Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"You Are Welcome"

These are likely to be the first words you hear when you are going to Nigeria.  Whether it's on the plane en-route, or at customs and immigration, somebody will tell you "you are welcome." This is one of the wonderful things about Nigeria.  The people are for the most part very friendly and warm, and will greet perfect strangers with open arms.  Your first experience with Nigerian food probably has already happened on the plane if you flew Delta, so we won't get into that yet.  Let's start with getting through the airport (Murtala Muhammed in Lagos).

If by some freak chance you've gotten some Naira (Nigerian money) before coming, you want to have a couple of bills handy just to speed your way through things if you get stuck somewhere.  Nothing big, I prefer the 500 notes (as of today, about $3.25) as they're small enough not to hurt when you have to use them, and big enough not to get you into more "wahala" (trouble).  Keep em in your pocket, don't have them out though or they'll disappear faster than you can say "what do you have for me today?"  Have your passport and the two forms handy when you get in line, you won't need the white one for a little bit, but the next couple people you see will want the blue one to look at, sign and hang on to.  Unless your visa is totally screwed up, you're likely to breeze right through the passport check after answering the standard questions of "what do you do?" and "how long are you staying?"  If you're coming here for work for the first time, you should have been given a massive sealed envelope.  DO NOT, repeat, DO NOT OPEN IT TO SEE WHAT'S IN IT!!!  It's critical that it stays sealed for some reason.  I have no idea what's in it either, and nobody else I've ever talked to has any idea either.  Just think of yourself as a diplomatic courier with the "secret papers."  Which, for all I know, maybe more true than I realize, since no two of these envelopes seem to be the same size.  Anyway, you'll be asked about this envelope by the passport control guys, to make sure you have it and it's still sealed.  After that, head on down to the crush of people and get your bags.

If you have more than two checked bags, things are going to get awfully interesting for you pretty quick.  You DO NOT want to do this the first time through with no feel for how things work... and you will wonder why you didn't listen to me on this one.  Also, the bigger your bag, the more likely you are to have it "checked for contraband."  This means any mechanical parts (that your company decided you should take with you for your boat/rig/office/etc)*, any ...ahem... artistic magazines (semi-muslim country here), and any medications will be the targets of the search.  Remember I said previously that Tylenol is illegal here?  You're about to be reminded again if you forgot.  While you're waiting on your bags, get your shot record out and ready, you'll need it, your passport and the white card soon.  Grab your bags and if you need a porter, they'll probably already be there for you (again N500 - 1000 depending on how many bags).   Head toward the doors and expect to get stopped by the actual Customs Inspectors who are going to be looking for that contraband in your bags.  They'll ask you if you have anything for them at this stage, and if you would rather not have your bag dumped on the floor, now would be a good time to give your first "gift."  One caveat to this, if you can manage to look like you know what you're doing and don't have big bags, you'll probably breeze by without being stopped.  Congrats, you've made it through the customs inspection, now get ready for your shot card and financial declaration (the white card) checks.

If you don't have your Yellow Fever vaccination, this is the "Do Not Pass Go" stage, you'll be taken away for the next flight back to wherever you came from, unless you get it done there (not suggested).  I understand it is totally possible to "dash" your way out of this one, however, I have never seen this happen.  This is one of the few times that I will give actual advice on what to do... don't risk catching Yellow Fever, get the vaccination before you come, and DON'T try to bribe your way out of this one!!!  Possibly while the health inspector is looking it over, the financial declaration guy will come by and you can kill two birds with one stone.  I've never heard of anyone being stopped by the card guy for any longer than it takes to hand it to him, but then again, I've never tried to bring wads of money in or out of Nigeria.  After both of those are done, you can head outside...

You've got one last check when you head out.  Nigeria, and for that matter, most of Africa, still does baggage claim ticket checks, so make sure you have that handy on your way out the door and you're good to go.  If he hasn't shown up already, your company's protocol officer should be waiting around there and can help with issues and will get you on your way to the hotel or your boat.  99% chance that you'll have a MoPol with his AK riding shotgun for you to keep you out of harms way as you head to where you're going.  Get settled in to your hotel and welcome to Nigeria!

*Once you've got things figured out for how this works, if you want to cause heartbreak, pack large rubbermaid containers full of American food that you miss when you're working here.  The inspectors ALWAYS think it's ships parts and tools (which carry a hefty fine for importing without paying duty that they get a percentage of for the find) and as soon as you open it for them and they see it's just food, you will have done your torture for the day.

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