The flight was meant for 6.30 a.m Nigerian time that Wednesday morning. Destination was Berlin, Germany with a stop-over and connecting another flight in Casablanca, Morocco. It was wise to sleep over at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, but there was nowhere to sleep. Thankfully the weather was cool and the air-conditioners were working!
I began to understand why the Lagos Airport was considered one of the worst in Africa, not necessarily in terms of infrastructure alone but taking into consideration the comfort of the regular air traveller. The intending passengers, like vultures, simply decided to be patient until all the demarcated areas which serve as offices became vacant late in the night. Then they moved in and occupied everywhere available, just to have a nap before checking-in time in the wee hours of that morning.
It was not a comfortable rest for most people but endurance was the watchword; 6.30 a.m. the following morning was still several hours away.
By 4.30 a.m the Air Maroc Airline counter opened for business and the airport formalities began in earnest. Inspection and checking-in of luggage began with Immigration, Quarantine, Customs and other officials standing in a row, “doing their jobs.” They often allow passengers to go with their garri, ground pepper and egusi, but they let them know that they have to “take care” of them.
As one moved into the inner areas of the airport, on the way out, other ‘begi- begi’ officials asked for one favour or the other, after all you must have been well loaded to be checking out.
The aisle linking the aircraft was pitch-dark. Many of the travellers were not surprised. After all this was Nigeria and blackouts and darkness was not strange. Many shook their heads in amusement.
Less than five hours later, Casablanca came into view after several minutes of viewing the Atlas Mountains which looked like floor tiles from the air. From the air, the city was beautifully set with its rich agricultural fields looking like unmarked Wimbledon tennis courts. Its roads were equally well set, a beauty to behold.
Crossing the Mediterranean
Taking off from Casablanca after about one and a half hours, the flight finally headed for Europe. From the air the Mediterranean Sea looked like a stream separating North Africa from southern Europe.
After a few more hours, Berlin here we come! A thick fog hung over the city and it was raining. As one would come to discover later, rain does not really fall here in the sense of rainfall back in tropical Africa with thunder and lightning. It is better described as drizzling.
All airport formalities over, we exited the airport to a strong smell of coffee and cigarette. It was as if everybody was smoking and drinking coffee at the same time. Both young and old were fully into this pastime – boys, girls, young men and women, old men and women. An elderly woman stood near with her travelling bag. Her pet a little dog was in a compartment specially created for it in the luggage she was carrying. She kept puffing away at her cigarette.
Intermittently, she stooped to have a look at her pet and patted it on the head. Reassured that it was safe, the little dog settled down snugly in the compartment. I was to learn later how deeply Germans love their pet dogs. I thought of Nigeria. Most “dog lovers” here love them to keep out unwanted visitors and robbers. There in Germany, their owners take them for a walk and everywhere they want to go, even on a train or bus ride.
Efficient transport system
In two weeks I almost became a Berliner. As a first time visitor, I noticed that the underground railway system is superb with excellent timing. If one enters an underground train station and it is very easy to determine when the next train will come around, and it comes exactly at the time you see on the electronic screen. I became acquainted with almost every part of Berlin U-bahn and S-bahn as their underground and surface rail system is known. Turmstrasse, Zoologische garten, Spandau, Paracelsus bad, Alexander Plaza, Osloer strabbe, Potsdam became as familiar as Maryland, Palm Grove, Fadeyi, Oshodi, Mile2, Festac, Okoko etc.
One could obtain a ticket for a week or a whole day as a group of visitors or as an individual, which one can use to ravel round the city in trains, including buses. In the whole of the two weeks spent in Berlin, I did not come across any one checking for tickets, ticket controllers they call them. Yet everybody bought their tickets without being told.
Just when I was wondering what a similar situation in Nigeria would be, I was told by one of my hosts that some people actually fail to comply with buying tickets but if caught, the offender is taken to the station where he or she would be made to cough out 40 Euro and further sanctions.
Germans also love their bikes. They take them everywhere – inside the train, on the street wherever possible. They also love bread. It is said that there are over 200 varieties of bread in Germany. It depends on whichever one you want to have. There is hardly a day that Germans don’t eat bread in one form or the other.
An aspect of the conference which I was attending was a trip to a village called Buckow. While waiting for the train to Buckow, I was pressed so I asked of the gents. To my surprise I had to pay one euro to be able to use the gents. I quickly made a simple calculation. One Euro was then about N410. Wow, N410 just to pee? Not even in Lagos would I pay such an amount, but I had no choice and normal adults like me don’t wear ‘pampers.’ So I complied.
A train eventually came but we soon discovered to our chagrin that we went to a wrong Buckow; there are in fact two Buckows. The wrong one has residents of about 400 in number, so they virtually knew themselves. So when this group of mostly Africans, carrying all manners of luggage and other items “invaded” their village, a picture of a recent ‘invasion’ by refugees who crossed over mostly from Syria must have crossed their minds. Dogs began to bark, breaking the quietness of the village. It was late evening but thankfully, in summer 8p.m is like 5p.m in Nigeria. Some of us said they noticed a man with a gun.
Surprisingly an ‘angel’ emerged in form of a man who could speak both German and English fluently. He was the one who told us that we were in the wrong Buckow and that the other Buckow was in the opposite direction, two worlds apart. We were in the soup but thank God for an efficient transport system. As late as it was and as far away from Berlin as it was, a bus was coming to take us back. It was late to get to the right Buckow that day. We had to get there the following day.
When it is getting late in the day, time of arrival for buses in the remote areas starts getting longer; One hour interval, instead of maybe 15 minutes. As remote as the two Buckows are, buses do ply them till late in the night.
Emperor Friedrick II’s summer palace
It was summer, so a lot of people were looking round the city. We made a trip to Potsdam, a former capital of the German empire where Emperor Friedrick II made the seat of his power. Relics of his palace are still preserved on a ground said to be over 10 kilometres long.
Friederick was said to be a lover of dogs, music and the arts. He would rather live with his eleven dogs than his wife, Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern whom his father forced him to marry. As a young man he loved music and philosophy instead of learning the art of war as expected of a crown prince which did not go down well with his father. He so much loved his dogs that he requested that they be buried with him when he died and it was so. Beside his grave today could be seen the grave of his eleven dogs also.
He was also credited with introducing potatoes into Germany, a food item which has come to be one of the staple foods in the country today. On his grave could be found some potatoes dropped there in memory of his “foresight.”
At a holiday Hostel where I stayed, many young people from all over Europe came to lodge. They were mostly on holidays. As soon as they checked in the next thing is to demand for the map of Berlin. With that it was possible go anywhere, once a visitor knows where he or she was going. In the hostel one could bring in his own foodstuffs to cook or in the alternative eat from the food prepared in-house at a fee.
Myself and the other participants at the conference decided to buy food and cook. One particular evening my friends and I decided to cook beans and garnish it with garri which we took along on the trip. As soon as we finished from the kitchen and set the plates of beans on the table I noticed one lady sitting nearby was fixated on my food. I was wondering what the attention was all about. I concluded the oyinbo girl was just interested in the ‘strange’ African food. My friends and I settled down to our meal.
The lady kept watching as we started to garnish the beans with garri. She was forced to ask some questions. “Which country are you from?” she asked. “Nigeria.” “Oh, that’s interesting; this is just like the food we eat in Brazil, exactly so,” she said. We told her about the beans varieties we have in Nigeria. The brown, white, black beans, they have the same varieties in Brazil too.
Concerning the garri, we told her briefly about cassava and how to process it. In Brazil it is called Farinha. She was not too familiar with the word cassava, so she consulted her phone for translation. Mandioca! she exclaimed, with excitement on her face. Sometimes, food connects.
The home stretch
It was an eventful two weeks. From Berlin we took a surface train to Frankfurt, about five hours away and from there we took a flight bound for Lagos, via Casablanca. It was an evening flight and we landed in Lagos about 5.30 a.m. the following day.
As soon as we landed I was reminded again why one of the best airports in Nigeria is one of the worst even in Africa, not to talk of the world. Thankfully we emerged from the belly of the plane this time the aisle was lit, not dark as it was while we were leaving. A particular new generation bank had an advertisement board on which was written something like: “temporary setbacks are stepping stones to greater achievements” or something like that. I agree. Travelling out of the country in the dark was a temporary setback and arriving in bright lights is an ‘achievement.’
In saner climes power supply is taken for granted, it is no longer an achievement. As we entered the arrival hall, the air was beginning to be filled with odour coming from nearby toilets with no running water. So it was while we were leaving. An important airport like MMIA has no running water in its rest rooms. Where we were coming from, everything was perfect. There were liquid hand wash containers at every rest room in the public, everywhere. Just put your hands under the tap and water runs. If you want the water warm, just turn the tap to the desired position and you get your warm water; ditto for your bathrooms. After washing your hands in the rest rooms, you dry them with a tissue paper, there is hand lotion available and you smell nice.
Here the rest rooms are in darkness. No running water, as if no one is in charge of the airports. In the private homes of those in charge water runs, the restrooms smell nice. But in the public entreprises they manage, they care less. It is as if the land is under a curse. How come doing the right things become a herculean task for those in positions of administration, after seeing how things were done elsewhere. Excellence seems too hard to be replicated here.