As you may have seen on Twitter, Mile 91 was on a story gathering assignment in Nigeria last week. We were working with the fabulous Youth for Technology Foundation, exploring the impact of their work with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. We met many inspiring businesswomen whose enterprises have been transformed through the training they have received and when the stories are published later in the year we will share them.
One of the great things about these trips is the opportunity it gives us to occasionally challenge our own misconceptions and the accepted narrative on certain places and situations. You may have read Ben’s blog on Mulago Hospital in Uganda a few months back?
I am not going to deny that we were slightly nervous about travelling to Nigeria. The country has a reputation and the popular news agenda commonly perpetuates the stereotypes. We know Africa well but we are only human. I expressed these wobbles to a friend who lived in Nigeria for many years. Her response: “The main thing is smile, have a sense of humour and patience. You will love Nigeria and I hope forever challenge the myths and scaremongering.”
So, what happened? We got off the plane to one of the most efficient customs experiences we’ve had in a while; we were welcomed everywhere with the big smiles and loud laughs that you experience all over the continent; we went running along safe streets at 0615 in the morning and were greeted by other runners; we received much ‘kola’ (gifts of recognition for guests – commonly drinks, biscuits or sweets).
Of course it wasn’t all a bed of roses! There was the receptionist more interested in her TV programme than resolving the wifi issues; there was egg and toast breakfast that turned up without the egg; there were power cuts. And there were delayed internal flights. There’s always delayed internal flights. But herein in lies our favourite anecdote.
On our way home we were subject to a six hour delay to our internal flight to Lagos. After three hours spent processing expenses and other such tasks suited to a boring wait, we decided it was time for a beer and a game of ayo (we had bought it from one of the women we met). This caught the eye of a fellow stranded passenger. He was quite intrigued to see two white people with a grasp of this West African game. We played a few rounds, he taught us some new techniques and we had a chat about this and that.
We assumed that would be the end of it. But at Lagos he was waiting for us, making sure we were OK for our onward journey. He offered us a lift in his car and shooed away the over-enthusiastic taxi drivers who descended on us when we exited the terminal. At 8pm he sent his driver back to the airport hotel where we had been killing a few hours to take us on to the international terminal. He called to make sure the driver had turned up. On Tuesday morning he texted me to make sure we had arrived in London OK.
Saving his number in my phone in the hustle and bustle of Lagos Airport I had named him Mr Nigeria. His real name is Oludayo Oluyemi. Thank you Mr Oluyemi for your help – I look forward to the game of ayo I promised next time you are in London. But if you don’t mind, I might keep you as ‘Mr Nigeria’ in my phone because I like how your generosity sums up the hospitality we experienced in your country.