9/15/2015 – My last day in Nigeria. Five years ago, I took two weeks off of work to travel with my mom and dad to Nigeria for a wedding. This was a true vacation, with no access to cell phone data and social media pings every minute of the day. I was riveted by the chaotic driving of Lagos. Cars jabbing each other like just missed punches for a space on the red dirt roads. Each 5-minute drive became a 30-minute journey due to the roads without lines, the lack of stoplights, or even stop signs. Everyone drove with aggression and urgency, guess it’s similar to Atlanta in that way. Everyone was on their way to work, on their way home, on their way to the never-ending markets, or on their way to a friends’ welcoming home with a cold Guinness beer or malt drink. Yes oh.. the fried dodo (plantain) is so ripe here. Fish is peppered and barbequed with chips and coleslaw. We bought roasted corn off the fire pot on the side of the street. People walked in between the cars selling drinks, cleaning supplies, purses, chin chin (fried dough snack), even live chickens at the intersections. Everything you might need was available for you on the road and the vendor brings it right to your window during traffic. Nigeria felt like worlds away from my typical life in America. Now that international travel is on hold, I find myself reminiscing about my past trips and laughing about my fun adventures.
Selfies with Grandma
My grandmother does not speak English and I do not speak Edo, so we could not really speak to each other. I remember seeing this tiny woman approach in traditional Nigerian garb, a Bupa (a shirt), and Lapa (a long piece of fabric wrapped around the waist to make a skirt). She was 93 at the time, but she was so strong, so feisty as she flopped down on the couch and patted next to her gesturing for me to sit there. She was still independent and living on her own. The mother of 11 children. Women of her generation had strength beyond words. I remember the first time I met my grandmother. I was about 13 years old and my whole family took a trip to Nigeria for the first time. My grandmother came to the door with excitement, meeting her three American grandchildren for the first time. For some reason, my grandmother grabbed my hand and whisked me through the house with smiles and laughter, speaking and doing things we could not understand. My mom says she gravitated to me because I look like my dad and I looked the most Nigerian out of the three. My Nigerian family gathered with us in the open-air courtyard in the center of the house. They prepared a feast, jollof rice, pots of red tomato stew, goat meat, and a fresh chicken they slaughtered right in front of us. I don’t remember much about what we did together during our visit and I can’t remember what we talked about through translation. I just remember her lively spirit, her smile, her warmth, and her love.
Gas Station Restrooms
In Nigeria, the highways are not exactly like America. Yes, they get you from one city to the next, but there are not many exits on the route from one city to the next. At least not between Lagos and Benin City. So we drove for about 1.5 hours without having an exit off the highway. I remember thinking, omg when will we get to a restroom. After waiting for about two hours, I could not hold it anymore. I told my parents, I have to go to the restroom. So the driver pulled over at the next available gas station. I knew immediately that this was not going to be a great experience. When we got to the gas station they pointed to the rundown cement building across the way and said, “there is the toilet.” The dilapidated cement shack with a tin roof was on the top of a hill. it looked like something straight out of a horror movie. Of course, it was pouring down raining with quarter-size droplets. I could hardly see a few feet in front of me. The rainwater rushed down the hill and covered my sandals and reached about 3 inches deep. I looked up at the creepy building off the beaten path and turned to my mom with pleading eyes, begging her to come. “Please mom, come with me,” I said. I know she did not want to come, but she did not want me to go alone either. So we huddled under the umbrella together and trudged up the dirt hill. Once we got to the building there were 3 rooms. The first restroom door was locked, the second had no toilet, just a hole in the floor. The third room had no door, no light, no sink, and no seat on the toilet. That was my best option. My mom covered the door, letting a crack of light come in the room, while squatted to pee. I was so happy we finally found a restroom. Then we ran back the car, and I vowed never to drink anything on our Nigerian road trips again. Now, every time I go to an unkempt restroom in America, I think to myself, it was way worse that one time in Nigeria, and then it’s not so bad anymore. Everything’s better with a little perspective. 🙂
Adventures in the Market
What I love most about traveling to other countries is the outdoor marketplaces. Outstretched roads are full of shop after shop, after shop of fresh fruit, fish and meat, and fresh-baked bread. Rooms stacked 12 feet high full of fabric for clothing, trinkets, jewelry, wooden sculptures, and paintings. The outdoor market in Nigeria is everyday shopping and it’s such a fascinating adventure. Unlike America, there was no set price on most items. I tried my hand at bargaining and negotiating the price down, but I failed every time. The seller knew I was American, thus the price was 3 times higher for me. For the best bargains, I had to ask my Nigerian aunts to purchase the jewelry and purses for me.
After 4 hours of driving to the airport and 12 hours of flying the journey back to home to America was long, but finally over. Nigeria is far away, but the memories were worth the travel. I love looking through old photos and reminiscing about past trips. What about you? What are your most memorable trips?