I have finally arrived safe and sound in Nigeria. I left my home-Neenah, Wisconsin 10 days a go. Me and the 3 other students from UW-Madison spent 3 days in Washington DC for an orientation. Last Wednesday, we began our extremely long journey to Nigeria. When we finally arrived, Keegan and I calculated that we had been awake for 50 out of the last 55 hours.
We finally arrived in Lagos, Nigeria nearly 30 hours after we left our hotel in Washington DC. My first experience with a bribe occurred no less than 3 minutes after we got off the airplane. There were 3 women in uniform checking CDC immunization cards (which everyone must have with their passport) before they let you go through customs. They were speaking Yoruba so we all spoke Yoruba in return. The woman would not let me pass and inquired about the gum I was chewing. I asked if she wanted a piece in Yoruba and she said yes. I hadn’t even taken the pack completely out of my pocket when she snatched it away and all the other uniformed ladies started laughing. I ran past them quickly and got the hell out of there before she mentioned anything about my ipod or camera.
The baggage claim area at Murtala Mohammad Airport only has 2 conveyor belts, and of course one was broken. There were 4 flights ahead of ours in que on the one working belt. There were people EVERY where. The complete body-to-body gridlock reminded me of a mosh pit at a rock concert. After about 20 minutes, the working conveyor belt completely stopped. After the crowed stopped yelling and singing, there was about a 30 minute delay before anyone did anything. Finally, Moses (our resident director from Nigeria who traveled with us from DC) took it upon himself to climb up on the conveyor belt and walk down it to get across without having to push through all the people. Within seconds, about 30 more people followed suit. At this point, I was already thinking, “there’s no way this would ever happen in America.” He was talking to some airport employees who were trying to crawl down the conveyor belt hole our luggage was coming from to carry it up the belt manually. This process was not without delays and setback of its own. As we were waiting, I talked to many people who were on our flight in Yoruba. One Yoruba man, who had been very friendly to us since we met him at the gate in Frankfurt, told me something that has really stuck with me. “Kayode, in times like this you must remember that even though Nigeria may appear shabby, America may seem more efficient, or things in western countries may seem ‘better,’ that is not necessarily so. We just have a different way of doing things and it works for us.” I first pondered this as I was watching airport employees and civilians crawling down the luggage conveyor belt hole with a crowd of about 50 impatient sleep-deprived Nigerians swarming them, leaving no space to breathe. I decided this was a point I would need to ponder, but I would consider it. This jerry-rigged process took about an hour and a half. Finally, 2.5 hours after our arrival, we could leave the airport after we had gotten our luggage at last. I continued to think about what the man had told me, and I realized there was mechanic or technology available in the area that could have been of help in a timely fashion. Given the situation, the immediate ‘teamwork’ exhibited by the tired Nigerians showed me that it was just a different way of doing things. We still got our luggage in the end.
On the way out, we were stopped by 3 customs officials asking what we had (the 5 of us had a total of 10 large bags on a luggage cart that more closely resembled something at a circus used to cart animals around, complete with rickety wheels caked with mud that left a trail behind it). Moses told them with authority in Yoruba we had books and clothes, and that he would not give them anything. Finally, he told us to give them old baggage claim tags from our flight to Washington (they wouldn’t know the difference). The outside of the airport was not your conventional airport…no security, fences, or roads. Just a dirt road and about 75 people swarming the entrance yelling everything from “taxi” to “Oyinbo” (white person) to “obo oba” (King of monkeys, a nickname our teachers call Keegan). We met up with two of our teachers who were in America teaching us last year who had been waiting nearly 5 hours for us. We walked about 100 yards down the completely dark dirt road and passed under the bridge. Finally we saw the “university of Ibadan” toyota van-our ride. It was parked next to an intersection (more like sloppy dirt road junction) with another dirt road that lead directly to the runway. There were no fences, only 2 police with AK-47s standing between the runway and the outside world. That’s Nigerian security for you.
We stayed at a pretty nice (for Nigeria anyway, everything is relative here) hotel in Lagos that night. I ate some of the best Yoruba food I’ve ever tasted. At 4Am, some strange guy knocked on our door and was speaking Hausa (another widely-spoken Nigerian tribal language) so we didn’t understand him. We had no idea what he was saying. Keegan and were so tired and flustered that we felt intoxicated, so we pushed all the furniture in front of the door, put our money under our pillows, and I slept with my knife in hand. It turns out our bus driver had parked in a car and it was just the driver looking to leave. Haha paranoid much?
The next day, we drove the infamous highway between Lagos and Ibadan which was everything its cracked up to be-total chaos, no lanes, people ‘easing themselves’ on the sides of the road, mountainous piles of garbage, and potholes everywhere. Its a total different style of driving here-people use horns for nearly everything. There are at least 9 different patterns people use when honking their horns, each with its own distinct meaning (everything from I’m passing you, to I call this intersection my right of way, to fuck you). When we were driving I asked Moses, our teachers, and our driver if red lights had any meaning in Nigeria (in Yoruba). They all laughed and Moses replied “rárá o!” which means not at all.
When we arrived in Ibadan we hadn’t been off the highway for more than 30 seconds when I heard something that sounded like firecrackers. I looked left and saw 6 police dressed in all black on the back of a moving pickup truck firing AK-47’s in the air. This was the first time I’d ever seen a semi-automatic weapon fire live. Everyone in the market around ducked and started sprinting in every direction. We were all freaking out a little, but Gabriel (one of our teachers who was in America) replied calmly in Yoruba, “they’re just chasing the thief’s away.” yikes! Ibadan is super jam-packed and crowded. There are constantly about 10 people coming up to your window trying to sell everything from twinkles, to bread, to beads. The crowded streets are filled with people in traditional Yoruba clothing, and it is not uncommon to see women balancing what seems to be 100 pounds of freshly harvested yams on their heads (no hands!). Finally, we arrived at the University of Ibadan.
We stayed at the University of Ibadan Staff Club hotel for the weekend to rest and recuperate. I had my first experience with a Nigerian shower (bucket shower)- there is a bathtub with one spigot, a bucket, and a bowl. You fill the bucket, then bathe yourself using the bowl. Its different but taking a shower is a lot more fun I think. I also met my first Nigerian friend, Towo, who is Moses’s nephew. We spent several hours over the weekend in his 1970’s diesel powered tan/yellow Mercedes Benz as he took us all around the University of Ibadan campus (which is literally a city in and of itself).
Saturday, the day after we arrived in Ibadan, we attended a 40th birthday party (more of a formal ceremony). This party was HUGE! It was also very formal. Everyone was dressed in traditional Yoruba attire. The party began with a 2 hour worship service, complete with a sermon by a pastor (Yoruba people are incurably religious). This was followed by a performance by a band interjected with random speeches by friends and family of the birthday queen. I had a feeling the party might get long when I realized there was an 8 page program to accompany it. A full meal of Jolof Rice, Fried Plantains, coleslaw salad, and beef was served. We only stayed at the party for about two hours, because we were invited to the Vice Chancellor’s house for a barbecue. We met the dean of students and some other faculty members there. The VC’s house was nicer than many in America. He lives in a large solar-powered gated compound complete with a new fly ‘Benz and a private security force.
Living and trying to survive in a new culture is absolutely exhausting. Even though I’m thoroughly enjoying myself and we are being treated like kings and queens, speaking and listening to nothing but Yoruba all day and night definitely is taking its toll. Combine that with new and strange foods, a totally new visual environment, intense heat and humidity, and living among total strangers, it is a recipe for physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. I never really realized how tired your brain can get from thinking in a foreign language 24/7. All in all though, I feel strong, well, and excited to continue my adventure.
Here are a few photos: