2017: A Year in Review…

2017 has been an exciting year with new experiences and new locations. We are ringing in the New Year in the United States where we have been spending our Holiday Break. It hasn’t been a restful of a break as we would have liked, but we are delighted to be spending some time in the United States. This is the longest period of time that I have spent in the U.S. since the three months I spent in Washington, D.C. after the South Sudan crisis. We are truly thankful to God for another year and grateful for the many memories we will carry into 2018. While there were some challenges in 2017, we look forward to new opportunities (and the challenges) in 2018.

So here are the highlights from 2017:

We marked our one year anniversary on June 4, 2017

Cambodia

On June 4, we celebrated 365 days as husband and wife. Now it should not be a surprise that we survived the first year as a married couple, but it is quite the accomplishment when you think about the past few years in your life. I was just reading my Christmas update from 2013 and there was no mentioned of Sheila, a girlfriend or an impending marriage. It’s amazing how life changes…To celebrate our one year anniversary, we took a “second” honeymoon to Southeast Asia. We spent a few nights in Bangkok, visited the Angkor Archaeological Park, played in the sand in Phuket, Thailand and experienced the ultra-clean and organized city of Singapore. The highlight of that vacation was swimming in the infinity pool high above the Marina Sands Hotel.

Anniversary Photo

Welcome to the family Miss Sarah Grace

Sarah Grace

In August, our family grew by one. My brother and his wife had their first child in August. Sheila and I could only watch from a distance using Skype and Whatsapp to meet our new niece. However, when we arrived in Alabama to celebrate Christmas, we finally got to meet Sarah Grace. She loves to sleep, eat, and drink milk. In addition, she loves to watch other people talk. She may have an early case of FOMO (fear of missing out). We are so excited to welcome her into the family and look forward to spoiling her as her Uncle and Auntie.

Sheila becomes a Student

This year we made a really tough decision. Despite only being married (and living together) for one year and four months, we decided that we would live on separate continents for one year. Sheila applied and was accepted into a Psychology program at Coventry University. Sheila had talked for nearly a year about getting a Master Degree. While we were hoping that she could land employment in Abuja, we finally made the decision to seek out schools that she could attend. While we are really sad to be in different locations, we are thankful that God has open doors for Sheila to live and attend school in Coventry. For one, she has friends who live there who can check in on her and has helped her settle in. In addition, there is a large Rwanda population in Coventry (large is relative) so she has found other Aunties to serve as her “UK mum.”  She is expected to finish her program in October of 2018. So we will be commuting between Nigeria and the UK for the next ten months. Which for those who know and understand Nigerians, is a normal commute!

Equipping leaders and volunteers at the Abuja Ark International Church

In May, I was nominated and elected to serve on the Leadership Team (LT) of my church in Abuja. My church in Abuja is a bit unique. We don’t have a pastor as most churches do. What we have is a LT that runs the day to day operations of the church. This LT also serves as the group responsible for the welfare of the church. Sermons, and other aspects of the church is done by volunteers. Each Sunday a volunteer from the church (approved by the LT) delivers a message or a sermon. Worship, ushering, setup/take down, service coordination are all done by volunteers. This means that being a member of the LT is a “second” full time job. We meet every other week to respond to comments from the church and make necessary decisions. I learned during my time at McLean Bible Church that leading God’s people is hard…this new role has only cemented that fact. But I am thankful that God has given me a background seat to the inter-workings of his Church and his people.

Auburn Strikes Again in Epic Fashion

Auburn Game

Picture it…Juba, South Sudan…2013…It was a difficult year as I had lost my job, spent three months wandering in the desert looking for a job and found myself living in the world’s newest country. However, Auburn’s surprising run to the National Championship game made the year even more exciting. The Prayer in Jordan Hare and the Kick Six were epic wins over our two sport rivals. 2017 ended in similar fashion (minus the appearance at the National Championship game). Epics wins against Georgia and Alabama made the end of the year seem so sweet.

Visit to Windsor Castle – the royal residence of the Queen Elizabeth II

windsor.jpg

For Thanksgiving, I went to the U.K. to visit Sheila. It was my first visit to Coventry since Sheila’s departure for school. She had been studying all hours of the day and night so when I arrived, I suggested that she take a little time off of studying and relax. Our study break included a trip to Windsor Castle, the royal residence of Queen Elizabeth II. The castle has served as a royal residence since 1100, when Henry I came to power. Since that time, it has been the home of British Monarchs from Henry VIII to Charles I (who was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell) to the current monarch who became Queen in 1952. In 1917, King George V changed the name from the German sounding Saxe-Coburg and Gotha surname to the House of Windsor to distance the British monarch from the Germany, who at the time, was at war with the UK and other countries. Over the past decade, I have become interested in the history of the British Monarchy reading the biographies of Henry VIII, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, King James II, King George V and his wife Queen Mary of Teck.

My third great grandfather Harford Tait (Tate), Sr.

I have been researching my family history since 1997. It has become a passion of mine during my leisure time. When I am bored in the evenings or on the weekends, I find myself lost on Ancestry.com looking up various members of my family. In the past twenty years, I have discovered numerous ancestors and connected our family to numerous families in and around Mobile County, Alabama. In November, I was watching one of Henry Louis Gates “Finding your Roots” episodes. He was helping famous Americans research their family roots. As I was watching the show, I decided to start searching random family ancestors in Google. My search led me to Senator Charles Tait. Senator Tait was born in Virginia but moved to Georgia with his family in 1783. In 1809, he was elected in a special election to fill the term of Senator John Milledge. He was reelected in 1813, serving until 1819. Before his senate term had expired, he and his son moved to Alabama to grab land in the newly opening Alabama Territory. He was appointed to a judgeship in 1820 for the District of Alabama. It turns out that one of Senator Tait slaves, Harford, was one of my direct descendant (on my mom side). From what I found by just searching Harford’s name is that he was a well-educated slave responsible for updating his master on what was happening on the plantation. In 1826, when Senator Tait was traveling to Philadelphia, it was Harford that wrote him a letter informing him “eighty bales (of cotton) had been packed, and they think they will have eighty more…” Harford went on to announce that “I have another son named after myself…” This son, named after Harford is my second great grandfather who was born in 1826 and died in 1897. I was also shocked to find that there is a book, “Life and Labor in the Old South” that mentions the letter that Harford wrote to his master. In addition, in his will, Senator Tait gave instructions that Harford should be freed after his death (or to be sent to live with Senator Tait’s son in Wilcox County). While I don’t know if Harford was freed after the death of Senator Tait in 1835, his Harford eventually settled in Monroe County where Senator Tait lived. It was an amazing find for the legacy of our family and where we come from.

A House full of Visitors

IMG_1504

This year, we had a house full of visitors. Our first official guest to Abuja was Sheila’s friend and former colleague Pauline. Pauline was in Lagos and decided to venture up to Abuja to spend the weekend with us. We entertained Pauline by taking her to the Bwari Pottery Village. My colleague Jacob came to visit the following week. Following Jacob was Sheila’s brother Bob. Bob had been looking forward to visiting Nigeria since Sheila arrived last June (2016). I think he finds Nigerians flamboyant, colorful, over-the-top and comedic. Another colleague from my DC office came for a few days in July and Sheila’s cousin Nicholas and Fiona traveled to Abuja from Kampala, Uganda to visit. We were blessed to have friends and family travel all the way to Abuja to spend time with us.

30 Days in the United Republic of Tanzania

zanzi-sunset.jpg

In October, I was assigned to temporary duty (TDY) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It was a needed break from the heat and chaos of Nigeria. Dar es Salaam is an old chaotic city with some amazing views of the Indian Ocean. What the city lacks in its old world ruggedness, it makes up with its proximity to the Indian Ocean and easy access to Zanzibar. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dar. I made a trip to the neighboring beach island of Bongoyo and made a weekend trip to Zanzibar. The TDY came at the right time as I needed a break from Nigeria. I hope there are more TDYs in the coming year. It provides a breather when you are living outside your comfort zone.

Got to Get a Little Mud on the Tires…

clean-muddy

We spent the 2016/17 New Year’s holiday in North Cyprus.  We found Cyprus to be an amazing place! I wanted to visit the Karpas National Park and the Cape, which marked the end of the island. So on Monday, January 2, we embarked on what we thought would be a two-hour car ride. The trip was progressing smoothly until our google navigator lost connection with the satellite and we missed an important turn. At first she recalculated and told us we would arrive 15 minutes after our original time. However, we found ourselves deep in a rural Cypriot town. At one point, we found ourselves driving down a road in the middle of an olive grove. It should have been at that point that we reassessed the situation and found a new way out. However, we continued along the highlighted route. We came to a cemetery in the town of Sazlikoy. Once past the cemetery, the paved road turned into a muddy, pothole ridden farm path. When we approached the road, I initially told myself to find an alternative route because I have watched too many movies where small cars are bogged down in mud. I kept thinking, the last thing I want to do is get stuck in a random Cypriot town where probably no one speaks English.

The mud should have been our indication to turn back and find an alternative route. To give ourselves credit, we discussed the situation for several minutes. There was a back and forth of what to do and whether to turn back. Sadly, we convinced ourselves to power forward in the smallest car in the world. And into the mud we went. My last words were… “Ah, Sheila, I really don’t want to get stuck.”

And just as expected, the car leaped into the mud and we were stuck. I was so furious that I thought this tiny little car could barrel its way through the mud with no problem. At one point I had to calm myself because I was starting to “overheat.” I knew that the only way we were going to get out of this muddy predicament was to get out and push. I wasn’t initially gun ho about this idea but Sheila kept chiming in that we should get out. Now it’s important to note that while the day was sunny and mild, it was still winter and putting my foot in muddy water was not how I saw the day playing out. I decided to get out and push with Sheila manning the driver’s seat. The whole ordeal took us about 15 minutes and only a few splashes of mud on my clothes. However, my feet were caked in mud. It was an awful ordeal as it was not how I wanted to spend our day in the Cyprus country side but it has given us a hilarious detour on our vacation…one that brings us to laugh each time we think about it and watch the video. Our marriage has been full of these what seem like a stressful situation that turns out to be laughable moments. Whenever we get bent out shape we always think back to getting stuck in the mud. It was an early moment into our 2017 year.

Lord, You make all things new, you bring hope alive in our hearts and cause our Spirits to be born again. Thank you for this new year for all the potential it holds.
Come and kindle in us a mighty flame so that in our time, many will see the wonders of God and live forever to praise Your glorious name.

Happy New Year! 2018

 

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3 Comments on “2017: A Year in Review…

  1. Happy New Year to you and Sheila, Sentell! Again, thank you for the fruit and cheese. It was so thoughtful of you

    Congratulations to Sheila, I’m glad she’s able to get her masters.

  2. Sentell – I so enjoy the writings of your life a whole world away from Alabama. Happy New Year to you and your lovely wife, Sheila.

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