And now, Abuja by daylight!
Day 2 - Abuja
February 14th, 2012 – The next morning, I’m in the hotel lobby reading the newspaper (“Director of Information Ministry Shot at Government House”) when an elderly Caucasian man coming from the stairs greets me in a midwestern accent.
“Hi! Are you Kris?”
“Yes, you must be Doug” I say, extending my hand. He is a lean fellow who looks to be in about his mid sixties, with mischievous laughing eyes and white hair sticking out from under his fluorescent yellow baseball cap.
“Hey we have some time before Blessing is picking us up, want to check out the local market with me?” he proposes. I look anxiously out the gates of the hotel, where an armed guard is in the process of using a mirror to check underneath a car for bombs. Out there? I remember all the stories of violence, the police don’t go out at night because they’re not safe. I look at his ensemble, a subdued hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, and sandals with socks. My self identity definitely does not include being less brave than someone who wears socks with sandals.
“Okay yeah, let's go” steeling myself, I put down the newspaper.
The streets are broad, with only light traffic. Locals walk past us in a purposeful manner without a second look. Some wear business suits, some wear patterned traditional outfits with colorful brimless hats. As we walk down a block of three story buildings full of shops and little restaurants, Doug cheerfully tells me about his recent adventures in Ethiopia. He had ridden camels through sand storms in the Afar badlands to visit salt flats, sulphur springs and remote volcanoes. I feel envious and inspired, I want to do things like this, but how does one do that?
“Is that.. safe?” I ask, addressing my first concern.
“Oh, yeah,” he cheerfully answers, “a tourist was killed last month and they wanted to make sure it didn't happen again, so the army was out with kalashnikovs.”
“How do you even arrange that?” I ask.
“Oh, I don't know, it just kind of fell into place.”
We arrive at a smallish grocery store, and go inside. I had been expecting something more exotic, big baskets of colorful spices and piles of strange fruits, because, again, that’s all that’s ever shown on TV as an “African market,” and what I had seen in a previous trip to Egypt at the famous Khan El Khalili bazaar; instead I find a fairly typical grocery store of orderly straight aisles stocked with packaged foods. We make our way to the aisle of glass jars of jam, jelly and honey.
“Ah here's the honey... let's see... product of Texas!” Doug rolls his eyes.
During the drive to the Organization’s headquarters I see more of the city in the daylight for the first time, the streets are broad with only light traffic, bordered by tree-lined sidewalks, and yet it’s also distinctly different from a typical American city. For one thing, where most commercial buildings in American cities follow a basic and unimaginative boxy design, save for the occasional postmodernist library or corporate headquarters building, nearly every building in Abuja seems to have been custom designed as if a plain box shape is simply unacceptable. Simple rotundas, stepped entrances and distinct building wings break up building shapes in an elegant manner. I finally see some semblance of a hut -- a restaurant with a stylized large conical thatched roof, more a fancy design conceit than building expediency. From many places in the city one can see a huge rock rising 1200 feet out of the center of the city.
“That’s Aso Rock” Blessing points to it. “You see that building on top, that’s the president’s house.” While Doug and I are oohing-and-awing at it he continues “there’s actually an even bigger rock just outside of town, called Zuma Rock, it’s also on the 100 naira note.”
We drive through intersections with traffic signals that aren’t on, cars just weaving through the cross traffic as best they can.
Arriving at the Organization’s compound, Blessing noses up to the solid iron gate and gives the horn a quick toot, a boy of about 15 pops his head up in the window of a little kiosk-sized guardhouse built into the wall beside the gate, and then disappears to appear a moment later pushing open the gate and then closing it behind us. There’s a dirt parking area with a few land-cruisers and a two story building with a few sets of stairs leading to different entrances, evidently other organizations or companies.
The Organization’s Nigeria field office is just a small cluster of three or four offices and a conference room. Though its international headquarters is in Little Rock, Arkansas, all their field staff are locals of the countries in which they operate. In addition to the driver Blessing; we meet the accountant, a skinny young man; the secretary, a quiet young woman; John, a “Program Associate” who accompanies volunteers out into the field, a charismatic young man around my own age; and Mike the country director. Mike is a kindly middle-aged fellow, who worked for the World Bank before working for the Organization. While we’re talking to him he gets a notification on his phone and suddenly looks very troubled. After a moment he tells us
“A bomb just went off in Kaduna, which is just north of here. My family is in Kaduna.” After a moment he gets another notification and informs us “my family is okay” but he still seems a bit shaken. We’re told the plan is that John will accompany Doug to his project, but as to me, Mike will accompany me on a short in-country flight to the city of Ibadan and leave me there in the hands of a local partner organization.
26 Hours later in Ibadan, I would see Mike looking a lot more troubled after getting off his phone -- “There’s been an incident with Doug’s team”
I must admit, while the rest is undeniably true, I can't say I remember with absolute certainty that Doug was wearing socks with his sandals and am vaguely afraid that if I write that he was I'll be slandering him with such a salacious imprecation. :X
As with everything else, please let me know if anything here just isn't working for you and/or if the entire thing is getting off track or any such!