The Supermarket Chronicles XII: Shuck and Slurp

Cigna's first oyster. Sarah's not much of a raw shellfish fan

Cian’s first oyster.  Sarah’s not a fan

Faithful readers may recall a couple years back my sister’s fiancé’s daring initiation into Cape Cod cuisine.  That particular post was featured on the Cape Cod Times website and to this day is still one of my most viewed articles (you’re welcome, Nathan!).  Clearly, my family has an unusual fondness for seafood.  Now, you may not feel that landlocked Vermont would be the ideal venue for shellfish experiments.  We were visiting the Green Mountain State to enjoy winter sports (post coming soon), and the Powell clan descended on The Farmhouse Tap and Grill in Burlington for a sumptuous New Year’s Day dinner, including $1 raw oysters from choice New England beaches.  If you’re trying to navigate the array of downtown Burlington restaurants, The Farmhouse comes highly recommended.  My father and I sucked down a half dozen oysters each before our meal, and intrigued by the process, Cian wanted to try one (he’s our more adventurous eater.  There are only about seven foods Áine deems acceptable).  Since consuming raw shellfish in Nigeria is, um, not suggested, we thought we’d give it a go.  Tender, sweet and cheap, it was the perfect opportunity, and Cian was feeling brave.


Signs of a New Year III

Another amazing year abroad, another weird sign safari year.  2016 features gems from Nigeria, Norway, and the USA.  If you’re new to Domestic Departure, please also check out the Signs of a New Year collections from 2015 and 2014.

Happy New Year, folks!  As always, thanks for reading and we wish you an adventurous and inspiring 2017!

Why We Do This

In December, I’m reminded this expat lifestyle comes with some sacrifices.  When I was young, the only more special night than Christmas Eve during the Holiday season was the night we decorated the house, a day chosen with purpose by my mother.  She would carefully set aside the year-round knickknacks and replace them with Holiday decorations, and my father would fight and cuss for a couple hours at the tangled tree lights.  My sister and I were in charge of decorating the Christmas tree with baubles passed through generations and dilapidated ornaments made in our elementary school classes, as my parents enjoyed a glass of cognac and watched in the glow of the Christmas tree.  A draft of cold, clean air would gust into the house when another log was retrieved for the fire, and old carols played from the stereo.  They were magical evenings, rituals honoring hearth and home that held a domestic comfort of glow and warmth despite the stinging chill outside.

Oh, Tannenbaum

Oh, Tannenbaum

I’ll be honest- our attempts to recreate this here in Nigeria have been only marginally successful.  To make the morning special, Cian and Áine switched between helping Sarah make Holiday French toast and decorating the tree.  The multicolored tree lights only flash, and the ornaments are cheap, plastic facsimiles of traditional decorations.  Sarah found a collection of carols, but they were renditions we thankfully didn’t recognize.  The whole thing was over in a half hour, and afterwards I put on shorts and went for my tennis lesson and the kids went swimming to stave off the African heat.  Perhaps it is only self-induced disappointment that my children are not getting an experience similar to the memory I treasure.  After all, this is what they know, the kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and Áine is very proud of the tree she decorated (but then, eventually so was Charlie Brown).  There just seems to be a loss of tradition, a lack of that magic.  It’s fleeting, but for a moment I felt a tinge of nostalgia for chopping wood, drinking warm apple cider and watching the fire wafting in the wood stove on a cold winter’s night.

A shipwreck along the shore

A shipwreck along the shore.  Photo by Megan Bagdonas

Like my Jewish friends in the States who order Chinese food and hit the movie theater on Christmas Day, the Id Holidays back in September or the one coming up next weekend sends us nonMuslim expats to the ocean.  Earlier this year, a group of us were invited to the US Consulate beach hut, a 30 minute boat ride down the lagoon and out of Lagos.  Despite the thick line of rubbish marking the high tide line and the dangerous surf that makes swimming prohibited, the kids were still able to get ridiculously sandy, and we enjoyed a day out of the city among the palm trees and ocean air.  With coolers of beer and trays of potluck food to accompany the barbecue, we lazed under the thatched pavilion and watched the waves crash onto shore.

Squatting like he was raised in a developing country. I love it.

Squatting like he was raised in a developing country. I love it.

Every once in awhile, as we move through this crazy international life that we’ve created, there are moments that remind me how truly extraordinary it all is.  They are heart stopping moments, when goosebumps ride up my arms, and they are moments of clarity, when the everyday washes away and I step out of the routine box and realize what we are truly experiencing.  At one point on the beach back in September, Cian and his friend Matteo went missing.  With riptides strong enough to drown adults, it was a moment of panic.  Adrian and I raced onto the beach scouring the horizon for the boys.  In the distance were a group of Nigerians chanting, pulling on a thick rope from the sea.  There in the middle of the African cluster were Cian and Matteo, their white skin in sharp contrast to their new friends as they tried to help drag in an enormous fishing net.  After the wave of relief and anger for going astray without permission, I had one of those moments.  As the fishermen tugged on the nets to the beat of their chants, Cian and his friends, trying to help, were pulled along the rope’s length, falling in the sand on a random beach in western Africa, laughing and being helped up by the Nigerians.  It is these moments, when we may not be experiencing anything grand, but participating in our adopted culture and people, I’m reminded why we do this.  We may not have chestnuts or Jack Frost, but what we do have is also something special.


Nigerian Culture Day II: Celebrating the South South

NigeriaPerhaps as a backlash to the reactions when outsiders hear we live in Nigeria, perhaps because of occasional life obstacles we face, our international community is defiantly proud to call Nigeria our home.  Therefore, students count down to our Nigerian Culture Day in the same manner as Christmas.  It is a whole school, all day event, and our PTO, teachers and community pull all the stops.  Stalls of Nigerian food fill the basketball annex, a traditional crafts market covers the tennis courts, and throughout the school, there are workshop sessions, cultural lessons and a variety of entertainment.  Our Nigerian faculty and staff relish the day as well; even the housekeepers from our campus apartments come out to witness the school’s transformation into a celebration of all that is Nigeria.  I saw Joy no less than three different times rummaging just through the food stands.  Despite our host country’s dangerous reputation and plummeting economy, this expatriate tribute glimmers with hope, and the Nigerians of our community rightfully swell with pride.

At the assembly

At the assembly

While last year we celebrated the Fulani and Hausa people of northern Nigeria, this year’s focus was the southern region, known in Nigeria as South South.  The predominant tribe is Igbo (pronounced ee-bo), who have a culture, dress and language distinct from the Yoruba, the tribe native to the western region of Nigeria, including Lagos.  During the late ’60’s, parts of the South South attempted to secede, creating the state of Biafra.  After a three year civil war and an import blockade that killed hundreds of thousands to millions from starvation, Biafran forces surrendered and the region was reabsorbed into Nigeria. That independent strength of the Igbo people, however, is still present.  The South South is also home to the Niger River delta, one of the largest wetlands in the world and the source of Nigerian oil,  which comes with a host of environmental and political issues.  The once verdant delta is too polluted to support its wildlife, and many residents consider the oil business a form of modern colonialism.  As a result, regions of the delta are now more dangerous than the northern districts infested with Boko Haram, and we regularly hear of sabotage and kidnappings in the South South.

Despite this, Igboland is still rich with culture and tradition.  White shirts are traditional, with distinctive black hats, wrap, and walking stick for men and beads with ornate head scarves for women.  Our students wore them with flair.  As I wandered around campus chaperoning my students, I would get an occasional glimpse of my own kids, also decked out in Nigerian garb with their schoolmates, whose nationalities span over fifty countries.  It was a profound reminder of how influential and extraordinary living abroad has been for our family.  At the American International School of Lagos, diversity is the standard, yet on Nigerian Culture Day, for just a few moments, we celebrate the adopted Nigerian spirit in all of us.


Glitches and Changes

For those of you following Domestic Departure, you may have received an email link to a site that brought you nowhere.  I came up with all sorts of excuses, but what really happened was I hit the “publish” button instead of the “save” button in a moment of exhaustion typing late at night and sent out my incomplete rough draft to the entire world.  The completed Morocco post is below this one- sorry about that.

On another note, I filled my limit on blogging for free, so I bought my domain for more space.  Welcome to!  Hope you enjoy the new digs, more updates on their way.  Stay tuned- lots to come!

On deck

Captivated by Marrakech

Into Jardin d'Issil

Into Jardins d’Issil

About twenty minutes outside of Marrakech, at the end of a dirt road separating the Moroccan desert from long aisles of olive trees, is Les Jardins d’Issil.  The twelve acres of meticulously landscaped and maintained gardens are the backdrop for a series of Lawrence of Arabia-style tents, complete with toilets, showers, beds, and air conditioning.  Butterflies drift across the paths between flowers, and birds chatter in the arches of bougainvillea.  Jardins d’Issil has a ten hole mini golf course and a pool, but our preferred place to relax at the end of the day was the restaurant’s patio (which caters amazing meals) with a glass of red wine surrounded by the soft glow of Moroccan lamps as the sunlight dwindled on the horizon.  The combination of sun and wind create the perfect temperature during the day and nights cool down enough for long pants with a short sleeved shirt.  Sarah called it “glamping”, glamorous camping, and that’s just what it was.   Continue reading

The Supermarket Chronicles XI: Discovering the Tastes of Morocco

As you know, the Supermarket Chronicles showcase the restaurant or grocery store treasures of our travels, ranging from the unappetizing to the bizarre.  I jot down a brief description, throw in a picture or two, you read it in horror, and I sit back and laugh like Bram Stoker’s Renfield.  It’s really a great relationship.  This episode of the chronicles, however, is going to take a 180° turn, perhaps just this once.

That’s because we just returned from Marrakech, Morocco, and my perspective on dining has done a 180° turn.

Lunch of chicken tagine and Moroccan bread

Lunch of chicken tagine and Moroccan bread

Tagines simmering at a traditional restaurant

Tagines simmering at a traditional restaurant

I don’t cook much, even less now that we’re living abroad, but I was raised to be at the least food savvy, so you can imagine my shame when I knew next to nothing about Moroccan cuisine.  Most meals are centered around the tagine, a large terracotta dish with a cone-shaped lid that originates from the indigenous Berber people of Morocco.  You load the dish with meat, veggies and spices, put it under a low heat, replace the cover, and let the whole thing stew.  The lid traps the evaporating water so precious to desert dwellers, while the terracotta gives a slight earthiness to the dish.  Like a slow cooker, the process makes the vegetables tender, the meat pull apart with a fork and the flavors blend for unbelievable results.

Each sunset was enjoyed with a bottle of luscious Moroccan wine, peanuts, and the only olives I've ever enjoyed, so fresh some still had stems.

Each sunset was enjoyed with a bottle of sumptuous Moroccan wine, peanuts, and the only olives I’ve ever liked, so fresh some still had stems.  Photobombed by Aine.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Breakfast was a refreshing assortment of traditional Moroccan breads, yogurt, fresh fruit and cheeses.  We were so impressed by our “hotel’s” restaurant (not really a hotel- I’ll explain in the next post), we never felt the need to venture out for dinner.  Each evening we put the kids to bed and relaxed for a delicious three course meal; those meals that, despite being full, you keep eating anyway because the taste is irresistible.  As a former French colony, France’s expertise in the kitchen combines with Moroccan exotic and fresh ingredients, resulting in sheer brilliance.  There was only one set menu per night, often a dish that I would never have chosen regularly, but each evening was more fantastic than the last.  Let me show you some examples:

Stay tuned, faithful readers, because there’s a post coming soon about our Moroccan adventures.  It’s just emotionally difficult to type now that I’m home scrounging my kids’ uneaten chicken nuggets and trying to exercise off the five pounds I gained on vacation while dreaming of my next tagine.