Could it be semantics generating the mess we're in?
05.26.2009 - 06.10.2009
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The country of Nigeria can be summed up in one word as welcoming. As we entered the Chikanda border post, our journey into the second English speaking country of the trip became immediately memorable. This particular route was noticeably unused and home to the friendliest border crossing guard anyone had met. “Welcome to Nigeria” has been the catchphrase throughout the country and uttered at least fifty times in our first twenty minutes through the gate. The next greetings were screams of “whhhittttteeeeeeee” as I walked into the village centre along with observations that I walk like a soldier… As it turns out we were the first whities through in twenty years, according to a village elder. This wasn’t hard to believe when Lene, Martin, and I ventured into the market to grab lunch and walked straight into a sea of the most stunned faces I‘ve ever seen. We turned around from a market stall and were instantly swarmed by at least sixty people just staring in awe. It was if some of the children had seen a ghost, and since I’m the whitest person most of the people on the tour have seen I can’t blame them. The people were friendly but too shy to speak to us and when we left our entourage of twenty kids followed us back. The remainder of the day was a typical drive day but agreed as one of the best days experienced by everyone aboard. The people of Nigeria are some of the most excited people I’ve ever come across and everyone waved feverishly as we drove through. Women carrying 20L pails atop their heads and a baby on their backs ran alongside the truck grinning ear to ear and doing the two-handed wave. This was all without the usual screams for “cadeau”, “money”, or “gift”. Children screamed with glee and danced along to my ipod mix; luckily some passengers were able to capture the sights and sounds on video. We were equally full of glee reminiscing over the days events when we set up camp early due to a loose hub seal. It was such a sincere experience overall and never to be forgotten.
As we made our way south the next big stop was Abuja, the political capital of Nigeria and the first modern city visited in some time. We ended up staying for nine days while securing visas for Angola and Cameroon. The contrast to most other campsites was vast considering we holed up at the Sheraton hotel (parking lot that is…). We were very fortunate to have been able to stay (for free) and have use of the facilities while sorting out pertinent, and hard to get, visas. Everyone made the most of their time showering, lounging by the pool, doing laundry, visiting the bakery, and making use of happy hour. A few of us made friends with the expat casino managers and were treated to a South African braai and air-conditioned alternative to our tents! There are certainly some interesting patrons frequenting the Sheraton and the amusement was never-ending. If someone thinks your clothes are too dingy for the hotel ambiance they will tell you and then buy you new ones (as Rob found out). It was at times easy to forget we were in one of the poorest countries in the world and though it was nice to have some luxury I would definitely like to revisit Nigeria again someday to experience it further. Nonetheless, our time in Abuja was thoroughly enjoyed: visas were obtained, new friends were made, and forgotten western amenities were relished.
Somewhat reluctantly, we left the comforts of “Ajuba” and made headway to Jos, a city where recent fighting between Muslim and Christian groups had only ceased months before our arrival. I heard harrowing stories from expats who had ventured unto the chaos, but luckily our visit was uneventful. Continuing on we stopped at Wiki Warm Springs where our leisurely wallow in the springs was contrasted with a pesky baboon trying to steal food scraps. The rest of the days were spent in transit and bush camping, nothing too exciting save for a few trivia nights. The last bush camp turned somber when Fatima Couscous, one of two pet tortoises acquired in Marrakesh, went missing amongst the mango trees. Hours of search brought little hope so we carried on and wished her well. The following day we made it to the Cameroon border post after meeting up with Gary who had stayed behind in Abuja to pick up the last of our visas.
Overall, Nigeria has become one of my favourite African countries. While in Ghana locals told me how awful the people of Nigeria allegedly are but I found it to have a much more sincere feel even if locals don’t go as out of their way to greet you as was the case in Ghana. Nigeria was also our last chance to converse freely in English for sometime. From Cameroon to DRC it is back to French, and Angola is predominately Portuguese…. Namibia will be a welcomed change but too far off to look forward to yet!