On a trip to Nigeria, I took advantage of an agreement between our governments to apply for a visa on arrival. On arrival, I immediately asked for the immigration office. I found it was a small room with a smattering of immigration officials, and a horde of applicants. Luckily, on that day Kenyans were given priority. My compatriots and I were thus herded to the front of the room where we waved our passports in the official’s face, hoping she would pick us out in the melee.
Eventually, she reached for my passport, asked for my arrival card (that flash card that they used to make passengers fill before technology became a thing), the $45 fee and invited me to have a seat. When we touched down, the temperature was 29 degrees Celsius, but in this room filled with people, it felt like 100 degrees.
My body felt like an island in a tsunami of sweat. My shirt was stuck to my back, there were dark patches under my arms, and a ring of moisture that ran under my neck from ear to ear. My toes squelched in my shoes every time I shifted my feet, and my palms had moved from clammy to drenched.
That’s how hot it was. I sat there for about 40 minutes expecting to be called into a tinier room, with a simple wooden table, two metal chairs and low-hanging light fixture. You know, like they have in the movies.
There would be a man sitting on one of the chairs, peering at me through hooded eyes with an intense ‘tell-me-the-truth-or-else’ look on his face. I’d take a few faltering steps — drag the chair back noisily, and then lower myself into it, sweaty hand clasped tightly in my lap.
“Julie,” he’d say, “we can make this easy, or we can make it hard. As long as you’re straight with me, you’ll be out of here in no time. Just be honest with me — did you or did you not take a whole roll of tissue from the airport bathrooms”?
“I want to speak to a lawyer,” I’d say, as the theme song from ‘The Sopranos’ began to play in the background. Back in the real world, a man walked in after those 40 minutes had passed, with all our passports in his hand.
Shortly thereafter, he began to call out names, and we walked up one by one to retrieve them. “Hakuna matata!” he’d bellow, as he handed them out to each of us. No interview, no questions, no verification of information, no nothing — unless you count the visa fee as something. I’d like to think it was everything.
I decided it was best not to ask questions, so I grabbed my passport and ran to the counter to get it stamped only to find that it had been stamped, signed and everything. The lady at the counter waved me through without a second glance, and voila! I was legally in Nigeria.
In my head, a battle was raging between questioning the ease of the process, and thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t been put through the immigration wringer. In the end, I couldn’t find a reason to complain.
Instead, I waited patiently for my airport transfer, trying and failing to acclimatise to the heat and humidity. I literally flew into the passenger seat when the car arrived and had to reconfigure my settings to accommodate the air-con which had been set to 18 degrees Celsius. But that’s Nigeria for you, a country of trying, but wonderful extremes. It can feel like sensory overload, like all of Africa’s cultures distilled into a single territory.
So, I’m sitting there with one Mr Azeez, who graciously agreed to pick me up on a Sunday, and the first words that come out of my mouth are, “Why did you guys take so long to sign the African free trade agreement?”
“Nigeria is the capital of Africa, now.” That’s it, as if that explained everything. In a way, it does. Nigeria is a continent unto itself, a world of its own, and a market big enough to sustain imports and investment from all of Africa. It is also home to some of the warmest and nicest people you will ever meet, contrary to perception and expectation.
And one of the few places on the planet that welcomes visitors with open arms and very few questions asked, well, if you’re from Kenya, anyway. And I say, I can’t really find a reason to complain.
Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa
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