You probably won’t just go to Lagos as a tourist. You will probably only go if you are an expat going for work, a spouse of an expat or if you happen to marry a Nigerian. I went for work. Having lived in South Africa for 12 years now, I am well aware that SA is not necessarily Africa, hence I knew that something completely different was going to await me .But I am not sure if I was prepared. I guess I wasn’t.
Arriving at the airport was a first impression.. Old run-down airport (isn’t it a super rich country, well at least it was before the oil crises hit?). Military officials everywhere. Not the friendliest of people. They love their paperwork and being seemingly important. No real air-conditioning – so even when you know that everything is in order with your paper, you sweat because of the heat and humidity and because the officials make you feel that there is something wrong with you.
The climate in Lagos is a different story all together. It is so humid and hot and it basically never cools down. My body had serious problems adapting to it. They say the traffic is a nightmare.. but apparently because of the current economic crisis, people using more buses etc. I was lucky enough not to experience it.
Most expats probably stay on Victoria Island – VI as it is called. That’s also where my hotel and our office are located. VI is not as glamorous as I expected it to be. The streets are bad (Jo’burgers.. when we complain about potholes.. ours are nothing compared to theirs). The hotel I stayed at (apparently one of the better one) was a nightmare. The room smelled of mold and damp, there were damp patched on the ceiling. Other than the rooms, I guess the amenities were relatively ok. I didn’t get to try the attached restaurants, except the one for breakfast – which again was a nightmare. Starting from a bad and slow service, to not knowing what gluten or rather gluten-free is.
I was taken to Lagos Island one afternoon. Typically touristy, I didn’t leave the car. Not out of fear, simply because there was no time to walk around, it was all about getting a first hand (or eye rather) impression of the real Lagos, the old CBD. It’s the picture of Lagos that is known from the media, the hustle and buzz. This is where you can see a lot of Lagos military history, monuments etc that could have come straight out of Russia. This is also where you can find the legendary Freedom Park, a cultural entertainment center that I heard a lot about, but didn’t go.
But now enough complaining.. I sound like a spoilt traveller. I am also well aware that one should actually start with the positive – however, I have decided to leave the best for last. And oh yes, there are a lot of good things about Nigeria. Starting with the people who I dealt with. Everyone (with the exception of airport officials) I dealt with was really really accommodating and their hospitality amazing, really trying to make me feel comfortable no matter if it was the driver picking me up from the airport, my colleagues in the office or the receptionist at the hotel. My colleagues went out of their way to accommodate my gluten intolerance, to show me around, to show me the local sides as well as the expat sides of Lagos.
Where to eat
A friend of mine, a Swedish girl I met at varsity is now living in Lagos and the one night she took me out R.S.V.P. A contemporary restaurant with an amazing atmosphere and delicious continental food. I think I had the best mushroom and truffle risotto ever.
What I realized was that Nigerians are very fond of formalities. For example, they would never talk about someone only using their name. It would always start with Mr or Mrs. Well, except you really know each other well or unless you are on the same hierarchical level.
All in All
All together I had a good time. It was a challenging trip because of the climate change that my body didn’t cope really well. This trip definitely didn’t come with any glamour that is usually associated to “travel”. It wasn’t much fun but I am glad for the experience.