A couple of months ago, while eating at the little restaurant on the hill, I had to sit somewhere other than my usual seat, because it was previously commandeered by four Asians. Probably from the large number of Chinese in Addis for the massive road construction. No problem, no hard feelings, as I moved over one table. Several times throughout the meal, one of the table thieves, probably the ringleader, would loudly rattle away on his cell phone. I find it absolutely irritating to endure a phone conversation in any language where the individual has no regard for others. It’s as if they think talking loud on the phone is a sign of intelligence, or they want everyone to believe they are someone important.
I placed my napkin on my shoulder as a signal for Hywät to come see what I want. When she arrived I told her: Hywät, grab his phone away from him and throw it on the floor and stomp on it. I added some hand and foot gestures to leave no doubt as to what I wanted her to do. Without having to think, she shook her head and leaned over to me and whispered, … they know Karate!
I’ve been tempted to ask her, when she signs her name in English if she puts the two little dots above the “a” in her name like my computer does.
On my way to Abuja, Nigeria, earlier this week, I flew in a new Boeing 777, with all the new nifty gadgets like a USB port stuck in the seatback in front of me. As I started to sit down, I noticed a small stain about ¾ inch on the edge of my seat. Didn’t think much if it except, I wonder what caused that? The flight was about four and a half hours and midway through, they served us hungry confined animals our lunch. It was either beef or fish. After being in Africa I realized that beef here is usually tough, so I opted for the fish. Came with some yellow sauce on a bed of couscous. (I swear I grew up not knowing what that was). Tasting the fish, it was rather bland, so I added some salt. Still a bit bland, so a little more salt then swirled it around in a sauce that must have had 50 shades of yellow. Ate a bite with the skinny plastic fork they give and it wasn’t too bad. Ate another bite, then another. Somewhere between the 6th and 9th bite, a chunk of fish jumped off my fork and landed on the seat. Right on the stain that was already there. Like it was made for it! Well, I now know what caused the stain; the next question is, how many layers are there?
Upon my arrival in Abuja, I got in line for the usual passport shuffle. When it came my turn, I handed the unsmiling man my passport and said, Hi. Without smiling, he replied in a run-on sentence: Welcome where are you working? I told him and he muttered something I didn’t understand, then handed the passport to an equally unsmiling woman in a military uniform sitting in the next booth. So I stepped sideways to the next window. I thought, interesting. It takes two people to look at the passports. Then the woman asked me how long I would stay? I said, until the 13th. She responded, This is the eleventh! I replied more succinctly, The 13th. Again she appeared baffled, so I said, Wednesday. She replied, Wednesday? Yes ma’am, Wednesday. Then she handed the passport to a big woman also in a uniform, standing outside the passport booth. She had a sour look on her face like she was suffering from indigestion. She looked it over and either grunted or burped, then handed it back to her. She then stamped my passport like she was making sure it was dead, then handed it back and gloomy said, welcome.
I find my bag quickly and head for the Customs area to get out of the building. But some guy in a uniform guided me to a side room full of other military personnel who like to look through people’s bags.
I entered and one guy pulls me aside and beside him is a smiling but unhappy woman also in uniform. He asked me what I have in my bag while the woman said, Welcome. When I fly somewhere, I take a small bag of tools with me and almost every time, the Authorities want to see what’s in my bag when it is x-rayed. I told him clothes and tools. The conversation went something like this:
Open bag please.
As I unzipped the bag, the woman again said, Welcome. When I got it opened, I stood back for them to gaze upon my belongings. He picked up my little plastic box that I keep my vitamins in. You know the little plastic boxes that has little compartments, one or two for each day of the week. All old people use them these days.
He asked me, What is this?
I said, Vitamins and my tools are …
Vitamins, he repeated. Not as a question.
At this point she again said, Welcome.
I tried to continue, Now my tools …
Are they for consumption?
Yes, my consumption. Now my tools …
You may go welcome.
And she repeated his word, Welcome.
Yeah. I never felt so welcomed by so many gloomy people in all my life.
Remember all the Nigerian scams on the Internet? I realize why they are from Nigeria. From what I see, that country has to be one of the most expensive and most corrupt countries in Africa. I stayed two nights at the Hilton in Abuja and I had to pay for my room with the local currency, because I was told giving them your credit card info is dangerous. (This is at a Hilton, mind you) I had to get 60,000 Nigerian Naira to pay for each night. That’s about $360 a night. Nice hotel, but not that nice. I could have had breakfast there also, but it was an additional $35.
The city had very few beggars but many hawkers in the streets. There are signs posted saying, No Hawking, but it didn’t matter. And it’s amazing what you can find with them. I remember seeing bread, drinks, shirts, women’s undergarments, window shade film, umbrellas, books on writing resumes, soap, toothbrushes, tissues, an electric engraver, bicycle horns, maps, puppies, toilet paper, etc. I wish I could remember everything. I’ll add to the list when they come to mind.
Then Wednesday I flew to Lagos. From what I could tell, not as corrupt as Abuja, but evidently extremely dangerous. I was picked up in an armored SUV and driven very quickly through the city to the Embassy where I would work. It reminded me of having to ride in an armed convoy from Kabul, Afghanistan to Bagram Airbase, on terrible roads at a high rate of speed, with armored Humvees ahead and behind. If anyone had gotten in the way, they would not have stopped – only sped up.
In Lagos I stayed at an American recreation facility that houses Expats working in the area. Simple and nice. The food was American and the bar actually had Coors beer. Not the watered down stuff, but the original beer. Traveling between the Embassy and the housing complex was by a high speed boat, because the Embassy is on the shore and the housing is on a large island. (or maybe the other way around) In the morning, there is a heavily armed Nigerian soldier riding on the back of the boat. Probably hanging on for his life.
When I flew out of Lagos on my way home, I had an Expeditor that meets me at the airport to make sure I get out without any problems. This was the first time I had this on a simple flight out, but after getting into the airport, I realized why. Expeditors are worth their weight in gold and this young lady led me through the maze(s) only a military government could come up with. She took me to 4 or 5 little desks that each had to look at my passport. Which one was the actual Passport Control, I couldn’t tell; but finally she left me on my own at one of the coffee shops and all went well after that. Well as far as Africa can be.
As I work on this on the flight back to Addis, I’m thinking, if I could make some invention that would cancel out body odors on the planes in Africa, I could become very wealthy.
But, I am now home with my wife, in safe, comfortable Addis Ababa.