Last week I attended the ICT and Civic Engagement in Nigeria: the 2011 Election and Beyond workshop in Abuja. Now you might be asking, “What the heck do you know about Electoral Organizing?” Well to be honest, absolutely nothing. I didn’t even attend any part of the workshop. But, Adam worked on Electoral Organizing/Civic Engagement for many years in California so they asked him to come and speak. And I went because they gave him a free room at the Sheraton.
But the main reason I am writing this blog is because international conferences are some of the weirdest/funnest/painfully awkward experiences you will ever have and this trip was no exception.
For the majority of the trip, I worked in the lobby on revising some of the papers that I have written lately. But by working in the lobby, I got to see a bunch of people that I have meet in the past like Ethan Zuckerman, Michael Best, and Colin McClay who were all running the Election Meeting. I also ran into a friend named Tunji that I met with Adam about a year ago. We ate fish and drank a lot of beer together and had an amazing night so it was fun to see him again. Ok now on to the good stuff!
Night 1: The first night we were in Abuja we went to a birthday party. It was the birthday of a woman Adam worked with years ago, who just so happened to be in Abuja at that time, and invited everyone out to celebrate at a restaurant/bar/night club called Blake. So every night at Blake is basically like a talent show. There are multiple performers who each get a chance to dance or do an act and then they go around the tables and ask for tips. The first guy up twirls some serving plates on his hands, then balances a table on his nose, then does the splits. Pretty impressive. The second guys do a dance which includes lots of butt shaking and belly rolling. The third group is 3 guys, one dressed like a pregnant women. In the dance, “she” gives birth, they parade the baby around the dance floor, then go into some really good dance routine, then the “girl” somehow wraps her legs around one of the guys and is upside down. He proceeds to pull each of “her” 6 pairs of underwear up over “her” butt until “she” moons the crowd. [this is what the movie below is showing] Doesn’t really sound that funny, but let me tell you, it was hysterical. And the fact that all the 75 other Nigerian’s at Blake were cracking up, made it so much better. The last act were 2 little boys that did a song about one of them singing the proper way and the other singing the “naija” way. It was cute but I think if I could understand the lyrics it would have been funnier cause a lot of people were laughing for that act too.
But the weirdest part of the night was when the people came to ask for tips, they would get really close to you and make a weird face and just hold it….right in front of you….for like a full minute. It was really weird/uncomfortable.
After the performances, a band came up and played. The woman singing was really fantastic and some of the white people got up and danced with her. The birthday girl got up on stage and danced with the “dancers” too. It was pretty funny.
Oh also, Adam and I have been in communication with a MD/MBA student at Duke, Lanre, who is from Nigeria and doing a health project here right now. Some guy comes up to Adam and gives him a huge hug. The look on Adam’s face was priceless cause I could tell he had no idea who this random person was. So they finish hugging and Adam goes, “Hey, so who are you?” (classic) and it turned out to be Lanre! He knew what Adam looked liked cause of his Skype picture. But small world.
Night 2: The second night I was sick. So I stayed in. The End.
Night 3: The third night Adam and I went out with Lanre to this place called Ketchup for chicken shawarmas and beer. So Abuja has a little over 1 million people living there and probably a thousand or so “nice” restaurants. What are the chances you would run into the 1 person in the world you don’t want to see. Pretty high apparently cause Adam and I ran into someone we used to know that I for one, would be happy to never see again. I hate the irony of life sometimes. But anyways, after that awkward moment, we found Lanre and 2 of his friends and ended up having a great talk. One of the ways I base how much I like people is by how much they make fun of me. (I don’t know why really) But these guys were hysterical and ragged on me all night so it was definitely fun. And the shawarmas were the best I have had in Nigeria yet. We hung out with them until about midnight and then went back to the hotel, thinking we were just going to go to sleep. Of course, that was not the case.
As we walked by the bar, we saw the whole gang of people that ran the conference and went over to say hi. Guess what, someone bought some of the rum that Adam and I had made the mistake of purchasing in Kano. It is Nigerian made, and N600. The way Adam describes drinking it is that “It actually feels like I am drinking poison right now”. Next thing I know, everyone is in the bar dancing, some on stage, some singing karaoke (even though it wasn’t karaoke night) and having a blast. After that we headed back outside and that’s when things started getting weird.
First off, I want to say something to all Organizations/Foundations/Advocate Groups. STOP USING HOTELS THAT ALLOW PROSTITUTION! There is no need to use those hotels! You host a conference on human rights or elections or HIV/AIDS or some other really worthy cause and yet you pay a hotel TONS of money only for them to not only allow, but in most cases promote, prostitution! And not only Prostitution, but I know some of those girls were underage too. It’s just so hypocritical! And just so everyone knows, The Sheraton in Abuja promotes prostitution. Think about that next time you decide to do business with them.
So anyways, we are sitting outside and the girl who was singer in the bar came out to join us after her shift. She was incredibly nice and was so excited when Adam and I started telling her all the Hausa words we know. As the night goes on, I watch as multiple men leave the bar with a girl and head up to their rooms. All kinds of men. White men, Lebanese men, Nigerian men. All of them. And as more men leave, more prostitutes are left in the bar looking to make some money. So its about 2 AM and a girl comes outside and starts talking to us. She is really interested in one of the guys there and at one point trys to kiss him. He immediately pushes her away. But then another guy who was there stands up and starts calling her all kinds of horrible names. Ok, I agree, she was being too aggressive and if it was me, I would have pushed her away too. But to call her really rude names because she was getting worried that she wasn’t going to make any money that night and probably wasn’t going to get to eat the next day unless she got a guy to have sex with her? Really? Is that necessary?
I can’t even begin to tell you how upset this guy made. He is a young man working on elections in “developing” countries and he is that uncompassionate of a person? People really need to think twice about who they hire for jobs like that. Ok, and so then he goes on to just make really awkward comments about “ladies of the night” and “johns”. But finishing up, this guy was a total douche bag.
After this guy finishes calling the girl names, she of course gets upset because … who wouldn’t. So Adam and I call her over to come sit with us. I don’t care who you are or what you do to make money to feed yourself, you deserve to be treated like a human being and given some respect. We start talking and she tells me how much it hurts her feelings when men treat her that way. That she has to work at the Sheraton in order to make money. And then she tells me how much money she makes per sexual encounter. I knew it was going to be low, but I didn’t realize how low exactly. She gets paid N1,000 per night, N1,200 if she is lucky. That is about $8! The average Nigerian gets paid $100 per month, so that means she has to have sex with approximately 12 guys per month. 12 gross, sleazy, guys who probably come to the Sheraton on business and use prostitutes to cheat on their wives back home. I realize that is a generalization but I highly doubt its that far from the truth.
Ok. Enough of me ranting about that. But it really bothered/bothers me and I thought you might like to know.
Night 4: The last night we were in Abuja was probably the best night. Over the course of the week, we met a few others that were working on EMRs/Health Infrastructure in Nigeria. We decided to all get together for dinner and talk about collaboration and making sure that our different projects can “talk” to each other. One of the women there was from the Millennium Villages Project which is scaling up their implementations from 3 villages in Nigeria to 113. They are using OpenMRS but haven’t done an implementation yet so hopefully we can work with them on their sites.
Overall, the trip to Abuja was interesting but it is nice to be back in Kano again. Lots of stuff is happening right now and I might have some really good news by the end of the week. Wish me luck with meetings this week and I will keep you updated as things progress!