay inside the Brussels airport (blog loading). All this seems temporary in this brief world that we live in…again, we are thankful for family and friends that have tried to make our time outside South Africa comfortable and pleasant.
But…we are thankful to be back in South Africa. We arrived in the country on October 2, 2021. The transition back to our life in South Africa has been challenging. As I mentioned above, we left the Rainbow Nation as two and returned in October as three. In Kigali, and to a certain extent in Alabama, we had people that helped us watch Levi while we got an extra hour of sleep or needed to make dinner. In South Africa, it is just the three of us…And we realized that Levi is an energetic little boy. We were overwhelmed after our first week in Johannesburg. However, we now have a routine and a schedule that helps us manage our time and manage Levi. Being back in South Africa doesn’t mean that our period of uncertainty is over. There are new changes coming to our lives. So we prepare for the unexpected…