I have been in Nigeria now for a good part of 3 months and when VisitNigeriaNow contacted me about sharing my experience on their platforms, of course I jumped at it because what is not to share, it has been a crazy, amazing experience and definitely one I will keep with me for a long time.
Who Am I?
To give a bit of background, I am English and from the UK. I grew up close to Manchester, but have lived in a few different places in the UK. Most recently I lived in London.
How Did I Get Here?
Dano milk brought me here! 🙂 Well, that is partly true, the real gist is that my fiance is currently doing a graduate training scheme for the company that owns Dano milk. His contract is for two years and in that time he will spend eight months in three different countries. We went to Denmark first and now he has been sent to Lagos. I decided to come along to experience Nigerian culture and also to do some voluntary work with children with learning disabilities, this has been extremely rewarding!
No, this is my first time in Nigeria, I have never been before this trip. Not just that, this is my first time in West Africa as this part of the world is not usually marketed as a tourist destination but I am going to change hearts and souls when I get back home and I’ll encourage folks to visit West Africa. While here, I stayed in the Ikoyi part of Lagos mainly, don’t dare call me posh, far from it 🙂
How Busy Is My Passport?
I have been lucky to travel to a lots of different countries, and have had the opportunity to live abroad in a few countries too. Travel is pretty easy in Europe, as you can get really cheap flights, so I’ve been to lots of European countries – I have a goal to visit all of them before I am 35! I have been to Africa before too, I visited South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and (very briefly) Angola. I think one of my favourite countries though would have to be Colombia in South America. Colombia can have a reputation for not being safe, similarly to Nigeria, so it was amazing to see how warm and friendly the culture was there. They also have some amazing landscapes. Guess the telly doesn’t tell you all, you need to see with your own eyes.
Short or Long Haul?
I have been in Nigeria since mid-June and I left recently as my three month visa was expiring. I was sad to leave but the journey home was amazing as I travelled through Benin and Togo and flew back to the UK from Lome.
Expats Vs. Locals
I think it’s fair to say we have mingled a bit with both. At my voluntary work all the other staff are locals, which has been brilliant as they have given me the chance to understand Nigerian culture better – and to learn to understand the Nigerian accent better! We have done a few trips around Nigeria and most of the other travellers have been Nigerian. We have of course mixed with expats too – particularly through InterNations, which we found to be a lovely way to meet people.
My first culture shock was pretty much on arrival! The process of going through the airport was very different to what I have experienced in other countries. People were amazingly helpful – I think at one point I had about five people helping me to sort my visa on arrival. This was great but a little bit scary as at one point my passport went in one direction, whilst my bags and yellow fever certificate went in the other, leaving me unsure which one I should follow! Being asked for money by professionals at the airport was also a bit of a culture shock – but one I had been prepared for by my fiance who arrived a month before me.
Nigeria has been full of surprises. I am often surprised by your landscapes, as soon as you leave the city things become so green! Recently I visited the hills in Idanre which were incredibly beautiful. I think the Lagosians I travelled with were equally surprised! I am also regularly surprised at how spicy the food is – I am still caught off guard and take a massive bite of something that looks delicious and then find that my mouth is on fire.
You’re Kidding Right?
My most clear “did this just happen” moment was about a month ago. We were on our way to one of the markets and spotted this structure by the side of the road that was about the size of a small house but shaped like an elephants head. We were interested to know more about this and spoke to the man inside who had built it himself. He was really friendly and happy to explain it. As we were leaving we went to snap a picture of the elephant and another man who had nothing to do with the business decided that we owed him 20,000 Naira! This seemed pretty expensive for one photo!
Have I Seen Nigeria?
Definitely! We have travelled to a few places in Nigeria. My first trip was to Badagry, which we took with a tour group. Badagry was such an interesting place to visit, both beautiful and of course a little sombre due to the history. We have also travelled a little bit by ourselves. In July we went to Osogbo in Osun state – again this was an awesome experience and we could really feel the difference in the culture from what we had seen in Lagos. My favourite trip would have to be to the Idanre hills though, we travelled with such a great group of people and as we went for two days we also had the chance to go to Ikogosi hot and cold springs all organised by Irinajo Tours.
I think people have to be up for the challenge if they want to visit Nigeria – getting a visa alone can be an epic mission! However, I think one of the most commonly held beliefs is that Nigeria is very unsafe. In my three months here I have actually never felt unsafe. When I speak to people back home they often ask me “Can I walk outside by myself?” and are surprised to learn that I can and do. Promoting Nigeria as a tourist destination is really important as this country has some truly amazing places to see and things to do, from waterfalls to the beautiful hills, diverse cultures and the energy of the buzzing city – Lagos.
I really love Freedom Park and I always enjoy the atmosphere there and the enthusiasm of the performers. One of my favourite moments would probably be the second time we went there to watch the live music on a Friday night. I was a little horrified when the lead singer asked me to come and dance on the stage to “prove oyibos (white folks) can dance”. As someone who can’t dance I don’t think I succeeded in proving this but it was still a lot of fun!
…And the Worst is…
Nigeria has shown me how reliant on the internet I am – which is something I didn’t expect. One rainy day my fiance was at work and I was home alone without internet – as we don’t have TV, I teach English online, I read e-books and always stream my music I really struggled to know what to do! Things hit a real low point when I realised without internet I couldn’t even book a taxi to go out for the day. Although I am a little embarrassed to admit how much not having reliable internet can bother me I do think it has been a valuable lesson and hopefully I will be less reliant on it in the future.
Every Good Story Must Come to An End 🙂
Overall, my time in Nigeria has been eye-opening. The impression I will be left with when I return home is a country full of contrasts. Nigeria has a lot of challenges, and I admire the attitude and political-awareness of the people in this country as I often hear people passionately discussing and debating how Nigeria can improve and continue to develop. The memories of the colourful food, warm people, armies of goats, spicy food, hectic cities and huge traffic jams won’t leave me any time soon!
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Katherine Sissons is a travel enthusiast.
Follow her in Instagram @katsissons