Sunday, 25 February 2007

The Future of Africa is in zzzzafe hands.

Friends. Please check out our African representatives at the UN standing up for the rights of all Africa. Demanding equality in trade, fighting for advances in medical and social services, belabouring the lack of electricity in oil producing countries, haranguing the hooligans who come in through the back door to steal our gold, silver, diamonds, platinum, oil and human resources. These UN represents will fight till there is no fight left in them. Their voices must and will be heard. There is just no stopping them.

But then again........

Thanks to Anthony Arojojoye

Friday, 23 February 2007

Virgin Atlantic - Why no special offer to Nigeria?

I sent the following email to Virgin this morning further to them sending me an email detailing their latest promo. I am especially annoyed as I have just booked six people to fly with them to Lagos for the Easter break and this promo could potentially have saved me £650. It is not the first time I have received this sort of mail from them and am getting a bit fed up of being ripped off. I like the airline and its services and I greatly admire Branson but enough is enough. (Please don't ask me to fly BA as I would rather walk).

Maybe it is time to create a pressure group?

Dear Sir/ Madam

I received your email today offering discounted miles for travel to various destinations around the globe. Again I notice that this offer does not include flights to Nigeria. Can you please explain why this is the case and why Nigeria is so often excluded off your special offers?

I look forward to your urgent response.


Monday, 19 February 2007

Ciao Bella - The End

Day 2 and out to dinner after another trawl through the centre of town looking at the shops (the kids are not keen on shopping thank God whereas if it was their mother hmm ..). We are determined to have an authentic Italian meal before our departure, after having endured a Macmeal and the hotel restaurant buffet, and so it is that we are pointed in the direction of a lovely restaurant not too far from the hotel. When we enter it is one of those places where you immediately feel comfortable. There are a lot of occupied tables, everybody is yapping away and there is just a good vibe in the place. We are duly seated and the waiter comes to take our order. This is when the palaver starts. The kids have very strong views on what they will ingest. I am not saying that I am not the same but let’s just say that my list of non edible foods is not as strict as theirs.

So Ed would like a Pizza, MD would like Pasta/ pesto and grilled chicken and I would like everything on the menu but decide to go for lasagne. However it turns out they do not serve Pizza. Whaaat? And you call yourself an Italian restaurant? Oh and also they do not have Pesto. “This is something you get out of a bottle isn’t it?” sneers the waiter looking at me as if I had just ordered a McChicken and chips. “We do not serve things out of the bottle here. Everything is made fresh”. Okay, can she have fresh pesto. No. And why? Because we only serve fresh tomato sauce. So no Pizza and no pesto? Correct. Hmmm. He then suggests that across the courtyard is another restaurant which is less formal and might be able to provide us with the foods we need.

So now after a few minutes we are getting up to go and of course all the Oyinbos are looking at me like Oh that poor dudu man, he has seen the prices on the menu and he has realised that he is in the wrong restaurant. He was probably looking for like a Dominos pizza. Pele oh. Oma she. I felt like opening up my wallet and flashing them all the cash I was carrying (okay most of it is Naira and other dodgy currencies from my trips but they were not to know that!).

Bizarrely the same scenario takes place across the road. They do pizza (which MD will not eat) but not pasta. AAARGH. Kids. Who needs them? Especially at 9.30 at night when all you want is lasagne and Italian ice cream. Now you all know how much I love my kids and will do anything to please them. This is why I suggested to MD that she either have what was on offer or she could go hungry and I was sure there was a packet of peanuts in the mini bar in the room she could have when we got back but in the meantime ED and I were going to stuff ourselves with original Italian pizza. Needless to say, after some moistening of the eyes, she came around to my way of thinking and agreed to have a pizza with just ham and tomato sauce (she hates cheese as well!!!). I had a beef pizza and ED had a ham, cheese, pepperoni pizza. Tough love. It works everytime. Especially where my stomach is involved.

Now see the thing is that if you are used to Dominos and Papa Johns the pizza here is going to come as a bit of a shock being that is basically served on like a flat bread with fresh tomato sauce and other fresh ingredients. I mean it is not great to look at and when it first arrived my heart sank but a couple of mouthfuls later I was as happy as Larry. Or Guiseppe (to keep with the theme of being in Italy and all). We also had orange juice which again was freshly squeezed but was red. On arrival I recalled the waiter to say look my friend I asked for Orange juice, not tomato juice. Who do you think you are playing with? Do you realise I am an original Yoruba man from Lagos? I beg bring me a glass with something orange in it.

Oh you should have seen the look of pity. He was now looking at me like hmm the immigration laws in this country are getting too lax. This is why this moron is here troubling my life.” The girls then explained to me in muted tones that it was orange juice but from red oranges. Wth is a red orange and how come I have never come across it before? Has my life been that sheltered? Obviously the girls were not embarrassed at all (although they did start pretending that we had come in separately) but somehow I think their next break will be spent away with their mother. She apparently is more civilised and worldly. Imagine the insult.

Unfortunately it was time to leave Milan. My impression of Milan is that it is a relatively small town (from what I could see on the tours) and I was a bit disappointed I did not get to see more models on the streets (so I could check out their fashion sense of course). I would say it is a weekend break kind of place rather than somewhere you would want to go for a longer period. But definitely the Castle and the cathedral should be top of the list. One final tourist hint. If you are planning to go it is wise to book in advance to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”(pictured above) at the S.ta Maria delle Grazie church (pictured above) as the waiting list generally runs to about a week so we missed out.

And so it was back to London where uncharacteristically – it was raining!!

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Ciao Bella - Pt 2

Ah. Time to settle down and enjoy the flight. Just relax. Ease my seat back. Stretch my legs. Stop press. None of this is possible. Firstly, the engines are making the sort of racket I do not appreciate at 40,000ft. They seem to be protesting much too loudly for my comfort. I have always felt that sitting on the wing was the safest place on an airplane as I read somewhere that it was the most solid construction-wise but obviously not so safe if the engines are going to explode at any minute. My discomfort is compounded by the fact that my 6ft frame and size 13 feet just cannot seem to fit comfortably in my seat. And to add to my woes the seats cannot be “relaxed”, that is there is no button to put the seat back er back. Hmmm. I have never come across this before. I mean even your base model Chanchanbellsolido planes in Naija at least give you the opportunity to rest your seat back (thereby giving you more room to drop to your knees for prayer as and when needed). Okay, well I am saving over £600 and it is a two hour flight so I will just have to grin and bear it (suffering and smiling as Fela would say).

With an active imagination like mine you need to be able to focus on things otherwise your mind starts to drift to planning world destruction or at least doing painful things to Blair and Bush. Or you start thinking again about Halle Berry and how she is wasting her life (sure an Oscar is nice and all but hardly keeps you warm at night does it?). And so it was that I decided to take in our cabin crew. I wonder how airlines actually go about hiring for this role. Do the premium airlines take the cream off the top and then the rest sort of filter down the scales. Our cabin crew was exactly what I would expect on a budget airline. Not glamorous but also trying very hard not to be duds. There was the chap who fancies himself a bit of a rebel what with his hair gelled into a Mohawk and the other one who fancied himself a bit of a ladies man – what with the strutting and posing and pushing out of chest.

The funniest part of the flight was actually when I overheard one say to the other “can you get X to guard the door?”. WTH? Is something about to go down? Why does X need to guard the door? It turns out that they were about to serve the Pilots their snacks and one of them had to stand in front of the open cockpit door for security. Or as she put it “so an attacker would have to go through that person to get to the cockpit”. Hmm. Very interesting and I am sure works very well on paper. However the fact that X turned out to be this Asian girl who was about 4ft 10” and probably weighed the same as my carry on luggage slightly defeated the objective. I am damn sure if I had sneezed loudly enough the poor thing would have jumped straight through the cockpit out of fright. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.

Ciao Bella. Milan here we are. After a 45 minute cab ride from the airport to the hotel we finally check into our suite and the girls are more than happy. They have managed to suffer the indignity and trauma of a budget flight in silence in the hope that the hotel will more than compensate for their distress and it does. They are particularly excited that the shower has six electric settings. I am just happy that we have separate rooms with our own individual plasma screens. It’s bad enough having to watch their programmes in English, if I had to watch them in Italian I would throw myself out the window. Damn we are only on the first floor so this would only mean a slight concussion and broken ankles and not the instant death that would make a strong impression on them. Damn. Oh well you cannot have everything. (See what I mean about my imaginiation?)

Out on the town after getting instructions from the front desk. The lady tells us there is a train station about five minutes walk from the hotel. By this stage the girls are looking at me like “excuse us dad, but you did say this was a holiday did you not? So what is it with the budget flights and now you want us on the train? Public transport? How will we ever be able to face friends and family again?” But I am determined to expose them to reality. When I were a lad I used to walk barefoot to school, backwards, in the rain etc etc (of course they know that I went to ADRAO and was chauffeured to school every day but it’s the thought that counts, no?) So off we go to find the train station which apparently is five minutes away. Unfortunately for me, four minutes away is a taxi rank which is how we ended up in a Multipla being driven into town. That whole educating the children thing can wait after all they have suffered enough for one day.

We arrive at the Duomo cathedral and I am left with my mouth hanging open for a good five minutes. It is one of those buildings that makes you ponder how we can say that humankind had developed when we have gone from building these sort of magnificent edifices to the Trump tower? I mean this building is just staggering in its absolute beauty. Now I might be a Muslim but that does not stop me from appreciating Christian beauty like this wonderful Cathedral, St. Paul’s in London and Iyawo (see what I did there?). Unfortunately I am unable to post any pictures because the $700 camera that was forced on me by a shyster in NY less than a year ago has gone kaput but I would urge you to check it out on the web.

We then took a tour of Milan and what struck me the most was the architecture and the civilised way it was all put together. There was lots of green, parks, public scultutres and works of art and I absolutely loved all the buildings, both residential and commercial with their little courtyards. We then went on from there to the Castle -Castello Sforzesco (pictured above although this does not do it justice) which is now stuffed full of artefacts, scultures, works of art etc. The vastness of the castle itself is something to behold. To imagine that this infrastructure was put together by man just proves to me that there is a still a question mark as to whether we as a species are currently living up to our potential. Where is the eighth wonder of the world I ask you?
Final part tomorrow (p.s - I need an editor!)

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Ciao Bella - Dateline Milan.

So we are back from our trip to Milan. Myself, ED(elder daughter) and MD (surely you can work that one out) flew out on Sunday and came back on Tuesday. As it was half term it was a good opportunity to expose them to the culture, the history, the architecture and oh the joys of easyjet.

The last time I was in Italy must have been at least 20 years ago enroute to Nigeria. On that occasion we were escorted off the plane by heavily armed, unsmiling Italian cops and on to the plane to Nigeria. God only knows how they would have greeted us if we actually deigned to enter their country. But you see, if you pay peanuts for your ticket you should expect to be treated like monkeys. Abi no be so?

So as this was going to be a business trip my company had booked me on a BA flight at the right royal price of £450. Now normally I would have arrived at the airport and duly parked my carcass in whatever seat I was assigned after all wetin be my own? But as I was planning to take the above mentioned two with me this would have relived my bank account of £900. Of course I can afford it – jo ma bami she re oh , actually it is chump change (gulp) but still the principle just did not sit right with my spirit (or credit card). So on to the internet.

After much searching I found BA flights on a different day for £42 each way. So again I scratch my head and think how can BA charge my company £450 for me to travel on Saturday but £84 if I go sometime during the week. This one na craze oh! Anyway between looking at the price and managing to close my mouth the ticket had disappeared and it was back to “normal” pricing. After much faffing about I landed on easyjet. Now I have flown with them before and consider them the molue of the skies but at £100 including taxes this was one molue I was prepared to enter. (p.s- always spend the extra £10 to book speedy boarding on easyjet. It is like their priority boarding and well worth it unless you are a very good runner).

Now my attention to detail is not my strongest point and so it was that the night before as I was booking a taxi to take us to Luton airport for the flight that I accidentally glanced at the booking only to notice that the flight was actually taking off from Gatwick. Gatwick?? Since when did they allow this bolekaja airline to fly from Gatwick? How come nobody told me?. From my house Gatwick was like Jerusalem. And I had booked the first flight at 7am in the morning so no chance of taking the train either. Damn. I rang the cab company back and was quoted £120 for the ride to Gatwick. Well you win some, you lose some. 5am pickup it is.

We are duly picked up on time by a cabbie who obviously required more sleep than he had had the previous night. Bobo was already straddling two lanes before we even hit the motorway. Then I noticed him popping something into his mouth which I assume to be those Nodoz thingys. Anyway between lots of prayer, cranking up the radio and “accidentally” leaving my window open we managed to get ourselves to the airport on time - to be met by the longest queue I have ever seen. In true bolokaja fashion what easyjet do is load everyone into one queue regardless of where you are going and then they take people out of the queue as the closing time for their flight approaches. Luckily for us we were called up within 10 minutes. For some it looked like time was going to be standing still for a while.

Through security, and on to the boarding gate to be met by a whole gaggle of students and their parents going on skiing holiday in Italy. These ajebutter people sef. Is there not a ski slope in Milton Keynes? And I am damned sure that there is one in Essex! When I’m feeling fragile the last thing I need is to be surrounded by other people’s kids. And not a Starbucks in sight. Luckily this is where the £10 for the speedy pass came in handy as we were the first to board. So we got to pick out our own seats (on the wing, always the safest bet). The people in naija that complain about travelling from the local airport have obviously never travelled with easyjet. See once the speedy boarders are seated then the gates are opened and it is then every man and woman for themselves. You should see the running and pushing. You should see the people limbering up in the lounge getting ready for the mad dash to the plane. You should see them eyeing each other up and thinking “yo lardarse forget it, I’m getting that window seat. I’ve been training for this flight for months”. This one na civilisation?

On board and settled. Try to wipe smug grin off face as red faced and sweaty Oyinbos struggle past me giving me dirty looks as in “how come this bobo managed to be boarded first?” SSShio, Olodo if you had read the instructions on the website properly you too could have been sitting here campe but for now I beg carry ya sweaty body down a few more rows. You are blocking my Karma and oxygen. "Oya waitress where is the bucks fizz? Oh it’s not that kind of flight? What’s that you say? I need to pay for my tea and coffee? Packet of peanuts for a pound? Are you trying to make a monkey out of me?.” It’s going to be a long two hours.

To be continued.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Dateline Monday 5th Feb. Time 9.45am

Having made a quiet determination to declutter the house I attacked the task with my usual Aries fervour. Whilst clearing out youngest daughter's room I accidentally stepped on one of her toys and the following then took place.

Toy - Welcome. Let's play peekaboo

Me.- Peekaboo ko. Peekabat ni. I beg shut up my friend.

Toy - Peekaboo I can see you.

Me - You can't see jack as you are lying face down and you are literally talking out of your arse.

Toy - I'm going to count to ten.

Me - You can count to a hundred if you like but you still won't see me or find me. Olodo.

Toy - Still counting.

Me - Still muttering profanities and abuse at the little yellow plastic toy dolly thing.

It then occurs to me that maybe I have been spending too much time at home and need to get back into an office environment.

What a way to start the week. Hmmm.?

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Friday, 2 February 2007

Ebb and Flow. Here I go.

And so to London. I land with the usual mix of sadness and moroseness. I am sorry there is just no comparison between landing at MM in Lagos and Heathrow in London. In London I know exactly what is going to happen from the minute I land till I open my front door. In Lagos, well landing at all is usually the start of the unexpected. Surely this is what makes life exciting?

As usual we were greeted by the minimum wage, barely literate, immigration staff and their four legged friend – the drug sniffing dog. I would not be so resentful if not for all the ass sniffing. And as for the dog….. I then go through the charade of getting my passport checked. Yes it does look a bit scruffy. Yes there are bubbles under the plastic cover. Have you have been to Nigeria?. You will find that it is hot. Just like India or Pakistan where you come from. The heat and humidity have caused the bubbling. No I have not tampered with it. No I have not changed the photograph. If I had do you not think I would have chosen someone with a more chiselled jaw? Abeg my taxi is waiting.

The last few days in Lagos were a blur. Firstly my cousin’s wedding which unfortunately was overshadowed by the area boys posing as musikshans. One of the candidates for Lagos Governor made an appearance and all hell broke loose. Which is surprising as we were already in the company of two IGs (current and retired). Firstly he was travelling with his “security detail” consisting of area boys in suits. Secondly his aide was walking around with a big red bag from which he was dishing out packets of money to various wedding guests for whom the wedding became a side issue. It was not long before the sight of crisp notes led to all sorts of altercations. At one point this huge lady had the money man pinned against a table having brushed aside both the armed and unarmed security detail. Where is my share? she demanded leaning her full weight against him. The boy did not have a choice. This was a matter of life or breath.

I tried to engage the people on my table in discussion as per “do these people realise that this is the money that should be building their streets, providing water, electricity, food, education, healthcare that is being squandered like this? They all made the right noises but I get the feeling they were disappointed our table was not the beneficiary of a nice crisp packet of thousand naira notes. They were nodding in approval at my comments but their eyes were like this Tokunbos and their yeye talk talk. Please carry yaself back to London before you come and spoil show for us. Road ko. Road ni. Abi is it road we are going to eat?

To be honest the candidate looked embarrassed and ill at ease with the hoopla but then why travel around with a bagful of cash and a cabal of hoods? On the way to the wedding as we were coming into Awolowo road I had observed a convoy wherein one of the cars had security hanging on to the OUTSIDE of the car as they were zooming past us in the opposite direction. I had first though maybe it was OBJ but I then recognised these morons at the wedding. As the candidate was leaving they performed this same trick again. Can anyone tell me why it is necessary for them to ride on the outside of a speeding car in rush hour traffic? Who exactly is after their man? What has he done to warrant this sort of extra ordinary protection? Or are these guys just living in nolly land. What happens if\when he actually becomes Governor? Will they ride on top of the car? Of course nobody says to them Oi twat. Stop being silly and get down from there.

Coincidentally we were leaving the wedding at the same time as your Highness and the boys were up to their usual tricks. Much revving of engines, much running around pushing people here and there. Yours truly was watching all this as I was walking beside them when my family started shouting “tokunbo, jo kuro legbe won. Were ma lawon eleyi. Jo ma sumo won oh” (Toks please move away from them. These people are mad . don’t go near them oh). Naturally this was like a red flag to a bull. I am Aries after all. So I started mouthing as to how this is my country, I can walk wherever I like, we cannot allow these touts and their hooligans to take over and we be cowering like tenants that have not paid rent etc etc. So now my sister and mother are exchanging looks like hmm are we really sure we should be encouraging this one to come home? E be like say this Oyinbo people don enter hin head pata pata. Will he be able to survive in this environment? Olurun ma shanu wa oh. (God help us). I fully expected them to drop to their knees and start calling on Allah right there such was the look of pity on their faces.

As previously mentioned the PDP really was bring held at the same day in the same area. You would have thought therefore that it would be one of the safest parts of town. But hell no. I am led to believe that the area boys and banditos were out in full force within the very vicinity of the Nigeria hierarchy and their massive security details. So where were the police and what were they doing? I soon found out when I got back to the hotel to be met by all sorts of luxury cars and 4x4s with blacked out windows and no number plates. On the first floor of the hotel there is a little reception area in which there were gathered about a dozen heavily armed policemen. Is the President staying here I wondered? Oh no. It is the WIFE of a party big shot (name withheld to protect the erm idiotic). So if she has a dozen you can bet your ass that her hubby must have two. If he has two then you can bet your ass again that somebody has three and so on. So ordinary citizens of Nigeria when you read about all these robberies and people getting killed willy nilly and you wonder where the cops are please let me guide you to a little hotel in VI or Abuja. (separate post on Police to follow).

The band that was booked for the wedding reception showed up just as the last of the guests were packing their bags. As usual they had a barrage of excuses but we all knew that they had double booked and had gone to play at another occasion before making their way to us. This is way these clowns always want their money up front so that they can screw you with impunity. No brake, no jam , no morals. Abi no be so? Oya, let the owanbe begin.

In the last week in Lagos I was driven around in a BMW X5, Merc ML320 and a Range Rover Vogue. The owners of these cars were all relatives, under 40 and self employed – legitimately - so please don’t tell me there is no money in Naija. My man with the RR is a property developer. He showed me around some of his places in Lekki and Ikoyi and I can honestly say that you could have picked up those properties and moved them to London and New York and they would have fit right in. The standard of work was just superb. The doors and walls were even straight for goodness sakes. The others are a lawyer and a petrol dealer. So my peeps things are happening. Don’t believe the hype.

So how was the trip? As usual it was an eye opening. What we in the diaspora go through in a year you can sometimes go through in a day. From the boys that dig up the roads to slow down traffic so they can sell their wares or at night rob you to the young guns (pardon the pun) that are saying damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Naija is not perfect but then where is? Everywhere you turn there are opportunities. The zeal for entrepreneurship in Najia is the highest I have ever come across in any part of the world. Doing a deal is a daily part of life ( I was in the toilets of a high class hotel in Abuja and noticed that the pot idol working there was running a side business selling what I assume are left over toiletries to the security guards from a plastic bag under the sinks. I mean come on. Genius or what?)

One final thing. I get a call from my sister as I am in the airport lounge. Apparently she has just read in the paper that the Minister is predicting that blackouts are imminent. As in, coming soon, which is my understanding of the word imminent. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the minister that most parts of Suru- Lere had not had regular , if any electricity for over a week. Imminent my ass. Oga it is already here oh. We both laughed our heads off about this for some perverse reason. Naija does that to you. Perversity and laughter. You can’t help it.

And so it was that two weeks passed like a blur and I am now back in the UK watching the minute hand of the clock crawl its way around. I can hear something ticking. It is not my biological clock. It is my Naija clock calling me back home. I cannot wait.