Upon arrival in Abuja, we needed to pass through immigration services, collect our bags and then pass through customs. All went smoothly (although it took a very long time to get through immigration), until we attempted to collect our bags. The number of bags we had was staggering, because each of the ten of us had both one checked bag of our own, and one additional checked bag filled with donated prescription medications and supplies for the Kateri Medical Center. As you might imagine, the odds were against us with so many bags, and two of the bags could not be located at the airport.
My first experience with Nigerian authorities, and so far, thank goodness, my only experience came as I was attempting to video tape our group in the airport - just so that those reading the blog could get a sense for how many bags there were for us to collect, and just how chipper we all looked after 17 hours of travel and waiting in the immigration line.
That exercise didn't go so well. I was immediately approached by an airport official who demanded to take my video camera, he wanted me to show him the picture I had taken, and to see my passport. It's a new camera, one of those miniature Flip brand video cameras, and I had not had much time practicing with it before I left. What I didn't realize, is that I never turned off the camera and most of the incident is at least audible, although the picture jumps around. O.K., so no taking pictures in the airport. Fortunately, my video camera was returned to me.
The Flip camera is something I highly recommend. It takes up to 60 minutes of video at a time, and makes it simple to post the videos to YouTube.
We got through customs without interruption for reasons I will not discuss here. Outside of the airport is a different matter. We had a team of porters assisting us with our bags, to get them from baggage claim onto the pickup truck and the van we took to Kaduna. These guys were very friendly, and hammed it up for the camera. I would estimate that we didn't get on the road until at least two and a half hours after we first landed, if not a bit longer. A very involved ordeal to get ten Americans into the country and on their way!
Peter's Perspective - The first impression of Nigeria is heat and dust, my L L Bean pocket alarm clock showed the temperature in the arrivals hall to be 90o F. Some of the staff of Bishop Josiah of the Anglican diocese of Kaduna met us. The sky outside looked overcast, until one realized that it was a smog of smoke from burning grass, trash and dust; a toxic mixture that irritated the eyes.
Our 30 pieces of luggage; 10 large duffle bags of medical supplies for the Kateri clinic, 10 personal bags and 10 pieces of hand luggage were loaded into the back of a pickup. Most of us squeezed into a small passenger van, the rest into the cab of the pickup with our overflow baggage.
After leaving the airport we "endured" the two-hour automobile ride to Kaduna. I use that word because I had experienced nothing like it before in my life, and wasn't quite ready for the experience after 14 hours of airplane travel. We were picked up by two of Bishop Josiah Fearon's drivers, one driving the pickup truck, and the other driving the van. Most of the luggage was piled high on the pickup truck, and then tied down with a tarp on top.
The van followed the pickup, and I soon learned three things - there is no posted speed limit in Nigeria; the luggage was just barely tied adequately; and, it would appear, it is common practice to follow the vehicle in front of you leaving nothing but a few fractions of an inch. Mix this with the vast number of people on foot and scooters who are also on the highway, and Disney has no thrill ride that could match the ride from Abuja to Kaduna!
Needless to say, if I had not already been awake through the 14 hours of travel, and several hours of waiting at the airport, the ride may have been more of an adventure. In this case, however, it was two hours of saying prayers I haven't recited since my days as a practicing Roman Catholic!! And that was just the highway; "the ride through the city of Kaduna was a chaotic mix of scooters, hand carts, and speeding vehicles, goats and donkeys."
I taped the final fifteen minutes of the ride. The video will give you a sense for how fast we were going on the highway, how the load of luggage had shifted dramatically to the left on the pickup truck to the point where I was convinced we were going to get a suitcase hurled at our vehicle, and what a miracle it was to negotiate through the streets of Kaduna without losing either luggage or life. Oh, and you can also see some of Nigeria.
The most amazing thing about the ride was to see the road-side stands, right on the edge of the highway, together with the vast number of people who were shopping or just hanging around the stands chatting with friends, cross the highway, and ride scooters on the highway, all while automobiles are racing by at speeds that are rarely slower than 80 MPH. Amazing is the only word for it.
We set off on a hair-raising 2-hour drive to Kaduna. Imagine the Merritt Parkway but no limited access, with trucks, most piled high with goods; often with livestock and people sitting on top of the goods. Then there are the cars, the small 2-stroke motorbikes with passengers, pedestrians along the sides, some attempting to cross, goats, donkeys and cattle meandering along the sides or being drive across the road. The vehicles moving in excess of 80 miles per hour, tail-gating and overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic. At various points, roadside markets slowed our progress only somewhat.
The traffic in Kaduna and Gusau is something else. Imagine the streets of any average US town, but lined with shops and market stalls, right on the verge, choked with chaotic traffic, every driver doing his or her best to avoid the others, the goats, cattle, handcarts and pedestrians. This is Kaduna and Gusau. Turn into a small side street, stop in front of a walled compound, the gates open and you're in the garden of the home and guesthouse of Bishop Josiah Idowa-Fearon of Kaduna. We were warmly welcomed by Bishop Josiah, given brunch and had a rest.
On to Gusau: Don Ghostlaw, Bob Chagnon and myself left the medical team for another 4 plus-hours hair-raising ride to Gusau, the capital of Zamfara state. We arrived after dark at the home of Bishop John Garba Danbinta, Anglican Bishop of the diocese of Gusau, his wife Helen and their children. Bishop John and Helen (known as Mama Gusau) are gracious, welcoming hosts.
Three of us (myself and Peter Dewberry from St. Peter's, and Bob Chagnon from Trinity) broke off from the group to come to Gusau to visit with Bishop John Danbinta, and to investigate building a primary/secondary school that will be sponsored with the help of St. Peter's. The remaining seven remained in Kaduna to help out at the Kateri Medical Center sponsored through Trinity, and to get involved in church planting with Bishop Josiah.
Our drive from Kaduna to Gusau involved two automobiles, with speeds that topped the ride from Abuja to Kaduna, and with following much more closely the automobile in front of us - at time mere inches. Of course, I ended up in the passenger seat for this excitement, now more than 24 hours after I had first awakened to start the trip.
We arrived in Gusau at approximately 7:00 p.m. local time on Saturday evening, just as it got dark. When we arrived at Bishop John's compound, we were greeted by many people who had been anticipating our arrival - not only Bishop John's family, but a wonderful group of Christians - priests and laity - who are part of Bishop John's diocese. We were treated by Bishop's wife Helen and their daughters to a delicious meal, and spent the remaining time that evening in good group discussion. I had read something while preparing for the trip that soon became clearly evident - one visits Nigeria for the people. Everyone welcomed us with open arms.