Saturday, 17 December 2016

360 Woman: US Diplomat, Lovette Singleton On Dreams, Trips And Marrying Her Best Friend

You see, we were coursemates while studying at the best University in Nigeria, Ujay. (Sorry guys, I just had to say that, for the record; so there’s no confusion. OAU, Maulag, Umudike, UNN, one love :)) Okay, I was just kidding, please forgive my digression.

We reconnected on Facebook and so much had changed since our school days. She had gotten married and looked genuinely happy with kids so cute, you just want to lie down and cry for joy. Then I had this utterly bizarre meeting with a potential client who made some really scary pronouncements about guys and the kind I will most likely end up with. I could not help imagining how many people he had poisoned with all his negativity. Realizing just how important it is to present a balanced view of the story, 360 Woman was born. The first person I knew I wanted to talk to was Lovette.

Lovette is not afraid to be vulnerable. She talks freely about her life and the struggle most women face with their identity, childbirth, career and how she has made it work; so far. Below are excerpts of my chat with her peppered with enough pictures to keep you intrigued. It has been a while since I felt this inspired by anyone. I do hope you enjoy it. 
N: So I'm just going to jump right in if that's okay with you.
L: Lol... Sounds good.

N: Great. From your facebook updates you seem to be having a ball. Travelling across timezones and sharing fun pictures. But I know you work really hard too. What do you do?

L: My husband and I work for the US Department of State. In other words, we are US Diplomats, working in American Embassies and Consulates around the world. Specifically, I am a US Government Contracting Officer, having received a warrant to sign overseas acquisitions and contracts on behalf of the US Government. I also manage the multi-section General Services Office, which handles all Housing, Procurement, Customs and Shipping, Motorpool and Maintenance actions at the Consulate.

N: That's a whole lot Lovette. How do you cope?
L: The General Services Office is the most diverse and one of the most challenging in any Embassy or Consulate. But, like anything else, if you enjoy doing it, it comes easy. I like being responsible for making big decisions. Plus, I work with a great team of enthusiastic individuals.

N: Nice. Was this always what you wanted to be or did a path lead you here? What lessons have you learnt along the way?

L: I had always wanted to travel the world, but never imagined it would happen this way. My dream was to graduate University of Jos, go to Fashion School in London, come back to Nigeria and become a successful Fashion Designer, with a portfolio that included 'travels around the world'. However, while I was writing my final exams in Jos, I got a phone call from my best friend, saying he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, and I said that's not a bad idea. :) And here we are, having lunch together, everyday, because we work in the same building. In the course of my journey, I've learned that dreams do change. And that's OK. As long as the new dream is just as satisfying.

N: Okay. It's official. I"m jealous. Give me a moment to get over this :)

L: Hahahahahahaha...You're funny.

N: LOL. I see how much you radiate in your pictures. I should have known it had something to do with a man :)
L: Hahahaha... I think what you see is the "happy aura" I've always been a happy spirit.
N: Yeah, December people are like that ;)
L: True.

N: Anyway, While we are discussing the subject, tell me about your best friend...

L: He is a good man. His name is Dwayne. He is the only child of an inspirational woman named Delores Singleton - God bless her soul. Born and raised in Washington DC, he is a die-hard fan of the Washington Redskins. He is very athletic, very smart, has a generous heart and an infectious sense of humor. He is a loving father and husband and I know God loves him, because He blessed him with me :)

N: Hahaha. I'm sure he'll have a good laugh when he reads this.
L: Oh he's right here.
N: Aw... *wipes a tear* :D
L: He laughed before I sent it off
N: It's really inspiring to hear you talk about him like that. It's good to know there are good men out there. We ladies tend to focus too much on all the negativity and the abuse.
L: Sad fact. And you're right. There are good men out there. Just as some men sit and think there are no more good women in the world. But we womenfolk know better.

N: Yeah. You said you have lunch together everyday. How do you manage that?

L: To us, lunch time is like the half time in a game. It's when we can get to relax, put our feet up, talk about everything funny we remember and strategize as needed. Lunch location is his office, as we bring our lunch to work, Monday - Thursday. On Fridays we have our outside-the-office-date-lunch. We go to different restaurants trying to find the best cous-cous, which is a typical Friday meal in Morocco.

N: Wow. You make it sound so easy :)
L: What part?
N: The working together part I guess.
L: He manages the IT department, and I manage the General Services department. Two different sections in one building, but often crossing paths a number of times a day. The fun part is, if I need to talk, I go upstairs and if he needs to talk, he comes downstairs. We also enjoy exchanging the I-know-you smile when we run into each other in the building. I like to think we are like sibling attending the same school. :)
N: LOL. That helps.
L: Lol...

N: It's true. But overall, what's the one thing that has helped you both get on so well?

L: We get on really well. And I think it's partly because we both share a rich sense of humor. Plus, our little family is the only constant in our ever changing lives, so we have grown to absolutely have each other's backs. The moving lifestyle of Expats makes it difficult to keep friends. Imagine going to a new country and not knowing anyone. It takes you a while to settle in and start meeting acquaintances. Through language and cultural differences, you find that just when you think you're close to making a real friend, it's time to move again. Some people find this very challenging, but having a friend in each other, through the moves, has made us even stronger as a couple.

N: Hmmm. I can only imagine. How often do you have to move?
L: Most assignments are 2 years. Some have the option to extend a third year, if you like it that much. And there are some 1 and 3 year assignments as well.

N: If it’s that challenging for you, I wonder about your kids. What do you do to help them settle in?

L: With the kids, so far, we're having the best stage of the process. At least that's what colleagues with older kids tell us. But, they were both born into this lifestyle. My daughter was making 15 hour non-stop flights when she was only 6 months old, so this is all they know.

They've lived overseas more than they've lived in the US. According to a term famous amongst Expats, they are Third Culture Kids - 3CK or TCK for short. TCKs, in their developmental years, have had the opportunity of moving across a multitude of cultures, before they developed their own cultural identities. The first culture is that of the countries their parents originate from - in my kids' case, that would be Nigerian and American. The second is a hodgepodge of cultures experienced from the many countries they've lived in. And the third is an amalgamation of all of the above. Ultimately making their personal identify very diversified and global oriented.

My kids, for example, have developed minds that process numbers, phrases and currencies in several different languages and forms. Their group of friends are like little reps from the United Nation. And my daughter's ability to switch between accents, depending on who she's talking to, is mind-blowing. Some minutes around Nigerian family, her Moroccan friends, Gambian housekeeper or her American cousins, and you hear a different sound each time.

We are thankful for this opportunity. Even though some say a time's coming when the kids would demand some stability, and choose to quit traveling around, we have also met families with kids who enjoyed the lifestyle and only had to go back to the US for their college education. So for now, we're enjoying the moment, choosing to find out what the future holds, when we get to the future.

When move time approaches, we show them pictures, tell them tidbits about the new place, tell them some amazing things to do there, and that's all it takes to get them excited about the move.

N: It's one day at a time for you then...
L: Exactly.

N: You are the truest of afropolitans if there ever was one. Would you say your travels have influenced your perspective on things? How so?

L: Absolutely! Travel is education. My sister who is not an Expat has done as much, if not more traveling than I have. The rest of my siblings all enjoy traveling as well. And we always says there's no limiting the level of enlightenment one gets from traveling.

"The Fathers of Nigerian Independence intensified their cause after the Nigerian Army returned from fighting the Second World War. It was by traveling and fighting alongside the British Army, they realized the white man was not invincible after all. They died just as easily as the black man. This made them see their equality and enforce Independence. Funny, but that's the best example I could come up with."

Only in my travels did I realize that no societal issue was unique to Nigeria. There are crazier drivers in Casablanca than there are in Lagos. And cars and bikes often run the red lights here, too. It may not be the word 'tribalism', but favoritism based on a shared attribute happens in other parts of the world as well. Superstitions are not an African thing, all cultures around the world have silly things they believe in. 

Only from my travels did I learn about the true individualism a name bestows on a human. Burundians do not have what we call 'family names'. First, the wife never takes her husband's name. Yes, that's getting more common. But, also, if a Burundian couple had four children, all the children would have different surnames. Each child gets 2 new names. One's her first name, and the other's her surname, different from her other siblings. Making it impossible to tell a family just by looking at theirs names.
And it was with the same puzzled look I had on my face, that my Burundian French teacher said "you mean you, your husband and children all share the same surname?" It's the similarities, as well as our similar reactions to cultural, language, historical and ideological differences , that have helped me become an appreciative, global thinker.

N: Interesting stuff. With all the exposure to so many cultures, how do you stay rooted? Do you?

L: Like my kids, despite having spent my developmental, and what I call graduate-developmental years in Nigeria, I have also come to build a more empathetic approach to cultures around the world.

When my husband and I were newly married, we often had debates about the British-Nigerian English I spoke versus the American English he spoke. Trunk Vs boot, flashlight Vs torchlight, biscuits Vs cookies. I held on to my beliefs. Hard and fast. But once I found myself writing articles, contract solicitations and business emails for, and on behalf of the US Government, I had to grudgingly lose the 's' in realize, the 'mme' in program, and replace the 'que' in check.

Other than that, I am firmly grounded in my Nigerian-American Global citizen orientation.

N: What do you Miss about Nigeria? Tell me you miss some things?

L: Of course! When I first moved out of Nigeria, it was super hard, because I come from a very close-knit family. My siblings and I had always known how to make the best memories when my mom and dad were not in sight. We were a big enough party to play without 'outside influence' even when we were grounded. So we're 'tight' till this day. 6 is that perfect number. 3 girls and 3 boys, who never let gender come between us.  I still have scars from 'playing like a boy' and my brothers cook some meals better than I can.

As a result, the one aspect of technology I'm most thankful for, is connectivity through the Internet. Even now that my siblings are often scattered around the world, our whatsApp group hardly goes a day without exciting activity. I miss some friends as well, but again, technology helps us stay in touch.

And, I miss the food. My daughter and son's favorite foods are eba and egusi and jollof rice, respectively. My husband's favorite Nigerian food is pounded yams and egusi also. We found a Nigerian restaurant at our last post, and they probably got tired of seeing us there. We haven't found one in Casablanca, yet, so we're looking forward to our next visit back to Nigeria.

N: Before I let you go, one more thing: what is your advice to the young mum struggling with work, home and all other competing priorities?

Personally, I do not believe there is a universal how-to advice in this situation. Family dynamics are different. I don't have the luxury of extended family around to help take care of my pre-school aged kids. So I stayed home with my kids until the younger was old enough to go to school. Then I progressed from part-time to full time employment as my kids spent longer hours at school. At the moment, they get off the bus about an hour before we get home.

However, because situations differ, some moms have to find that balance earlier in their children's lives. In the case of pre-school aged kids, I would recommend asking support from your family, finding quality childcare or talking to your employer about more convenient work schedules or arrangements. You never can tell how supportive your employer could be. I read some GTBanks in Nigeria now have childcare facilities attached, and have flexible works schedules that favor parents with smaller children.

For school aged kids, plan ahead, set out lunch and clothes the night before. It makes the mornings easier. Make the best of your time together as a family. Eating dinners together, and having the family in the center of weekend plans are great ways to create family time. And have a good support system of friends and family who truly love you.

Me: Thanks Lovette, it was great chatting with you. 
L Same here. And I appreciate the opportunity. You know 'I believe in your government', like my brothers would say. It simply means I have faith in what you do and I'm proud of you.
Me: LOL. Government indeed.

Lovette Singleton is a Contracting Officer with the U.S. Department of State. She is also the Manager of the General Services Department and the Post Occupational Health and Safety Officer, at the U.S. Consulate General Casablanca, Morocco.

Born in Nigeria, she obtained a Bachelor of Arts, in Theatre Arts, from the University of Jos, Nigeria, in 2005. Onward, as an employee of the Department, Lovette has forged a dynamic career crowned with innovation and effective leadership. Her continuing success has been recognized by 7 Awards, including 4 Departmental Honor Awards: the highest that can be given by any American Embassy or Consulate.

As one who enjoys writing, Lovette has written both short and long articles that have been featured in the Department’s worldwide STATE Magazine. When she's not making decisions at work, she is spending time with her wonderful husband and 2 amazing children, building the bonds that last a life time.

©Naomi Lucas


Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu said...

Me, I am jealousing her job too oh. Lol. Really inspiring. I love that she seems able to find work-life balance wich is incredibly rare. Great work, Naomi! Thanks for sharing.

Ifesinachi Okoli-Okpagu said...

Me, I am jealousing her job too oh. Lol. Really inspiring. I love that she seems able to find work-life balance which is incredibly rare. Great work, Naomi! Thanks for sharing.

Titilope Fashola said...

Truly inspiring! Lovely pictures, beautiful family! Best wishes to Lovett and her gorgeous family. Great job, Naomi.

Anonymous said...

Wow...nice to see positive news about a young Nigerian woman. Proud of her

Estrella said...

This encouraged me greatly.
It's easy to think that we can't get what we want out of life all the time. I'm glad that she is one of the growing number of women whose life is fulfilled both at home at work.

Naomi Lucas said...

@Ifesinachi, I can relate, LOL. You're most welcome and thanks for reading.

Naomi Lucas said...

Thanks Titi :)

Naomi Lucas said...

Thanks for dropping by Estrella. And good to know you were encouraged by her story.

Bola Yinka-Obebe said...

First time on your blog Naomi. How come? Absolutely inspiring article. Love it. And yes, we are plenty that believes in your govt oooo. Ill definately be back here. Reading as much achives as I can today though. Cheers

Francesca said...

You can feel her happiness oozing through the interview. Beyond inspiring me, I think this piece renewed my belief that there is "good" in the world - the genuine, incorruptible kind. That's it! She's so authentic! Loved reading this. Thanks for sharing! :)

Ugochukwu Maduagwu said...

awesome! great one Naomi. kudos

Naomi Lucas said...

Bola, Seriously? You should be flogged or maybe not, since you are going through the archives. :) I hope you find enough inspiration there...

Naomi Lucas said...

Bola, Seriously? You should be flogged or maybe not, since you are going through the archives. :) I hope you find enough inspiration there...

Naomi Lucas said...

Francesca, you are so right. It all gets overwhelming sometimes but it's not all darkness :)

Naomi Lucas said...

Hi Ugo, been a minute. Thanks for stopping by. How are you doing?

Ayodele Temitope said...

Really interesting to read about how easy her perspective is to life despite the hard work she does. Her growing up years and the flexibility in her personality is a huge contributing factor in my opinion. Great interview Naomi!

Tessa Doghor said...

Really cool
I love the pictures most.

Oyidu Agbaje said...

Wow. This is a great story. A Lot of people are so proud of you Lovette.

Naomi Lucas, well done. You have a good thing going on here. Now that I know about your blog, you can be sure I'll be visiting. God bless You.

Naomi Lucas said...

Thanks Oyidu and thanks for stopping by :)