Marrakesh,  with its ochre-coloured buildings, towering minarets and bustling souks is quickly becoming a distant memory, the joys and delights of roaming its streets being progressively replaced by a sense of having returned to drudgery. Although the three weeks of work I have gotten under my belt since my return have provided fertile ground for that feeling to fester, the seeds were sown in Marrakesh, everything from passport control and its lengthy queues, an hour and a half spent waiting for a bag to turn up and even more queues at the body scanner as we waited to exit the airport all setting the tone for what seemed like running a gauntlet.  Once through all of that bedlam and outside the airport, the smell of smoke – somewhat like the linger of the remains of a thousand spit roasting fires – was a warm welcome of sorts.

Having gotten to our hotel – the Movenpick Mansour Eddahbi  – quite late on the Saturday we arrived, we spent the next day getting ourselves familiar with our surroundings, mainly to work out where dinner could be had close by, and where we could get bottled water – thankfully the Menara mall was handy for both. On our first evening out we had the good fortune of running into an English woman, her daughter and her Moroccan son-in law, who were kind enough to suggest a few lower priced places close by.

The days went quickly with visits to various places, all on the beaten path. The in-house botanist at the Argan oil factory we stopped at as part of the Ourika Valley tour impressed with his knowledge of a number of herbs and their use in alleviating various maladies from diabetes to psoriasis, albeit as a precursor to a hard selling session. There was also the hike up a precipitous rock face towards some water falls which at various times felt like flirting with death; no regard for health and safety one of the quintessentially English – and aged – couples on the climb pointed out as they dropped out halfway along the climb. The Yves Saint Laurent Museum was one of the most sought after places, lengthy queues guarding the entry on both days we tried. We braved the consequences at the second time of asking, being rewarded by what was a truly fascinating experience centred around the YSL oeuvre and his connections to Marrakesh.  Elsewhere there were pit stops at the Koutoubia Mosque and the gardens close by, various places in the old Medina, including a tannery, the Saadian tombs and the Bahia Palace.

We opted for a trip to the Chez Ali fantasy show on our last night, joined by a motley of other folk – an Italian couple, an Indian family of five, an older French couple and a trio of dark skinned French speaking folk. The facade of the venue was imposing, framed as it was by a large gate, ochre-red walls and a guard of horsemen lined up either side. Once through body searches and then allowed to go in, we were seated around round tables in a tent for the meal – a legume based soup as a starter, lamb dates and nuts as a second course and then a bowl of couscous to wrap things up. There were tricks by the horsemen, what looked like a demonstration of military tactics in which the mounted riders charged at the crowd and set off their guns into the air, and then a belly dancing session. All of that made for a far more sedate experience than clambering over rocks in the Ourika valley just a few days ago. The weather was much warmer – and drier – than London, the low twenties and high teens being a welcome escape from the sub-zero temperatures in the Northern England city we would have been in if we hadn’t gone to Marrakesh. Here are more  pictures, hardly done justice to by my iPhone.

I found shades of Lagos in everything; the relentless, in-your-face hustle of people trying to sell everything from tours to bottles of Argan oil, the laisser-faire approach to driving and diving through junctions, roadside bus stops with people spilling into the roads and the police checkpoints a few of the more obvious similarities. That mopeds were everywhere, and more than a few ancient Peugeot cars didn’t help ameliorate that festering feeling of being on edge, of always being only a few misaligned bits of Swiss cheese away from a monumental cataclysm. I suspect I was far more concerned than I should have, but on these travels I am finding that rather being away from home, I carry shades of home with me; warts, joys, near dystopia and all.

The Diary: The Paphos Files

The first bits of Cyprus we glimpsed as our flight began the descent towards Paphos were wind turbines slowly turning in what must have been a slight evening breeze, and houses which from the height looked like small, matchboxes  pressed into the sides of the hilly terrain below us. Although it was only 5.20pm local time, it was quickly growing dark, which at first seemed odd until I realised just how much closer to the equator we were here, than in England from where we were arriving. This trip to Cyprus was at the instance of S, ten days in Paphos being her idea of a honeymoon. The hope was to get the chance to catch our breaths after what had been a whirlwind three weeks in which we had managed to get hitched without losing our minds; the pressure of a large Nigerian wedding notwithstanding.

Having the main events on the other side of town in rural England – as far removed from our usual haunts as could be – added a layer of complexity to everything, that in retrospect we could have done without. The miracle in all of that was that friends and family rallied – some at particularly short notice, and braving the worst of the M25 and Dartford crossing traffic on the day – to be part of the events and support us. As we headed into Paphos, the overwhelming desire was to kick back and de-stress from all of that.

Before all of that kicking back and chilling could begin, there was the small matter of navigating passport checks and customs. Although I had the requisite approvals in my Nigerian passport, it still took in excess of ten minutes – and a couple of phone calls by the fellow at the desk – for my passport to be checked and then stamped. Only then could S and I head on to the baggage area and pick up our bags; she being British had no such problems. It was a warm 22 degrees C even at that time of the day, and importantly dry, with none of the chill from the wind that had hastened our arrival and helped claw back some of the lost time from our flight from Gatwick being delayed.

Bags in hand and through customs, we found our designated driver – he had our names on a card held high above his head – waited a bit at a Costa Coffee for the rest of our party to arrive and eventually headed out into town. That allowed me take in my surroundings at the airport, the overwhelming sense being one of being somewhat pleasantly surprised by the absence of any of that in-your-face first world glitter that airports around the Western world often portray. Our hotel, the King Evelthon, was a relatively recent addition to the Paphos holiday resort scene and just beyond the city limits – sculptures of the Greek letter ρ marking these. From arrival to the hotel and then dinner took all of two hours, including the wait. Not bad, given we needed to tuck into dinner having steadfastly refused the prodding of the the cabin crew to pony up the extra cash required to buy a meal on board.


Having finally managed to get out of our travel soaked clothes and then get some sleep, we woke up to the sight of glorious sunshine already streaming in. Looking through the doors into the pool – we had been upgraded to a swim up room – the sense was very much one of being a holiday resort, complete with all the trappings. In the distance, the lonesome hulk of a rusty brown ship loomed. I would later find out that there was some history to it, it being the MV Demetrios II. When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed for a hearty breakfast and were ready to head out, we hopped onto the 615 towards the Paphos harbour for a bit of sightseeing.

We found the harbour area a beehive of activity with buskers, hustlers and traders all keen to interest us in their wares. In the end we plumped for a glass bottomed boat ride around the harbour and picked up a flyer for the wave dancers suite of cruises from the Paphos Harbour. The glass bottomed boat ride ended up a damp squib of sorts – there was nothing of note to see besides the ruins of the Vera K – but the 90 minute trip around the harbour gave a good view of the coast line all the way up and down. Trip done, we found an ice cream place down the road where we took a much needed toilet break and three scoops of ice cream each, for the heat. We – read S – liked it so much that we returned on three other separate occasions for ice cream there. A hop-on, hop-off open bus tour topped off this first day, the whistle-stop tour putting Paphos and its size  – or lack thereof – into perspective.


Our time in Cyprus was organised around three main all-day events; a jeep safari, a gourmet tour and an all of Cyprus tour. Being the last of the nine passengers to be picked up for the jeep safari, meant we had to make do with being sat apart, S in the middle seat at the back and me perched on the edge of the back seat alongside the others, an older Italian couple , an English couple from Birmingham and three young men from Hungary. Our version of the safari tour took in a drive through banana plantations,  old Turkish and Greek villages, as well as pit stops at a number of other landmarks. In spite of the obvious pride the locals had in their banana plantations it turned out they were neither big enough nor straight enough to meet EU export regulations.

In keeping with the safari theme, much of the driving was on bumpy, rocky roads on which we in the back seat bounced about. The trek up the Avakas Gorge was the first real physical activity I had undertaken  since my last 5k on the 18th of October; that showed in my lack of fitness. The trek itself – ours was the abridged version – took in a number of rare bushes and flowers and a number of tiny rivulets; smaller now at the end of a long summer than they would be in the rainier, wetter winter season. Other interesting pit stops along the way were the Aphrodite baths (where Aphrodite used to bathe according to local mythology), the Adonis baths and the blue lagoon where a few of the less intrepid swimmers dove in for a leisurely swim. As we made to leave the Adonis baths, an interesting exchange ensued between the caretaker and I.  He called me a chocolate Adonis, warning S to be extra careful overnight, his point being that my brush with the very essence of Adonis at the baths had upped my virility. That made for a few awkward moments between him, S and I, although no offence was meant or taken.


Over the course of the remaining days we managed to fit in two more all-day tours. The first of these was a gourmet tour that focused on highlighting the food, art and craft of Cyprus, the intent clearly to show case a rustic Cyprus where life was lived at a leisurely, laid back pace. Pit stops on this tour included a winery where we got to taste a range of locally brewed liquids, an all female factory where a range of Cypriot sweets were made and  a factory where roses were used in everything from chocolate to wine in addition to the usual suspects of perfumed body care products. Elsewhere on the tour we got to see the Holy Cross church in Omodos and fraternise somewhat with the local silver and glass makers. Also on the gourmet tour, we discovered Carob, which became the bane of my existence over the next few days, as S tried to score bottles and bars of the ostensibly healthy stuff. The other tour – an all of Cyprus tour – went along similar lines, the highlights being a visit to the capital Nicosia and the view across the green line into Turkish controlled Cyprus from the top of the  Ledra observatory and the church of Saint Lazarus (the fellow who died twice).

In between the full day tours, we managed to get three 7k-ish runs in, possible in part because S is a running enthusiast who needs her running fix, and the presence of a coastal path which we learned is a fairly recent addition. The ruins being excavated at the harbour area and the Wave Dancer half day BBQ cruise also help the time pass.

By virtue of its position at the junction of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Cyprus has had a long and checkered history, with ownership and control changing hands several times. Greeks, Ottomans, Venetians, The French, the Romans – and a few others I can’t remember – have all at various times laid claim to the island, leaving their marks in various ways. Greek culture predominates, as does the Turkish military presence in the Northern third of the island, a self declared Republic which is recognised only by Turkey. There was an opportunity to cross the Green Line and explore a bit of it, but the situation with my Nigerian passport made me wary of crossing any more borders than I needed to.

What I found surprising was a strong undercurrent of Russian influence – like London one of our guides joked  on one of the days. I suppose the shared religious history enables this – both the Russian Orthodox and Church of Cyprus are part of the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, making it easier for devout Russians to integrate, and providing a driver for them to visit shared holy spaces – as does the official passport for investment program which provides access to Cyprus and by extension the rest of the EU for €2million.  A different guide took great joy in pointing out which of the palatial, stately homes were owned by Russians.

The British influence was more expected, and obvious, given the recent colonial history and the long running interactions with the island going back to Richard the Lion heart’s invasion in the late 1100’s. The language and the sunshine does make it one of the prime destinations for Brits looking to retire by the sun and the sea, that they’ve arrived complete with their own little micro communities complete with English and Irish pubs suggests there is some impact to the local community, particularly in a town as small as Paphos with 75,000 inhabits.

Thankfully, it wasn’t peak season so places like the beach were not filled to the point of bursting at the seams, which made me wonder how this must feel in peak season.  I doubt the locals find the influx of tourists as disconcerting as the Barcelona locals do but I got the sense of a mild irritation at times – the eye roll and shrug I shared with an older lady at a shop within the Kings Avenue Mall at a couple rowing over a can of beer at the till being one such.

For all its history, I did get the sense that some of the places we visited over the course of the ten days were not particularly remarkable or deserving of the hype (It might have to do with my lack of culture or just an overt focus on looking to chill and de-stress). That got me thinking of just how much Nigeria could benefit from a concerted effort to clean up its hinterland, make it safer and easier to travel in, and market some of the natural features and historical artefacts. I remember visits to the Obudu Cattle ranch many years ago being the highlight of a team building session at work. Places like the Ikogosi springs, the Ososo tourist centre and carnival come to mind as ones which with a little more focus could be developed further.


All told, the ten days delivered on their promise of providing a place to disconnect from the real world and chill, which is perhaps why the enduring images of Cyprus for me will be narrow roads draped around towering mountains like ribbons – thin, flimsy and barely there, edged on the one side by the faces of the mountains themselves and on the other by vertiginous drops. The irony of this is not lost on me; without the roads, much of these parts would be inaccessible to the wider world which would lose out on all the treasures and delights we had the privilege of seeing over the past few days, but building the roads cannot have been a trivial experience given the terrain. A lot of hard, back breaking work was clearly required.

That  – the delights just out of view over the horizon and the hard work required to get there – is very much like marriage, S says, on the eve of our return to our new shared life; all the proof I need that she is indeed a wise one.

PS: For more pictures from Cyprus, go here.

About Town: A Mancunian frolic of sorts…


The sense is part foreboding,  part nonchalance – if both feelings can coexist – and sitting in the departure lounge at Aberdeen airport, waiting – seemingly interminably – for the announcement of my flight to Manchester does little to ease those feelings. Back in January when I decided the API 571 exam was going to be one of my key personal development deliverables for the year, April seemed a lifetime away. Now, on the eve of the exam, the harsh reality hits home squarely not helped by the bad weather which has led to the delay of the inbound flight. The mood around the waiting room is one of tired resignation. It is chock full, fuller than I have ever seen it, perhaps a result of all the flights bunched up. Added to that for me is hunger, having skipped breakfast and hopped down to Boots at work for a meal deal lunch; hardly the sort of fare my inner Nigerian subsists on on a normal day.

We get the announcement we have all been dying for a further forty five minutes later, and board the flight – nearly three hours later than we should have left. Thankfully, the flight is shorter than advertised, we arrive just past 9.30pm. It is still raining. It might be my tired mind but for a brief moment I wonder if this is indeed Manchester not Aberdeen, given the deluge of biblical proportions pelting us as we make the short walk from the steps to the terminal building. My hotel is across town in Salford Quays so I make a beeline for the taxi rank. The driver of the one I get is in the middle of some conversation – one of such importance that he carries on for all of the twenty five plus minute journey. Our only communication is a brief pause within his soliloquy, as he indicates that the fee will be £22.30 – I hand £23.00 to him, he gives me no change in return. The bugger!

Check-in at the hotel is a breeze – the front desk assistant finds my name without needing to eyeball my printed off reservation slip. The room I have assigned is on the third floor. When walk in and dump my bags, I find the view very much to my liking – decorated in soft, white in the main and looking out on to the bright lights of the quayside. It is much larger than typical for the similar prices I’ve paid down in London. True to its ‘budget’ moniker though, there is no proper restaurant of note within the premises, there is a sandwich bar, which I attack, plumping for (yet another) bacon and egg sandwich and two bottles of water. So much for healthy eating.



The next morning, I am up by 5.30am,  study till 7.00am and then head downstairs to reception to grab a sandwich and a diet coke for breakfast. Having had a look in google maps I plot a route to the exam venue. It is a fifteen minute walk away, pretty much through the centre of town. This I confirm when after paying for my sandwich I ask the small crowd of six clustered around the reception desk in a meeting of some sort. First turn on the left past the traffic lights and follow the curve of the metro is the advice the woman who appears to be the chairing the little huddle gives me.

The musty smell of wetness is overpowering when I turn into a side street en-route the Victoria – proof definitive of just how wet Manchester is I guess. Not since Nigeria in the rainy season have I smelled something this intense. When I arrive at the Victoria building – at just past 8.00am, there is only one other person hanging around the building. He is in the middle of what must be his pre-game ritual, fag in mouth, peering into an iPad. My arrival seems to make his mind up for him as he nods in my direction, puts away his ipad and holds the door open for me. At the lifts I step in before him and punch the button for the seventh floor.

Exam today he asks? when he notices we are headed for the same floor. I nod. It turns out he is around for a Microsoft exam of some sort. I explain I have got an API one – that brings as much cognition out of him as water in the middle of the Sahara.


The first Prometric staff arrives ten minutes later. She nods a greeting as she takes us in a sweeping gaze. After swiping herself in and knocking a few things about for another couple of minutes, she opens the main doors and lets us in. Ten minutes later, they appear to be ready for us and we commence the exam sign in procedures – ID  documents, a quick pat down and then bags and coats stowed away in lockers. By the time I am signed in for my exam a fourth and fifth person have arrived.  The exam itself is one of those – not terrible, but not a roaring success either. Given it is based on the ability to recall a slew of facts – pressures, temperatures, pH levels and material compositions, one either knows the right answers or doesn’t and I finish inside 90 minutes from the 4 hours allotted. . Having gone over the questions two more times to bottom out which exactly I’m sure of and which I am not, I decide I have had enough and punch out. On my way back I take a different route, ending up with a gorgeous view of water in one of the basins. On a whim, I make a pit stop at a Frankie and Bennys. An English breakfast downed – and £10 lighter – I feel a tad better, dodgy exam or not.


I plan to meet up with my friends E and C later in the day. We agree on somewhere central – Piccadilly Gardens – and by 1pm I hop onto the tram from Salford Quays towards the city centre. Chugging along at a steady pace, one gets the sense that Manchester is all red brick and high rise buildings – a bit blind man meets elephant I guess. They are ten minutes late. Whilst waiting, I pretend to be interested in the notices at the Piccadilly Gardens tram stop.The sun is out, and there are loads of people about – burkas, veils, jeans and tees and skimpy skirts and tank tops all coexisting, peacefully it seems. The joys of multiculturalism I guess. To my left two guys and three girls, hardly teenagers I think, materialise, blowing smoke all over . After a few seconds it becomes clear what it is they are trying to achieve – the age old male-female detente . They succeed – it seems – because by the time I’m heading off to meet E and C, they are all a happy huddle – swapped cigarettes included. Whilst waiting, I post a picture of the wheel – I get a quick call back from someone I haven’t met in a while who now happens to live in Manchester. We agree to meet up for five thirty.


I grab coffee and a waffle with E and C and catch up . It’s been three years since we last met, the bulk of the intervening communication occurring via facebook and instagram – terrible I know. They are great sport, but have to leave in just an hour thanks to prior engagements. We agree to speak more often going forward – small positives I guess.

Waiting for J, I stumble on a piece of interpretative dance in the gardens themselves. A group of musicians from the Gambia thrill the crowd with their repertoire of dance and music. It is so engaging from time to time people from the crowd join in in the frenzied dancing. It keeps me occupied, and when the bucket comes around, I drop a fiver. Very enjoyable it has been.


J is delayed – he finally shows up at six thirty. By this time, the sunshine has vanished replaced by a biting wind and overcast skies.I rue my decision to ditch my fleece for only a wind breaker. Three black guys and an asian try to rile a police community support officer. One of them, clearly aggrieved, goes off in a rant about being subservient and being slaves to the system. The PCSO doesn’t as much as bat an eyelid. He’s clearly seen and heard a lot more. I move off – the last thing I want to do is to be caught up in something I have no business in. J arrives, and we grab a burger, seat on one of the benches and chat. We go over the usual – work, Nigeria, and the pressures from our parents to marry or be damned. Life I guess.

By Sunday, I am mentally drained and end up not going to church – terrible given how much I have looked forward to going in Manchester. I blame stumbling on a blog which wasn’t very complimentary of the one I wanted to attend for dissuading me. I do go out though – a final  meetup up with R is planned at the gardens again. She does her nerd creds no harm by dragging me across to the Central Library – it’s impressive, circular facade one that intrigues me. It is however locked so we don’t get to see the insides. Lunch is a KFC three piece meal wolfed down with a diet pepsi. On the way back, we run into a number of street acts – Iron man, with whom I get to score a picture, and some bloke levitating as it were.



Pretty much tired and sleepy, I make my way to the train station for the airport. Under five pounds it is this time.. The next time, there will be no cabs for sure.

Chaos and Nostalgia…5


I get my sister’s old room back. I have been way for so long that I have to go back two house moves to the time I still had a room here, one that I shared with the kid brother in the house on 3rd Street.

I spend the bulk of the five days I spend in total in a haze of sorts – thanks to the ASUU strike, there’s precious little going on about town. NEPA does it’s very best to limit how much access to my devices I get, battery life being a significant issue of sorts.

I do get to sort out my bank problems, a spanking new ATM is delivered in time for me to avoid having to pay significant penalties for using my UK debit card in Nigeria. The nieces are good sport – V’s all of nearly four years old, G’s nearly nine months and A’s nearly seven. They take to the two christmas bears I get them very well. The difference between both G and A can’t be more obvious – one’s quiet, friendly and easily amused by my tech, the other is agitated, bubbly and keen to be up and about.

Mum, as always, manages to throw in a visit to the tailor. The downside, or upside depending on how you look at it, of being away all this while is I have missed a number of events and the associated scurrying about to get the entire brood kitted in matching clothes.

The tailor is a long term friend of the family – she’s privy to my F debacle from 2009 – I wonder if it is pity in her eyes when she tries to make small talk as I get measured for my danshiki. God go do am, my brother, is her parting shot. I suppose there can never be too much of praying on one’s behalf.

I don’t get to see T and his kid – bad form on my part, I leave a gift for them and my trusty MacBook Air for sister #1’s who’s been pining for a functional laptop.

All told, it’s about catching up with family, and resting up. Nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary, just enjoying being home.

Chaos and Nostalgia…4


By 7.20am, I am in a cab, speeding towards the Yaba Motor Park. The plan is to grab a seat on an early bus to Benin, and then on to Ekpoma. Overnight my Mum has tried to call me several times. My gamble – forwarding my UK mobile to a Skype Out number- has failed spectacularly; no thanks to the dodgy internet I’ve got. The forwarded calls come in but I can’t answer them with any decent quality. 😦 That early on a Sunday morning, Lagos is already agog – blaring loud speakers, shrill cries of hawkers and bus conductors alike and a steady stream of pedestrians.

At the park, three buses are being filled concurrently – one has the luxury of a a DVD player and screen and air conditioning, the other has only air conditioning, the third is the RyanAir (link) equivalent – no frills, no fancy, basic get-you-there service. I plump for the mid-tier option – handing over 2,600 Naira. There are four more spaces to fill – I settle into the back seat to wait. The loader, a small, wiry, quick witted man whose deeply etched face belies his boy sized body hops about, keeping us entertained with his brand of wit and sarcasm.

The middle row of seats – and one on the first row – is taken up by four women who seem to be part of a traveling party. They have that settled, stolid unflappable-ness of middle aged safety, accompanied with a few tufts of greying hair peeking out from beneath their head scarves. It seems like they have been attending a church convention of some sort. The woman in the front seat who appears to be the leader of the group – reminisces almost to herself, given the lack of comments from the others – on how well a certain person preached the night before.

After another hour of waiting in which the six or so people who have arrived at the Edegbe Line stand opt for either of the other options but not our mid-tier one, I decide to pay for an extra street to speed things up. The bonus is I won’t have to worry about managing my hand carried bag of extra gifts for the nieces and my parents, and the chance to ease the discomfort I am already feeling from squashing my legs into the tight space I have afforded.

Two last two passengers to arrive join me at the back – a much older husband and wife pair, I assume. She is carrying a small purse, whilst he drags a large traveling case. When they speak, it is in faintly accented tones – I place them as academics of some sort. My hunch is proved right when it turns out they have UNIBEN connections and remember my father from back in the day.

We finally get the bus loaded up – the exits blocked completely by the various odds and ends we are all traveling with. I shudder inwardly at the prospects of escape if a fire breaks out.

Just before we head out, the posse of women break out in singing and clapping, followed by an extended payer for journey mercies, and protection from armed robbers and all the other dangers of the road, apparently – thank goodness I think to myself.

The journey passes without significant incident – bar the few potholes our bus clangs through. To be fair, the road is in a much improved state than I recall – for portions of it, we have to switch the side of the road we use – which leads to some confusion.

At Ore – we break for food; I end up grabbing plantain chips, coke and some suya. Missing my regular hotel in Lagos threw the spanner in the works for my first night suya/ chicken republic staple. Ore makes amends.


Benin… We arrive just after 2.00pm. Speeding past Precious Palm Royal, and then UNIBEN in short order, there is at once a lot of and yet little change visible. What is immediately obvious is that a lot of building has been completed since I last passed through these parts. To the right of the main gate, a row of freshly built banks stand, new, clean, resplendent, no doubt profiting from being repositories of all the various fee accounts the university creates.

After I come off the bus from Lagos, I find a bus headed for New Benin motor park to kick off the second phase of my journey. It has just rained – odd for early November. In the midst of the bedlam that is the motor park, someone calls my name; or at least I think so. Not in the mood for any mindless prattle, and using the fact that my earphones are plugged in as an excuse – I feign not hearing.

We are all sweaty in the tightly packed bus. Packed as tightly as we are, the air doesn’t get a lot of circulation, bearing the various smells it is saddled with – cray fish and garri from the ghana-must-go  across from me, and a motley of other smells given off by the open gutters around. 

Salvation comes when we finally move off, the forced draughts clearing the dense, suffocation that has settled upon us like a blanket. We complete the 80-ish kilometres in just over an hour, the imposing facade of the University gate welcoming us to town. All that is left is the intermittent stopping to offload people, their luggage and their wares. By the time we are past the city centre and heading towards the outskirts, we have been whittled down from fifteen to less than six. 

At the last stop there are just two of us – a woman who looks vaguely familiar and I. We hop off the bus, claim our baggage and attempt to hail a cab. She catches my eye and seemingly after weighing it for a bit asks me if I’m not an S. I reply in the affirmative. It turns out she works at the primary school I attended back in the 80’s.

You haven’t  changed much since your sister’s‘s wedding she says – I laugh and try to make small talk until I am saved by an okada heeding her call. Grett your mum for me she says.

I wave as she disappears, borne by the bike rider.

I surprise my parents by walking the last few kilometres from the bus stop home. They are surprised – you have always been quietly stubborn mom says.

Home.. Is always home.. As will a fiercely independent child remain…

Chaos and Nostalgia…3


I wake up to singing – slightly muffled but loud enough to filter through to that neither here nor there place between sleep and waking up, where ambient sounds meld into dreams, or whatever it is conscious people do with their brains. When I make my way downstairs, it turns out it is the hotel staff having morning prayers.

I am low on cash, I half start to prepare to go out before I am minded to ask my friend V, who confirms an ATM is my best bet. I end up walking a few kilometres to the nearest bank, a Zenith Bank, and empty my cash passport in the process; 20,000 naira should cover an extra day’s hotel costs and the transport fare by road from Lagos to Benin which is next on the agenda.

The rest of the afternoon is spent lazing around – TV, internet surfing and lunch at a KFC which I stumble on amidst my morning walkabout. Trying to decide what to buy, I find it more than a tad different than the KFC I’m used to. For one they have meals that include rice, and also have a very crispy variety of chicken. The equivalent of my regular three- piece variety meal is the hungry meal – for 1800 naira – three pieces of crispy, chicken, chips and a Pepsi. No obsessing over what that will do to my calorie counting numbers for the year, mind.

VI_heading in

Late afternoon, I get the call I have been waiting for. It’s third time lucky for meeting M – three years and some in the making. The plan is to catch up somewhere on the island – she suggests The Palms, after a bit of back and forth as she’s attempts to sort out transport.

I hop into a cab – a far more reasonable thousand naira the fare this time –  and head out from my Ikeja hide out to the Island. By the time I arrive, M is no where to be find – typical woman I dare say – but in this case for good reason on her part.

Waiting in front of the palms, the overwhelming sense is of being surrounded by proper middle class self indulgence – a milling mass of young-ish, upwardly mobile families tumbling out of their SUVs, 2.5 kids and poorly dressed relative in tow. The odd toddler on the way out has a huge ice cream cone to his mouth, a defence against the searing heat at 3.00 in the afternoon, I suppose. Besides my irritation at being made to wait, there is the genuine trepidation at the possibility of running into some of my old chums – my old playground at UX is only a stone’s throw away. I am hardly dressed like the triumphant returnee – my bushy hair, week old stubble and weight loss more indicative of someone who has fallen into hard times. My worst fears are realised when I run into one such bloke. He has his three kids, and wife in tow, and is pushing a trolley full of an assortment of tinned food. We shake hands – Good to see you he says, giving me the eye. I shrug, came in on Friday night, on to Benin tomorrow morning I quickly add. I give the wife a hand shakes and rub the head of the boisterous six year old who was barely born the last time I saw them. We mouth a few more pointless banalities, before he shoots off with a promise to call. I am too used to these things to hold my breath over that.

I wait for another thirty minutes before M calls to advise she is stuck in traffic a few kilometres away. I wander into the MTN store to try to sort out a Nano-SIM for my iPad with an eye to the journey ahead. By the next morning I will be winging it 400km to the east where wifi, if it exists will be the equivalent of dragging water out of rock.  As I head out mission accomplished twenty minutes later, someone approaches me asking for money. 

London, Again


I first moot the idea of meeting up with Tee casually one Saturday evening, between getting a snapshot of her calendar for the next few months – it is chock full with work and travel – and getting tips for scaling back on my coffee drinking, after which it turns out that there are no airports in her corner of the world. That puts the downer on any inclinations to jump on a flight on my part – I famously never travel anywhere I’ll have to sit still for more than 8 hours – until she mentions she might be in London sometime over the next few weeks. It turns out I only get four days notice, and I barely have time to sort out fights and holidays, hop on a flight and appear in London.

She is someone I’ve wanted to meet in person for a while. Since we were introduced, we’ve restricted ourselves to a telephone conversation now and again, and the odd picture swap on WhatsApp – hardly enough to get a sense for what makes her tick or if indeed she just be might the future Mrs S. 🙂

I end up not getting a holiday approved, eventually settling for a quick 36 hour round trip – up to London at mid day on Saturday and back into the ‘Deen for 8pm on sunday night. That leaves me just enough time to get to the gym on Saturday morning, grab my weekly groceries, shower and catch the 727 to the airport at Dyce for my 1.25pm flight.

In the end, my Saturday morning does not work like a well oiled machine. The gym opens 15 minutes late, ASDA’s slightly more full than I recall for a Saturday morning, and I end up back home for just past 11.45am. By the time I have showered, and tossed a pair of jeans and a change of clothes in my bag, it is nearly 12.10pm; too late to catch the 727 so I high tail it to the taxi rank on Union Street and grab a cab, thanks to whose dexterity and quick thinking, I end up at the airport and clear security five minutes before the boarding announcement is made.

By the time I arrive in London, to much wetter, chillier weather than the last time, all that is on my mind is to find my way to the obscure hotel I have booked in Central London and some food. It takes me the better part of an hour and thirty minutes to reach the hotel via the Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters and the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus.  Food ends up being Nandos, thankfully spotted as I made my way thanks to Google Maps via a few backstreets to the hotel. Intermittent text messages between myself and Tee end up being the inspiration to soldier on amidst all my tribulations.

 As I always do on these trips, I make a pitstop at the Dominion Theatre for Hillsong, fortuitously they have a guest speaker on the day, Dr Mal Fletcher on the subject of Being a Marketplace Transformer and how Christians need to engage and transform it rather than ignore it for our bubbles. It is a fitting start to what turns out to be a great day about town.

Tee turns out to be way more gorgeous than her pictures suggest, and we have enough of shared interests to have a wide ranging conversation about anything and everything; so much so that over per-peri chicken and coke zero we talk for so long it is nearly 5pm by the time I reluctantly pull away for the wild race to Heathrow.

Three train changes later, I make it through security at Heathrow, barely in time again; thankful for a delayed flight than ever before, and giddy at just how great an evening I have had.. Somewhere in my heart, my inner romantic hopes that I may have just met theOne 🙂

Reluctant conversations…

The flight into London was uneventful, the only thing breaking my ear-phones-plugged-in-music-playing routine being an exceptionally friendly gentleman and his wife who I had the misfortune of sitting next to, on one of three adjoining seats. After tossing my knapsack into the overhead locker, I motion for them to make some space for me. He smiles, far too easily and obliges me, as I slither into the seat, somehow managing to do it without entangling my ear phone wires on the various odds and ends he has left on the seat. He is dressed simply; a North Face jacket from which a bland, grey shirt peeks through a half done zipper. I can’t help but notice that the woman on the other hand is much better dressed, the highlight being an eye catching, flowery, brown dress that stops well shy of her knees as she sits, and a full mane of blonde hair. I settle in, toss a mirthless, slit lip grin in their direction and proceed to detangle my ear phone wires.

Going home? Or holidaying, the man to my right asks.

Holidaying, I reply, hoping that my reply is sufficient brusque to stifle any further attempt at conversation.

Somewhere warm? He continues. I shrug inwardly resigning myself to losing my peace on this flight. I give him the cliff notes version –  a wedding in Oklahoma, a dash up to Chicago if I can manage it and a couple of days to meet up with old buddies in Dallas. Not boiling warm but warm enough given the weather forecasts for TheBZ. He explains that he and the wife, whom he indicates with a slant of his head, are headed westward too – California for four days and then Hawaii for two weeks. In the space of five short minutes, I learn that last year he did the Caribbean, and the year before some other exotic place. I murmur my compliments at their timing – they like me should miss the worst of the typically soul chilling TheBZ weather.

We make some more small talk, before I am rescued by the announcement of take off over the public address system. He turns to the woman at his side – who has passed the time thumbing through the high life magazine and chattering excitedly with her friend across the aisle – and they confer briefly.

He pats down his jacket, re-checks the buckle on the seat belt and leans back in his chair as the aircraft is towed on to the runway. In the few minutes it takes till we are airborne, I find that he has somehow managed to fall asleep. For the first time in at least ten minutes I am left in relative peace, enjoying the silence of my thoughts, and music. Across the aisle, the woman and her friend share a snicker at how quickly he has fallen asleep.

OK was a blast – within minutes of my arrival I was treated to my very own steaming bowl of goat meat pepper soup. I toyed with heading out to Houston to meet up with my old Welding Engineering mentor, but the prospect of running into people I frankly had been trying hard to forget deterred me. Over all the only dark spot was being saddled with a couple of cry-y little children whose mother was only too glad to enjoy her new found freedom whilst I did my very best to keep them occupied. In a bizarre twist of fate,  I ended up bonding with them so much I suspect I caught a mild case of baby envy fever.  As for the wedding – I attended.

And no, I didn’t catch the garter.