Appeal of land of colourful contrasts

Gugu Sibiya

Gugu Sibiya

After reading so much Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinko and Ngugi Wa Thiongo, can you blame me for wearing rose-coloured glasses during my trip to intriguing Nigeria?

It has always been my dream destination, as far back as I can remember.

Intent as I was on immersing myself in my childhood fantasies, nothing really prepared me for the congestion of the sprawling city of Lagos or its incredible vehicular and human traffic congestion.

Driving at a snail's pace to my hotel, I had time to observe that in some parts of Lagos, town planning is evidently unheard of.

I also noticed that there were no shacks and the space under the freeways was wisely used for selling livestock and other goods.

Though there's no doubt that a clean-up campaign would transform this city of contrasts, its confident people in colourful costumes already provide great appeal for visitors.

Then there are palatial homes that will have your eyes falling out of their sockets. If they wish to, Nigerians live large.

The Savoy Suites Hotel was like an oasis in a desert to a parched long-time traveller. The hotel is beautiful, and its air-conditioner most welcome.

My hotel stay enabled me to try out traditional dishes like semovita, served with various soups, such as the egosi soup, with a combination of tripe and beef or goat meat. And I traded an English breakfast for yum and chicken curry. What a treat.

Soon we were off to Bayelsa, home of the African Movie Academy Awards for the past two years. We landed at Oweri airport, which gave us enough time to explore the countryside.

We passed through large tracts of lush, green lands, adorned with a variety of shrubs and long graceful palm trees for kilometres on end. Here and there we glimpsed shimmering rivers that reminded us that we were in the river state.

The countryside has many huge houses and petrol stations with architecture that rivals that of certain homes. Then we would suddenly be thrust into settlements with markets, complete with music and gyrating people.

Our skilled driver, who managed to avoid all the potholes, even in the pitch black darkness, eventually got us to the thriving city of Bayelsa.

This was like stepping into a different world. The streets are tarred, the buildings neat, new and huge. Even the markets at the road side are picturesque. The economy is booming. Everywhere you turn, double or triple- storey buildings are going up.

Newly erected hotels are doing a roaring business. You can tell that the rigalta - boat show - next year, is going to be an impressive spectacle.

Contrary to the stereotypical assumptions about Nigerians back home, the Nigerians I met there were the country's best assets. They were friendly, welcoming entrepreneurs who wanted to ensure that we enjoyed their country and were safe.