INTO THE UNKOWN

'When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.' - Psalm 56:3

The following day, I find myself yet again, standing amidst chaos in Murtala Muhammed Domestic Airport. This time, however, I really am in Nigeria. I whisper a silent prayer of thanks that we have two locals escorting us, who know how the ‘system’ works. They motion for us to pile our bags onto a scale. Two ladies in uniform feverishly attempt to orchestrate a crowd of restless and impatient passengers. I watch a staff member manhandle our entire team’s luggage onto the scale at once, in order to achieve a reading of their accumulative weight. After a physical struggle between man and luggage, they give up and withdraw our bags. They don’t seem to mind that their attempts were fruitless. They appear to be more concerned with maintaining their image and working through the mob of loud Nigerians. Our representative from BIU gathers our team’s passports, directs us to ‘stand aside’ and proceeds to the flight desk where a group of middle aged men are engaged in verbal warfare. I am convinced there is some sort of working ‘order’. The trick is to figure out exactly what it is. I conclude that someone needs to write a book for expats on African ‘line etiquette’. They come in all shapes and sizes! I think it should be called “Seamless Chaos”.

I am surprised when we are through security and seated in the terminal. Not a single person asked to look at my passport. We settle down in the noisy terminal for what could be a long wait. We are now on African time. Voices echo in the cavernous space and the announcer's futile attempts to make himself understood are comical. I glance around at my surroundings and chuckle to myself as I mentally read out the names of shops and eateries in the building. ‘Things Remembered Bar and Restaurant’ appears on my upper right hand side and ‘Hair Me Out’ to my left. We pass the time by getting to know each other a little better and after what feels like a couple hours, they announce that boarding will begin for our flight to Benin City.

A bus drives us out onto the tarmac and upon approaching our plane, a dreadful sensation consumes me. My heart rate increases exponentially as I execute a visual scan of the plane. It looks a little worse for wear, complete with scratches, dints and what appears to be giant, clear packing tape plastered across the plane’s nose. I reluctantly drag my feet off the bus and onto the blazing hot tarmac. We are directed into two lines, male and female, where we await a thorough pat down. Next, I proceed to a heap of luggage strewn across the tarmac and physically identify my bags to ensure that they are placed in the cargo.

As I settle into my rickety seat on the plane, I glance around at stained carpets and seats adorned with revealing tears. A team member sitting next to me exclaims that his seat belt won’t fit. Upon closer inspection, we realise his seat belt is only about 20 cm in length. I begin fervently praying for my life and that of the other passengers on board. It's worth noting that I have been flying since I was several weeks old, and I know the safety demonstrations off by heart. This time however, I pay special attention as if my life depends on it. “Bucko yo seat belt like dis, and den you do like dis and like dis…” My eyes follow the flight attendant’s every move like those of a hawk.  I also take extra care in mentally locating the exits and reviewing the safety card.

We sit on the tarmac for some time until the captain’s Eastern European accent announces that the flight has been delayed ‘due to security and operational issues’. Needless to say, my prayers rapidly become more ardent as my heart threatens to call it quits. A team member exclaims ‘give me a bike!’ as though to suggest that he could have cycled there by now. I don’t disagree.

Our arrival in Benin City is delayed by an hour or two, but we land safely around midday. We are driven by van to the home and secured compound of the Idahosa family. Our sleeping quarters are located within a semi-circular building, consisting of six bedrooms and bathrooms. The compound is surrounded by lush, green trees and grass and I acquaint myself with some familiar sounds and smells. The afternoon is spent resting and taking a brief tour around Benin City. On Monday, we begin the real work!

To be continued...