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Rats, bushmeat and three in a bed: welcome to Nigeria


The following document is intended as a reflection of my thoughts, feelings and experiences during my 7-week internship in Nigeria. I have no experience in writing – or reading, for that matter – any type of travel report(they seem to call them ‘travelogues’); I simply wrote, and the result is what you now have before you. This document is written devoid of political correctness or tact. It was my aim to write a personal paper, and as such I have tried to be as truthful and honest as possible. Try not to be offended. If you are, well – there is no one forcing you to read any of this.

I came here with one intention only, and that is to leave with no regrets. This led me to do things and go places that, in hindsight, were probably not worth the risks. Nevertheless, I am fortunate to say that, in the plane back home, there is nothing I could think of that I would rather have done differently. I have learned more, both about myself and the culture here, than I could have expected. Recklessness, thankfully, does not always end in disaster.

I hope you will enjoy reading of this adventure as much as I have enjoyed living it. Happy reading!

Acknowledgements: I extend my thanks to my family for their support of this project despite their understandable reservations. I thank AIESEC, and in particular their highly professional Ibadan branch, and JDPC for making it all possible; To Ralph and the literally hundreds of people I have met here that made my stay as welcoming and enjoyable as it has been; to Yifan, for taking the gamble in lending me this laptop. It’s only a little broken.

Not all who wander are lost

17/07/2011

Nigeria is as African as it gets, though it does have a significant amount of foreign influences. This morning, I ate breakfast with butter said to have been made from “quality European cream”. Never thought that was something to be proud of. heh.

Also, there are many power outages. You really can’t call them outages anymore, for over half the time there will not be any electricity. For a country that seems quite with the times, there are some major problems with the basics. Each relatively wealthy family here has a generator to keep themselves powered during the 20 hours without electricity each day. The main electricity company here is called NPA, which – according to the locals – stands for Never Power Again. The new president’s willing to change things though. Or, at the very least, I suppose promising to fix it makes for a convincing speech. It seems like the country has potential that is held back to simple, fixable problems such as these.

Nigeria street pictureI am glad things are on track, though I was hoping for a smoother ride. I have to get a renewed visa within a month because they signed off almost 20 days too early (thanks, guys! That’s what I paid you 100 euros for!). In a short while tomorrow, I will be visiting my first African church service. If it’s anything like what you see in African American communities, I’m in for a new experience.

After that we hope to be able to pick up my luggage ( Air France fucked up and left my stuff in Amsterdam; that’s what I paid them 900 euros for) and head off to Ibadan, some 2 hours away.

Oh, and certain parts of Asia’s climate are much, much hotter. Though it is the rainy season, this isn’t anything I can’t deal with.

28/07/2011

The last few dates I neglected to update because I ran out of power; The only adapter I brought with me was Euro to Intn’l; not HK/England to Intn’l, which is what I need here. Such foolishness.

The next day we woke up extremely early, without having slept much to begin with. Apparently, in Africa it’s common to sleep with multiple people in a single mattress. When a guest comes over, he would usually sleep in the same bed, as well.

In this case, said guest was myself. Still waiting for my luggage, I had little choice, and slept right in between two giant brothers from Ralph’s family. Ugh. Now I know what a prisoner might at some point feel like. It’s not something I’m looking forward to. Nevertheless, it was still a large step up from the planes and cars I slept in until that point.

I was asked (read: expected) to join a few of the brothers for church; this time it was not the differences, but the similarities that struck me. The church service was concluded exactly as one would expect in Europe, with even collections and the bread consumption ceremony occurring in order. European influences are felt even here (something that doesn’t happen back home is the power outage that occurred right in the middle of the service, where I found it difficult not to laugh while the priest patiently waited for the generator to kick in). Imagine a quiet, solemn mass and a sudden bang from speakers as power is suddenly interrupted, followed by silence and blackness. This is normal. Welcome to Nigeria.

I met one of Francis’ (The youngest and liveliest of Ralph’s brothers) friends there, who was a devout Christian. Apparently my reasons for quitting Christianity (that is, actually needing a reason to begin with) were not enough for him. He talked in a Nigerian pidgin through the second half of the church in an attempt to convert me. I understood little, and my polite nods were only encouraging him. He said something about a flower and roots. I think he was trying to tell me that faith were like the roots one needs to survive. I don’t know if he noticed, but even without my supposed roots, I’m still here.

I care less now than I did then. His reluctance to accept a different belief got annoying quickly; me having to explain my own agnosticism revealed most of what I needed to know from his religious ignorance.

Afterwards, we checked for the luggage to arrive. Ralph was certain my luggage would be there; I was not.

The next day I went with Ralph and a former colleague from AIESEC to buy a laptop and other equipment he needed. He was an interesting man. He came to AIESEC to, in his words, “do what he wants to do”. According to him, he has spent most of his life doing what others expected of him, which is apparently something he’s now trying to avoid and escape. AIESEC and travel were for him a way to follow his own path and forget.

It was striking to note that a European did things in half a day, where in Africa they would take three. For lunch, we had an exceedingly spicy local dish called amalah, which looked like a pile of elephant dung rolled in gravy. I cried, which was the first of many instances to come. They say you get used to it – trust me, not everybody does.

This was the first word (amalah) I remembered since I got here; I forget names and words more quickly than I would like. I started using a method I read about before, associating words with already-known images or concepts. In this case, the Himalayas.

Nigeria street pictureI was eager to start work, and I will admit that being stuck in Lagos for three days was not what I had in mind. I was quickly becoming frustrated with the lack of progress and my own inability to speed things up. What frustrated me most, however, was the ignorance and racism that I remember from back home about this place. Friends and family were all overtly worried about Africa; most could think of absolutely no reason to ever travel here. Nearly without exception, people associate Africa with disease, poverty, violence, crime and chaos. Although I would not deny that any of these take place, they hardly paint an accurate picture; there is so much more here than I or anyone at home could have imagined, but people seem to accept only what they hear from television. It is a sad fact, having now spent a few days in this wonderful, culturally rich place.

Nevertheless, my time here also drives home the fact that everything here is about money, much like in Asia. I’d rather have sent those 800 euros wasted on the assholes at the Dutch driving license institution to the people here; I have a feeling they know how to spend it better in Africa. Received luggage finally from another Air France flight from Paris. So long, Air France – never again. Also, the more you are in a hurry here, the more cops will stop you to make sure you have a legitimate reason for being in a hurry. It is less-than-efficient to run here. People do not run.

We woke up the next morning around 4AM to leave for Ibadan. They said a prayer with the mother wishing for a safe journey. Apparently, getting your car broken down halfway on the road to Ibadan was a surefire way to get robbed, kidnapped, or worse. I thanked her for all the kindness she has shown me. All these days, the family has been overly helpful to me while I was waiting for my luggage. I had heard more insults to Air France and KLM these few days the past 10 years combined; something which I appreciated, which encouraged them even more.

The taxi stand was crowded with people all wanting your money. I was used to this from China, but somehow this was different. It was actually a more respectful, less aggressive way of making you pay for a service, good or someone’s presence. So early in the morning (4:30 AM), this somehow made it seem even more alien.

Two hours later, we arrived to Ibadan. We switched to another taxi, and after a short while we saw the gate of the intern house. At first, I thought it was another stone hut, but apparently this is a house around here. It’s great. I met two people here so far – a Togolese man named Cherif, and another from AIESEC Nigeria called Bukky – both are very kind and helpful. No sign of the 21-year-old-Bitish girl who supposedly also lived here, however.

We get water from a well, I sleep on a foam mattress on the floor, have no running water, and we manually wash our clothes; this was what I was expecting (and, admittedly, kind of hoping for). No internet, no stable power, no drinkable water except from a tiny local store nearby. This is back to basics. This is great.

Shortly after I went to do some exploring; people are less direct than in Asia, which initially took some getting used to. After enthusiastically greeting them, though, they usually respond most kindly. Not 10 minutes after I left the gate, a man offered me his daughter standing next to him as my wife. She didn’t at all seem to mind. This is how it’s done here!

Tonight I visit AIESEC Ibadan offices. Tomorrow morning I will start work, finally. I expect both everything and nothing, an approach that has worked pretty well so far.

20/07/2011

This project of mine is a bit larger in scope and more of a challenge than I had expected. We were out until after dark last night, at a time when Nigeria turns from relatively harmless to ferocious. Poverty and a lack of regard for human life became painfully clear as cars collided with no one paying the slightest attention. I imagine many people die daily from accidents on the road here. They are, it seems, an acceptable risk of motor transport in the eyes of the locals.

Nigeria magazine rackI made some great new friends here, which has made life even more difficult. The others, all African interns, are poor. Not poor that they cannot afford a widescreen television, but poor that they skip dinner because of a lack of money. And regardless of this, they seem willing to share everything they have. It is something I can probably learn a lot from, but – imaginably – it has put me in somewhat of a delicate situation. I cannot help them, as that would be unfair to the past hundred beggars. It does make it difficult. Soon I will be going to Calabar, and they will not be joining me. The entrance fee is 60 dollars.

Before I left here, I spent little time thinking about what exactly I was embarking on. My mind was on exams, an exchange semester to Singapore, AEGEE, a drivers license among other things, which left little time worrying what was to await me in Africa. This may be bigger and more impactful than I could have imagined; this is no expensive hotel tour through Africa, as I have oftentimes done in Asia. I will eat, drink, and live as everyone else here, and it makes our differences painfully obvious. I have a lot to learn from these people, and I will have failed the purpose of this journey if I walk away without knowing exactly how it’s done here.

21/07/2011

Muslims. I generally don’t care much what they do, with two major exceptions. The first is when some of them decide the world has an obligation to become Islamic, and that nonbelievers should burn in a very literal sense. I’m no fan of them. The second is when they play their prayers through loudspeakers at 5AM. Why would everyone need to hear that? Why? You don’t see Buddhists shouting their shit from rooftops, do you? Are you kidding me guys? I need my sleep!

It was hard to fall asleep after. It gets way too hot early in the evening, and way too cold during the nights. You fall asleep somewhere in between, and wake up again when you’re half freezing to death. Then the Muslims shout their shit, and you won’t fall asleep afterwards because the sun heats the earth too quickly to even try.

Anyway, I’ve been learning how to live with minimal sleep for a while now (the whole three people on one mattress thing doesn’t help), so I’m doing all right. This morning Ralph came to pick me up to go to work early; I had to remember the road carefully, because I would soon be responsible to go there myself. It was some 30 minutes with a number of major roads; the problem is that Nigeria does not have a large number of landmarks; to me, every road seems like a disorganized package of chaos and anarchy, with little distinction between them. I wrote down some things; I have one more day of work to remember the roads, and after that I will be on my own. Ibadan has no maps that I have been able to find. It’s easy to figure why; many smaller roads don’t have any official names to begin with, and much of the city is comprised of unchartable slums.

Upon arrival, I apparently needed to write a letter about work conditions to them before I was able to start my internship. The guy I met there seemed… apathetic about my arrival. Not really any different than I had expected, but it was a noticeable contrast with many people I met here so far. I typed it up at some local print shop, paid the lady, and returned it. I start this Monday.

I went with Ralph to the University of Ibadan to do some internet work I had to do with regard to my exchange to Singapore; I passed the last course I needed to qualify. I sent it off to my exchange supervisor, and hopefully everything is settled now.

I wanted to take the first bus by myself home when I met Cherif. He was about to teach French to university students, and it seemed like a good idea to join him and see his internship in action.

The office was still locked, while Cherif was supposed to start his class already; I was done waiting, and in addition Ralph called me earlier asking me to meet him at the intern house to help him with an assignment of his – one he was now three days behind on due to my baggage problems, and for which I often offered my help. I got back, and talked for a while to the local children. They call me, and pretty much all non-blacks in Africa, Oyibo – Yoruba for ‘white man’. I have been learning some Yoruba from them, but progress has been slow to say the least. In the recent past, there were a few seconds in which I knew how to say ‘hello’, ‘how are you’ and ‘goodbye’. Those seconds have now passed.

25/07/2011

It has been a significant number of days since the last entry. I have not been able to find time (or power), which is why I will try to recount the experiences of nearly 5 days ago.

I took a 14-hour long bus ride to Calabar for the AIESEC Global Village event, scheduled to last 2 days. I have been swinging back and forth in my opinion of this place and my travels so far, ranging from “this is the greatest thing I’ve ever done“ to “what kind of half-thought-out, silly situation I got myself into this time”. Is it one of the most uncomfortable and difficult things I have ever done? Sure. Is it one of the most rewarding? Definitely. Has it been worth it? I think so. Time will tell.

The bus ride was long and surprisingly comfortable compared to what was waiting for me on the way back. They gave me the nicest (and deadliest) seat on the minibus right next to the driver; sadly this prevented me from getting any sleep, due to the fact that he consistently avoided catastrophe by no more than maybe 10 centimeters. Unlike the people in the back, I didn’t have 16 people in front of me to absorb the impact. I had a giant, non-safety, carve-me-into-pieces-when-shattered windshield in front of me.

What struck me most about the Nigerian roads were the police; every 2 kilometers or so there was an improvised roadblock, with cops checking every few cars. The roadblocks were designed to funnel cars through a narrow passage on the road. The cops ranged from friendly corrupt to in-your-face corrupt. At one point, our bribe of 50 Naira (25 cents) apparently was not enough to convince one officer in particular to let us pass. He offloaded all of us and checked our baggage one by one. Needless to say, I was scared shitless; All of them were carrying oversized guns ranging from Uzi’s to AK-47’s, flare pistols and grenade launchers (not sure how they intend to stop a thief with a grenade launcher, but hopefully I won’t have to find out) and none of them seemed to care about anything but their own supplementary income. At one point, it seemed as though the Nigerian police force bought their guns at the local black market for whatever was on sale; there was no consistency in what they were carrying. Thankfully, I carried all my cash in my pockets, and I was glad they at least seemed to pretend to need a reason to demand cash from us.

This happened a few times during the trip; at one point, I stopped caring too much, up until one asked me for my papers, which I was told by Ralph to leave with him back in Ibadan because “I wouldn’t need them”. He let the issue go; maybe it was a good thing I left my passport behind; it would be unfortunate to have them impounded for ‘inspection’, or anything like that.

I find that making friends comes very easily to me here; I’m sure that it entirely has to do with the fact that white people are a rarity, but they seem pleasantly surprised that I try not to put myself above them. It seems they are used to a different type of treatment from foreigners. As such, they try to help you wherever possible; as was the case with a particularly nasty officer, there were three people standing between me and the police officer telling him there was absolutely no reason for me to show my documents. People appear prepared to go through fire just to help another person out, which is something rarely seen back home. I am genuinely impressed by their kindness and helpfulness – without some of the people I have met here so far, I have no doubt that I would have had a whole lot more trouble than I’ve been in so far.

Because of all the delays, I arrived in Calabar at 10 PM (I left at 5AM). I wasn’t too happy with this, as I have been advised by everyone not to travel at night. Luckily, the guy from AIESEC Calabar came to pick me up right after I was dropped off. Here, I saw the first Caucasians (and Asians, for that matter) in 5 days. Somehow it made things a little more familiar. Some of the guys worked also in a micro-finance institution in Jos, which is currently THE place to avoid in Nigeria due to Muslim extremist bombings. There, Muslims kill Christians. Christians don’t kill Muslims. Survival of the Fittest, maybe?

According to them, however, they seemed to leave foreigners alone because they do not see them as part of the conflict. Still, I wouldn’t want to accidentally be blown to pieces because I happen to be standing next to some Christian.

I will shortly describe what happened in Calabar; We saw some part of the Cross River National Park (not as much as I’d hoped), we met an American who spent 20 years there saving monkeys from poaching, swam in a large resort where I caught the worst cold I’ve had in a decade, and we went to a Chinese restaurant with my Mexican roommate and some Chinese people. We drank Baijo. It tasted like home.

The day after was the Global Village event, at the University of Calabar. We were expected to present our country; I kind of had a clue we were supposed to say some things, but I had no idea I was to give a full-blown presentation without the PowerPoint that was so kindly given to me by AIESEC Tilburg. One needs power to use computers, my dear TN.

I improvised, and apparently did a very good job according to the people there. I quite enjoy public speaking. The people there taught me how to dance Nigerian style (edit: it turns out I’ve just learned the global AIESEC dance. I still need to learn the local dances). There comes a point where you really just abandon all dignity and pride, and go with it – this was such a point. For anyone travelling here, I would give the following advice; don’t be passive and try to avoid making mistakes; be yourself, make mistakes, and make them passionately; you will catch on soon enough, and you won’t give people the misconception that you’re not enjoying your stay.

At night, the Europeans and I went for some dog meat. Since I decided to live like an African (and that oftentimes includes eating everything that has legs), I refused to let myself be disgusted by the idea. Some vegetarians went with us, and I still do not entirely understand why. We heard less than happy dog whines some 15 minutes before we were served; it wasn’t the most pleasant sound to me as a carnivore, and I wonder how they must have taken it. The meat tasted somewhat like a cross between beef and mutton. It was all right, if not for the fact that it was so chewy and spicy that I found myself (yet again), crying.

After that experience, we went back home for a final party. This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the two days – if you know what I mean.

In all, I made great friends there and it was a truly enjoyable experience. I was supposed to start work in two days. The trip home proved long and uneventful, with a short interruption when the bus engine died halfway.

When the bus left initially, I noticed people were pushing the thing before the engine started. At the time, I wondered what they would do if the engine accidentally shut off halfway. Apparently, they would abandon the vehicle and leave us to take a taxi to the next bus station. Lesson learned.

Fast forwarding to today, my second work day. Africa’s (or, at least, Nigeria’s) problems seem to stem in part from its people and their mentality. In their acceptance of the way things are, and unwillingness to work to change their country for the better, it is easily understandable why corruption is so widespread. People just don’t care enough to do anything about it, and they’re fine with the way things are as long as they have something to feed themselves with. Any type of long-term planning is a rarity only found at the universities. The country has a wealth of natural resources, beautiful environments, and a very large work force, yet it is one of the poorest in the world. The work ethic in the office is (to me) unbelievable; people oftentimes do not show up simply because they would have nothing of immediate importance to do. This is a widely accepted cultural phenomenon, and common; I can imagine I would be able to take a week off if I wanted to. Sadly, this also means that there has not been too much work for me around to do. Hopefully tomorrow will be better; otherwise I will simply start walking about asking people if I can help them with anything. I came here to work, and I fully expect to gain a further insight into the micro finance world. I can sit around and do nothing at home – this is not the time for that.

27/07/2011

On Wednesday afternoon, Ralph asked me to take the next two days off and go to Lagos. He said it was something for AIESEC and involved some public speaking. I owed quite a lot to him so far, so I decided to help him out and asked for leave from work.

It turns out that they needed me as proof that AIESEC really did do exchanges – me as Oyibo would apparently be enough to show the people at the French Village (a place where all students of French in Nigeria come for a few months to immerse themselves in the French language) that it may just be worth the effort to go along with them. I was quite annoyed; I had taken time off of work essentially to be used as a prop. The coming two days, however, proved eventful enough to be worth the trouble.

Me and my friend, whose name I came to remember as Obina, went for some lunch in a local place. He had wild bushmeat; duck – I had just eaten, so I just stuck to some pineapple (which was absolutely delicious). A guy kept calling me; I walked over to see what was going on with him, when he suddenly and enthusiastically started hugging me and dancing around me. I was a bit startled – this was the most enthusiastic greeting by a stranger yet, but it was obvious that he meant no harm. As we sat down to eat, I suddenly saw the same guy running past us, waving a giant machete. The people around us started laughing; as it turns out, he was going hunting so that he could give me fresh meat. He went into a small, heavily polluted river right next to the road. He was trying to catch crocodile; he saw one, but failed to get to it in time and it got away. I would have loved to go hunting with him, but there were only 2 pairs of boots, and both were in use. Infection in Africa is the one thing I’d not prefer over this cold.

The next morning Obina and I had some time on our hands before the presentation. He had told me of a beach nearby, and I asked him if we could go visit. We took a taxi to a wonderful empty beach, where I had the opportunity to try and now drown in the two-meter tall waves as they came crashing on the African sands. I now regret swimming, as it seems I cannot hold off sneezing for more than 15 seconds at a time.

When we got back, we were stopped by the umpteenth road block. This time was different though – apparently we unknowingly crossed the border into a tiny country that sounds an awful lot like “Banana Republic” – I call it such because I do not know the real name (edit: the place is called ‘Benin Republic’ and is a wholly different country). The people stopping me were border guards. Now, as you may remember, it has become routine for me to avoid carrying my passport due to police corruption and armed robbery. This can pose a problem, however, when you’re trying to get back into the country you left 3 hours ago for a walk on the beach. They seemed very serious, and the discussion about why my papers were back in Ibadan went on and on. At one point, they wanted my friend to go back to Ibadan (a 4 hour drive) to get my papers and come back while they held me in custody. I wasn’t too worried about this, to be honest. The people seemed half-professional, and I got along fine with the police captain who I talked to while Obina got angrier and angrier with the officers. To me, this was just another African experience, vaguely reminiscent of when my sister got stuck at Hong Kong Airport because her passport expired. The only thing that put me a bit on edge was the fact that the police captain kept playing with his handgun as I would a toy.

What struck me most was that this was the first problem I encountered with officials that seemingly couldn’t be solved with money. I was honestly surprised that they didn’t yet ask to see my wallet. What was going on? Was this the first instance of straight cops to date in Nigeria? I suddenly started to see the benefits of corruption to the foreigner in Africa; your 5 dollars are more useful here than your diplomatic immunity card elsewhere. What I didn’t know, was that Obina was talking to some other officers, negotiating the bribe; he later told me that he did not want me to see the corruption. I suppose he was embarrassed of how problems are taken care of in this country.

I have one more morning left in Lagos; hopefully, I will have the chance to see my overly enthusiastic friend and go out hunting with him (and his second pair of boots). It seems like an experience I would not want to miss.

29/07/2011

Maggie, a silly girl who later came to see me as ’her boyfriend’ her brothers took me out to Church today (and a whole lot of other things I found out later). Little did I know that they prepared an entire Christian conversion party for me; I was forced to discuss with the pastor, the priest, and a whole ton of people trying their very best to make sure I know Christ exists. This was the first time I seriously had to try and keep my composure; the more idiotic arguments I heard, the more frustrated I became with the narrow-mindedness of these people. It’s truly unbelievable. How do you know god exists? Well, because he put us here. Are you familiar with the principle of evolution? No, because it conflicts with the teachings of the Bible. But then how can you be objective? I am objective in my knowing that Jesus Christ is my savior, and that he will come back to help us go into his kingdom of glory. I mean seriously, are you fucking kidding me? That’s an argument?

It got worse though; I tried to argue the Christian killings by Muslims in the north of Nigeria. Why would an all-mighty and morally superior god let that happen? “Because he wasn’t ready to stop it”. So, according to you, your God is letting his followers suffer and die because “HE IS NOT READY”?!?!? The Christian argument is obviously circular; God is good. There is suffering because man cannot understand God’s ways. If something good happens to you, God gets all the credit. If your little brother dies of cancer, it’s because God was trying to help his people in a way we cannot hope to understand, and it’s not our place to question him.

Pathetic.

Honestly, I’m starting to sympathize with the Muslims a little bit. The introduction of Christianity to Africa has brought with it a bucketload of idiots praying 3 hours a day for a better life instead of a spending that time working towards one. Good job, British invaders! You just managed to set this country back developmentally a gazillion man-hours a year because they believe that Jesus will save their asses.

I’m starting to grow a bit tired of this adventure. I think I learned all the lessons there are to learn (mainly: religion is a waste of time), and beyond that life here is just exhausting in general. People are often overtly kind; which is nice, but you can imagine that saying hello to 35 people and children walking you out every morning on the way to work wears on you after a while. It’s almost as if the kids are waiting for me, yelling the often-used “Oyibo!” when I walk out the gate. They’re like a dozen little black puppies, jumping at you every chance they get. (for political correctness, go read the bible). They’re great, but there is a time when you just want to be black and be able to walk around without saying hi to everyone (Edit: now I have a motorcycle, they all run after it as I drive past them. Even more puppy-like).

Beyond that, the constant lack of power and running water is also getting to me. Going to the toilet at night is a 15 minute process, which I will outline below. Living in a developing country is simply very time consuming; everything from washing your clothes to going to work to brushing your teeth is an entire procedure. It takes me two hours to get ready each morning; where I’m from, this time is cut to 15 minutes.

So, hereby my toilet-going process at night (which is happening a lot; Africa has been taking its toll on my body. I honestly think my lungs are starting to be able to convert carbon monoxide into oxygen. I have had a cold for the past 12 days, and food poisoning from a bad burger at Mr Bigg’s still hasn’t allowed for my digestive system to function normally. I heard from the officer at the border yesterday that they often leave their food for some week before they sell it.) Anyway, read on:

1. Finding flashlight in total darkness
2. Using flashlight to find toiletpaper (no one else seems to use it. I have been afraid to ask how they shit, for obvious reasons)
3. Use flashlight to find bucket
4. Take bucket to well
5. Fill bucket with water
6. Go back to toilet
7. Flush toilet with said water
8. Put everything back, and go back to sleep.

I will not bother to write out how long doing laundry takes me.

The rest of the day was all right I suppose. Maggie keeps surprising me in how annoying she is. My first girlfriend of 4 years ago does not even compare, and that’s saying a LOT. She again insisted on walking me home today; I actually yelled at her after telling her a million times that I really could take care of myself, and that I walk that road four times a day since I came to Ibadan – she REALLY didn’t have to take me home. Then she kept going on about me embarrassing her (all the while she still was walking in the same direction) and that she wished she was never born. Oh, you’re one of those. Oh sweet lord, why have you made me meet this woman (and I fully understand the irony of that sentence. I just don’t care enough at this point to change it)? This is what I was afraid of, and why I did not want me to walk her home. She now knows where I live, and I really don’t want to piss off her legion of brothers because I may have been disrespectful (Who I, so far, actually get along fine with. Much better than her, anyway).

I am exhausted, sick, pissed off and annoyed at having to smile every second while my insides are on fire. I do not want to seem as if I’m not enjoying myself because people have been doing everything possible to make my stay as nice as possible. I do not want to disappoint them. Maybe this is what they call the culture shock, though it seems different from those I experienced in the past. I’m more tired and frustrated than anything, really.

Oh, and by the way, I won a swimming contest today with two athletic black men in their mid-twenties today. Heh! Who would have guessed!

01/08/2011

Last night I went with Obina to his friend’s house, which was incomparable to what the rest of the university students live like. He had his own studio apartment, complete with stereo, flat-screen TV and a functional Mercedes. I felt very much like home, and for a second the beer helped me forget that I was in the middle of Africa.

I had a conversation with the guy about the state of his country. He, like so many others, wants to leave in search for a better life elsewhere. That’s the problem – people don’t care about Nigeria, and want to take the easy way out to the West, as if going there guarantees wealth and success. Young talent – and Nigeria’s future leaders – are leaving the country en masse, abandoning it in hope for a better life. No one wants to invest time to make it better here; it’s almost as if people have given up hope and accepted the problems as an unavoidable part of Nigerian existence.

The next day at work I finally went out into the field at work(Yay! Something useful to do!), where I encountered a similar situation. The whole point of a micro-finance program is to enable the poor to improve their lives and that of their family here. That is why I am here, and that is where countless people are passionately working towards.

Imagine my disappointment when the leader of a 20-man credit group asked me halfway through the loan disbursement process if I could take her to London (here, they assume all white people are from either the UK or the US – the rest of the world is irrelevant). Naturally, I refused, (not in the least due to the fact that that would involve marrying the woman) but it shows how people have little faith in even our attempt to help their situation.

I’m getting used to life here. They say one can get used to anything, and I kind of imagine that to be the case here as well. People are great to hang out with, and life is nice in general. The whole electricity debacle has become an automatic process; if you notice the lights coming on at 3AM, you wake up, plug in your laptop, and go back to sleep. I learned to see the humorous side of everything – it makes it easier to live with two-hour delays of meetings and other such problems. I learned from another intern here that foreigners deal with life here in a similar fashion – the term TIA, This Is Africa, is applicable to every situation in which nothing works as you expect it to. And indeed, that is the case more often than not. I’m still dreaming of peanut butter and hamburgers, and am thinking of recipes for subway-style sandwiches for when I get back.

Oh, and I managed to stop talking to Maggie. It took 20 text messages and, finally, a capitalized “I EXPECT TO HEAR NOTHING MORE FROM YOU” did the trick. At one point she thought I was someone else trying to set her up. Turns out she loves me, too. After two weeks. I would have advised her to send her story to the Guinness Book of World Records, I’m sure she would have won a citation for “fastest falling in love yet”.

02/08/2011

I woke up to a lovely surprise this morning. Nestor, my housemate, informed me ever so kindly that he woke up late last night because rats were fighting in my laundry bag. This is great; some friends I met in Calabar were telling me about them having named their rats, and I was quite sad that we had none. Imagine my joy! Admittedly, going through the bag piece by piece to check if they were still there was pretty nerve wrecking – the last thing I look forward to is a trip to the hospital for rabies injections.

At work, you may be surprised to learn, there was little to do. Halfway through the day I decided to walk around and talk to some of the other departments, when I stumbled on the cook of JDPC – a lovely, middle-aged woman who enjoyed all parts of preparing a meal. This included both the cooking of rice and the slaughtering of goats. Case in point, she was working on a freshly killed goat just now, which can apparently be bought live for around 35 euros. She was cutting up all the edible parts with a machete, while tossing inedible parts (or so I thought) to one side. It was a pretty gruesome image, but she seemed at ease, explaining to me all the ins and outs of goat preparation. A short while later, I saw a man from JDPC prepare the head (of course, nothing goes to waste). He threw kerosene over it, and lit it on fire multiple times to remove the skin. It was interesting to reflect how fast the head went from being cute, cuddly and happy 30 minutes before to food only this short while later. There was little to remind me that something had recently been seeing through those hollow sockets. She said she’d call me before she kills the animal next time, so I could see how it’s done. Maybe I’ll have the chance to do the honors before my leave here.

Now to avoid any misunderstanding, I’ll explain briefly why I would like to have that experience. Most of those in the developed world, including myself, have been eating meat since birth. To us, meat comes nicely prepared in plastic, in shapes not remotely resembling a live animal. It’s simple and convenient –it could grow on trees. The one problem I have with this is that it is, in fact, too easy. I enjoy all the benefits of meat eating without having to experience the suffering and pain that accompanies it. In my mind, I should either be a vegetarian or be prepared to slaughter myself – there should be no weak, convenient middle road. Since – to me – vegetarianism seems unhealthy, unappetizing and unnatural, there is only one option left.

I suppose there are two possible outcomes to this decision; either I find myself unable to do it– in which case, vegetarianism is the only option, or I have an important yet exceedingly unpleasant 5 minutes lying ahead of me.

I imagine that if the whole of the developed city-dwelling world thought similarly, we’d have an economic meltdown of the meat industry.

Yesterday, I was finally in negotiations with a man who said he was willing to rent me his motorcycle (an okada). He wanted initially 25,000 Naira (or less than 125 Euros) for it for the coming 3.5 weeks I have left here. It was a pretty shitty bike, so I wanted to pay no more than 10,000 Naira (or less than 50 Euros). We both laid out our arguments, and I got him down to 15,000 where I went from 8,000 to 10,000 Naira. I was convinced he’d go for it – after all, he wanted to sell the bike, so his only cost was selling it three weeks later. In my reasoning, that’s some free cash I’m giving him. He didn’t. We didn’t make the deal, and I was surprised – did bargaining really differ that much here from the way I’ve been doing it in China? I thought the whole process went all right. Guess I was mistaken.

Turns out it doesn’t differ that much compared to there; it’s a day later, and I just received a call from Ralph, who told me that the guy just contacted him and said he’s willing to take the 10,000. Yay!

06/08/2011

Yesterday night I finally got my motorcycle. I’ve been called – in particular by a British intern and the only somewhat-white person around (she’s ethnically Indian) – suicidal for even thinking about this, and it makes kind of sense. To be fair, this is probably the stupidest, most insane and yet the most awesome thing I have done in a long time. With no more than 20 hours of road experience in Europe (where there are actual, observable traffic laws. I’m still uncertain if they drive left or right here), this is going to be one heck of a challenge. When they speak of a trial by fire, it probably doesn’t come any closer than this.

My first trip back from the university where I picked the thing up went a bit like this. I drove for maybe 5 minutes, after which the engine failed. I assumed it was due to a lack of fuel (probably illustrating my total lack of knowledge of anything related to things you can drive), and filled it up, going from 1000 to 550 Naira left in cash. Petrol here costs a standard 65 Naira per liter, which is around 28 Eurocents. Unbelievable – in Europe, we pay around 1,40 a liter now. No wonder why I’m permanently breathing a cloud of exhaust fumes; everything from households to trucks runs on the stuff, and it costs peanuts. I didn’t get it to start again, (it has a kickstart) and after many attempts by a station worker it finally started up, leaving me to resume my journey home. 10 minutes later, I let the engine die again (this time it was my fault though. I tried to climb a hill that proved a wee bit too high). A fellow okada (the word they use for motorcycles) rider told me the spark plug was dead, and helped me push it home. Ugh. So much for a motorcycle that, in the renter’s words, should be “free from maintenance” until I leave.

nigerian trafficI would name the driving in Nigeria as “intuitive driving”. This because, at the complete absence of rules and regulations, people seem to do what sort of makes sense. If there’s a tiny open space in between cars, why not try and squeeze my own car through there? Also, Why would my truck have to stop (or even slow down) for a motorcyclist? Surely, he’s the one who’s fucked if we touch anyway, so he’ll probably do everything possible to avoid that. The latter, in my own short experience, is very true. I like it though. Driving here is certainly deadly, but at least it fits logically. In the Netherlands, it’s not unheard of to see everyone waiting for 20 seconds at a crossroads because the lights haven’t happened to change for anyone yet. Trust me, that won’t happen here.

The next morning I was posed with a conundrum. I had no water, my noodles were eaten by rats, my motorcycle was dead and I had 550 Naira (3 Euros) and 70 dollars left. Changing money was impossible without the motorcycle or a taxi, which cost money. Fixing the motorcycle first was probably the best option, but I had no idea of knowing how much it’d cost, perhaps leaving me no money for food or water before I could get my dollars changed. Furthermore, I had to get it all done fast, because Saturday afternoon and Sunday everything from banks to shops are closed. Probably a side effect of that pesky thing called religion. Funny how your priorities change real fast when you’re living like this.

That was the option I decided to take; the repair shop I went to was forgivingly close by, and the guy remembered me (he was the one trying to get me to marry his daughter, earlier), so he didn’t rip me off. I got both brakes adjusted, the oil refilled and a shiny new spark plug installed for 350 Naira. Strange, though, that everyone I meet seems to doubt my ability to drive the thing.

When I came back, I was tired enough to want to relax a bit. I asked my friend Cherif if he knew any Togoean (?) (edit: turns out, it’s ‘Togolese’) card games. His answer: I do not know how to play cards. I was shocked. Having Obina tell me a week earlier that he’d never been on, or in, water before was one thing, but being able to play cards must undoubtedly be a prerequisite for a fulfilling life.

I had never had to explain the functionality of a card deck before. I skipped steps, and accidentally taught him “universal” rules that only applied to a few games, such as face cards being a value of 10 (which I got from BlackJack). I taught him his very first game of “Pesten”, a game I used to play often with my family. The mistakes he made were fascinating; they weren’t the mistakes of someone who doesn’t know the game, but of someone who doesn’t know the system. He frequently matched diamonds with clubs, for instance, or forgot to grab a card if he couldn’t play anything.

After this, Immanuel told me he knew a dude somewhere far away who could change my money. Off we went – my second day on the death trap (still thinking of a name. I kind of like Death Trap, actually, mainly because of it’s in all likelihood realistic reflection of the future), and I was already driving a passenger around. At least it was light this time; the journey was an experience, to say the least, but we didn’t crash once. This was probably a good thing, considering that my protective gear consisted of flip flops, shorts, a nylon shirt and my newly bought pair of guaranteed-awesomeness sunglasses. I really have to get a helmet soon, but food and water was my first priority.

Fuck, I’m not too bad at this. I might live to see a European snack bar just yet.

08/08/2011

The very first day for myself in three weeks; no plans, no phone calls, no nothing. This Sunday was my chance. I was aching to see some more of the environment – so far, I’ve seen little besides people, people and more people packed together in what resembles more of a garbage dump than a city. I want to see, and experience, the nature for which parts of Africa are so famous. Just look at any satellite imagery of Africa; Nigeria is part of one of only a few green areas in an otherwise light brown Africa.

Now, of the usual barely-thought-out plans I have, this must have been one of the lesser intelligent. I decided to drive on a single road – I figured that, if only I drove long enough, I’d eventually reach forest. I couldn’t get lost if I didn’t deviate too far from that road. So I drove, and drove, for three hours (I forgot that Ibadan was the largest city geographically speaking of West-Africa) straight until I saw the road become noticeably worse and the population less dense. Finally, trees! I made it! My motorcycle had the unfortunate habit, however, of having the engine shut off after driving for around 30 minutes, which was also the case here (edit: turns out that was because I failed at using gears properly at the time, and the engine was just too weak to keep running when it’s a gear too high). I stopped near a man selling some corn. He told me about the many acres of land his family possessed. I asked him to show me around, and so he did. He introduced me to all the trees on his land, and had me taste the cola nut (which, strangely, tasted absolutely nothing like coke). He was looking to sell it; if I knew anyone who wanted to buy some land on the cheap, I should direct them here.

Now, this would have been an excellent opportunity to turn a small part of West-Africa in an eco-tourist zone, were it not for a small piece of information that I learned shortly afterwards. Apparently, the road I had been driving on was the notorious cesspool of armed robbery that was the Lagos-Ibadan highway. Coupled with the fact that it’d get dark in four hours and the fact that my motorcycle is about as reliable as US treasuries at the moment (they got downgraded to AA status yesterday, should you care to know), you can imagine that I wasn’t too happy with the news. Although the experience has been absolutely incredible, I had to get back, and fast. Luckily, I did not have too many problems on the way back and got home before 6 (7 PM is considered the deadline for being home; you shouldn’t be on the road afterwards). I’ll take a different road next time.

African kitchenThe next day, when I drove back home from work, I decided to cook some of my own meals this time. I was aching for some real, self-made non-spicy food, so I picked up some fly infested beef, tomato (which was a gamble – they could have just as well been peppers, which would have made them largely useless for my purposes) and sugar cane (I’m addicted to these things ever since I discovered them on the road yesterday. I remembered just now that I had them the first time back when I visited India). I decided to change my bargaining strategy; so far, the “just ballpark the price and refuse to increase it by more than 20%” had been working all right, but I figured that maybe there was a better way. Instead of having him name the price for a set amount, I turned the game around by telling the guy I’d buy beef for 100 Naira. He could give me less – or more, as he’d please, and I would have no way of knowing if I paid too much. In short, he had all the power to rip me off if he pleased, and we both knew it. When I came back, my housemate Bukky told me he gave me beef of around 250 Naira worth. Maybe I should try this more often.

That evening I lost – erm, ‘misplaced’, the keys to my bike. Which is a problem. I had learned how to hotwire a bike before, so I could still start the thing and get to work, but I was afraid that now it would seem as if I stole the bike (to greedy police, or the people I constantly ask for help to start the damned thing). I put a non-functional, smaller key in the keyhole to at least make it seem as if it’s working as it should, although the receiving end is of course still pointed to “off”. I guess I’ll have to learn to start it myself from now on.

Oh, and on my to-buy list, are still some of the same things from when I came here. A sponge for washing (yes, I’ve been improvising with a t-shirt so far), a mirror (improvising with glass; you learn the value of these things the second you find out you don’t have them anymore), and some electrical tape to fix a power adaptor I bought a while back, which short circuited when the cables melted. Yes, really, the cables of power adaptors here melt. I will never say another word about Chinese quality; they really beat them for cheapness here (edit: It’s all Chinese. They ship their worst shit to Africa, keep the medium shit themselves and send the high quality shit to Europe and America).

13/08/2011

Yesterday it struck me how much I left out so far. It seems that everything is just too much to write, so I suppose I’ll just stick to that which sticks out the most (no pun intended).

I didn’t, for instance, say anything about the peculiar use of words here. Especially for a foreigner, it will become very confusing very quickly, particularly because so much of their Standard English does make sense. If you sneeze or cough, for instance (and I’ve sure been doing a lot of that), they won’t say ‘bless you’, but they’ll say ‘sorry’. As you can imagine, I quickly learned to stop saying “huh, what? No need to apologize”. When they mean move, they’ll say shift. They use the word yoghurt for ice cream (which led to some confusion when they offered me what they said was yoghurt, which I don’t like, and turned out to be delicious ice cream). Most confusingly, though, they use the word ‘high’ for ‘drunk’. I’m sure you can imagine the confusion when they asked “are you high yet?” I thought they gave me some sort of hallucinogenic drink. What? No, I’m not high! Are you kidding me! Why would you drug me! Why?!?

I’m sorry, but I have to get back to the topic of religion for a short paragraph. They really have done everything they can to add to the ridicule. In Nigeria, a large, nationwide Christian institution called “the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries” exists; a name I find more appropriate for Hogwarts’ school of magic than anything in the real world. It’s gotten to the point where you see posters advertising events with catchy names as “sin cleansing night”, or “session of miracles”, and “24-hour prayer marathon”. Indeed, it resembles more real-life magic than Christianity. Even businesses are cashing in; I recently saw a drink being advertised as “the one and original prayer drink”. Hah! They’re even naming their small businesses after this insanity. You find names like “God’s Chosen Barbershop”, “Blessed Fruits” or “The Children of God Shop”.

There is good news though. It seems natural selection still applies to some parts of the world. Buy them prayer drinks, and you’ll starve to death because you can’t afford to buy your next meal!

We have a new intern from Germany. We now have another Oyibo around! She’s absolutely great, and the best part of it all is that we are the only people around that consider each other “normal”. I really missed being normal. I told her my plan of spending a long weekend on the beach next week, taking one or two days off work to have the first real days of vacation this summer. I mean, I really should have at least a few days before I hit the ground running in university when I get back in 20 days. I get back a week late, so I have to play catch up even before I start.

In any case, last night I was invited for two parties by Obina and Harry (someone from the university I met in Badagry, the area I went for French Village). I assumed they were the same; turns out they weren’t. Harry had the wonderful plan of taking me to a university cult; it was called “Kegites Club”. They worshipped palm wine, made it fresh themselves and danced in front of a keg for what seemed like hours. People, as usual, were very friendly and as a result we all ended up drinking way too much of the stuff. Now, this is not a problem per se; palm wine has an alcohol content of around that of beer. I had had a little before when I ate dog, so I assumed I would be fine. The problem came on later when my stomach started to feel like someone was consistently smashing it with a baseball bat. Of course, Harry didn’t tell me that from the beginning, because “I wouldn’t drink enough and that might offend them”.

Yeah, no shit. Apparently all people who drink over a keg of the stuff (I had three) have to do their absolute best not to vomit it right back out again. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one, which gave me more solace than anything. This is the first time in an age where I felt like vomiting without being remotely drunk.

When I got back, I had a lovely surprise waiting for me. Turns out that a rat had defecated, pissed or died on my mattress; the stench was unbearable. I couldn’t breathe properly, and to add to that my skin was becoming irritated with whatever filth the rat had left behind. Add a good amount of heat and a spider the size of my hand right above my feet, and you have a recipe for the worst night in a very long time. I was scared, filthy and was sweating like a pig. I ended up spending 5 hours in the bathroom; in a cruel case of irony, it was the cleanest and least rat-infested area of the house because people washed there.

15/08/2011

I just tried to plug in this laptop, and got my hand zapped by 220 volts. Goes to show you how much value you can get in 45 cent power adaptors. Sigh.

Life’s pretty good, I suppose. My German friend, Des, has the same itch for travel as myself; she spent 8 years in the paratroopers of the army. Of course, she has many stories to tell. I still have feeling somewhere in the back of my mind to join up for a year or two, if only for the challenge and the discipline. From what she’s been telling me though, most that join for that reason get bored after 6 months and leave. I was afraid of that.

A few nights ago we had a discussion with the village idiot, Immanuel. He has been telling us how great Ghadafi had been for his nation, and how everyone in his home country of Cameroon calls him “The Great Ghadafi”. (If you’re reading this way after it was written – Ghadafi is a Libyan leader who had a knack for shooting his own population). Apparently, I was naïve for believing the Western propaganda. Also, his view of solving Africa’s problems is to kick out the white people and Asians and stop doing business with them. Apparently, we’d been exploiting them. Be that as it may, kick us out and your entire continent will starve and die. They tried that in Zimbabwe (I think it was), and half that country ended up starving and dying, too. You’re just not capable enough – not yet, anyway. Furthermore, he asked me if European women sometimes refused to cook for their husbands, and what would happen to them as punishment. Also, apparently all white women want black men so they can have sex with them and have babies. After all, they have to take advantage of men to have babies, right? (If only that was true; Des particularly liked that one). Of course, abortion is murder and illegal everywhere. Albino Africans are an ‘abomination’, and homosexuality does not exist in most parts of Africa (and apparently we’re all homosexuals for legalizing it). In Nigeria and Cameroon, you get 20 years for being gay. Polygamy is a natural way of life; his grandfather had 6 wives and 21 kids, his father 4 and 12 kids. Oh, and a Cameroonian footballer made the most money of all great international players – a whopping 600 euros a week! And naturally, money is a surefire way to happiness.

These are just some of the views shared by him and some (of course, not all) people here. Sometimes, my cultural tolerance just can’t take all the ignorance anymore and I feel like shooting the guy. It made me painfully aware of how stupid you look if you’re spouting out your moronic opinions as facts like that. I have a tendency to do the same – I really hope I don’t come across as such (including, of course, in this writing). That would be bad.

It’s actually not all that different from Europe – it’s just that we thought like that back in 17th century. I told him he would seriously have to reconsider pretty much everything about his life, his personality and his beliefs if he ever wanted a shot at an education and a life in the West (if anything, Africa has taught me brutal and unforgiving honesty). But no, he wouldn’t have to – “by the grace of God, it would be so”. Nevermind.

Oh, the discussion solved my issue of why there are so many damn people here. If abortion is illegal, and condoms are pretty much nowhere to be found (at least, I only saw them once in a small medicine shop), people must be dropping babies every 12 months!

Anyway, Des wants to come along for my planned 3-day beach vacation in 2 weeks. Oh, how I’m looking forward to that. White beaches, waves, coconuts, pineapples, exotic cocktails and sun. At least, that’s supposing that the seashore is less affected by the wet season as the rest of Nigeria seems to be. That would really fuck up my plans.

Beyond that we’re also trying to get something done next weekend. There turns out to be a game reserve some 10 hours away. It’d be like the classical Africa you get to see in movies. With the savannahs, and the lions, and all that comes with it. Hopefully we can get there next week. If not – well, at least we still have the beach. And I’m not giving up on that for anything.

Oh, I forgot to tell you about my trip last Saturday. The second day for myself in the past four weeks. I traveled east towards – well, truth be told, I don’t know where really. I just drove. I found myself at some point surrounded by quiet roads and rainforests. It was much nicer than the road to Lagos, though it did have twice the potholes. I stopped somewhere in the forest to, erm, empty my system (going to the bathroom every three hours is a necessity when your immune system is shot to shit) when it began to rain. No ordinary rain, but the tropical, “oh-right-it’s-the-wet-season” type of rain to remind you that you’re not in Europe. This one happened to come right as I had my pants down. Yeah. It wasn’t my most glorious moment to date. I took shelter in some abandoned huts nearby after, I, erm, finished. Driving through the rainforest was exciting, but you could really feel your spine afterwards because of all the bumps in the terrain. After watching (both) my parents go through their own respective spinal issues, I’m probably not trying that again.

16/08/2011

I bought a chicken. Yup. A big juicy male chicken – around 4.5 euros for the whole thing. Of course, it’s still alive. The idea is that I slaughter it tomorrow morning at work (the things you learn at a Micro Finance institution…); I’ll be plucking, gutting, cleaning and frying it myself. I bought it a few days ago from a colleague at work who happens to have a poultry farm as well. Up to now, he’s just been a pet. A particularly nasty one though, that I have to clean up after pretty much everywhere he goes.

Now, this has come at quite a wonderful time. Me and Dez will be taking off Saturday morning to River Moshi Forestry Reserve for the weekend, about a 5 hour drive north of here. We decided to make it just the two of us, which is great, because it means that we’ll be discovering everything ourselves, instead of being led around like pack animals by an overly enthusiastic Nigerian. I’ll be taking the chicken with me, once it’s nice and fried and in parts (I’ve been looking forward to eating hour-fresh non-spicy deep fried chicken ever since I bought him). Of course, there are no functional refrigerators in Nigeria (power issues), so deep frying it allows me to preserve it for three days in case we run out of food.

The cook here showed me the whole process when she prepared a chicken markedly similar to mine. At the time, I suddenly wasn’t too sure if I could do it. They don’t make the loveliest of sounds when they die. But that would mean a life of vegetarianism for me; too high a price to pay, in my opinion. I suppose I’ll just have to do it fast and hope I don’t fuck up or hurt it too much.

It’s interesting; cooks in the developed world don’t have to know anything but how to add stuff together and declare it ‘dish’; here, you have to know how to pluck your fruits, dig up your yams and kill your meat. It brings on a whole new set of challenges.

I also bought some local liquor, which I shared with some of my housemates last night (the non-traditional Christians/atheists, who DO drink. Actually, this was one of the things I told myself not to do here. My only rule that I haven’t broken up to now. Oh well.). It’s a strange, caramel-ish sugary type liquor of some 30%. It was quite tasty, but you need way more than one small 150cl bottle to even feel the slightest buzz.

Lastly, I visited the university zoo a few days ago. I suppose it came about as close to animal cruelty as the Chinese zoos – that is to say, way over the line. One particular soft-shelled turtle lay dead in its cage. They did have quite a variety of animals, particularly for a university; they had lions, snakes, chimps and crocodiles. They also showed off the ‘horse’, ‘pig’ and ‘goose’. Never had I imagined those would be interesting enough to be kept at a zoo, anywhere. Particularly that pig looked more like dinner than zoo material to me. Sweet lord I miss my bacon.

18/08/2011

I called my chicken “Juicy One” when I bought it, in order to make it psychologically more like dinner and less like pet. The past few days it’s been much like a pet though; I’ve been feeding it, giving it water, and did pretty much anything else that you’d do with a regular housecat, too. That didn’t help, this morning. It’s not a very pretty process. You don’t just axe its head off in one go – you have to slowly and consistently saw through its skin, windpipe and arteries till you hit the backbone. That takes a while to cut through; all the while the chicken’s fighting for survival. They don’t give up easily, either; a full minute after its head was off, he was still flapping around like I had only just started. One colleague initially thought I didn’t cut properly, but only until she saw the head lying next to the flapping body. I might just invent a chicken guillotine, for much the same reason that the original was designed.

One thing you do have to hand them here in Africa though; almost nothing is wasted. Everything is eaten. Now, lovely as that may be, I’m usually a bit pickier with my food. Chicken leg is now fried along with eye and brain juices, saliva, and anus. Particularly that last part is rather worrying; I gave the head to the cook as thanks for everything she’s done for me, but the anus and its other private parts have been deep-fried along with everything else. They look just like the 6 other pieces of chicken breast and back. There’s literally no way to distinguish between it and the rest – and promiscuously feed it to somebody else. I hope to spot something anus-like soon and give it to Des on the trip, to avoid having to eat a fellow male animal’s private parts.

Now, there are two things I learned from this. Yes, you can lose a night of sleep in anticipation of something like this. Also, I’m not sure if it’s worth it. The animal really does go through a lot of pain and suffering before it’s gone, and all just for some nutrients you might as well get from some beans and potatoes? Back home, you always have the psychological support that since it’s dead anyway, you might as well eat some part of it – you, after all, are not responsible for its death. I didn’t have that this morning; it died only because I wanted it to. It was my conscious decision.

Though I passed my self-made test, I might just become a vegetarian anyway. Not sure yet. At least now I can somewhat justify the ton of pig and cow I’ve gobbled down in my lifetime.

He sure is tasty though.

Beyond that, it seems all systems are go for the trip tomorrow morning. I talked to Ebun, a housemate of mine (and the prettiest Nigerian girl I’ve seen to date. She’s awesome, too – much more open minded and modern than most); it turns out AIESEC Benin organized a 4-day training camp in a remote area of Nigerian forest, about the same distance as the River Moshi Forestry Reserve, but then southeast. According to her, they rarely receive visitors, there is neither electricity nor phone service, and it’s a full hour drive through thick forest. Once you’re in there, you won’t get out without somebody to help you. It sounds fascinating, but we now have to make a choice; River Moshi, or this place? I have no idea; both have their pros and cons, I guess. I mean, we only know how to get halfway to Moshi, which adds to the excitement. Plus, no one we have talked to has ever heard of the place, which means it must be remote enough to be all the more exciting. Oh well; we’ll have to decide by tonight I guess, if we’re to find out how to get there.

23/08/2011

Our weekend trip was pretty great, especially considering how the planning stage involved little more than 5 minutes on Google Maps, circling some area that looked neat and asking Des “Hey, that looks cool, do you want to go there this weekend?” People tried to dissuade us from going, naturally – we would get lost, get cheated or robbed, and no one knew anyone there to help us out or show us around. This last point was precisely the reason I wanted to go; no one to tell me where to go, what to do, or what to look out for. We could finally explore Nigeria the way people ought to, rather than having someone carefully leading us around the nastier parts and only showing us only the more shiny side of life.

The trip was long and terrible; the usual 14-people-in a 9-seat minivan is largely unappealing for a 6 hour drive. We only knew how to get to Ilorin – (I still think it sounds more like some elven palace from the Lord of the Rings than an actual city) a city about halfway from Ibadan to Jebba; we figured we could probably find another bus from there. We met an engineer on the way (who is now known in my phonebook as ‘Engineer John’ – getting into the habit of describing people with their professions has helped with my naming issues. For instance, a guy in my phonebook named ‘Wahab’ keeps calling me, and I haven’t the slightest clue where I know him from), who also had to go there. Turns out quite a bunch of white people come to Jebba to do business with a company called Jebba Paper, which made our trip less stressful than I would have imagined. There were the regular moments of being looked at like you’re a monkey at the zoo, but no more than usual I suppose.

This engineer was a man with the best of intentions, which was precisely the problem. The first 3 hours upon our arrival in Jebba were spent following him around (and I came here to not have to do that), having him show us a tomb of the first European to witness the Niger river (Jebba was located right at the Niger), the railroad he was working on and Jebba Dam, which provided power for the area. He could not stay any longer and had to leave off to work. We thanked him for his kindness and he left for the railway he was busy constructing. We went straight back to the cheap inn he tried to have us avoid because it would have been ‘too dangerous’.

Jebba itself was a small trucker town, comprised mostly of inns, restaurants and other small local businesses. The Niger itself was beautiful and quiet – I tried to swim, but the current was far too strong. The locals used the river for pretty much everything, and you could see the extent to which it proved a source of livelihood for many.

In comparison to the amount of time we spent planning the trip, it was pretty sweet. We got to see the famous African savannahs, which really was one of the main things I wanted to see before I’d leave. Next up: the beach.

25/08/11

Two days ago we had a less-than-wonderful evening. Nestor, a Cameroonian banking student and fellow intern, told me how he has been uncomfortable the past weeks because his mother was in the hospital. According to him, it was because of witchcraft. This wasn’t too surprising to me – I met a number of otherwise sane people in Eastern Europe also who were also firm believers in witchcraft. It was a shame, though, to hear that the doctors have been going to pastors and priests to solve the problem, rather than actual medicine.

That night we were overrun by giant, thumb-sized cockroaches. These weren’t your average run-of-the mill ones either, but cockroaches that have enough mass to make noise when they moved. Insects aren’t supposed to make noise when they walk. That’s some scary shit. They can fly, too, and spit poisonous stuff you don’t want to have touching you, according to Immanuel. Needless to say, I was scared shitless. The fact that Nestor found a rat chewing his toe at night is fine, oversized spiders are all right, human flesh-eating larvae of mango flies are scarcely acceptable, but this was too much for me. Des, of course, was safe under her mosquito net (note to self: always take one with you when you travel to the tropics) while I ran around with a flashlight yelling “Immanuel, here! And there! And another one here! Come quick, this one’s flying away!” In total, we (read: they) killed 22 of the monsters. I didn’t sleep much.

I had my first monthly staff meeting the day after. Unfortunately, JDPC seems plagued by many of the same problems the rest of Nigeria copes with. Turns out they invested in a farm – apparently, no pigs have been born the past year and a half, three goats have mysteriously died and the corn field was supposedly emptied overnight by thieves. Of course, the farmer is just selling everything on the side; each person the director sends over to supervise returns saying that everything checks out – bribes are commonly accepted. Though the director is a giant pain in the ass for me, I do respect the difficulties he’s facing in keeping this place running and profitable (oh, wait, it’s a non-profit organization. My mistake).

Another example of pristine work mentality; my immediate boss, Mr. Paul, occasionally sends me to the bank to deposit some money for the company. I asked him after the fourth time to give me a stipend for gas (I probably spent less than 20 cents in total, but I was just interested in his response); he pulled 200 Naira out of the money I was supposed to deposit, adjusted the total and sent me on my way. Heh. That’s some careful bookkeeping there, my friend.

Also, he informed me today after I gave him my recommendation report that he often tails me when I go. This is to make sure I do not get kidnapped on the way; a white man making frequent bank trips is pretty much a magnet for criminals. He’d hate for JDPC to have to pay the ransom. I would have liked him to have told me of the risk before. I thought it would have been negligible; clearly, it isn’t.

That’s a very large problem associated with having a business in Nigeria. Although there are tons of opportunities here, I’d have to ship people from the developed world to work for me – I just wouldn’t trust anyone here to make the right decisions. If the work mentality (and electricity situation) improves, I’ll start selling cheese. They don’t have cheese here. Not anywhere. The cheese spread they have in Europe keeps for months so you don’t need a refrigerator, it’s full of nutrients and can be made cheaply. Right now, the only thing people can put on their bread is butter – and it’s expensive. I’m serious – you could make a ton of cash. Man, why am I still wasting my time in university.

I would also like to tell you about some discussions Des has. She comes back from work with the most hilarious stories; she works for an NGO called Goodworkers. The director is a pastor who has a side business selling Samsung equipment; so far, she’s spent more days helping him get rich than helping drug addicts and AIDS patients, which is what she came to do. She’s been asked to dance on the back of pickup trucks to advertise Samsung products, and make a speech about why Samsung is helping the people by performing a social mission through introducing them to washing machines. Right, Samsung is helping them. The most unbelievable part is that people believe the corporate bullcrap, too. I really have to get into business here and start stealing from poor people before the multinationals run in and do it for me.

There have also been the mandatory religious discussions I would like to share. I have been compared to cattle by not believing in God (I was an unworthy man of the flesh, while they were all enlightened men of the spirit), but one of Des’ discussions beats everything I have written of so far. A man she talked to (read: tried to convert her) gave the most convincing argument I have ever heard:

‘How do you think airplanes work if not through god?’

WHAHAHAHAHA. Would you REALLY like me to explain that to you??

Anyway, that’s it for today. I actually quite enjoy writing these things down; it gives me the idea I’m not the only one benefiting from the experiences here, and that just maybe someone else might enjoy all this, too.

31/08/2011

Here we are. Six weeks later, and this will be my final entry. My work is finished; I submitted a six-page recommendation report to my supervisor, department head and the director. The director was very much impressed, and praised the report during the staff meeting on my last day. He said it was analytical, exceedingly critical and some would have been scared to write what I wrote.

Wait, what? Really? And there I was trying to keep out all the bad stuff because my supervisor and department head (the only plausible recipients of my supposed criticism) are the ones writing my recommendation. Darn it. Anyway, I’m pretty glad that ordeal is finished. I have a ton of stuff to do before and after I leave here, so I finally get to focus on some other things like paying rent and university fees without a functioning bank account.

The past two weeks I’ve undertaken trips to the beaches of Lagos and the rainforest around Oshogbo (A UNESCO World Heritage Site, which seems to be reason enough to charge visitors around 2000 Naira or 10 Euros for the use of a camera alone. Here, that’s enough to feed a family for a week). Particularly the three-day journey through Lagos was nice; Ibadan seems like an oversized village in comparison. Lagos is a proper city – it’s what I’m used to. We met a man there when we were looking for a market to buy some last minute stuff before I left for home. He was an ex-army commander who left the army in search of a career in fashion design (no kidding) and more free time with his kids, and spent his entire day taking us around the city, showing us different markets and areas. I was looking to buy a leather jacket; I should have known they are nonexistent in Nigeria because of the climate. He went from shop to shop, fighting, yelling and cursing at each and every shopkeeper who dared waste his time looking for one. I thought it was magnificent – when he later told us of his background, this behavior suddenly made a lot more sense.

He and many other people I have met are the ones you want to reward, the ones you desperately want to give back to. But they’re also frequently the ones who are capable of helping you out in the first place; they don’t need your help, and will deny your every attempt. I have also met a fair share of assholes, on the other hand, who are the annoying fucks that ask for your money, food, sunglasses, phone, a wife (yup, had that one) and a visa without having ever met you before. It makes you not want to help the people that actually need it, but those who don’t; the latter can afford to give their time and effort, while the first may just starve if they do not beg from every white person they meet. It’s a tough conundrum, as shame is a luxury only the wealthy can afford.

In Oshogbo we only stayed one day, which was enough to see most of the heritage site. The heritage site was intended to protect a small group of forest dwellers and their ancient religion from the oppression of the Islam and Christians that are constantly pushing for their conversion. Here, alternative religions are called ‘fetishes’, and have a hopefully undeserved reputation for cannibalism. Anyway, we entered their settlement and met some of these people. They wanted to help us pray to the Cola gods (derived from the cola nut) for some money. I thought it was an interesting thing to experience, but Des was less curious. We both ended up paying the man and going through the ritual; we were to pray for anything we wanted. We were to return next year that day to give thanks, as we will have gotten what we prayed for. Now, a bottle of sacred river water is sitting in my bag – I am supposed to bathe with it. Oh well. There’s no point in doing something like this if you’re not going to do it seriously.

Last night Des and I had our last Euro-style dinner – we made deep fried pepper-free beef with home-made sangria. Ugh, deliciousness. We made about 1.5 liters of sangria between the two of us. The usual religious discussion (and, ironically, one about alcoholism) erupted once again between us Europeans and Immanuel, and with a liter of the stuff in my belly I was holding back even less than usual. I later went outside and had pretty much the same discussion with the village kids; this time, though, I was determined to reverse the roles. This time, I wouldn’t be the convertee – they would be. I tried to teach them that praying for anything won’t get them there, and that they have to fight for what they want because God won’t give it to them. They ended up praying that God will visit me overnight so that I could stop being so foolish and be saved. I just woke up, and unless God comes in the form of a massive headache, he’s pretty damn late. Guess I’ll just stay foolish.

I am glad I decided to come here, but have mixed feelings about leaving. I am definitely looking forward to getting back to civilization (for once, this expression is not an exaggeration) and start the mountain of work I have waiting for me there, with a nice cup of coffee in hand and three computer screens to do it on. But I know I will miss this place, its rats and my many friends tremendously. I learned an amazing amount about the culture and people here, but first and foremost I learned about myself and how I dealt with the challenges here – it has, without a doubt, been an invaluable experience.

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