I’m sweating in Emirates business class lounge in Dubai airport and it’s not pleasant. It’s a huge place in one terminal solely dedicated to one airline. Despite not being more than a year or two old, it already seems at capacity, with almost every seat taken, queues for everything and not enough staff around to clean up after the hordes. My headache is not being done any favours by it and I’m feeling a bit short tempered – not the usual placid state I like to be in when travelling. I left you with your Grandma yesterday afternoon before a car came to pick me up for the airport, and you gave me a kiss and waved goodbye with a big smile. You have just turned one. My heart basically broke into pieces and fell out of my chest right there. Anyway, I am not feeling good about leaving you behind. This trip is just over a week long and hopefully it will fly by. This time it is Hong Kong, Beijing and the UAE on the way back.
All this travelling over the past few years has provided quite a few experiences for your old man, but I haven’t kept a diary of them. I thought I’d try to get some of them down in this blog whilst I haven’t forgotten them, but I know a lot of the detail is already lost to my appalling memory. Where shall we start?
A hash run in Lagos:
Nigeria is a challenging place to work. The infrastructure is terrible, so just getting around is a hellish experience of traffic jams, arguments, bribes and overheating. When I first went the organisation that had arranged my transport greeted me with a minibus and a security guard brandishing an AK47. His uniform was three sizes too big and he looked half asleep. I figured that he would be more likely to run away than fight if we were hijacked and probably didn’t know how to turn the safety off (or on!) on his automatic weapon so wasn’t filled with confidence. Every time afterwards I insisted on not having security – a guy with a gun just attracts attention and an ill-trained guy with a gun is just an accident waiting to happen. To begin with I found the mayhem a novelty and would quite happily play along with it all. I enjoyed the pantomime of having to bribe a guy to get my bag onto a plane in Kano and being stuck on Victoria Island bridge watching hawkers try to sell TV aerials/inflatable crocodiles/any old shit to the traffic jam. After a few trips however this all wears a bit thin and turns to deep seated frustration, especially as it makes working difficult. More than anything, as a white guy in Nigeria you cannot blend in or be treated normally: you are a walking dollar sign which attracts attention at every turn. The urge to do something normal became overwhelming and so I agreed to go on a run around Lagos one evening with a group of expats and locals known as the Hash House Harriers. The HHH is a running club that is run throughout the world in true eccentric British style. Almost every city has a club that meets weekly or monthly to mix running with orienteering and drinking beer. Someone goes out with a piece of chalk and marks out a route using various symbols to tell runners where to go, and then the pack tries to navigate. It is interesting if the rain has washed it away or you lose the trail! So in 32 degrees centigrade we set off at a light pace around the streets and dirt tracks of Lagos and to be honest, I was a little apprehensive. People simply stopped and stared (I don’t think jogging is up there on most Nigerians’ list of recreation activities), pointed and scratched their heads. Who were these strange people jogging in the heat, jumping over open sewers and ducking in and out of alleyways? It was actually very liberating for someone who had been cooped up in a hotel for several days and I saw a whole new face of the city – people going about their business, whether it was buying meat, chatting on corners or literally doing their business on the roadside! A guy in no more than a loin cloth stopped as I ran passed and frowned. He turned heel and started after me, eventually catching me up and I wondered what he was up to. He bounded alongside me, then his frown suddenly turned into a huge grin and he shouted, “Run white man, run!”. I laughed politely and kept on jumping obstacles. It was exhausting, but a lot of fun and eventually, after about 90 minutes and four pints of sweat we finished at a local ‘pub’ where the club issued drinking penalties and rugby club style drinking games ensued. Not a very easy thing to stomach when you have just sweated out half your body weight, but a great experience (one guy walking around and force feeding beer to people from a water pistol!) and it carried on into the night, me eventually stumbling away light headed but happy.
Right, my flight is about to be called. I’ll write on the plane or when I am in Hong Kong, one of my favourite places to visit.