30 November 2006 (almost midnight)
It feels surreal that I am here now. Here, in Lagos, breathing this air, occupying this space, in this time. I am now, finally, in my room at the American Consulate guest quarters, where I am staying for the night in order to make my orientation on time tomorrow morning with my Fellowship program.
Landing: It was 28 degrees Celsius in Lagos, according to our flight captain. We arrived at around 8pm. I began to calculate what it might be like during the daytime tomorrow, if the nighttime low was 28 degrees. Immediately upon landing, our windows steamed up, and as we stepped off the plane and into the lobby, the air descended upon us: thick, heavy, and organic. I could smell the very dynamic and constant process of breakdown and decay. It is not a dying decay but a living decay; always in motion, constantly present in the process of living…a kind of layering of life here in the tropics…living detritus. That is the only way I can describe it. We had landed.
After forming and reforming three different queues in the process of getting through immigration, each of us was plunged immediately into a frenzied madness. No matter how calm and composed we travelers were up until that point, this madness gripped each and every one of us, as if we were being controlled by some invisible remote control. There was no choice but to participate; if you relaxed, you lost ground to your more aggressive neighbor seeking and retrieving his or her luggage. Here begins the world of dog-eat-dog/each-man-for-himself/zero-sum calculations that is Lagos, indeed Nigeria. It took 2 hours to get my luggage. For most of us in the baggage hall, this was the case. We pushed and shoved over trolleys, which immediately were in short supply (each and every one of us had excess luggage…most, after-all, had come for the holidays).
Josephine, the expediter sent by the Consulate to help me through the process, was distracted to say the least. Apparently, I was one of 4 flights she had to attend to this evening. I came with the third batch. In the mayhem, I managed to secure a position just behind some fierce-looking folks who had formed a blockade in front of the carousel. A couple of the men looked quite surprised to find me standing right behind them, cart and elbows waiting. They turned out to be allies, and I in turn was an ally to those behind me. Somehow, in that 2-hour stretch, we had formed a kind of fraternity. We had managed to create some sense of order out of the chaos. As the 2nd hour came by, we even began to cheer each other when one of us spotted our last bag. Each one of us left the baggage hall feeling a sense of victory under the layer of sweat and dust, blessing us as we crossed the threshold into the thick night air.
I’ve checked in to my room here at the Consulate guest quarters, taken my shower, and am now ready to crash desperately on this bed! Oh, and no dinner. Thank God for Luna bars!