The Antithesis That Is Abuja
On the journey to Nigeria’s capital, I had the pleasure of travelling with three companions; the other Mwende, my namesake that I’ve known since we were seven years old, Aden, a mutual acquaintance and Amy, a new face. Our flight’s departure was taking off at 05:00am and promptly we were all at Jomo Kenyatta Airport by 03:45am. Despite it being the wee hours of the morning, our conversations thrived. So caught up in our own chit chat, we heard our names being blasted in the not-so-good airport microphone. Time had flown swiftly by; it was the last call for us to board our flight at 04:30am. My travel troop was sceptical about flying Ethiopian Airlines a few weeks after the fatal plane crash occurred. At this point in time, there was no choice but to hope for the best because our lives were literally on the line.
Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa reminded me of the mass population that existed in this world. Every kind of human was there, all races, height, weight, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity were moving towards one common goal of queuing in the fastest line that would get them to their desired destination gate. Adan said “The airport looks like a fancy refugee camp. “and I couldn’t agree more. It made me think of the global rat race that existed within the world and how population growth would be a huge issue in the years to come. The masses couldn’t compare to our very own airport in Kenya. The flight embarking to Abuja was a huge plane with numerous passengers, way better than the small charter plane that had brought us to Ethiopia. After 4 hours, we had landed in Abuja.
Abuja looked like the countryside at first glance, a sight similar to a rural town in Kenya. There were shrubs everywhere with one single building differentiating us from the wilderness. Immigration had slow moving queues. The immigration officer must’ve been new and inexperienced about how to do his job. His boss was breathing down his neck shouting at the poor guy who was now sweating profusely. My troop and I were in a rush and had to hurry on to meet our guide, Kenny, who had already been waiting for an hour.
The first thing that hit me like a truck was the heat. It was sweltering and overbearing like a nagging mother in law. The car park was untarmacked, everything was moving in a fast paced motion and it is the first time that I realized that Nigeria was filled with hardship and struggle. There were small street children hawking goods on the road; so courteous. As a foreigner in Nigeria, you’re bound to be exploited and this was no stranger to us at the first top of our journey; the forex bureau. Amy and Mwende both exchanged 50 US dollars. Mwende received 17,000 Naira in return and Amy received 15,000 Naira and there was nothing that could’ve been done to change the outcome. After a round of squabbling we got into our taxi and headed for pre-stay accommodation before the MEA Conference being held at the Bolingo Hotel.
A shanty slum awaited our tired souls. The Rovak Motel was in the heart of a poor part of Abuja. It looked like a picture perfect frame of a typical Nigerian movie. Three people were supposed to share a bed that was as hard as a block of wood. The toilet didn’t have any water and power cuts were as constant as blinking an eye. This is definitely not what we had signed up for; we were catfished. I couldn’t wait to leave a few minutes after we’d gotten here. The floor was filthy and there was paint chipping off the walls. It felt like a horror film.
I got the notion that, I couldn’t survive in Nigeria. Life here was very hard and very chaotic. Things were happening constantly and dramatically in a fast-paced motion. I was so surprised that such extreme conditions existed here after learning that this is the economy with the largest GDP in Africa. I was in complete disbelief; this didn’t make any sense to me. There was sewage openly flowing in the streets, plastic bags littering the environment and very hot sun burning our skin to the bone. A small restaurant in the middle of the slum was the pot of gold at the end of our hungry rainbow.
The small shanty restaurant was the first place that I had the chance to interact with “Pure Water” which is a product which was never used in Kenya since plastic papers had been banned in the country we can’t use such amenities. It was water in a small polythene bag. I found it so fascinating and couldn’t wait to drink it. The waitress couldn’t speak English and it was difficult trying to communicate with her but somehow we managed. The food was bland but at this point we were eating to survive. The poor lived like dogs scavenging for their last bone to survive. It was flabbergasting to see how they lived so terribly. Another problem that is faced is the availability of food in the country. We had to travel to a petrol station far away to look for French fries which had similarly run out. Either it was disrespect from the people or their attitude was rude but the service sector was very uncooperative.
The evening we hoped would be cooler but sadly the heat retained itself despite the darkness. We met more vibrant AIESECers from Tanzania, Cote D’Ivoire and Cameroon. We were all afraid of sleeping because it seemed like we could get mugged at any moment. It wasn’t safe to be in this space. Nigerian music was blasting loudly in a club outside the motel, this soothed me as Nigerian music is one of my favourite genres of music.
Our eyes all got so heavy, after going to say goodnight to our friends, we saw a giant cockroach. The bug was five inches long; I’d never seen a cockroach that large in Nairobi. Mwende and I began to cower in the corner, Adan tried to hit the roach with his slipper unsuccessfully. Amy screamed; the irony of how an environment of fatigue can switch to anxiety and fear in a split second. The three of us ran to our room and left Adan as the man to fend for himself, poor guy. A man trying to fight against a roach by himself; a war against insect and human. Who would win? What were the odds? An interesting, disturbing and intriguing experience to begin my odyssey in Nigeria.
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