Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

A day at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

I enjoyed the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature so much last year I decided I was definitely going to go again this year, especially when I found out Tan Twan Eng was going to be coming to Dubai. He has become one of my favourite authors – I read The Gift of Rain in 2007 and was so disappointed when I found out it was the only thing he’d written. His second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, was published in 2012 and I managed to read it just before the Literature Festival.

I booked my tickets in January and waited. I booked tickets for five different events taking place on the Friday. It meant I would be there from 10am to 7.30pm but I didn’t care. I had originally booked tickets for four sessions but when I realised I had a gap between 12.30pm and 5pm I decided to book something for the afternoon too.

The first session was at 10am and it was called ‘Intoxicating Prose from East & West’. The author panel consisted of Tan Twan Eng (The Gift of Rain, The Garden of Evening Mists), Jeet Thayil (Narcopolis) and Sjon (The Blue Fox). The moderator was Rosie Goldsmith. The first two rows were reserved for ‘Festival Friends’ (I think I might become one) and so I found a seat in the third row with a pretty good view of Tan.

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And a minute later, he moved. As he didn’t have his own mic, he had to sit next to the moderator in order to share hers.

Tan Twan Eng is a Malaysian writer – but Japan and Japanese culture feature heavily in both his novels. Rosie asked him whether he’d been to Japan – he hasn’t. He said he became interested in Japan when he was 16 years old. He was being bullied at school and was looking for a martial art to help him defend himself. He eventually chose Aikido because it doesn’t use any kicking movements (he said he was too fat to kick). For the next 12 years he became obsessed with Japanese culture as understanding it is necessary to progress in Aikido. When asked whether English is his first language he said it must be because he writes in English and dreams in English. He was a lawyer before he became a writer, and he studied in the UK. He also speaks Malay, Cantonese, a bit of Mandarin, and some Afrikaans (enough to know when he’s being sworn at). Rosie asked him if he spoke Japanese? He said he only knew Aikido-related words such as ‘Duck!’, ‘Stop!’, ‘Enough!’ and ‘I’m sorry’. He’s a very witty man – I could have listened to him for another hour. He said he would have to start writing about places other than Malaysia but I wanted to tell him that even if his next ten novels were set in Malaysia I’d still read them (and I did tell him this later on when he signed my books).

I have to admit I’d never heard of the other two authors but was glad to have heard them speak. I definitely want to read Narcopolis. Jeet Thayil’s novel is about Bombay in the 1970s, and takes place in the lowest class of society: opium smokers, drug users, pimps, prostitutes, and so on. He said he was tired about all Indian novels being about mangoes and monsoons and saris, loving grandparents and loved grandchildren. He said you no longer see these things in everyday India, that it’s a country of horrors. You see one horror after another on a daily basis and he wanted to convey that. When asked how he researched his novel, he replied that he used to be a part of this ‘lowest of the low’ in society. He was very open and honest about his past. He was asked how the book was received in India? ‘Viciously,’ was the word he used. Indian reviewers tore him and his book to shreds. When he attended the Jaipur Literature Festival he needed security. He believed it was because modern India doesn’t want to be reminded that such things are still taking place in the country. Interestingly (or typically), he said it all changed until his book started receiving rave reviews from the UK and the US. He said the Indian press then changed its tune about his novel overnight. Jeet mentioned that 50 pages of his novel take place in China but he hasn’t been there either!

Sjon is an Icelandic poet, novelist and lyricist. His novel, The Blue Fox, won the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2005 and has just been published in Arabic. It tells the tale of a priest, a naturalist and a young woman with Down’s syndrome. Did you know that even today fetuses with Down’s syndrome are routinely aborted in Iceland? Isn’t that terrible? The audience was shocked when they learned that.

After the discussion about their work, each author read aloud from their books. Tan went first with the following passage:

In the last four days the words have refused to come to me when I call for them and I can only stare at the paper. When they do leak from my pen, I am unable to make sense of them. Only when I work at night am I untroubled by spells of word-blindness. So I go on, writing as much as I can before I fall asleep.

Since midnight I have been sitting at the desk, working over the pages in which I had set down the events in the internment camp, making changes to my choice of words and the structure of my sentences. I am wearing my cardigan, but the study is cold, and my fingers hurt.

I get up from my chair and walk around the room, massaging my neck. My body is sore, but it is a wonderful kind of soreness, resulting from hard, physical work. I have started practising kyudo again. After a few sessions I can feel the old lessons I have learned returning to me.

Going back to my desk, I turn a few pages and read over what I have written. Even monkeys fall from trees. Yes, I am quite certain that was what Fumio said to me, before he cut my fingers off.

Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds. Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadows again.

There are moments when, remember what happened, I am unable to continue writing. What troubles me more than anything, however, are the instances when I cannot recall with certainty what has taken place. I have spent most of my life trying to forget, now all I want to is to remember. I cannot remember what my sister looked like; I do not even have a picture of her. And my conversation with Aritomo by Usugumo Pond, on that night of the meteor shower… did it take place on the day of Templer’s visit or did it occur on a different evening entirely? Time is eating away my memory. Time, and this illness, this trespasser in my brain.

There was pin-drop silence as he was reading and nobody spoke when he had finished. That’s when I realised that most of the audience, including me, and the moderator, and even Tan himself were in tears.

Jeet went next with the opening lines of his novel. He said the first six and a half pages consisted of one sentence, but I think he read just the first page and a half.

Sjon went last with a passage from his book.

After they had finished reading, Rosie asked them what they were working on. Jeet said he was writing a novel called Mangoes, Monsoons and Saris: An Indian Story. Of course, everyone laughed. Tan said he was working on a novel set in China, and it would be called Marcopolis. I’m pretty sure he was joking about his title too.

After the session the authors were signing copies of their books in the main foyer. I told Tan I loved his work as he was signing my books.

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He asked me whether I lived in Dubai and I told him I’d moved from London just over a year ago. He looked at me incredulously: Why?? ‘The weather,’ I said, although that’s not strictly true – it’s the short answer I give people.

My next session was at 11.30 and was called ‘Making it into Print’ with two authors, Kate Lord Brown and Kathy Shalhoub. It was interesting as Kathy’s book came about because she had been writing a blog about being an expat. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t know already though (keep practising, know your characters better than your friends, experiment and have fun, and so on).

I had some free time between 12.30pm and 3pm so I walked over to Festival City Centre and walked around for a while. I’d have stayed at the InterContinental but it was just so crowded I needed some space. I went back to the InterCon at 1.30pm and it had quietened down a bit as some of the afternoon sessions had already started. I wandered around the Dubai Doors exhibit for a few minutes.

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I bought a coffee, found a quiet spot at the end of a corridor, sat on the floor and read my book.

The 3pm session I attended was an hour with Tony Buzan called ‘Maps, Minds & Unlocking Creativity’. He talked about the use of colour when making notes and that the brain pays more attention when it looks at several colours rather than just one monotone colour. Colour is used to: discriminate, differentiate, categorise, reinvigorate the memory, focus the mind, improve the memory, highlight important things, stimulate the imagination. He told us that one brain cell is more powerful than a computer… Something Tony Buzan said really made me laugh. He said that when he was a boy growing up in Kent he was only allowed to write in one colour at school. Not blue ink, not black ink, but blue-black ink. And I remembered when I first went to boarding and we had to have a Parker pen and blue-black ink. Schools really do suck all the creativity out of you, don’t they?

Anyway, we were all given a piece of paper and a coloured pen. We had to write an introduction about ourselves and then introduce ourselves to the person sitting next to us. My introduction is pretty much what it says on my blog: Ex-Londoner now living in Dubai, and so on, except I added I’d been born to Indian parents and spent my childhood in Nigeria. The guy sitting next to me introduced himself first (Canadian-Lebanese), worked in finance, father of two, husband of one. I then read out what I’d written. ‘Nigeria?’ he asked. ‘I grew up in Lagos!’ What are the odds? He used to live in Apapa and went to the Lebanese School. What a small world. He introduced me to his wife who was sitting on his other side.

Our next exercise was to think of all the possible uses of a paper clip other than clipping paper together. I came up with toothpick (gross, I know), picking locks, resetting watches, hairclip. We then had to come up with the most creative things that we couldn’t use a toothpick for (e.g. breathing, food, making a spaceship, the list was endless). We then had to argue that we could in fact use a toothpick for breathing, food and making a spaceship. It was an entertaining session, and the way people’s minds work so differently is unbelievable.

I had an hour free after that session so I went outside and read my book – it wasn’t too hot and there was a nice breeze coming in from the creek.

At 5pm I went to the Ben Okri session called ‘Wild and A Time for New Dreams‘. Wild is his latest collection of poetry and A Time for New Dreams is his latest collection of essays. Rosie Goldsmith was interviewing him.

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I wish I could have memorised every word that he said during that hour. He talked about his family, growing up in Nigeria, his writing. He’s fascinating to listen to – and he has so much to say. The woman sitting in front of me recorded the whole thing and I’m hoping she puts it up on YouTube.

The last session I went to was ‘Stranger than Fiction: Jeffrey Archer In Conversation with Anthony Horowitz’. The queue to get into the room snaked all the way down the corridor and by the time I got to the front of the queue I was nowhere near the front. And then, one of the volunteers said there was a seat for one person in the sixth row. Amazing! I suppose that’s one of the perks of doing things on your own.

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It was a very entertaining hour. Jeffrey Archer talked about how he got started with his writing, the success of Kane & Abel, what he wants to do next (‘I’ve applied to be the next Pope’). He captivated the audience with one story after the other. I haven’t read anything by him in about 15 years but I’m now tempted to pick up the first of The Clifton Chronicles and see what it’s all about. He got a standing ovation at the end of the session.

It was a brilliant (but exhausting) day and I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Images of Lagos

I took *hundreds* of photos while I was in Lagos. I’ll admit that most of them are of my nephew, but I did manage to take some others too! I’ve used most of them in other posts, but here they are all together.

Enjoy!

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Banana Island

It was 1978 when we moved to Lagos. We lived in a house on Keffi Street in Ikoyi for a couple of years. In those days, most people lived in houses and my parents’ friends were mostly in Ikoyi and Ilupeju. Victoria Island was still a new place and it was very exciting when we moved there. The house was bigger, we had a huge garden, and our school was around the corner (the school also moved from Ikoyi to Victoria Island). We lived on a wide street lined with big houses. 

Today that street is unrecognisable (I think). There are very few houses – there are shops, restaurants and malls popping up everywhere. In fact, it’s not just this street, I think it’s the whole of Victoria Island that has become commercialised. And the traffic is insane. What would have been a 5-minute drive several years ago is now 25 minutes long.

More and more people are moving into luxury flats with tennis courts and swimming pools. And people are moving back to Old Ikoyi and the newly developed Banana Island.

Banana Island is a man-made island, an extension of Ikoyi, and it’s a very affluent neighbourhood. It’s shaped like a banana, hence its name.

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Luxury flats and houses are still under construction.

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There are even pavements!

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One of the residents told me that no commercial vehicles are allowed into Banana Island – no okadas (passenger-carrying motorbikes) or public transport. If you don’t have a car, the developers/residents have arranged for shuttles that leave from the entrance to Banana Island to various locations on the island. This cuts down the traffic tremendously.

Driving along the quiet wide avenues and looking at the big houses, the hustle and bustle of Victoria Island seem a million miles away.

 

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The developers/residents have also decided that they don’t want any commercial ventures in the neighbourhood. As a result, there are no supermarkets or shops of any kind or restaurants. So if you’ve done your shopping for the day/week and have forgotten something, it’s at least a 20-minute drive back to the closest supermarket!

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Vinay’s birthday party

Vinay turned 1 on 7 September! To celebrate, my sister had decided to have his birthday party at home the following Saturday…

When we were kids, my sister, brother and I all had our birthday parties in the garden – they would be from 4pm to 6pm. Kids would run around screaming or kicking a football, getting very sweaty. At 5.30 a cake would be cut, the kids would all eat, return presents would be handed out, and everyone would go home. These days (about 20 years later), things are VERY different.

My sister had hired a party planner for the entertainment. They arrived on schedule and started setting up outside.

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It was a hot day, and they worked very hard.

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Inside, we were sorting out the toddlers’ play area and the balloons (until we ran out of helium).

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The cupcakes arrived.

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There was something for everyone.

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The birthday boy had a good time.
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Then it was time to cut the cake.

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Vinay liked the cake so much he was licking it off his shirt!

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But this is my favourite photo of the day!

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Click here to read my sister’s more detailed version of events. And click here to read about all the things she learned while planning the party!

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The hunt for helium

After getting all the chocolates and soft drinks for Vinay’s party at the supermarket, our mission for the following day was to get helium for the balloons and wrapping paper for the return presents.

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My sister had heard that Iponri market in Surulere would have all these things, so off we went on Tuesday morning. It took about 20 minutes to get there – the driver knew where it was so we didn’t have any problems. 

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Our first stop was a stationery/book shop.

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I was amazed at what was available – wrapping paper, party invitations, teaching books for children, and all the Enid Blyton books you could ever want!

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We picked up eight rolls of wrapping paper and headed into the market looking for helium.

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We asked the first shop owner who directed us down another lane, similar to the one above. When we got there, we asked for helium and the next shop owner directed us down the following lane. This happened several times, each lane getting narrower and narrower, until finally a shop owner told us we wouldn’t find helium in the market and even told us where to get some. Now why couldn’t the first person have told us this? Thankfully our driver had come with us or the two of us would still be lost in that maze of little lanes selling cheap Chinese products.

We left the market, looking for a shop called ‘Simba’ something – none of us were sure what she had said, but it was near Mr Bigg’s and Tantalizers. We found Mr Bigg’s and Tantalizers but couldn’t find this shop. We drove up and down the street and I spotted a sign that said ‘Samba Unit’. Close enough – perhaps that’s what she meant? My sister and I walked in – the guy there was young and quite trendy – and we weren’t sure if we were in the right place. ‘How can I help you?’ he asked. We told him we were looking for helium. He looked disappointed. ‘This is a recording studio,’ he replied. Oh. Right. Er. Thanks.

We then decided to call someone who could point us in the right direction. Five minutes later we found ‘Simbabe’ – close to ANOTHER Mr Bigg’s and Tantalizers!

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We got the helium and headed home.

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And here are some sights of Lagos we saw on the way there and back…

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Would you ever?

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The National Stadium

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Armed police – a common sight here

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Poor thing looks lost

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Spotted stuck to the back of a van

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A trip to the supermarket

After my first relaxing weekend in Lagos, I was warned that from Monday we would be very busy organising Vinay’s 1st birthday party…

On Monday afternoon, we went to The Palms, a mall in Lekki, where there are two supermarkets and some other shops.

Our first stop was Game – we needed chocolates and soft drinks. We walked in, got a trolley and tried to find the aisle with the chocolates and sweets. We walked past aisle after aisle – stationery, cushions, toys, toiletries, garden furniture… You could probably find anything you need here, but at a price.

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We found the chocolates and picked up handfuls of Mars bars, Bounty bars, Snickers, it was all there. And they cost roughly 40p each. I think that’s cheaper than they are in London.

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We then headed to the soft drinks – and I came across the first aisle of alcohol. A bottle of Absolut costs about £10 here – I have no idea what it costs in London though. It didn’t seem as extortionate as I thought it would be. But again, everything is available: vodka, whisky, wine, champagne. 

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After paying at Game, we headed to the next supermarket – Shoprite. It was much more crowded than Game as I think their prices are very slightly cheaper.

Again, there were aisles and aisles of things.

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They even had pumpkins (albeit very small ones) in the fresh vegetables section. I wondered where they came from because a few days ago I’d heard people talking about how many of the ‘fresh’ vegetables are imported from China these days. It’s quite a scary thought as most of the products coming in from China are genetically modified and contain preservatives which retain the colour and flavour of the food, and extend their shelf life by up to 2 years. That doesn’t sound very healthy to me. That’s outrageous! I also read recently that, so far, Chinese investment in Nigeria has hit $7 billion. You can see it in the construction going on everywhere. Right outside my sister’s house, there stood an empty plot of land – it was empty for decades (I know this because we also grew up in this house). This time, there’s a huge building there – and it reminds me of all the buildings I saw in Guangzhou, China.

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And that’s just one of them. There are several of these buildings under construction throughout the city. This must be happening throughout Africa. According to an article in The Economist, imports from China to Africa in 2010 totalled almost $70 billion, and they’re investing more in Africa than any other continent. I wonder what this could mean for the continent politically? And for the rest of the world?

But, I digress. Back to the supermarket. While we were in the queue to pay for more chocolates and soft drinks, I decided to wander down the cereal aisle and check out how much cereal costs here. I came across shelves of Special K – a 500 g box costs £6! 

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I know! I was shocked too!

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Lagos – the first three days

I didn’t do very much on day 1 – played with the baby, slept, ate. I felt constantly hungry. And between Vinay and Rolo, at least one of them was jumping on me at any given time…

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The next day, Saturday, was busier than the first day. The hairdresser came (£8 – bargain!), we went to the BMS spa to get our nails done (£40 – same as London), went over to an aunt’s house for tea… Hectic!

That evening four of us went to the restaurant at the top of Avenue Suites for dinner – it’s a big place, but was quite empty – and quite dark. The view during the day is supposed to be lovely – the restaurant overlooks Bar Beach – but we couldn’t see very much at night. We ordered five starters – calamari, salad, potato wedges, bruschetta, bresaola. In hindsight, that was more than enough as only three of us were eating, but we’d also ordered main courses. I ordered the tagliatelle with salmon – it was very good but there was a lot of it! I ate the salmon and picked at the pasta but couldn’t finish it. We’d also ordered a double vodka with soda each – when the waiter brought them the tall glasses were so full with the ice and vodka that there was barely any space at the top to fit in the soda! My next drink was a single… 

Restaurants here seem to be more expensive than London – there was a grilled salmon on the menu which cost more than £20 – which is more than what I would pay for the same thing in London. I suppose by the time you take into account all the overheads (ingredients, importing food, diesel for the generators, and who knows what else) it all adds up.

After that we went to the Radisson Blu on Ozumba Mbadiwe for some drinks. There was no space to sit outside as it was so packed! It’s on the waterfront, and felt very European. We ended up sitting inside and ordered some wine. A glass of white wine is roughly £5, but a bottle cost about £28 – which made no sense at all – it’s cheaper to have wine by the glass than by the bottle! 

We weren’t home too late and made a plan to spend Sunday at the pool.

The weather on Sunday was lovely, so we went to the Blowfish Hotel and sat by the pool.

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(Yes, the whole building is that salmon pink colour – it’s very distracting.)

We ordered some drinks and some lunch and just chilled all afternoon. We ordered suya – which I hadn’t had in AGES. It’s barbecued beef with a peppery/spicy powder – and it’s yummy. I ate so much of it.

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I think everyone had a relaxing day…

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On our way home, we stopped at The Ice Cream Factory (because clearly we hadn’t eaten enough all day) – it was really crowded so we picked up some ice cream to go.

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I couldn’t decide what to have – there were so many flavours! And then I spotted this:

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Surely not? There must be some mistake. Aren’t chinchillas pets/rodents? 

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I was nowhere near brave enough to try it – but it *must* be something else!

We came home, lazed around, played with the baby and didn’t do very much else for the rest of the evening. A nice, lazy weekend ūüôā

 

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Back in Lagos

I know I usually write about my¬†10 kilos by Christmas¬†progress on Tuesday mornings, but considering all I’ve done since I got to Lagos three days ago is eat, I thought I’d give that a rest for the next couple of weeks. Or it might be about PUTTING ON 10 kilos by Christmas!

I’m in Lagos for a couple of weeks visiting¬†my sister¬†and her family. It’s my¬†nephew’s¬†1st birthday on Wednesday and I wanted to be here to celebrate with the little monster. The last time I was here was back in February 2008.

Coming to Lagos is never simple. First of all, there’s the¬†visa, which I took care of. Then, there’s¬†the list. Luckily, my mum took care of most of that. And in case you’re wondering, we¬†did¬†ignore items 4 and 8! There’s always a lot to bring as everything is pretty expensive here.

When travelling to Nigeria, economy passengers are allowed two pieces of checked luggage, instead of the usual one. When I started packing I realised that even two suitcases wouldn’t be enough for all the things I had to take, so when I checked in online I was given the option of purchasing allowance for another suitcase at ¬£32 which I took. I then had three heavy suitcases – one filled with my clothes and things, the second one filled with hams, cheeses, corn flakes, toys, and the third filled with whatever wouldn’t fit in the other two!

My parents dropped me off at the airport – both of them. I don’t remember the last time that happened. Check-in was smooth – Virgin travellers to Lagos have their own check-in section at Terminal 3. Each of my bags weighed just under the 23 kg allowance. Other passengers on either side of me, however, were having to re-pack their bags to distribute the weight more evenly in their suitcases and were given quite a hard time by the check-in staff, including a member of their crew. They even gave the guy in front of me a hard time because his hand luggage weighed 6.3 kg!

I went through security without any problems, browsed through duty free (I bought a Lalique perfume to replace the discontinued Le Baiser) and then it was time to get on the plane. The gate was quite a walk from the main airport lounge – it took about 10 minutes. I got there early enough to get a seat and waited for my section to be called out so I could board. There were loads of kids waiting at the gate – I’d say there were more kids than adults on the flight, all of them heading home after the holidays. The waiting area at the gate was noisy – music, video games, it didn’t bode well.

My section was eventually called and I boarded the plane. Whenever I’ve flown to Lagos, by the time I get on the plane, there’s no room in the overhead compartments so this time I made sure I was waiting at the door when they called my section! I got on the plane, and luckily the entire compartment was empty when I got there. I put my bag and duty free shopping away and waited for the person sitting next to me to show up before I sat down and made myself comfortable in my aisle seat. I waited for ages – and just when I thought I might have an empty seat next to me, he showed up. Isn’t that typical? Luckily, once he sat down, he didn’t move during the entire flight!

We got to Lagos at 5.15 am, went through immigration in 5 minutes, got a trolley and porter, and by 6 am I was waiting for my luggage. And I waited. And I waited. I’m not exaggerating when I say that about 90% of the suitcases that fell onto the carousel were upside down and back to front. It made identifying bags even more difficult. Every time I saw a red suitcase, I got all excited and then realised that it wasn’t mine. Surely ALL my bags couldn’t be lost?? I wasn’t panicking yet as there were still about 100 people waiting for their bags to show up. In the meantime, the porter was busy helping other people with their bags – my sister had warned me not to expect him to hang around me all the time and that I’d have to share him with other passengers! And then finally, at 7 am, there they were. All three of them in a row. The man who had helped me through immigration told me I should never check in on time because that’s why my bags were late. If you check in on time, your bags are the first ones on the plane and the last ones off. Er. OK. I’ll remember that. I went through customs, my sister was waiting for me outside the airport, and we headed home.

Being back in Lagos makes me appreciate the things I take for granted in London: electricity, hot running water, petrol, the Internet, pavements, being able to walk anywhere I want…

This is part of the road outside the house

This is part of the road outside the house

There have been a lot of changes since I was last here – the most noticeable one is that there are traffic lights (in some areas)! And they work! And drivers pay attention to them!

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There are also many new hotels and buildings coming up – mostly on the waterfront…

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… including the Radisson Blu which opened earlier this year.

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You can still go ‘shopping’ when you’re stuck in go-slow (traffic) – you can buy almost anything! Watches…

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Bread, water, sweets…

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Art…

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Mobile top-up cards…

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There are still little shops on the roadside in some areas…

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The Internet connection can be temperamental. The day I got here I was using my BlackBerry – I needed to be in touch with my sister after I landed and thought I may as well keep it on for the day until I had a local phone sorted for myself. At about 9 pm I got a text message from Vodafone saying my usage for that day had already reached the maximum while roaming, which is ¬£15 per day. There was no way I was paying that amount every day so I switched off the data while roaming. There was no wi-fi at home for the first week so I used an MTN dongle – it costs about ¬£2 for 24 hours or 50 MB – whichever comes first. You can also get monthly top-ups. The service wasn’t great – the Internet speed varies from minute to minute – but it was better than nothing! The wi-fi is up and running now – hurrah!

Today, Lagos is a city where the old meets the new…

New buildings and yachts on the waterfront

New buildings and yachts on the waterfront

New buildings and yachts on the waterfront with *loads* of traffic in the background!

New buildings and yachts on the waterfront with *loads* of traffic in the background… Yes, that is a helipad on the water. It has been there for years and I have yet to see a helicopter flying over the city – but I’ve been assured that they do exist!

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Old and new – Eko Court in the foreground, and the new Intercontinental Hotel coming up behind it…

So, there have definitely been some changes around here!

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Applying for my Nigerian visa: part 2

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was planning a trip to Lagos for Vinay’s first birthday and that once again I would need to brave the Nigerian High Commission in London.

The visa application process is a little different these days. All applications are processed and paid for online, and once you’ve submitted your application you’re told what date you need to submit your passport to the High Commission. Organised, isn’t it?

Well. Yes and no.

I filled in the application form online, paid for my visa (£90!) and was told I needed to submit my passport on 23 August. Simple.

I then decided to look at the list of things I needed to take with me:

  • Valid passport
  • Printed copy of the online visa application form and a copy of the payment confirmation page and a passport photo
  • Letter of invitation from Nigeria accepting full immigration responsibilities for me while in Nigeria
  • Photocopy of the inviter’s passport
  • Visa fee payment confirmation AND a £20 postal order for processing fees (so I spent £110 on the visa in total)

I had all those things except a printed copy of the online visa application form. I could just print it off after it had been submitted, right? WRONG. I logged in using the details they’d given me only to be told that I couldn’t change my application. I couldn’t even see my application form. Shit – I thought I was going to have to re-apply and pay the £90 again! There must be an easier way, I thought. I emailed the help contact on the website explaining the situation and waited for a reply. It took just 5 minutes for the advisor to get back to me. She said I needed to fill in the online application form again but instead of submitting it, just print it. Now why hadn’t I thought of that? And why don’t they tell people this on the site?

So I managed all that. No problems.

The Visa section of the High Commission officially opens at 10am. At least that’s what it says on their website. I know from past experience that if you get there earlier you can still collect a number and wait in the visa hall. I decided to do that – I got there at 9.15 (in the pouring rain) and was met with a queue outside the building. There were about 20 people in front of me and the queue was moving quickly. When I got to the front, I realised that embassy staff were checking that people were coming in with printed application forms and proof of payment before entering the main hall. You’d be amazed how many people didn’t bring their application forms, their payment confirmation, or even their passports (eh?) – and they were shocked that they were turned away. I didn’t have any problems and the man let me through.

Once I entered the main hall I had to join another queue where another man was also checking documents and he gave me a ticket – number 606. I’m not joking when I say that there were at least 100 people already in this room – men, women, children, babies, strollers. It was noisy and there was nowhere to sit. The person standing next to me had ticket number 025. F***. I was going to be there forever!

At 9.30 they started calling people forward to the counters. I think that’s because they couldn’t fit any more people in the room and the queue outside was growing! My concern about being there all day vanished when they called the first ticket of the day – ticket 600! Visa applications and passport applications have separate numbering systems – thank goodness! I didn’t have long to wait at all…

My application was processed without any problems. The English guy applying at the counter next to me didn’t have a photocopy of the inviter’s passport and was told to come back another day. So they’re serious about all that!

I was out of there by 10.15 and headed to work. I just have to collect my passport in a few days and I’m done.

No mobbed counters and nobody shouting at each other – the process was much more streamlined this time. Thank goodness!

 

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Applying for my Nigerian visa

Now that I’m all booked for Lagos, I have to sort out a Nigerian visa. I want to weep.

When I was growing up and going back to Nigeria regularly I didn’t have to think about visas and other practicalities – every time I’d go back my dad would sort things out for us. As I don’t go back as frequently (the last time was 3 years ago) and my parents don’t live there now, I have to sort these things out myself.

I went back to Lagos in 2006 after a 9-year break. That time, a friend of mine hooked me up with someone at the High Commission and I got my visa in about half an hour. I didn’t even have to go to the main visa application area; he let me wait in the main reception area of the High Commission.

I went back a year later and the same friend sorted me out – I was ever so grateful.

In 2008, I thought it would be really cheeky of me to ask again so I decided to apply on my own…

I used to think that applying for a Nigerian visa was a pain in the ass (until I applied for an Indian visa last summer). You only (!) need the following documents:

  • Passport – yes, you really do need your passport
  • Two passport photos
  • Completed application form
  • A letter from your health insurance company stating coverage – I think this is new because I didn’t have to provide this 3 years ago
  • Proof of an airline booking
  • Current bank statement
  • A letter of invitation from your friends/family

When I applied for my visa in 2008, I got to the High Commission before 10am, took a ticket from the machine and sat down. I looked around – the counters were clearly labelled: visa applications, passport applications, cashier. So far so good.

As soon as the counters opened at 10am, chaos broke out. People were crowding around each counter, regardless of whether it was a visa or passport application – and nobody gave a shit what number they had in their hands. Crap, I thought. This is going to be a nightmare.

And then a young(ish) Nigerian man climbed onto his chair and started shouting: ‘What are you people doing? You’re behaving like animals! No wonder people treat Nigerians like dirt!’ I was shocked. He was shouting at his fellow countrymen – and I think they were shocked too because they all calmed down and looked around sheepishly. They found seats and waited for their numbers to be called out. Did that happen every morning? What would have happened if that man hadn’t been there?

I submitted my application and went to pick up my passport a day later – no problems. 

But now I have to go back in the next few days – and I just don’t know what to expect!

2011

(Just one of the many sights I’m looking forward to seeing…)

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