Only the receptionist and I were at the airport lounge in Abuja that morning. In fact, there was barely anyone else at the entire airport. Although it was about six o’clock in the morning and we were supposed to begin to board the “first-morning flight” to Lagos, I found out at the check-in counter that the flight will be late. As I was drinking coffee and preparing for the upcoming meeting in Lagos, the door of the lounge opened, and instinctively lifting my head, I saw a little child. A child, not even two years old has somehow pushed the door and entered into the lounge.
The event occurred at the beginning of the second year of my life in Nigeria, and I was still not accustomed to all the strange situations that can happen here. I still do not know whose baby it was, but the worker in the lounge helped her get out of there. Even today, I’m still not accustomed to all the “peculiar” happenings in Nigeria. But I got used to constant delays and lateness and so-called “African time”. I can still recall that I was then sitting frustrated and stressed out waiting for a late call for boarding.
The flight was late for more than 4 hours. We finally boarded at about 11 am. Today, I know it could have been worse. On one of my future trips to Lagos, we took off at 7 pm instead of 7 am. Every one hour they would announce the delay of one hour.
Let me clarify something, not all local companies are that way. If you ever get to fly from one Nigerian city to another, be sure to inquire from locals which airline is the best. I do have my favorite airline now, but I would not like to advertise it this way.
So let me go back to the flight. After an hour of peaceful flight, right before landing, a pilot announced that we could not land at the airport immediately. He explained further that we will stay in the air, flying over Lagos for some time, because a “very important” politician (I will not give a name or a position), is about to take off in his private jet, so all activities at the airport are prohibited until further notice. Nobody was comfortable. Various comments could be heard. Nigerians like to joke at the expense of their politicians so that 45 minutes of flying over Lagos was spent in laughing and criticizing Nigerian politics.
ON THE ROAD
A driver and an assistant in my company were waiting for me at the airport. As I was exiting the Terminal, the invasion of the offers of taxis, carts and foreign currency exchange from hundreds of people from all sides overwhelmed me. I was happy when I finally got into the car and started the ride to the meeting that was supposed to start, say, 3 hours before. The driver informed me that “we were lucky” and “there was no traffic” so we should arrive in an hour, hour and a half top. Up to this day, I do not know how I survived the first two years in Nigeria, constantly frustrated by the lateness of people and vehicles. Not to mention stress from the way people drive and behave on the roads. That one still stresses me out though.
If I thought I had seen everything, I then knew I was wrong. Lagos was a special kind of “madness”! As the main industrial and commercial city in Nigeria with oil blocks, the main port, the former capital city, and with its registered 18 million inhabitants… You can only imagine!
The Highway had 4 or 5 lanes, and cars, trucks, vans, buses, motorcyclists, Keke Napep (tricyclists), horses were all sharing it … The people were constantly crossing the Highway (which is still shocking to me, in Abuja as well), and the sellers of different items are everywhere and millions in number!
Halfway through the ride, a minivan stopped in front of us in the middle of the highway. As I watched what was happening, confused, I realized that it had stopped to unload the passengers. The scene that followed I will remember for the rest of my life. About 30 people came out of a van that could have comfortably fit 10 passengers! They kept on coming out and I was in awe! It looked like some kind of illusion, a magic trick! I asked the driver and the assistant what is happening, and how could, for God’s sake, all these people fit inside the van. They laughed and explained that minivan was one of the main modes of public transportation, and once it arrives, people have to get in however they know. Lagosians have to get to their destinations, and because of the unbelievable traffic jams that Lagos is known for, you’re never sure when the next will come around. They also explained that all of these people were sitting in each other’s lap and that there was no magic involved!
The rest of the ride, we somehow managed to avoid a minimum of twenty crashes, and we witnessed two.
Imagine what it looks like when 18 million people live in one place. Lagos is huge and overcrowded. Some of Lagos suburbs are extremely poor. However, the center of the city has skyscrapers, a bunch of nice international hotel chains, shopping malls, thousands of restaurants- Lagos is a real metropolis. At the very center of the city, I felt like I was in London or New York, as all possible races and nations could have been seen walking and driving. Of course, the Nigerians still prevail.
Since I was late for the meeting, they told me that the person I was supposed to see had left the office and would return in two days time. I told the driver to go back to the airport hoping to catch some of the last flights to Abuja. He laughed at me friendly and told me that the traffic is so chaotic at this time that I will not even be able to catch the last flight. It was about three in the afternoon. The last flight was at seven.
I did not want to believe it, but after consulting my boss, I decided to stay in the closest hotel. We drove to the nearest hotel for an hour, although in normal traffic the ride takes a maximum of seven minutes
ONE MONTH IN LAGOS
I was lucky that from the hotel I was staying in I had a direct view of the Lagos Port. Lagos is located on the Atlantic Ocean, in the west of the African continent. I enjoyed every day watching amazing ships with incredible names from different sides of the world entering and exiting the bay, sprinkled with magical sunsets and sunrises.
To make the long story short, the person I was supposed to meet was back in the office seven days later, every day telling me, “I’m coming, I’m coming,” and “I’m on my way, I’ll call you as soon as I get there”. The paper that he was supposed to sign, he then forwarded to another person in a company, who was supposed to return from his trip “tomorrow”. The person returned three days later. That person again sent the document to the third person who was not around, as he was attending some seminars and so on and so on.
I bought the clothes in a nice, cheap boutique (I brought nothing with me). I think I know how to enjoy life in general, so I enjoyed my one-month-unplanned stay in Lagos. Even though I am not accustomed to that many people and that kind of traffic (I like big cities only when they have an underground railway and Lagos does not.), Lagos is definitely a city that has everything and its wide arms are open to receive all sorts of people. Everyone is welcome in Lagos.
Every day I observed the Port, and I was alarmed by the pollution. One of the areas that my company deals with is Environmental protection, so I am kind of obsessed with it. In the area where the port is, the ocean is gray from oil, and the beautiful, white sandy beaches in that part of the city have oil stains! I do not even want to talk about the amount of trash that floats and is piled up on some beaches! Also, many people use boats as transport from one end of the city to another, and this creates even greater pollution in every way.
On the other hand, out of the port area, Lagos has beaches that would make the Caribbean and the Maldives jealous. The wealthy people have incredible yachts that cruise along the coast.
Restaurants, bars, shopping centers – Lagos is a paradise for those who love social life and “to make money”. Of course, just like in all other big cities in the world, you need to be careful in certain neighborhoods. But Lagos as a real metropolis really does not lack anything. For those who like that way of living and do not have a problem with spending 3 hours in traffic, Lagos is definitely the best place to be in Nigeria.
I personally prefer life in Abuja. I like space, wide roads, and a clean city even if there is a smaller choice of restaurants, swimming pools, and shops.
It should also be noted that the Nigerians from Lagos are very proud of being from Lagos (even more than the citizens of Belgrade). There are many songs about Lagos, Lagos men, Lagos girls… They proudly say and sing “I am from Lagos”. Even more proud than when Americans say, “I am from New York.”
As I rode on a big highway to catch a flight back to Abuja a month later, I was watching the driver skillfully avoiding hundreds of accidents and somehow managing not to hit people crossing the highway bravely, passengers exiting vehicles in the middle of the road and street vendors. I watched millions of people rushing somewhere, selling a variety of things along the road or waiting for buses. I looked at the huts by the water and hundreds of boats that transported millions of people daily from one side of the bay to another. I saw the ships from all the sides of the world parked at the port…
There was something special in Lagos, something different. There is a “Lagos spirit” that gets inside all the people who spend some time in it. The part of the “Lagos spirit” remains in people forever.
Each time I come to Lagos, that “spirit” would dance inside of me. Visiting Lagos is like visiting an old friend who has always been full of life and infectious positive energy. The last couple of years, life has not taken me to Lagos, and “the spirit of Lagos” that lives on inside of me, became restless. Craving to recall the old energy, “the spirit” resolved to write a story about Lagos.