Travelogue: From Your City With Love

A travelogue about trips to cities. And writing with a bird’s eye view of the city and about the cities’ uniqueness.

A LA JAMES BOND: FROM PORT HARCOURT WITH MUCH LOVE.
BY
DOLAPO AINA
Port Harcourt- the city oozing with the oil money;
No wonder, the posse in the Presidency,
Isn’t finding unseating the Governor easy.

On Sunday, the 6th of October, I had reason to travel to Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State. Hopping on a plane for a 45minute or 60mintue flight would have been a no-brainer. But when you are in Nigeria, you just have to be careful, not when three days earlier, a plane crashed and the aviation minister said “it is an act of God”. Phobia for local flights is my only phobia; but it seems some ArikAir officials at an aviation exhibition held in October were able to allay my fears and convince me about their brand new planes.

One of the advantages of comfortable road travels is that you get to view the breathtaking greenery of Nigeria; you get to see the landscapes of several Western and Eastern states. You get to stop over at the popular Benin stop-over, which I had first encountered in 2006. After about 10 hours, I arrived in Port Harcourt courtesy of ABC Transport. Port Harcourt at night is simply amazing (maybe due to the location I stayed.) Any amiable traveller of any corporate profession worth his/her salt and last penny would know that the best and easiest way to get to know and get a feel of a new city is by cementing acquaintances with a literate taxi driver and also an illiterate taxi driver (both come in handy.) Also, seated by the driver portrays and exudes simplicity and camaraderie rather than aloofness, when seated at the back.

While I was sharpening my already sharpened relationology skills espoused by the Brit Matt Bird by discussing with the driver; I sighted an edifice and I became mute, dumb and stupefied (include your own vocabulary, you won’t be wrong). I saw the prestigious and luxurious Hotel Presidential (a hotel as old as the city) in all her glory. I have seen and been to hotels in Lagos but aside Intercontinental Hotel’s edifice and especially Radisson Blu’s nocturnal beauty, I doubt if anything comes close to what I saw. If you haven’t been to Port Harcourt and haven’t seen this hotel’s beauty at night, well, in simple non-Wole Soyinka or rather in non-Senator Patrick English, you would think you were in Abu Dhabi or Macau. Later on, I was informed that I should have seen Le Meridian Hotel for more bouts of dumbfoundedness. The ubiquitousness of the oil money was evident at night (mind you this was past 8pm); not also forgetting the iniquitousness(a theme for another article). I began to understand why a small city with stupendous oil money is giving the Presidency a tough stance. The oil money is right in your face; you can’t miss it.

Wide awake at past 2am and witnessing the following day’s sunrise was amazing. If the oil money was visible at night; it was blinding during the day. A visitor to this city would confess that this city is benefitting from her oil resources; unlike other neighbouring oil states. As an observer who looks for patterns and connects the dots, several things were noticed about this beautiful city.

Foremost would be that this city is a land filled with opportunities for everyone. If you aren’t certain of this statement, in simple English, this city is not a land of ethnic bias, when it pertains to opportunities. Kindly explain, how a Yoruba man from Ondo State would gladly tell you that he has been driving taxi in Port Harcourt since 1982 and his job has educated his children. Kindly explain how Yoruba men are the bosses (chairmen) of some motor parks. Kindly explain, how you would hear the Yoruba, Ibibio, Ibo and Hausa languages been spoken on the exclusive residential streets and not only in the markets?

The little Lagos where the oil money is right in your face. You can’t miss it. This is another Lagos where everything is the same. Even the CD hawkers actually arrange their wares the same way as their Lagos colleagues. And the hawkers are from Ebonyi State; likewise as their Lagos counterparts. This is a city where the angry sun reminds one of Lagos and Yobe States. A city where, one can’t but notice and wonder why the men don’t dress as fabulous as the ladies on a Monday of all working days. The male fashion GQ Magazine should be handed to all working-class men in this city. This is a city where it seems the ladies have a much better dress sense than the men on a Monday morning. And what about the traffic? The traffic in this city is loco and would give Lagos, a hard run for her money.

I observed that this city appears to have married and single ladies who don’t carry; like hand-bags, lugubrious faces and have the simplest of courtesies to utter pleasantries before you do. A rarity in Lagos, where every upwardly mobile young professional needlessly carves out his/her own territory on a first meeting; showing off or competing for social and professional relevance; which simply doesn’t add a medal; less talk of a feather to the individual’s relevance in the national or global scheme of things.

I boarded taxis and I realised that this city is where taxi drivers know you are from Lagos or Abuja. This is so because; unconsciously Lagosians and Abujians, board taxis and instinctively; their fingers search for the seat belts. The seat belt gives you away. Thank you LASTMA. This is a city where I noticed that majority of the buildings in Port Harcourt are just a storey-building. I was informed that the indigenes were very conservative and were comfortable with this type of structures until recently. In the past, the Yorubas and Ibos were known to build above one storey buildings. This is a city where majority of the indigenes aren’t interested in driving a taxi or the taxi business. The Yorubas, Ibos and Hausas are in charge of this transport sector at least in Port Harcourt. Without doubt, there seems to be no segregation in this city.

This is a city where the “na we oil” mentality (loosely meaning “we own the oil resources”) had to be discarded with, when majority of the indigenes realised that lack of education could only get them the “all brawns” jobs in multi-national oil corporations while educated non-indigenes got the “all brains” white-collar jobs in the same multi national oil corporations. A city where I found that several exclusive clubs and several churches were firmly planted on the same streets (apparently jostling for the attention of the same souls-you can’t miss the iniquitousness.) A city where the semi-retired militants wait to pick up their sixty thousand Naira every month. A city where I was informed that the oil bunkering merchants and foot-soldiers earn a hard day’s pay (in hard foreign currencies) and squander everything at a sitting in night clubs. It seems like the land for all to make el dinero-the money. A city where when money talks; anything or rather everything walks; crawls or at least changes position

I decided to have a feel of the public transport and so, I boarded some commercial buses. I observed that everyone seems to have a joke to crack including bus drivers. One in particular took a jibe at a passerby and the lady responded with an even funnier jibe without any abuses flying about. Not so in Lagos. This city seems to have honest people, I left an item in a taxi and I reluctantly called the driver, who found it and returned it. This is a city that really wants to reclaim her past reputation as a safe city devoid of kidnapping.

One of my first impressions of this city is that people love to party. And it was collaborated by one of the taxi drivers. Simply put, Port Harcourt is a city where it would appear everyday is a Friday night and the next day, wary-eyed party goers all head back to work. A city where it is evident a multitude of opportunities abound with a minute number of people having varied options; unlike Lagos, where a multitude of people are chasing limited opportunities. A city where high school friends would tell you opportunities abound aplenty. If this is born out of the fact that they want one to stay; might take a while to figure out.

Listening to Nigeria Info FM’s Port Harcourt radio station, I couldn’t fail to notice that, this city has citizens who are more politically aware and vociferous than Lagosians about their political views. No wonder why Rivers State has been and still is; a major player during past (pre-independence) and future elections of any president in Nigeria. But one sight which I seem to see on news items about developing nations and during my limited road travels, staying in perhaps the poorest village in East Nigeria (Agbabor Isu in Onicha Local Government Area, Ebonyi State); during my national service for 9-10months (which gave me a first-hand and hands-on understanding of how rural communities work and their way of thinking) and my trip to Port Harcourt is that women are the real farmers in developing countries.

Women were the ones with hoes and cutlasses on bicycles heading to the farms. So, I ask, who are the real farmers, men or women? Because even in Port Harcourt, it is the women. The food we men consume with gusto and relish are cultivated and harvested by the women. What do the laidback men in most Nigerian, African and perhaps developing nations’ villages do? Chew kolanuts and play draft or Boardgame to boredom. But most importantly, consume/drink “fresh palmy” ( palm wine) to stupendous stupor!

Be that as it may, this is a city anyone would love to return to. People seem to be oozing hospitality even the silverspoon-born caballeros, senoras and senoritas (a rarity in Lagos?). This is a city where everything makes money. A city to visit. This city just won another regular visitor. The Parisians would say “see Paris and die”. In Niger-Delta pidgin English I say “shoo; see Port Harcourt; see groove, see levels”. Though, I’m not Ian Fleming’s James Bond; but like one of the movie titles of the James Bond franchise, truly this was, “from Port Harcourt with much love” as the Spanish title of this article translates into.

Dolapo Aina,
Lagos, Nigeria. .
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