That was twenty years ago.
After few good hours of flight from Sofia through Tripoli we land on Murtala Muhamed airport in Lagos. We look forward to all the equipment we brought and the boarding gate for the next flight to Cotonou. Bad luck, Bulgarian airline took our money but all flights from Lagos to Cotonou are canceled. Trying to get out of airport is an useless attempt, rules and guards with Kalashnikov on shoulder cut our enthusiasm. Dressed in shorts and sweaty shirts with all that equipment rather dubious in the eyes of airport staff we look like terrorists chased away their caves and going on pilgrimage to places more welcoming. Negotiation with the big guys proves unsuccessful. We are guided in the waiting room where can see the planes coming and going, coming and going while ridden here we sit. Success comes in many forms so after more than three hours we get phone number and call the embassy. Not long later consul comes and we can explain the situation to someone listening us. What he is saying is not filling our hearts of joy but only some hopes, it will be solved but …
patience and tobacco. Mostly those ten thousand dollars in pocket should be declared at airport exit if we strictly comply with local legislation. There’s no need to be too civilized consul advises us to keep our mouth shut if we want to keep them, the guards and the police are not always what they seem to look in uniforms. He promises to come back in the evening with our visas for 24 hours, so that we can make a trip by car to Cotonou. So nothing better to do now but to inspect the airport shops and bars hoping that the wait will not last. As we get hungry and not tempted by the offer around hardly find a nice hidden little place in a restaurant attended mostly by airport staff. Here we can peasant-like open our food packages and certainly a bottle appears, shared by everyone. At the next table a local, probably from the offices, plays with napkins in anticipation of lunch. Someone hands him a glass of liqueur and after some dealing partly in English partly in Gymnastics language the man accepts and toss off the few drops in the glass. With his eyes almost out of sockets he is returning the glass. A well built lass brings him ordered dishes. Man immediately start eating of choosing from the three bowls where are chicken, gravy and polenta. Or so it seems, later find out that is made from batata grinded and boiled, about the way that we do polenta. I’m amazed at the dexterity with which he prepares appeasing the “polenta” transforming it into a spoon that collects gravy, acquired in years of practice, then carry it to mouth without a single drop be wasted. Sipping a beer can see how immaculate white shirt man remains impeccable. I such circumstances I would have been full of dressing even on my underwear. Bellied staged let us see what we can find in small stores crammed with merchandise.
Bags, suitcases, belts, crocodile shoes, small stuffed crocodiles, ivory and ebony sculptures, small furniture of mahogany and ebony, African beads and bracelets making you to think to tribal dances. Looking without buying, for sure outside of airport are much cheaper, and negotiate with the seller to change a few dollars, at the bars they accept nothing else but naira, local currency. Air is hot and air conditioning works to the local taste, we climb to the circular bar upstairs where we can have a beer and peanuts. 600 ml bottles seem very good for our thirst and still be fast finished. We Order another round to drink it slowly. Chief electrician order a beer and a sandwich asking how much it costs. Everything 60 naira, about one dollar. Gallant tells to girl in his approximate English to keep the rest up to one hundred. The girl does not understand very well so he push towards her money and says, “for you, for you.” Bartendress face is enlightening as understanding and asks where, here or better wait for her to finish shift in one hour? Chief is looking helpless without understanding one word while I can’t stop myself from laughing but manage to congratulate him for conquest. Eventually I do pity and explain to chief what bartendress understood from his “for you, for you”. Shaking his had as “no, no, no” and almost jumping off the bar stool he is asking me to explain to the girl, what I do. She is looking with some regret, maybe didn’t find the idea so bad but the poor electrical boss, a man nearly 60 years, refuses the invitation to the toilet behind the bar. Later evening consul shows up with good news, we obtained the right to leave the airport. We pack bags astrayed all the waiting room and we fill the line to the door where customs control is. Jacket with $ 10,000 inside pockets now on the shoulders of consul at over 30 degrees seems a little strange, no matter. He is changing few words with officials claims is rather chilly evening and we have to stop laughing now, whatever might seem dubious in the eyes of weapon bearers. Finally we can breathe the air outside, inside it was warm outside is as in the oven. We keep tight pack around us and protect it from those who offer to help us carrying them for a penny. We already know the lesson, if we let them go might not see them again. We get on the bus that reach the highway driving us to hotel where we will spend the night, wondering what surprises have to face more. We arrive finally at the three-star hotel, surrounded by defensive walls like a citadel, next day we go to Cotonou.>
We enter the guarded courtyard, not before being checked by the gate guardian with a machine gun. The interior is a pleasant surprise and amazed how gloomy walls hide a completely different world of outside darkness. Nice walkways, lawns and bushes trimmed with art, a pool with all facilities and services of high life. After a short wait we get our rooms keys and spread in the hotel. Together with third engineer and one of the staff we take the elevator to the fourth floor where our room was. I look around, the room is clean, window has a net for bugs and flies, can see the courtyard through it, so it’s good. Until I see the chameleon on ceiling, he seems to be a much older tenant. I am ready to get my hands on the phone and call reception but learn from more experienced engineer that’s good for us, did not come alone but has been carefully accommodated there, any insect which would pass somehow the net barrier will fall prey to his hunger. Not long after shower, we go down to the pool terrace to cool down with a beer. Everyone was thinking the same, we find a free table and order beer and sandwiches “continental”. Night birds start to show up at next tables and some of them look to be ferocious predators. First beer not finished, only 300 ml, well, it’s luxury and “continental,” we have two of them on free seats at our table asking for a sandwich and a beer. For fun begin to negotiate and poor girls do not get to see the desired beer. Out of nowhere appears a skinny guy at least two meters tall, whom seeing them with nothing on the table, asks them if someone called for them. I do not understand what further he is saying in their language but the guy spank them with a thin stick, it seems pretty harsh. The two birdies vanish into night while the grumpy still muttering something in a mixture of English with God knows what goes to look for some other birds. But as wealth of bottles on the table is growing it looks irresistible prey for those remaining on the ramparts. One guy at the table makes one imprudent offer, a beer for the pretty one next table, with dreadlocks African style. The girl can not be satisfied with just a beer, she wants more and offer her services to anyone who wants to take advantage of them. Since nobody seems interested sh is telling me in French about her life of misery in Cameroon, providing eternal story of every tear. Taking my finger in mouth she shows what she would do if I take with me in the room. At another table can see those two vanished earlier. They changed their clothes and are decided to use the heavy cannons. One of them, wearing a super short dress sits facing us open her knees, so everyone can see that dress is all she wearing, panties are expensive stuff. Not able to escape the insistence of Cameroon girl, I quit halfway beer left in the glass and get up to leave. She looked pleadingly with languid eyes, maybe she convince me, but does not last long. I am just at elevator door to see already hooked another customer, life goes on. Getting off the elevator can hear the loud voices and noise in the next room, chief engineer and a female voice. Their door is slightly open so I slip my head inside to see the chief arguing with one of the girls earlier around the pool. I ask what is going on and chief saying he took pity on her and called her to give her some sandwiches he is carrying from Constanta. I ask her what she wants only to find out that he called her in the room, she is now available for one hour so no matter what he do must pay. I explain to the stupid, he is denying everything but the girl is there, his explanation do not touch me. I let them handle it however they like, is too funny, I go to laugh loud in my room. Bed is waiting for me, I do not want anything else. Next morning we expect a tedious and dangerous road to Cotonou. For this we did arrangements with consul, to be accompanied by three armed guards. Hopefully we will not have unpleasant surprises.
To be continued