The more I read about Nigeria, the less prepared I feel for this looming trip. I have tons of extremely vague story ideas, and mostly a zenlike (or is it lazy?) sense that I will just have to wait and see what opportunities I stumble into. It's a short, formal and likely extremely regimented visit; any time to go off and do my own thing will be quite limited.
But I've gotten into my head the idea that I must figure out a way to spend a night in one of Lagos' slum cities.
Lagos is Nigeria's major port city and former capital. With 15 million people (skyrocketing from 300,000 in 1950), it's the world's sixth largest urban area -- and it's expected to rise to No. 3, behind only Tokyo and Mumbai, by 2015. This is not a milestone to aim for. The majority of those millions of people are living off the official grid, in self-constructed slum cities with no government oversight -- and thus no sewers, no water, no regulations, no protections, and no guarantees.
I saw plenty of slum cities when I was in Delhi back in '03. If there was a square foot of space, at least one family was living on it. Medians of every thoroughfare were crowded with shacks made of corrugated tin, cardboard boxes, plastic tarps. Imagine living in a homemade tent on the grassy strip separating westbound and eastbound Highway 2 -- with at least 10 times the traffic -- and conducting your business, whether it's barbering, dentistry or panhandling, from your front door. About a billion people throughout the "developing" world live like this -- and that number is expected to double within 20 years.
Nigeria provides something like 8 percent of the world's crude oil; oil exports brought $50 billion into the country in 2005. But the average Nigerian lives on about $1 a day. The oil money doesn't trickle back into the economy, creating jobs or government assistance; it's all industry and government kickbacks and corruption. There are no jobs, there are just people, millions and millions of people. That's why the booming business in kidnappings and siphoning ... not to mention the internet financial scams for which the country is so well known. Everyone's gotta make a buck -- at least -- every day.
And what's that buck gonna buy you? Not a home; not a trip to the grocery store; not government services like street repairs or police protection. Not even the security of knowing your home will be there when you return in the evening.
No one lives in a slum when any other option is available to them. And the only way to truly understand that is to experience it. I think it's a doable idea, if I can meet a fixer we can trust. I hope I get the chance.
On a more mundane note, I'm trying to decide whether to change my return ticket and fly back the night of Feb. 1 -- with less than four hours between our return from Frankfort and the last flight to Omaha, and having to clear customs and allow for any delays on the international leg, that might be a tad risky -- or go ahead and book a ridiculously overpriced hotel room in DC that night.
On an even more mundane note, I fell a second time this evening, in front of my own garage door, on the same cushy cheek that's already blooming with a charming bruise from this morning's fall.