After two 6-hour flights and a long wait in London’s Heathrow airport, I finally arrived in Lagos, tired and travel-weary, at 5:00 am on June 4. Immigration was easy, except for the customs official who tried to make me pay duties on the computer that the Advocacy Project donated to WOCON. Even when I showed him the three page document detailing the fact that the computer was a donation, for education and communication purposes, and had no commercial value, he put up a fight, saying that either the donor or the recipient would have to pay. When I said I was just the transporter, I suppose he took pity on me and let me pass through.
Shortly after entering the waiting area, I saw a younger version of Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi (Executive Director of WOCON) holding up a sign with my name on it. It was Simbo, Bisi’s daughter and dedicated staff member at WOCON, along with a friend. Upon exiting the airport, we were approached by two men who offered to push the cart with my luggage to the car. Before I knew it, there were five guys hovering around the cart. After putting the luggage in the trunk, one held out his hand for payment. Since I hadn’t bought naira yet, I gave him a dollar. He asked for $20! When we got into the car all of the young men were demanding payment. One even showed me an I.D. card and claimed to be a police inspector. I gave two more dollars and then we drove off.
If that weren’t the most classic welcome to Lagos, the traffic jam and the power outage that followed were. I couldn’t believe how much traffic there was at 6:30am. There seemed to be no lanes, no stop lights, in short, no rules! When I arrived at Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi’s house, there was no electricity, something that I quickly learned was an everyday occurence in this city that seems to be busting at its seams. My first day in Lagos was relaxing. I met two of Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi’s children and a few of their friends, took a five-hour nap, and went out to eat at Chikin Lickin. The following day, I went to the WOCON office in order to get started on my resume. My plan was to type it up on the way but I found it way too difficult to focus. It felt a bit unusual, typing up my resume in the same building and office I will be applying for a job at. As it turns out I was still having difficulties concentrating and ending up with something I would want to show them, so I looked online for help. I found a very good resume builder that had all the tools I needed to get a good rhythm going. It didn’t take long to finish the resume once I was using that. I was very happy when I went into the office with the resume done because I was met by friendly faces and two big signs that read: “ERICA WILLIAMS, YOU’RE WELCOME.”
So far nearly everyone that I’ve met thinks that I’m white and can’t believe that I’m African-American. Whether I like it or not, I’ll learn here what it’s like to have white-skin privilege. People seem to be really impressed when I speak Yoruba. They may chuckle a little at first, but then they engage me in conversation, most of which I can’t keep up with! After the first day at Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi’s house, I’ve now moved to an apartment in Abule Oja, Yaba in the heart of Lagos, where I stay with the cousin of my colleague in the African Studies program at Yale University.
Posted By Erica Williams
Posted Jun 6th, 2003