Mimi Mwiya: On Returning To Nigeria And Visiting Benin
On the 4th of June, a dear friend, Ochuwa Jessica Abubakar launched her debut book, The Broken Hedge. I got an invitation to the launch about a week before I left Namibia and decided right there it would be a good excuse for me to visit other parts of Nigeria, as the launch was in Benin City.
The invitation was for Jenny, and me but the way that young woman’s life is tailored, she barely has spare time to breathe, much less be embarking on road trips with me. Enter Kenzie. Kenzie and I are really good friends, and Jenny aside, she was one of only two other people I thought of asking to join me on the trip to Benin(mother Jennifer absolutely wouldn’t hear of me going on my own).
Thankfully Kenzie agreed, and I had a travel buddy. I was grateful, I was excited, but I was also nervous because I know travelling together can test relationships of any kind. Kenzie and I would either come out of the trip closer, or barely talking to each other.
Now, when I would talk about my plans to go to Benin City, the name ‘God Is Good Motors’ kept coming up. I assumed it was the name of a bus and I was skeptical because back home the kind of buses that have things like, ‘God is good’ or ‘God is in control’ are not exactly the kind that inspire the greatest confidence. If the rest of this begins to read like an advert for ‘God Is Good Motors’(GIGM) it’s because I was never ever ready for their quality of service. GIGM turned out to be more than just the name of a bus; GIGM is a bus service, a bus service that takes its service provision very seriously.
Being the 21st century kid I’m not. Kenzie was able to book and pay for our seats online, my disorganised self would have just rocked up at the station wanting to buy the tickets then. There was almost a glitch when we did show up, but it was dealt with in record time. We got our tickets, bargained for a couple pairs of socks because I like to travel with socks, then we heard the boarding call for our bus being made. Yes, there was a boarding cal, over an intercom, just like at an airport.
They also have luggage scanners, just like at an airport so our bags were scanned before we got on the bus, I couldn’t even believe it. Although after having my bag scanned at the malls in Lagos, I am starting to think maybe Nigeria just has a scanning culture. The bus was spacious and comfortable, our tickets said we’d leave at 7:15am, and that’s exactly when we left, but not before we were presented with water and biscuit snack packs.
I was also pretty impressed with the Lagos-Benin road. I can remember I think exactly two places where we took turns and the road was a bit bumpy for a bit, but otherwise it was pretty good the rest of the way. We had one rest stop, where Kenzie tried to bargain for stuff and I tried hard to keep a straight face at her, “Wetin make am 700?” I look forward to and dread the day I’m no longer fascinated by Pidgin with equal measure.
Now, I know I have this whole ‘OMG! I love people so much!’ vibe going around me, and I do have some pretty wonderful people in my life, but I also know people are everything that’s wrong with the world. Us with our biases, politics and prejudices. So even when I talk about Namibia, I don’t always have the nicest things to say about the people and state of affairs, but you do not want to get me started on the scenery, the Land of the Brave(yes, that’s what we call ourselves) will simply take your breath away!
Point is, I am bigger on scenery and environment, than I am on people, so I was really quite taken by the lush vegetation along the Lagos-Benin road. Just a beautiful, endless carpet of the deepest green.
The book launch was at the same hotel we were staying, so I’m ashamed to admit we didn’t really see much more than the hotel premises. We did however get to eat a very peppery jollof rice the city is apparently famous for, and on the night before we left, we got to hangout at an outside spot that had a live band and some pretty talented street dancers. I also got to drink some orijin, something else we don’t have in Namibia, so that was fun for me.
Also, the kindness of Nigerian strangers followed me to Benin City too. So on the day we arrived, Jess called for me to meet her downstairs, so I went, barefoot, ignoring Kenzie’s calls down the hallway for me to get back and wear slippers. I got down, Jess’s sister asked why I wasn’t wearing slippers, I was explaining to her that wearing shoes can be such a chore, but I also just really like being barefoot, when their cabbie got out of the car, went to the boot, and handed me a pair of yellow slippers, and he said, “Manage these ones.” I didn’t even have a choice in the matter. I couldn’t stop laughing.
All too soon our time in Benin was done and we had to head back to Lagos. If I had been impressed by the GIGM service in Lagos(and I had been), they decided to show me they could do better. For starters, their offices in Benin are even much more like an airport waiting area, complete with a cafeteria and 3 clocks showing local time, New York time, and London time.
I was recently telling someone about the great GIGM experience I had and he told me whereas with most buses in Nigeria there’s a ‘maybe we’ll get there, maybe we won’t’ gamble, GIGM have built themselves a reputation for getting you there. Kudos to them!
The bus going back was bit smaller and a little less luxurious than the one we’d used before(that one had been a Mercedes),but they totally made up for that with the fact that everyone who had bought their tickets online(like we had, hehe) received complimentary notebooks. Notebooks, you guys! It is like they know they give a noteworthy experience and want to make the note-taking easy for us.
Ps. Kenzie and I are still talking to each other. By the time this is published, I may even have been over at hers for a sleepover.
Featured Image: Collin Bootman