Wednesday, March 21, 2007
The 48th good thing about Lagos: Seeing how the other Nigerians live.
As I drive through the streets each day, I pass so many people living on the streets and in shacks with no running water and using the streets for their sewer. (Many sights like the picture here.)It's so difficult to see the level of poverty all around me and I feel very grateful for what I have, but also kind of guilty that I have so much and there are so many that have so little. Yesterday I had an experience viewing the lifestyle at the other end of the Nigerian spectrum. The American Women's Club each month has a "hospitality tea," which is mostly a social event for people to get together and visit. It's held in a member's home. Yesterday was a bit of an adventure. It was at the home of a black American woman (she grew up in North Carolina) who had married into a very prominent and wealthy Nigerian family. Her home is in Apapa, which is the area of Lagos that is the port. I can see Apapa from my apartment window, but to get there we have to drive across the bridge to the mainland and then take another bridge to the port area. Since we can't travel there without security, I wasn't going to go. But then the club realized that with security restrictions, many women wouldn't travel there, so they got Chevron to provide a bus and security to bring us there. It was quite an experience! We found out after we got on the roads that the traffic was especially bad that day because there had been some kind of work stoppage over the weekend and now every truck in Lagos was heading into the port to offload the containers. What would normally be a 20 minute drive, took us 2 1/2 hours. So we spent a lot of time on the road, seeing things like this picture. But we were visiting on the way, so it wasn't bad. I wish I had kept count of all the stalled trucks and other vehicles. I saw several of the ever-present yellow busses loaded down with people, being pushed along by someone through the traffic. The security detail provided some help at crucial intersections, stopping the traffic to allow us to get through. But when we finally got to our destination, we decided the trip was worth it. This woman lives in a large compound with her extended family. Her husband is the oldest son, so he inherited the large family home. I really wanted (but resisted the urge) to take pictures of the beautiful outdoor sculptures and fountains and then the huge carved doors at the entryway, the elephant tusks all over the place, along with an amazing collection of ivory objects. There were animal skin rugs (some complete with heads!) all over the place. Fabulous art, including beautiful bronzes from Benin that were museum worthy and even a Rembrandt drawing. She had an enormous home with a number of rooms and courtyards surrounding the pool -- a beautiful area for entertaining. Her staff kept supplied the loaded table with beautiful cakes and treats, even strawberries and caviar that her husband had brought from London the day before. And as beautiful as this house is, of course it isn't her only home -- they also have a house in England and one in Atlanta. Their college-age children are in England and the US. I asked about her husband's businesses -- it seems like his family has a finger in much of the industry here -- she mentioned the bank and newspaper they owned and importing and fishing businesses. She was a very gracious and welcoming hostess, and gave us each a little gift and card as we left. It was an interesting experience and a very thought-provoking glimpse into the life of the wealthy Nigerian. There's a huge difference between the life of the people on the street and my life, and then another big jump up in lifestyle from my life to the lifestyle of this hostess. As for me, I'm very satisfied just where we are!