Travel · Uncategorized

Lagos, Nigeria

 

02390A2D-CF06-4E43-952F-BA093B8A419E.jpegWelcome to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, commonly referred to as Naija, land to some 186 million inhabitants, over five hundred ethnic groups, thirty-six states, a country with huge potential but plagued with a systematic problem of rampant corruption and tribal indifferences. I am sharing my experiences from the most populous country on the African continent; both the good and the bad. And even though the bad outweighed the good, it’s imperative that I share with my readers.

I’ve traveled throughout the globe and so I decided to visit Nigeria with an open mind. After all, this is what visitors to a foreign country are supposed to do, and since it was my first time on the continent, I was ready and prepared for the adventure. I left the United States on Christmas night, with two of my best friends and transited through two major cities, London and Amsterdam before we finally got to our destination…..LAGOS.

Hot and tired yet excited, we approached the immigration officials with some level of apprehension for our legal entry into Nigeria. After all, it’s no secret that the Officials operating out of the Muhammad Murtala International airport are some of the most corrupt beings on the continent. Nevertheless, we presented our documents and went through the process of questions and responses. It was at that moment, the immigration officer decided to “move in for the kill”. In essence, I was like an animal wandering the unfamiliar plains of the Savannah and he was the king of the jungle, waiting to attack. I was in his court and had to play by his rules. He spotted my colleague’s immunization card, which by the way, is not a requirement to enter Nigeria. Sensing that time was running out and he had to “collect”, he made the bold attempt to do just that. I was asked for my Immunization Card; I told him that I did not have it with me and that upon obtaining my visa and researching on required documents for Nigeria, there was nothing that stated, I had to have it. Regardless, he dismissed his government’s website as full of inaccuracies then proceeded to let me know, that he could deny me entry into the country.

Really?  Yes, really. However, if I gave him “something” he would let it slide. Discretion was not even a thought, indicating to us that extortion and bribery is the norm.  Interestingly, large billboards at Lagos airport urge travelers to call a hotline to report officials asking for bribes. But there is a problem with this attempt to fight the corruption that plagues Africa’s biggest economy. The phone number does not work, an indication of how little progress President Muhammadu Buhari has made in tackling a problem he promised to address when he was elected a few years ago.

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Exhausted, upset and shocked at the blatant act of solicitation, while in uniform, I obliged. I gave him $20 USD (7,300 Naira), much to his dismay. At that point I was prepared to return the eight thousand plus miles I had traveled. Not another note was going to be given to this disgraceful civil servant. I then began to analyze. How could this be acceptable? Why are they allowed to continue with this? Do they not realize that they are the first point of contact for visitors coming in? What is the government really doing? What impression will foreigners have of Nigeria, when the immigration officers openly harass people and demand bribes without shame? I can say unequivocally, that I was filled with revulsion and so were my friends. In reality, this is the first contact I had in Nigeria. It was not about the money, but rather the fact that this barefaced racketeering was allowed to fester. It presented an experience of how corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of agencies responsible for facilitating air travel at its international border. Nevertheless, we were given the green light for entry and were on our way.

We headed to the baggage area to claim our luggage and after waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we were told that our bags were still sitting somewhere in Amsterdam and to return the following night to collect. Bear in mind, we were in Lagos for a wedding scheduled to happen in a day and a half; in unfamiliar territory, sweaty, upset and angry. Yet in spite of this, we didn’t allow our experiences to daunt our spirits, so with lots of optimism coupled with excitement, we set out to experience what Nigeria had in store for us………..and…….yes it certainly was an adventure.

Our residence while in Nigeria was on Victoria Island, an affluent stretch of land that encompasses Lekki and Lagos Island. It is one of the most exclusive and expensive areas to reside in Lagos and notably, it is where old money meets new, thereby creating an ideal climate for both wealthy Nigerians and foreigners alike to dwell. The Island is one of Nigeria’s busiest centres of banking and commerce, with most major Nigerian and international corporations headquartered there. In stark contrast, even though we were exposed to this opulence, the reality was obvious, beyond the bridge. The insurmountable level of garbage on the street appeared as though the government had forgotten certain parts of Lagos. I saw garbage piles on streets, outside homes and along the waterways, creating eyesores and putrid smells. The booming city also has major electricity shortages; the rate was several times per day.

It is important to note, Nigeria is the world’s 20th largest economy, worth more than $500 billion and $1 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and purchasing power parity respectively.  It is a member of MINT, and is also listed among the “Next Eleven” economies set to become among the biggest in the world. Despite its vast government revenue from the mining of petroleum, Nigeria faces a number of societal issues, owing primarily to a history of inefficiency in its governance. Which brings me to this focus and it’s relevance to this article.

Corruption is bad in Nigeria—but just how bad; you be the judge. I cannot begin to explain how many times we were bombarded for money, both by people in authority and local residents. The extortion began every time we went out. Everyone wanted something for the Christmas, even though we were way past Christmas,  and well on our way to 2018. “Aunty wa you deh give me for Christmas ooo; Abeg give me something so I can eat?” Their demand for our money was intimidating. All we wanted to do was enjoy the sights and sounds of Lagos without been hassled and harassed.

In light of this, we decided to employ the services of a driver to take us around Lagos. Visiting a simple place such as the market seemed almost Herculean. We had to dismiss many attempts by the “area boys” to “collect” dues for simply parking and at times, for even driving on the public road. Increasingly annoying, our complaints to Nigerians we met, didn’t give us the reaction we had hoped for. Everyone seemed shocked but was quite okay with it. “Welcome to Nigeria”, they all said with smiles. Under those circumstances, we made the conscious decision to  enjoy the remaining days in Nigeria, ignore all forms of solicitation and coercion and try to immerse ourselves into Lagos as much as we could. By and large, we did just that, with the Traditional wedding in Lekki.

Traditional Nigerian Wedding
My purpose in Lagos was to attend the traditional wedding of a friend and if you’ve ever had the chance to view Nigerian weddings on social media, you will understand the level of excitement that was brewing. Like most countries, weddings are a big deal there. Everything is chosen to precision. The fabric, jewelry, head-wrap (GELE) and colors……all denote some meaning. My friend is Yoruba and her husband is Igbo, creating a holy fusion of tribes and cultures, yet very much Nigerian. The procession, the colors, singing, drumming, dancing and decor, created a vibe that was unmatched. I honestly believe that Nigerian culture has a flamboyance that is unmistakable. I witnessed the “spraying” of money upon the couple while dancing at their wedding. Especially popular among the Yoruba and Igbo cultures, it is a gift from guests to help the couple start their new life together. So much money was flowing that family members were on standby with several boxes to put the sprayed bills into. In addition, I was told that “spraying” in its modern form is probably an extension of an earlier tradition, when Nigeria was experiencing an oil boom. Nigerians had money to spend as it was a time of opulence, thus spraying quickly became the norm.

I “sprayed” and danced to the infectious beats in my Aso-Ebi.  Aso-Ebi means “Family Clothes” in Yoruba, a Nigerian language. This is when family members of the couple, decide to wear identical colors and fabrics at an event to identify themselves. As a matter of fact, at a Nigerian wedding you could differentiate the bride’s family from the groom’s family based on the colors and fabrics they’re wearing. The Yoruba clan wore a light blue lace fabric complete with a Fuschia pink Gele, while the Groom’s family (Igbo), wore purple and white.

In Aso-Ebi

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Nightlife and Food

Let me just put this out there. Nightlife in Lagos is the bomb! Aside from being one of Africa’s most vibrant cultural hubs, it is also packed with the most incredible nightlife options. Trendy clubs affixed with modern niceties and a reputation for fun, are strewn throughout the city. If you’re looking to dance the night away, it does not get any better than Club Velvett. . With its cool strobe lights and top-class, all-night DJ-ing, this spot guarantees to provide an unforgettable experience. The insatiable rhythm of Afro beats, Africa’s latest created genre of music, though most would argue that it existed well before this modern upsurge in popularity; creates an aura of vibes. “If I tell you that I love you-o”, that addictive catch phrase from Davido’s song, belted out from every nook and cranny in Lagos. Well, I’m in love with Afro-beat songs and there was no shortage of it either, in Lagos. I must commend Nigerians for being so proud of their music…..the taxi drivers, the street vendors, the salons, our hosts all had us entranced by the pulsating rhythms. I left Nigeria with a new found love for Davido and Wizkid.

Food
I really wanted to try authentic Nigerian food and were given some options. Egusi soup and pounded yam was tasty, but not my favorite. I had Shawarma; beef or chicken wrapped in a falafel or pita and complimented with onions and spices. It’s similar to a gyro made in my country of Trinidad and Tobago. On the other hand, Shawarma, is not authentically Nigerian but rather, an import, borrowed from the thousands of Middle Easterners that call Lagos their home. Nigerian Jollof rice was pretty good and so was Suya. I had the whole spicy fish with plantains from Farm City, a restaurant ideally located on the water. I still yearned for great Nigerian food but had to settle for what was accessible.

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In the final analysis, I can say my six days spent in this West African country was filled with surprises, anger, laughs, crying and at times frustration. Would I return? Certainly. I still have the feeling that my experience could and would be better. I would love to experience a Nigeria void of corruption. A Nigeria that is fulfilling its potential to really becoming the giant of Africa. I would love to see more of this country, but be free of the fear of solicitation from children, and adults, people in authority and vendors. I would love to be free of the guilt that overwhelms my being, when I dismiss their demands. I have hope for a Nigeria that does not see one’s tribe as a symbol of their social standing, but rather a Nigeria that identifies its citizens as  NIGERIANS first, foremost and ultimately. During my conversations with several Nigerians, everyone claimed that they belonged to the better tribe. This is the Nigeria, this non-Nigerian yearns for. I still have hope for a future return.

 

Travel

Amsterdam

Amsterdam, the Venice of the North, a “Limer’s” paradise as we would say in Trinbagonian vernacular; a city which by all means reeks of a young, fresh and also an innovative culture. It’s also that European city fondly known for its infamous canal systems; an amazing artistic heritage, cycling and bikes; and for the Arts enthusiasts, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer. The perfect city for a reunion with friends, where the bright green Heineken signage is strategically placed and easily spotted, and outdoor bars dot every open space along the streets. In effect, I was looking for a place to spend my birthday and Amsterdam was nowhere on the list of prospective cities. But it was the end of summer and getting to and from several choice destinations, proved arduous. Amsterdam seemed like the prime destination despite the inclement weather forecasted. Just a mere seven hours from New York City, I was on my way to the Dutch country of The Netherlands/Holland, the ideal destination for a short vacation.

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Furthermore, over the past few years, Amsterdam has certainly reinvented itself. After all, its population has grown by a whooping 122% and it has seen its infrastructural prospects increased significantly. Also, it is a city full of character, which lends to the liberal identity it enjoys.  It is a place where interestingly, prostitution is legal and a “spliff” can be lit, anytime/anywhere. So much so, it is common knowledge that in Amsterdam, you can enter  coffee shop and buy “soft” drugs, such as weed and hashish. It is easily accessible; you can stroll through the streets of the famed Red Light District and get anything imaginable, created with marijuana as its main ingredient. With this intention, have no fear, nobody will arrest you, because it is legal.

Weed Products

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Day One – was spent checking in hotel (which proved to be a task) and familiarizing ourselves with Hoogoorddreef, our home for the next four days. The weather permitted for this and so we wallowed under the golden rays of the Amsterdam sun. Similarly to the previous European cities visited, the Metro system was phenomenal and our mode of transportation. It was easily accessible and immaculately clean.

Day Two-  It was my birthday and I got up to a rainy start which lasted pretty much throughout the day but I had my plans laid out  and nothing was going to stop it. We took the metro to the Hague, which was an hour and a half ride from where I stayed.  As a former student of International Relations, this was a place that fascinated me. I must confess that I always thought “The Hague” was just a building that housed the United Nations International Criminal Court Tribunal. On my visit to Amsterdam, I discovered it was actually a city on the North Coast Sea. I realized however, that it’s never too late to learn.

As we made our way to “Den Haag” (The Hague), scenic villages juxtaposed along vast plains  inhabited by windmills, goats, sheep and cattle grazing peacefully, proved to be the hallmark of the metro ride.

The Village of Abcoude

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We arrived at the “Hague” during a period of heavy rainfall and so my quest to take a picture on the outside of the ICC was hopeless. The weather did not permit too much, so we had lunch at a cafe and headed back to the hotel.

On the Inside

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In light of the inclement weather,  I did an awesome river cruise with my Mom later in the evening, the climax to a wet and cold but well spent birthday.

Day Three- The Red Light District translated in Dutch as Den Wallen, was on the agenda. It is the largest and best known red light district in Amsterdam and possibly in the world; as I strolled through its network of alleys, its  appeal was impressive and enchanting. Narrow cobbled stone streets, tour boats operating in the canal and several brothels that  made no attempts at discretion, added extra “entertainment” to an already eccentric  and unconventional place.

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I was amused by the Museum of Prostitution, which we happened to stumble upon while walking through De Wallen, as well as the statue honoring Prostitutes. It is the first and only such monument anywhere and its purpose is meant to show respect to the millions of people around the world who earn their money in prostitution work. Equally important, Holland is a country where the authorities treat Prostitutes as independent entrepreneurs. They must pay taxes just as any other employed individual.

Belle- The Sex Worker Statue

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In essence, my four days in Amsterdam, proved to be worth the while, despite nature’s plan. I experienced a combination of things; from the liberal lifestyle they enjoy to an overall welcoming atmosphere. This is a  city that I would re-visit, ensuring that special attention is given to the weather forecast.

Beauty · Uncategorized

Love-in the skin, you’re in!

Loving the skin, I’m in! This is the by far one of the most popular catch phrases on social media, often times hash-tagged to our edited selfies . But do we really know how deep this phrase is; or do we just use it loosely? This phrase may take on several definitions, but for me, it simply means, loving yourself no matter what. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to see the debilitating effects of skin lightening creams, where individuals are literally dying to be the fairest of them all. I had to wonder aloud; “do people really love the skin that they’re in?”

Despite the real risk of acquiring skin cancer through the regular use of skin lightening products known to contain large amounts of hydroquinone, steroids and other harmful products, some people seem to care less. Not only are they used for cosmetic purposes, in some societies they are used by individuals  “to be more accepted in society.” The belief in the power of light skin is common place all over the world and is not a simple beauty regime, but a remnant of classism and racial inequality from centuries of imperialism and social stratification. The widespread abuse of these products hold steadfast to the belief that those who are darker are members of the underclass and downtrodden

Nevertheless, let us try to demystify skin lighteners for a bit. They are sometimes used by individuals for skin discolorations such as freckles, age spots, and  acne scars, as well as, recommended by Dermatologist for skin disorders. However, bleaching creates more health problems than it actually works and even if it works, putting your skin at risk is certainly not worth it. I wish I could tell the large number of men and women in my West-Indian neighborhood the perils of skin lightening abuse. I recently scoured the aisles of an ethnic beauty supply store on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn; there were dozens of skin lighteners for sale, all promising the perfect, light skin tone in 6-8 weeks. Some work, others may not; in reality the side effects are innumerable.

In light of this, the abuse of skin lightening agents need to stop. So how do we help solve it? Maybe, we should redefine beauty from an intellectual and psychological point of view. Maybe, we should remove that toxic mirror, that is, SOCIAL MEDIA. Maybe, we should continuously build our self esteem and love ourselves more than ever. Then, we can shout from the mountain top and say; I’m love-in, the skin, I’m in.

Beauty

Let your Lippie Slay Before Men, Women, Boys and Girls.

There is no doubt that the lipstick is the most popular makeup item, as most women just can’t do without it. A lot of females will forgo applying other products to the face, such as foundation and blush; however, the lipstick is a must. Of course it is important to note, that it makes us look gorgeous, but there are way more benefits that can be attributed to wearing lipsticks. It enhances the eyes, it brightens the smile, it can be used as a protectant for the lips and most importantly it defines the lips. Lipsticks also has some psychological benefits in my opionion; it boosts self-confidence and it is definitely a pick-me-up, when I’m having a bad day. I apply some red to my lips and voila, I feel as though I can take on the world; not bad for morale.

Additionally, I find my happy moment when I impulse-purchase a tube of expensive lipstick, even when I’m financially limited. The aptly-titled “Lipstick Effect” (L.E) can be traced all the way back to the Great Depression. Essentially, during times of economic hardship, sales of cosmetics increase. I always fall into this trap. I spend exorbitant amounts on lippies, then I would experience ‘buyer’s remorse’ later.

For one, it seems that I am smitten with L.E, so please bare with me, as I review some of my favorite lippies.

Favourite MAC Lipsticks

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A mixture of different textures and tones by MAC are some of my faves. Foiled Rose and Ionized Iris, are trending for this Summer’s metallic look. I usually wear them over another color to create the perfect combination. The texture of Mangrove is a bit too creamy for me, but I love how it glides with relative ease on the lip as well as its vibrant color. Ionized iris is also a metallic shade that can be worn on its own or paired with another color.

The Mattes featured here are Ruby Woo, All Fired Up, Candy Yum-Yum and Fashion Legacy which is actually a liquid but dries into a matte. I really love Mac Matte Lippies but I honestly think the quality has declined. I remember back in the day, I would put on a MAC lippie and  eat, drink, talk; yet my lipstick would not budge. Now; I figure if I talk too much, it rubs off. The staying power is just not the same. Nevertheless, I’m in love with their liquid lipsticks and think that they’re a must have. They dry super matte and stays a lot longer than the satin (Cyber) and  frosts (Fresh Moroccan) textures.

In contrast, I have an affection for a few drugstore brand lipsticks. I absolutely adore these lippies featured. They are affordable, have maximum staying power and just awesome. Essentially, maximum staying power is a bonus for me when it comes to lipsticks.

Favorite Drugstore Brands

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My $3 ELF Lippie is my go-to color. It is what I use as a “slay” booster for work.

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NYX and Maybelline brands are equally superb. I love the Vs…Vivid Violet (Liquid) and Vancouver (Soft Matte), they both apply easily and has maximum staying power. Additionally, my Absolute NY and LA Girl colors are popping at only $2.99 each. I was totally surprised at the quality I got. There is a saying that good things doesn’t come cheap. That is an absolute myth! These lipsticks have not failed me. In fact, they support my claim and my belief, that good things do come in cheap packages. So Ladies, go forth and let your LIPPIES  “SLAY” before all.

Beauty

Priming with Purpose

You really cannot get enough beauty products. I swear there is a brand new product launched for every conceivable part of the body, at least once per month. After all, beauty products are essential to a woman’s appearance and each and every one of them manages to beautify in different ways;  in addition, some may say it is the Alpha and the Omega of enhancing the physical attractiveness of its users.  Nevertheless, one of the products that stood out for me is the Primer; and yes there is a primer for every body part. Lips, eyes, face and body all have primers tailored towards a particular purpose. Think about it! Primers are super important when it comes to applying makeup, but it can also confuse  women on whether or not it is absolutely necessary. In order to understand it’s importance, I’ll attempt to define what exactly is a primer.

Let’s take a moment to think about primers. Painting a wall without priming it first is basically unheard of. The primer functions as a layer of coverage and smooths out out any  imperfections. The purpose of the face primer acts in the same capacity, except the walls are your face, eyes or lips. Makeup primers come in a variety of forms such as gel and lotions and also provides a smooth surface on which to apply makeup. It can help keep makeup in place and provides the benefit of a smooth flawless type skin. All in all,  let’s  discuss some of my favorite primers.

 

MAC’s  Prep N Prime

I seriously don’t know how it works so great for my face. The consistency is creamy with a bit of shimmer, but when applied to the face the shimmer is non-existent, it also has a soft texture as well. It makes my foundation last 20x longer and because it is silicone based, it allows the foundation to apply a lot easier. I don’t have oily skin and I don’t sweat at all (funny, but true); so those may be reasons why I’ll give this particular product a five star rating.

 

Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion

I actually avoided this stuff for a long time because I thought it was over-rated and hyped. I was wrong; it is amazing. It prevents gathering at the crease of my eyes makes my eyeshadow colors more vibrant and last longer, a major selling point for me. By the same token,  I don’t have to use as much product to get the look that I am trying to achieve. My only qualm about this product is. it dries very quickly once applied, so you have to ensure that you apply your eyeshadow asap.

 

MAC Prep N Prime Lip Base

Lipstick when applied incorrectly is a major downfall, but frequent exfoliation and lip liner helps to prevent dry, cracked, wrinkled lips. Lip primer does wonders to ensure smooth application and long-lasting color.  This is the holy grail of lip primers; MAC’s Prep n Prime Lip Base. It is light, prevents lipstick feathering and ensures smooth application, additionally if you wear a lot of red and burgundy lippies, then this is the product for you as the color is applied evenly, once this primer is used.

If you haven’t been using primers, then you may be missing out. It can even been worn on its own for a fresh no-makeup look or it can used as a protective layer. Given these points; are you ready to introduce Primers into your beauty routine? Are you ready to prime with purpose? I hope that you are.