Thailand Versus Nigeria
I have written this article for those of you who might be thinking of changing holiday location and joining me in Nigeria. I can imagine the flood of emails I'm going to receive asking for best hotel bookings and other travel advice. To learn more, read on!
A quick note on the author of this piece. I have been living in Thailand for around six years on and off. One day, neigh on six months ago, I decided I had had enough of Asia. Too much of a good thing is not good, Christmas every day doesn’t feel like Christmas, ice-cream every meal is no longer a treat… there's only so many beautiful women you see before they all start to look… well still beautiful… anyway you get the idea. "How about Nigeria?" said my employer. “Beauty” said I… “I shall make haste and depart with no delay”. Two weeks later I was cruising over the pacific saying farewell to my beloved Thailand for what will be the next three years.
Having survived…err lived here for five months now I feel adequately informed to write the first ever article comparing life in Nigeria with that of Thailand.
Before I begin it's important to understand that there are two Nigeria's, each of which is quite different from the other. The North which extends from Abuja to the Sahara is largely Islamic and some states even have Shira law. As you can imagine Thai veterans would find sparse activity in the North. But fear not… there is the south. Like the biblical wayward brother, the south is the complete opposite of the North in almost every respect. Christian, bloated on oil money and with stinking poverty on every street corner, the south is best described as out of control. It's as though the dampness and mould of the south have rotted everything including a people's better judgement. I love the south. Everything is done in excess from drinking to praying. Nigeria has about twice as many people as Thailand. The total is most likely between 100 and 150 million but no-one is really sure. The last census was in 1991 and no-one gives it any credit. That's a quarter of Africa's total population in about 8% of the total area. The local currency is Nira and usually smells and looks like a dirty oil rag. The value of the Nira can change dramatically day to day although inflation has thankfully settled at a mere 17.8% this year. The climate is very similar to Thailand being hot and dry and hot and wet. Let's not kid ourselves, any other season is just a transition.
Let me start with everyone’s favorite topic.. women.
If you like dark skinned women then Nigeria is no doubt your heaven on earth. The women could best be described as statuesque and very dark. Remember the Miss World competition last year when the contestants were almost stoned to death. The winner was Miss Nigeria (although I would warrant a bet the judges were bribed). Many of the women are seriously tall so if you are a cut below remember to bring your platform soles and soap box for those intimate moments. If you are an ass and tit man then Nigeria is the place to be. Physically Nigerian women are the opposite to Thai women. Nigerians all speak English and have a good sense of humor. Irony is not uncommon in conversation and one could go so far as to say it’s a sort of survival tool. There are many well educated women and many are quite available. Nigerian women seam easier to talk to than Thai women (with the exception of my wife!). Conversation usually flows more easily than in Thailand and generally offers more choices than the usual Thai of how old are you, what have you eaten, what will you eat and how's your family. Remember, this is Africa so don't expect to hear the famous "you big man" line. Here you're just another swinging dick in the crowd.
SEX AND THE SINGLE NIGERIAN
It seems as though everyone is sleeping with everyone in Nigeria, so I guess Thailand is not the only place where this occurs. Nonetheless bedroom antics are as discrete as in Thailand because of the potential for loss of face (a concept that exists in all countries).
Yes, there is a bar scene in Nigeria. I have not partaken however I have interviewed an expat who has and who is familiar also with the Thai scene. My source is our small tattooed head of security, married six times, the last time to a Bangladesh woman 32 years his junior, bless his soul. My "source" is best aquatinted with the security arrangements within the High Commission bar and has scant knowledge of the geography of Nigeria but that's another story. According to my “source” the lady system in Nigeria is similar to that of Thailand. It works thus. Once in the bush bar of your choice you sit and wait for a fair damsel of low discretion to sit next to you. Lady drinks are refreshingly optional and are purchased at the same rate as other drinks. Negotiations take place and the rest occurs as per Thailand. Like Thailand physical stature, conversational eloquence and fresh breath don’t count for a whole lot. You got the wad (of cash), they got the job (so to speak). There are however some differences. There is not so much small talk. The woman usually want to know early on what the end play will be right down to the all important dollar figure and can be quite pushy. Rates can be cheaper than Thailand and safety is far from guaranteed. As in Thailand raincoats are advised. The happy customer had best remember that he (she) is now at AIDS ground zero, it's impossible to get closer.
For those gullible enough to believe everything a lady of questionable virtue says you will be relieved to know that there are no sick elephants on the family range in Nigeria. Nor are there any mystical 10 commandments that ladies of the night refer to in order to milk further Nira from love struck customers. The women of Nigeria are straight shooters and will most likely shoot straight if that promised pot of gold does not appear at the end of the night.
I live in Abuja which is the capital. Bangkok it is not. Abuja is a sleepy town full of public servants. My usual recreational activities include restaurants, open air bars, and sport. There are a few clubs and bars around town but its no nightlife city. Lagos is perhaps the best city from which to draw parallel to Bangkok. Lagos has a thriving live music scene with Raster, Reggae, Africana, Rumba, Jazz and anything else you can imagine. Dodge the potholes, muggers, car-jackers and beggars and you will find one of the headiest nightlife scenes in the world. There is an abundance of dark skinned beauties at most venues and many seem to be of malleable persuasion. My introduction to Lagos was heavy traffic near the airport. Odd I thought, I heard the traffic was only heavy when you got within an hour of Lagos. I was relieved to see that this was only a temporary inconvenience as someone had just died in the middle of the road and the cars were going around the body for fear of denting a fender.
Lagos even has beaches, diving and yachting. I’m yet to try these activities but I have been told they are quite good as long as you don’t mistakenly wash ashore on a public beach. If you do accidentally end up at the wrong location then expect to be overrun by a hoard of limping, deformed beggars who are more than likely armed to the teeth.
COST OF LIVING
The average wage in Nigeria is around a dollar a day. You would think therefore that living would be cheap. After all what can a dollar buy you in the west – a stick of gum, a newspaper? If a dollar a day is the average wage in Nigeria then of course it must buy all sorts of goodies, right? Wrong! A dollar will not even get you entry to a decent restaurant! Life is cheap, living is not. Nigeria is EXPENSIVE! Why is this so? Like most things in Nigeria there are probably several explanations. One reason no doubt is the fact that a dollar a day is probably not the average income. Tax is not collected and surveys probably do not record income derived from muggings, graft and corruption. Another problem is one of supply and demand. For those hardy and bold enough to brave the outdoor markets there are bargains to be had. Fruit and vegetables can be brought cheep this way. Unfortunately the markets do not sell many of the goods we folks of discretion would term "quality products". If you want good chocolate, tender beef, a fleshy chicken or a tin of beans then you have to shop at a store. Here is where the limited supply and demand enters the financial equation. There are only a few people that can afford the good stuff, usually they are westerners and politicians. The stuff has to be imported in small quantities and guards are posted on every shop exit and often several more in the shop itself (I guess to surprise Mr Burglar). All this seems to result in prices on average being two and a half times that of the west. Eating out ain't cheep and neither are many activities such as bowling. (There is a single bowling venue in Abuja believe it or not).
On the upside human labor can be very cheep so drivers, cleaners and other people can be employed, medieval style, for a song as long as you are willing to risk your valuables walking from time to time in what I term "involuntary gratuity". Hotels vary in quality and security. Anything less than the Sheraton (reportedly owned by the CIA) and you are advised to hide all valuables and jam a chair on the door when sleeping to give you an extra few seconds to wake up when the muggers come calling. Make sure you carry around 100 dollars at all times as muggers are prone to shoot anyone who doesn’t cough up a satisfactory amount. I'm not sure on the logic of this one, perhaps it's just the frustration of living another day on road kill. Perhaps its designed to cull back cheap tourists, Thaksin style. I guess you just hope you don’t get mugged twice in one day, an event that is not completely improbable.
WHAT DID YOU EXPECT, HERDS OF WILDERBEAST ROAMING ACROSS THE PLAINS?
Nigeria has around 125 million (give or take 25 million) people stalking, hunting, foraging and generally demolishing anything that so much as moves. If it bleeds it can die!… even road kill isn't exempt from a hungry Nigerian's cooking pot, in fact it’s a delicacy for some families deprived of meaty nutrition. Therefore don’t expect to camp out and see wildlife roaming across the savannah. The most populous animal seems to be a deformed type of goat that stands about a foot high. There is a game park worth seeing north of Abuja but it's only good to visit in the dry season as in the wet season the animals move away from the waterholes.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Let me set this clear. Thailand is safe. Nigeria is NOT safe. In Thailand your worst fear is getting hit on the head with a Katoeys stiletto. Nigeria has a few more surprises. I’m writing this article from the state Katsina. This morning I flew into Kano and travelled one hour to Katsina in the North. Immediately after I left Kano 10 people (or 200, accounts vary) were killed in riots and several buildings were burnt down. The other day around 400 people were killed in religious fighting and it didn’t even make the odd-spot in any western newspapers, let alone get third page. Nigeria is a forgotten news story. These figures don’t even include the countless muggings, murders and car-jackings that take place each day. The worst offenders are usually the not so friendly neighbourhood cop. Just the other day the wife and I pulled a U-Turn at an intersection and quicker than you can say “corruption” three massive policemen (boys in black as I call them) crammed into the back seat of the car and started berating me about my driving and yelling at me to go to the nearest detention center. Dang, forgot the number one rule – don’t let cops into your car. Luckily I remembered number two rule – don’t go anywhere with police. I quickly parked and the wife had already phoned the high commissioner. The situation quickly diffused and I suddenly had three of my best friends smiling in the back seat and all wanting to reach a quick settlement. Being a Saturday I decided I had had enough shenanigans for one morning. I greased their palms and sent them on their way smiling and waving, leaving me 2000 Nira poorer (that's about 800 baht).
The government, in one of their more memorable policies, decided that in order to reduce corruption in the police force, police at roadblocks would be accompanied by military personnel. Of course all this did was open up a new source of revenue for the military and help ensure the roadblocks become even more heavily armed. These roadblocks are made of rocks, trees, nails and anything else that can stop or slow a car and are spaced anywhere from every kilometre to every 50 kilometres depending on the volume of cash, err… I mean traffic. The other day I was stopped at one and the officer, in an effort to exhort more cash from the car in front, fired a few rounds off from his AK47 into a nearby bush. Never mind that there could have been a whole family camped behind the bush.
My friend has the Nigerian record for the quickest mugging. He was new to Nigeria and had been in Lagos airport a mere 7 minutes 30 seconds when he was assaulted by a hoard of miscreants who seemingly appeared from all directions at once. 20,000 Nira (about 7000 baht) later and my friend had set a new Nigerian record. Something he can be proud of and tell his grandchildren if he lives to see them.
If the police, military, rampant crime and corruption don’t get you then Nigeria still has a few tricks from the old testament hidden away. Nigeria has a fair range plagues to choose from. There are of course the usual culprits such as rabies, leprosy, typhoid, chickenpox…..but also a few specials in extra high dose such as AIDS, Malaria, Diphtheria, Yellow fever, cholera and of course the good old Ebola virus (which thankfully is quite rare). Remember to get your shots before coming on vacation and try to avoid staying on the beach after dark, that's when the mosquitoes come out in force possibly attracted by the arrival of the nocturnal muggers.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR ENGLISH TEACHERS
Well obviously they don’t need too many English teachers down this way, people are pretty happy with Pidgen English, but they do need VSOs (Voluntary Service Officers). That's right, the foreign legion of the aid agency world needs you! They don’t care about your past or your future, they just want two good years of your life. There's no pay but rather a subsistence (as they call it). I've heard they even supply you with a compass to reach the more remote villages of your not choosing. Other jobs include Oil, Aid work and of course sending dodgy emails to assist the prince of Bublothaniano dispose of his 1000000000 dollars in cash.
SO WHAT'S THE VERDICT
I like Nigeria. I can state that categorically. It's not the constant surprises, the music or the heady living. Its the people. Nigerians were recently rated the happiest people in the world. Whether that also makes them the stupidest I'm not sure. I think it has something to do with the fact that people here live for the day, possibly because tomorrow is never guaranteed. Either way they are a jovial people to work and live amongst and there is never a dull moment. I find I have genuine friends who are Nigerians. I can't say I feel the same about the Thai people I knew in Thailand. Somehow it always felt like there was an invisible barrier I just couldn't cross with Thais (other than with my wife). Maybe it was just me and I couldn't mould my thinking 100% to Thai ways of relating. I find Nigerians have a great self depreciating sense of humor. When I asked a good friend when the killing will stop in Kano he replied "when someone important dies". You have to admire that attitude under such circumstances.
Dear reader, let me become philosophical for a moment. There comes a time when the jaded Asian traveller yearns for new experiences, when the bright lights of Soi Cowboy dim, when the best Thai meal is just another Thai meal, when polite charms and soft smiles just don’t cut it any more. There comes a time when…. well, when you just have to give yourself new challenges. If that time has come for you then perhaps Nigeria is the place to be. Warm weather, good music, busty women and excitement around every corner! What more do you want? Yes, travel is tough and it helps to know people on the ground but that's part of the fun. So if you are heading down this way, more than likely prompted by this very article, please email me. Let's catch up and share a bottle of good old local Star beer. What say you? Are you game?
A really, really interesting report and I love your last paragraph. Despite what some people think, Thailand does get boring (as anywhere does). Oh, what about that 22 million in funds? It still hasn't arrived in my bank account…