Monday, July 23, 2007

So you wanna drive in the city?

On my second day in Abuja, as we were leaving Multilinks (where my mom went to inquire why our internet wasn't working since the day she signed up for it 2 weeks ago), I asked if I could drive. My mum protested. I pouted and begged. She obliged. I was in naija mode, evidenced by my lack of concern about driving with a long expired Nigerian license. See me, feeling like one ogbologbo driver. "After all" I thought, "I used to maneuver my small stick-shift Daihatsu in Lagos when I was just 18." Abuja was no match for Lagos right? Right.

All was great until I faced a major intersection that had no traffic warden and no traffic light. What do I do? Who has right of way? (as if such a thing exists in the Nigerian's mental driving manual. )

Cars dived head on into the intersection, honking and lunging menacingly at each other. There was already a bottleneck in front of me and too many near hits.

Me: Mommy! There's no yellow here

Mum: Ah, you see that's why I said you're not ready. You have to put your nose in there

Me: What if they jam me?Mum: You beta let me come and drive. You're still using American style to drive

Me: (trying to buy time) This is not good now. At rush hour like this is when someone is supposed to be here.
(By this time, cars behind me had started passing in annoyance so I figured I'd admit my lack of skills and just closely follow one of them. Even as I made my left turn, several cars threatened to smash me)
Me: (driving away from the chaos ) Okay mommy. Enough driving for me.

Friday, July 20, 2007

1st week in Abuja: Passport Control- yay!

The first thing that hits me as the Lufthansa pilot is making the descent towards Nnamdi Azikwe airport in Abuja is how green everything below looks.Hills, grass plains and streams everywhere. "Isn't Abuja in the desert?" I think to myself. Although I primarily lived in Lagos, my dad's job is based in Abuja so my summer hols back in secondary school were spent complaining about how DRY and BORING the city was.

As we de-board the plane and walk through the skywalk there are photos of Nigeria's tourism spots along the wall. Nice intro, I think. The weather is cooler than I expect.

On walking into the arrival terminal, I see what would become the highlight of my flight across the Atlantic: passport control. The signs read:

Line 1: Other passports
Line 2: Nigerian passports
Line 3: Diplomatic passports and Crew
Line 4: Nigerian passports. (Again!)

Instinctively I want to join the very long line of people at Line 1, because as far as I can remember I always fall at the end of the slow moving "other" line at every airport.
Then I remember: THIS IS MY COUNTRY.

I suddenly feel very important and proud of my green passport as I stroll past the LONG line of foreigners to my left and stand behind five Nigerians in line 2. Another five are on line 4. I contentedly smile to myself.

No anxiety.
No shaking.
Immigration is for me, not against me!

Nobody will ask me where I am staying and for how long, while checking me out five million times to make sure I'm the person in the passport photo. They will not tell me to wait while they consult their oga about something seemingly shady about my visa. Neither will they book me like a criminal, taking my fingerprint and mugshot.

I look back at the line of "other passports" and see tired and impatient faces – probably wishing they had a green passport just so they can get on with their important money-making agendas.
Most are used to breezing through passport control on their EU or U.S. passports: My dad tells me that in the visa world, there's the principle of reciprocity. Visa policies between any two countries always match. So if they say we need a visa to go there, then we say they also need one to come here, and we issue it at the same price they do. That's why westerners visiting Naija can't walk in visa-less like they can in U.S., England or other EU states.

Again, I feel very content. Not only do I get through the usually tedious and defensive procedure in record time, but I'm warmly greeted as the immigration officer says he knows my dad.

"You're welcome back," he says as he hands me back my passport.