“I want to go to America”

“Chong Chong”

Um, excuse me? M gives me a wide-eyed amused look. 

“Are you from China?”

“No, I’m American.” “She’s American.”

“You do not look American. Where are you descended from?”

“My parents are Chinese…”

Sigh…Not this again!

Getting up at 5AM to the ululations exulting from the mosque, I was in a hired drop car (thanks to my gracious hosts for setting it up!) to pick M up from the airport. We were now waiting in the immigrations office–a brick building filled with officials harmlessly flirting.

“She is mine,” the big boss said pointing at M to another, having established, or claimed, her as a new girlfriend earlier that morning.

Apparently, I belonged to the other. Fabulous–whatever can help us get through quickly.

Earlier, in the morning, we had gone to the moneychangers–or basically some men by the side of the road with sacks of Naira.

“How much for pounds?”

“250 Naira for 1 GBP”

Perfect! Giggling at the novelty of this seemingly sketchy but perfectly legit transaction, we finished counting out the change multiple times. Then settling in with our deceptively large pile of money, we headed back to the couchsurfing host’s house to deposit our loot and draw out enough money for the day.

Arriving at the immigrations office around 10AM, as the only foreigners, we didn’t have to wait in line. Shuffled into a separate yellowed brick room with one large desk, 2 broken chairs and a fan, we waited.

“Ah Geisha.”

…whatever. “American.”

“You be my girlfriend,” he said claiming M. The officials were chatty, charming and unfortunately would not budge as we discussed fees.

“We are doing conservation work here, oh that is so expensive!”

“Yes, we charge Americans more because it is so difficult and expensive to get into America for us.”

Fair enough…

14000 Naira per person. This on top of the fee charged online and the surprise fee at the embassy in London when you apply in person.


“I have been to America: Houston, Texas, Philadelphia…” a matronly official announced.

“Why is it so difficult to get to America? We would like to go to America.”

“Well, if I were the immigration officer, I’d let you in for free!”

We spent over an hour chatting and trying to figure out what was going on and what we needed to do–pulling out forms, invitation letters to the park, showing passports. The officials were fairly entertaining, if the process wasn’t so slow–giving up chairs for us to sit on as the room filled with the midday heat.

“Where are you going?”

“Taraba state”

“Oh! That is very dangerous, we do not want you to get kidnapped. Why don’t you fly?”

“We don’t have very much money, it’s so expensive and so is this extension…” (They give you 1 month on arrival and we needed 3).

“It is not safe, we are worried, you need to find reliable transportation.”

Oh my.

Eventually, they decided things needed to be done officially with photocopies taken, files drawn up, etc etc and we would be able to collect our passport at 2-230PM.

So off to run some errands in the meantime. First, we needed to get some ethanol (for my hormone samples). After getting stuck in the red, red dirt, some locals obligingly helped us shove off into traffic. Cars will zip through the dirt between highway lines, U-turning into oncoming traffic–which luckily (or unluckily) was a bit dead-locked. Dozing on and off in the heat and sweating, we just wanted the day to be done.

At an dilapidated building, we searched for the medical supplies. Not used to the heat–exhaustion and hunger were settling in. The brick walls were spray painted with “NO PUBLIC URINATION, POLICE ORDER” with a man defiantly spraying on it.

People made clicking and kissing noises at us to catch our attention.

“Ah, sweet, take my brother?”


Finally, after asking around, someone finally knew what ethanol was. Purchase complete! Looking around, I’m so glad we brought our own first aid and sterile needles.

After a pit stop back at the house for some lunch, we returned via taxi and a mini-motorbike ride. More waiting.

The big boss (“The hunter cannot be hunted”) flexed his authority in front of us by showing his power over his crew. Being on his good side has it’s perks.

Sleepily sitting in the heat, we just wanted our passports and to go.

“You can stay ’til July”

“You must come and go out with us.”

Smiling and laughing politely,

“We will visit in May on our way out of Abuja.”

“Ok! You stay with us til July?”


Scribbling their numbers for us, we finally left and headed home–sweaty and salty and very very sleepy. Catching the short motorbike ride, out taxi took us back for showers, catnaps and then beer with the hosts.

Couchsurfing has been amazing in Abuja–I’m so glad they were here to host! Having arrived earlier, they made me feel so welcome and less lonely about the big change. Introducing me to people, giving advice–I feel better about being in Nigeria.

a little blurry--posing in front of the washington state map

Tomorrow, we pack up and head towards Gashaka. Hopefully it will only be a 2 day journey. I’m very excited to re-live my chapas experience. This is most likely the last update until we leave the field end of May as there will be no internet access.

Baboons, here we come!

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