Sunday, June 5, 2011

First Impressions of Nigeria

I already had written this email at the end of my first evening in Nigeria, only to have the internet crash on me and never get this computer back online until I got to the Newark airport again ... whereupon the post I wrote was lost. So I'll try this again.

I flew out to Nigeria Thur-Fri to visit the American University of Nigeria so I could scope out the area and the job they had offered me. There are only so many flights between the capital, Abuja, and Yola so I got to wait overnight. This is what I saw as I stepped out of the airport.

My very first impression looking out the airplane window was confusion. Abuja is the capital, right? So where is the city? I saw red dirt, patches of green grass, some trees California would be proud of, and shrubs. Where is the city? Finally we flew over some blue-roofed houses with brown dirt roads, but it was just a collection of buildings, not a city. Where was the city??

Turns out, I guessed right: the airport is 45 km away from the capital. While I waited for my ride, several taxi drivers offered their help, one of them offering to let me use his phone to call my ride for ~70 cents. A friendly guard let me call for free and I was soon picked up by AUN staff. They were trying to help two other people also heading for Yola, but the 4:30 flight got canceled. So they waited around to see if they were going to create an 8:30 flight, but that idea also got canceled at 7:30. So we three hung around the airport and at a nearby restaurant for three hours before we all gave up and went to the Top View Hotel.

Mentioning the Top View to AUN-affiliates produces very interesting reactions, mostly along the lines of "oh yes, I tried the haggis once. That was memorable." I'm not entirely sure why. Okay, so the bathroom faucets popped off in my hand. They popped right back on again! Okay, so the bathroom comes with its own water heater for the shower. So did every other AUN tub/shower I saw. And the size of room is at least twice as large as anything Europe has offered me on a work trip, plus a wide screen TV.

The more memorable thing is that Nigerian beds surprise Westerners. The pillows are not made of rocks. They might be made out of softened wood. That means I pretty much loved them (good, firm pillows!) The beds are also pretty firm. Supposed to be good for you, right?

The internet worked, the food was good and ample (see my last post), and I got an amazing 10 hours of sleep after my sleepless flying.

Traffic on the interstate connecting airport and city was ample. In addition to the massive traffic going to the airport, there were pedestrians all over, enough that in one place they had set up an impromptu marketplace: postcards and pictures, shirts, one stand consisted of a large umbrella with brassieres hanging from it, people selling food.... The interstate was in fine shape, though there's also a lot of roadwork being done so there were a lot of road splits and mergings. There are far more motorcycles on the road, not all of them use their lights, and they drive about like our motorcyclists do which is to say you really need to watch out for them. The main driving difference I observed was that the dashed white lines that separate lanes are regarded more as suggestions than laws, there are no posted speed limits, the use of turn signals is nil, and stopping for police can be optional. In other words, it felt safer than driving in New York City. The roads themselves, in Abuja and Yola, were in far better condition than I had been led to expect, with only one major pothole on the main road. Non-main roads are another story.

 -- Derrill