From the OFFICIAL EQUIDISTANT POINT of Nigeria :)
I'm so happy to find myself in Nigeria. It's not the cheapest country I have been to for a while...but it's also not as expensive as some people say. Before I reached Nigeria I had to leave Benin. And I really did not feel like it - because I had many good reasons to stay.
So, there is this guy working at the American embassy in Cotonou, Benin. His name is Paco and I probably should have met him earlier. But at least I met him. American embassies all look the same to me. They look like a mix between a fort and a prison...but nice and presentable. They are always huge complexes and they are guarded by marine soldiers. Paco works somewhere in there and he is an extraordinary networker. Aino, a friend I met in Puerto Rico is also a friend of Paco. So she arranged for us to meet.
Master networker Paco in the middle.
That was a fun night out were I was introduced to a lot of interesting people...mostly Americans...and in the end I sat alone with a nice girl from the Peace Corps and 3 young marines. It's fun to question marines. Especially the young ones. They were quite bright and since I too was a soldier long ago I did understand some of their mentality although I am many years beyond that now. That night ended around 04:00am.
Sushi with Monica and Thierry. Last night out.
Saying farewell to Thierry, Monica and Noam wasn't easy. Living with them for more than a week had on the contrary been very easy. And leaving Benin wasn't easy either. I find that the longer I stay somewhere the more I care for it. Benin is a wonderful place and truly worth a visit.
I roll my clothes to save space and keep my bag organized. Ready to go :)
Nigeria is a very short drive away from Cotonou. Thierry, Monica and 10 month old Noam dropped me off and I was once again alone. The border looked terrible!! This could easily have be the ugliest border I have seen so far. Beggars and garbage everywhere. It looked like a humanitarian disaster. Buildings were worn down to their minimum before they would collapse. A number of offices were simple shipping containers...but rusty and dented. I was happy to be crossing in daylight because it would definitely be scary by night. And that border is open 24/7.
Nigeria, that large country with 175 mill (or 200 mill) people and a huge middle class.
All the officials were however nice. Norwegian World record holder, Gunnar Garboe, had warned me against the high level of corruption. But I wasn't actually faced with any. I stamped out of Benin and into Nigeria. No problem. But I have to say that the border was the worst possible introduction to either side whichever way you were going. And that border represents neither 2 countries as far as I am concerned. I would have taken photos but around Mauritania I learned not to take photos near the borders...I'm not pro Panafricanism but so far border officials seem to agree on that taking pictures near their workplace is a great crime! :)
This is Joe to the left and Jerry to the right of me. Pay attention to those two later ;)
I went through that slice of visual hell and came out on the other side. Immigration, police, military. No issues - welcome to Nigeria. I changed all my CFA into Nigerian Naira because the CFA days are now behind me. It had been a pleasant experience to have a common currency between various countries for a while. Then I hoped into a shared taxi and headed towards Lagos. But then we encountered a roadblock and a new team of immigration officers. We passed and continued. Then a new team of policemen....and soon after another team of military police. And this would repeat itself 5-6 times during the next 45 minutes? So that was new...
Lagos is a city with 21 million citizens. MASSIVE. Somewhere in there the Nollywood spits out thousands of Nigerian produced movies. But Nollywood is more a concept than an actual place so you cannot go and visit like you can visit Hollywood. Tall buildings, wide roads, massive bridges and a horrible amount of cars. The taxi driver offered to take me all the way to my host for the night (for a lot of money) but I opted to get out and get on the back of a motorcycle so that I could bypass the traffic.
It was dark when I arrived to Lagos and the city looked spectacular. The motorcycle stopped about 20 kilometers east of Lagos and I would proceed on foot from there. I bought a simcard so that I had a Nigerian number and the roadside salesman was cheeky enough to ask if I had a phone for him. The phone that Rebecca gave me long ago in St. Maarten had been damaged from saltwater when I sailed to Cape Verde with Alex the Frenchman :) But it still worked...more or less. I pulled it out of my bag and offered it to the salesman. And he was now no longer a salesman. He instantly transformed into a little boy who had just met Santa Claus!! He was so grateful and wanted to do something for me...he wanted my number...he wanted my email...he, he, he...BOOM!! And then he exploded from all the excitement :) Not quite, but imagine if he did :) I shook his hand 600 times and continued down the street where I asked for directions. Another guy approached and asked if he could help?
His name was Rafael. He studied art and in particular German art. In fact, he knew how to speak German?! So once again I got to speak German in a completely unexpected place? :) The last time was in Burkina Faso. Rafael must be the only Nigerian who speaks German...or probably not since Nigeria is a country of 175 million people!!! Actually there could be 200 million people in Nigeria. It's hard to say and no one knows for sure. That's 25 million extra people that "could be there". Denmark, my home country, is only populated by 5.3 million people. It's hard to phantom.
"Suya". A great meal which every country should have!! :)
Rafael was interesting and kind and walked me all the way to the door. And that turned out to be quite a walk. Then I met my host Jerry. He was standing on the road waiting for me. Jerry delivered an exceptional level of hospitality!! What is it with these Nigerians? :)
I have received my share of emails from "Nigerian bankers" asking for my account number. And I had been warned thoroughly on the Internet (by what I expect to be young boys in their mothers basement) that I was more than likely to get my head chopped off by Boko Haram as soon as I crossed the border. And now I was presented with all this friendliness and kindness? Could the people who had never been to Nigeria possibly be wrong? Nooooo... ;)
Just to get the Boko Haram questions out of the way: A small amount of research will tell anyone that Nigeria is a fairly large country. And Boko Haram are to be found in the north eastern corner of the country towards Lake Chad. So don't go there. Most Nigerians are very aware of Boko Harams presence from watching the news and they feel sad about it. It's a label which has been cast upon a beautiful country and it shadows over the 774 ethnicities, the probably more than 300 spoken languages, millions of families, thousands of years of cultural development and traditions, the music, the food, the nature and all that makes up Nigeria. Is that fair? Not likely.
Back to Jerry...he showed me my room which I had booked online with him. It was perfect. He had even laid out a toothbrush and toothpaste for me along with the soaps and much more. He was friendly as can be and when I wanted to head out to find some dinner he offered to give me a ride. I thought he would drop me off somewhere but instead he picked up a friend and the 3 of us headed out to have a good time. His friend (Joe) and Jerry entertained me and bought me food and drinks. There was no way they would let me pay! Joe turns out to be something of a celebrity in Nigeria. Together with some friends he is a singer in "Infinity" which is well known all over the countries 36 states. But he was nice as could be and it was Jerry who told me as Joe keeps a low profile. They felt I should have a culturally experience so they order me suya and some local beer called "origin". Good stuff. The suya is meat from a cow cut into small pieces and barbecued. Then often served with onions and tomatoes and sprinkled with a bucketful of chili pepper!! Good stuff.
So, this looks delicious. And perhaps it is to you. But those green leafs had an acquired taste and the meal itself is goat brain. I only had a little :)
The next day Jerry took time off to drive me around Lagos and help me find a bus to Abuja (the capital). But before that Jerry made a large breakfast for me and served me like a king. Probably the best booking I have ever made! Jerry doesn't need to rent that room out. He does it because he wants to. Jerry is a success story of a man who worked his way up to create his own business within smart building management, which today employs around 80 people. He aspires to grow much more and I think he will. He has already expanded to a number of other countries in Africa and is now looking towards Europe. Check him out: www.fcm.ng
Jerry and I at his office in Lagos. Great guy!!
The nightbus to Abuja is apparently something of a gamble. Security is a huge issue but I did not know. There have been suicide bombings, attacks, armed robbery and worse in the past. So security was quite tight. Or the intentions were. I oppose anytime someone uses the word security or safety as if those words are an answer in them selves. You can't just explain why something is like it is by saying "security". In this case I couldn't bring my small day bag into the bus for the 14 hour bus ride. I had to leave it in the bus storage room. Why? Security. But I needed a lot of the items that I had in the bag and many of the items are fragile electronics. In addition the bus company clearly states that they will not be responsible for loss or damage. So I want those items with me. It turned out that I could take anything I wanted out of the bag and bring it into the bus. But I couldn't bring the bag itself. That's not security. That's insanity. But other than that the bus ride was quite enjoyable.
Abuja, first impressions...
My first impression of Abuja was that it was much smaller than Lagos. In reality it has around 10 million citizens. Around 40 taxi drivers independently asked me if I needed a taxi to Lagos while I walked away from the terminal. I walked downtown in the early morning hour and met hundreds of people on their way to work. They pretty much all looked like they desperately needed coffee and they all stared at me like if my skin was green. But as I caught eye contact with most of them and said good morning a great deal of them would light up and smile.
I found a crappy hotel at a price I could accept for my first night. Just to create a base. There was some kind of worm in the toilet which was alive and fascinated and disgusted me at the same time. Water was dripping from the ceiling and directly on to the toilet indicating that you would get wet if you used it. But water also came through the electrical socket in the ceiling above the shower which discouraged me to take a bath.
Not far from the modernity of the city, perhaps 20 minutes away, life gets much more rural. Nigeria is a mix of standards.
That was the first night. I'm now in a much better place. And I really don't mind it all that much. It's a part of this journey and my new "normal" is at a completely different level compared to when I left home. I joke that I have brainwashed myself. But it's sort of true...I do this project every day.
Humor in Nigeria is so far great!! Perhaps it's because I speak English and understand, and that it has been like this all throughout West Africa all along, but I never got it because I don't speak enough French. But I'm having a ball now!! :) I can joke and laugh with nearly anyone around here.
Joe (the singer from Infinity) got busy really fast after I left Lagos. Joe started calling all his contacts with newspapers, TV stations and radio stations and I have been extremely busy lately with interviews. There has been a lot of hype which I must admit feels nice for a change. Because I feel like we have something to say with this project. My first radio interview was with Rufai Oseni who hosts "Inspiration fm 92.3 Lagos". Although I never met Rufai and did the interview over the radio we had a lot of fun preparing for the interview. He seems to be a really good guy and he used to work for BBC in the UK. He said that we will meet for beers in Denmark once I'm done with this project. I hope we do. His show, by the way, has around 4 million listeners.
I can't mention everyone but you should look out for Hon. Abiola Stephanie Afolabi who is something of a power woman (www.ealcaglobal.com www.ealaglobal.com & www.aiiaglobal.com). Abiola is very passionate about all of Africa ascending into greatness! She is a highly respected, highly active and very successful woman and she conducted an interview with me. We had fun taking pictures and the Nigerian Red Cross Society had issued me with 6 wonderful volunteers for the sake of solidarity. It was fun, interesting and I learned a lot.
My friend Fortune in front of a multi media house.
Someone else I must mention is Fortune Agula Musa. He called me up a few days ago and invited me on to "info-fm radio Nigeria 95.1". The next day he picked me up and drove me to the radio station where I was invited on the morning shows crossfire edition with hosts: Swat, Ofi and Crazy Legs :) We had around 6 million listeners and I was in no way nervous. I wonder how I got to this point in my life? I still ride the bus and stand in line with everyone and anyone else. But in the last few days my voice has been heard by millions of people? And yet when this project comes to an end I will go home and work a normal job again, go shopping a disappear among everyone else. Life is funny like that.
Used bottles are collected, rinsed, stacked and sold at low cost. Recycling is something I haven't seen for a while.
Fortune has a smooth but sharp and at the same time easygoing personality. Fortune and his wife are expecting a child soon and he works as a sort of multimedia agent. If he hears of something interesting then he delivers the source to the media. I find that interesting and I'm sure he is good at it. But what I find far more interesting is his vision for future drivers licenses. He is a teacher and runs the school with a good friend who shares the vision. Apparently there is no national standard for obtaining your drivers license in Nigeria. So they opened up a school and set the standard reasonably high. Through this they hope that safety conscious people will adhere to their school and they are off to a good start. His name is Fortune and perhaps that is no coincidence?
Fortune took off a few hours of the afternoon just to show me around Abuja. I love this guy! You know, there are already so many people I want to keep in my life: Jerry, Joe and Rafael in Lagos...and the list is building up pretty fast in Abuja too! I haven't even been in Nigeria for a week!
The official Equidistant point from the Nigerian border to all sides!! :)
Nigeria is a pearl. But it's unpolished in my opinion. The country has issues and the country is young. I was speaking to a lance corporal from the air force (Mike). Mike and I spoke of the substantial differences within joining the military in Denmark and joining in Nigeria. That was interesting. But we also spoke of Nigeria as a country and its future. Mike said: "Nigeria is a young country. We are done developing yet. We have far to go. It is like with a toddler, you expect a toddler to make wee wee in his pants from time to time". And I think Mike is tight :)
But I would be immensely proud if I came from Nigeria!! And there is certainly a real hope for a powerful development here. Nigeria has a gigantic workforce, a huge amount of natural resources, thousands of years of history, a real sense of hospitality, an exiting country and broad network of culture and different ideas. Now it just all needs to hum along for while...and someday it just might.
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - in the centre, surrounded by millions of wonderful people
Once Upon A Saga