Posts Tagged ‘Travel within Nigeria’

This is the second instalment of my Maiduguri trip tale. MTT. Sounds nice. Dope abbreviation. Sounds like something serious. This is serious biko. As serious as serious can get. But I digress. Part one is here. Let’s get on with it.

So! One of the first things that hit you once the announcement about the descent into Maiduguri is made and you look out the window might be that there is the Maiduguri we all hear of and the Maiduguri you meet (in person). Perfect opposition, especially if you’re besotted with foreign media reports.

It’s the red roofs and cream-colored buildings, the wide expanse of uninhabited land; it is the land itself. Green and luscious one minute, dry and scorched the next. This contrast presents itself throughout the duration of this trip exaggerated many times over by the insurgency.

Immediate thoughts on sights at the airport?

  1. Maiduguri international airport, like several international airports in Nigeria, is, unfortunately, international only in name. The absence of an arrival lounge reduced hopes for a carousel or conveyor belt to mischievous thinking. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long for our bags, and it was off to our lodgings in a convoy dotted with an armed security truck in the front and at the rear.
  2. Decrepit buildings, chipped away at some corners, time, negligence, and incompetence ensuring that even the lettering on the building announcing the airport was barely visible. I confirmed the airport had never been attacked. What was the excuse for this eyesore then?

The second thing I noticed (or that hit me) was the heat. Dry, prickly heat, and yours truly was wrapped in a jalabia and head scarf. I genuinely thought I was going to have heat stroke.

So, we got into our cars and drove in a convoy to our lodgings, a place called Lake Lale Guest Inn. Here’s an idea of the sight I became accustomed to for the rest of the trip.

military

The first room I was given had bad locks and because I didn’t want any how stories starting from “while she was sleeping…” I asked and was given another room which was cleaned while I was there. Tut tut tut.

We were to have a team debrief at 8:30 pm. I had been warned that the restaurant was a bit slow but I forgot meaning that the chicken and chips I ordered weren’t ready before our meeting. By the time the meeting was done, I got back to my room and asked for the food. It was brought and the rest I captured on twitter.

borno-2016

Anyway, I ate it like that, spoke to Tata and my folks, and slept off, grateful for safety, a roof over my head, and the privilege to be on the delegation to a place I had only heard about. A few mosquitoes, but nothing the airconditioning wouldn’t handle. Or so I thought.

The evening and the morning, the first day. Tomorrow? Bama.

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I was born in Kano, and raised (amongst other cities in Nigeria) in Kaduna and in Abuja. My mother says we spoke Hausa fluently at some point, and having lived in some western cities at some other times, we spoke Yoruba too. Matter of fact I vividly remember acting in Yoruba plays in primary school and coming top of the class in Yoruba. My parents are (still) fluent in three Nigerian languages, while I currently struggle with all three. Life isn’t fair.

Like every good student, I know the states and capitals and having the privilege growing up in at least thirteen locations in Nigeria cutting across most of the geopolitical zones, I have a fairly intimate understanding how people in these parts behave. Except the North Eastern part of Nigeria though – Adamawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Taraba, Borno, and Gombe. My parents were never transferred there, and my travels as an adult never ventured there either.

From 2009, we heard bits of the North being famous for things other than agriculture, vehicles, fabric, or even cattle. Religious extremism (in various parts of the country), like a pot silently boiling over, peaked. Not the brand Kano, Kaduna, Benue, Nassarawa, and even Plateau had seen, a new wave challenging the tenets of Islam and more importantly, condemning everything Western, especially education. Say hello to Boko Haram.

With this sect came a wave of devastation and destruction I dare say Nigeria had not seen before, ravaging whole states, especially Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa.

Fast forward to 2016, my work with a client focused on the reconstruction of the devastated areas, and therefore an assessment trip to Borno.

At first, I had said no as the trip coincided with another trip I was to make outside Nigeria. Fluctuating forex policies/restrictions, an agent with an interesting attitude, and a lot of back and forth communication after, it was obvious to me I wouldn’t make my flight date, at least not without spending approximately #150,000 more than the ridiculous amount I had already spent. I decided I couldn’t afford it, retrieved what I had already paid, and said yes to Borno. Note that three months after I made that trip out of Nigeria at about half the cost of the original ticket I initially turned down.

The next few pieces chronicle the trip with all the accompanying visuals; I hope it comes just as alive for you as it was for me.

DAY ONE: The Trip.

We start as always, with movement. I woke up on Thursday morning, first off smarting that I didn’t wake up in Frankfort connecting to Houston and then suddenly afraid of what Borno might have in store. I had read the briefing notes and known we would be going to Maiduguri and then to Bama, using the same route the UNICEF workers had been ambushed on a few weeks prior. Apparently, we were scheduled to visit twice: cue apprehension.

I cleared my movement with my family (sans my mum, lol),  and my dad’s excitement helped me feel a lot more positive about the trip. And then there was the dash to the market to get a jalabiya (outer, over-all type garment commonly worn in the North) and a veil. The plan was to blend in as much as I could.

Quick stop at TATA’s for Brunch, some goofiness and emergency Hausa lessons(lol) and it was off to the airport to catch 1.30pm flight which didn’t leave till 3pm. We will skip that point and talk about my intense feeling of nakedness when I met the rest of the team.

I had assumed (erroneously of course) that I only needed to don my extras on the way to Bama. The other females (mostly northerners) on the team, however, were dressed to the neck with veils, hijabs etc. – one person was even wearing socks. Yours truly was blissfully sporting my favourite pair of jeans, my sister’s pink and grey tee, and my favourite slippers. Guess who had to dig through her checked in luggage, retrieve her jalabiya and veil and become culture/religion complaint before we touched down in Maiduguri? Yup! Me!

As we took off I prayed a few prayers, especially for safety, strength (both physically and mentally), and the presence of mind to be able to get solid work done/think through creative solutions for my clients. I wanted to have an interesting tip too, something to write about.  And then I prayed for safety just a bit more.

One hour five minutes later, we touched down , Maiduguri International Airport. Nothing remotely international (or even national) about it, but we’ll discuss this and more tomorrow morning when the next instalment is up. Tomorrow.

Ahh! I’ve missed blogging! Like, I love the #31Days31Writers series (really, really love it), but the entire month I feel like everything I publish that’s not a part of the series detracts from it.

But, I feel like I need to share details of this trip, and I’ll catch up on my trip to Rwanda earlier in the New Year. Ready?

So, Monday night was amazing (and that’s all I’m going to say about that), and somehow, my night wound up about 1am with me buying an Aero Contractors ticket headed to Port Harcourt that same morning. By 7.15am (I know, I’m crazy, but there’s a thing about friendship that will make me turn my plans on their head to be there for someone).

Of course seeing as the decision to fly was taken a few hours before while I was out with my nephew (gorgeous, adorable kiddo), I was unpacked, no idea what I even wanted to take on the trip, and cashless. Cashless because of my nephew actually; we’d gone to Silverbird Entertainment Center’s arcade. The End. One game after the other, till my purse emptied! And the ATM’s weren’t dispensing (of course, SMH). But it was a wonderful evening out, and Boo Boo was so happy with this wings and magic wand (which I didn’t plan to buy, but bought, lol)!

Back to me in my room, smiling like a Cheshire cat (for reasons y’all don’t need to know except you already know then you don’t need to ask or need to be told… lol, I’m rambling I know) but trying to figure out how to get to the airport in time for my flight, what to pack, etc. Managed to throw some things in my little suitcase, and then I settled in to sleep.

Woke up (with a start) at 5.30am, showered, zipped my box, and knew I wouldn’t find a taxi. So, I drove! Not going to tell you how quick I got there (‘Lewisa Hamilton’ in the building ladies and gentlemen), but I got in, then rang my cabbie to come pick up the car.

Boarded, and can I take a minute just give a big thumbs up to Aero Contractors? On their website they apologized, saying some flights might be delayed because of the weather and poor visibility sometimes. I thought it was really thoughtful of them to say that. But, we were in the air at 7.17am! Not waiting for a passenger, not even taxiing; we were airborne! I was so tripped!

So, got to Port Harcourt about 8.30am, and had to wait for my hosts to come to get me. So I sat down, and ‘people-watched’ for a bit (I like to do that sometimes).

Can I take another minute to discuss the horror that is that airport? God forbid. Absolute disgrace. Like, all shades and levels of shameful.

Anyway, so I sat down, waited, started working on some documents (we must s-l-a-y financially in 2016 biko), and then this lady with a dirty but super short, clingy pink dress comes in. So short her crotch was almost on display. Not my business really, what got my goat however was how dirty the dress was; imagine lots of streaks (maybe from fingers), wet patches, that kind of thing. I sneaked a photo but I’ve since deleted it *re-adjusts halo*

Long, unnecessary story about the long wait for my hosts so let’s just say that I ended up in GRA, at Genesis Cinema where I had a meal, and saw a movie. #SpoilerAlert It was ‘Point Break’, a film about some people who were doing some outrageous, extreme stuff in the name of connecting with Mother Earth, fulfilling the dictates of some leader, etc. It was nice to watch but I would have been happier spending that time on a cartoon. Thank you Kevin for being a great, great host!

Met up with my friend, and we started the trip to Umuahia, which was lovely but a few things stood out.

  • The Port Harcourt/Umuahia expressway is a mess.
  • Aba is filthy. Like ‘turn up your nose at it’ kind of filthy.
  • In Aba there were a number of cars sporting the Biafran flag. I hope they know Nnamdi Kanu has a Nigerian and British passport, ha n’ezuzu ifa.
  • Pretty much everyone was driving in the middle of the road, and it wasn’t about avoiding bad roads. So frustrating!

Long story short, we got into Umuahia and then my friend’s village in one piece, safe (despite the communal clash my friend and the driver stumbled on in Rivers State), and we met everyone at hers hale and hearty! Thank you Jesus! Bed time now!

Looking forward to the return leg of this trip (not sure of the date yet), because I get to use another airport I haven’t used in more than ten years! I really do love travelling!

Exactly one week ago I was in Lagos recently for the #TheREDSummit, the 10th anniversary of Red Media Africa, and the gala in honour of 121 media legends of our time. Truly successful event which I was proud to be a part of. It was exciting to meet people (some I didn’t know and others I’d built relationships with on social media), to listen to different views on media, communication, the next 10 years, etc. Two ladies stood out from all the new people I met; Adenike of Naija Info FM, and Toyin Poju Oyemade – gorgeous women who love God and are fun, down-to-earth, I could go on and on! Truly exciting.

Gala night... so much fun! Rocking my new haircut - love it!

Gala night… so much fun! Rocking my new haircut – love it!

I also enjoyed the time away from work (even though I was pretty much working from my hotel), from Abuja, from the norm. I thank God for the opportunity to travel which always ‘disrupts’; I wonder how bored I would be if I couldn’t ‘up and go’ every once in a while.

I spent a lovely time in Lagos, almost destroyed by the traffic (which is high up on the list of why I  detest the place to be honest). On Saturday I’d gone to the University of Lagos to be a part of the event organised for students in media and communications drawn from a number of schools. I met some really fascinating people, including Anita Erskine, a former Studio 53 presenter who was brutally honest when we spoke about wake-up calls, women helping women, and how she got to where she is now after waking up one morning and Studio 53 was over (for a number of reasons). Love her!

I left with Tosin Ajibade (Olorisupergal), and we were stuck in traffic just leaving Yaba for approximately 2 hours 45 minutes. Sweet baby Jesus I dislike Lagos for the traffic! It was awesome to talk through social media et al with her the entire time (wonder what I would have done if I was in a cab) but I got back to my hotel and passed out!

Speaking of hotels, one day I’ll chronicle the different hotels/hostels I’ve stayed in in this life; this trip was spent between Oriental Hotel and The MoorHouse. Obviously the latter beat the former hands down!

On Sunday the 18th of October I went to brunch with my girl Tokes and her friend (now my friend) Joy; we went to The George Hotel, also in Ikoyi. Hilarious afternoon full of good food (which I love), great laughs, and even greater conversation! I know we shouldn’t (so soon) but I’m looking forward to doing that again!

Then it was back to the hotel, snatched up my things and sped off to the airport. Made good time, checked in, and we boarded a 5.30pm flight on time. Medview. Remember the drama on Wednesday when I flew in with them? That story is here.

So we take off, I’m wedged between a guy with a really smelly armpit and a buxom, really chubby lady. I decide I will distract myself from the fact that I don’t have a window seat.

The pilot comes on to say hello and announces there’s a storm coming over Abuja and he’s going to try to get us there before it, and to enjoy the flight. I settle into the book I took off my friend Chinma (was so good to see her, especially since we missed each other in Boston just last month)!

Next thing I know, the plane LITERALLY drops; taking my stomach with it. The next 10 -13 minutes all I can see from straining to see past the lady’s arm/body are thick clouds, all we can feel is bumpiness, like we were trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to avoid potholes. Everyone started praying (loudly), except the man with the smelly armpit. He just looked straight on.

I was afraid. I’ve seen turbulence, but never  like this. And then someone started saying, “Father if it is your will”, and in my mind I’m like, “I’m under 30. God’s plan for me is NOT a violent death”. And so I willed myself to block her voice out of my mind, and started praying for composure for the pilot.

The longest 11 minutes of my life. I thought of my nephew, and how he wouldn’t remember me, and then of my folks and how crushed they would be. Instructive to note I didn’t think of work, folks owing me (and they are plenty, sigh), or of anything beyond my nephew and my folks.

I snapped out of those thoughts, and this song came to my mind. “Miracle Worker” by Glowreeyah Braimah and Nathaniel Bassey (it’s one of my favourite songs ever) and so I was alternating between the song and prayer.

Pilot (Captain Boye) comes on. Says we couldn’t avoid the storm, and he can’t land so he’s going to go ‘try’ through “The East”. He sounded so calm (and I was really thankful he was communicating with us – God bless him). Cue at least 30 minutes of circling. Lagos to Abuja is approximately 50 minutes; we took off before 6pm and by 7.30pm, we were still solidly in the air.

I started listening for the sound of the wings broadening (I’ve become used to that sound) because it tells me we’re starting to descend. Sometimes I’d hear a sound, but it wouldn’t be it. The woman beside me started singing Igbo songs, and I remembered my mother. And I prayed even harder.

It went quiet for a bit.

Then I heard it. The unmistakable sound of the wings. We’d commenced our descent! I started crying. Then the pilot announced it, and the woman beside me started crying too. She hugged me, and in that moment I felt my Aunty Pat. So I hugged her, and rested my head on her ample bosom for a bit.

The landing was rough but I didn’t care. What!!! People started clapping, shouting. “Praise the Lord, Halleluyah, God is good” rent the air, and people congratulated each other as soon as they dried their eyes. Even the men. Even the hostesses. Pilot was unavailable to the folks who wanted to say hello (I totally understand). Everyone started calling everyone. I rang my sister.

She said she was asleep and when the rain started (apparently it was that intense), it woke her up, she rang me and when my number was unavailable, she knew I was in the air and started praying.

Here's the birdie that brought us home...

Here’s the birdie that brought us home… Notice I wasn’t the one taking pictures…

I got my luggage, got in a cab, tweeted “God himself landed our plane tonight”, and wept all the way home. Get there and guess who runs to get the door? My nephew. Cue fresh tears as my munchkin wrapped himself around my neck. Boo thang didn’t even notice my tears with the 100 questions he started asking.

Exactly one week after that flight, and my eyes are still watering as I type. As I imagine how the story could have ended different.

But it didn’t. And I’m thankful. Today, and everyday.

 

The weirdest thing happened yesterday… Really scary stuff. I can laugh about it now, but yesterday I was frightened as anything, and really upset at the lackadaisical attitude we have here in Nigeria about security, identities, and things like that. Of course let’s leave customer service alone because that would be reaching for the stars where we have not first learned to walk!

I will provide commentary for my tweets, but they pretty much tell the story.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.43.43

So I get to the airport (and ON TIME) because I’ve had a rough time with my health recently and so I’m not in the mood for any adrenaline-fuelled stunts involving airlines and me trying to make flights. I have about an hour to spare and I’m looking forward to a quiet time in the lounge before my flight is called. Then this happens.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.49.44

Was really confusing. Would I ask someone to check me in and then not remember? I had a suitcase to check in. Would I ask someone to check me in and not give them the suitcase? I asked these questions, asked if the person presented any identification, nothing.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.49.57

One thing that really frustrates me is people upsetting me/others then asking me/them to ‘calm down’. It’s like pinching a child and getting surprised when they cry. What else were you going for? Why should I calm down when you’ve given my boarding pass to God knows who? And then sound like it’s my fault?

They write something on my boarding pass, inform the boarding gate of the issue, then ask me to go wait to board. What if this person…never mind.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.50.11

Of course all of this drama meant that I got upstairs to departures and had barely found a seat when they announced boarding. Soooo stressful. I was panicking!

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.50.24

*is a guy

So I get to the boarding gate and while they’re checking mine, I see another boarding pass with my name on it! My eyes follow the hand holding it up to the face and lo and behold, it’s a guy! Hian! Even better, when I said to him that he had my boarding pass, he started arguing! Said it was his. Uncle your name is not/cannot be Chioma Chuka (which was spelled out on the thing, not initialed o) and then he raises his voice, etc.

Obviously the airline made a mistake (a most stupid one) but you don’t compound it by not having a ticket to hand, talking about your office bought the ticket and checked you in so you don’t have anything on you. What did you present to the officer who gave you a boarding pass? My boarding pass? *Rolling my eyes*

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.50.40

I was asked to go board while they sorted the ‘other’ Chioma Chuka out, and as I walked to the foot of the plane, I played out all the ways this could have gone really wrong. What if he was a really bad person, like a terrorist or something?

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.50.53

Very scary. Very unserious too.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.51.09

I was terrified. Truly terrified.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.51.23

I noticed I was sweating really bad. For some reason I was afraid. So I called one of the hostesses, explained the issue to her, and said I wanted her to check what name was on his boarding pass. In my mind, if he still had the Chioma Chuka one, I would deboard. No two ways about it.

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.51.38

Said hostess didn’t come back to me, so when the plane was taxiing, I got out of my seat and walked to the front of the plane to ask for the outcome of her investigation. Again I was furious. I was in my seat, breathing and sweating crazy from fear, and our dear hostess couldn’t take two minutes to come back to me with an answer!!

Even worse, this young man apparently just shares one name with me. Therefore, this is a very stupid, incompetent airline, and that official who made this mistake deserves to be whipped. What if I had a bad heart? What if I’d passed out from fear? What if this man was a truly evil person who had evil designs for me or even for that flight?

Screenshot 2015-10-15 05.51.48

Then, they announce during the flight that they’re launching flights to the United Kingdom later this year. When you cannot execute a local flight without incident? Rubbish. I’m still considering my options, I should sue.

PS: I forgot. I wasn’t worse off on the plane! When we touched down there was a Navy guy who got off the plane and said, “ahn ahn! This is not Port Harcourt. I was supposed to be going to Port Harcourt.” Made me laugh, like it was hilarious. Didn’t he hear the announcement about where we were going before he boarded, didn’t the hostesses check his boarding pass, didn’t he listen to the pre-flight announcement, didn’t he… I have a million questions!!