This is Howard C. Park's blog. Interests: live music, simulations and modeling, languages, iPod, social and business networking, systems thinking, history of science, management, BBQ, trivia, good coffee, organizational learning, traveling, personal histories.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
And off we go!
We meet downstairs at the hotel at 5:30AM Today is the day we get to visit the offshore installation. From my notes I have that there is a daily helicopter flight from Snake Island to the facility every day at 8:30AM.
Yes, Snake Island. I briefly wonder why they call it that.
The shuttle from the hotel makes its way thru Lagos as the city wakes up to start another day. Auto traffic is starting to pick up, but the foot traffic is already crowded some sidewalks, spilling into the streets. It's a long drive, at least with the slowdowns to accomodate traffic and severe potholes. The vehicles indicate that we are nearing a port, and we pass through some gates. We finally arrive facing the water and a pier. There is a ferry with the words
"Texas Express" painted across the side. Its font and paint make reminds me of signs of nostalgic Americana that I have seen in restaurants in Houston. Our caravan is one shuttle and one escort vehicle. There are three passengers, one shuttle driver and 2-3 security personnel in the escort vehicle. Security exit their vehicles and keep an eye on the situation as the light starts to reveal some details.
There is trash pooling up where at the triple intersection of the water, the concrete pier and the hard sand/rock surface. There is a large freighter not too far away. We are told to make two lines (queues, with the British influence). The lines grows. This is a commuter ferry that takes people; I know this from the people who make their way out of our ferry which has arrived and my fellow queue-mates.
We arrive at the other pier. Unlocked bicycles await many of the commuters as they exit, making room for other commuters and schoolchildren in uniform. I see a sign indicating where I should go. Another gate, another layer.
It's a long process of filling out forms, weighing self and luggae, inspection, immigration, etc. Then we watch a helicpoter safety video. After the video, there is an oral test. The young woman had warned us that there several individuals will be questioned. She asks 4 or 5 questions to different people, they pass, so we all pass.
We don our safety harnesses equipped with inflatable life jacket and light. They pass out ear protection equipment. We suit up, check straps, alcohol-clean the over-the-ear protectors. We approach the Eurocopter in a single file. There is no ambiguity on where we are to go and what we are to do. Crews are stationed at regular intervals and at critical junctions, stopping traffic as necessary. Our luggage is lined up and we are to pick up our luggage and hand deliver it to the crew loading in the back of the helicopter.
I am one of the last to board. The rotors pull down the warm air from the engine. The crew at the door instruct me to "go right, deep". I take the window on the last row. This is a large helicopter, able to accomodate ~20 passengers and 2 crew. I see that there are more ground crew than I had originally counted, including at least one individual behind what looks like a very large fire extinguisher. A crowd gathers around the fence. I hear the engines roar and there is dust and debris all around.
I look at my watch. With all the steps in the process and the waiting.... we do indeed take off right at 8:30 AM.
Also unlike last time, this time we are in the company of some locals. Our business partner spends half his time in Nigeria. He has a guesthouse and drivers. He has a local cell phone.
He waited for us outside the airport. It took us about an hour to go thru what seemed like 3-5 different lines and as many checkpoints to clear immigration. There were plenty of officers, but every one wanted to see the passport. First there was the guy with a desk in the middle of the line. Then a lady who directed you to another line.
Then there was guy #1 at the podium, who looked at your passport, and put it at the bottom of a stack that the final officer was working thru. Serial vs parallel processing. Good for hooking up computer hardward, bad for processing passports.
Our business partner waves at us. We work our way thru the crowd. We approach a gate of sorts where an opening is large enough for one person and whatever he or she might be carrying, but no more. It is a one-way gate surrounded by bodies and baggage. As we approach... we hear an altercation between someone just outside the gate and one of the officers.
Man: Get your hands off me! Officer: -unintelligible, but talking and shoving- Man: I will miss my flight! You will make me miss my flight!
There is pushing and things look bad. Our ever-practical business partner says, "we'll just wait here a minute". We don't need much convincing.
Here's how the rental "world phone" worked for our last trip.
First you have to order the phone.
1. You call and order your world phone. You tell them what countries you will visit and the dates of travel. 2. They FedEX you the phone, adaptors, and a fanny pack to store everything. 3. The phone number has a country code of 423. Don't know your country codes off hand?
That country code belongs to Liechtenstein. Don't know your geography? I had never heard of this place. Katheryn said, "isn't that where they launder money?".
Then you get to take your phone on your trip and try to make a phone call. Silly me, I didn't read the directions. I knew that there were a finite # of possibilities... how do I "dial out" or Nigeria, what's the country code for the US, etc. And I even did my research and carried with the necessary access codes.
I tried calling out for about 30 minutes. I got a "network busy" or "error". Figuring it was the network, I waited and tried again. THEN, I read the instructions. In order to MAKE a call.... you first have to call some # in Liechtenstein. It will still say "error"... but then they call you back in a minute or so. THEN you can punch in the #.
Wrong buttons, and you start all over again.
It took about a day and a half for us to figure out how to do this. Actually, the 1st phone call is when Katheryn calls me....
This time, I have my own GSM phone. T-Mobile tells me I can make and receive calls from overseas. I called T-Mobile earlier this week to check. We specificially check Nigeria. Then we specifically check Lagos. I have them list out the specific GSM carriers that I had seen in Lagos. Two carriers on Lagos, across 3 GSM frequencies that my phone will handle.
We'll see. I describe Lagos as a city where things don't work. Lights go out, buses break down, signal lights are dark. Even after I figured out how the rental cell phone was supposed to work, the network is unreachable or busy about half the time. Our hotel is supposed to have broadband in the rooms. We'll see.
I'm better prepared this time, having learned from my first trip. For example, I packed light(er), opting for my rolling carry-on instead of the larger suitcase. My last time in Lagos, we had to wait 45 minutes for bags to come out.
Whenever I fly for business--even for short trips--I find that somehow I am in no-man's land. It's like all the system of airports are somehow in its own dimension, and the layovers airports do not really exist in real space. Only when you exit the airport or board a leave-the-airport train do I feel that I am entering the real world. There are several visual clues that validate this: all airports have a similar smell, signs are similar, and although I know the airport workers are local real people, their uniforms, practiced scripts and standard operating procedures tell me that they, too, have entered into this airport dimension.
I am in Schiphol now, the airport in Amsterdam. Sitting at the airport lounge, in the same table I sat on my last trip to Lagos. I am tired, but I'm not sure I can sleep if given the chance. Takeoff from Houston, to tochdown in Lagos will take more than 24 hours, stopping by Newark and Amsterdam. I am hungry, but the breakfast offerings don't appeal to me. The lounge has a smoking room in the back and it's imipossible to keep the smoke from entering into the main area. This and the dry heat from the vents add to my discomfort.
Last time, we had rented a "world phone". This time, I have my own GSM phone, and have enabled the international voice and email plans. I can check email. Yipee. It's early Sunday morning in the US, and all I'm getting are Viagra spam ads. At least I'm no longer receiving the Nigeria-money-transfer spam.
Another Houston music locale is about to be razed to make room for "progress". The Gallant Knight on Holcombe has been a Houston institution for 3 decades. It's a modest little house that somehow was able to squeeze in a dance floor, a bar, a sitting area of sorts, and some bathrooms. Oh yeah, there was the "stage area" that was more of the side of the dance floor.
That was one of the greatest things about this place. You danced WITH the band. You could hear the musicians talk to each other. You could check out which chord inversions were being used (keyboards) or whether the drummer was using nylon or wooden tips.
Here's how I described the venue to a co-worker:
"Imagine an old house that's about to fall apart. The floors are uneven, you see no clear exits in case of a fire, and it's somehow possible to get lost in this very small space. What was probably the living room is now a dance floor, and it's packed with people who may or may not be able to dance... but it doesn't matter. 'Cos the music is loud and fast, and everyone is dancing. The band is within nose-picking distance, and if you're not careful, you will get hit with a trombone slide. In fact, sometimes you're dancing amongst the band when it gets too crowded. The bathrooms are beyond any kind of redemption, and the sitting area is filled with couples who should get a room."
OK, so not for everyone, but it was the best house party in town!
Alas, I saw that it had some sign out front, and the marquee had nothing legible. A few days ago, I saw this ominous-looking excavator-demolisher, ready to do its damage.
Farewell, good knight!
There are rumors of a new Gallant Knight, but in this era of building codes and smoking ordinances, it'll never be the same.