“No person is to travel on foot anywhere in Nigeria,” so states the security guide my husband’s (Nigerian owned) company gave me when I arrived in Lagos. I had looked up information about Lagos on the Internet before leaving Malta (one of the world’s safest places) and found contradictory advice. Some web sites claimed Lagos is one of the fastest growing tourism areas in Africa whereas others issued dire warnings about the growing threat of terrorism and kidnappings. Who to believe?
The turkey living in the abandoned building site next door epitomizes my experience of the security situation in Lagos. We first saw Hannibal a few weeks ago after a frustrating attempt to go to the gym at the Four Points Sheraton, a short distance from our staff house. The plan was for Albert, our driver, to pick me up around 4.30pm, collect my husband from his work and then go to the gym on our way home. My husband’s office is no more than 5km from our accommodation and the gym is within walking distance. By 6.00pm I still had not made it to my husband’s workplace because of the traffic for which Lagos is famous. Overall, a one-hour trip to the gym took 4 hours in travel time. In most countries, we could walk to the gym, a freedom we formerly took for granted.
Exhausted from the nerve -wracking trip to the gym, I was staring morosely out the car window as we waited to be let into our compound when I saw a large, fat turkey staring down at us. He perched contentedly on planking that had fallen from the scaffolding of a half-built apartment and onto the brick wall surrounding the abandoned building site. Like most such walls in Lagos, it is topped by razor wire.
Hannibal sat happily, surveying his domain from behind the safety of the razor wire. Judging by the number of huge dead cockroaches I find in the kitchen every morning, I guess he finds plenty to eat in his solitary kingdom. I have no idea how he got into the compound or if someone plans to collect him for Christmas lunch. For the moment he is safe and enjoying the passing parade.
Many days I feel like Hannibal, cooped up inside the staff house, unable to go for a run or even a walk. I asked my steward (housekeeper) one day what would happen if I went outside for a walk. He laughed and pointed out the police guards wouldn’t open the gate unless I was safely ensconced in a car with a driver. So this is how we ex-pat wives live in Lagos. We meet for lunch, visit each other and go shopping in a convoy of identical land cruisers, which makes spotting your driver in the dozen or so cars parked outside the venue a challenge.
I’m hoping our move to a different area in a few days will mean more freedom to exercise outside before I fatten up, like Hannibal!