Wednesday 2 January 2019

Thought Picnic: My perception made me choose South Africa

Probably the blog I wanted to write
When I began to write the blog about the 28 years since I last left Nigeria, I had another blog in mind, but as blogs go in my world, the narrative takes on a life of its own as each idea and construct begins to find attribute and reference to other ideas, events or people, by which time I have digressed to the point of writing an entirely different story.
Even as I have a concept I want to write about here, I am beginning to see deviations from the main topic, yet, I would rather let a blog take a freeform than shoehorning it into the strictures of an academic paper, which it is not.
Indeed, I like South Africa
I have just returned to Johannesburg from spending the New Year in Cape Town. It was my intention to visit South Africa for about 3 months, but a number of events concerning my health meant I could not plan so far ahead due to restrictions and advice regarding my medication and a procedure I had in November.
I got quite perturbed about the thoughts of South Africa to the point of self-flagellation, I was already regretting that I had let myself down in realising what had become an earnest desire. Then, whilst I was yet in Germany on a business trip, just 11 days to when I had planned to travel, I made the decision, booked my flights and hotel accommodation, and that was done.
Normally, I would have gone to Gran Canaria for some winter sun, though the last time I had winter warmth and sunshine was when I was out in India in 2011. I spent the Christmas Day visiting the Taj Mahal for the second time and what an experience it was.
No fuss consular services
The choice of South Africa was simple for me, I had been twice before, three years ago and I had a general idea of how to get around. When I travel, holding a British passport confers many privileges to certain countries, I do not have to apply for a visa, fill in odious forms and join incessant queues at consulates or embassies to visit the country, time is precious.
My visit to India for a month-long course was fraught with all sorts of officialdom and difficulty, I had to visit the visa office thrice, paid the higher price because my parents were Nigerian, even though I had lived 21 years without break in Europe, but I was in the Netherlands. Basically, I was not being treated as a European once I was resident outside my home country.
If I were in the UK, the visa would have been issued within 2 days, but living in the Netherlands could have my passport with the Indian visa processors any time from 5 days to 8 weeks. I was beside myself in anxious contemplation, unsure of what would be the case, it was eventually issued within 5 days.
Colonial hangovers that endure
India like Nigeria has a colonial carry-over of an unwieldy civil service, the sector is a leviathan, untamed, unreformed and completely inscrutable. Every requirement from the government institution is laden with red tape and unnecessary paperwork that exacerbates inefficiencies and inconveniences. The system serves prebendalism, neopatrimonialism, corruption, graft and malfeasance with no consequence or recourse for redress.
Though I would like for the need to visit countries to be hassle-free, if not visa-free, I appreciate that the UK and Europe do not necessarily grant the privileges to many of the countries I desire to have easy access to.
I remember when leaving Nigeria, my passport was seized by a heavily pregnant lady for no reason than to attempt to extort money from me. I cannot say I was street-wise enough to appreciate what she required of me as she walked away with my passport with probably the view of distressing me until I came to the kind of senses, she expected me to have.
Thankfully, there was a friend with me who knew how to work the system, and some 30 minutes later I was reunited with my passport after I believe a bribe had been extracted from my friend.
People doing their jobs
When I travel, I have expectations and requirements, I hate the fuss, I like officials to be honest, diligent and forthright, doing their jobs as opposed to doing their bellies and that is why I carefully choose where I want to visit and sadly Nigeria has not appeared on my itinerary because I probably would have cause to turn back at the airport and board a plane back to my home in the UK.
When visiting South Africa, I am not accosted by touts or dealers, there is usually someone to pick me up from the airport to my hotel. No one is trying to inveigle their way into my confidences and burden me with life stories that are no concern of mine.
For good service, I would tip generously and be on my way without getting badgered.
Nigeria is not South Africa
Despite the concerns about xenophobia that have arisen in recent times in South Africa, I have carefully chosen where to stay. In Johannesburg and in Cape Town, these places are conveniently exclusive and offer good quality safety. I am smart enough not to venture out to strange places without escorts and I would use the Gautrain in Gauteng for the major stations and to the airport. Uber always comes to the rescue, to take you anywhere and extricate you from strange places.
I am not of the opinion that Nigeria works that way, you read too much of egregious abuse by officials ready to take advantage of you at every turn from when you access the consular services abroad, through passport control, the customs and the journey to your overpriced hotel which is priced for access rather than for quality.
There is no doubt I have lived too long in Europe to begin the consider the prospect of inconveniences, especially with travel. Yet, I doubt Nigeria would be fixed enough to suit the standard of customer service I have grown accustomed to for almost 30 years.
Nigeria really is not South Africa
Furthermore, it goes without dispute that South Africa on the surface is a more emancipated and organised society, the institutions appear to work, the checks and balances are robust and when tested, they endure. I have my rights, the freedom of will, of beliefs and the kinds of engagement I choose, are protected.
In the months that I was about to leave Nigeria, I was being blackmailed, I refused to pay up and told the blackmailer to do his worst. I guess him having to explain how he came upon the information he planned to use against me kept him guarded. Unusually, I was also ready to have him rumbled if he attempted to besmirch my name. I probably would not have been able to sustain this for a long time, but it worked then.
There are other anxieties that bother me about Nigeria, it comes with a sense of foreboding like that feeling I used to had when I saw our house from the top of our street. A sickening and debilitating gut feeling, almost paralysing in function. I just faced it when it would have been more comforting to flee. I have promised myself, I would never put myself in a situation that appeared to overwhelm my rationality out of purpose, duty, commission or omission.
Yet, on any planned visit to Nigeria, I guess one would have to dare to be a Daniel and just do it. For since my father got on Facebook, each publication of my travel exploits has had him comment asking when I would include Nigeria in my itinerary. If only Nigeria were another place, it just is not and that, I am sorry, is a shame. Perceptions matter always, it would take a lot to change my perception that visiting Nigeria is just as easy as planning to visit South Africa.
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