Monday, 15 March 2010

Once upon a time in Lagos

My first trip to Nigeria was two years ago to the day. I was full of anticipation, yearning to finally experience a nation I had heard a lot of. I flew into Lagos on Virgin Nigeria from Accra and most of the passengers were Ghanaian and very chatty. On finding out that this was my first trip to Nigeria, they had all sort of advice and warning. “Be careful my son”, a beautiful old Lady I sat next to said to me in her  Ghanaian accent, “thaz people, ummmm”. I nodded my head like any obedient son would; simultaneously clutching the wad of cash in my back pocket and the thickness confirmed it was still all there. I had read and heard about the animosity between the two nations dating back to the 70’s when Ghanaians were thrown out of Nigeria but I was not about to contradict an old granny. She asked where I was from and when I obliged her, her face lit up. Oh my son, she said “I have fond memories in the 60’s of dating one fine young man from your parts.” Her eponymous sweetheart was the best gentleman she had ever met. She went on for the next 20 minutes or so until she exclaimed “funny how he later turned to be such a rogue”. This time it was my eyes that lit up, and I was full attention. “Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Lagos ” the announcement went, “ oh NO, not now” I whispered in a hiss to myself, the story was just getting interesting.

My host a close friend, a Zambian I went to business school with, traded Chicago for Lagos. “Bhudhi”- my brother, she asked from Chicago “do you think I should take the job?  I was on the other side of the world and of course on a different time zone. She had awaken me from a deep  sleep and I had been listening all along to her rant but frankly her call was not welcomed, I wanted to go back to Naomi and Heidi who were about to agree on something I had kindly requested. “ Yes, yes, yes go for it- if the money is good then go for it.” I hang up and quickly tried to get myself to sleep again- hoping Naomi and Heidi would be waiting. I found no such luck.
And so my trip to Lagos was to see how well my friend had settled after a year and if indeed providence had been kind. She had been brave, I thought to myself. One of her drivers was waiting for me- yes dear reader one of her drivers was waiting for me. He was a well suited rotund fellow and quickly identified me- “SAR” he beckoned, I am here to pick you up complements of madam”. Who is your madam I inquired. He then confirmed his madam by calling her after which I allowed him to carry my luggage.  First time in Lagos SAR? Yes, yes I answered with heightened anticipation, my eyes wide opened as I surveyed all around me. Well “you are very welcome, SAR” he continued, before going into a tirade about how Nigeria got its independence and its history. I had read about all that, and it was the least of my curiosity- “ are those hookers” I broke his tirade, and at the exact moment he made a  quick look over his shoulders  from which I observed the big man smile, and he let out a giggle. YES SAR, his voice changed, now much louder with heightened excitement he spoke effusively about Nigerian women, their enthralling charm that will ensnare even the most devout Muslim after Ramadan. Their immutable charm I found out was not in looks and grace but traditional muti (herbs) and if I sampled one of them I would surely leave my job and settle in Nigeria. I smiled and thought “yes maybe Lagos would finally nail me down”.

Before long we were meandering in Victoria Island.  I was to find out that the trip was shorter than usual because it was one am in the morning. I met my friend, we chatted and before long I was sleeping in the guest bedroom that could easily be the size of my apartment. My friend was living very well indeed.
The Friday morning my friend left for work and told me to get all the rest I needed because that night was going to be a hectic night around Lagos. I found better ways to spend my time… I perused her library and found a couple of books I would read.

Friday night, my friend called a couple of her friends for cocktails at her place. The swanky bankers came. The conversation oscillated around money, travelling ( by the way travelling meant one had been to either New York or London- I overheard someone retort “ frankly if you have been to NY and London, then you can die knowing you have been everywhere”). They also talked about the deals they were working on- and the numbers were mind blowing and made me think about what the heck I was doing with my life. Outside of their jobs every one of them had a side project and it all seemed to be going on well. I must say I felt out of place for a couple of reasons, firstly I did not come from a well known family nor was my family into politics. Secondly I did not have a million dollars in my account. Thirdly I neither drunk nor smoked, this they looked at with derision amidst a puff in the air of Cuban cigar and a sip of Scotland’s’ finest whiskey.
In Lagos, a night out typically involves dropping by 4 or more places. Literally dropping by. The first place we went to was a club owned by Jay Jay Okocha, of the foot-balling fame. There was hive of activity and a long queue of waiting patrons. We did not join the queue but went in through the back entrance. As soon as I went in, I was hit in the face by the sheer glitz and glam in the place. Everyone was dressed to boot and most guys were puffing on cigars and sipping whiskey. I would later find out that Victoria Island is the only place on earth where fake apparel sells for more than the original and nobody complains. The music was loud and the DJ’s taste obnoxious. Certainly not obnoxious enough to kill my curiosity, I wandered off on my own, since my host had met a colleague from work. The most fascinating thing about this particular club was the way guys would literally circle a girl or two, and the girl or two would do the most Beyonce envy booty hoop ever. I tried to ignore, but it was too much, I gave in. And right there in front of me was the most synchronised scandalous live performance I had ever seen. Was this the charm the driver was talking about? I wondered? Before long my friend came to pick me up and off we went to the next club.

I forget the name of the next place but it’s next to the Yacht Club of Victoria Island. This was a much classier club with much older patrons. The highlight with this club as I suppose every club we went to is the club bouncer. Ladies and Gentlemen in Lagos the bouncer is never to be messed with, he carries on his person an AK47. He brandishes this apparatus like it’s a baton stick, and who dare argue with him? I am not an outgoing individual and night life in general tires me quickly so the third and forth clubs more than anything took a toll on me.
After a splendid night around Victoria Island I was ready to go back home and sleep, before the early morning tour of inland Lagos. When we got to my friend’s complex, around 4am, in the fog of early morning dew my heavy eyes were awoken by the sudden screeching tyres as the car stopped and a heavy knock on the car window made me notice the flurry of activity outside. We looked at each other in wonder, what could possibly be the problem? Madam, Madam, an exasperated guard at the complex shouted towards my friend whilst profusely and unconsciously knocking on the car window. “Abomination, abomination madam”, the guard continued to shout. (I kid you not- he used the word abomination- I later found out he had two masters degrees in engineering and accounting). We then found out that the complex had just been robbed by a militia- yes dear reader MILITIA. 
 The smell of gun fire was still in the air, bullets everywhere and the gate was crushed down. We quickly ran to her house and yes they had broken in and took jewellery, laptops and money. This particular militia had expensive tastes. I ran to my room, my clothes were all there but my man bag was missing.  “I can’t see my passport?” Where is my passport- ah it was in my bag along with my cash. I was not worried about the money, laptop and watch, it was my passport I was worried about. Whilst in Accra, I had been warned of travelling with my cards to Lagos, so my cards, apartment keys and a couple of valuable items were locked away in a hotel in Accra. But i had to carry my passport. We ransacked my room looking for my passport- it was not to be found! Now I was in a predicament. I own an exotic passport, with as many visas as there are countries in the world. Secondly, I did not live in my home country, and at the time had been away from my permanent residence country and on a temporary visa in Ghana. What to do?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Durban with LOVE!

Durban is a lady of sort, whose enamouring charm you acknowledge only when you lie on her bed and she chains you with her arms and legs an embrace you hold onto, long after the fateful night. I still think of you Durban! (If ever you are in Durban be sure to visit the Mangwanani spa at Sibaya)

Seychelles and Mauritius :

I know a lot of people are holiday planning for the year, and I would like to bring to your attention one of the best holiday resorts. It’s hard to decide which one is better Seychelles or Mauritius, the best is both. Plan a joint escapade into a whirlwind of richer and fuller memories and none but your banker will complain. Coco der mer in Seychelles and Le Victoria in Mauritius for the quintessential holiday making on Islands.  Anticipate impeccable service, plenty of sun, sumptuous food (barbeque on desolate small island enclaves) and interesting creatures adorning the shores.