A Day Off...in Lagos

Lagos Travel Blog

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Thursday was our first day off since arriving, and for whatever reason we headed for Lagos. As this was to be the first opportunity I’ve had to see any of the extended area in the daylight, I was looking forward to what might be out there. As it turns out, it’s much more tropical than I would have expected. From other trips to Africa I have an image stuck in my head of dry savannah, but while we’re not in a rainforest by a long shot, we’re very much in the tropics. Palm trees are interspersed with all manner of other tropical “jungle” vegetation. But as it is so dry right now, it’s all covered in a layer of dust and grime from the incessant traffic bombarding along on the narrow expressway.

As we approached Lagos we were told that while the official census claims there are 7 million residents, popular opinion puts the number more around 10 million. The outskirts start early with typical third world housing. A cattle market fleeted past us and we could observe what appeared to be a full-on auction of steers.

The road into Lagos is lined with worship centers of all varieties. Many small churches with creative names and a number of mosques too. But there are several notable churches which must hold thousands of believers. They basically consist of large tin-roofed areas, with open walls to let the air flow through, I suppose. One of them, the “Mountain of Fire and Miracles” appeared to be easily 10 acres in size – possibly 15. Lined with benches crammed in tight, I can only begin to imagine how many people can get packed in there.

You can gauge your distance from the city by the increased volume of car horns. If cars here weren’t equipped with horns, I can only imagine what creative means drivers would come up with to signal each other. Usually, despite utilizing both blinkers and waving of hands, at least three taps on a horn are required to notify other drivers you are passing on the left, the right, or entering an intersection. But in part this makes sense, as there are rarely lanes marked on the roads. Some drivers get creative, seemingly tapping out tunes, or perhaps keeping beat with their radios. Regardless, the cacophony of noise sets the tempo for the heartbeat of the city. Somehow it all works relatively well as we were only scraped once.

Unbeknownst to us, official tour guides had been arranged through the department of tourism, though in all fairness any of the locals we had with us could arguably have done a better job. After stopping by the Ministry of Tourism to pick the two guides up, they began regurgitating their script of info. Fantastically obvious things like, “This is a government complex area and the buildings around us are government offices.” Or things that were a bit difficult to believe, such as, “The large median at the upcoming intersection is a new scenic park, built for the lunch hour of government employees so they can enjoy the out of doors and the view.” Sadly I have no pictures of the well manicured piles of dirt as we flew past it far too quickly, but it was sculpted within an inch of its life. Perhaps they were expected to sit on the piles, as I saw no park benches or anything else. And what they would look at other than the traffic is beyond me, but to hear the guide talk about it, it was the pride and joy of all government workers.

And perhaps that’s reflective of the general mindset here in Nigeria. Billed as the world’s happiest people, there does seem to be an abundance of smiles all around. That’s not to say you don’t see the occasional skirmish, but that seems to be the proverbial exception that proves the rule. With the car horns alone, you’d expect more issues such as road rage, but everything is just taken in stride.

The first official tour stop was at the National Museum of Nigeria. After a brief pause in the foyer while our guides negotiated the entrance fee, we were herded through a dark corridor which supposedly contained pictures of former heads of state for Nigeria. It was hard to tell really as there were no lights on at all.

In the next room, we were shown different charms and gods used typical to the daily life of rural Nigerians. These were a bit easier to see as some of the lights were on. There was a god for water and one to look over the dead. And of course there was a god for fertility, which I took a step back from just for good measure. Joking aside, fertility seems to be a big deal here. And if a family should be so fortunate as to have twins it can make a poor family quite rich as twins are seen as a blessing from the gods. During market season (a period of time rather ill-defined by our guides) mothers are obligated to worship and dance around their twins every four days. If you are at the market and see mothers with their twins, you’re obligated to pay them some money and hence, increased wealth for the fertile family. Twins also have the power to watch over your family if they should die. Convenient, really. I couldn’t help but wonder what they’d do if someone here had octuplets.

As we meandered through the museum, picking up a different museum guide in each room with varying levels of understandable English, we saw a number of different tribal masks, thrones, stools, and robes. At one point I felt as if I was on exhibit, when a visiting school group became quite enamored at the sight of four white guys in the next room. I’m sure that if I had made any fast moves, they would’ve all jumped back and then laughed at the sudden fright!

We were dumped out into a courtyard and wound our way around to the next phase of the museum. Upon entering another very dark hallway we were informed that half of the electrical phase was out, thereby most of the lights were out, and thus it was difficult to see things. Apologies accepted we continued and saw carved elephant tusks chronicling the history of past tribal administrations. These would be placed atop bronze busts of the former leaders after their passing. In this way they were able to keep track of accomplishments, or the lack thereof. Much more ivory and much more bronze – we’re moving on.

The third exhibit was in total darkness, so we skipped it entirely and made our way outside, where a guide from the museum informed us we had to see the assassination vehicle before we could leave. Intrigued we wound our way to a garage exhibit behind the museum which contained the car President Muhammad was murdered in. Apparently in 1975 or 1976, he was just driving along minding his own business, when he was ambushed and assassinated. Apparently ever since then, the president travels with a guard and in armored vehicles.

Multiple bullet holes were visible on the windshield and in the doors. But aside from that it would have just looked like any other well-preserved car from that era, albeit slightly dusty.

We left the museum and drove towards Victoria Island, a relatively new land mass built with reclaimed land and new money. To get there we had to drive across West Africa’s longest bridge and Africa’s second largest bridge. Ok, guess I DID learn something from our tour guide, as he fed us that tidbit of info.

As we were crossing the bridge we saw a number of homes built on stilts in the water, with people in dugout canoes maneuvering the waterways as if it were Venice. Fisherman worked large square netted regions for crabs and other sea life. Once again I was amazed by the way they eek out an existence in this seemingly substandard way of life. I was soon to realize that perhaps the contrasts in socio-economic means are more obvious in Lagos than anywhere else in the country.

The prices in Lagos don’t seem particularly cheap. By the time you do the conversion gas comes in at just under $2/gallon. At a mall we visited (one of our “sites” on the grand tour) we went into “Game,” a small version of Wal-Mart. Their prices were similar to the US on some things, but others were outrageous – especially electronics. LCD or Plasma TV’s were significantly more expensive. Furniture – the cheap particle board sort was through the roof. Nearly $500 for a simple little bookshelf, $200 for an end table.

But what really stood out was the variety in housing. Throughout the day I saw everything from the typical shanty dwelling of the impoverished, to homes that would rival some high-end communities of Southern California. Apartments on Victoria Island, start at $1,500/month and go up. You see Mercedes in abundance – and many cars with drivers for the wealthy. From what I could find out, cars are approximately the same cost here as in the US. Contrast that with the number of people on cheap motorcycles or just walking down the road as if it’s a sidewalk and the disparity is striking.

This is all in a country which has a significant amount of oil, much of which is being tapped by oil hungry countries. The only explanation is the rampant government corruption you hear about every day. In each day’s paper, headlines abound at how terrible things are, and yet the populaces I’ve spoken with seem to feel things are significantly better than in years past.

We drove through Victoria Island without really stopping and made our way to the aforementioned mall and then on to Lekki Beach, the “Premiere Beach of West Africa.” To actually get out on the beach required a five or six minute walk through varying depths of sand and dirt. Once we arrived at the beach, turns out it was sand, water, palm-frond topped huts and trash. Much like any beach in America, except arguably more humid and perhaps more dirty. The requisite picture taken, we turned and traipsed back to the bus, anxious to see what our next stop would bring forth.

There really wasn’t a next stop. We made a rather impromptu stop for pizza, as one of the guys I’m with had been joking about it for several days. Going inside we learned the pizza place was all out of pizza, so I had a scoop of cookies n’ cream ice cream. It was incredibly rich and WAY too sweet, but as it cost nearly $2.50 for the small scoop, I did everything but lick out the cup it was in.

And that was it. Our tour of Lagos was complete. We dropped off our immensely helpful tour guides back at their government office in the government complex beside the scenic park and made our way back to Babcock University.

Having been largely isolated from just how third world the country really is, I am very grateful I’m staying where I am. Yes, it’s definitely third world here, but the University is a small and pleasant island which stands in sharp contrast to the turmoil and noise of everything I saw today. So for the remainder of my time here I will rest very comfortable in the knowledge that things can be, and are, much worse elsewhere.
marix_sublime says:
u are correct that in Lagos, you would see the disparity between the rich and the poor..it is as if, if you are rich here, then you truly are rich in the dollar sense
Posted on: Apr 09, 2009
marix_sublime says:
u really had a day in lagos experience :)
Posted on: Apr 09, 2009
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Lagos
photo by: marix_sublime