Nigeria Memories: My First Visit by Brian Botts
I just can’t stop writing about Nigeria. It’s because I miss it. I haven’t been back in a while and I’m looking forward to 2015 when I go back. I find it therapeutic writing about my experiences and opinions from all the trips I made to the great Country of Nigeria.
I’m going to be writing several articles on a theme called “Nigeria Memories”. And today we will start with my first visit to Naija. How could I forget?
This took place several years ago. I had taken a job with an International Company and West Africa was a region we identified as a great place for our products and services. We planned on Nigeria being the first Country to go into. Being married to a Nigerian made me even more curious about going.
For 6 months we planned our strategy and now it was time to execute it. A week leading up to going I was so nervous. I had it set up so that I would stay with my In Laws for this first visit. They live by the Gowon Market in Egbeda. I got all of my vaccinations and then my visa. I was ready to go!. This first trip would be for 7 days. I would use this trip to just survey and see things with my own eyes.
The Airport: Departure
Going to the airport my mind was racing. I was nervous and excited but also thinking constantly making sure I haven’t forgotten anything. I was dropped off at BWI in Baltimore. I was going to catch a British Airways flight to London for a 2 hour stop over and then head to Nigeria. I hate flying, always have and this two legged journey is a long one. Getting on the plane went smoothly except I hated my seat. I’m 6 foot 4 inches tall and I was in economy seating for this trip. The flight was packed so there were no other seats open. I remember watching movies to pass the time but unfortunately couldn’t hear what anyone was saying in the movie because the headsets were cheap and the volume wouldn’t go any higher than what it was. We landed at Heathrow and I ate some breakfast and got ready to board for the flight to Nigeria. My nervousness and excitement came back.
Getting on this plane was much more difficult. This flight was obviously packed with Nigerians either going back home from a vacation, a business trip or was living in London and was visiting back home. I couldn’t get to my seat. It took forever it seemed like. These lovely Nigerians were coming on with massive luggage and trying to find spots in the overhead storage to stuff their bags in. And some of these bags would just not fit but they tried and tried and kept trying to fit them in. So it took some time to finally get to my seat.
The flight went well. I met some great people on the way. We enjoyed talking about my mixed marriage to a Nigerian and all of those things. Finally we landed in Lagos. I remember staring out the window looking down on Lagos as we were approaching the runway. I remember thinking to myself “I’m in Nigeria! I can’t believe it!”. And then I remember thinking to myself, “Oh crap! I’m in Nigeria! I hope Mommy and Daddy are here to pick me up, otherwise I don’t know what to do!”
The Airport: The Arrival
It was such a long walk from getting off the plane to the customs area. The customs guy checked my vaccination record before I went down the escalator that wasn’t working. The first thing I noticed was how hot it was. The A/C wasn’t on and only a couple of the portable A/C units were on. I was sweating tremendously but I prepared for this. I had a dry wash clothe with me.
The line to walk through customs took a while but was better than what I expected. Many of my Nigerian friends and family in the States did a good job of preparing me on what to expect. But I was surprised. I got through the line in about 15 minutes. Right as I was walking down the stairs to the luggage area, the power went out. It stayed out for about 30 minutes. It came back on and the luggage cycle started to work. As the luggage was being sent through it, the power went out again. This time for another 30 minutes. I wasn’t mad about it but I was worried that Mommy and Daddy would think I didn’t arrive. Finally the power came back on and my luggage arrived.
There was a customs guy checking the luggage. When I got to him, he asked me to open my suitcase. He looked in there and said, “Is any of this for me?”. I told him “Sorry my friend, I need this stuff, but this right here is for you.” So I handed him a $20 bill. He smiled and let me go through.
As soon as I got through the door, I was overwhelmed. There were so many people standing outside. It seemed like everyone coming up to me asked me if want a taxi. I realized at that moment, that this is in fact Nigeria. And these are all Nigerians. And that means these are all black people. How in the world will I find my In Laws? In America, it’s easier to find someone in a crowd because there are so many different races. But at this moment, it’s dark outside and there are hundreds of Nigerians in front of me. But then all of a sudden, I heard Mommy call my name and there she was walking up to me rather quickly. I yelled out “Mommy! Daddy! I made it!”. At this moment, I forgot that I was a White Dude. And I looked around and people were looking at us rather curiously. It was quite funny thinking back on it.
The Ride to Egbeda:
When we finally made it out of the airport, I was surprised to see little traffic. I was warned about the notorious traffic of Lagos. But heading towards Egbeda for a while went real smooth. I remember looking around and just letting the images sink in my brain. But then we arrived in Cement. Let me tell you, from the time we hit Cement Bus Stop until we arrived at the house took at least 2 hours. I was absolutely amazed seeing all the yellow buses.
I remember asking my Father In Law if the buses actually go anywhere because it seemed as though they stopped every 10 feet to pick someone up. And I asked how many people can possibly fit in those little buses. There were so many people walking around especially when we were in Gowon Estate. The noise was unbelievable. All I heard was “beep, beep, beep, beep, beep” and the sound of generators roaring. Then there was loud music with many people gathering around watching a Soccer match in the market. It was really awesome to see so much life.
We finally made it to the house. I got to see how my In Laws lived. I stayed in my Wife’s old bedroom. I thought to myself how cool it was that I was in Nigeria seeing where my wife grew up and lived and she’s not even here with me and I’m staying in her bedroom on her bed.
The company I worked for arranged a car and driver for me. I still remember his name. Tokunbo “Toks” picked me up first thing the next morning. He was such a great guy. He was actually my first tutor on Nigerian culture and tour guide of Lagos. He told me what not to do and advised me on what to say in certain situations. I took it all in. But I also knew that as helpful as he was, I would let my experiences in time dictate what I should do and what I should say. During the week I toured the mainland and island. I ate at many great restaurants. This is when I first got introduced to street vendors. I absolutely loved it. Anything I needed was walking in between cars in traffic.
During this trip I learned that in Nigeria everything is negotiable, even a Soda. I learned that when you ask how much something costs and they tell you, the first thing you should do is act disgusted and insulted at the price they gave you. “The soda is 200 naira? Aghhh, no way. I’ll give you 100, but nothing more.”
Most importantly for me, I got to meet my Wife’s extended family. It seemed that every night when I got home there was 4 or 5 people waiting for me to meet me. I love Nigerian food. And so when Mommy made me Efo with Pounded Yam, a lot of times these extended family members would watch me eat with amazement. I don’t use forks with this dish. I use my hands like you’re supposed to. My wife taught me well. So these family members couldn’t believe it. Have you ever tried to eat with people staring at you? It’s pretty difficult. At first I thought maybe there something on my face but then Daddy told me they were just happy seeing me eat with enjoyment of their food.
I would call my Wife at night and tell her all the family I met and she was sad that she wasn’t there with me. I told her that she was there with me. Everywhere I looked in that house, I saw her.
I’ll never forget that first week in Nigeria. Over the next several years I went back and forth to Nigeria so many times. I stayed in many different places. It became second nature to me. So I can never forget this first experience.
You can’t live in the past. But you should remember your past because that is where you will find how you were and what led you to be what you became.
I can’t wait to go back to my home away from home. I miss my friends and family over there. I also look forward to meeting so many new people that I have hooked up with over LinkedIn. I will be great to meet you and build a friendship.
2015 is coming. Change is around the corner. The next stage in Nigeria’s growth is approaching.
I’m grateful for this forum because it allows me to talk about such great memories and the wealth of experience I have gained.
God Bless Nigeria!!!
Article written by Brian Botts