I think I can finally say that I’m back in the groove of things since coming back from Nigeria last week. Although it wasn’t my first, second, or even third time back in my country of birth and heritage (see tidbits from my last visit here), the circumstances under which I visited this time around – by myself and primarily for business – made for a completely different, and eye-opening experience. I’ll admit that I was too busy soaking it all in that I didn’t take very many pictures (plus I don’t feel like a tourist in Nigeria, so I didn’t think to snap photos of most things), but here is the recap!
Day 1-2: Delta May Edge Out Arik for Direct Flights to Nigeria
On Monday evening I flew out from NYC to ATL on a Delta flight that would take us to Lagos straight from Atlanta. I had been in California the whole week before, and of course left packing to the last minute, so I literally threw in all my dresses and Nigerian outfits, plus some summery clothes to wear. I’d never flown Delta to Nigeria before – my family prefers to fly Arik since it’s straight from NYC. I was kinda here for Arik since it’s Nigerian owned – and thus they serve jollof rice on the plane, and because they featured my boo’s company Wecyclers, in one of their magazines, but I must say, Delta is a close contender. While the stewards and stewardesses weren’t Nigerian, I felt like they patiently understood the shenanigans our people enjoy doing on airplanes, like fussing over why they should be upgraded and how it is ridiculous that their child and wife and sitting far away from them (but homie, your ticket said that a long time ago *side-eye*). Delta also didn’t have the hectic “Nigerians trying to bring 4 excess luggages full of clothes” debacle when I was checking in, but perhaps that was because I came on a connecting from NYC and didn’t fly straight out of ATL. On the plane, I slept and watched Black or White and thought Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer did a pretty good job.
Day 2-4: Pretending I Have a Driver
Arriving in Murtala Muhammed Airport can be a mess – there are 4 different checkpoints with haphazard lines, stinky men pushing up on you because there is no sense of personal space, and fending off porters and taxi guys who are trying to make an extra buck. Luckily, Nibi of the Kinky Apothecary, who put together the Nigerian Natural Hair and Beauty Show, had arranged our travel through HRG, so I had a guy waiting with a placard with my name on it! He whisked me through the craziness, helped me get my bags, waited while I changed money and sorted out my cell phone situation, and then coordinated with the guy picking me up, and then helped me into the car and strolled away without even asking for one kobo!! I was TRULY amazed, and will be traveling through HRG the next time I go to Nigeria by myself because that was the very first ever, and I mean ever, example of true customer service that I have seen in Nigeria.
Since I arrived a few days early for the hair event, I stayed in the Ogudu neighborhood of Lagos with one of my friends who went to college in the US and now works as an engineer who designs oil drilling rigs #girlboss. Her personal driver picked me up from the airport and brought me to her house, where a cook had prepared something for me to eat. I rested a bit and then went with the driver to pick my friend up from work, after which we went to a yoga session. Now I had no idea there were people doing yoga in Nigeria, and I was even more surprised to see 5 white people gathered around a pool doing yoga in the middle of Victoria Island.
The next two days were a routine similar to this: wake up, get dressed, have breakfast brought to me while I watch Bollywood soaps on TV if there was light, and work on an overdue (as always) paper if there wasn’t, eat lunch, go pick up my friend from work, and go to some swanky restaurant/bar for dinner. My favorite spot was Maison Fahrenheit, a hotel with a rooftop lounge where I had yummy seafood and a plantain and goat meat dish! Even though it rained for a bit, the decor, view, food, and drinks were all stellar.
Day 5-7: The Nigerian Natural Hair and Beauty Show
On Thursday evening, I was dropped off at the Blowfish Hotel in Victoria Island, Lagos to join the rest of the speakers for the Nigerian Natural Hair and Beauty Show. Lemme quickly explain something about Victoria Island – while it’s a part of Lagos, it’s like the Beverly Hills or Upper West Side of Lagos. So here is where you’ll find a lot of the posh side of the country, which is why I’d never experienced of lot of this stuff before. Anyways, the Blowfish Hotel was very nice – from the various food selection (pizzas were spot on!), to the service, to the pool. The only complaints I had were that the water was very sea-salty, so I used bottled water to brush my teeth (though it’s like they knew because they provided some free of charge), and the painting in my room was hideous and scary! Lol, but overall, a hotel I’d recommend for anyone looking to stay in Lagos.
The girls and I decided to head to Bogobiri, a small boutique hotel in Ikoyi that has Open Mic nights every Thursday. This scene was definitely the educated, rich hipster crowd – like you might see at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe or the Roots Picnic. I actually didn’t get to hear much music, as I was on the other side getting my whole life with some rice and chicken. The server tried to play like he didn’t have change for 200 naira, which is only a dollar but I’m Nigerian and don’t play games and had to bring out my accent to show him what was up lol. The food was great, and the open mic set that I did catch was lovely!
On Friday morning, all the NNHB speakers and I made our way to Smooth 98.1 for my very first radio interview! We talked live on air with Shola Thompson about the show, and he was overwhelmed with the bombardment of the studio with 8 beautiful women rocking their natural hair! After that, Oh, I haven’t yet said who I was kicking it with! There was Cassidy Blackwell, former Naturally Curly editor and founder of the Natural Selection blog; Felicia Leatherwood, celebrity hairstylist of the likes like Teyonah Parris, Ava Duvernay, and a whole bunch of other people I now know but will keep my mouth shut; Obia Ewah, the founder and formulator of Obia Natural Hair products; Ngozi Opara, the founder of Heat Free Hair; Wunmi Akinlagun, fellow blogger from the UK behind the Woman in the Jungle; and of course the woman who brought it all together, Nibi Lawson, the founder of the Kinky Apothecary, Nigeria’s first natural hair and beauty shop! After the radio show, we had some time to kill before our next press gig, so Cassidy, Felicia and I went to Lekki to browse some designer shops that had come recommended. As I expected, the clothing was all beautiful, but much too expensive for anything I needed. I feel for Nigerian designers because the custom for generations has been to just take your clothes to a tailor to be sewn, which oftentimes comes out cheaper than buying it yourself, so I can imagine that they have to hike up their prices to make a profit. After window shopping, we met up with everyone else again at the offices of Pulse Nigeria, one of the country’s premiere TV stations, for a live interview with Misi Molu. Since the couch wasn’t big enough to fit everybody, we divided up into two groups – brands and bloggers – to talk about why we went natural, share some tips on natural hair care, and explain why folks should come out to the NNHB Show! As I expected, I was specifically asked to speak about coloring natural hair in a healthy way, so I had my little few minutes of fame on live TV! Supposedly we’re supposed to get copies of the taping, or at least an online link, but I’m not holding my breath. Since Saturday was the big day, no one was trying to turn up on Friday night. However, Cassidy, Felicia and I went to a restaurant nearby the hotel called Yellow Chilli for some CORRECT, and I mean really correct Nigerian food. I had deliciously spicy nkwobi and yummy okra & ogbono soup with pounded yam. The men next to me were eating with forks and I was all like, um, #wheredeydodatat?? I really wanted to go to this event called Afropolitan Vibes in Freedom Park, which is a monthly outdoor concert that I heard was the ultimate jam fest. I won’t miss it again – but it was good that I didn’t go because I ended up deciding last minute to do a powerpoint for my talk on Saturday!
Which brings me to the event! I was overwhelmed by everyone, nervous about my presentation, and hungry (lol) so I didn’t really get a chance to observe the event as a participant, but there are a few recaps (Oyime’s Musings, The Kink and I, and Igbo Curls) which you can check out! My presentation was titled, From Stubborn to Sexy: Changing Your Perception of Your Natural Hair, and I touched on the three things I think makes for sexy hair – healthy hair, fun hair, and confident hair. Maybe I’ll do a video summarizing the talk! You can also see more photos from the event by looking up the #NNHB2015 hashtag on Instagram!
After all was said and done, I was pretty pooped, but could NOT turn down a night of Lagos shake bodying so we all went to dinner at Spice Route, where I had one of the best Indian dishes I’ve ever had in my life. Yes to Lebanese folks in Nigeria bringing us all type of cuisine!! Spice turned into a club, but they were playing like old school top 40 with a sprinkling of Nigerian music (since there was a large non-Nigerian crowd), so we headed over to Escape to get our real Naija dance on. Ngozi was my parry buddy – everyone else turned down, smh old folks lol – and she had friends/cousins who provided drinks and body guard protection from the men with wives who tried to talk to me. All the shade. Anyway, we dance dance danced til 5 in the morning and my little 24 year old body wasn’t ready because I didn’t wake up the next day until 1pm lol. Luckily, we had nothing planned but some poolside rooftop chilling at the Intercontinental Hotel, where Obia and I swore we saw the Nigerian actress Omotola across the way, but upon further inspection realized it was a mere commoner like ourselves.
While I was sad to leave all my new Nigerian natural hair boos, by this time I had reached a point where the faux luxury I was experiencing was a bit too surreal, and I wanted to see my grandparents and other family members. Luckily, that was the plan for the rest of my trip!
Day 8-11: Village Tings
My cousin picked me up from Blowfish on Monday afternoon and we drove back to her mom’s house in Festac. As soon as we got home, we caught up, ate, watched some TV, and then I went off to sort through my clothes to decide what to bring to the village. On Tuesday morning, my aunt’s tailor came to the house and I gave her some fabric to sew a skirt and a peplum top, and we argued back and forth about my waist size (she wouldn’t believe me when I said the two extra inches were because I’d been eating too much, and now what she sewed is too big!). My aunt and I then flew to Owerri, the closest airport to my village, and I had to crack up because the airport claimed to be an International Airport. Meanwhile it has like 5 daily flights lol.
Aside from seeing my cousins and grandparents, I didn’t do too much in the village. I have one living grandparent on either side of my family, and I love them dearly (I guess most people love their grandparents). They were really impressed that I came all the way to see them without my parents, and blessed and encouraged me to continue being a good girl. While they are getting up there in age, I thank God that they are both relatively healthy and I will continue doing my best to see them more regularly.
Day 12-13: Lagos Babe
I flew back to Lagos by myself on Friday, where one of my cousins picked me up and took me to see his kids and wife. I spent a lot of time with his kids the last time I was in Nigeria, so we were excited to see each other! After having some malt, he took me back to his mom’s house where I watched more Bollywood dramas, packed, and went to bed. The next day, I got my hair braided and then headed to the airport to come back to the States.
By the time I was ready to leave, there was a MASSIVE fuel scarcity in Nigeria, so there weren’t many cars on the road. People were crowded at gas stations waiting for fuel to be delivered, and my counsin was calling people in other cities asking if they had fuel so he could drive and buy some. This really saddened me, considering Nigeria is an oil producing and exporting country, so why can’t its own people have fuel? Anyway, my plane had to fly to Accra first and stop for an hour to get fuel, which was a hot mess, but I got to see Accra all lit up at night which was beautiful. I’ve heard Ghanaians complain about how Ghana doesn’t have light but take a look for yourself at Lagos at night and Accra at night and tell me which country is struggling more with electricity.
I thank God for another safe and eventful trip – I can’t even articulate the internal workings that happened while on the trip and I won’t try to, but let’s just say it was monumental. Stay tuned for the next of my travels!