Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Chaotic Welcome

Nigeria believes in making a good first impression! 

Murtala Mohammad Airport in Lagos is such a joy, easily being one of the most confusing places in the world, where order clashes with chaos & technology with human ingenuity. Where logic comes cropper against whimsical bureaucracy, and where passenger comfort is as scarce as clothes in a porn flick. It's a fascinating place nevertheless - IF you can detach yourself from the surroundings and attain nirvana enough to watch everything uncritically. 

Normally, I love a bit of disorder - at some level it indicates a sign of growth where there is little time to make thing perfect through endless repetitions of the same routine. Things have to adapt to the new and simultaneously keep functioning, even if barely. 

Nigeria must be growing furiously.

Chaos/disorder is not just the preserve of Nigeria - most of the developing world is afflicted by it. A crush of poor humanity being served by insufficient resources rarely produce order. Apathy adds the devilish twists in the tale. Airports are just a part of the whole problem. 

A pattern begins to emerge after you have been through experience a few times. Some will strike you in the face even if you are not very observant:

  • Logic is for fools: most processes would amaze you with sheer stupidity. Lagos airport has two separate queues for Nigerians/Non-Nigerians, enforced strictly, but merge into one just before the immigration desk! Libreville (Gabon) visa-on-arrival process has 3-4 different people doing the same thing and managing to misplace documents with amazing regularity. Ivory Coast will fingerprint you scrupulously every time you pass through - not sure what they do with that data. 
  • Employment generation: seems to be the single aim of any process. Period. In Ghana, relatively well-ordered, 8 different people checked my passport before I reached the aircraft (5-7 people is normal). A Nigerian immigration desk has 3 people - one to look at your immigration sip, another to look through your passport and the 3rd to stamp it.
  • User comfort: Is a concept successively bred out of bureaucracy. After nearly de-clothing you in process of security check, they won't even provide a chair to sit yourself back in order. There would be some chairs, but a posse of security guards would be occupying it. Toilets would be on another floor. Walkways that go in just one direction if at all. Boarding gates that would change without notice. The works!
But what makes up for all this is friendliness and helping attitude of ordinary people. Most would be unfailingly polite, courteous and quick to lend a helping hand. And if you are willing to tip, everything is possible.

Let's raise a toast to these ordinary folks! May you get what you have spent a life-time hoping for. And not succumbing to pressures of simply surviving. 

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