It was going to be a long day, and already the form fillers of the Nigerian Customs were hovering over what was left of the pile of our luggage on the tarmac. The carefully packed boxes were wilting as we were in the heat, the masking tape flapping in the breeze and they wanted to inspect everything. Papers were starting to spill out, along with the contents of the stationary cupboard we had brought. The telephones, all six of them, were hidden in my suitcase as they would have been prime for confiscation. Rather dispirited porters cheered up as I flashed my daily allowance of dollars to them and using what enthusiasm I had left I managed to purchase their help and all my boxes were moved to a shed. I stood as each box was opened, their eyes liked what they saw, especially the projector. This interested them the most and if by sleight of hand it disappeared to be ‘valued’ for import duty. I never saw it again but was given a receipt. But the problem remained as to how to make the next part of the journey and this day was vanishing fast into the hot evening dampness that flattens West Africa into sloth and slumber.
A rather tired and irritated Honorary British Consul arrived to help, though we were the only British there. We were moved into a VIP lounge, which at least had a tired fan that moved as slowly as we did giving some respite. There was little to drink but bright orange Fanta and green looking water. I chose the warm Fanta which tingled on my teeth.
‘An American Bank, oh really’, the Consul tutted and in pointing to a slumbering man in the corner said ‘he is the pilot you can trust.’ With that he disappeared like a character from Our Man in Havana off to help another tourist in peril. The pilot eventually stirred and gave us a suspicious look from bloodshot eyes. He looked like a student who awakes up on another person’s couch, a little embarrassed, crumpled and out of place. He had fierce ginger hair and from his first words I concluded he was either still drunk or Irish but probably both. Yes, he was the pilot for the regional airline, and he could guarantee a flight but maybe not a seat, we would have to run for that privilege after he came back from the bathroom. Luckily our luggage had been diminished by little thieving hands and we were to load it ourselves or pay for it to be done into the cargo compartment of the Arik Air F-27, a propeller plane that had seen better days, as had we by now. Our collars were wet with perspiration, suits wrinkled and I was beginning to worry about David who had spoken nothing since being dumped on the runway.
Boarding passes were being issued in the tin roofed departure building and we on starting to realise that our fitness and our money talked pushed our way forward, holding dollars aloft and then started the sprint to the aircraft. In passing I saw our cargo being forced into the hold. I was sure there were a couple of stowaways mixed in there as well. There was a scramble at the steps and by shouting and playing the British card we managed to push and shove our way in. There were no seat belts and as for the attendant call buttons, they would have been useless as the stewardesses were sitting in the best seats. Our pilot bounced in, grinned at his hapless victims and slammed the cockpit door. The plane started to shudder, exhausts popping and with what must have been a minimal number of working cylinders in the engines we sped down the runway, heaved away from gravity, banked into the low cloud and made our way south following the Niger River to Lagos. We were at last on our way to teach the Nigerians though I felt now that I had little to tell them. David and I dozed, filthy and hot and the lights of Lagos twinkled below. The little plane bounced down and with no gantry we shuffled like a retreating army of soldiers to the arrivals area. Whether our luggage arrived with us was the last thing we were concerned about, our business trip had begun.