Santa’s Stopover (in Lagos)

Santa’s Stopover (in Lagos)

That’s not a bad thing, is it? Some positive news out of Nigeria for a change. But still we need to explore how we came to make such a bold statement.

Let’s talk about Santa for a minute. It’s obvious that there is no electricity at the North Pole. And Santa like everyone else needs heat for himself and his working elves. The North Pole is a cold place. So for heat, Santa resorts to carting lumber from far and wide to his humble abode to provide heat and light for the elves to see by in order to make toys for all the boys and girls that have been good the whole year. But in these days of everything having to be politically correct and for very good reasons, Santa has had to be more selective in where he sources the lumber and how frequently. Unfortunately, the last time we checked, the European nuclear energy commission has not started issuing private citizens licenses to run private nuclear power stations. And in case you are wondering, Santa is an ordinary citizen like you and I: the law doesn’t recognize magic, or magical beings, so no special treatment is accorded to them.

On top of that, there was a mutiny (don’t blame Rudolf the snub-nosed reindeer, he just naturally found himself spearheading the mutiny as a result of his popularity) among Santa’s reindeer herd: they decided it was too much hard-work hauling wood from the far reaches of the planet all year round.
A “seat down” resulted in an agreement that Santa would seek alternate and modern power sources. There was once again peace in paradise after that. But Santa was left in a dilemma: how to provide heat and light if all the toys are to be made before the 25th of December.

But enough about Santa, let’s come down to earth – the real earth for a minute.  Nigeria that is. Lagos to be specific. A waterlogged corner of the state to be candid.

You see there is a rat in my humble abode. Over time we have come to some sort of truce: anything I leave out is fair game, in return anything that’s covered is safe from the rat’s sharp teeth. As long as the truce is respected, I won’t resort to more drastic measures such as “rat killer”, and the rat won’t chew my hard-earned professional certificates. In addition, the rat won’t invite more members of its clan to come hang out in my apartment. Fair enough I think.
This seems to work for quite a while until recently the pattern changed? In fact, even though I know that rats are dexterous to an extent with their front paws, certain containers and their contents have experienced some reductions which had me a little concerned not because of the missing bits but the far reaching implications that if it was indeed the rat that had been able to get into my child-lock containers, then I was in more trouble than I dare to imagine. (I found out later it was Santa’s elves trying to see if they can adapt to the local food but they found most of it ultimately too spicy for their “cold” taste buds)

So there I was all suspicious of the rat, when in fact I had a more serious issue on my hands.

You see, Santa had somehow got wind of the dispute between my landlord and PHCN (Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria). And the fact that while the dispute remained unresolved, any electricity consumed was likely to sink into some un-metered hole.
Thus parking up everything that goes into making the gifts and toys (including his army of elves), he had for the very first time in known history deserted the cold and lifeless north pole in search of warmer climes.
But of course realizing that I would say no to having an “industry” installed in my little apartment, he had resorted to some clandestine tactics: become nonpaying tenants.

I have to admire his tenacity though. Because surrounding my castle, sorry, my landlord’s house, is a moat capable of swallowing a 4×4 wheel-drive car whole. If you don’t believe me, just look at the pictures below of my car and honest I hadn’t been drinking. I just didn’t realize that the moat had had an extra topping of water.

car1 car3 car4 car5 car2

But what’s a little pool to Santa and his reindeer drawn buggy? Tyres might find no grip, but surely it’s nothing to the magical hooves of Santa’s reindeer.

Anyway, it’s obvious that once I and my other two housemates (my cousin and a friend) leave the house (without fail every morning usually before 7AM) , Santa sets up shop and his elves get to work making toys and running up my electricity bill. Under the mistaken believe that it won’t count. I can’t blame them him of course since there is no functional meter in any of the apartments.

You are probably wondering how I came about this tall tale about Santa running his toy making enterprise out of my apartment. Let me put it this way: how else does one account for the electricity bill below if not as a result of some huge industry concern running up the bill?


NOTE: My bill is the N102,773.54 (other flat occupants’ names have been redacted by me).

Below are just two (un)funny extracts from the letter above:

1. “… without prejudice …” Thank the heavens for “without prejudice”! If it had been “with prejudice”, we might as well have been asked to just hand over our chequebooks, and as far as I know Santa doesn’t have any bank accounts. I suspect his loot, sorry, goodies are probably hidden at the base of some rainbow by very grumpy leprechauns!

2. “… poised to serve you better ….”. More like “… poised to skin and gut you like a fish hombre!”

You might notice that the bill is for a month. After cracking my head trying to figure out how I could have generated such a bill given that the supply from the mains happen maybe thrice a week for the whole of say four hours per day and the fact that I am out of the apartment for most of the day, the only sane conclusion I could reach was that it would take something magical to run up such a bill and somehow draw the electricity from the nearest power station even after PHCN had thrown the off switch at their end.

The only magical being I know that still has a sizeable following is Santa.

Having come to this shocking conclusion, I tried to catch Santa in the act. But of course no matter how hard I try, my smarts were no match for the millennial-old Santa.

So one particularly exasperating day, I left a note on the dining table addressed to “Dear Santa”. It made me feel like a kid asking for a toy. Not that I wrote any dear Santa letters when I was younger though, it was something you see in the movies, because in those days, our “Santas” were mostly young men with obviously fake white beards who sat in a “grotto” into which we were matched one at a time. You more often than not never got what you really wanted because all the cheap gifts Santa had was in a sack by his side and you were likely to get cuffed if you ask for something outrageous such as a bike: that was selfish of course, because if Santa were to fit your bicycle in his tiny sack, how would there be space for the presents for the other kids who were in the line behind you with their parents?

Now here is the kicker. By the time I got home, there was an apology letter from Santa waiting for me, he started off by complaining about the heat. He hadn’t realized that the tropical bright sunshine came with so much heat. He then complained about the difficulty of getting good quality raw materials from the market. While I was wondering why he didn’t just have it shipped in, it was as if he read my mind already, because the very next line was a complaint about how difficult it is to ship anything into the country and the complicated route it takes to clear the goods even after arrival at the ports. He went on to express his shock that Santa was expected to pay inflated duty on imported goods all of which are going to end up as free toy and gifts to the children of the world. I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s because no typical Nigerian kid can claim to have received an after-hour visit from Santa or found a full hanging socks come morning. On the other hand, I thought I had better cut Santa some slack, after all the weather is so hot that we have no need of a fireplace hence no houses have chimneys so how do we expect Santa to get into the houses? Front doors are so uncool and who know what booby-trap is waiting inside the back door.

Unfortunately since Santa runs a not-for-profit NGO, the indefinite IOU he offered me is of little use: I think he forgets that unlike him, I have a finite lifespan.

In addition, I understand that in place of supplying new functional meters (which the landlord needs to pay for), the offer has been made for each flat to pay a flat fee of N15,000 per flat per month. Talk of being between the devil and the deep blue sea. Maybe we should say the leviathan (just needed an excuse to use that word!) and the deep blue sea.

Thus I have decided to ask all and sundry for the contact details of a “reasonable” and “reasonably high” PHCN official one can appeal to. If you are chummy with such a person, kindly “zap” me with his or her number (hey,w e are talking electricity right, so zap is not too out there).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fortunately, Santa has since moved on (he felt he was between a rock and a hard place given the heat and the mosquitoes) and I don’t see why I should have to pay for magical electricity I never used and which was somehow billed despite a nonfunctional meter. (But the house is still disconnected from the electric grid).

So if your child turns over his or her Christmas gift this year and instead of the “Made in China” label, it reads “Made in Nigeria”, and then looks at you inquiringly, just smile and say “Santa took a detour this year, honey.”

And while you are at it, please don’t forget to whip out a map of the world and show him where Nigeria is (on the map), because contrary to popular believe in some quarters, Africa is NOT a country!

A Midnight Sortie

A Midnight Sortie

It’s been a long day. Finally home. NEPA is playing nice: there is electricity supply from the grid. Microwaved one of the roasted plantain I had bought earlier in the day. A quick foray into the kitchen showed rice and stew was available. I had no interest in the white rice, but I put a liberal spoonful of the stew on the plantain along with a piece of beef and stuck the plate in the microwave for a minute and a half – enough to start hearing the stew sizzle.

I like to unwind with a good movie now and then. I go through my stash and come up with “A most wanted man”. A quick dash to returned a rating of 7.0/10.0. Quite high. I was feeling better already.

First plantain disappeared so quickly I was wondering if the rats that made the holes in the ceiling had somehow been sneaking up to the plate while I was occupied with the movie. Ah well. Good things come in twos or is it threes? Doesn’t matter. There is a second copy of that plantain downstairs. Repeated the same steps as with the first, in and out of the microwave and back to the room.

The movie is picking up speed and I am really getting into it. I decided I might as well stretch out on the bed rather than sit like a student taking an exam paper at the writing desk on the little wood and metal chair.

It wasn’t long after I got on the bed that I heard the first buzz go by my ear. I swiped at it but I knew already that not being Jet Li or Jackie Chan or Chuck Norris (everything is afraid of him including Onions and mosquitoes. You can ask DSTV about the Onions) or Jean Claude Van Damme (film script: get up, impress mosquito with full split, deliver a roundhouse kick to it while it’s clapping for your seriously awesome ability to keep certain delicate parts of your anatomy from making full and painful contact with the floor while performing a full split, roll credits, that’s a cut! Did I miss anything?)

There is nothing that can keep me up like a mosquito in the room. You could put an 800-pound Silverback in the room; you could hide the white elephant in the corner of the room in plain site; you could bring in a great white (shark) and I won’t even bat an eyelid. But put a mosquito in my room, and I will be on watch-night duty till either I kill it; fall asleep from exhaustion; or the new day sun peeps over the horizon and it’s time to get ready for work.

So I got up, bunched the coverlet in one hand and swiped it randomly in the air throughout the room. If I was lucky, I would hit the darn thing and send it to whatever hell is reserved for such critters.

Having ran round the room like a crazy hobo for a couple of minutes, I settled back down on the bed and continued watching the movie. Maybe 10 minutes later, there was another buzz. I swiped at the air. Jumped up, repeated the same sequence with the coverlet and went back to watching the film. Hopefully I got it this time.

A little time later: Common! I couldn’t take it anymore. It’s well past 11PM. I was in my briefs. I put on my “carmo” shots and a shirt. Hunted around for my purse, slipped into a pair of slippers and headed out into the night. I was going to the mom and pop shop a couple of streets away.

Well the mom and pop shop is run by men (something to do with the culture I suppose) and there really was no shop. Not any more. There used to be a stall but it had been demolished by the council or the environmental task force. Now the only thing there was the deep freezer out of which the family sold cold drinks and all their other for sale goods were under plastic sheets in the compound of the house in front of which they had the freezer.

The oldest of the men (I call him “Baba”) was there on his feet, resting his forearms on the top of the freezer and obviously dozing. “This life is hard” (don’t go there – already trademarked by a close friend). I called out to him gently:

“Baba. I want an insecticide.”

He came awake but didn’t quite catch what I had said.

“You want a spray starch?” he asked.

“No. An insecticide. For mosquitoes.”

He goes into the compound and comes back with two spray cans. One for RAID and the other for BAYGON.

“This one is 400 Naira and this one is 600 Naira” (the RAID is 400 while the BAYGON is 600).

“Which one is stronger?” I asked.

He indicated the BAYGON and I asked him to sell it to me.

He comes back with the change and hands me 450 Naira. I called his attention to it and he said not to worry, he sold it to me at an extra 50 Naira discount.

“Na go de. Thank you. Good night” I said. I am a friendly and frequent customer.

I matched home with my can of “mosquito-death” in my hands. I was feeling better already.

I got back to the room and doused it heavily in the stuff. I was going to have to stay out of the room for some time and the last thing I wanted was to skimp on the insecticide only to come back after say 30 to 50 minutes later and find out that the critter had managed to survive. Besides a good night’s sleep is worth half a can of insecticide at 300 Naira.

So I go downstairs and type this story out. It had started percolating in my brain the moment I decided to go and buy the insecticide.

I go back upstairs and open the closed windows to let in the fresh air while keeping the mosquito netting closed.

I hope it was worth it. Otherwise I might have to take drastic action. A friend described his mosquito eradication technique to me.

He covers his whole body (jeans trousers, socks, gloves, the whole caboodle) leaving only one arm exposed. He then gets on the bed and switches off all the lights in the room and holds on to a torchlight or some small light source. Sure enough the mosquitoes in the room one by one find their way towards his exposed arm and the light. He dispatches them off one by one until none shows up anymore.

Let me say I discovered this myself a long time ago. I just didn’t do the “honeytrap” thing. I used to put off all the bulbs in the room and go seat on the toilet with only the light in the toilet on. Sure enough, the mosquitoes start to migrate into the toilet one by one or two by twos. Against the light they were easy enough targets to kill. I would then wait for quite a while after the last one was dispatched. No more leisurely entrances? Good. I had probably got them all. Back to bed. I can’t for the life of me remember why I didn’t just spray the room with an insecticide. But I do remember that on some of the occasions, I had gone to bed very late only to discover I had bloodsucking companions sharing the room with me, and it was too late to go get an insecticide as all the shops would have closed by then, so I resorted to plan b: the toilet trap.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I think the mosquito should be dead by now. But it still gets my goat that you can’t actually gloat over their tiny dead bodies when you resort to WMDs or chemical warfare to get rid of them. There is nothing like the satisfaction of swatting a mosquito and seeing the squashed mess containing your fresh blood which you have managed to retrieve/liberate (albeit no longer useful) from the not-dearly departed.

I think the insecticide should be almost gone now (diluted by the fresh air coming in from the open windows). Time to go back and see if uhuru (freedom) from “things heard but not seen” has been achieved.

I have to go in quickly and in stealth-mode so that I don’t get any undead hanging out outside my door piggybacking me into the room.

But not to worry, I had sprayed the corridor outside the room as well. That’s thinking outside the box (or room) if I myself may say so.

All should be just peachy now. unless of course I somehow called dibs on an insecticide-resistant mosquito. In which case I won’t take it lying down – literally.