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Nigeria, September 4, 2008

Flying Virgin Nigeria Adventures

Within Nigeria or over to Ghana, Virgin Nigeria is a trip, alright!

walking to the plane
Boarding Virgin Nigeria
time to board
Virgin Nigeria grounded
where is the desk?
Virgin Nigeria check-in at Accra
no happiness here
A Virgin Nigeria lost cause
If you are going to fly Virgin Nigeria, be prepared for a little adventure - it's not like Virgin Airlines by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Virgin Nigeria is a downright adventure no matter if you're going on an inter-Nigeria or international flight.

Let's start at getting a ticket. Before you think it's as easy as booking online, check your optimism. They may have a website, which you can reserve a ticket on, but you better be actually in Nigeria before you think of buying a ticket.

For that, you need to visit an actual Virgin Nigeria ticket office, where you'll find helpful people who tell you "No" at every chance. Can I get a ticket for the 6pm flight to Abuja? No. What about the 4pm flight? No. Any flight? No. Why? We're not flying. Okay, not flying today, this week, ever again? I don't know.

Yeah, that is how the conversation started, and after 20 minutes of guessing what to ask, I learned that Virgin Nigeria was not flying that day or the next because it was in an argument with the government. Once I figured that out, I did manage to get tickets from Kano to Accra, via Lagos, but only after a slight payment ordeal.

Virgin Nigeria does not take cash, but their credit card machine was broken. The bank they are associated with doesn't take credit cards or Nigerian Naira for Virgin Nigeria's international flights. Its USD cash only, the exact currency I did not have enough of. After another round of ATM headaches, I finally bought my tickets. And a few days and a whole length of Nigeria later, I was ready to fly.

The flight from Kano to Lagos was uneventful. We had a brief stop in Abuja on the way, too short to see theObama billboard, but long enough to stretch my legs while we waited for the Abuja-Lagos passengers. Its when we got to Lagos that the adventure started.

While there is one airport in Lagos, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, it has two terminals, one domestic and one international. They are about 1km away from each other on opposite sides of the runway and there are two ways to get from one to the other.

If you are transferring between flights, you can go via the airport shuttle. Its about a 30 minute wait between shuttles and they take about 20 minutes to drive across the runway. Yet, if you brave the street traffic to drive or taxi between airports, you can be stuck in a Lagos go slow for an hour or more.

Either way, brace for the chaos of the international terminal, where no matter when your flight is scheduled to depart, it will be late by an hour or more itself. From Lagos to Accra, we were two hours late in boarding and another two and a half hours late in taking off. From Accra to Lagos, we were only two hours late in leaving, a record in punctuality for Virgin Nigeria. But let's back up to the Virgin Nigeria check in desk at either airport - Accra or Lagos. Start by imagining Africans with two or three massive suitcases to each person, packed with everything imaginable. Now let's follow them through the check-in process.

In Lagos, you'll first pass through the customs police, who check each passengers luggage in the check in area, by asking that it be opened and placed on a big folding table in front of all the passengers. Its amazing to see how badly people pack. Or what crap they fly with. Or how slow and ineffectual the customs police are in doing anything that resembles work vs. bribe asking.

Then there is the passport control by the airlines, and Virgin Nigeria checks everyone's passports and visas to make sure you can both leave Nigeria and enter the next country. Only then can you get in the actual line for a check-in agent. Of which there are only two. For a whole flight of people and luggage. In Lagos, I wasn't even up to the check-in desk until the time the flight was to leave.

I breezed through the check-in, because I never check my bags, and found the whole official customs and passport control activity a breeze after the pain of checking in.

I guess that is the real measure of the pain in flying Virgin Nigeria - you know its bad when Nigerian government officials are models of efficiency in comparison.

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Nigeria, September 3, 2008

The Last Days of Lagos, Nigeria

Gombe House going to squatters
Back when I was eyeball deep in OLPC controversy, I had lunch with a writer from MIT 's Technology Review. In the midst of our conversation he raised a fear about developing world cities. He said, "They're not sustainable" and was concerned they will collapse soon.

At the time, I wondered what he meant, as the cities I've seen seem way more vibrant than many of our own here in the USA. Then I went to Lagos, Nigeria.

This is a city that was once prime. You can see it in the buildings now left to rot. You can feel it in the way the people talk about the past. And now, with decades of neglect, you can see that its on decline.

Continue reading "The Last Days of Lagos, Nigeria"

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Nigeria, August 20, 2008

Coughing and Choking in Kaduna

Gonna kill all of us
When I travel, I like to start my day with a morning run. Not only does this let me sightsee at speed, I enjoy watching different cities wake up while I plan out my schedule for the day. I usually go for a 5 kilometer run, wandering where I please to be guided home by my Garmin Forerunner 205.

This morning, in Kaduna, I was almost guided to my grave thanks to the many suicidal scooters in Nigeria. But not how you might expect. I was never in danger of being hit, or even side-swiped by a scooter.

No, I was brought to my knees in a fit of couching and hacking by the clouds of scooter exhaust that filled the air and my lungs with toxic blue carbon monoxide.

Continue reading "Coughing and Choking in Kaduna"

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Nigeria, August 19, 2008

I'm Scared of Nigerian Scooter Drivers

Nigerian death on two wheels
Do you want to get crazy? I mean really insane? Living life on the edge, with glory or death a millisecond apart? Then forget hang gliding, BASE jumping, or any other "extreme" sport you can think of. Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the death-defying act of riding a scooter in Nigeria.

And this act of utter bravery stupidity has nothing to do with the cheap-ass Chinese scooters that the Nigerians buy by the crate, no the risk comes with the suicidal Nigerian drivers themselves who have no sense of road rules, basic safety, or even common sense.

Let's just take a look at some scooter fools in Kafanchan:

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Nigeria, August 18, 2008

Abuja from the Ogun State House

The pyramids of Abuja, Nigeria
When you are a foreigner visiting Nigeria, sometimes you have opportunities afforded to you that are special. Like say a wandering across the top of the Ogun State House in Abuja, Nigeria.

When you find yourself on the top of a building in a nation's capitol, there is only one thing to do. Make a video! But not just any video, a pure tourist video for those that you love who cannot share in the amazing experience that worldwide travel affords you.

So when I found myself in that situation, on the top floor of the Ogun State House in Abuja, I made my smoking hot pregnant wife an overview of Abuja:

Continue reading "Abuja from the Ogun State House"

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Nigeria, August 17, 2008

Reinhard Bonnke's Religious Chaos in Kafanchan

Muslims are lovers not fighters
Nigeria is of two religions, mostly. In the south, its very Christian while in the north is mostly Muslim. This historical split represents the original foreign trading partners of each region - Europe for the southern coasts and the Middle East for the northern interior.

While there is some grumbling that the country should be split in two or that the poor north takes too much largess from the rich south, in general, Nigerians of all faiths get along like an old married couple. Well, if not without nitpicking and an occasional joke or tiff.

Then into this mix comes religious interlopers like Reinhard Bonnke.

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Nigeria, August 16, 2008

Busted by Bad Nigerian Beer

I need Power Herbal now!
When I took the first sip of that second Star Beer, it didn't taste right. I took a second sip, and it still had an off taste. Putting that bottle aside, I went for the third bottle instead. It too tasted funny, so I figured that must be how Star Beer tastes.

Wow! Was I wrong on that idea.

I really should have followed my instincts that night, and skipped the third beer too. I don't remember if the fourth beer was also bad, but the next morning, my body sure knew. My pre-run morning tea came back up as fast I drank it down. Unable to stand up afterwards, I gave up on the morning run idea.

Continue reading "Busted by Bad Nigerian Beer"

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Nigeria, August 15, 2008

My Nigerian Mission: Beer Can Chicken

American Beer Can Chicken
Over the last year, I've perfect my beer can chicken grilling technique. That would be the production of succulent, moist, and tasty whole chicken, cooked on a barbecue grill, using lemon marinade and a half-can of beer. I am now in Nigeria and on a mission to spread the word of this culinary delicacy to the land of boot-leather tough over-cooked chicken.

First off, beer can chicken is a surprisingly simple yet effective way to produce the most delicious chicken you've ever tasted. You'll need four very basic ingredients. Once you have all these ingredients lined up, the execution of beer can chicken is crazy simple.

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Nigeria, August 14, 2008

Navigating Nigeria at Night

Avoid flaming crotches
I am walking down this dark lane in Lagos, happy. It’s the end of a long day of work meeting many different IT people here in Nigeria, the "Giant of Africa" and I am feeling good.

Maybe it's the excitement of being back in Africa, her sounds, sights, and smells fresh in my mind. Maybe it’s the feeling of progress in meeting our local partners and doing work I love. Or maybe its just the beer.

No matter, I am excited this night, and so I perform a small miracle.

Continue reading "Navigating Nigeria at Night"

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Nigeria, August 13, 2008

No Hurry in a Lagos Go Slow

A late-night "Go Slow"
Think back to a bad traffic day. When you sat in your car, inching along in a morning commute that seemed to take forever. Or a drive home that doubled in length because a traffic accident. Now think yourself lucky.

In West Africa, traffic is approaching total and permanent gridlock. And I'm not talking about the American kind, where a one-hour commute, becomes a two-hour commute, or your average speed drops to 30mph.

I'm talking about gridlock that makes vehicles useless, has managers sleeping in hotels next to work, and sends the populace out at 6 or 7am to travel 5km in time to start the work day. I'm talking about the Lagos "go slow".

In the commercial capitol of Nigeria, there are four and five lane highways. There are overpasses and rapid bus lanes. And there are a mix of buses, cars, and motorcycles for human conveyance. But for the 14 million people of Lagos, cross-town movement has become impossible.

Continue reading "No Hurry in a Lagos Go Slow"

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Nigeria, August 12, 2008

Generating the Nigerian National Anthem

The morning growler
Disregard what others may say is the Nigerian National Anthem. It is not the first anthem "Nigeria We Hail Thee" nor the second "Arise, O Compatriots". Those may be official decrees, and "Nigeria We Hail Thee" may be the most popular of the two, but neither compare to what I say is the real national anthem.

Anywhere in Lagos, any time of the day or night, there are two sounds guaranteed to sing forth in a chorus of noise: the rumble of big diesel generators turning on and high squawks of little horns from every passing vehicle.

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