Thursday, August 23, 2012

Coming Home to Nigeria

What makes us feel like we're coming home?
When we went down for breakfast at the hotel in Abuja on our way to Yola, we found our former-neighbors there, who are some of our best friends here. Several other friends flew in with us on the same plane. A student recognized me and greeted me happily. Our compound's guards laughed and rejoiced to see us return. Friendly faces make for nice homecomings.

Prince excitedly cried, "I'm going to go see my room!" He crowed, "Look at all these great toys!" Then he grabbed up ... "Yoshi! Oh Yoshi, I missed you so much!" He spent the next minute talking to a plush ridable dragon.

Princess, who was not allowed on the floor until the cockroaches were swept up, explored the house for the first time on her own two feet and also found her room and the wonderful toys therein.

What was Joy delighted to see? "I can find my can opener! That means I'm home."

My delight, of course, was finding my work computer and being able to sit down at my own computer for the first time in three months (story in a coming post). The other electronics are still at an office on campus, so it's just a question of how long I can be kept from heading over there before I have the rest of them again.

What makes us feel like we're coming home ... to Nigeria?
Having the electricity shut off at the hotel and seeing all the faculty/staff present say, "Welcome back to Nigeria!" as they take a deep breath of air -- some of them like they're getting ready to dive in, others as if they were smelling mother's cooking.


Joy rejoiced at how clean our home was. I reminded her about the cockroaches on the floor. "Well, yes, but it's really very clean ... aside from the cockroaches." I swept up a full cup of them plus two grasshoppers.

I realized at some point that my inspection of the house when I came in was to see 1) how many lights broke while we were gone; 2) what else needs fixing; and 3) if was anything stolen. I never acted that way in Ithaca.

Coming home to Nigeria also means reshifting expectations:

Attitudes: On the long flight from Houston to Lagos, a woman sitting near us looked back every single time either child made even the slightest noise. Since I was between the two kids trying to keep both of them entertained and Princess was screaming a good deal, I was already fairly annoyed. At one point I snapped at her that glaring back at us every time they made a sound was not going to help them quiet down. I later regretted that comment, as I finally saw that her looks were appreciative and happy. I forgot how much Nigerians love children.

Money: In the Lagos airport, you have to transfer from the international airport to the domestic airport. The way to get your stuff there means paying porters to haul it to a pair of taxi cabs and then more porters. As we were about to load taxis, some guys who had been following with us asked for money for moving the bags. I started to do so at the standard rate, when I realized these guys hadn't helped move anything. I accused them of not doing anything but follow us. One of them didn't give back the money I had handed him and even slunk off after. So after they had done some work (which they took pains to point out to me - See, sir, we're working!) I told one of them that his friend who had done no work had taken his money, and he needed to get it back from him. Unfair maybe, but it hopefully is a small drop in creating better self-policing groups. Even the planeside guys asked me for more money to actually put my bags on the plane. They didn't ask everyone, but I was hit up. Thankfully, I had kept most of my money elsewhere and could honestly show that my pockets had been emptied by the various porters, the transport company, and the baggage fees.

Time: We sat around on the Abuja airport terminal floor for more than two hours waiting for the AUN manager to get our tickets. At one point, a friendly official came over to ask if we had tickets and expressed his worry at seeing us "squatting like refugees" in front of the security desk. I asked if he would feel better if we were standing instead of sitting. Turns out he has a masters in political economy.

Things Fall Apart: We landed in Yola to discover that the three buses had picked up the students on the plane and left without the faculty and staff. They even waved to one of the (obviously foreign) staff on their way out. I called the woman in charge of transport and housing and the drivers were sent back ... after dropping off their cargo. So that was an hour wait. We got home and discovered that our key would not open our front door ... again. This was the 5th time or so that the lock had slipped down. I called the woman again (I hate to be a complainer, but I really do need to get into my house) and she dispatched a carpenter who had no more luck than I did until he took out a hammer and banged on the lock until the key turned readily. He happily claims the problem is solved. I expressed my doubt that it would last for more than a month, but thanked him profusely for coming out in the evening just the same. Joy and the kids had meanwhile gone to our former-neighbor's house for bathrooms.

Food: It was 7pm before we were inside and could start rummaging around for dinner. We hadn't eaten since the 10am breakfast. We had gotten rid of (nearly) everything in the fridge and freezer before we left, so they were no help. At first, I found: Indomie (Nigerian ramen), jam, pasta and rice, a canned red sauce, popcorn, and peanut butter. We eventually made a meal out of corned beef, crackers, canned pears, Hob Nobs, and expired fruit juice. There will be oatmeal for breakfast.