Monday, March 9, 2015

Hello from Lagos!

Yup, that is right.

I wrote a quick post yesterday evening while at the airport before hopping on an 11-hour direct from Atlanta to Lagos, where once I stepped foot off the plane, marked the fifth continent I have now traveled to! And what is also pretty fun, is that I have been blogging about so many of them including South America, Europe, Asia and now Africa. One of these days I really want to set up some sort of a travel page on here and spend some time organizing the different countries and places I have now traveled to and blogged about. I would also love to finish blogs I have done about travel tips and other adventures I have gone on (I still haven't written about Singapore and Mexico!.)  But that will all go on the list of things to do when I have more time!  Which will hopefully be sometime soon.

Let’s recap the past weekend quick though, shall we?

On Friday I arrived back in Atlanta and drove directly to my office at work, where I had to pick up my passport with Nigerian visa that had been FedExed there during the week. Nothing like being last minute, right?

I had a lot of final trip prep to do over the weekend, but also wanted to be sure to spend some time with the friends I have been making in Atlanta before heading out of town again. I ended up going out and seeing a show on Friday night at a venue called the Apache Café. A number of the friends I have been making through Soul Food Cypher were either performing or involved, so it was good to see some of them perform planned work and also catch up a bit.

It ended up being a later night than originally planned, so my schedule for the weekend shifted around a bit and I decided not to do my weekend long run on Saturday, and did 4 miles in the morning instead. The rest of the day was mostly prep for my trip. I had to visit a travel health center to get a number of vaccinations including yellow fever, typhoid fever, and start a round of malaria pills.

I also got my nails done (important trip prep!), bought snacks and food for the plane (even more important!  You know how I am known for my plane snacks...), and purchased a new carry on suitcase!

My old carry on I have had since 2006 and it’s done me very well but it is also falling apart a bit. I have also seen people with pretty large carry ons and wanted to use this trip as an opportunity to try and upgrade. Some of the travel prep that I had read recommended that you should not check a bag when flying in to the Lagos airport. Now, I always prefer to not check a bag, but on longer trips, sometimes find it necessary (I am a girl after all…) However, I guess the security team I have in Nigeria prefers to get you in and out of the Lagos airport as fast as possible and it often takes a long time for the checked luggage to come through in the airport. And yes, I mentioned a security team, which I will get to, but more on my weekend prep…

I also spent some of Saturday also checking out a new Mexican restaurant, which was glorious enough to be able to sit outside while we dined! And also went back to another one of the pop up food events with some of the friends-of-friends I met up with a while back. The highlight of this was a belly dancer!  Oooohhhhh!

By the end of the day, I was totally wiped from the week followed by my late Friday night and called it an early bedtime on Saturday.

Sunday morning I spent packing, trying on clothes and planning out everything that I needed. I then really wanted to get my long run in for the weekend. I had been planning to do 11 miles and had initially wanted to do it on Saturday so that I could go and run with the Movers & Pacers running group on Sunday for their flagship 3 mile run.

Well, I ended up splitting my run and doing an 8-mile loop in my neighborhood I had done previously and then driving over to Atlantic Station, where the running group meets to do 3 additional miles with them for a total of 11 for the day! Temps in Atlanta were almost 70 on Saturday and I ran without sleeves for the first time this season. It was so amazingly beautiful out and I actually got a little bit of a sunburn on my face!  I also really love running with the Movers & Pacers and always enjoy the positive energy and community around the group.

I have been following and connecting with so many runners on Instagram so it was great to catch up with many of them in person.  The run was followed by an "after party" with wheat grass shots and smoothies.  Yum...

Also, I actually tend to run fast when I run with this group too.  Even after doing 8 miles earlier on my own, I still ran a sub-30 minute 5K on the 3-mile run.  Yay for fun, fast times, and freedom from sleeves!

Especially as the weather gets nicer and I am going back and forth from THIS in New York the week prior..

To this incredibly sunny and beautiful day in Atlanta?

You guys, I think I am falling in love with Atlanta!  I love all that there is to do,  I love the skyline.  I love the culture.  I love the diversity. I love the people.  And I love the weather.  Now I just need to stick around long enough to enjoy it more!!

After the run and the smoothies, I went home to clean up, do some last minute travel things and then head out to the airport.  I had been hoping to have a nice, smooth, trip out.  However, because I am terrible at being organized and on time, I was frantically making sure that I had everything I needed, documents printed, and a last minute phone call to my bank to make sure that they didn't shut off my credit card.  Since my company credit card is American Express, and most of Nigeria does not take AmEx, I need to use my personal Visa card for all expenses and then reimburse myself later.  I started to get really paranoid that my card would get shut off (like my bank did when I was in Europe last year!) and I wouldn't be able to pay for anything.  However, they confirmed that they knew I was traveling so fingers crossed!

The flight was at 11:00 p.m. from Atlanta direct to Lagos.  It turns out that an 11:00 p.m. flight is pretty awesome for me, because I slept for almost the whole 11 hour flight!  It might have helped that I pretty much chugged two beers at the airport bar before getting on the plane.  Or that I was already really exhausted.  But I started out watching a movie and for SOME REASON that I still don't know, I ate the meal that was served at midnight.  Which wasn't good and wasn't worth it, but I think I was nervous because I shoveled the rice and bread and butter in my face before passing out.  I haven't eaten a roll with butter in more than 2 months since I started to eat healthy again, why I decided I should break that for a cold and not good roll on an airplane, I have no idea. On the plane I ate too much in general probably, chowing down on chocolate covered almonds, a Quest bar, snacks, etc. but I think it was the nerves.

Anyways, I fell asleep pretty quickly and probably could have slept for the entire flight but actually made myself spend time awake because I wanted to be able to sleep at night when I arrived in Nigeria.  As the plane landed, I couldn't see much out the windows but there were tons of brightly colored rooftops, which oddly enough, reminded me of Iceland.  We landed at about 3:00 p.m. time in Nigeria (which is +5 hours from EST.) and after leaving the plane my first thought was that it was hot, haha.

We walked through a long corridor with tons of random people just sitting or standing staring at as as we walked by.  Some people from the flight stopped to talk to the random people, and I wasn't sure if I should or not (I knew someone would be waiting for me somewhere... was it one of these people??) but just kept going until we entered out to the immigration area.  There was a woman in a suit who immediately asked me, "Katelyn?" which I am assuming that I was pretty easy to spot coming off the plane.  She helped me go through first a health screening where they had to confirm that I had gotten the appropriate vaccinations and that I didn't have any symptoms of ebola.

Next we went through immigration where a number of different people checked my passport and I was told that I could proceed through.  My escort through immigration then brought me to a new area where I met my driver/security transport.  While in Nigeria, in addition to being in a security-approved hotel, I will have a driver through a hired out service who will take me to all of my meetings and to and from the office every day.  We waited for the car to drive up and I already was doing my best to take in everything around me.

Women and some men, were dressed in incredibly beautiful dresses and clothing with bright and energizing patterns and fabrics.  There was no air conditioning in the airport and there were large wire fans blowing air around to keep everything cool.  Unlike most airports I have ever been to, people didn't seem rushed or unhappy or frustrated.  Everyone was smiling, milling about, and conversing with people around them.  The infrastructure seemed older and everything seemed a bit dirtier, and of course, hot.  But I was intrigued by everything around me and already had my first thought of, "Man...I might need to get another suitcase to go home with if I get the chance to do shopping!"  Everyone was dressed so beautifully!

When we drove out of the airport I was fixated looking out the windows.  It was like I was seeing in real life what I have seen in pictures and movies.  Dirt/clay roads and tin roofed buildings.  Women walking down the street in more beautiful dresses carrying items on their heads with ease.  Workers climbing scaffolding and sitting atop cars in ways that would never be allowed in the U.S.  Kids playing soccer barefoot on dirt fields.  And cars and vans packed with people commuting.  Everything seemed very different, but also very familiar in a way, although that doesn't make any sense.

Nothing seemed like what I had been watching on the news of the unrest in Nigeria... it was all just normal.  People commuting to and from work.  Shopping at markets.  Waiting for the bus.  Trying not to get caught in the rain.  I guess I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I felt at ease with the normalness around me.  It was busy and chaotic and there was so much that was new to my eyes and so much that I wanted to soak in.

We drove to Victoria Island, which is an area of Lagos where the offices are for my company and where I booked a hotel.  It was actually a second hotel booking that I made, after I learned the first hotel I booked was really far away from the office.  On the drive here I felt like a sponge just trying to absorb everything that I could see and remember everything.

The face of the man packed into the van next to me sticking his head out the window into the rain.  The two girls laughing on the side of the road chatting with (seemingly) heavy loads balanced on their heads.  The young woman eating what looked like a giant piece of fresh cantaloupe as she waited for the bus.  The election signs and billboards all over promoting candidates for the upcoming elections.  The young boys with dirt stained shirts running across the highway while traffic flowed to jump over the median and get to the other side.  The men standing on wooden rafts along the water as we drove to Victoria Island.  My eyes were glued out the windows and I only hope that my time here gives me enough free moments to be able to explore and learn more about the beautiful and vibrant culture I've already seen on my first afternoon just driving through the city.

The drive to the hotel took longer than usual as rain from the morning and while we were driving caused roads to flood.  There was no visible draining of the water off the roads that I could see, so cars were just driving slow to navigate through the sometimes deep waters on the roads.

Since I've been to my hotel I have been getting settled and doing work-work before the week gets really going.  Power has already flickered twice since I've been here working, with everything going dark for about 3 minutes each time.  It's the norm here and not something people think twice about.

I will admit, I have been really nervous about this trip.  I get really nervous before any long flight, so I know that was a part of it.  Flying long distances scares me and I imagine doomsday scenarios in my head.  This is really great for a career in PR, but can sometimes be paralyzing for someone trying to live a normal life -- nonetheless a life that takes you all over the world and includes adventurous travel that others wouldn't consider.

Over the weekend Nigeria was in the news quite a bit -- as it has been for some time now -- with various terrorist activities, violence, unrest, and anti-Western mindsets.  This is primarily in the north, which is not the region that I am visiting, but of course, there is crime and corruption and it is important to be safe, smart, and prepared when traveling.  For family and friends who may be at all worried about me this week -- rest assured, I have thought of the fears that you may be having and then some.  I believe I am a smart traveler and I also have faith in my company, the precautions they have in place, and my colleagues who live here in Lagos and have called this city home for years and years.  There is more to any location than what you see and hear on the news and I am excited to see Lagos, and meet the people of Lagos, this week.  I am looking forward to this week and embracing the diversity, the differences, and the experience of being somewhere new.  I hope to share it all with you while I am here as well!


  1. I like the positivity with which you have described your first few observations of Lagos, Nigeria. I hope to read more of your experiences as your stay continues. I'm a Nigerian and the erroneous media negativity gets me confused sometimes. And I think that Westerners might sometimes forget what it's like for a country to still be undergoing development. Though I believe all countries went through the phase at a point. Corruption too is in every country, but some countries have laws that are strictly upheld for the enforcers so one has to be security-conscious in every country and at all times.

    1. Hi Chineze, I have had a great experience so far, thank you for reaching out!! I've been thinking a lot about the media/impressions that gives lately. When I was at the gym at my hotel the other day and seeing the news stories that were on there about the U.S. and when I thought of the impression that gave off of the U.S. it made me sick. I've been really enjoying my time in Nigeria so far and looking forward to the rest of the week!!