Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lagos Business

Dec. 15
Lagos Business

First of all, I want to say how great it is to get comments on the blog – it’s really appreciated so please keep the feedback coming.

This week started off a little bumpy, but the filming has gone very well. We’re just about done shooting where the cars are remodeled, fixed up, and painted and will now be concentrating on where these cars are sold. Key interviews are in the bag with some of the leading salesmen, so we’ll now follow them around documenting their day-to-day work routines and interactions with customers. Believe me, doing business of any kind in Lagos is a highly entertaining event.

Yesterday we stopped by where the banana ladies sell their fruits and it was unbelievable: woman shoving huge bunches of bananas into our car, Adis and Paulinus (his cousin) shouting prices back at them, the women demanding more while trying to out-muscle the others: from my backseat vantage point it was a furious blur of elbows and bananas flying all around.

Today, Adis did some business with an import/export clearing agent. Whenever it came around to settling on a price for services the clearing agent would tell another story. This went on for over an hour. I was videotaping this and began to see that the business deal (and the agreed upon pricing for services) depended heavily upon the relationship Adis and the clearing agent could create by sharing stories and discussing business in a jovial, but not necessarily, roundabout way.

Even buying art can be a difficult matter, especially when you arrange to meet an esteemed and successful Nigerian artist at his house-studio, make it past the guard and gate and are lead upstairs to his studio to peruse his works only to discover that he’s NOT actually the artist you thought you were meeting. Surely, this gentleman is very talented and established, but somehow Adis mismatched the paintings he’d seen in a gallery with this gentleman’s name. Adis coolly raised the question, “So, how about all of the pieces showing human figures with enormous eyes?” “Oh,” the artist replied, “that would be my contemporary, not me.” Even though he wasn’t the man we thought we were going to see, he was courteous and patient with us as we checked out his colorful canvases.

Colorful would not be the word I’d use to describe our attempt to buy gasoline this evening. The nightmare of trying to get gas went from sheer frustration into a humorous and refreshing ordeal. We had waited nearly an hour along a smoggy and noisy highway in a line that was at least forty cars deep when the management decided they wanted to go home and began to close up the station. Adis, prince of this region, would have none of this. He asked me to get into the driver’s seat (yikes!) while he meandered over to speak with the manager. After some time Adis was able to convince the manager that he should let in the first four cars waiting in line to get gasoline (ours being number two). Adis got gas while I purchased some beers from their market (a convenient, one-stop purchase rarely available in Massachusetts).

And then there was lunch today, which came rather late. All I had until then was nothing but bananas, bananas, bananas. But once it arrived it was good: spicy rice, beans with a mystery (but in a good way) red sauce, and plantains. You see, I was bargain shopping for lunch and this was quite surprising to the people at the food-chain cafeteria, Mama Cass, where we were eating. Nigerians are not accustomed to seeing a white man be frugal with his money. (The white people here work for international oil companies or banks. Sure, there’s the odd medical worker or educator, but even they are getting paid to be here.) So, I got some odd looks as I ordered this bargain meal and more still when I scanned my receipt to see how much each item was priced at. As we sat down to eat Adis put it succinctly: “Kevin, you are by far the poorest white man in all of Nigeria.”


  1. thanks for sharing your observations, kevin! glad to hear that you are able to get the project done in a world where time holds another meaning...enjoy the sun, we're all iced up! --Monica

  2. Great story! Can't wait to see the footage. Great possibilities in terms of teaching, etc. Bring back some art if you can (no bananas, ha!). Can't wait to hear the next installment.