As I write this, late on Sunday evening, I have been on the ground in Abuja for 2 days. Our Smarter Cities Challenge kicks off tomorrow morning – but a lot has transpired since my last (and only) blog entry, and I didn’t want the weekend to pass without writing down my first impressions and experiences here.
Before I left home, I didn’t have any time to mentally prepare for my Abuja trip, as I was neck-deep in other work till the day before my departure. I got home with <16 hours to pack for my three-week trip and say my byes to the family.
My flight to Abuja via Frankfurt was uneventful – till we were about to touch down in Abuja. Thunderstorms over the airfield necessitated the airline captain to divert to Port Harcourt and we eventually reached Abuja four hours behind schedule. I used that extra time to catch up on movies (Hidden Figures – Thumbs Up, Rock On 2 – Thumbs Down).
En route to Abuja – Panama hat – check, neon-inflected running shoes – check, reading material – check
Sunset at the Port Harcourt airport
Nigeria – Abuja’s in the center, Lagos is SW & Port Harcourt is SE
Its 9 PM by the time I finally exit the Abuja airport. Traffic to my hotel is sparse. Initial impressions of the highways – pretty good! The thunderstorms that delayed my arrival cooled the city down a bit – but it was a fair sight warmer than the mild spring weather I’d left behind in Fairfax, Virginia.
Warm, getting to hot, with thunderstorms in the forecast
I check into my home for the next 3 weeks – The Nordic Hotel. It is a pleasant, low slung building and I find my room more than adequate. In 30 minutes, I am all unpacked and ready to hit the sack.
Saturday morning, I am up early and raring to check out my immediate surroundings. I take a stroll around the hotel building before breakfast.
My home for the next three weeks
The pool at the club building adjoining the hotel – note the ‘artfully” disguised palm tree / cell phone tower
The work area in my room
Next stop – the gym. It is a surprisingly well-equipped one, with everything I could ask for. A quick workout later, I’m headed back for a shower and change. Since I hadn’t made contact with any of my teammates yet, I decide to call their rooms to get everyone together for lunch. After three pre-work calls over the past month or so, we finally meet and start the serious business of getting to know each other.
The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Abuja team – clockwise from top left – Marvin from Atlanta, Sam from Cairo via Dubai, yours truly (Radhesh, Indian American from Washington, DC), Divine from Manila and Maria from San Diego / Outer Banks
Lunch was my introduction to Nigerian food. My current pescatarian existence proved to be not much of a constraining factor – I get grilled fish (spicy and good). Post-lunch, Marvin and I set out on an expedition to the nearby cash-and-carry. We wanted to get some supplies, but more importantly, we wanted to get acquainted with our neighborhood. The cash-and-carry was huge, and seemed to have everything under the sun. For no particular reason, I found myself buying a bottle of Guinness African special, brewed with spices and herbs (watch this space for my post-consumption review).
Brewed with African herbs and spices
We trudge back to the hotel laden with goodies – and it’s already time to head out with the team for dinner. We are joined by Remi, the valiant IBM Corporate Citizenship Manager for Nigeria and Judy, from the Government Relations team. Judy takes us to an army barracks, where there is a bunch of “joints” – ultra-casual outdoor eating and drinking places, with loud music and the TVs showing soccer matches. The menu is simple – grilled whole fish – catfish and croaker. While the fish are grilling, we get busy imbibing. When it comes, the fish is spectacular – spicy, tender and eaten sans utensils.
Judy (in red) with our WIP dinner
Sunday morning, we get to work. We have a team room set up at the hotel, and we spend several hours preparing for our kickoff meeting the next day. Post-lunch, we get a quick driving tour of the city.
The team at work
The highlight of the day is dinner. We are joined by Dipo, the GM of IBM Nigeria, and Ann, the Nigeria head of Pyxera, who’s doing a lot of the coordination and logistics for our project. The restaurant has Nigerian and South Indian (!) menus – here’s a look at the South Indian portion.
The South Indian portion of the dinner menu – legit !
I’m torn – and decide to sample from both menus – which makes for a rather unconventional but delicious meal. I know where to come if I start getting food-homesick
Kathakali painting in an Abuja restaurant
As of this writing, anticipation is high for the kickoff session tomorrow, and the upcoming three weeks of intense work (and not-work)