Nigeria - time, trust and butterflies
Mighty empires have once ruled the lands in and around Nigeria. I think that at this point, that it's a safe bet, that every time you spot a large country within the African continent; then there is a history of a once powerful nation.
I'm fed up with hearing about Africa. Africa this, Africa that. "Here in Africa we..." or "We Africans..." or "the way we do things here in Africa..." In my opinion most people who believe that Africa is 1 are wrong. Africa is a continent and not a homogenized population. Many of the countries I have been through have problems. But I'm certain that what serves as a solution in one country will not be a solution in the next. Poverty is poverty. It's not an African problem...it's a global issue. Poor people in Africa, South America or Asia have many things in common. If you have almost nothing and need to live for less than $1/day then you do not have a huge variety of options regarding how you can live your life. If there is only 1 door in the room then you will exit through that door no matter where you live.
The humor, the songs, the food and even the sports have changed as I have traveled south through Western Africa. These people are not the same. But in some regards they share similarities.
Besides, poverty is not the full story? Every country I have been to has had a middle class and an upper class. People in Western Africa watch Game of Thrones too. They have iPhones and Samsung smartphones and they listen to Rihanna and they use Facebook... But they have a different culture. Being a soldier and choosing a military career in Nigeria is not like doing so in Denmark. In Denmark you sign a contract and a military career is more like a job. In Nigeria it will often be a family decision and something you "lock" yourself into - perhaps for life. That is only 1 example in words that we share but which hold different meaning. And within Africa like within Europe we are very much different. But we all eat, sleep, love, cry, sing, laugh and so on. We are all human.
Comparing Morocco with Senegal - or Nigeria to Togo - or Cape Verde to Mauritania...well...what I'm trying to say is that there is a lot of diversity to be found here. And within Nigeria more than most places.
In Nigeria 521 languages have been spoken throughout the years. 9 of those have gone extinct. 774 ethnic groups are to be found in the 36 states. Can you imagine how different people can be just within Nigeria? Then what about all of Africa? I hope you see my point.
I met a great guy named Fortune. I mentioned him in the last blog. He later on went on to text me an invitation to join him for church last Sunday. Religion is a big deal in Nigeria which is pretty much 50/50 in terms of Islam and Christianity. Fortune is Christian and belongs to a Pentecostal church. I had my taste of that in the Caribbean but this was a bit more than what I had seen before.
The Pastor pushing over a man who has been possessed by the Holy Ghost.
People and religion. You've really got to be careful when you talk to people about these things because you are talking to people about what they believe in. And you believe in things too. Believing in religion is fine by me. But I don't. However I respect those who do and try to stay neutral most of the time.
The woman who had the Holy Ghost inside. The one in orange sort of had it until she wasn't picked ;)
Church started out calm. I was on the second front row and everyone was sitting down. Everyone except for a man who was lying flat on his stomach with his head under a table and his arms spread out. I didn't get to ask what that was about. But I figure that he was praying in the extreme. I cannot go into detail about the whole service. It lasted about 3.5 hours. It would go from very calm to very energetic and back again throughout the entire service. At times it seemed like a rock concert. No - at times it WAS a rock concert now everyone was standing up singing, clapping, dancing and screaming in the name of the lord. On stage Fortune...yes...my friend Fortune would be rocking the microphone like a rockstar while the bass, the drummer and the chorus on stage.
At times the pastor would feel the presence of the Holy Ghost manifesting it self in people and he would touch these people and they would pass out on the floor. He also took off his white jacket as his hands where no longer enough and with the reach of the jacket flying over his head even more people would pass out. It was very dramatic at times with people crying and screaming and sweating. The 2 women next to me both felt the spirit of the Holy Ghost but as only one of them were picked to come front stage it seemed to me that "the Holy Ghost" quickly left the other woman and she became "normal" again.
This photo is a little out of context because it is in fact the national mosque of Nigeria. In Nigeria Christianity and Islam is divided more or less 50/50 among the public.
"Perception is reality." If you believe...then it is real...to you...
I like Fortune a lot. He has a great personality and it turns out he has a great singing voice too :)
Media, media, media...I have made a lot of appearances on a lot of radio shows. A lot!! Most of these broadcasters have had a reach of several million listeners and a low estimate would be that I have reached around 25 mill. 25 MILLION!!? That's how many that I have been telling about the journey which has brought us this far, the people I have met, the good nature of most people, the beauty of all these countries we should know - but we don't. And before all these people I have had the chance to mention that the Red Cross is in need of more volunteers and more donations. On that account I think that Nigeria might be the 1 country in the world, that so far has benefitted the most from this project.
And now the social media of this project has grown to several millions. No, not really...it grew by about 2-300 new companions. I don't get it? It frustrates me that this project does not grow faster and that we do not reach more people. But I am thankful for the loyal companions that I already have. My frustrations are tied to my thoughts on this project having an impact on the world. What if more people knew about the wonders of this world? Would the world then be a better place?
Tunde became a friend as he was assigned to companion me during most of my stay with the Red Cross.
Anyway, I was invited to meet with the governor of Imo state which is a big deal. He is an important man and I showed up at his residence at 9:00am as told. They then let me wait until 11:00am at which point I wanted to leave. Mostly because I was told that he wasn't ready because he was eating breakfast which I found to be offensive. Culture is funny like that. I come from a place in the world where we pay a lot of attention to time. We might even check the time several times within a minute. If I'm meeting you at 2:00pm and you show up at 2:00pm then you are technically late :) You should have been there at 1:55pm. However if you had been there at 1:50pm then it would be too early and it would be considered rude.
Rose Okeke has a kind and personality and warmth in her eyes. You would be lucky to meet her.
I understand I am in a part of the world where time is a different dimension. As I recollect from the past 92 countries people's relationship to time corresponds to the climate. If it's hot then time doesn't really matter. If it's cold then it really matters. I guess that makes sense! In "the old days" a farmer in a cold country only had a few months to saw, grow and reap his harvest before the winter came. But in the warmer countries you could always postpone. So I guess that transcends into culture. It makes sense to me (winter is coming!).
I think without offending too many people I can say that this is a good metafor for Nigeria. Green lights but you just can't go.
When I told Rose, the liaison officer, that I was getting ready to leave, I was immediately invited in to meet the governor. We walked though a few insanely expensive looking rooms and into his "dining room". A large table nearly filled the entire room and about 10-12 well dressed people sat and had their breakfast. His excellency sat at the end furthest away. I said good morning and proceeded to go and shake his hand. He then offered that I would sit and join him. Tunde, a Red Cross volunteer, had accompanied me and I quickly introduced him too. We then sat down and had breakfast while the governor spoke with various people. Then he addressed me and I spoke of the project. The governors eyes grew in disbelief! He added more questions and as I answered he was clearly impressed and surprised. It lead to some talk about me meeting the president. He couldn't guarantee that but he definitely wanted to introduce me to the remaining 35 governors which he was meeting the next day. And he wanted to help promote some attention to the project.
So the next day I was told to wait, and wait, and wait...and by nighttime I was told to come to the TransCorp Hilton hotel at 8:30pm...and stand-by. And I did...together with 2 Red Cross volunteers: Tunde and Chinwe. Even the Secretary General of the Nigerian Red Cross was told to come and although he is a busy man he had no choice. We then waited...and waited...and waited...I then met Senator C. Anthony Muse who is the Senator of Maryland, USA. Never in my life did I expect I would meet a U.S. Senator?!? Apparently this was his 5th trip to Nigeria. Smart move...because I think Nigeria might be going somewhere.
We checked it out. He is a real Senator. Drop him an email - but be kind. He was so down to earth and friendly.
After about 4 hours the doors opened and about 20 press members stormed the room where the governors had been meeting. We followed along. When the governor spotted me he called me over and I walked into the spotlight in front of all the cameras. At this point the governor introduced me to someone dressed in white? We shook hands as he told the man that I had visited 93 countries. The man looked less impressed. Then the governor said: "Without flying". The man continued to look completely uninterested as the cameras rolled and flashes blitzed away. We were still shaking hands in one of the longest handshakes I have ever encountered. The governor tried again by saying that I was Red Cross!! The man in white looked sleepy...now the governor said: "He is going to every country in the world". This seemed to interest the man in white a little bit as his eyes opened wider. But seconds later the handshake was over...everyone turned around...the last of the governors which hadn't left earlier now left...and the press followed.
As the media went wild...
The rest of us just stood there looking at each other? What the heck was that?!?
10 minutes later all the governors had left with their bodyguards and secretaries and liaison officers - and the members of the press attacked the buffet. And so did we...
Nigerian history probably started 11,000 years ago. But we know almost nothing of these people. We don't know who they were but archeologist have proof of early civilizations. We do however know of the Nok empire which ruled from around 500 BC and for around 700 years. Empire after empire and kingdom after kingdom...Nigeria is rich in culture, history, traditions, languages, diversity and so much more. But military juntas have neglected the development throughout decades and with recent democracy at hand everyone is now looking towards the government and hoping that "this is the one".
These 2 beauties are celebrity actors in Nigeria. On my left: Hadiza Ali Gabon. On my right: Khadija Mustapha. Hadiza has 75,000 followers on Instagram - just to put things into perspective :)
I believe that Nigeria has all the building blocks and that they have been delivered. But they have not been put together yet. And with a population of around 200 million people Nigeria could just some day find itself growing rapidly into prime development. But those blocks need to be out together in the right order...and that's the tricky part.
A vision and possible future of a new part of Abuja as it constantly expands (Nigerians capital).
Thank you Nigeria. Thank you for everything. I have now received my visas for Cameroon and Chad and that will have to do. And I will now be looking toward my next country which is Cameroon. From there I will apply for entry to the Central African Republic.
Did you know that Nigeria most likely has the worlds highest diversity within butterflies? Neither did I :)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - in a world full of people.
Once Upon A Saga.