It had been really a long time away from the blog. Meanwhile I joined a new company in Chennai and immediately got into an ongoing implementation project. SAP Consultants will know how demanding and consuming the implementation projects are, that too when you join a project that already somebody was working on, the catching up is still more exhausting. Before I could realise, within 20 days of joining I travelled to Nigeria as a part of the assignment. Never in my wierd dreams I have thought that I'll travel to the dark continent at some point of my life. So the travel itself was almost a shock. Also it happened so suddenly that I didn't get time even to pick my camera from home. So this time my LG Optimus P500 came to rescue.
The travel to Lagos was bit tired and exhausting. Since I am boarding an international flight after an year and half, I was excited initially. Also it passes through my favourite Airport - Dubai International Terminal so I was looking forward. But the travel was too longer. From Dubai, it takes 8 hrs to reach Lagos. So almost 13 hrs of travel will make anybody tired and exhausting. This time I watched some of my long due movies - Omkara, Makeup Man and ofcourse fizzle like Ra. One. Once the novelty of "flight journey" vanishes, then the tiredness creeped in and I slept. Lagos lies in the GMT -1 timezone i.e behind 4:30 hrs from India. This difference in timezone was difficult not only in adjusting the body clock, but also in staying in touch with the family.
Lagos is really large and can be compared to the size of Mumbai easily. But when compared to the sophistication, even the B tier cities of Tamilnadu like Madurai, Coimbatore look ultra modern when compared to Lagos. By the time we reached the Hotel Carliza from the Murtala Airport, I was eagerly looking out the city while traveling. Lagos is neither too technically backward nor advanced. The problem is that the city wears a jaded look because they never paid attention in the aesthetics or beautification of the city. Almost 95% of the buildings and the bridges were not painted. So the stains of tobacco, result of rain makes the city look a not so beautiful to look. Like TN they also have lot of unscheduled powercuts, so each home is having their own UPS. Infact they cite the power / electricty shortage as the main problem for their production industry not taking off in a big way. There also Airtel is present so I was able to receive SMSes from India on my Indian Number.
Even though Nigeria is a muslim country, you could see the number of churches outnumbering the mosques and I was told that lot of churches had come up with the foreign funding for converting people to Christianity by taking advantage of their poverty. I am just stating what I heard and I a not judgemental in the previous line.
Since the client place was located inside the Tincan port, we were put up in a Hotel near to that in a locality called Apapa. Owing to its proximity to port, the locality was typically Chennai Rayapuram's. Too much of container truck congestions, lot of people depending on the goods movement in the port... typically slum (Sorry, it may sound rude). May be because of that, We were given lot of warning that Lagos is not safe for foreigners and the risk of mugging / street robbery are more common. So we were not allowed to walk out of the hotel where we stayed in the evenings. This continued for a week and I managed to sneak out one night for a short walk outside the hotel. Occassionaly we were taken to the workplace via boat. You can see the videos of these below.
The public transport is just evolving so you can see buses (our Ashok Leyland & TATA buses) plying on only selected routes. So people have to depend on other means of public transports like Share Taxi, which is the most popular means of public transport as of now. There is no fixed fare for the same and it is too high when compared to transport costs in India. The other means of transport is called as 'Okada' i.e two wheeler with a driver :-) It seems that Nigerian Government was trying to ban / phase out Okadas but since it was the cheaper & faster means of transport (considering the hours long traffic snarls), people still prefer Okadas. May be till the buses start plying on all parts of Lagos, Okadas will be popular. Since we went on deputation, client had allotted a separate vehicles for our team, so my wish of traveling in the local public transport didn't materialise.
The phones were cheaper there and you could see some telecom players from Other countries operating there. Airtel (India), Etisalat (UAE) and Vodafone were some of the foreign players having their operations there. The calls to International cost N.10 (pronounced as Naira) and equivalent to INR 3.5 per minute. But the connectivity is so poor that it reminds the days we had those landlines in its initial days. You never know when your call will get connected or disconnected. Initially I used to get frustrated about the calls not connecting to India but over a period of time I got used to that. After I started calling home from there only Buttu started speaking on phone. I remember distinctly that the first time he spoke to me over the phone was on Feb 20th 2012 and it is such an exhilirating experience.
Lagos has a considerable Indian population i.e approximately about 60,000 Indians in just Lagos City. But it is rare to see Indian on road because of the general fear of getting mugged. Still I managed to see a few Indian couples in a local grocery and in cinema hall. There is an Indian CBSE school there with a population of about 2500 students. The teachers are mainly from North India and they have classes upto 12th standard. I was told that there is a Tamil Sangam in Lagos and it conducts get togethers during Pongal, Tamil new Year, Diwali and other occassions. In the client place where we went, there were lot of Indian managers. On a weekend we went to one of the Indian manager's house and he treated us with typical Tamilnadu breakfast - Idli, Vadakari and Pongal. We catched up with Vijay TV (International broadcast) for a while and Sun TV was also available. There is a Zee Aflam (broadcast from Dubai) which airs Hindi movies.
I got a chance to taste some African foods even though they were tweaked to cater the International tastes. One of the best dish I had was "Chicken Suyaa" which is basically fried chicken marinated with Suya (a peanut, paprika ground together masala powder) and sprinked with raw Suya powder. Another exotic food item was fried beef. The beef is sliced into thin films, dried thoroughly on sunlight and fried like papad. Before slicing the meat, spice are added so that when it is deep fried like papad, the spice is retained. Since I don't eat beef, I just tasted a slice which my students gave me. Even then the taste is still lingering in my mouth. But other than these we tasted something as Falafil (vegetable ball), Hommos & Lebanese bread and African fried rice. The food was so good that I had put up weight after this travel and everyone in my family unanimously said that I had become fat in that three weeks stay. We had ordered regularly from an Indian Restaurant called Karma in Apapa and weekend visits to Spice Bar, Victoria Island. On conversion to Indian Rupees, the Indian food were costly by multiple times than of what it is in India. A dinner for 13 member team, eating very moderately costed N.96,000 (approx INR 32,000). Over a period of time I started missing home made Indian food and I was looking forward to have food at home.
The general attitude towards life by the local people is something what we the "educated / working" class of India lacks. They live for the moment, love their family and it is not surprising to find them in a happy mood always despite living in short of material comforts. You can easily find 7-12 people in a home and that too will be nieces / cousins other than the own son/daughters. It is nice & warming to see the relationships still living alive in some part of the world. As far as the local people I have interacted with, they seem to be simple, uncomplicated, warm and caring. Admitted that they are not as shrewd as we Indians in terms of IQ levels, so I had to take extra care to make sure that they had understood the technical jargons which I spoke. But they were the lovely students. They showered me with sweets, fruits, choclates and sent some nice messages when I returned back. I am looking forward to meet them again, assist them once the system goes live in the first week of April. A trip is scheduled again on the first week of April.
Their work places are not so formal and grim. Almost everybody plays FM Radio / songs in their tables while working during office hours. I hadn't seen them stretching beyond office ours unnecessarily. The demarcation between the employees grade is very much visible but it is very common to see the drivers sitting next to the superiors when they go to the restaurants in the highways. I would say that everybody have their self respect and esteeem high which causes this behaviour. In the offices same set of toilets is being used by both the male and female staffs. I remember getting embarassed once when I stepped out of the loo, I saw this girl crossing me and walking to the other loo, smiling at me while crossing.
The dividing line between rich and poor is too high. Either people are rich or too poor... mothing in between. Irrespective of their financial status, people here seem to have an affinity for electronic gadgets. Almost all of the working people have their own cheap netbooks powered by Atom processors. They spend a considerable amount of money on electronic gadgets, mobile phones and internet. When we went for a movie & waiting in the Airport, I did see a considerable amount of peopple having iPads. There the 4G Technology had arrived and the internet data cards are powered by that. So it is not only speeder but also dearer.
We went for a movie on a weekend in Lagos Galleria which is a multiplex in a Shopping mall there. The projection was via digital and initially they were playing some mpeg clips via VLC media player. We got irritated that whether the movie is also going to be like that but thankfully it was not so. In the multiplex screens there, the seat number is not in place. So whomever comes first can choose a comfortable seat of their choice. We did see many couples getting cosy and kissing when the movie was going on. Love / Lust is an universal phenomenon :-) The movie we saw was "Safe House" starring Densel Washington and that movie was also set in the Cape Town, South Africa. The trailors of the African local language (I forgot the name) movie were screened in the start. They were mostly shot with medium resolution digital camera which gives the feel of camcorder videos in terms of production values and lightings. The security personnel in the theatre said that next weekend there will be an Indian movie screening, but we left before that.
We were told that there is nothing much to see in Lagos except a Museum, Galleria and some beaches. The Galleria is located in the posh area of Lagos called as Victoria Island where are the rich and famous of Lagos live. The municipality of Lagos comprises of Lagos City, Tincan Island and Victoria Island. We frequented to the Spice Bar in Victoria Island and it was nice to see some Indians there. Citing the security reasons, we were not allowed to go out anywhere. During the next trip, once Go-Live is done with, we have been promised to be taken up to the beaches there in Lagos. Let me hope that it will be a nice experience.