Nigeria – Excerpts From My Diary (Part 1)
Tuesday, May 12 – Lagos
I’m here, in Africa!!! It was an hour+ drive from the Airport to the Hotel. Wow – people wear such colorful clothing. It is stunning. The headdresses are gorgeous. The first man I set my eyes upon, was wearing the traditional long shirt and wide pants in a bright blue with large lime green polka dots. I love it! Traffic is horrendous. People are walking on both sides of the very busy highway – some in spike heels and western fashion, others in traditional wear. Then, right ON the moving highway where no car bothers staying in any particular lane, there are tons of people walking against the traffic – kids and grown ups alike – selling “stuff”, from water to Monopoly with everything in-between! And that doesn’t even account for the thousands of motorcycles weaving in and out. If in existence at all, helmets are quite creative, and rarely attached to the heads they’re supposed to protect.
Wednesday, May 13 – Lagos
The electricity is a little erratic here. Last night it went off about five times, and now it’s off again – which means no water for shower, and no breakfast! On the way to the U.S. Embassy, we passed a line of cars that was over a mile long; there is a shortage of fuel right now. There are five government-run stations in Lagos where gas remains affordable, but it may take overnight to get to the pump! It’s noteworthy to mention that Nigeria is the US’ fifth oil supplier!
This morning I was picked up by Mary-Lou from the US Embassy, and taken to the Consul General’s office, to discuss my program with her. I also met the wonderful people who made my trip possible: Bene, Jennifer, and Cassandra. It’s interesting being in the Embassy because it’s a high security area. I can’t be left alone anywhere for any amount of time. Cameras and cell phones are prohibited from certain (all maybe?) parts of the building. Outside, there were a couple of hundred people waiting for a visa to travel to the US; I was told that most won’t get one.
Thursday, May 14
I arrived in Enugu yesterday. On the way to the Lagos Airport, we got caught in the middle of a protest organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress to demand a new wage structure, put forth recommendations for electoral reform and protest against the government’s plans to deregulate and privatize the oil industry. Prices for staple items such as rice, garri, milo, toothpaste have risen by more than 10-20% in a few months.
The short flight was uneventful once I had paid the fine for my 50lps of overweight luggage — plexiglass, etching inks, art books, prints, rollers, brushes, acrylic mediums, and more.
Krydz’ sister, Gozie, came to pick me up. She and her family live in a large home, hidden behind a high secure gate similar to those hiding her neighbors’ homes. Shortly after I arrived, everyone left to go to church. She told me with a note of worry in her voice that a woman would be here with me, “but do not be scared — she is a Muslim”. I was a little startled by that statement, but as days went by, I started to see how the rest of the world might think that we Americans are scared of Muslims. An interesting discovery.
It gets dark early in Nigeria. And it’s very noticeable as most of the time, there is no electricity. I just sat on my bed, in the dark. Then I heard voices, and I vaguely could make out a man’s silhouette coming towards my room. I recognized Krydz’ voice; he had arrived with Petrolina and their children, SomAdena and Chukchuk. A candle brought a festive ambiance to our first visit. Anyone under 20 calls me “auntie”!
Today we traveled to Nsukka. It’s about an hour and a half drive on a wide paved road that every few miles disappears into red-dirt oblivion! The transition is made obvious by a 6-8in drop followed by intense negotiations around, as well as in and out of, car-size potholes. Krydz has the BEST driver in the whole universe, Chijioke.
He can go from 120kph to a screeching halt smoothly and elegantly, and most importantly, safely. There are roadblocks every so often and armed policemen pull cars over randomly. Nobody really understands what they are looking for, or how exactly they plan to find it!
Once we arrived at the University (UNN) I met Dr Godwin Uka, the Chair of the Graphics Dept and the person under whose care I will be for the duration of my stay in Nsukka. All of the art departments’ Chairs were invited to a welcoming ceremony in my honor at the Vice-Chancellor’s. It was explained to me that a guest can be served the most refined foods and wines, or even offered a cow, but as long as they haven’t been given a kola nut, they have not been shown any respect! A woman cannot either pick up a kola nut from a plate or break it open. I was presented with two kola nuts – the first one for President Obama, and the second one for me. Everyone gave speeches, and when they all were done, they naturally turned to me to listen to my speech! And after that, we were served wonderful foods and beverages.
From the reception, we went to the print studio so I could address my students. It is about a 450 sf room, and there must have been at least fifty people there. I showed many prints and discussed techniques; they seem to really enjoy it. Just as I was finishing my presentation, the most violent storm exploded outside. By the time Chikah showed up with the car to take me to the Vice-Chancellor Lodge where I am staying, we all had been laughing and talking in the dark, and that’s when I suddenly realized that both Krydz and Dr Uka had left long ago, and that I hadn’t even noticed their absence. I am already forgetting what seemed so scary before I came; being here feels very natural, as if I am visiting with old friends..
Later in the evening, as I was sitting on my bed in the dark watching the storm, I saw two silhouettes walk in — Dr Uka and his wife Ola. He felt so bad about me being alone in the Lodge that they turned around (they were on their way home to Enugu), and decided to stay with me for the next two nights! They took me to the Senior Staff Lodge for a beer. He had to “introduce” me, which means he had to make a little speech about me being a US State Dept Cultural Envoy, and then he had to buy beer for everyone present. Then I think I had to make a speech too. That seems to be the norm here.
Friday, May 15
The Vice-Chancellor Lodge is a very large and beautiful house on campus, just next door to the Vice-Chancellor’s home. The caretakers, Simone and Agostina’s, are very thoughtful. Every time I leave, they ask me what I want to eat when I return – how do I know? I just say “something Nigerian” and discover what that means when I get home. Food is always excellent.
Today, the first day of the workshop, was phenomenal. I was wondering how 30-40 students would all fit in. There are three tables and eight stools. A couple hours into the class, I glanced around; every horizontal square inch was being used — presses, floor, even some wall. Someone in the Sculpture Studio was making us steel etching needles by the dozens, it was magic! There was so much energy in the room — no words can accurately convey the feeling. This is the first time in seven years that the print studio is unlocked, and the excitement is intense.
After work, Godwin invited me to for a beer … OUTSIDE the campus. I jumped in his car before he’d change his mind! We drove through Nsukka, windows rolled down, waving and smiling at people. It was such a great feeling! We ended up at “Carolina Bar”, sat outside and ate some delicious BBQ. Afterwards, we went to the Senior Faculty Lounge. He didn’t have to buy beer for everyone today. On the way to the Lodge, we stopped at his sister Ekenma’s who lives on campus. She is an entomologist specializing in malaria research. She lives with her two daughters, Chikah and Nene.
Saturday, May 16
We started the day with poetry. George gave a lively performance with jumping, running, yelling about printmaking! I had been nervous all night; we found solutions to all our challenges yesterday, but now we have to be able to print! The press is looking rusty. The blankets are in bad shape. The paper is a far cry from what I’m used to. I don’t have any ink modifier. My insides are on fire as I am calmly demonstrating inking, wiping, and sending the plate through the press. First print: a total disaster! I’m am having visions of bringing back 15lps of plexi to Seattle and printing everything in my studio! Fortunately by now I have made a printmaker friend, Muyiwa.. He knows how to print in Nigeria; a crucial knowledge at this very moment. While 40 people are busy discussing loudly the first print, we discreetly soak paper in a bucket of water, and throw everything on the press again. SUCCESS! – Print #2 is magnificent! Within minute, everyone is elbow deep in ink, and lining up to the press. As a printmaker, I must say THAT was a moment of Ultimate Pleasure.