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Lagos Updates #2

Friday, July 1st -UNILAG

Casey and I took a trip to the University of Lagos (called UNILAG) with our Nigerian friend and a driver. It was really cool to see the campus, and it was much different than we expected. It was huge! And very old (founded in 1962). I expected a smaller, newer campus. Anyway, it sits adjacent to Lagos Lagoon, so we started by walking to the dock area and taking photos of the water, trees, and the bridge across the way. The planters containing trees and shrubs surprised us by being crab farms! They just looked like places for foliage, but you could see blue/orange crabs sitting in the water.

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After hanging out at the Lagoon for a while, we went back towards the main area to photograph the buildings. They were big and the architecture was pretty. They are old though, so their age shows. (For those that are familiar with UNLV in Las Vegas, all of their buildings reminded me of the FDH.)

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We tried getting into the library but you’re not allowed inside unless you have a letter. We agreed that it’s the first place we’ve been to that doesn’t allow the public inside a library. They told us to go to the 8th floor of the Senate building (the registration/info building) to get a letter, so we went, but the necessary people had left for the day. There wasn’t anything else we could do, so Casey and I went outside to the patio area and started taking pictures of the campus and Lagos Lagoon. Being on the 8th floor, we had a decent vantage point of the landscape. Apparently two women inside told our friends that we could be fined for taking photos, so they kept urging us to stop. We were frustrated with their logic but reluctantly went back inside. We had more troubles with their notions of photography, but I will cover that in more detail later.

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We headed towards our car, but passed by the auditorium and decided to go inside. A man standing outside initially gave us a hard time, but he loosened up when Casey started speaking Yoruba. Most people do. It was a neat building; similar to other auditoriums we’ve seen, but smaller than we expected. It seemed more like a US-size high school auditorium rather than college-size, but it was old and historical nonetheless. Our Nigerian friends really enjoyed seeing it because they had never been to UNILAG before. They were able to see some of their own country’s history on this trip. It was super dark inside, so the 50mm F1.4 prime lens I had on my camera really came in handy. Casey’s wide-angle len’s aperture couldn’t go as low, so he used the tripod and got some better shots than my more restricted angle.

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After this, we visited their Biological and Zoological Center, which housed some plants, a snake, birds, two monkeys, a dog, and either an alligator or a crocodile in cages. It was intriguing to see such small cages in comparison to what we’re used to in zoos. We were disappointed that the snake wasn’t out that day. I think it was a python. The monkeys were impressive though. They seemed interested in us as well and came near us in their cage. There wasn’t any food around to give them, so Casey gave one a leaf and even touched his hand briefly. Unfortunately, the mosquitos were also around. I’d been bitten by some bed bugs or something similar at our hotel before, but this was the first time that the mosquitos realized there was new blood around. I left the Center with eleven new bites on my legs. Needless to say, I was miserable for the rest of the week; however, now that I’m writing this post a week after the experience, I am thankful that I did not get malaria. I’ve heard that it takes a week to develop in your system, and I’ve had no symptoms yet.

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It was getting late in the day, so we decided to head home. I wanted to see more of the campus since it is really quite large, but we didn’t want to hit too much traffic on the way back. We hit a little bit, of course, through the smaller roads, and Casey decided to get out of the car and snap some photos while we waited. He climbed up some stairs to get a higher view and found a little shop that advertised for Passport Photos in One Minute, so he decided to get one. Why not, right? He ran back up there to get his photo taken, which made me a little upset since I didn’t want to lose him. As luck would have it, traffic started moving as he was inside the shop, but our driver assured me that he “wouldn’t leave [my] love.” How thoughtful. Casey caught up with us when he was done, and he even walked ahead of our car just for fun and to snap some more photos. It’s just like him to not immediately get back into the car.

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We reached Ajao Estate at a decent hour, paid our driver, and said bye to our friend. It was a good day overall. We got some good photos of the part of the campus that we did see, and we got to see a new part of Lagos. That’s the main thing.

Saturday, July 2nd – Lagos Island

The next day, we started out early and went to Lagos Island. Casey had been here once before to buy some clothes, but this was my first time. We stopped at Balogun Market (where he bought his clothes) to shoot some photos. It was extremely busy! Crowds of people were everywhere. Being only 5’2”, it was hard for me to take photos of anything. Casey was able to get more shots since he’s a foot taller, plus his added arm length. Casey decided to get a better view, so we went up some terrifying stairs to get above the crowd. I say terrifying because the stairs were poorly made and nearly vertical to the second floor. He set up the tripod and started taking a time-lapse of the market. I tried getting some shots with our Pentax K-1000 film camera (borrowed from his parents). It was a little hard getting a good composition with the 50mm prime lens, but film is always fun regardless, especially since this camera is completely manual. I feel like I’m doing more to get a good photo by manually choosing all of my settings. Thank goodness that the built-in light meter works!

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After resting for a bit while Casey took the time-lapse, we headed down the back stairs. (I asked a man standing nearby if there were better stairs to get down since I didn’t want to climb down the terrifying stairs again and he directed us accordingly.) We continued walking through the market and found ourselves by a mosque. I’ve only seen mosques in movies, so it was really neat to be so close to one in person. We could see the loud-speakers and hear the men praying. Casey got some nice wide-angle shots with our Sigma 17-70mm. We were getting tired of the busy streets and decided to head back to the car to continue our day. As we neared our vehicle, Casey found a stall selling blenders and bought a small sea-green blender made in Japan. Blenders had been on his mind lately since he wanted to make smoothies at our hotel.

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We got back in the car and passed by City Hall. Casey wanted to go inside so we stopped and asked the security guards if we could park there. They said ok and we ventured inside the beautiful, new, and clean building. The elevators weren’t working, so we climbed the stairs. We didn’t really do much all in all, just walked around and admired the building.

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We left shortly afterwards and drove over to City Mall for some lunch. City Mall is a mall, like the name states. There are some clothing shops, a gallery, and other miscellaneous stores. There is also a Goodies Market with food and some household items. Our driver wanted KFC (located at City Mall), so he and I ordered that. Casey decided to try the pizza at La Pizza and Shawarma (next to City Mall), so he ordered a Hawaiian pizza. I must say, we were impressed with the pizza! The crust was very similar to the US, so we were quite satisfied. It’s hard to get pizza we are familiar with in Nigeria. The crust is either to thin and not risen or there’s not enough sauce, and the flavor is just different. The pizza at our hotel has a completely different crust than we’re used to. It’s like cracker dough; I don’t even know how to describe it. I’m not saying their pizza is bad in Lagos, just different. Anyway, we had a great meal with a familiar KFC chicken sandwich and yummy pizza.

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We planned to visit the National Museum after lunch (located next to City Mall), so we headed over there only to find that it had closed while we were eating. It was a shame, but I don’t think we were too disappointed after that good meal. I looked up, next to the museum, and there were two very tall towers in the next lot. I asked our driver what it was, and he said it was a stadium of some sort. We asked him if we could climb the tower to get a good view of the city and he said we might be able to, so we walked over to the stadium.

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Upon turning the corner of the street, we saw an entrance with four huge horse statues, numerous eagle statues above, and a few human statues dressed in traditional Yoruba costumes below. It was amazing. This place turned out to be “National Assembly Complex: Tafawa Balewa Square,” as you can see from the photograph above.

We walked through the gates and saw the stadium itself blocked off to the left and the two towers to the right. We went to the security office and asked the guy there if we could climb one of the towers. He didn’t know offhand but he said he’d call his boss and ask him. We all went outside to wait.

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I started taking some photos of everyone there. A boy rode by on his bike and Casey asked if he could ride it. The boy said ok, so Casey gave him his camera to hold. Casey rode off and didn’t come back for a while. After a very long wait, the boy went to look for him and found him arguing with some local young men. Apparently, the chain on the bike fell off, so Casey was trying to fix it. These young men came by and said they would fix it for him. They sounded nice enough, so Casey said ok. Keep in mind, he didn’t need any help. He had fixed bikes before, but he took them up on their offer. Bad idea, since as soon as they were done, they demanded money for their work and would not return the bike. Casey came back, the men followed, and everyone started mildly arguing in English and Yoruba. The security guard was there with us and his boss arrived shortly afterwards, and they managed to talk the men into giving us back the bike. I didn’t care so much that the men were being unreasonable, but it wasn’t even our bike. It was the boy’s bike, and I was ready to get it back at all costs (non-monetary though). But, luckily, we didn’t have to pay them and they went off with a light fuss.

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After that ordeal, it was a relief that the security guard said we could climb the tower! (Initially he said we could if we paid a large amount so we declined. But after a while he said we could go for free. How nice!) We climbed the tall tower and counted 400 stairs! It was incredible at the top. We had a fantastic view of Lagos Island, and Casey took some great shots with our wide-angle lens. (I repeat this because it’s so amazing. My 50mm prime was slightly restricting again for the grand view.) The two security guards climbed the tower with us. You could tell we were all a little winded from the trek so the breeze felt great at the top. After a little while we headed back down the tower and thanked the guards for letting us go. It was really a spectacular and special view of the city.

It was an enjoyable and successful day at Lagos Island! On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by a fruit stand to buy bananas and apples for smoothies, which we made that night. Casey was very happy!

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Sunday, July 3rd – National Theater, National Stadium, and Shoprite

Our third day of adventures around Lagos turned out to be the hottest, longest, and most draining that weekend. We woke up early with the intention of going to Badagry, a coastal town outside the main Lagos hub, but few drivers were available, and the ones that were free didn’t want to drive all the way to Badagry. We waited around and a friend put us in touch with a new driver. He said Badagry was too far (only an hour or two depending on traffic), but we could go for a high price. It was too expensive than we were willing to pay so we declined. (We pay by the hour with our previous drivers and weren’t willing to pay for distance this time.) After a while of talking, we decided to go with him but to different places: National Theater and National Stadium.

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First, we drove to National Theater and Gallery which wasn’t very far at all. In fact, it was much closer than we expected. It’s a beautiful building that was apparently designed to look like a military cap. We parked and walked inside the main entrance to be greeted by a security guard and four men seated in chairs. They weren’t too friendly from the beginning. We asked if we could walk through the theater and they said no, it’s closed on Sunday. We could come back on Monday-Friday and take a tour. We told them we couldn’t easily come back during the week because of traffic and Casey’s work, but the men refused to let us in. The four men seemingly worked there since they said we couldn’t get inside, but they weren’t doing anything and they did not have any badges or uniforms. (This happens sometime in Lagos. People will tell us that we can’t do something, but they don’t have any outward authority.) Alas, we realized nothing would work, so we turned around and decided to just photograph the outside of the building.

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I walked down the driveway by myself away from the Theater since I was still using the 50mm prime lens on both of my digital and film camera, meaning that I couldn’t be too close to the building, otherwise I would get an obstructed view (the building would be cropped in the picture). This is when I first encountered illogical viewpoints of photography. I took a photo with my film camera and turned around when I noticed I was being stared at by three men. Two were in security uniforms and one was in regular clothes. The one in regular clothes asked me to come to them, so I did. Basically, he said that I couldn’t take a photo of the Theater because it is not allowed. I politely retorted back that it is a free building and I can take a photo of any building that I want if it’s out in the open like this. I cannot take photos inside since it is closed, but I can surely take a photo outside. He repeated that it’s not allowed, and I asked him to show me a sign saying so. We discussed the missing sign for a while; he stated that there was one but the “area boys” took it (that’s the nickname for the local trouble makers) and I said he should put the sign back then. He asked me to apologize for taking the picture and I said I will when he puts the sign back. Eventually the conversation got more friendly and I figured out that he probably wasn’t very angry to begin with; he just wanted to talk to me (American women are hard to find in Nigeria). We talked about Casey since the man could see him across the way. He asked about the US and I told him I’m a student at a university. He cheered up when I started telling him the Yoruba words that I know, so that was good. Nothing became of this meeting and, when we were leaving, he was extremely friendly, spoke in Yoruba to Casey and me, and shook our hands.

I was upset after our conversation though, even after it ended on a good note. I know that different countries have different opinions about when and where photography should be allowed, and I’ve gotten accustomed to some Nigerian’s not wanting their photo taken. That is perfectly understandable and I respect that they don’t want me snapping their face. However, I am frustrated that we’ve been told that taking a photograph of a building, a road, or a tree is “not allowed.” That is the best excuse they can give us too. These inanimate objects should be free throughout the world to take pictures of.

Anyway, there was a church service going on inside the Theater by another entrance, so Casey, our driver, and I walked over there. They let us inside the building on that side without hassle, so we walked in and had a look around. We just walked through the hallway and up the stairs. No one was stopping us, so Casey and I continued walking up the stairs. After a few flights, we found ourselves at the top of the Theater and realized we were in the center of the auditorium where they have the shows. This was the place that was closed on Sundays. The doors were wide open and no one was around, so we snapped a few photos. It was dark in the theater, so we had to do long exposures to get a good photo. The auditorium itself was very nice, but the place as a whole was a disaster. It was old and worn and did not look like there’d been any upkeep in years. The funny thing is that shows still go on regularly and the building is in use, even though it’s not clean and there was trash lying around. Therefore, it looks like it’s not in use and has gone without care, but that is not the case. Interesting.

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We walked out as we came in and no one seemed to mind. Our driver told us to walk around the outside a bit and see the building, so we did, and we took more pictures of some statues on the lawn. There wasn’t much else there, so we hopped back in the car and drove to National Stadium.

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There are two stadiums on either side of the road: one is Teslim Balogun Stadium (owned by Lagos State; I think that’s the name according to the web) and the other is National Stadium (owned by the government). National Stadium is what it sounds like; a huge stadium that used to house major various sports games. It hasn’t been in use for years and the area has been taken over by locals. The stadium itself was locked, but we saw many soccer games outside on the grounds and a couple basketball games. We tried to see if there was a way inside the stadium and some local boys said you could get in, so we followed them up the ramp. They lived there so we believed them. There were gates surrounding the entrance, but they found a way to get through. Casey followed them in and was able to take one photograph of the inside of the stadium before two men acting as security guards came up and told us we couldn’t go inside. (I say “acting” because they didn’t have uniforms or badges either.) One man followed them inside and told Casey it’s off-limits and the usual spiel, but as soon as he saw one of the local boys, he started beating him up. That was the closest we’ve been to violence in Nigeria. The other man was still outside with the driver and me, and he started yelling at the driver. I tried to stick up for him because he wasn’t doing anything wrong, so I yelled back at the man, but he didn’t want to listen to me, so I ignored him as well. Casey came back out and we walked back down the ramp to photograph the soccer players and basketball players. Casey even played basketball with the locals.

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There was an indoor basketball court across the way that we tried to get into as well. There was an old man “guarding” the empty building, so we talked to him and told him that we wanted to take some pictures of the court. He gave us the usual excuse that it’s not allowed, but eventually let us in because Casey offered him some money. It wasn’t anything too special inside; a typical basketball court with bleachers, but we got some nice photos. You might think that bribing is a bad thing to do, but it’s really very common here. People tend to make up their own rules, and money surely talks in Lagos.

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While we were walking around, we kept hearing very loud cheers. We thought it was coming from a sports game, but it turned out to be a church service with loud speakers, so we headed in that direction. Before we got there, we found what we thought was an official soccer game in action. It turned out to be tryouts to see who gets picked for the top soccer teams. We asked the security guards at the gate if we could watch and they let us in freely. As luck would have it, a knowledgeable man was sitting next to us in the concrete bleachers. He worked for ASPIRE Football Dreams and explained what was going on to us. It’s a national organization that works to find new talent in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and give these young people opportunities to become football stars (soccer as we know it). We just happened to be watching three coaches (two from Spain, one from France) picking five or six young men from a total of forty. From there, those five or six will advance to a pool of fifty. Then the final pick is to choose three from those fifty. It’s a tough choice but it gives some of them the opportunity to further their skills. ASPIRE Football Dreams is a community subcategory of the ASPIRE company which works with other sports as well. It was intriguing to learn about this, and you can learn more at www.aspire.qa and football dreams if you like.

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Finally, we made it to the church service that was taking place in another auditorium. We got to the entrance and everyone immediately offered us seats inside, so we followed and were taken to the top of the bleachers. There was an immense congregation and the pastor was speaking on a microphone with speakers throughout and outside the room. I think we were the only American people in the room, so everyone we passed noticed us. We started taking some pictures and a few people asked us why, so we told them we just wanted to remember the service for ourselves. At one point, the pastor asked for all non-Nigerian people to come up to the stage so he could pray for them and everyone around us wanted us to go up, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that, so we stayed where we were. We didn’t stay long and exited before the crowds started leaving.

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It was still early in the afternoon, so Casey decided to take a trip to Shoprite to get some lunch. He changed his mind on the way and took us to GET go-karting arena for lunch instead since they have good food. It was fun to finally see the go-karts that he’s been on. We ate with our driver and then still went to Shoprite since it was so close. Shoprite is a large grocery store that has a lot of nice items. It is one of the four major markets along with Park & Shop, Goodies, and one more that I can’t remember the name of. The driver stayed inside the car, so Casey and I went inside to look around. I thought it was just going to be a market, but it turned out to be a mall with the market on one end. We bought some cereal and a Twix bar at the market, then went into the mall where I found some anti-itch cream for my many bug bites and peroxide cleaner for my contacts. I see people around Lagos with colored contacts, but I can’t find contact solution anywhere. I wonder what they use.

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We lingered a bit and got some pastries at the food court. Then we headed back out and drove to Ajao Estate. I was extremely burnt out upon returning to our hotel. The day was muggy and long, and the constant stream of “snapping is not allowed” got on my nerves. It took me a week to finally write this post because I couldn’t bear to remember the banter that I don’t fully agree with. Sigh. Every country is different, and my mother reminded me that I have to honor that.

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Monday, July 4th – Happy Fourth of July!

Nothing major happened on this day, but I just felt like noting that Casey and I spent our second Fourth of July in Lagos, Nigeria! Last year, we spent it on Maui, Hawaii.

We surely get around the world these days, and we’re realizing that we’re extremely lucky to be able to travel like we do. Sometimes we take it for granted, so we’re trying to slow time down and savor each moment. Casey has six months of paid vacation per year, I have three months of summer vacation, and I don’t work, so there is ample time for us to do what we like.

I am happy to be finished with this post! Casey has been writing in his blog (www.burningholesinthesky.wordpress.com) the whole time as well and he is almost done too. Afterwards, we will begin to talk about our late July/August plans when we return to the states.

Ho finito! Buonanotte!

(I need to practice my Italian, so I wrote “I’m finished! Goodnight!”)

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Lagos Updates #1 – Oshodi Market

The other day (Tuesday, June 28th), Casey and I ventured out into the streets of Ajao Estate, Lagos, Nigeria on our own. We weren’t sure what we wanted to do, but we both knew that we wanted to capture some intriguing shots. We debated walking to an intersection (known as the “Junction”) and finding a high location to take telephoto shots of the locals or taking photos of each other riding on the mopeds (called “okadas”); however, as luck would have it, an Arik driver conveniently pulled into our hotel’s driveway. Casey didn’t hesitate to turn this into our advantage. We hopped in the van and sped off to Oshodi Market.

Oshodi Market is similar to other markets in Lagos in the fact that it’s an outdoor market, it’s crowded with numerous stalls packed closely together, and bustling with people. They sell food, fabric, electronics, clothes, shoes, household items, and much more. It is a little intimidating at first to go from the peace of a familiar Arik van into the chaos of a Nigerian outdoor market. But it was awesome. We threw caution to the wind, if you will, and cast aside any worries of being left alone on the side of the freeway in a strange area. We heard shouts of “oyinbo” (meaning “white person”) from many and eagerly snapped our shots.

The surprising aspect of Nigeria is that everyone is amazingly friendly! It still bewilders me how much friendlier the locals here are than people in the US. They greeted us warmly with their shouts of oyinbo and most let us snap their photo. (“Snap” or “snapping” is their lingo for taking a photo.) As a generalization, the younger generations were more accepting of having their photo taken by foreign oyinbos, but most didn’t seem to mind. We smiled and waved and talked in Pidgin English and Yoruba (one of the main Nigerian languages of the southern region) when we could. Casey impressed many locals with his Yoruba. I think trying to speak their language helped us to be accepted because they could tell that we weren’t just strangers, but people who want to learn about their culture. A few people asked us why we were taking photographs of them and we explained that we wanted them for ourselves to remember everyone and the market. We also told them we’d like to write a book about Nigeria to share the beautiful aspects of the country with the rest of the world. They were happy with our reasons and let us take more photos of them.

All in all, it was a successful day! We made new acquaintances, and one man even gave us two free cups! One was green and the other blue to match Casey’s and my shirts. Casey found two men who were interested in buying his Pentax K-x camera, so we’ll see if they decide to purchase it. He also took a time-lapse of the busy street which turned into an enjoying video. I told him to pair it with an Asa song (she’s a Nigerian singer), so we’ll see what he does.

This visit to Oshodi Market marks the first day of our travels to document Lagos and how the locals live. As stated above, we are trying to create a book about Nigeria with photos of the beautiful and complementing aspects of the country, starting with Lagos. Our goal is to see the highlights of the country as well as the sights not normally seen by tourists. Nigeria isn’t really a touristy country, but maybe with our help, other countries can see how lovely Nigeria can be.

Last December, I visited Nigeria for the first time. Casey took me to the Eastern part of the country. We flew into Calabar, drove to and stayed at Obudu Cattle Ranch, then drove onto Abuja. Overall, we drove around twelve hours total. In that time, we were able to see the magnificent countryside that a lot of locals don’t even get to see. It was a wonderful experience and made me appreciate the country even more. If you just stay in Lagos or Abuja (the biggest cities), the crowds, noise, and pollution can be draining. But there is much more to Nigeria than you know. We’d like to share our experiences with others and show Nigeria as we see it: an outstanding country with a picturesque countryside, friendly citizens, and hidden gems even in the busiest of cities.