Friday, February 10, 2012

An Introduction to Nigeria

So, I get a lot of questions from friends about working in Nigeria.  "Is it safe?" No, not really.  "What's it like?" Kind of like being in Joseph Conrad's writing.  But I digress, the following is the beginning of a more complete account of what life Nigeria is like.

For those that don't know, the area around Nigeria is considered by insurance companies and the UN as being at least as, or more dangerous than Somalia for shipping.  We're escorted from the airport to the boat by guys with AK's, what they call MoPol's* here, and head to sea in covoys with navy gunboats.  The oil producing area of Nigeria is on the US State Department's lists of "don't even think about going there" places for their personnel, and is "recommended" not to be visited by ANY US citizen.  While I agree with their assessment overall, since most Americans seem to be idiots when it comes to the phrases "When in Rome" and "Ugly American," it's not a very fair viewpoint if you have any common sense whatsoever.  Personally, I feel safer here than I would in the majority of inner city America.  But, again, it's safe to say that the Niger delta region of Nigeria is not the safest place in the world.

The guidebooks (if you can even find one) will tell you about the friendly people, the beautiful countryside, the wildlife, the scenic mountains, and the activities possible in various places throughout the country.  They'll tell you the places you shouldn't go, the fact that you should hire a driver or take tours with accredited tour groups. You'll learn that a western style hotel will probably run you $500 a night for a basic room, and not to bet on A/C or hot running water. They'll tell you what to wear and what not to wear, what to say and what not to say, and what to do and what not to do.

What they don't talk about so much in the other guide books, is the endemic squalor and poverty of the every day person here, the massive levels of corruption in everyday life that you'll see.  Literally anything you want is available with the right amount of "dash" (bribe).**  Whether you need the government provided "free" trash removal service to come to your boat, or your visa is screwed up because your office dropped the ball, all can be fixed with just a little dash changing hands.  We're not talking huge amounts either.  The equivalent of $20 will fix your passport, shot record, and get you a personal escort through the rest of the people that might want to "check your papers." 

The average person here lives on wages that equal less than $2 per day.  My highest paid deckhand's monthly wage is less than my daily wage.  Do I think it's right? No, I don't.  It amounts to slavery really and just makes the issues bigger, but when you consider the fact that my crew makes vastly more money than their neighbors, you can see where equalizing pay would cause some serious issues.  I only bring up this to show why dash is so ingrained in everyday life here.  If you can't afford to dash for a service you need, you either go without or suffer the endless red tape.  If you can afford it, you dash for it, and get it taken care of instantly.  Then that person dashes for something they need, and so on and so forth.  It's kind of like pay it forward... only with actual pay.  Socialism at it's best.  A kind of community money where nobody really gains anything but the services performed and the money just keeps changing hands over and over... at least until somebody uses it to buy something material.

Anyway, that's the gist of the monetary system of Nigeria and safety here.  To add one tip for the "fresh fish" (new guy, FNG, easy mark), don't ever, EVER lick your fingers while counting Nigerian money.  At best, you'll wind up with the worst case of "traveler's tummy" on the planet.  At worst... you'll die of some incurable disease... and no... I'm not kidding.  Typhoid, Cholera, and a whole host of other diseases are rampant here.  Hence why we take antibiotics daily here (mainly since Doxycycline prevents Malaria, but for general prophylaxis too) to keep from seeing the inside of Nigerian hospitals.  There's more than bullets and knives that can kill you in west Africa.

* Mobile Police... The locals call them "Kill-an-go" since they're ruthlessly lawless if you tick them off for any reason.  You do NOT want to be on the receiving end of their anger, as you will most likely wind up dead.
** I'll be infusing more and more Nigerian "Broken" (pidgin english) with definitions to this, since it's inescapable when you work here for any period of time.

No comments:

Post a Comment