17 September 2015

A step back in time...

In the 1990s I lived in Lagos for a year.  We had moved there from Warri (in the Niger Delta) where we lived on a company camp and the big treat in Lagos was that we had our own house.  It is true that we also had a 3 meter wall around the (huge) compound and a security force that amounted to a private army to keep us safe but we had our own home and garden separate from other expats on the beautiful Inner Crescent.

12 Inner Crescent, Lagos, one of the most beautiful homes I have ever lived in
 The house was run down when we arrived, the company had promised a complete renovation in time for our arrival but sadly it was not to be, we had to spend almost two months in a guest house, visiting number Inner Crescent every day to supervise the works but the results were worth it.  The original parquet floor was still in place and in very good condition.  We had a high ceilinged, airy dining and sitting room and my parents and I enjoyed a suite each consisting of a bedroom larger than my first flat, a dressing room and a gigantic bathroom.  My sister snagged the coveted over driveway room with its garland of bougainvillea but she did have to share my bathroom and dressing room. 

Echoes of Malaysia's colonial heritage can be seen peeking out here and there
Some are rather more cared for than others
The two bathrooms were joined at the back by a balcony where, in days gone by, stewards and house staff would hoist the water up by pulley to bring into the bathrooms.  By our time this system had, thankfully, been replaced by a water tower for which we received regular deliveries.  Sadly the trucks were often not properly washed out and regularly used to transport other materials so the water never really got us very clean.  It was, however, usually hot and mostly plentiful.  There was a set of bungalows to the rear of the property where security and house staff could live with their families and grow vegetables while benefiting from the safety of the compound.  We even had our own generator (a necessity in Nigeria) and a beautiful array of fruit trees.

The house was a throw-back to a former era
The house sounds grander than it was, it was quite small by colonial standards, but it was beautiful, possibly the most beautiful house I have ever lived in and we have very happy memories of our time there.  One of the lovely things about Malaysia is that we can see examples of similar architecture all around.  Many of the old mansions have run to ruin but some have been preserved.  Walking around Georgetown with my father we saw many that made our minds leap with half remembered stories with which we regaled (bored) the rest of the family.

The Lagos home was truly beautiful
The garden and building of this restaurant in Ipoh
are so reminiscent of my former home
The night before he left we took my father to STG (Sabah Tea Garden) a restaurant here in Ipoh that is set in a renovated Colonial building.  From the driveway to the building it was so similar to our old home that it made our hearts ache.  Expat life is a litany of goodbyes, of changes and it is rare that we are able to return to a place we have been happy.  I doubt I will ever return to Nigeria and even if I did I would not be able to live in that house or even see it as it was - my Father saw it on a trip to Nigeria in 2006 and said it was roofless and falling to pieces.  Living in Malaysia has allowed me to pass on some tangible form of that memory to our children and that is something I treasure very deeply.

I could move in tomorrow!

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Ersatz Expat


  1. living abroad has certainly given us the opportunity to live in houses we'd never consider back home and it's been a wonderful experience

    1. It really is something isn't it. One of the big challenges we have is making sure that the children know that while it is the reality of their life right now it is not 'normal' life.

  2. An amazing memory into an expat world that no longer exists. Many of us have seen pictures but we will never experience that again. My husband currently works in Lagos but the security situation now means that wives and families can't go. He stays in a compound of small apartments with the high wall, fence and security guards. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Amanda that is so sad, Nigeria was such a fabulous place to grow up in, vibrant, frightening, beautiful, dangerous and above all fascinating.

      One of my sister's friends from school's mother and grandmother grew up near our Lagos home. They said that when the grandmother was a girl there were no walls, when the mother was a girl there were walls but no armed guards and by the time we were children there were walls and armed guards. The fact that it has got even worse since then is tragic beyond belief. I hope that one day Lagos will be an easy and popular expat destination again.