Friday, October 24, 2014

Yellow Mitsubishi: The Third Road Trip

Omu Resort (Lagos), Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove (Osun), Idanre Hills (Ondo)


With the four-day weekend early this month (October 4 to 7) a great opportunity for a road trip presented itself, and so road tripping we went.


Lagos

We started off on October 4 with a visit to Omu Resort in Bogije Town, off Lekki-Epe Expressway. The resort is a couple of minutes after Ajah. If you're visiting Omu Resort for the first time, keep your eyes peeled. The resort has a small easy-to-miss sign at the junction where you're supposed to turn off from Lekki-Epe Expressway, and if you’re not careful you will miss it, like we did.  

Looking at Omu Resort from the outside you might think for a moment that you’re in the wrong place. Within the compound are two large rectangular buildings, painted grey, that made me think of a warehouse or some other kind of storage facility. The expansive compound sits by the water, but I was disappointed to find that the resort makes no use of the waterfront – there’s just tall grass covering the shoreline and blocking the view.

Our tickets cost N3,600 per person – a discounted price because there were ten of us. Platinum tickets, which we got, cost N5,000 per person (without the discount) and allow access to all the attractions. The Gold ticket is cheaper at N3,000, but does not allow access to everything.  


Omu Resort has a zoo, a Go-Kart course, quad bikes, small pitches for football and volleyball, a Seaworld with aquatic life, a few amusement park rides, an archery point, indoor games like snooker, and a mini golf course. The zoo was quite exciting, with an impressive variety of animals – a (lonely) lion, a (friendly) hyena, baboons, ostriches, emus, geese, a crocodile, tortoises, jackals, peacocks, a donkey that is allowed to roam the compound freely. 

The lion, 'Simba'

Baboon

Hyena

Donkey roaming the grounds


Ostriches ignoring my attempts at friendship

Their lion is (not ironically) named Simba, and our guide described how he’s fed. Every day the resort gets a live goat which the zookeeper releases into Simba’s den through a latch, and then Simba ‘hunts’ the goat. On our way out we saw the unfortunate goat that was to be Simba’s lunch that day. It was quite young and I felt sorry for it.

Zoos leave me with mixed feelings. I enjoy seeing the animals, but I also wonder what they do all day, worry that they get bored with their caged lives.

Omu Resort does not have a restaurant on site, so you will have to call (probably days) ahead and order your food. This is the only way of getting food at the resort besides bringing your own, which you are allowed to do. You might be able to get snacks like biscuits and popcorn at the resort, but not much else. Omu Resort also does not have provision for lodging, so you’ll have to make it a day trip. 

Osun

We said goodbye to Omu Resort at about 3 pm and headed to Osun, where we would be spending the night at MicCom Golf Hotel and Resort in Ada. We got into Osun early in the evening, but getting to Ada took much longer than we had anticipated. As we weren’t exactly sure where we were going we had to navigate using a combination of smartphone maps (which our driver did not trust) and the good old stop-and-ask. We reached MicCom Golf Resort at about 9.45 pm.

We paid for our reserved rooms, collected our keys and were ushered out of the main building and toward a rectangular block that reminded me of the hostels at my old secondary school. As we stepped through the entrance to this block I noticed a sign on the wall that said ‘Hotel Annex’. I did not like the sound of this. We later learnt that this block contained the hotel’s older rooms.

I’m reluctant to badmouth MicCom Golf Resort. To be fair, we did go for the cheapest option available – the ‘Studio Room’, which cost N5,980 per night. Prices for other rooms range from N6,670 (Double Room) to N34, 500 (Royal Suite).

So we took the cheapest rooms; still, I don’t think it’s unfair to expect a few basics from a place like MicCom – working water heaters for hot showers (none of our rooms had this), 24-hour electricity (apparently the hotel needs to reach a certain percentage of occupancy before they can run the generators through the night). The good thing was that PHCN electricity was pretty stable the whole night.

I enjoyed the food at MicCom, at least. Their rice and efo riro was a delight and cost N1,500. Food prices at the resort range from around N1,000 to N2,000 per plate.

With sunrise the next day we were able to appreciate the resort’s well-kept grounds – acres of green spread over a rolling landscape, with trees dotting the space. The bright sunlight, the brilliant blue of the sky and the people out playing golf made for a very pretty picture. 





We found the swimming pool, and a lawn tennis court right beside it. The pool was unimpressive and the water did not look as clean as it should have. There was a pale little frog chilling on the pool’s wall, like it was sunning itself after a leisurely dip and had as much right to be there as any human.

We left MicCom early on Sunday afternoon and decided to make a quick stop at the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove just outside Osogbo. The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove is set on forestland along the banks of River Osun. The quiet road leading to the gates is surrounded by trees and vegetation, and several small black and white monkeys appeared on tree branches and the roadside to stare at our bus. Something about the place made me want to talk in whispers and walk on my toes, to cause as little disruption as possible. 

The road to the grove

The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005 and is the venue of the yearly Osun Osogbo Festival that takes place in August.  

At the gate we paid N100 each to get in. The attendant said it would cost an additional N2,000 for every camera we wanted to take in. We ended up paying N3,000 for three cameras.

Past the gates and all the way to the shrine you will see many surreal sculptures.



These carvings stood right in front of the shrine


These little black and white monkeys were a constant companion. This one sat watching for a while from the entrance to the shrine.

There’s an old suspension bridge that takes you across a part of the river. The bridge is a tad unsteady so we did not attempt to cross it.

The old suspension bridge

Ondo

We said goodbye to the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove and set off for Akure, where we would visit our main destination, Idanre Hills. The plan was to get into Akure by evening, spend the night at Royal Birds Hotels, Agbalaka, visit Idanre Hills early on Monday and then head back to Lagos.

Just outside of Akure our bus broke down, and so we had to split up, find transportation and make our way to the hotel in two separate groups. It did not help that it started to rain, and that the second taxi my group took broke down a short distance from the hotel!

We all eventually made it to Royal Birds and it was pretty amazing. Our rooms were large and spacious, and we had a charming view from our balconies. Plus the showers ran hot water and we had electricity and a good internet connection. Our rooms cost N9,000 each, the hotel’s least expensive. I did not get to see much of the hotel’s food menu, but their peppersoup was good and came at a reasonable price – N750 to N800 per plate. Breakfast was complimentary for one occupant per room.

We left Royal Birds for Idanre around noon the next day. Idanre is just about an hour’s drive from Akure. We had to stop and ask for directions a few times, but we made it there okay. The site was officially closed to tourists the day we visited – apparently the town was preparing for a festival and there were rehearsals going on within the compound. But, thankfully, we were able to convince the attendants to let us go in.

We paid the entry fee (N500 per person) and were assigned a guide who advised us to buy drinks from the sellers at the base of the hill. He assured us that we would need the drinks for the climb, and he was right.

About 660 steps take you to the tourist summit of the hill. According to our guide, the main summit cannot be reached in one day. There are four rest stops along the stairway to the top, so you can take a break and catch your breath if you get tired. 

A portion of the stairway. The hut-like structure is one of four rest stops along the way.

There’s also a small lodge at the tourist summit where I think people can spend the night. It doesn’t look too inviting from the outside, though, and it did not look inhabited at the time.

The lodge

Climbing Idanre Hill was relatively easy as a result of the stairway – 660 stairs seemed like child’s play compared to our Erin Ijesha experience. The views are amazing. You don’t even have to reach the summit to start enjoying them; just look behind you as you go up.



We reached the tourist summit and the town lay sprawled beneath us, a perfect picture. 



Higher peaks

Our guide took us to see some of the attractions at the tourist summit – the old primary school building, which was in use from 1896 to 1928, the old prison built in 1906, and the old court.

The old primary school

The old prison

The old court building, as seen from the side. Notice the round patch of grass just by the verandah? According to our guide, it’s forbidden to step on it. He said the ‘ancient crown’ landed on this spot when Oduduwa descended, and that at the coronation of every new king sacrifices are made there (or something like that).

There’s also an ancient palace, but we didn’t get to see this as we were running quite late. It was time to leave for Lagos after a long weekend very well spent. 


Photo credit: Yellow Mitsubishi

Friday, October 17, 2014

Talking to Strangers

There’s this guy I used to see often. Sometimes I’d be riding in a danfo and pass him on Ozumba Mbadiwe Road; other times I'll walk by him while I’m walking across Falomo Bridge to Ikoyi, always on my way to work. He’d be either running on the culvert that divides Ozumba or stopped on Falomo bridge doing stretches, headphones clamped over his ears. I used to wonder about him – what drove him, if he was training for something, if he was ‘FitFam’, but like a really hyper version, like FitFam 10.0.

One day I saw a video on Instagram. My friend, Ore, had seen this guy one morning doing his warm ups on the culvert on Ozumba and made a video. I left an excited comment saying how I saw the same guy all the time. Ore responded: ‘he’s begging to be interviewed’.

A seed was sown and I went away thinking, ‘well, why not’?

But it wasn’t ‘why not’ in a rhetorical sense. Cos when I asked myself why not, a few reasons came to mind:

1) He could scream insults at me for interrupting his intense workout.

2) He could get up and, without warning, start chasing me down Falomo Bridge. And he will catch me; he can run.

3) He could tackle me and toss me over the railing of the bridge, and I would go tumbling into the lagoon, hoping my backstroke would be good enough to save my life.

Because, with any of the above outcomes, when they tell my story people will say, ‘Ah, o ma se o. But why did she not just mind her business? Shebi it was office they said she was going to.’

***

For about two weeks I didn’t see this guy on Ozumba; and as I was taking a different route to work I could not see him on Falomo Bridge either.  

It was my last day with my former employer the morning I saw him again.

Running late for work, I was marching across the bridge when I saw the familiar figure, legs splayed out like he was doing a split, the ever-present headphones over his ears, sweat running down his face and neck and turning his clothes a darker blue than they were.

This had to be some kind of nudge  after today, with my job change, who knew when next I would have cause to walk across Falomo Bridge in the morning like this? Who knew when I would see him again?

I didn’t slow down as I approached the man; there was no hesitation. All the reasons you can have not to talk to random strangers in a place like Lagos faded from my mind. I stopped in front of him, my feet a few inches from the length of off-white fabric he had placed on the ground to protect his clothes from the dirt. He looked up at me and nodded, making a gesture that seemed to say sorry I’m in the way; please go ahead

I shook my head, bent forward a little and started talking. He eased off his headphones and listened, squinting up at me in the sunlight. As we talked I noticed some of the people I had passed on the bridge earlier on in my march overtake me, giving us curious looks as they went. I told him about seeing him working out often, about my curiosity, and about the video and Ore’s comment that had prompted me to stop and talk to him. I asked if he was training for something. He said no; he exercised for his health. He said that, being a doctor, he was aware of the importance of exercising, and that if his patients knew half the things he did they would be much better off. He said he was working on a book on health and fitness, so he could share some of this knowledge. He did not attempt anything remotely bizzare.

When I thanked him for talking to me he thanked me back, saying it was nice having someone stop to ask for once. I was glad I did. (And thanks to Ore, for being the prompter.)

I haven’t seen this man since, but I like to think he’s still out there doing his thing. And I really hope he writes that book.



Friday, October 10, 2014

Danfo Chronicles: Dancing Solves Everything

It wasn’t long after I got on the bus at Obalende that I realised the driver was one of those mad ones. As soon as the bus was filled he leaned on his horn and swerved into the road. And from then on he drove at a terrifying speed when the roads were free, slamming on the brakes when he had to slow down or stop, constantly tooting his horn, running into potholes like they didn’t exist and switching lanes without warning. The bus conductor, hanging from the doorway of the bus, seemed to be enjoying himself; he shouted greetings and taunts at every other danfo* we passed. The radio was playing loud fuji music that instructed men on how to hold on to their Nigerian women – apparently it came down to money and good sex. (This is me saying it the nice way; the singer’s language was much more colourful.) None of the other weary passengers seemed to mind all of this very much. Apart from the occasional half-hearted ‘e ni suru o’*, we were all stone faced and stoic, holding on to edges of our seats. We carried on this way, our driver angering other road users and drawing curses all the way but causing no death or bodily harm.

We got into Victoria Island and approached the toll plaza just before Lekki Roundabout. In the distance we could see the long lines of cars, trucks and buses easing slowly toward the tolling booths. I took it for granted that our driver would find the shortest of these queues and quickly join our bus to it from behind, like any normal human being would.

But no.

Between each line of vehicles there were empty strips of road wide enough to fit a bus like ours. It was into one of these spaces that the driver directed the bus. He was going so fast I thought he would crash into the traffic cone ahead, and then into the culvert and caution sign that separated the toll booth from the road. But he screeched to a stop just in time, stepping on the brakes and sending us jerking forward. Somebody cursed the driver and his mother.

So there we were, stuck between two lanes of vehicles. The plan, I assumed, was that the driver would appeal to the other drivers to make room for us; either that or our driver would try to squeeze in. Knowing the temperament of the typical Lagos driver, and with the other drivers having just witnessed our driver’s stunt, I knew we would have a hard time getting on the queue. And we did. The driver beside us on our right had set his face in an immovable mask and was pretending not to see our bus.

But our driver had a plan.

He signalled to the conductor who hopped off his perch in the doorway – his shorts were riding low and exposing the top halves of each ashy buttock – and sauntered into the space between Mask Face beside us and the car in front of him. Mask Face didn’t do anything; I think he was trying to figure out what the plan was. So was I.

As the vehicle in front of Mask Face rolled forward, leaving a few metres of asphalt behind it, the conductor spread his arms wide and started to dance, turning around and wiggling his narrow behind at Mask Face’s bonnet. Mask Face’s face wasn’t so masky anymore. He slapped his horn and leaned on it even as the conductor danced some more. Of course, Mask Face couldn’t run our conductor over. He sat there furious and impotent, blaring his horn as our driver eased his danfo into the widening space in front of him.

The conductor gave Mask Face a cheerful wave and hopped back on the bus as we drove toward the booth, mission accomplished.

Just another day in the life.


* Minibuses commonly used in Lagos as public transportation

* ‘Have patience.’

Friday, August 22, 2014

Girl on the Side

It’s the picture on your bedroom wall that bothers me. It’s hanging right across from the bed, with Her smiling straight at me. I imagine meeting her eyes over your shoulder as we’re having sex. If I were a different kind of person I might get a perverse pleasure out of it; maybe it’ll make me want to hold you tighter, moan louder, work harder, to prove something.

I decide I will ask you to take it down while I’m here. I’ll ask casually, make it sound like a joke: ‘Take it down jor. You want your madam watching us while we’re doing it?’

Weeks ago I rediscovered you on Instagram; you were living only a few hours away. It had been all innocent at first, renewing an old acquaintance from school. But when the break up I knew was coming came it was you I called, and you said all the words I needed to hear – it was his loss and I could do better anyway and any man would be lucky to have me. And so when you said I could come over if I needed to get away from everything I came; even though I knew there was no future here, even though I knew I would feel worse after. Even though I knew about Her.

You come into the room. ‘Hey, you,’ you say. You’re smiling as you hand me the glass of water I’d asked for. I smile back and take a sip.

‘Nice picture,’ I say, nodding at Her.

‘Yeah.’

‘She’s pretty.’

‘Yeah.’

You take off your jacket and ask if I’d like to shower. I nod, because all my words are gone. I’m rethinking this whole picture matter. Wouldn’t there be something proprietary about me asking you to take it down when it doesn’t seem to bother you; something that might suggest that maybe I think or hope that this thing with us might maybe perhaps be something more than it is?

I undress, my back to the wall where she hangs, and watch you watch me. The picture stays.

After the shower I return to the room to find you waiting. I slip off the towel and the heat from your skin warms me.

When you come you come alone, and then you fall asleep. And you snore. And I’m there watching your open mouth and being jealous because I want oblivion right now and you won’t let me have it and I want to shove a pillow onto your face and sit on it until the noise stops and I can go to sleep and forget all this. At least until I wake up again.

I reach up to turn off the light and I can’t help it. I look up at Her again and I wonder, is it just me or is that smile a tad smug right now?


I just want to go home.

Friday, August 15, 2014

HOW TO RIDE THE BUS

My short story, ‘How To Ride the Bus’, was published on Bella Naija this week. You can find it here. Please read, comment and share.

Friday, August 1, 2014

TALKING PHOTOS #6: Gold Star



I watched him from afar, lonely speck of black in a sea of white. He liked to do this after every event, sit smoking a cigarette amidst the pieces of themselves the guests left behind on the grounds he kept. Just one cigarette, though. He had quit for real a month and two weeks before I announced that I was marrying the daughter of his greatest enemy.

I walked, the grass beneath my feet muffling my approach. I was late today, and I wondered if my father noticed this where he sat sending wisps of smoke up in the air. There was something essentially the same about the different events that held here: weddings, parties, conventions, concerts. The things that the guests left behind on my father’s grounds – the scarves, the condoms, the books and underpants and wallets – should each tell a different story. But knowing that my father would look upon every one of these things made the stories all merge into one – the story of his life.

He did not say anything that day, after I shared the news of my coming wedding. He just strode out and returned with a pack of his favourite brand of smokes, Gold Star. He’s never spoken a word to me since. By marrying into the family that had stolen his small business and made him into a groundskeeper, I had chosen sides. There was nothing to say.

Except that today there was.

He did not look up when I reached him. His lips were rounded as he made a perfect O with his smoke. As a child I would reach up, put my index finger through the hole and watch the smoke fade around it. Would it make him laugh if I did that now? I sat and looked off into the distance.

We had made a baby for him. After three years of trying, we finally had. When I first held her in my arms I knew she would be the one, the mender of fences, the bridge under which the waters of our strife would flow. She was doing it already; her other grandfather had visited for the first time yesterday. Maybe if I found the right words my father would too.

I could start by saying we had decided to call her Gold Star. I hoped he would like this. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

WIG DILEMMA

I was standing at the bus stop this morning waiting for a danfo bus to Obalende. I was looking off into the distance and practising reading conductors’ lips when I got lucky. This one was calling Obalende. I was standing off to one side at the bus stop, away from most of the crowd, and so I had a small advantage. I hopped off the sidewalk and went to meet the bus before it stopped. The bus looked full, so I knew there was just one seat left.

But then I noticed that this last remaining seat was one of those pull-out ones, right beside the door of the bus. And this seat looked shaky. I've seen people fall off seats just like this one in moving danfos, so you can understand my hesitation.

‘You no dey enter?’ the conductor growled.

I shook my head. ‘This your seat ehn…’

‘The seat dey good, enter.’

I glanced at the people at the bus stop eyeing me, ready to pounce on the seat I was considering rejecting. Then I remembered how long I had to stand most days before finding a bus to Obalende. I took a breath and got into the bus. I perched on the seat, careful not to put my full weight on it. The conductor climbed on, covering the doorway with his body, his feet on the ledge as he held on to the roof of the bus, and the bus eased into the road. My hope at that point was that one of the passengers would shout ‘o wa’ and get off at a bus stop soon. As it turned out, this did not happen for a while. Moments later the traffic eased and we were speeding down the express road, and this was where my troubles really began.

You see, I was wearing a wig. And though I’d been wearing wigs for some time and had grown used to them, every wig wearer knows the anxiety that lurks at the back of your mind when you imagine the various ways that your ‘hair’ can be separated from your head without warning. Like, you could be coming down from a danfo and a lock of hair could get snagged on the door or on some random shard of metal protruding from the roof, and then your head will be exposed. You could be riding on an okada with a helmet on, and then when you alight and take off the helmet to return it your wig comes off along with said helmet and your ‘true self’ is revealed. You could be riding in a danfo with open doors, sitting on that outermost seat, like I was, the wind whipping your face and your ear rings, one hand struggling to hold on to your bags on your thighs and the other holding on to the seat in front of you so you don’t fall off when the bus takes the next curve in the road, and then the wind blows your wig right off your head and into the face of the person behind you. Or worse, the wind blows your wig out the bus and onto the windshield of a poor driver who did nothing at all to deserve any of this.

With every second that the wind buffeted my face and head I felt a growing certainty that it would take my wig. And so I found myself presented with a choice.

With one hand I was holding on to my bags, which were resting on my thighs and held my laptop and wallet and random valuables. It was a no-brainer; I needed all this stuff so I couldn't let go. With my other hand, I was holding on to the seat in front of me, to reduce my chances of falling off the bus every time we reached a roundabout or a bend in the road. But, and here was my dilemma, I had the option of letting go of the seat and using this other hand to hold on to my wig.

My people, after careful consideration I chose to let go of the seat that was probably saving my life and hold my hair in place.

But wait, before you say I’m vain. Believe me, I promise and cross my heart sef, I chose this option only because of the poor person sitting behind me who did not wake up this morning expecting to get a faceful of fake hair, and for the sake of the even poorer driver behind us who might be so shocked by the unexpected wig in his windscreen he might swerve off the road and die.


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