Since I had almost no access to email in Nigeria, I am going to just post my written notes about the trip on a daily basis to explain what I was doing there.
After an insane last couple of weeks in Oslo that included packing up 2.5 years of my life and finishing a masters thesis, needless to say I left in a bit of a whirlwind, although I was quite proud of myself that I was organized enough in my departure to have my last night be a relaxed one with the friends I made in Norway. I flew to London, and got to spend the night with some of my best friends from elementary school, which was a blast, and it was only at that point I began realizing, that I was heading into the unknown in terms of heading to Africa.
Maureen, my friend who used to play for Nigeria, that is my partner for this project, had given me 2 massive bags filled with soccer equipment, so that, coupled with my own luggage, made for a bit of an interesting situation in terms of trying to negotiate everything, especially with how strict airlines have gotten with luggage weight. As a sidenote, the trip got off to a fantastic start, when after being told by the staff member at Norwegian Airlines that I was 15 kg overweight, she followed that up by telling me that it was her last day on the job, and she didn’t care enough to charge me. I didn’t get so lucky with the 100 pounds I had to pay in London, but at that point I was happy enough that I had almost gotten Maureen’s equipment to her for the kids, and I wasn’t stuck on the side of the road somewhere in Oslo or London with my luggage that was almost at the point of being too much to manage.
On the plane to Nigeria, I began reading what I had printed out from the Canadian government website about Nigeria. Little nuggets about, “avoiding any non-essential travel” to the country was sprinkled in amongst other fun tidbits about an outbreak of cholera. I really wondered what I had gotten myself into and gave myself a bit of a mental kick for not doing more research, if in fact things were actually dangerous there. I reminded myself that Maureen wouldn’t put me into any unnecessary danger, and that often governments, and media especially, can perhaps hype things up a little to the point where the actual reality of the statements can be somewhat dubious.
The plane trip itself was quite uneventful until we landed and all of a sudden I was startled as someone screamed, “Praise the Lord” and someone else screamed “Hallejulah” and the rest of the plane busted out with wild applause and hollering. I laughed to myself as I imagined the same scene unfolding on a plane in North America.
Once we got off the plane and into customs, already it looked very different to anything I have seen. It was a little bit chaotic in terms of lineups, and visas, and it was just a simple room with 2 wood desks on either side with the line ups of people getting shuttled from one person to another.
Luckily I saw Mo immediately, with a big excited smile and wave towards me. I felt relieved when I saw her because the airport didn’t look like it even had any kind of accommodation attached, which was my plan B if she didn’t arrive. After finally getting through customs, I made my way down to Mo, and she introduced me to her friend who was a border guard at the airport, and excitedly let me know the plans for the week.
First we would spend the night in Lagos, since it was already dinnertime, and where Mo was from was a seven-hour drive away. We would fly to Mo’s home state of Anambra the next day, the day after, there would be a soccer game in my honour. The two days following, we would oversee sessions with the girls that we would be selecting for the trip, followed by getting filmed for a TV sports program the day after that, and then it would already be Thursday, the day I would be heading home.
Once we were coming out of the airport, I was asked for some kind of vaccination paperwork, which I didn’t have with me. The guy was asking for me to pay money in order to come out of the area, and I started to panic a little. Mo then stepped in to tell him that I was there for a soccer project, for Nigerian girls, and that she was Maureen Mmadu, the soccer player. Immediately the guy started laughing and chatting to Maureen excitedly, and I watched in amazement in a) how smooth Mo was in talking us out of the airport, and b) that this random guy at the airport had heard of Mo.
We came out of the airport, and the pandemonium was like nothing I have ever seen. There were people everywhere, and I can’t emphasize everywhere, enough. Her friend from the airport had organized a place to stay and after Mo haggled for a taxi, we were on our way.
Once we got to the hotel, Mo asked if I wanted some food, so myself Didi, her friend and I headed down to a shop to get something to eat. Again walking on the street was pure and utter chaos. It was pitch black dark, we were on the side of a fairly busy road, and I could not help but notice that a) everyone was staring at me, because there was not another non Nigerian in sight, and b) I couldn’t help but think how dangerous the road was, as every few steps there would be a gaping hole that anyone could easily fall into.
We headed back to the hotel afterwards, past the guards with their guns and the food had already started sitting funny in my stomach. Perhaps it was the nerves of a very unfamiliar situation, but I woke up in the middle of the night and thought I was going to be sick. To be honest, for a girl that is a bit on the adventurous side, I was feeling pretty out of my comfort zone. I felt lucky to have Maureen with me, but I knew that I was in a very different environment to anywhere I had ever before, as the level of poverty was already evident. I kept reminding myself that I was there with a purpose, and just kept trying to talk positive thoughts into my head.
I kept repeating to myself that most of the rewarding things that I have done out of my life have come from being outside of my comfort zone, and tried to talk myself back to sleep. I woke up the next morning early, and ready for the next part of the trip which was to head to Mo’s home state of Anambra.