South Africa? Absolutely.
What can I say, I love me some big cats and big waves.
But the idea of spending 12 hours on a flight to the Dark Continent only to find myself thrown head long into a place known mostly for kidnappings and con artists wasn’t real high on my bucket list–probably because it didn’t fill me with a sense of wonderment and joy.
Still, when a client requests a business trip around a Social Media Week conference presentation, I can’t help but comply. What can I say? I’m just that kind of girl.
This was the first year Lagos had hosted Social Media Week in its five-year history (the first time it had come to the African continent in fact), and it was on the heels of my SoCon13 presentation on The Art of the Hashtag. So, I filled my prescription for anti malaria meds, got my yellow fever vaccine and boarded a truly horrible African airline, which shall remain nameless–destination Lagos.
Besides which airline never to fly again, I also managed to learn a few things about the financial capital of Nigeria–a truly bustling and captivating city:
1. A plague on both your houses. Bring your patience, and leave plenty of time for in country travel because traffic in Lagos makes even the worst Atlanta gridlock look like a leisurely Sunday drive. It may cause heart palpitations but, for those willing to take a peek out the car window, there are lots of interesting things to see–like pushy highway vendors standing between lanes waving as you whiz past, taxi vans overloaded with 24 passengers hanging out the door like circus performers, and scooters (some of which are laden with four passengers and numerous large bags) flitting about like a one million strong flock of songbirds.
Other noteworthy sites included:
- Kids playing pickup soccer games in dirt fields with old tires for goals
- An MTV Cribs style mansion directly across the water from a shanty town built on stilts
- Women in traditional garb walking next to business men in London style bespoke suits
- A state policeman swinging an AK-47 around like a paintball rifle in a hotel valet line
- A heavily armed bomb squad unit on the bridge into Victoria Island
- The biggest, shiniest Porsche dealership I’ve ever seen
2. Hot and bothered. The power goes out…a lot. Rolling blackouts seem to be a common (and for the most part temporary) occurrence in Lagos, so be sure you’re staying somewhere with a generator or you’ll regularly find yourself hot and in the dark. And believe me when I tell you, there’s nothing fun about giving a conference presentation on social media with no technology while sweating into a puddle on the floor or showering in your 4-star hotel and being pitched into complete and utter darkness while covered in soap and shampoo. At least the hotel generator ensures the locks stay that way while waiting for the power to return.
3. Barefoot on the beach. Speaking of heat, do yourself a favor and stay on one of the islands (I stayed on Victoria Island at the Four Points Sheraton). It’s where most foreigners stay while in country, so it’s where the nicer hotels are (you know, the ones with generators and a mini United Nations congregating in the lobby). Plus, the breeze off the water makes the hot temps bearable and keeps the mosquitos at bay. Just be sure you don’t go barefoot on the nearby beaches because I have it on good authority there’s more garbage on them than there is on Daytona Beach after Bike Week. And who wants to get stitches on a trip abroad.
4. Count backward from 10. When you tire of the hotel lobby, a trip to Lekki Market for souvenirs may sound appealing. Just be sure to recite your meditative chants on the car ride there (if you can focus in the Lagos traffic) because you may think your trips to markets elsewhere have prepared you to navigate this one but, trust me, they haven’t. Between the hoards of relentless merchants, the claustrophobic spaces and the heat, you’re going to need all the Zen you can muster. It may also be helpful to learn the phrase, “Just because I’m [insert nationality here], doesn’t mean I’m growing a money tree in my yard at home” in Yoruba.
5. Poultry: The universal language. It seems like everywhere I go on my travels there are chickens running loose in the streets. On the way to Lekki Market, I learned that, in Lagos, the chickens have company–in the form of horses and goats. While the chickens and goats aren’t necessarily big enough to cause any problems, the free range horses can, and do, occasionally stop traffic. Please refer here to my earlier advice on patience and meditation because horses, in certain Lagos circles, are culturally revered and you can get your ass kicked but good for disrespecting them (read: moving them from your path to clear traffic).
And, I even learned something about myself:
6. Is my left eye twitching? What’s harder to kick than heroin? Technology, that’s what. With some serious connectivity issues in Lagos, it’s nearly impossible to access the Internet on your mobile device outside your 4 star hotel. While I may not be riding the white horse, it appears I do have a pretty debilitating social media addiction. And, when you suffer this modern day malady, there’s nothing like three days with a data-less iPhone to have your hands shaking and your left eye twitching like you’ve just hit the bottom of your last dime bag. Insult to injury? I actually paid my wireless carrier $30 for the honor of accessing the Edge network internationally.
All kidding aside…
The Nigerian people are some of the warmest, friendliest people I’ve ever met. In fact, it took some getting used to for this jaded American to make eye contact and gracefully return the genuine salutations of everyone I passed each day. The reputation Nigeria has in the rest of the world is unwarranted and unfair. This isn’t the kingdom of Spam-a-Lot, and there are no princes just waiting to con you out of your life savings. In fact, there’s big business here underpinned by a rich culture that, while suffering a huge class disparity, manages to keep an uneasy balance between tradition and modernity while staying optimistic about the future. Cheers to that!
If you’d like to see the slides from my Social Media Week presentation, you can access Online Marketing for Smart Entrepreneurs on SlideShare. A sincere thanks to the HotSauce team for inviting me to speak, showing me the town and making me feel right at home.