As part of SpanFest 2013:
Security is Expensive
Most western governments and people will tell you not to use local taxi transportation nor to walk around the city (especially at night), due to a high risk of kidnapping. This results in shuttling back and forth between one secure location and another. These high security zones are not cheap and rival NYC prices and can sometimes be more expensive. At the Eko Hotel & Suites, without sponsorship, a standard one night stay is around $450 per night and the dinner buffet is over $50 per meal, with internet $10 per day. You'll find similar prices at other secure locations so be sure to budget accordingly, or have the necessary partnership(s) in place to reduce these expenses accordingly.
Prepare for the Airport
The Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos can be chaotic. On arrival, we had a minder meet us at the gate. Another assisted us with our luggage and escorted us through crowds to a waiting car. Do not leave any luggage unattended or out of your hands! Targeting of foreign visitors at the airport is commonplace. Ignore anyone who approaches you or offers assistance outside of baggage claim. If someone will be meeting you at the airport, they will most likely meet you at the gate. The departure was equally chaotic. Leave for the airport more than 4 hours before your flight. We faced long line after long line at the airport which took more than 2 hours to get through. Fights also erupted between passangers waiting and passengers cutting the line and between motorists trying to get to the airport. Do not get involved in altercations in any way. The currency exchange is not easily located in the airport! Be sure to exchange any left over Naira before the airport because outside of Nigeria the currency becomes worthless and cannot be exchanged. Also, restrooms are not easily located and the airport is not air conditioned.
Eastern Standard Time vs Nigerian Standard Time
In the East Coast United States, there is a common saying that time equals money; punctuality is paramount. The opposite holds true for Lagos. Tardiness is commonplace: for meetings, arrival of equipment/materials, transportation pickups, etc. During this program, we waited nearly 3 hours for the technical company providing lighting and sound equipment to arrive for a tech-meeting, even though they said they were right around the corner. The final performance/gala began 2.5 hours late due to ticketed attendees arriving late. Do not get upset! The lack of respect for time does not mean a lack of respect for you and getting angry will achieve nothing. Tardiness is just part of the local culture. Instead, be sure to have a local mobile from which you can politely pressure people on the time. Also, try and have a dedicated driver for your program. Otherwise, keep calm and carry on.
Traffic, Traffic, Traffic
Traffic in Lagos is horrible. This is due to the fact that there are only a few thoroughfares that cut across the island to the mainlands The traffic problem will only get worse as new developments in Lagos emerge and no new brides are constructed. Below are the worst times to travel on the road:
Lagos Island to Victoria Island: 9am - 11am
Victoria Island to Lagos Island: 4pm - 6pm
Anywhere: 1pm - 2pm
Be sure to avoid any street food and absolutely do not drink any water from the tap. If possible, use bottled water to brush your teeth as well. Lagos has open air sewers running through the city. As a result some people use the sides of roads as public restrooms. Be sure to bring your malaria prophylaxis , get your yellow fever vaccination, bring Cipro, and wash your hands frequently. Carry around bottled water with you always: Dehydration/heat stroke is a big risk.
Getting the visa to visit Nigeria can be a lengthy process. Budget for an expedited visa, even if you are applying more than 2 weeks in advance and be prepared to visit the consulate (if applying in NYC) multiple times. Even if you are applying for a tourism visa, you will need a letter from a local Nigerian inviting you to come and indicating that they will oversee your visit. If it is a Nigerian organization inviting you, you will need their certificate of incorporation for the application. Start the visa process at least 4 weeks in advance if possible.
Power outages occur multiple times every day and do not last more than 5 minutes - be sure to have two professional event generators if you are planning an event. The local mobile network is very poor - do not plan on having long conversations on the telephone. Visits to the U.S. Consulate require advance notice for access to be provided. Use cash and avoid using ATM or Debit Cards.
Lagos, Nigeria, November, 2011
Emergency Contact Information
When our team was en route to Nigeria, warnings were issued by the State Department regarding the potential of bombings at Western hotels in Abuja, the capital. Our group was headed for Lagos at the other end of the country; but nonetheless, family members could have been alarmed. Fortunately, we have a file of emergency contacts for each of our people and this was the time to send out periodic bulletins to make sure that everyone near and dear was kept apprised of our team's whereabouts and condition (which, fortunately, was perfect.) We also used FB and our blog to post updates (nothing alarming, just a day by day status report) to assure the larger network of friends and family.
Building Bilateral Relationships
Through the bonding that our team did with the founder/director of the Society for the Performing Arts of Nigeria Sarah Boulos (who was pivotal in organizing our programs in Lagos), discussions ensued regarding the bringing of a group of dance teachers from SPAN to New York to participate in the workshops Battery Dance Company was organizing for its annual Downtown Dance Festival. It is almost unbelievable to realize that within less than 1 year, this plan was brought to fruition. BDC assisted with the visas and steeply discounted hotel rooms. Sarah pulled together the funding; and 4 wonderful Nigerians appeared in New York for an intensive series of workshops over the period of two weeks in August, 2012. Unfortunately, several others were not granted visas by the Consulate in Lagos, despite all efforts, pointing to the sometimes seemingly random results of applying for U.S. Visas by foreign nationals.
Battery Dance began its 2011 Africa Tour by first stopping in Lagos, Nigeria and Maseru, Lesotho. In order to visit all four of the African countries part of the tour, the group was split into two smaller teams of three. Robin Cantrell, Sean Scantlebury, and Barry Steele formed one team and traveled to Nigeria and Guinea. Jonathan Hollander, Bafana Matea and Mira Cook comprised the other subgroup and worked in Lesotho and Zambia. Robin, Sean, and Barry stayed and worked around Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa is bifurcated along sectarian lines; Muslims mainly inhabit the northern part of the countries while Christians reside in the south. Unfortunately, these divisions often lead to political instability and civil strife, making Lagos, the former capital and chief city relatively unsafe.
Despite these challenges the group successfully interacted with the locals and admired their dancing abilities. Robin and Sean were faced with the challenges of miscommunications and a lack of adequate rehearsal space, as the Society for the Performing Arts of Nigeria (SPAN), was the only dance studio in Lagos. Robin found her group to be particularly talented and expressive and enjoyed conducting the Dancing to Connect workshops with a group of 13 dancers between the ages of 21 and 32. After Barry rendered the National Arts Theater’s sound system usable, the students conducted a Dancing to Connect performance while Sean and Robin performed 3 duets at the venue. Additionally, a local traditional African group displayed their own piece.
The team benefited greatly from their relationship with Sarah Boulos of SPAN and Segun Lawal. Sarah came to New York in January 2012, to attend several conferences and meet the rest of the company. Her experience with Battery Dance and the DtC workshops encouraged her to pursue further bilateral engagements with Battery Dance. Four DtC participants from Nigeria were also able to travel to New York to take part in the August 2012 Battery Dance Company’s Downtown Dance Festival.