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Greg Smith's trip to Nigeria
in November 2008

This is a copy of a letter that Greg wrote to an old school friend in Australia, about his visit to Nigeria in the middle of November, 2008.
Dear Kevin,

Thanx for the good wishes, the concern and the encouragement with regard to my trip to the interior of Africa, my friend.

I had a marvelous couple of days in the hot and humid Benin City, Nigeria. 'Blood Diamonds' and 'Lords of War' were both shot in Cape Town and some of my buddies in the industry took part in the making of them. I didn't get to be in either production because I have a different agent who happened to have been keeping me busy at the time of those productions. (Nigeria was nothing like those two movies, by the way).

For me the drama started on our arrival at Lagos International Airport. Being a percussionist as well as a harp player has me hauling along all of my 'toys', in a zip-up tog bag as hand luggage (Playing it safe y'know). Now this time I decided to take my infamous bamboo'rain stick' along for good measure, but it didn't fit in the bag, so I nonchalantly carried it openly for all to see. Mistake!!!

The Lagos customs okes have trained eyes for suspicious looking objects and so this one official grabbed it and made a bee-line for a colleague, apparently superior in rank, for a second opinion. (Meantime back at the ranch, these okes are in cahoots for a little bit o' money on the side, their work ethic anthem being "Here comes the bribe").

To cut a very long story short, our connecting flight was about to leave and I had to have my 'stick'. I made the same bee-line, but the same oke was still holding the stick upright. I took hold of my stick to demonstrate to the ranking oke that 'it is merely a musical instrument'. The first oke (foolishly enough) tightened his grip on my stick and my blood boiled (breaking his fingers crossed my mind right then). He took one fleeting look into my navy blue eyes and suddenly realised that he himself was having a 'near death experience' and then let go blimming quickly in the interests of longevity. I grabbed my stick, brushed aside my new idea of shoving it up his jack, said "I told you so - remember my face - bye!!!" to the colleague and ran for the connecting flight and just made it into the sweaty queue.

We boarded a Virgin Nigeria high winger, turbo prop, smallish plane, the afore mentioned connecting flight, taxied for about four kilometers, from the new airport to the old, along the concrete runway with its midway dog's leg and then promptly took off in an appropriate direction, the compass bearing of which escapes me because the relative humidity having been so radical that the ground below was invisible all the blimming way (so much for the arial view).

The pilot was a very skilled Dutch woman, but if I were her, I'd never take a job with an airline with a name like that. The name almost sounds too demanding in the so called 'permissive society'of today, for a flying Dutchwoman who's been airbourne since who knows when and living out of a suitcase in all manner of African hotel with her hand picked crew of subordinate, servile men with sensible shoes and S&T allowances that are paid over in US Dollars.

The main thing is that she got us landed safely on the Benin City Airport runway where the snap shots began in earnest until we were cautioned about the possibility of being arrested whereupon we resorted to the more PC sight seeing antics of the typical tourist, which we were not.

All that I can say is that Nigeria was bizarre and that all that we did for the duration of our stay was to laugh at the entire system there because it seems so hopelessly chaotic.

Nothing even remotely resembles anything that we're used to except for Heinz Tomato Sauce and Coca blimming Cola.

We had accommodation in the best hotel in town, but the food sucked big time there and I'm not even fussy. (The only things that I don't eat are Pickled Lungs, Steamed Brains, Avocado Pear and See-through Bananas - not exactly unreasonable y'know?)

Anyway, one evening there was steak on the menu (whoopee-doo), so we all ordered it excitedly. Guess what? It was boiled, grey and it tasted like nothing that I've ever eaten before (not even Army food), but the Heinz tomato sauce helped tremendously to obscure the grey colour and to overpower the kukk taste and I managed to have an enjoyable meal in the end albeit that the chow was camouflaged to saturation and then diluted with washdown Coke.(You chew the steak until the tomato sauce wears off and then you swallow it whole with a fat swig of coke).

Benin City looks like WW2 just ended the day before yesterday and the people are just waiting for the dust to settle before they tidy up the place a bit.

The rarest commodity there must be paint because those places haven't seen paint in at least 40 years. Everything is red-mud colour except for some fancy buildings that used to be white in 1960, before the British got bliksem'd out o' there.

The airport looks like sh*t, the buildings look like sh*t, the roads look like sh*t, the cars look like sh*t and the traffic is chaotic and permanently multi-directional and congested. The major road signs have long since been flattened by trucks and unruly cars and now face the sky, which is extremely fortunate fortunate for the pilots flying their respective aircraft overhead, because now they too can make it in Nigeria without a compass. Indicators don't exist on cars, they use hooters to communicate in the traffic where they do exactly as they please anyway, on any side of the road and if necessary, on the pavement, where I almost got knocked over five times while trying to take one lousy photograph of an unusual looking building. Twice by overloaded cars and thrice by motorcycles which double as taxis there. Of course crossing the street there is positively adrenal and definitely life threatening. our drummer, the brave young man that he is, who made the dreaded return trip (across the street), had to have a local oke help him sothat he could at least buy gifts for his two children back in Cape Town and get back in one piece. His cricketing, run scoring skills were a total waste in that hectic traffic, because clearly, the man needed help and he made use of it readily.

Incidentally, driving at night is far safer than by day (twice as safe, in fact), because, not only do the drivers communicate with their hooters, like they do in the daytime, but by night they flick their headlights vigorously as well. What a tremendous consolation!!! I felt so safe one night, I almost sat myshelf more than once on a shortish excursion to buy franchise chicken!

The city is full of fancy named little churches which happen to be situated on almost every corner, instead of street names and road signs. Every so often we would come across a huge church, but the problem is that commensurate with the enormity of the sanctuaries, the names become all the more elaborate and so there's no hope of remembering them. Nigerians are quite proud of the fact that they're Christian in those parts and they support the local ministries enthusiastically, in their droves.

It appears that the only thing that the people there are really meticulous about is themselves their attire and their status. They adorn themselves extravagantly, dressing to the nines and they constantly look blimming marvelous too. How they keep so clean in that place, I have no idea. For home status , an elabourate, tall and ornate steel gate is token enough and they have amazing craftsmen that hand make them with enormous skill and pride and then install them to instill a palatial air to the property. They must weigh a ton.

The people themselves are really very pleasant and I find their disposition to be far less tribal than what I've become accustomed to in South Africa. In church they are very similar to my own perception of America's Southern Baptists, dihk choir an' all. ( At their funerals they have to tie the caskets down - Bill Whithers ). They also have an additional book in their Bible called "Georges", well so I thought until I finally clicked, that with their Pidgin accent, they painstakingly managed to mispronounce "Judges" ( after Joshua and before Ruth in The Old Testament, in case you wanna check up on me )

Hey Kev, have a marvelous week my friend and stay in touch, I've really got to hit the road now and get some urgent work done which, as we both know, pays the bills around here and keeps me out of mischeif. I'm moer-of sorry 'bout the abrupt ending to this letter, but I've got to go.

As it turns out, I've also forgotten to prepare something decent to eat sothat I can swallow my Malaria pill according to doctor's orders and on the designated day in the prescribed manner (after a meal), followed by a full glass of water, mind you (they're packaged like a woman's contraceptive pills on a silver foil card with the days demarkated next to the respective pills - makes me feel kind o' wierd y'know, swallowing pills woman style)

Your friend in the Cape,

Cheers, Greg