The drive to Ibadan took 3 hours. As we made the transition from citified Lagos to the wide, open stretch of the African hinterland, the buildings, the hawkers, the honking – it all disappeared. The roads, in decent condition, were littered with oil tanker wreckage, and from time to time, small villages could be spotted alongside the highway. Huge, bold-texted billboards passed by – City of David, Fire of Mountain, Redeemer’s University, Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. “Names of prayer cities,” my driver explained. Unfortunately, I missed out on most of the explanation, as I still have not grown the ears for Nigerian English. I heard something about plots of land, Church classes, and mega-events, but I’m still not entirely sure what a ‘prayer city’ is. Any pundits out there care to fill me in?
Traffic was nothing like Lagos, but the occasional bottlenecks were still a marvel. Transport trucks, motorcycles, and filled-to-the-brim passenger vans, they were all there. When movement slowed, the selling began. The products were practical (iced drinks and biscuits), and the merchants scuttled between vehicles to hurry after potential customers. I was spotted a few times – white skin! – but with a short gesticulation of the limb, I waved the sellers on.
The hotel in Ibadan is (to repeat a word that I’ve used in the last two updates) seedy. It’s a cash-only establishment. The manager gave me an oral tour of the hotel. “Gym and pool, free. Internet, over there, 200 Naira for one hour. You see sign? Massage parlor, you pay, eh, whatever you want.” He chuckled. The elevator, the one that works, smells like the rudder of an out-of-season speedboat. My room is comfortable, though, with a built-in radio above the headboard and plenty of soccer on TV.
Today, at 3:30pm, I found myself in a small, two-storied grocery store off the main Ring Road. In Africa, securing permission to record prices has not been a problem so far – I shiver when I think about Russia. This particular establishment, however, would not budge. “I am sorry, but we do not allow it, your economic research,” one of the floor officials said. I was persistent, and so was she. I chose my words carefully. “Listen, I do not know what to do here. My company comes here every 6 months and it was not a problem. I will only be a few minutes. Is there any way we can make this work?”
The last two surveyors have both had problems getting permission, so that part about it not being a problem was a slight stretch. “Go ahead,” the official said. I walked upstairs, and a few minutes later, I was told that I had to give the workers something in return for “helping” me write down the prices. Right. After I was done, we negotiated a bit. At first, one person wanted me to purchase an entire handle of Vodka. After settling on a few small snacks, we all laughed about it, and I made them promise to not harass the next surveyor.
Pringles, a red bull, and some yogurt – my very first bribe.