Arriving in Nigeria
…Against all this, it almost seems incredible that smiles come so readily to Nigerian faces. An international survey in 2003 announced that Nigerians were in fact the happiest people on earth. The important role that relgion plays in everyday life is a major factor, along with the natural entrenpreneurship of one of Africa’s best-educated populations. Ill-served by repeated governments, Nigerians have had to learn to survive. As Fela Kuti sang, “we suffer and we smile.” This resilience holds the best key to Nigeria’s future.
–Lonely Planet, West Africa guide book
Port Harcourt, Nigeria – a rainy Sunday afternoon, late in the rainy season. The tropical rain’s pitter-patter is interrupted on occasion by shouts from neighbors reacting to the team Nigeria football (Americans: that’s soccer) match that’s on now. There are two other quotes I’d have liked to include with the above note, one from the same guidebook’s Port Harcourt section, to the effect that political violence preventer the writers from visiting PH before publication, so the information may be out of date, and advising potential travelers to scrutinize the recent news from the region carefully before planning any travel here. The other I shall paraphrase here while referring all readers who can possibly make time to a stupendously lyrical, informative and beautiful ode to African entitled The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscynski, who for 40 years criss-crossedAfrica as Poland’s first Africa correspondent, from the dawn of post-colonial Ghana & Uganda to the turn of the milennium. Commenting on one of the many dicey situations in which he found himself (coups, revolutions, famines, lost in the desert…you name it, the guy experienced it all), he noted that an unstable place almost always seems worse when viewed from outside. This is SO true: most of the time, in most places, most people go on with their lives, however circumscribed their options may be. And avoid accident and injury. So while I do urge my friends and family to read about Nigeria, to follow the news and learn about this enormous and important country, I also urge you to remember that millions of people live here and get along more or less fine somehow. 🙂
Anyway here I am. There won’t be very many posts from PH: I’ve made it, finally, to a classic MSF field post where we work six full days a week and spend the evenings and weekends enjoying our life together as a team, over scrabble (I brought travel scrabble: someone might wnat to let Seth know that all these years later, the game he gave me crossed the ocean so I and a few colleagues are thankful to him), dvd’s (Winnie and Charles: the team is SO thankful!) or simply a cup of tea and conversation. The internet connection is adequate at best and won’t support uploads of many photos. I think the team is great and I’m going to love working with them. Our life is rather circumscribed by realities — one doesn’t go out between dusk and dawn if one can avoid, given the condition of the roads and other safety considerations, and of course it being the tropics our days and nights are pretty much 12 hours year-round…which means that, aside from Sunday, we don’t have much free time during daylight to go anywhere. Which is fine. There’s a pool/club not far from here and it seems we head out there when we can for a swim and a beer, and we’ll shortly head off for the bar around the corner to celebrate a teammate’s birthday. Since I don’t like posting text without photos, this means there won’t be much to post for a while! So you all can catch up on old posts, haha.
But I’ll share a few initial impressions, just for the heck of it. It was a long haul to get here: JFK–>Heathrow–>Abuja–>Owerri, then a 2-hour+ drive to Pt Harcourt, whose airport is closed. Over potholes that could swallow NYC’s worst as a canape, past endless stands of palm and banana trees, through villages small and large adorned with more pentecostal-type “church of god” signs than one could imagine exist in such a small cluster of shacks (is church of god redundant? what else would a church be of?), past open stands whose baskets are piled high with bananas, cornmeal and rice, we made our way south to Port Harcourt, and I knew we were close when I saw my first tower burning off the natural gas collected in the oil refining process. Kids in school uniforms, mothers with babies tied around their waists with colorful sashes, men in colorful matching traditional-seeming tops and bottoms or wearing the white caps that I assume mean they’re Muslim; all motorbiking and walking along the roads. Hundreds of motorbikes, many jammed full with several friends and never a helmet to be seen. Vibrant and alive is how things seem to me so far. But these are the towns and cities on a major road, which I assume are a bit richer than more remote towns. Don’t know if I’ll ever see those. Anyway — here I am and here I’ll remain. If I get a chance to take any pictures, I’ll share them with you at some point. In the meantime, take care, be kind to your neighbors, spare some thought or time for reading about Africa when you can, and be in touch!