Thursday, October 04, 2012

The 317th good thing about Lagos: Meeting the First Lady of Nigeria

In April I was able to go with some women from the American Women's Club to a special dinner and event celebrating the women of Nigeria at the Eko Hotel, where the honored guest was the First Lady of Nigeria.  It proved to be quite an interesting cultural experience.

It started before the event when we showed up at the time requested on the program and the doors to the venue were still closed.  No surprise here -- I am always caught off guard when things start on time here because it happens so rarely.  There was a long line of impatient women crowding the steamy lobby and things were getting kind of heated in the crowd in the hour or so we were waiting.  The women were all dressed to the nines, but that didn't mean they were acting with decorum.  There was pushing and shoving and shouting at the guards.  It was a relief to finally get inside and find our table.

There was a lot of preliminary action before the First Lady appeared, of course.  Lots of live, loud music.  An opening prayer that was, as is typical here, very Christian, even with a call and response kind of "Thank you, Jesus" thing that made me feel very uncomfortable for the many Muslims that were a part of the crowd.  It was a prayer that wouldn't have been politically correct in many places.  I couldn't help but wonder that if the intention of the gathering was, as stated, to bring women together in advocacy for peace and unity in Nigeria, that it was a little insensitive to have such a blatently Christian prayer that excluded so many in the audience, especially in light of the prevelence of Christian/Muslim violence in the country.

Below is a photo of the room.  It was a packed and beautifully decorated ballroom and, though this picture doesn't really showcase it, the bright colors of really dressed up women made for a very vibrant scene.

Here's the women moving to the music:
One really big eye-opener for me was that when Dame Patience Jonathan was speaking, the ballroom didn't quiet down.  People continued their conversations, their phone calling, their eating.  The room was noisy!  I was so surprised!  I know if I was at an event where Michelle Obama was speaking, there would be respectful silence while she was at the podium.  It was difficult to hear her and especially to focus on what she was saying with so much noise in the room.  I was able to shake the hand of the First Lady when she walked by our table.  She had quite a fancy outfit on...

After she finished her speech there were many of us who needed to leave, as it was quite late by that time.  We got to the door just as the guards slammed it shut and said that we couldn't leave.  By the time I got there, there was quite a crowd of women behind me.  I asked the guard if there was another door where we could exit and he said that we just needed to wait until the First Lady left.  Many of us said that we needed to leave and we couldn't wait and would he please direct us to a door where we could exit.  By this time, the guards were holding back a crowd of angry women who were going to exit the room no matter what the guards said.  They pushed their way through the security guys guarding the door and forced the doors open.  I said something to the security guy next to me about how there's no stopping a crowd of empowered women.  I guess it was a show of unity, though not quite one of peace....

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