Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nigeria 2012 - Day 8 (1/28-1/29)

There was an issue with the water again this morning.  I noticed that the water pressure was low while brushing my teeth, and then there was a knock at the door.  Thinking it was my parents, I continued brushing while I went to answer it.  Instead, it was a hotel worker who had come to fill up the big bucket in my tub with (room temperature) water.  By the time I started washing up the water was not running, so I used the big bucket and little pail to wash up.

I went to my parents' room at 8:30 as planned, and we were down in the lobby around 9 to leave.  Our regular driver, Safari, took us to the Enugu airport.  Each time I went through a security check at the airport (twice), the female official subtly asked for some money (each referencing something about a "happy weekend" before asking more directly if I had something for them).  I feigned ignorance each time before stating that I had nothing (which was partially true since I had only American currency).  We were checked in (with hand-written boarding passes) and through security before 10, and so had a couple of hours to kill before our 11:50 flight to Lagos.  While we were waiting my dad bought some suya (a cross between beef jerky and a kabob on a stick), of which I partook.

The short flight to Lagos was pretty uneventful.  After arriving at the domestic airport and gathering our bags, we took a taxi (read: regular car with a driver who charges arbitrary fares) to the international airport, where we had to wait several hours (in a musty, unconditioned departure hall) before we could check in.  We arrived there around 2 PM, and our flights to Dubai and Houston were not to depart until 9 and 11, respectively. A noteworthy point: the electricity is unreliable even at international airports in Nigeria - there were brief power outages at the airports in both Enugu and Lagos (though in Lagos the airlines seemed to have a separate power supply to back up their individual systems).

Check-in for Continental finally started at 4:30, and we were done by 5.  Even though Pa's flight was earlier, he was not done checking in until 5:40.  We all went through security together then we said goodbye to Pa.  Ma and I waited for "boarding" to begin at 8, which is about when the Nwaobasis (family friends from St. Louis that were headed back on the same flight as us) showed up.  We all then went through the extra screening that the USA does for incoming flights, but then had to wait in another hot intermediary area for 1.5 hours until real boarding started a little after 10 (note to self: show up as late as possible for flights in Nigeria).  Despite pretty much everyone being on board 30 minutes early, we departed about 20 minutes late - it looked to me like they didn't want to let some guy bring a bag on board (but I couldn't really tell what was going on from where I was sitting).  The first half of the flight didn't go so well - first the entertainment system wasn't working properly, and then later we hit a really rough patch of turbulence that resulted in a cacophony of audible prayers from many of the strongly religious Nigerians on board (I could almost take comfort in the fact that if I was wrong about the existence of a Christian God then He was unlikely to crash the flight, as He would be taking down some of his devout followers along with me).  The second half of the flight went better, as I was able to catch a few uncomfortable winks of sleep and a movie before we arrived in Houston around 5:45.

The 4-hour transfer/layover in Houston was unremarkable, and I was able to make it back to St. Louis around noon, after 1.5 days of traveling.
Some pictures from the trip:

Nigeria 2012 - Day 7 (1/27)

We got a later start today because there was no running water in our rooms.  This was fixed by 10, and we were able to wash up.  We had lunch in my parents' room again (more yam, plantain, and stew, but this time with some beef, which was extra chewy, as I kinda like it).  After eating, we headed over to my dad's house to take care of some final things and visit with Vin and Julie.  After that we returned to the hotel, arriving around 3:30.

We made plans to check out of the hotel and head to the airport around 8 the next day.  This plan was actually in jeopardy because Enugu State (and perhaps the rest of the country) normally have an "environmental" on the last Saturday of the month - apparently during a period of a few hours (7-10 AM, I think) cars are not allowed on the roads.  This would have required us to be at the airport before 7 for a flight at 11.  Luckily, we got word that the "environmental" had been canceled.

The rest of the day was spent idly, with dinner (rice and stew with chicken) the only break from solitude. 

Some pictures from the trip:

Nigeria 2012 - Day 6 (1/26)

I was up and dressed by 8 this morning.  My attire for the funeral consisted of black slacks, a gray dress shirt, and a black tie.  We met the same driver from the day before downstairs and hit the road before 8:30.

We made it to the house in plenty of time for the 10:00 service, which started late anyway (not a surprise if you are familiar with Nigerian time).  While waiting in the house before the service I met a few relatives on my mom's side.  A couple of the younger ones were particularly intrigued by my camera and smartphone, but I did not have much for them to play with on there.  I started downloading Angry Birds from the Android Market, but it was really slow on EDGE, so I had to wait until after the funeral to let them play it.

The funeral service was in an open patch just outside the compound.  It went from about 11 to 1 (I hope nobody has to sit through that sort of thing when I die) and ended with the burial in a hole that had been dug next to the house just inside the gate to the lot.  After that I spent most of the next couple of hours in the parlor upstairs, including eating some jollof rice and watching the kids drain my phone battery with Angry Birds (which had been successfully downloaded and installed during the service).  A little after 3 my parents and I made a quiet exit and rode back to Enugu with the driver.

I was quite relieved to make it back to the hotel, even though we were greeted with a couple of short power outages before we could even make it up to our rooms.  Back in my room I changed out of my clammy clothes, plugged in my phone, turned on some soccer on TV, and laid down for a while.  I later dined with my parents (yam, plantains, and stew), and watched the Ivory Coast v. Burkina Faso AFCON game. 

Some pictures from the trip:

Nigeria 2012 - Day 5 (1/25)

I couldn't fall asleep until about 4 in the morning, so when my alarm went off at 7:30 I reverted to my 3+ snooze habits from home.  I was eventually ready around 9, and went to my parents' room.  We waited for my mom's sister to arrive at the hotel, then we took some things down to meet her.  By 10 we all hopped in a car with the driver that my dad had arranged for through Vin and began the drive to Awka.

The drive was an interesting and at times scary experience.  The "express" road to Awka (actually the Enugu-Onitsha Express) looked like it used to be a divided highway with 2 lanes in each direction.  However, for most of the way one side was unmaintained and undrivable, so we were left with adjacent (unmarked) "lanes" in each direction.  I use the term "lanes" very loosely because of the way that people drive - passing the slow cars (and super-slow) trucks was sometimes like playing chicken, and we were sometimes 3 wide across the roadway.  And then there were the times that people would get extremely impatient and begin passing on the unpaved shoulder.  Needless to say, I feared for my life; and especially since the 3 of us in the back (me in the middle) did not have seat belts on.

The approximately 40 mile drive took about 75 minutes.  This was due to a combination of things: bad roads, congestion, and police "checkpoints" every few miles (I wanted to take a picture of a checkpoint but I was too scared that this would lead to us being pulled aside).  We didn't have any trouble getting through the checkpoints (I guess we didn't look like kidnappers or terrorists), and did not have to pay off any officers.   An unrelated observation I made was that many vehicles, especially the tractor trailers, had decidedly Christian decorations.

We arrived at Ma's family's house around 11:15, where preparations were being made for the funeral events (which were to last 3 or 4 days).  I met Chinwe's daughter, Ebele, and a few other family members.  Pa and I stayed until about noon, then we headed back with the driver. I was able to use a seat belt this time, but the drive was still a little scary.

We arrived at the hotel a bit after 1, at which point I switched rooms (having only scalding hot water in the tub was getting a bit old).  Pa then ordered yam porridge for the two of us for lunch.  After eating we had one of our deep conversations that we have from time to time (these talks sometimes lead to life decisions).  Around 4:30 I went back to my room to do some reading.  Then at 8 I went back to my dad's room to polish off the leftovers for dinner.  We watched some news and some soccer on TV before I called it a night a little after 10.
Some pictures from the trip:

Nigeria 2012 - Day 4 (1/24)

I got a bit of a late start, waking up at 9.  After getting ready I met up with my parents and we headed out around 10.  We first went to the Nigerian Museum of National Unity - Enugu.  They did not allow bags inside so only Pa and I went in while Ma sat outside with her handbag and my backpack.  I initially had my doubts about the small museum, especially since their electrical power was out, but it ended up being interesting and worthwhile (especially for 150 naira, or about $1).  The museum was one of 4 national unity museums set up after the civil war.  It had 4 sections dedicated to spiritual, agricultural, and daily life aspects of Nigerian history.  Items of interest included cult worship dolls, masquerades, and a series of exhibits showing how palm trees are used without anything going to waste.  There was also a section which showed the history of the city of Enugu as the result of a coal mining operation.

We were done with the museum in about an hour, and then we went for a drive around Enugu, including a drive by my mom's high school, Queen's College.  We were back to the hotel around noon, where we ordered a couple of plates of jollof rice for lunch.  Around 1:45 Pa and I headed back out to the house.  There, we met with a worker that had done all the metal work on the house and arranged a couple of modifications to the railings in the back to allow entrance to the backyard from both back wings.  We also discussed funeral arrangements some more with Vin and Julie.

After that we headed back to the hotel around 4, where I did some reading and took an unintentional nap.  Ma woke me up a little after 7 for dinner, yam and stew with plantains, which was the best meal yet on the trip.  By 8:15 I could tell that my parents were getting tired, so I bid them goodnight and headed back to my room to read for a while.
Some pictures from the trip:

Nigeria 2012 - Day 3 (1/23)

I again slept well until about 1:30 AM, after which I tossed around for a few hours.  I remember looking at my phone clock around 5, and then being awoken by my phone alarm at 7.  I liked that 2 hours of good sleep so much that I reset my alarm to 8 and slept some more.  After waking up I washed myself (bucket-style, because I couldn't figure out how to work the shower) and then met up with my parents.

I tried to use the cyber cafe downstairs, but I was told by a porter that I would need something called "air time" (which I didn't quite understand).  He took me down the street to an Internet cafe to get it (whatever it is), but their Internet connection was down.  So we headed back to the hotel.

My parents and I then headed out to an Etisalat store to buy, register, and activate cell phone SIM cards.  The registration process is not trivial - they ask a bunch of questions and take a picture and 4 digital fingerprints.  The cost for a SIM card was 150 naira each.  We each got 1000 naira worth of talk time (though I never figured out how much time that actually translates to) and I also got a data plan to use with my everyday Nexus S (unlike my parents, who used 2 extra phones that my dad brought instead of their normal phones) - 1.5 GB for 4000 naira (though in hindsight this was way too much - I should have gone with 200 MB for 1000 naira or 500 MB for 2000 naira).  After that we went back to the hotel, where Ma was able to call her relatives and make some arrangements.

Pa and I then headed out to take another look at the house.  We were able to confirm him as the winner of a bet between him and Ma over how many bedrooms are in the house (8 total, including 2 master suites).  We also visited with Vin and Julie for a bit and made arrangements with them.  We made it back to the hotel around 3:30, where we joined my mom in resting.  I didn't sleep this time, as I wanted to try to fully adjust to the time zone and get a whole night of good sleep later.

While I relaxed in my room, there were a couple more brief (less than 30 seconds) power outages.  When I went to my parents' room a little after 7 my mother's sister, Chinwe, was there to pick up some things.  She hadn't seen me in over 20 years and was taken aback by my appearance - but in addition to complimenting my looks she also said that I look like a girl.  Hilariously, within 5 minutes she also demanded that I not marry a white girl (so that I learn my culture).  We helped carry her bags down and then ordered dinner, which ended up being a comedy of errors. We ordered rice with plantain and beef, and fufu with bitter leaf soup, and Star beer for Pa.

When the food finally arrived an hour later, they had brought the wrong kind of soup, and they didn't bring the rice.  Then a little later they brought the rice, but it had fish instead of beef.  Then after that they brought the fufu but without the extra soup Ma had asked for (and the beef was too tough), and the beer was warm, and there was no bottle opener.  Pa sent back the beer, but they did not have a cold one to bring back; though they at least brought an opener.  In any case, we eventually satisfied our appetites, even if Pa had to eat leftovers to do it.  After eating I went to bed around 10:30.
Some pictures from the trip:

Nigeria 2012 - Day 2 (1/22)

I had set my alarm for 4 AM the night before, but I couldn't sleep past 1:30.  After a little writing and then some more tossing and turning, I finally got up for good at 3:30.

We were in the lobby at 5 waiting for our driver from the day before, who agreed to take us to the domestic airport.  However, when he didn't show up by 5:15, we took a taxi provided by the hotel. Unlike the Jeep SUV the day before, this was a sedan, and we had to fit 3 suitcases and 2 grown men in the back seat - needless to say, a tight squeeze. Luckily, the ride was less than 5 minutes.

At the old domestic airport some men (who almost made touting seem like a legit profession) helped us unload and carry our bags in. They then weighed our luggage that was to be checked, which came in at 108 Kg. This was 48 Kg over the limit of 60 that the 3 of us were allowed (at 20 each) by Arik Airlines.  The excess fee was 400 naira (currently trading around 160 naira per dollar) per Kg over the limit, so we would owe 19200 naira. They offered to take care of our situation (presumably including a bribe for some Arik personnel) for 15000 naira, which my parents refused after some fuss.  Unfortunately, when we checked in the official Arik weigh-in came in at 110 Kg, and the agent told us that she couldn't do anything about it when my parents prodded. Ma tried some hardline negotiating, including walking back to the seating area, but it was ultimately unsuccessful, and we had to pay the full 20000 naira.

The flight to Enugu was scheduled to depart at 7:10, but it was delayed due to the weather - the Enugu airport does not have an instrument landing system, so 5 Km of visibility is required. Thankfully, the 50 minute flight in the Boeing 737 was mostly unremarkable.

In Enugu I noticed a couple of interesting items at the airport.  First, the pilot did a U-turn on the runway after landing - apparently the entire tarmac consists of the runway and the connecting approach.  Second, I was told by my parents that the luggage conveyor was a new addition to the airport this year (so you can probably figure out how modern the airport is). As usual, a tout helped us collect our luggage and take it out to the taxis. We again crammed all our luggage (5 suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and my 2 backpacks) and ourselves into a Camry - this time, though, Pa and I could almost breathe normally in the back. We were taken to Modotel, a 15-minute trip, where my dad typically stays when he is in town.

After checking in around 11, my dad hired his usual driver to take us to his uncle Vincent's compound, where his house is built. The place was about 10 minutes drive away, though much of that was consumed trying to sidestep the obstacles of a terribly kept road. When we arrived, Pa instructed the driver to pick us up at 6 PM, noting that we did not have a working cell phone (his SIM card had expired).

Vincent (aka Big Daddy) and Julie were surprised to see me as my parents did not told them that I was coming along. They were gracious hosts despite the fact that they has been without electricity for 3 days.  We spent some time conversing with them and then went to look at the progress made on my father's house next door. The gigantic house is almost livable on the main floor, though much still remained to be done, especially on the second floor. By the time we were done looking around the 3 of us were tired and hungry.  We tried to call the driver to come pick us up, but were unsuccessful. While we waited we were served some fruit (bananas, oranges, papaya) and water, and Vin eventually called someone he knew to take us back. We were back at the hotel around 4, and I passed out in my room soon after. But not before an episode that saw the 3 of us nearly get stuck (without a phone) in a tiny elevator, despite a warning from a lady that the elevator could not handle all of us. The elevator seemed to stop short of the second floor, and the door didn't open. We all freaked out a bit, but my impatient dad was somehow able to get it moving again my selecting the ground floor and then jumping up and down (a scary move that I normally would not recommend).  After getting back down, he took the stairs up while I rode with Ma in the other elevator.

We slept until almost 7, when my dad woke me up because they were ordering dinner.  They got me some rice and stew, while they had yam and stew.  We ate and talked for a while then I went back to my room to go to bed around 9.  I also experienced a couple of the brief power outages my parents had warned about - none lasted more than a couple of minutes.

Some pictures from the trip:

Nigeria 2012 - Day 1 (1/20-1/21)

Although I had planned this trip to Nigeria since the summer of 2011, it became even more of a necessity when my grandmother passed away in the fall. The burial was to be on January 26, and my mother was to attend, despite having knee replacement surgery a little over 2 months prior. The trip was jeopardized the week before we were to depart when the Nigerian government lifted its longstanding gasoline subsidy, which resulted in a nationwide strike (as well as some rioting and international flight cancellations). Thankfully, a compromise was reached over the weekend, the subsidy was partially reinstated, and life in Nigeria went mostly back to normal.

The trip began in the early afternoon of January 20.  The journey from St. Louis to Lagos included a 3 hour layover in Houston before an 11.5 hour flight across the "pond". Ma was able to get around alright by herself, though we used a cart to transfer between gates in the massive Houston airport.  After arriving in Lagos (where the temperature was a warm 90°F, contrasted to the brisk 30°F in St. Louis) at around 2 PM the next day, there was some slight confusion going through immigration. The lady "officer" indicated to Ma that I would not be able to get out of Nigeria with my long-expired Nigerian passport, and would need a new one. This was my first encounter with the rampant corruption that plagues the country.  According to the rules, I am able to enter Nigeria with an expired Nigerian passport and a valid foreign (USA) passport. This was a ploy by the lady to get some money from us - they let us through, but then she asked my mom what we "had for her" as we went by. They didn't even take my immigration form nor stamp either of my passports.

My father met up with us (he had flown in from Kuwait half an hour earlier) while we were waiting for our luggage. We eventually grabbed it all and a lady helped us (for some money, of course) take it out to get a "taxi" (actually an unmarked SUV from Hertz). We stuffed all our bags into the car, and then the driver took us to the domestic terminal so Pa could buy the plane tickets for the next day. The wait in the car with the driver was interesting and informative. We got a first-hand account of some of the happenings during the strike, and a native perspective of the situation of the country as a whole. We also got another demonstration of how things "work" in Nigeria - he was parked illegally while we waited and when a worker approached to put a clamp on his wheel he used a 5-finger wave to signal a promise to give the guy 500 naira.

After Pa was done, the driver took us to the nearby De Skyline Hotel. We checked in and hung out in our rooms the rest of the night. We ordered room service for dinner (a trend that continued the rest of the trip) - I had yam porridge - and then I went to sleep around 9.

Some pictures from the trip: