Culture Shock To Say the Least!!
Written by: The Bridge on Sunday, February 17th, 2008
Before we left for Africa we were told many times that the culture shock would be one of the big challenges that we would face. Like most people I looked forward to it in both anticipation and dread.
The first signs of having entered a different culture were obvious when I entered the Lagos airport; I was hit by the fact that there were mostly black people in the baggage pickup area. This might sound very irrelevant, but the fact is that everyone was looking and watching the white people, as there were only a handful in the entire airport. Leaving with our luggage, we were instantly surrounded by people wanting to be our porters. I had a very hard time understanding what they said as they either spoke an African dialect or English with such a heavy accent that I had a time even getting the gist of what they were saying. When we left the airport we were fortunate enough to be met by Palmgrove boys that Ed Vetter knew. This helped to relieve the tension of not knowing where to go or what to do. These people arranged our taxi and went with us to our hotel.
Let me explain that upon arrival we were right in the middle of the season they called Hamatan. That is the dry season. I quickly noticed that everything was very dry and lacked color. The buildings don’t get a lot of paint, if any, and so the whole city of Lagos had this very dull color. Most everything has to be built out of cement because of the heavy rain that they get.
The traffic was heavy to say the least and mostly consisted of motorcycles with blue smoke coming out of the exhaust pipes. So it goes without saying that the air smelled accordingly. There were no traffic lights and people were constantly passing each other. There were a lot of people walking and just about everything possible gets transported by motorcycle. I asked our driver Inifiock if there were many accidents and he said “no.” This was supposedly because people are always either on the brake or on the accelerator. I didn’t see a single traffic incident while we were driving even though the driving seemed very dangerous to me.
We stayed the night at a hotel in Lagos with the two guys that picked us up at the airport. Both of the young men were from Palmgrove, but one was going to school in Calabar and the other was working at some charity program Inno had sent him to. They were both our hosts and did a fine job of making us somewhat comfortable. They got us into our rooms and then took us downstairs to sit around. After a while, Judy said she wanted to go for a walk. This struck me as odd as we had been told that we weren’t supposed to go outside after dark because of the high crime rate in Lagos. However, we went outside anyway to check out the street.
The so-called market was really a bunch of little makeshift huts with lanterns to light up the area. This market was very busy with people and very dark. There was rap music or reggae music pounding at every corner. They blast the music so loud that it is hard to find a sound system that doesn’t have blown speakers and doesn’t make a buzzing sound. I wondered if the people even had a difference in sound quality. There was the constant presence of motorcycles passing us as we walked down the street. We had to be very careful that we didn’t get hit because they were passing us by a few inches. All in all the whole evening experience was somewhat intimidating yet very exciting.
The next day we flew from Lagos to Calabar. Of course that meant we weren’t flying in a Lufthansa but in a Virgin Nigeria airplane. This part of the voyage was very different in every aspect from keeping a sharp eye on our passports to always watching our luggage. Paranoia is the word when you’re dealing with Nigerian officials. You never know what you’re up against.
At the Calabar Airport we were greeted by Emman the Palmgrove mechanic, and once again by the hot, humid air of Nigeria that was becoming very familiar. From there we got our luggage and we took it to two vehicles, one from Palmgrove, the other belonged to Phillip, a young police. These two vehicles eventually took us all the way to Palmgrove.
On the way, we stopped in at the house that Inifiock was staying in while he was going to school. Here I got a glimpse of what they called an urban area. There were only sand roads and cement fences to see. Behind these fences were houses of various styles and makes. All of the houses were made of brick or cement. Every house was heavily barred with steel against theft. The heavy barring of the houses was something that I was getting to know very well here in Nigeria.
We eventually made our way to Palmgrove where we were put up in the missionary house. We were greeted by many people that we had never seen before, but would come to know as friends.
I still find that communicating with the people is the biggest challenge. Even without electricity 90% of the time, a hot and humid climate that can completely drain you and a completely different culture, I still found that talking to people was the hardest. It is very frustrating to get the answer to the most basic question about traffic simply because the person I was talking to couldn’t understand me. Sometimes people were expressing their feelings or telling something personal about their lives. Though they were technically speaking English I wouldn’t understand the content of what they were trying to tell me. This is something that I will have to get good at.
I found the whole arrival experience very interesting and challenging and I am sure there will be more to come.
I find that the people of Plamgrove are very much like the people at home. Some are good and some are bad. But it is only by bringing out the good in people that we can help them become better people and therefore make Palmgrove a better place.