Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Innocent and Barack

I arrived into Lagos a few hours ago. My first impression? This place is a lot less chaotic and threatening than I thought it would be.

After all my hassles with the Nigerian embassy in New York, I was expecting a nightmare at the airport. But I sailed right through. The woman who stamped my passport was in fact very welcoming. I grabbed my bag, walked out the terminal, declined a few rides from taxi drivers, and found Lonry, from the CLEEN Foundation. We jumped in his card and headed to CLEEN. It was about ten times easier than arriving at JFK.

The CLEEN Foundation is my non-profit host, who have agreed to let me use their office space and network of contacts, and have also let me stay in their guest house, at least until I can get settled in. The founder of CLEEN, Innocent Chukwuma, is a superstar in the field of international human rights and democracy building. Among other things, he has been very good at raising money from prestigious foundations in the U.S., like MacArthur and Ford. I found CLEEN online, and met Innocent in New York last summer when he came though for a conference.

Clearly CLEEN is doing something right. And they have been extremely helpful. About a week ago, when the U.S. Embassy found out that CLEEN was located on the mainland, instead of the more upscale Victoria and Lagos Islands where most expats live, they backed out on their offer to pick me up at the airport, citing their “security protocols.” Within minutes, Innocent had sent me this email: “Sean, no problem. We’ll have someone there to pick you up at the airport.”

We got to the CLEEN compound, which is a brand-new, walled-off complex located in Ikeja, a Lagos suburb. No tourists here – this is where real Nigerians live. Innocent showed me to the guest house, in back of the complex, and helped me get settled in. There are no other interns or volunteers here now, so I get the guest house to myself. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s clean and safe and adequate. There is a full-time security guard. They have their own water and AC generators, which are critical here in Nigeria where the power grid is sporadic. There is a sitting room with a small TV that gets CNN and some local Nigerian stations. Innocent and I watched President Obama get sworn in.

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