Our Man In Lagos: First Impressions

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Nothing prepares you for the sights, scents and sounds of Lagos. Not their High Commission here in Kenya, on Lenana Road. A solitary bungalow that speaks less of their famed gravitation to opulence. Not the lady at the Visa counter who is like lukewarm tea. You don’t like lukewarm tea but you’ll sip it anyway – it’s nothing close to old tea.

What will get you close though is reading through an entire collection of Chimamanda’s books. It does give you an idea- it gives you a soothing familiarity to the place. From her words you can almost taste the food, and feel the heat stick to your skin. Something about books and the magic of words.

The beauty of it though is that getting a Visa to Nigeria is pretty easy. It’s an online process with acres of forms to fill and an online payment platform. Here’s the gist though – for some reason they might reject your debit/credit card and you cannot use it again because the system is set up to only accept one use. A hack around this is to use a prepaid card. It worked for me. Appointment days are STRICTLY Wednesday’s and Friday’s between 10 AM – 2 PM. With all your documents in order – you will not have much of a hassle. I got mine in 2 days.

The flights were pretty much boring. Other than the odd beer served that saves the day everything else was pretty much bland. The entertainment sucked with limited music selection and movies from the previous decade. But no one really flies for the entertainment but if you insist on it – download a couple of Netflix originals and pack your headphones.

At Kigali – where I had a layover they do not have a public smoking zone. If you want to catch a gaf as you wait you will need to enter their premium lounge – reserved for the lucky bastards in business class or any other ordinary chap with a loose $30 lying around.

Lagos, does not wait to lull you in it simply slaps you in the face. All or nothing. You’ll swat a few hands off your bag right before you fall into the middle of a swarm of ladies, dressed in black raising money for children.

Now, landing in Lagos is something else. Coming from an air conditioned cabin nothing prepares you for the heat. The air is heavy with humidity and the hot air fills your lungs with every breath. You know how every place has a smell? Something unique to it? Lagos has a unique smell. Either it is the oil they use on their skins or the detergent but there’s something oddly strange about it. That scent lingers on from when you enter the city to when you leave. It is on the walls of the offices, the carpets in your room – it is everywhere. But at some point- it disappears or you get used to it. You only notice it once you land back in Nairobi and realize that city assimilated you into one of its own and baptized you in its scent.

At the airport things are not as crazy as you’d think. There’s some sort of order. But it’s like everyone has been conditioned to speak in a loud voice. From the guard to the check in attendant – they all shout. Their voices compete over each other and information can easily slip through your fingers as you try and figure out where to go next. Also, these guys have an intimate relationship with dollars.

At any one point a random person serving you or checking your bags will insinuate that you leave “a little something” for them. Not that they will make your life difficult, they can, but it is in how they ask for it. It is in the same breathe as anyone would as you for a packet of chewing gum. They don’t change their tone. They keep smiling and insist until you part with a note or two. Having loose change at their airport is a necessity.

Now outside the airport everything is a mess. You walk out with your bags and first get accosted by bullish guys, in their agbadas offering to carry your bags, offer transport and some will wave libraries of ash in your face offering foreign exchange.

Lagos, does not wait to lull you in it simply slaps you in the face. All or nothing. You’ll swat a few hands off your bag right before you fall into the middle of a swarm of ladies, dressed in black raising money for children.

These ladies don’t seem to have rejection in their vocabulary, they will coax you and accept any currency you have because “no money is small money”.

To be continued on Monday 16. 

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