Archive for the ‘Travel Notes’ Category

North of Lagos has been a powerful communication tool connecting me to interesting Nigerians world wide. Ijeoma Emenanjo is one of those people. Working towards his masters at Harvard, he also is the founder of a media organization called Verity Africa. He found me on my blog and told me about his interest in working with me as part of it. The purpose of Verity Africa is to tell deep, investigative stories about interesting, news-making Africans. He tells them in the form of 30-minute documentary videos. He picks people who are unique, challenging and different. I guess I fit those characteristics as a white girl speaking Yoruba. He met me in Nigeria and we went to a market in Lekki, then a small town not too far from Ibadan. Check out the page on Facebook and watch the latest video of me in Igbo Ora famous for the highest twin birth rate in the world.

Click to see me on Verity Africa

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Wednesday was my last day in Ibadan. I had a last meal of amala with my host mom’s delicious ground nut soup. I cried when I said goodbye to my host family. I feel like a real member of the family and it was difficult to leave them. I know we will see again soon. I am in Lagos for now until I leave Nigeria on Tuesday. I will go to Europe for a few weeks and then finally return home to Chicago. For now, I am enjoying the fast-paced life of Lagos and suffering without a car. Èkó ò ní bàjé o!!!

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Dear Readers,

I apologize for not blogging recently. The reason I have vanished is I am in Lagos and have been running around getting muddy at markets, attending art auctions (I went to the Art House auction at the Civic Center last night) and sitting in traffic. I threw this video together from some of the short clips I’ve taken here. When I get back to Ibadan I will sit down and write some long, thoughtful posts.

Yours truly,


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We eat butter

There are two types of people in Nigeria , those that eat butter and those that eat cassava. In modern day Yoruba, we call the former grope the ajebota and the latter, less fortunate group the ajepaki. The literal translation of these two word is “we eat butter,” and “we eat cassava.”

An ajebota (pronounced ah-jay-butta) is someone who lives a privileged, pampered life. In Nigeria, a spoiled life means having a driver to endure the hours of traffic and bad roads while you sit on the phone chatting on your BB. It means hardly minding the electricity outages because of the trusty generator that kicks in whenever NEPA happens. The term ajebota carries a negative meaning sometimes, that the person is not just spoiled, but insensitive and out of touch to realities of the world. I think the title ajebota for this type of lifestyle arose out of the fact that butter is rare in Nigeria. Most families eat one of the many unhealthy varieties of margarine. So those who eat butter and have the means to refrigerate it continuously are among the elite.

An ajepaki (pronounced ah-jay-pah-kee) is someone who lives a life with hardships and struggle. It means walking with your bucket to fetch water to take your bath every morning, spending long hours in the dark whenever the light goes. Calling someone an ajepaki is saying that person must work hard for the little he has. Paki means cassava in Yoruba. To those foreign to the plant, cassava is a tuber (in the potato family) that grows abundantly in Nigeria. Nigerians grind it up, add cold water and drink it as a snack called garri or add hot water, turn it and eat it as a meal called eba. It has a sour taste that took me a long time to get used to. Cassava is extremely cheap to buy so those who don’t have much must get by with garri and eba.

These terms are not official. They don’t have a deep meaning in the Yoruba culture and I have never heard anyone call himself an ajebota or ajepaki. They are modern day slangs that friends to make fun, tease or describe one another.

That being said, my mom from America arrived in Lagos last week. She is here for three weeks to visit me and walk in my shoes. We are having an incredible time together, and I apologize for not posting more but I have been a bit distracted. We were in Lagos for a few days and had quite an ajebota experience. From VIP tickets to Fela on Broadway, Chapmans at the News Cafe in Lekki, to air conditioned cars, my mom and I had a great time in Lagos. She is most amazed by the way cars share the roads with hawkers, wheelbarrows, and bikes weaving in and out. Even as we are back in Ibadan now her senses are on overload, taking Nigeria in. I could not be more excited that my real mom is visiting me in my new home.

My mom and I at Eko Hotel in Lagos to see Fela the Broadway musical, which was amazing!

My mom and I with our host in Lagos, Charis Onabowale, better known as Mama Cass. Here we are at a wedding.

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It took months of reminding and asking our coordinator but we finally made it to Badagry as one of our “cultural tours” of Nigeria. Badagry is a coastal city on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Guinea, between Lagos and the Republic of Benin. On entering Nigeria by road, it is the first city you pass through. It is one of the many historical sites in Nigeria, known for being the major slave port in West Africa. Hundreds of thousands of captured Africans passed through this city on their horrific journey to be sold in America, the Caribbean, South America and Europe. The first Christian missionaries also landed here in 1842. Today, the city looks like a typical south-western Nigeria town but it is more slow paced compared to the hustle bustle of Lagos and Ibadan. It’s placement on the beach makes it ideal for tourism, so I was glad to see the early stages of construction of a massive boardwalk that would spark a tourist industry there.

The most interesting part of the trip for me was touring the Heritage Museum, a museum of artifacts and information about the slave trade in Nigeria. I was moved and almost shed tears when I picked up the left cuff of a real wrought iron wrist shackle slaves were to wear on their wrists at all times. I strained to lift it with one hand. Curriculum about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is mandatory in the U.S.

Wrought iron wrist shackles. I picked it up and was disgusted and appalled at how heavy it is.

I have listened to many lectures, read books and seen movies about it. But all those secondary sources paled in comparison to lifting one shackle or listening to our tour guide explain in Yoruba and demonstrate how slaves were to drink out of the deep cone shaped iron drinking pot without using hands. When we finished the tour of the rooms we came out onto a balcony overlooking the Gulf of Guinea. It reminded me of finishing the tour of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and coming out onto the balcony overlooking the land Jews call their own now. Our guide pointed across the water to an island covered in trees.

View when you finish the tour of slave history in Nigeria. The bridge across the gulf is the "point of no return."

“Se e ri afara funfun yen? Do you see that white bridge? We call that place the “point of no return” because once the slaves are transported from the mainland across to that place, they are boarded into the ship and there is no way they can escape.” Thinking about the brutality that took place on the very ground I was standing on is chilling but it is a very important history to understand so it can never happen like that again.

Feeling inspired, we went to the beach along the highway towards the Benin border. Except for a few souls, palm frond houses and fishing boats, the beach was desolate. The dull turquoise water receding fast down the shore crashing back with foamy tops.

The beach at Badagry.

Our teachers would not even let us put one foot in the water because they feared the strength of the current would pull us, all experienced swimmers, out to sea. I found fun in taking pictures instead.

That makes the cities I’ve visted: Abeokuta, Badagry, Osogbo, Ilobu, Oke Omu, Sekonna, Ilesa, Eko, Oyo. We still have to get to Ife and many others. Hopefully soon!

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I had the experience of visiting one of Nigeria’s national parks this weekend. In a typical Nigerian style last minute plan, my program set out on our journey to Old Oyo National Park early Friday evening, planning the trip that afternoon.

walking on flat rocks at Old Oyo National Park

Our group walking through the dried up river basin at Old Oyo National Park.

Leaving from Ibadan around 3:30 p.m., we arrived at the park’s hotel in Sepeteri around 7:30 p.m. The ride was beautiful-vast expanses of green savannah stretched out on each side of our bus. Thanks to the few recent rain falls the trees and grass are lush and full. We encountered a surprise on the way that definitely shook me up a little bit and gave me more insight into politics in Nigeria. The surprise was the aftermath of a political rally for Nigeria’s PDP (People’s Democratic Party) party–specifically it was a 50-car caravan of political campaigners to reelect Oyo State’s current governor, Alao Akala. We met the first 20 or so cars-mostly Prados, Mercedes Benz’s, Jeeps and pick-up trucks carrying Akala, his advisors and a bus of “important women” (as the sign that hung on the bus said) coming around the turn to enter Iseyin town. We stopped on the side of the road there to wait for one of our teachers to meet us and thank God we did. In the 30 minutes we were stopped, we saw the second half of the caravan pass by. Mini bus (danfo) after mini bus filled with young men wearing tattered jeans and shirts, waving machetes and guns in the air, shouting pro-PDP sayings drove by. These people are referred to as Akala’s thugs. Then came the school busses wrapped in Akala campaign slogans, a couple Coach busses adorned with Akala and Goodluck’s (President of Nigeria) faces, lines of cars wrapped with pro-Akala jargon and the man’s face. Quite a sight to see. Our teacher met us and we continued on through Iseyin. The hundreds of people standing in disarray on the street, shattered glass covering the streets, mini-busses with all the windows shattered and bullet holes in the sides told a story of what must have happened just 30 minutes before. Our bus filled with white students passed cautiously through the mess, attracting stares from the crowds. We continued on our path to the park full of wildlife and exotic plants that awaited us.

Maybe it was because we set out for the park too late-we left at 9 a.m. and apparently all the animals are already hiding from the scorching sun by then- or we were just unlucky but our journey around the Old Oyo National Park did not see one animal,

Old Oyo National Park spans a shocking 960 square miles across Oyo State, Nigeria. A river in the park.

the unidentifiable brown mass that scurried across the road in front of our car does not count. From the comfort of our air-conditioned van we saw a minuscule fraction of the park that spans a remarkable 2,512 sq km (970 sq mi), most of which fall in Oyo State, some extends to Kwara State. The park is named after Old Oyo, the political capital of the Oyo Empire between the 16th and 18th centuries. You can actually visit the city’s ruins inside the park, but we didn’t make it that far. We saw lots of plants used for medicinal purposes (the Yoruba’s call it ago), one river, yam farms and a beautiful river basin that is dried now exposing smooth flat rocks. We toured the park for about 3 and half hours in total. For a journey that took almost four hours, including the PDP caravan sighting, it was worth it for all of the villages, yam/cassava/cashew farms and natural beauty we saw along the way.

The five of us Oyinbos at Old Oyo National park, from left to right: Kolade, Abike, Kayode, Akinwumi, Titilayo (me)

When the water dries up, it leaves little plants on the rocks which dry up in the sun and create intricate white patterns on the rocks which I thought was beautiful.

Much of the area of the park we visited looked like this, bush. They had just burned it so many of the tree bark was black but the grass was bright green.

On our way out of the park we stopped in a compound on the side of the road and pounded corn for a little while. These kids were happy to see a group of Oyinbo pepe's.

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After extensive online research and going to the embassies in person, I have discovered that it is extremely difficult (I don’t want to say impossible, because nothing is impossible in Nigeria) for a non-Nigerian resident to obtain a Ghanaian visa in Nigeria. If you have a resident visa it is possible, but those of us without resident visas cannot obtain a Ghana visa from the Ghana High Commission in Nigeria. You have to apply for a visa online and pick it up at the point of entry to Ghana. If you do that, you should absolutely fly to Ghana from Nigeria. I would advise against any non-Nigerian person in Nigeria from traveling to Ghana by road because 1) the transit visas you need for Togo and Benin will cost N 17,000 (about $130) total (N 7,000 for Togo and N 10,000 per two entries in Benin) and 2) for all of the hold-up and wahala (problems) you will face at each border. Even my Nigerian host family said the border patrol gives them a hard time.

One of my friends said he, a Nigerian, and his white girlfriend tried to go by road and were forced to turn back because of the constant questioning and hold up they met at each police check point. He said they could spend up to 45 minutes at each one waiting while the Togolese officers scrutinized his girlfriends passport and travel documents. It’s either you stand your ground and wait out the questions or give in and pay an unknown amount, he warned. The latter could get expensive and they still might not let you pass. Speaking fluent French would be to your great advantage. So if you are a white person coming to Nigeria and plan to travel to Ghana while you are here, make sure to obtain the visa in your home country to avoid all of this disappointment that I have experienced.

One option for foreign travelers getting around West Africa is finding someone with connections (which is not hard) to help you get an ECOWAS passport. The Economic Community of West African States is a group of 15 West African countries that works to build joint economic development in the region. ECOWAS passport holders can travel to any of the participating countries without a visa. Ghana and Nigeria are ECOWAS countries. From what my local sources have told me, all you need is about N 20,000 ($133), passport photos and pam, you have a golden ticket to West Africa. The passport would be legitimate and approved. As afore mentioned, anything is possible in Naija. As for the questioning you would get as a white person holding a Nigerian passport at the border, I am unsure, but at least you have the documentation.

One thing is for sure, this holiday season, I am staying in Nigeria.

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As Banky W appropriately said, “Ain’t no party like a Lagos party.” He could have sang something like, “Ain’t no traffic like Lagos traffic,” but I doubt that track would sell thousands of copies and receive plentiful airtime. You can fill in the blanks with almost anything and it will make sense. “Ain’t no blank like a Lagos blank.” The possibilities are endless because as I experienced from a week long vacation there last week, ain’t no city like Lagos.

It is impossible to see all of Lagos (pronounced Lay-gos, not Lah-gose like the one in Portugal, although the Portuguese did give the city known as Èkó, a new name of Lagos when they landed there in 1472) in a week–just like it takes months to really understand Manhattan, Chicago or London. I think it would even take years to master Lagos, the second largest city in Africa (behind Cairo) because of it’s ever growing density and pure madness. Driving around downtown VI, I felt like I was in New York City because of the wide streets, tall, not so sparkling buildings and people everywhere. People on the street in Lagos though are different than people on the street in NYC, Chicago or Rome (some of the big cities I’ve been to.) In the latter, the vast majority of people are 1) walking and 2) walking with a purpose. Plenty of people walk with a purpose in Lagos but a lot of other people are sitting or standing around the street selling things. Almost every street within the city is lined with women sitting on a small wooden stool with their market neatly stacked up in front of them waiting for someone to sell to. I cannot imagine what would happen if the city started requiring sellers to have vending licenses. The four of us who went, (three of us Oyinbos studying Yoruba and one Nigerian friend) were lucky enough to have our friend, a Lagotian, take us around the sprawling metropolis of islands from the comfort of the back seat of his Camry. (Lagos would not be an easy place to live without a car.) If we didn’t have him we would have been nose deep in our Nigeria travel book the whole time looking like dumb tourists.

Traffic in Lagos.

A main concern for us Americans while in Lagos was finding good food. The three of us who went, Abike, Kayode and I are serious foodies so eating non-Nigerian food that is hard to find in Ibadan was of utmost importance. We started at the Indian hotel on VI for overpriced Indian food that was satisfying, but not worth it overall. We had drinks at Bungalow’s on VI. I had a glass of cranberry juice for 800 Naira ($5.30), Abike had a bloody mary for 1,300 Naira ($9) and if we weren’t so full from whatever we ate earlier that day I would have gone nuts over the menu. They have sushi, pizza, hamburgers, nachos, sandwiches and calamari. As it goes in Lagos, everything was more than $10 a plate, but for the chic ambiance, (except for the 20-top of Indian people in the corner celebrating something and cheering every 5 minutes) comfortable chairs and AC, it would be worth it to splurge. If you are looking for delicious Thai food in Lagos, you must go to Bangkok on VI. Prices are reasonable for Lagos; each curry dish is about 2,200 Naira ($15). Rice is another 700 Naira. The service is good (they do proper wine service) and they have a nice wine list. We saw more American/European/Indian/Chinese/Lebanese people at all of these restaurants than Nigerians. On the whole, Nigerians do not like to eat out, especially at Indian restaurants.

As the week progressed, more and more Christmas decorations appeared all over city structures. The pillars supporting the different bridges connecting the mainland to Lagos Island and Victoria Island looked like candy canes by the time week was up. The Zenith Bank building looked like a rectangle X-Mas tree, covered top to bottom in string lights. I feel bad for the people working near the windows in that building. The Palms shopping mall in Lekki, an upper-class neighborhood on the eastern side of VI that is rapidly expanding, blasted Christmas tunes throughout the mall while shoppers robotically sang along.

View of the third mainland bridge from the University of Lagos lagoon.

We made it to the University of Lagos, a truly amazing bookstore called Jazz Hole, the Galleria mall, Balogun market (one of the most intense experiences I have ever had walking through a crowd) and last but not least we saw the new Harry Potter at the Palms. I am already planning my next trip back to Lagos.

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A tortuous trip to Lagos and back in one day resulted in every transportation company informing us that is impossible for us to enter Ghana. Under our time constraints we could not acquire Ghanaian visas. No one had a concrete answer for us about whether we needed one visa, two visas, zero visas. The whole trip ti jasipabo (has fell apart/been ruined). So we are depressed and back in Ibadan. If you are an American traveling around west Africa, I advise you acquire your visas ahead of time or travel alone or in small groups. From what we’ve been told, it is impossible for us to get Ghana visas in Nigeria because we are not Nigerian. I don’t think it would be hard to travel throughout this area if you were alone however. Much of the problem, I think, lies in the fact that we are five whites traveling together. Some of the companies said that if we were one or two the driver could sort out the necessary payments at each border, but five people is just too many. Hopefully I will get to Ghana someday but I have no idea how or when. For now, we will resort to Plan B: traveling around Yorubaland, which has potential to be equally as fun holiday as Ghana. It’s a plus that we already speak the language anyway. After all, mama agba (my grandmother) said to me this morning, “In every disappointment lies a blessing.” I like to look at life from this perspective.

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After a grueling three weeks of planning, re-planning and hitting roadblocks at every turn, we are almost en route to Ghana for a vacation. It is not easy to make plans to travel by road to other African countries if you have white skin. We have to be wary of border patrol ripping us off or detaining us for hours. We have to make sure the road transportation companies don’t demand an outrageous price. Information about visas-whether we need them for passing through Benin and Togo or not-has differed from every person we’ve talked to. Traveling by road was our first choice so we could see the coastline and Benin and Togo. It has been exhausting planning this trip. It shouldn’t be this difficult to get five Americans to Ghana. After all the inquiring I did with road transport countries like Cross Country, we resorted to let the transportation director at University of Ibadan figure it out. Nigeria is a great country, you all know I love it, but it will be great to get out and see another west African country, especially one that I have heard is so safe, calm and welcoming to Americans. Hopefully we will be able to use our Yoruba there since I don’t know any Twi. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone at home! I will be posting from Ghana as much as possible. Ire o!

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