Wednesday, February 1, 2012

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:

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