Is the grass really greener on the other side?
“Andrew no check out o.” “Say what?!” If you grew up in the 80s, ‘Nigeria go Survive’ will pop into your head.
In my line of work I have met a lot of ‘Andrews’ – usually getting deported. I have never understood my people’s desire to emigrate when all we need to make life what we want is right here with us. Right here in us.
I recently visited the UK and I wondered if I was going to catch the ‘check out’ bug.
At the airport I was immediately struck by the number of people leaving the country, especially since it was a few days before our Independence day. I checked in, ran over to the UBA to get FOREX – I was not going to change my Naira until
I was sure I would be leaving on the flight. Then I ran to clear immigration where a few words in Hausa helped me get through without much hassle. I have learnt about Nigerians that if one spoke a certain language certain courtesies will be extended you – unless the person is Ibo!
Next was screening where I had to strip. Somehow I did not mind that because the alternative was the full body scanner, and I have MEGA issues with that. I hear it ‘undresses’ you and the picture is relayed to a control room where your wares are on display for some stranger. Knowing how we are, chances are there will be only one person viewing everybody coming through! Now that is a job I will love.
I finally made it on board and settled down to enjoy six hours on a plane not working. We arrived Heathrow Airport where it is usually like a cattle market clearing immigration. I did not have to go through that though, I had a fast track voucher. I cleared immigration, and with nothing to declare, I had arrived. And then things quickly changed.
First, the very long trek to the Underground; next, two tube changes to Victoria station; then the blast of icy cold air as I walked up to the surface to catch the train to Sutton. Outside the station all the cars drove on the wrong side of the road. But oyibo get sense sha. At the pedestrian crossing, written on the ground, is the direction of travel of the cars – usually “look right” on one side, “look left” on the other. Problem was, I look left first, start crossing then remember the directions on the ground, at that time all I see is the one on the other side. That I did not get knocked down is still a mystery to me.
The next morning I was to see my niece and I got another shock. I woke up at 5:30am, Naija style, bathed and dressed. My friend I was staying with did not come out of her room till 7:15am – and she had to be at work by 8:30! She took her time getting ready and at 8:13 she was running down the street towards the station to catch the 8:17 train, or else it would be another twenty minutes till the next train and then she would be late for work. According to her, that run to the station helps her come fully awake!
Meanwhile, I had gone through the gate with her without checking for my train time. It was only on the platform that I realised my train ran hourly and I had just missed it. I decided to take in the sights of Sutton. Big mistake. I had an Oyster card which I had validated by ‘touching in’,and when I ‘touched out’ I got charged for a full trip for visiting a platform – during peak period at that!
I was meeting my niece at Westfield shopping centre, and when I got there I thought I had died and gone to Window Shoppers’ Heaven! There were so many stores, I spent five hours browsing!
Then there is the English weather – or not. It was supposed to be Summer turning to Autumn, but it might as well have been Winter with a touch of rain. Sunny one moment, cloudy or drizzling the next. And through all of this, the cold.
I had only packed a cardigan so I needed warmer clothing. I walked into a store, selected a jacket and scarf I liked and when I got to the counter to pay, I got another shock.
I handed the cashier my money and next thing I knew, he pushed a buzzer under his desk. I froze. I felt like I was in a bad black and white B movie. The one where a poor innocent gets arrested and deported because he was unfortunate to be handling marked bills from a kidnap ransom.
The store manager came, looked at the note – not a glance in my direction – nodded and walked away. The cashier put the money in the till and handed me my change and receipt with a smile. Only then did I realise I had been holding my breath. I later found out all that drama was because I dared pay with a fifty pound note!
On my last day, I was walking to the train station when I saw a cab. I flagged the cab down and as it was empty. The first thing the driver said to me was “Did you call a cab Guv’nor?” “Errm.. No, but…” “Then call for one.” He said, and drove off. I just respected myself and took a train, two tubes and was at Heathrow terminal 3 two hours later.
I slept through the flight home. As I stepped off the aircraft, the heat that slapped me confirmed that I was in Lagos, and I realised I had missed the heat.
So back to the question about grasses:
I complain about NEPA, I complain about the transport system, I complain about the heat, I even complain about the complaints. But give me a choice between Nigeria and the UK, and my answer will be “You can keep your Jand jor.”