Tag: lagos

Baba’s Last Journey: Part 1, Lagos to Osogbo

I am travelling once again to Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria, with Toyin. We are attending the funeral of her father, Gabriel Oladosu Lawoyin, who passed peacefully away in March of this year, with some members of his family at his bedside. He would have been an incredible 112 years of age in May. The three week trip was quite the experience, recalled here in this series of posts.

Lagos to Osogbo

I can never resist looking down at the scenery below on daytime flights, and here we are over the small fields and woods of France, crossing to the island of Palma, then on across Algeria almost due South. Flying over Algeria seemed to take at least half of the six hour flight time. What’s it like down there amongst the sun baked rocks, my boyish imagination asks.

Lagos, 5pm. The thickly humid and warm air of West Africa hits me, a cocktail of diesel and kerosene, and something else uniquely African which still defies description. Nigerians returning home will know what I mean, it’s immediately exciting. We disembark and begin the long stroll, eyes on you at all times. Men and women sit or stand around casually, some buried in their smartphones with only their lanyard badges identifying them as staff of some sort. There is an air of nonchalance, with many more staff than would seem necessary for efficiency. There was a little impasse for a minute or two when I was asked by the pair of female immigration officers to present a yellow fever certificate, which I didn’t have. I’m sure they would have settled for dash, but we explained the reason for our trip was to attend a funeral, which drew their sympathy. The uniformed officer standing behind them had the shiniest black shoes I’ve ever seen, and in relief I told him so. He immediately broke into a broad grin “Do you like them?” Smiles all round, and we are on our way.

After the usual scrum to have your luggage numbers checked by another phalanx of uniformed men and women (I can imagine the confusion that would occur if they didn’t match) you look to see who is waiting for you, so you can make a b-line for them and brush aside the hands reaching for your luggage and leave the chaos behind you!

In our case Bosun was there to greet us. I already knew his younger brother Yomi, and Bosun is jovial and witty in a similar way. Both instantly likeable, they can be difficult to tell apart, apparently something to do with the spectacles and shape of the head –  their words, not mine. Both men have a dry sense of humour and are quick to see the comedy in any given situation. There are two other brothers I’ve yet to meet, and all four have excelled in their respective careers; academia, aviation, oil and medicine.

We lined up outside the terminal waiting for our driver to come around. More uniformed women made the process of passenger pick-up as smooth as it could be, and eventually we were loaded and on our way, through the Lagos traffic and southbound onto the Third Mainland Bridge, past the waterside communities of Makoko below us and on to Lekki peninsula. Turning off on the 7th expressway roundabout where Chevron have their large and very secure looking compound, we approach the first of several checkpoints in the impressive Northern Foreshore gated community. If they don’t know you, you don’t pass without checks, which may have to be an actual phone call to the house you’re visiting – very reassuring for residents and visitors alike. But it could feel like a prison if you’re not used to such high security. No-one complains. The benefits are obvious.

On arriving at the air conditioned cool of their splendid newly built and spacious house, Bosun’s wife Funmi offers us chilled bottled water, and we’re delighted to hear some chicken and jollof rice is nearly ready to serve! Funmi works for a German firm, and is fluent in the language, and also speaks a little French. She has an easy laugh and a big smile, and long extensions and braided hair and blue jeans is her trademark look.

Before the very welcome supper, there is time to stroll down to the water’s edge to admire the view across the lagoon. Bosun explains that land reclamation and housebuilding is ongoing, which will eventually alter the view, but for now it is peaceful and still. Across the lagoon, at the far end of the Third Mainland Bridge causeway, an illuminated and animated billboard flashes its message brightly in the blue-grey darkening atmosphere. It looks like a rogue pixel on a cinema screen, and is kilometres away, but when we travel back to the airport at the end of our trip, we see that it is gigantic. The sun turns the sky a coral red near the horizon, and right on cue, a fisherman punts across the water. He stares at me and doesn’t respond to my wave. I have no camera, but Bosun has his smartphone, so we manage to capture a pretty good image of this timeless scene.

lagos_lagoon
A fisherman paddles past as I stand on the grey sandy shore

Back at the house, I see a collection of health supplements and ingredients on the kitchen table; organic cider vinegar, turmeric, coconut oil, black cumin oil etc. Something we have in common is researching the best nature can provide in enhancing your diet to stay healthy in a toxic world. For me, as a cancer survivor, it’s an important part of my daily routine. Turns out we use a lot of the same stuff, ‘you are what you eat’ has never been more true.

Bosun also has a huge collection of books on purpose built shelving both upstairs and down. Even on the stairs. It’s really a library. A quick glance at a few spines tells me most all of them are about how to do things; aquaponics, organic farming, fixing landrovers, financial management. Some are political, some historical. All are valued. I purposefully don’t ask the obvious – if he’s read them all – as we share some malt whisky. It’s been a long day.

Before we leave for Osogbo the following morning, there is time for a little birding. A group of ladies stroll purposefully by in their trainers, exercising ‘round the block’ almost power walking, and greetings are exchanged. At the water’s edge, the sun is already hot, and the shallow clear water laps quietly up onto the grey sand. Dozens of hermit crabs stroll this way and that in the shallows, and one or two small mudskipper fish hop about out of the water. A short distance out, some poles are standing upright out of the water. Two pied kingfishers occupy one each, while a third flies by and hovers briefly, looks down but does not dive. Off to my left the green reeds are easily over ten feet tall, and beyond them on the power lines sit a pair of little bee-eaters, their sharp black bills and yellow, black bordered throats just visible against the light. By the house on an empty plot, lush with grass and pools of water, a black heron hunts by shielding the water with its wings. I first saw this on a David Attenborough documentary years ago, and now here we are, exotic birds with unique behaviour strutting around amongst the plastic in new Lagos suburbia. Sharing the square space was a pair of white-faced whistling ducks and a noisy spur-winged plover. One of the things I like most about travelling here, is that my own notion of the exotic can often turn out to be commonplace, and wildlife is altogether tamer than at home. Makes the world smaller.

view to the lagoon

To Lagos and beyond

The first business of the day is to buy air tickets for our flight to Lagos. Once reserved over the phone, we buy the tickets at the bank using cash. At the ATM, the N60k needed plus another N20k for later gives me a fat wallet which I give up trying to close, it’s only a short walk after all. The revolving door ‘capsules’ are supervised by an attentive security guard in paramilitary style uniform, and I can’t help thinking if they also serve to keep the sand outside. Inside the bank there are a dozen or so men standing and sitting waiting for
this or that.

Most staff are dressed western style and very smartly, with many busy conversations ongoing at once, unlike a western bank which in contrast seems to be a place of orderly silence. Although there are computers, things written on paper are still an important part of proceedings here. We are ushered through to a back room where we will hand over our cash. There are piles of paper files, counterfoils and banknote wraps strewn here and there and our money is counted by an old but very serviceable counting machine. We pass back through the tiny revolving capsules and back out into the blazing sun.banknote-wraps-sm1

Friday August 7th. Today we are leaving for Lagos, our flight stopping over briefly in Abuja. We have already met Babangida, a handsome and tall quiet man smartly dressed Hausa style, who has offered to take us to the airport as his wife Amal and young son Muhammed are also on the same flight. We leave on time in his new silver Toyota pick up and head off to the Sir Ahmadu Bello International, where ours is the only flight leaving today. There are many hands to make light work of helping you through the check-in process. They seem to be sharing one pen. The double height hall is light and modern with polished flooring reflecting the officials looking on from a balcony.

The check-in instructions are hand written on a large yellow card taped to the side of the desk, and I assume they haven’t finished implementing the signage program. As usual there are men wearing combinations of paramilitary uniforms with epilettes, berets and desert boots, and nearly everyone else, whether staff or passenger, is dressed in native style. Even me. I’m wearing a new smock style kaftan and matching trousers (one size fits all) in subtley patterned lavender grey waxed cotton with intricate embroidery around the neck and collar, finished off with my black velvet fila hat and suede loafers. I opted for this garb instead of western clothing as it’s going to be a long hot day. I was right. Through the security checks and sat in the empty departure lounge, I see the agama lizards outside casually owning the rock landscaping that line the path to the concrete apron. The plane will be a while yet. I don’t think the lizards are at all bothered.

We duly arrived in Abuja, but our plane was then diverted to Calabar (with our luggage still on board) to bring stranded passengers back to the capital, as the sister aircraft had mechanical problems. This made our one hour stop-over more like five hours. Amal decided it might be best to pray while we waited, and left Muhammed and her luggage with us. After an hour she hadn’t returned, and I began getting a little anxious. We decided to go on up to the domestic departures lounge anyway, as she would presumably just follow on in her own good time. The young security guard at baggage check signalled me over, and as I began to raise my arms for the inevitable frisk down, he said “No, no… I like your attire”  “Oh, right..” I said in relief, as I had fully expected “Have you packed this bag yourself sir?” which of course I hadn’t, and might have been slightly awkward to say the least.
airport-passengers-e1446751122597

Several people commented on my garb, and curiously they all said exactly the same words as the security guy. I even posed for photos once. When we finally discovered our plane was boarding (it wasn’t at all obvious, a flaw that needs sorting out, airport management please note..), much fuss was created on the tarmac while we identified our luggage. The trick is to physically point at it and make sure the staff notice you, stating your destination at the same time. For the paranoid, watching them actually take it across to the luggage doors on the aircraft is a useful extra measure. If not shepherded in this way it will not be stowed, the assumption being it’s destined for another plane altogether, and could then be as good as lost.

One of Amal’s bags was coming apart, it was a large carrier bag with handles, the type issued by superstores, and taped up. There were fresh moringa leaves spilling, holding up the flight a further ten minutes while tape was sent for. Eventually the bag was repaired to the satisfaction of the staff and we were on our way. Forty-five minutes later and as dusk approached, we landed at the cosmopolitan sprawl that is Lagos, now dubbed the Dubai of Africa. Outside, moths fly around the bright lights and in the noticeably humid night air a small scrum of boys are more than willing to help you with your luggage (if you let go of it, someone will literally take it from you and head on to the taxi rank, such is the urgency to earn some dash). Arrangements had been made for us to be collected and driven to our accommodation for the night with Rita, a relative, and we said goodbye to Amal and her son as her father-in-law loaded the trunk of his car with her moringa leaves. Tomorrow we will return to Osogbo but first, starving as I am, I will have to negotiate some Egusi soup.