Flying over Nigeria's gas flares

Location Curiously carpeted bedroom, Port Harcourt, Niger Delta | Mood Nervous tension | Date 10 April 2006
Author (full name): 
Franny Armstrong
Curiously carpeted bedroom, Port Harcourt, Niger Delta
Nervous tension
Shouting. Distorted TVs. Generators. All on 11.
Mouth ulcers (Franny) and all-over skin rash (Lizzie) from malaria tablets
10 April 2006
Current crisis: 
Don't seem to be able to wake up, what with jet lag and heat and fear
Current silver lining: 
Got through immigration with all gear. Now thinking we should have risked bringing the tripod.

Had a last-minute first taste of Nigeria at the visa office yesterday, where all paperwork is stamped with "this form is not for sale" and the visa man tried to sort a quick business deal - cash upfront - between us and his real or imaginary clubbing pals. (Our cover story being that we're on a mission to bring Nigerian house music to the UK, for our friend's (real) record label.)

Flying over the gas flares into the Niger Delta 18 hours later utterly convinced me that we're entering the heart of Crude - and that it was well worth the risk to come here. Besides, I'm not sure about how risky it really is. Smokers give themselves a 50/50 chance of death, people who drive for a couple of hours every day are definitely dicing. So seems perfectly logical to me to take a relatively large, but managed, risk, for a short time, for something I really believe in.

Having said that, the transport here is not inspiring great confidence. We rolled up at 3 for the 4pm local flight, were told that it was going at 3 instead, handed over enormous wodge of cash, guy on desk radioed to pilot to hang on, we ran over tarmac with baggage boy proposing marriage, another plane taxied right by, blowback knocked everyone off their feet straight towards propeller of another randomly taxiing plane, finally ran up steps to be handed first cup of Nigerian-style tea with condensed milk which we split as the plane took off five minutes later.

We'd booked a room in what we thought was a guest house, but now turns out to be a conflict resolution charity. So militants, government officials, kidnappers, researchers and journalists are constantly passing through, giving each other dirty looks and taking advantage of the clean drinking water. Between them they've quickly brought us up to speed on all the key phrases: "kill and go" - the police, "shop and go" - politicians, "chopping life" - living life to the full, "the hunger's coming at me" - I'm hungry, "Never Expect Power Again" - the state electricity provider, NEPA.

Lizzie's insect bitesFranny's ulcerFranny's ulcer & Lizzie's insect bites