Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Since the day I received the, 419 Nigerian email scam, where they promised you millions of dollars, if you just willingly hand over your bank account information to help them smuggle money out of the country, I have always been curious what Nigeria was like and who these Nigerians were.

Reading up on Nigeria I was expecting that as soon as I crossed the border, the world would turn into one of chaos and corruption. On our drive to Nigeria we were constantly getting reports of conflict and cities that were too dangerous to travel through, because of recent fighting between Muslims and Christians that, have killed hundreds.

Like most African countries, during colonial rule the country was fragmented and divided, creating tension between the different tribes, religions, and political parties, that boils over into blood shed even today. Nigeria moved it's capital from Lagos on the southern coast, to Abuja, a more central location in the 1980's, after a bloody civil war that cost the lives of around a million people, and was fought between the less developed north wanting more representation and influence in the country, from the developed oil rich south.

Over 140 million people call Nigeria home, which makes it the most populated country in Africa. One of every 5 Africans are Nigerian. If you want to know what it feels like to be in the minority, as a white person or foreigner, walk the streets of any large town.

During the oil boom of the 60's and 70's, the veins of the economy ran black with the wealth of oil that it exported from the southern, Niger River Delta. Like crack the new wealth sent the country into a state of addiction. The leaders seeing money they had never seen before, became extremely corrupt and stole billions of dollars, putting little of it back into the economy, leaving the country with a failing infrastructure. The people were left to fight over the little scraps of wealth that seeped through the cracks, creating the current situation in Nigeria today, that scares away tourism.

Traveling through Nigeria for 6 days now and currently in the Capital Abuja, Nigeria has told me more than you could learn from just reading about it. Mostly that you can never judge a book by it's cover. Nigeria is like a book where the cover gets you prepared for war scenes, corruption, poverty, and environmental disaster, only to find that after reading a few chapters you start to realize there is more to this book than you thought.

For the first two days, driving through the country, I thought Nigeria was going to be just like what it's cover advertises. We were stopped at 15 check points in the first 50 Km, from the border of Benin. At times they were so close together, you could wave to the police at the next check point. (As a joke we kept a tally on the dry erase board) Each time we were stopped, police carrying AK-47's boarded our truck and checked our passports, went through our documents, and tried to find some reason to get money from us.

The first few towns we came across, Abeokuta and Ibadan, were overflowing with people in the streets, making it seem like we were driving through a crowd of thousands of hyper soccer fans, our truck having to slowly push through it. The traffic was terrible . At one point we got stuck behind a truck, we couldn't pass and after a few honks, the drivers angrily jumped out and started yelling at us, pulling into more locals, till a crowd surrounded our truck and started yelling at us, some picking up rocks and threatening to throw them at us, some demanding money, others just being crazy.

There was nothing we could have done if they decided to storm our truck, a mob like mentality can snowball very quickly, as the tension builds. Our driver held a pipe in his hand, as people jumped up on the side of our trucks, I sat on the top of the truck as a deterrent from people trying to climb up the sides. Luckily 3 mouths of traveling through crazy large cities has somewhat gotten us used to threats from people and the situation cooled to where we could continue.

The infrastructure in parts of Nigeria are terrible, the roads are in poor condition, and lined with vehicles that are broken down, burned up, or parked. Driving the roads in places look like some scene from the movie Mad Max, or what I would picture the war torn roads to be like leading to Bagdad, Iraq. Turned over tractor trailers, car wrecks, burned up tanker trucks that looked as if it must have exploded into a huge ball of flame, line the roads. I've never seen so many crunched vehicles.

You come across a semi truck wrecked almost every mile. I've started to photograph every one I see. Some are just flipped over, some have driven over the side of the road, some plowed over the sides of bridges, some still leaking fuel which the locals try to capture in buckets. A story starts to unfold of the dangerous lifestyle of truck drivers, who risk their lives daily, transporting their heavy cargo over pot holed and bumpy roads. You see even more trucks broken down in the middle of the road, as they just fall apart. You get the sense that life is cheap here.

I would love to see the suburban soccer mom, try to drive the streets of Nigeria. It's more than just a white knuckle experience. When I travel the roads, I sit a top the truck with my camera, photographing things that pass by. In Nigeria that means coming face to face with two, three, four semi trucks all heading right towards you. There are no lanes, trucks and cars pass on either side at the same time, vehicles are forced to snake their way side to side, trying to travel the path of least resistance. It's like a the most dangerous tango you will ever do, as far as you can see down the road, truckers are avoiding each other. There is no such thing as close calls, every time you pass a vehicle it's a close call.

But like I said, you can't always judge a book by it's cover, and the further we drove into the heart of Nigeria, and the more I experienced, the more I began to love it, and like Osmosis, the more I soaked up a side of Nigeria not many know about.

The people in the country side, are some of the most happy and kind people we have come across. The small villages are a treat to stop in. Because English is spoken, it makes communication much easier. It didn't take long to warm up to Nigerians, hearing stories, making relationships, and learning the warmer side to the country. The outfits that people wear are so bright and beautiful, their smiles so big and happy. Crowds of people would greet us when we stopped to buy food from the local markets, but no one begged for money, they all waved as we drove away. Because their isn't much tourism, the people haven't been influenced by handouts and less interested in wearing western outfits. So it feels as if you are experiencing real Africa.

At one pee stop, a guy with a gun came walking out of the woods, and walked up to us, at first I was nervous of what his intention was, but then a big smile and wave greeted us, with a heart warming shake of his hand, which erased any tension and I spent a few minutes, photographing and talking with him. His face showed so much wear and tear of a hard life, but his smile and kindness showed the warmth he still had in his heart.

Traveling the roads in Africa make you feel like a celebrity has kids come running to greet you and wave. In Nigeria, everyone waves and greets you as you pass by. Even when you pass big, strong, mean looking construction workers, they all turn and wave with both hands like little school girls. It always makes me laugh.

Besides oil, Nigeria has a huge film industry, nicknamed, Nollywood. It ranks just behind USA's Hollywood, and India's Bollywood. The movies after hitting the main screen only have a few days to earn money before copies are sold over the black market. But just like the celebrities back home, the actors and actresses become idolized.

We have a few days in Abuja, waiting for our Congo and Angola Visa's. It's starting to get harder to find Internet. I checked at the nicest hotel in town, the Sheraton hotel and Internet was 18 dollars and hour. So I had to walk around town trying to find somewhere cheaper. Which I currently am on.

Getting a chance to check up on the world I see that Egypt is now in a state of conflict. I sense this is just the beginning, since like a domino effect more and more Muslim countries are starting to stand up to the government. Not sure if this will trickle down to northern Nigeria, but if it does we are smack in the middle of the country now.

Yesterday a riot broke on in Abuja, so police have kept an eye on us as we walk around the city, we are staying in. The cities just north of us, have curfews at night time. So I have been told I can't travel up to a national park I wanted to visit on my own. So for now I spend my days, within the protected walls of the Sheraton Hotel, which is more like a 5 star resort, drinking expensive beers. We have another week in Abuja before we take off so I'm sure I'll see some interesting things while I'm here.

1 comment:

  1. I love your stories-talk about adventure and excitement! It sounds like a crazy movie script someone in Hollywood has dreamed up. How amazing to be actually living it!

    My bookclub is reading a couple books about life in Africa this month, and it's very interesting to read your stories and see the many similarities between your experiences, the experiences in the book about a woman who moved to a small native village in Africa, and a man who was born and raised there.

    Thanks for keeping us updated with all your experiences-and try to stay out of jail! :-)