The following is an excerpt from the second newsletter I sent to friends and family in the US and Canada when I lived in Port Harcourt Nigeria with my (now-ex) husband back in 1996. Read Part One here.
Saturday 16th November 1996
Greetings people who have phones that usually work!!!
Hello again! Sorry I didn’t write for so long, but I was stuck in the go slow!
We’ve moved into the dry season now and the roads are actually being repaired (slowly, slowly) as promised. They (the contractors) don’t repair them too well otherwise they wouldn’t be able to have a contract next year to do the same thing all over again. Some of the roads are just dirt so they fill in the craters with more dirt and the roads are fine until the rains start again – not until April or May I’ve heard.
It is very hot, hot, hot now. And all the bugs are coming out now. There is one in particular that is most annoying, he/she is black and red and if one smacks the little critter whilst he/she is on one’s skin the little critter lets out some kind of acid which leaves a burning sensation for days – quite painful I’ve heard. Buddy and I haven’t experienced the acid bug yet and we hope to remember not to smack the little bastards if they land on us.
Moving along to subjects I promised to cover in this newsletter . . .
The bank experience
I have only been to the bank once and Buddy has never been, fortunately. The driver from the school was with me and we were depositing some cheques and 49,000 naira (approx. $600 USD).
First of all there were about 30 people sitting on benches in the non-air-conditioned bank that also lacked ceiling fans. We went to one teller to deposit the cheques but had to go to another teller to deposit the cash. Fine fine. There was one person in front of us but other people kept walking up and trying to get in front of us. They will form lines when waiting for a bus but not in the bank – very odd.
Anyhow, I deftly shoved the deposit slips under the opening in the teller’s cage before anyone else could, but the naira wouldn’t fit so I had to hand it over the top. The bundle in question contained 10,000 naira ($125 USD) in 20 naira notes – about 3 inches (or 8 centimeters) thick. The teller took the remaining 4 bundles of naira and I thought I’d be outta there soon; however, the teller began to count the cash – it takes approximately 30 minutes to count 49,000 naira.
The whole bank experience took about 1 hour. I haven’t been back since. I shall never again complain about waiting 10 minutes in line at the drive-thru teller.
Shopping at the markets
I have been to 3 markets in Port Harcourt – the vegetable market, the Mile One Market (aka Town Market), and the Mile Three Market (aka the Open Market). They all look about the same, except the vegetable market is smaller than the others.
The Nigerians yell “oibo, oibo” which means ‘white person’. I just wave or yell “oibo, oibo” back to them and we all smile and laugh. They all try to four-one-nine (419 is a slang term for ripoff – it is due to 419 being police code number for robbery in Nigeria) on the prices, except my vegetable man because I told him the prices I would pay and he kept laughing but finally accepted.
As for other items, I figured the prices would be cheaper than in the supermarkets, but no – this is Nigeria. If something costs 4,000 naira in the supermarket they will try to get 5,000 in the market. After much haggling I usually wound up paying about the same price as at the supermarket! Needless to say I have given up shopping in the markets.
What lands on your roof when your neighbour butchers a cow . . .
I noticed on September 4th that our Nigerian neighbours had a cow in their yard. It’s a fairly large yard so why not have a cow. On September 5th I noticed an abundance of large ugly birds circling around the neighbourhood.
I asked Emeke (Buddy’s driver) what kind of birds they were and he said they were vultures. I went upstairs to look out the window and noticed the cow was missing. Uh-huh, I said to myself, they have butchered the cow and now we have 21 (Lauren, our oibo neighbour’s 10 year old daughter, counted them) vultures on our roof top. They are quite loud when they land on the aluminium roof. The vultures were gone the next day, but I have been checking for cows next door. Hopefully it’s just an annual event.
I wish I had more photos from Nigeria but I didn’t take many pictures – people just didn’t go around taking pictures of anything and everything back then. Film had to be taken in to a shop to be developed into prints – the digital camera had not yet been invented. Nowadays I can snap 700 or more digital photos in one day! That would have cost a few hundred dollars for film processing back in 1996.
I never took any photos of the gorgeous Nigerian women all dressed up in their Sunday best for church service. They wore elaborate head coverings and long dresses in vibrant colors, enhanced by their beautiful dark skin. I never brought my camera when we went out to the pubs or clubs. These days I would be photographing food, the markets, asking all sorts of people if they would like to pose for a photo.
Will I ever get back to Nigeria? I hope so. I would love to travel around all of Africa – spend a few years seeing the continent. Perhaps in my old-lady nomad days – that’s my retirement plan – sell everything and be “that crazy old lady with the backpack”.