mandag 30. mars 2009

To buy a bench

A while ago I met a salesman at the beach. The fact is I see them at the beach every Sunday, selling table cloths, jewellery, bath towels, bags, and different kind of woodcarvings. Sofie has bought a large collection of wooden animals, and Olav has bought some magical tables.

Well, this particular Sunday I bought a picture. The seller were selling wooden pictures with sand (some were incredible ugly!) and I liked his saxophone playing man. He told me he was selling this for his brother. A brother here is not the same as a brother in Norway, were you share at least one parent to term someone a brother. Here a brother can be a distant relative or a man from the same tribe. But that’s enough about brothers for now. The price for this relatively small picture, were far to high, so the bargaining lasted a long time before he sold it for 2000 Naira.

In Nigeria they are experts in asking all kind of irrelevant questions while bargaining, or giving out their life story so we could fill the conversation with something else than just the naked numbers. It turned out that this guy were a furniture carpenter – and had his portfolio documented with photos in two albums he had between all the pictures. He showed me the pictures, while we were still bargaining for the picture.

After having paid for the picture and put it away, I collected a bottle of water for the man, and went back to look in his other album with his production documented. Suddenly, on one of the pictures were my bench! Just like I would like it to be, so perfect. I became so enthusiastic that I accepted his price 30.000 Naira without hesitating. We worked out the details, how wide, were to carve, how tall the back should be, were to deliver it, exchange phone numbers etc. When this was done the man looked at me and told me I had confused him. Why bargain so hard, from 7000 –to 2000 Naira for the picture and not bargain at all for the bench? Why? I told him the truth that the bench were worth 30.000 Naira to me, something the picture were not.

I must admit when I returned to the coffee table and enthusiastically told the rest of the gang about the bench, they all agreed that I had made a mistake. “You are probably paying1/3 to much. ” Well, possible they are right – I do believe they are. But what a bench!
When I also told them that I had paid 5000 Naira in advance for material, some of the experienced long timers were visible sceptical. And I must admit I seriously doubted my own decision – but it was to late to change it anyway. And I though how much work all that carving would be, and that he had a family to feed. And I knew that a lot of the local craftsmen are hardly able to feed themselves and their family. So I was OK with the deal. And he had told me that the money would be used to buy dry wood so it would not crack.

We agreed that he would deliver the bench in 6 weeks. Based on my experiences here – I interpreted it to mean at least twelve weeks. Tuesday – just two weeks later he called me that he would come to my with a delivery “Wednesday –tomorrow” he said. Woaw! A Nigerian craftsman delivering earlier than agreed upon! That must be the first time ever.

So I was at home at the agreed time, eagerly waiting. 16.15 he came to my door. But he did not bring my bench! Instead he came with a magical stool. And he wanted 20.000 Naira for it. I have lived in Lagos since August, and was obviously naive believing my time of big surprises were gone. So wrong!

I firmly told him that my interest in magical stools were non-existing even if they are nicely carved and from one piece of dried wood out of Gambia. His work were simply beautiful, and I did want them, but not under these circumstances. I told him very clearly that I only wanted my bench like we had agreed. He kept asking my if the magic stool was pretty, and I said yes. It was very pretty, but I did not want to buy it. He did not understand my logic, I did not understand his. Coming with something else than what we agreed upon?

I spent the next 15 minutes getting him and his magical stool out of my apartment while he was working his price downwards all the time. “18.000 Naira ma’am? You want it for 18.000?” When we had reached the gate he were at 15.000 Naira and I was rather stressed.

It turned out that the “furniture man” had used the money I gave him to buy the wood he had carved the magical chair from. And now he needed 5000 Naira for material for my bench. So against little warning voices inside my head, and a louder warning voice from my neighbour and HR manager Henrik, I paid the man 5000 Naira a second time as advance to cover the cost of the material for the bench.

This I told my colleagues in Norway in an e-mail Friday that week. And I received a lot of comments and it seemed like they all agreed upon me being surprisingly naïve, and that I would never see the man again, and not receive the bench. So I must admit I was a bit curious whether I had lost 500 kroner and learned a lesson – or if I would receive the lovely bench from the picture.

Thursday last week the phone rang again. (I has done that in the meantime also– sure – but not with the caller ID “Furniture guy”.) He told me that my bench were ready and asked if Friday 4 would be a convenient time for me to receive it. If so, he and his apprentice would bring it.

Friday – just after 4 security called me and asked if I expected a carpenter with a bench. I confirmed and a few minutes later he was at my door with the bench. And it is just so beautiful. Sofie was thrilled with the giraffes, elephants and rhinoceros carved out on its sides, and the rose in the middle of it back. I will soon post a photo on it, I just need a bit of better bandwidth to do it, so maybe another day I will be lucky. To day – I only get timed out!

And else – the bench provided a sudden scent of newly shined shoes to our flat. This is because here they treat the wood with shoe polish and polishes it till it shines. Something else is that black shoe polish is used to “convert” normal wood to mahogany for gullible tourists. That gives at least the triple price and is well worth the effort-.

søndag 29. mars 2009

And then we found a dead man

I normally walk around our little peninsula a couple of times a week. Sometimes I walk to work, and some times I walk home from work. To me walking is a good way to reflect over a problem, or to put a problem away before coming home. A bit of fresh air and some movements after a long day in an office chair works well.

Last wednesday I walked home with my daughter who were visiting from London. We had walked our way along Bourdillon road, Alexander avenue and were heading towards Banana Island wehn we noticed that the man we had seen around and under the "home-made plastic tent" were laying in a rather strange position. So we walked around his plastic covering and could see from the colour of his face that he was dead.

Since my daughter had a short time left in the country and were leaving that afternoon, I took the chance that some of all the locals passing by would do something. They did far as I know.

When Rigmor had left for the airport, I tried the security guards at our compound. But guess what - they were only responsible for the security from our gate and in the compound. So basically - they could not care less. So I walked to the main gate and talked with the security people over there - knowing that they are responsible for the security on the whole of Banana Island. Much the same story. From their place we could even see the place where he was still laying. "Dead is dead and no security risk to us" were their responce.

Finally I talked to a member of the Nigerian Police Force. A nice gentleman I have chatted with earlier on (motobikes, soccer, tattos and music). He seemed very uncomfortable with the situation. He understood that I thought he should do something, and he clearly wanted to - but were still rather reluctant and slow. After using a bit of persuation and begging for help he agreed to call some local authorities if he could use my phone. His had no credit left, he claimed.

Well I let him borrow my phone. And while he were talking I noticed the stream of people just passing by the corps not doing anything. To me this was amazing. Some just looked at him, and the walked on - others clearly tried to avoid seing him. It was a chilling experience.

But after talking to local people and people who have lived here for many years I have a better understanding of some of the drivers that prevent you from doing anything, and I understand the meaning of the question the policeman asked me: "Did you touch him?" No I did not, and it turns out that if I had indeed touched him, his relatives could claim I had harmed him and demanded me to pay for the funeral or pay them damage for harming the body. This also explain how a man knocked down and killed on the road just outside our office were left were he fell on the road for hours without anybody moving the body to the the side or off the street - but just covered him partly with some cardboard while they took care of his bike.

The other driver is the reputation of the police. I have now heard stories of people who have reported the findings of dead body to the wrong policemen. They ended up spending hours in the local police station answering questions not even remotely relevant for the case (at least not in our way of thinking). I heard about a German guy who was told to write down all the cities with dates for when he had visited them - the last five years! Not at all an easy task to do for the last year. And the relevance for the dead body? May be to check with Interpol if this guy has a habit of reporting dead people wherever he goes?

After this experience I have asked our local security coordinator at work to give us a briefing on how to deal with a situation like this. His response were great. We just call him - and he will fix it for us.

And friday - the body were gone. I assume someone finally picked him up and got him removed.