August 6, 2008

Arrived in Jos

Monday morning we had eggs, bread and tea (and Nescafe) at the guest house for breakfast. The weather was beautiful -- probably low seventies, but quite humid and overcast. Christopher picked us up and we headed out pretty early. Our first stop was to change money. We pulled up at some roadside stands and a man came out to the car and we discussed what the going exchange rate was - 117 Naira to the Dollar. We had been expecting something higher, but decided to go with this for the moment. Joe and I followed the man into an office where we discussed the exchange rate again with his boss. I made a half-hearted attempt to bargain for a better rate, but they didn't seem interested in negotiating so I changed $400 into N46800. For some reason they gave it all to me in N200 bills so I ended up with an impressive looking stack of money. It seems very common here for all parties of a transaction to count the money more than once and in future I'll try to do that, but this time I made just a cursory count.

Unfortunately, Joe only brought travelers checks and they would not accept them. Apparently only banks or the bureau de change will deal with travelers checks, so I bought some from him for Dollars and then he changed the Dollars for Naira. Also, the money exchangers claimed that $20 bills are less valued than $50s or higher denominations. They wanted to give us only 110 to 1 for the 20's, but we got them up to 115 to 1. So, I'd recommend bringing most of your money to Nigeria in $50 bills.

We found out later that 117 was pretty much the going rate for exchange, so I don't feel bad about not having bargained harder.

Our next stop was a gas station where Christopher fueled the car and the rest of us bought bottled water and batteries. Then we loaded back up for the trip to Jos. We took the road through Keffi which I hear is the short route. The longer route is probably more scenic, but in any case it was beautiful and I was happy to get back on the plateau again after so many years. The weather was beautiful the whole trip (about 2 or 3 hours) and probably dropped a couple degrees as we gained elevation. The countryside is at the height of its incredibly green, lush, rainy season foliage. We came up through the hills past many of the signature rock formations of the plateau, huge boulders stacked on each other, large outcroppings of granite, and flat-topped hills in the distance.

The only problem with the trip was that we were stopped at a police road block where the policeman said they were checking for road-worthiness. He asked for the papers from Christopher, who provided them, but then said that the specific road-worthiness certification and proof of ownership paper was missing. Christopher followed him back to their car where they had a long discussion. Eventually he came back and very apologetically explained that they were asking for a N2500 ($21) fee because of the papers and would we be able to front the money since he did not have it on him. We did so and we were shortly on our way again. Interestingly the only vehicles that were being stopped seemed to be the expensive looking ones while several old clunkers with bumpers about to fall off were waved through. Curious, given the road-worthiness explanation. Well, I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

Coming this route from Abuja brought us through Bukuru and then into Jos. I did not recognize Bukuru at all until I saw the road signs. Both towns have grown enormously and the road between them has pretty much filled in with new growth: residences, businesses, a couple industrial looking buildings. Traffic was very heavy on the road and pretty hectic with big lorries driving slow, taxis and private cars speeding past them, motorcycles riding slower and right along the edge of the road to avoid getting hit, and then pedestrians trying to dodge through traffic to cross the road. Several times we saw cars squeeze a third or fourth lane out of the road and speed into oncoming traffic before pulling over just in time to clear. Given that many of the vehicles, especially the motorcycles, have poor or non-existent tail lights the recommendation against driving at night is well taken.

I did recognize some landmarks driving into town, the Nasco factory, for example, and then NTA and Flat Top hill so I was able to spot the Cedar Tree Guest House and direct Christopher there to drop off Emily and myself. We checked in (N6500 a night for a double - pretty steep, but a nice place) then saw off Christopher and Joe as they headed on for Kaduna.

Aside from the growth in buildings and traffic, the most remarkable difference in appearance here are the walls. It seems that almost every private residence beyond a simple shack has a wall around it. Even many of the businesses are in walled compounds. The simpler places have a plain concrete block wall, more well off ones have walls topped with broken glass or jagged pieces of metal, then others have even more imposing walls topped with coils of razor wire. The front gates to the compounds are solid metal with small sliding peep holes to allow the guard inside to see you before he opens the gate. The walls are very depressing and really change the appearance of the city. What they say about the security situation here is even more depressing. Security, electricity, water have all been privatized by necessity since their appears to be little functioning state apparatus to supply them. Instead of a community you get a series of isolated fortresses attempting to be self-sufficient. Perhaps I'm overstating this, but I found it quite disturbing.

Posted by cayfo001 at August 6, 2008 9:23 AM