Sunday 4 November 2007

My blonde narration - Stockholm

No freeze yet

It is strange that my first visit to Scandinavia was work-related and definitely not at a time of my choosing. I remember when I was about to be sent to Norway in January, I had visions of myself in a cryogenic experiment where defrosting me back to resuscitation would have taken years.

For someone who has spent more than half his life in temperate Europe, you should have heard my shrill pleadings that I am from the Tropics, I prevailed and really, I told my manager, if I was not in Sweden by the end of October, it would be Summer before I embark on an Arctic journey.

That is the impression you get about Scandinavia, extreme and on the edge of a crevice, one false step and you are in the bottomless oblivion of the coldest darkest place only to be recovered like poor Tutankhamen some 3,000 years in the future.

Anyway, it was not all that bad really, I have decided, part of my 2008 itinerary would be Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, though apart from the land that makes up Denmark excluding Greenland, the other 3 countries are really large expanses of land, one could be deluded into thinking the world ends at the northern reaches of the Netherlands beyond which – dragons be there.

Famous Swedes

As I came through Arlanda airport in Stockholm, the walls were covered with pictures of famous Swedes and you suddenly realise you do have to be informed of who is really of Swedish descent beyond Brigit Nilson, Bjorn Borg, Annika Sorenstam, Sven Goran Eriksson and ABBA.

There was a bit of disorder at the taxi ranks where on the left we had the licensed hackneys and the right had the suspect hailers, not that I saw the difference between the taxis, but on the advice of another traveler, I kept to the left.

I was prepared for Sweden, I had informed a Nigerian blogger (Adeola) living in Stockholm that I was visiting for a night and wondered if he would be free and available, gladly he obliged – he runs the Thy Glory O Nigeria blog space.

Hospitable receptions

I got to the office just before noon, there was a temporary scare when the first tow hosts I mentioned at reception were not available, I saw the face of the receptionist go white and red as I phoned Amsterdam to remonstrate that I had just travelled 800 miles into tundra and my hosts were absence without leave – that was remedied a few minutes later.

We got straight into the business of the day and as it got to 14:00hrs, I had to ask if the Swedes ever had lunch, somehow, they assumed I would have had grass-based baked dough with filling enough to make you vomit your feet from inside out as my lunch – I would not however pass judgment on the hospitality of Sweden, the folk were pleasant enough.

It was dark by 16:00hrs or thereabouts and my hotel was supposed to be down the road and as the day closed, I found myself walking through a tunnel and down a dark and lonely road wondering how I ended up down this path in the middle of nowhere, but the company I work for scrimps and scrapes in the most miserly fashion, there are times I have had to vehemently force them up-market to an acceptable standard.

Apparently, a friend of Adeola works at the hotel which is Scandinavian staple and my room had been upgraded, well, it was apparently – I travel too much to be appreciative of subtleties like this – I apologise.

Then I found I could get a voucher for get online for free only to find that I had to go down to reception to get the voucher – and this a 4-star hotel – I think NOT!

Other hotels in the group I have been to in other countries South have a notice at reception announcing this kind of offer such that one does not have to halt from the far-end of the top-most floor for a voucher that is probably best paid for than suffer the fuss acquiring an entitlement – better still, the reception should ask guests if they would require the service at check-in, just as some ask if guests would take breakfast or use the health facilities.

The room was comfortable and there was at least one English news channel, so, I was fine with that.

Stockholm in the dark

Adeola and Louise the lady would works at the hotel arrived about 20:00 and we decided to go into Stockholm to see some sights and have a meal. Adeola’s knowledge of the roads was exemplary, well, enough to make a comedy sketch titled – “Right here, left there and just straight on” – but for Louise, who knows, I might have had opportunity to plant three flags at the North Pole – Nigerian, British and Dutch.

Not to forget, my stomach was still big trouble for me, there were times I could not keep a poker-face for the pain I was suffering but I ventured on something Swedish at a restaurant in town.

The dish was diced beef, diced potatoes and onions, then a smallish ramekin of egg-yolk – just the kicker to make you see everything again, I said – that was put at arms-length to the meal.

It did however reinforce the generalisation I have held that the further north you go from the Mediterranean the less the colour in the national foods on offer; more so, I was thinking I would be served elk – anyway, considering how cold it gets up North one wonders if chickens have to be shorn of their feathers in the spring like sheep – the crazy thoughts one has about these places.

It was a beautiful clam night and we visited the old palace and even witnessed the changing of the guard, those uniforms most have internal thermal regulation – the things we do for king and country.

When I returned to the hotel, I was glad I did not rely on my hosts to have a social dimension to their abilities which would have been different if I had visited France or Spain – maybe human warmth does depend on nominal regional weather patterns.

The Entrapment of a nation

Adeola has written a book about Nigeria and there is no doubt that he is a believer that the country not only has potential, but there are possibilities that could be exploited in these times.

I need to take more time to read it through, maybe when I am in Barcelona next week, but as I read the first few pages, it clearly exemplified the sad case of a country with great potential and people but a political situation that fails to inspire and lead towards achieving the greatness usually ascribed to Nigeria.

This is no apologia and it can be mistakenly read as a polemic by those who cannot objectively accept the facts and seek solutions – indeed, as a Nigerian, it is probably more comfortable to go aggressively onto the defensive even when our position is patently indefensible.

The Entrapment of a Nation shows how poor governance, rotten representation, a seemingly national mindset in the quest for money at all costs without commendable virtue and complacency with a corrupt political order keeps Nigeria entrapped in low achievement despite our vast resources – but optimism, hope and faith abounds.

Adeola seeks the glory of the great nation of Nigeria, he represents a growing community of smart young Nigerians whose expectations of the country would no doubt lift that country out of its quagmire a lot earlier than many of us sceptics have predicted or surmised – they seek a common good around which we can rally for making Nigeria great for all the good reasons in the world.

My copy is signed by the author.

How was I to know that my hotel was on the shores of a picturesque lake? My realisation at breakfast which was rushed so that I could start the day early – Scandinavia needs another visit and this would be 2008 – Deo volente.

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