Stay-cation is All I Ever Wanted

I have lived in Abuja for over three years and I can tell you that there is not much to do in terms of tourist attractions. If you google Abuja, you will run across the Nigerian National Mosque and the Nigerian National Christian Centre or maybe even see a photo of the famous rocks in Abuja, Aso Rock and Zuma Rock. The National Mosque was built in 1984 and the Christians in Nigeria could be outdone and petitioned for the building of a National Christian Centre. But in terms of museums, cultural centers and historical landmarks, Abuja is lacking.

So when we have people visit us in Abuja, we are always pondering the question, “What do we do?” Throughout the summer, Sheila and I played host to friends, colleagues and relatives. Our first official guest to Abuja was Sheila’s friend and former colleague Pauline. Pauline was in Lagos and decided to venture up to Abuja to spend the weekend with us. We entertained Pauline by taking her to the Bwari Pottery Village. The pottery village is buried deep inside one of the villages that surround Abuja. The road is chaotic as you try to navigate people, goats, cars, moto-taxis and potholes. A small sign alerts you that you have arrived at the pottery village.  The center gained celebrity status in the 1990s when President Bill Clinton visited during one of his presidential visits. While the celebrity status of the pottery village has dim, the center is still producing creative pots, vases and other pottery items. It’s a nice place to visit when looking for a tourist attraction. Sheila and I have made two trips out to the village since she joined me in Abuja.

(l to r) Sheila and Pauline, Sentell and Jacob talking with a political party leader and Jacob, Sentell and members of the IRI Nigeria office.

My colleague Jacob came to visit the following week. Since he was here on a work trip, there wasn’t so much pressure to entertain him but I tried to introduce him to as many nice restaurants in Abuja as possible. We did find a Chinese restaurant in Kaduna (about 100 miles north of Abuja) that did more harm than good but a lesson was learned.

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Bob at the City Gate of Abuja

Following Jacob was Sheila’s brother Bob. Bob had been looking forward to visiting Nigeria since Sheila arrived last June (2016). I think he finds Nigerians flamboyant, colorful, over-the-top and comedic (and sometimes I do too). During one of Sheila’s trips to visit me before we were married, he requested a typical Nigerian outfit (similar to the ones that I wear). Bob’s plan was to be with us for a week and a half which made it difficult when trying to plan a schedule for his visit to Abuja. Now, Nigeria is a very dynamic place but sadly, Abuja is the least dynamic area in the country. Up until the late 1980s, Lagos was the capital of Nigeria. To unify the country, the government moved the capital to Abuja, a new city created in the heart of the country. Sadly, none of the culture or entertainment moved to Abuja…only the boring “suits” of the government. However, because we were trying to find things for Bob to do in Abuja, we discovered a lot of things that actually make Abuja interesting.

Thanks to some church friends, we discovered that Abuja has a botanical garden (who knew). Its buried deep in the same neighborhood as my office. It is a bit unfinished but a beautiful, quiet location in a noisy city. We also made a trip to Guarara Falls where Sheila and I tried to recreate a photo we took in 2015 during one of her trips to Abuja, watched the sunset from the top of the Barcelona Hotel (an untapped resource) and took a photo safari around town. Bob really forced us out of our apartment to see Abuja in a different light.

(Left – 2015 at Guarara Falls/Right – 2017 at Guarara Falls) We tried to make sure we were dressed the same to recreate the photo.

And the visits didn’t stop there. Another colleague from my DC office came for a few days in July and Sheila’s cousin Nicholas and Fiona traveled to Abuja from Kampala, Uganda to visit. Once again, our minds were racing with what to do with them when they arrived. While most of their visit was spent buying Ankara fabrics that are really expensive in East Africa, we were able to take them to a traditional Nigerian wedding. Just before their arrival, I had been invited to a wedding of a government official’s son. I knew that the wedding would be a sight for our East African visitors. And the wedding lived up to every over the top expectation that they had. A former Vice President of Nigeria was the Chairman of the occasion and the food was nonstop. Nigerian weddings are known for giving gifts to guest as they depart the wedding. There was a rumor that at the wedding of the daughter of President Goodluck Jonthan, guest received iPhone as gifts from the bride and groom. There was a small part of me hoping that at this wedding, we to would also receive iPhones. While we didn’t receive iPhones, we did receive Avon lotion and bath products. Not a bad haul for spending four hours at a wedding reception.

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Nicholas, Fiona, Sheila and Sentell in Abuja

When compared to Lagos, Abuja is a slow, boring, culture-less city . But as residents, the city requires effort to appreciate its uniqueness and stuffy culture. So thanks to all our guest over the past four months, we now have a new appreciation of Abuja and looking forward to host new guest in Abuja. Y’all come see us you hear!

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