Wednesday, April 20, 2011

To Abuja

As we approached Akure, the minibus I'd gotten on in Oshogbo pulled over. The driver motioned me out.

No one else got out. Eh? 

He walked to the back of the minibus and opened the hatch, handing me my bag.

"Taxi," he said, pointing to the patch of dirt across the road where a gaggle of sedan taxis sat.

"Abuja?" I asked, wondering if these taxis were bound for Abuja.

He shook his head, said something I didn't understand, and motioned wide with his arm, then stopped, and made an arc. Ah. This taxi would take me to the bus for Abuja. I think. Maybe.

It did. I was getting off of one public transport route and crossing town to the bus park for a different route. Like coming into Penn Station and needing to get to Grand Central.

Again, I had to fill out a form before the bus left, just as I'd had to in Oshogbo. This included my name, contact details, and next-of-kin. Given the terrifyingly fast and wreckless driving I'd seen over the last 24 hours, I wasn't that surprised by the latter.

We got started and drove towards Abuja, passing though green countryside, small towns, and the occasional house with the words "NOT FOR SALE, BEWARE OF 419" painted on the side.

Still on the bus in Nigeria. Not mugged yet. 

Have I mentioned I was nervous about Nigeria?

A few hours later, we pulled into Abuja. To the entirely wrong end of it from where I wanted to be, which was near the long-distance buses and embassy district.

"You'll take a taxi to the buses here," explained the minibus driver. I switched again, trying hard to negotiate the drivers down from a pretty high starting point of about $20 for a taxi ride.

"It's a long way," explained one driver, who agreed to take me for 1200 naira, or $8.

He was right. And he complained about drivers in Abuja. But to me, they drove wonderfully, much better than what I'd seen so far.

He dropped me at the ABC Transport bus, where I bought a "sprinter" ticket to head to Calabar in the morning. I then caught another taxi to a hotel I'd picked out of the book, but the driver was really hopeless at asking for directions, following a map, or anything really. In the end, I used the map on my Kindle to get us there.

"I need a room," I explained to the young woman at the front desk. "But I am out of money and I need your cheapest room. And I need an ATM if I want to eat anything. You have wi-fi right?"

"Yes, but it is broken."

This happened a lot. The digital world had come so far in the past ten years since I'd first done a trip like this, but frequently, I ended up frustrated by the connection speeds or state of disrepair. At home, we certainly take our internet access for granted. But here, sometimes I wondered if we'd really come all that far from when I'd watched a Zimbabwean read the newspaper while waiting for his Hotmail to load up in 2001.

I took the cheapest room, counting out my coins and just making it to the 6500 naira ($41) I needed. I went into my dirty, dark tiny room in the corner of the hotel. No toilet seat, ants everywhere, stains on the bedspread. Classy place. But it was in my price range.

I dug out my folding scissors and meticulously unstitched the Zip-Loc bag of money and cards from the inside of my black trousers. I was after my Citibank card.

One of the security guards walked me to the ATM.

Out of service.


"There is another," he promised. And he walked me through the hilly, pleasant backstreets of the Abuja embassy neighborhood to an ATM.

That worked. It spat out loads of money. The guard walked me back to the hotel, and I happily tipped him, before dining on Hobnobs I had in my bag, and crawling in under the stained bedspread. Something nibbled on my calf all night as I slept, and in the morning, I fled to the sprinter early and with relief.

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