I was about 6 years old so I don’t remember many details. Domestic air transportation in those days was a nightmare from what I can remember. It seemed as if Nigeria Airways was the only airline available to for air travel within Nigeria. At the domestic airport, I remember a crowd of people all shouting at someone who I assume worked for Nigeria Airways and who was sensibly standing inside a ‘cage’ made of a hard, opaque material from the feet to the waist and a wire mesh from the waist upwards. Somehow, my mother had managed to wriggle to the front of the crowd tugging me along with her. I vaguely remember her yelling to the person behind the cage ‘We need a ticket for Abuja! See, I’m travelling with my daughter’ at which point she would lift me as high as she could. Apparently, being able to afford the ticket to Abuja wasn’t enough – you had to show you were more desperate than other travelers. We eventually got the tickets though.
I don’t remember actually getting on or off the plane but I do remember that since sitting arrangements weren’t followed (of course), I was separated from my mum. I almost burst into tears from worry but she noted I had been placed next to a female teenager dressed in a school uniform, told me I would be okay and went to her seat. As soon as I sat down, my companion (I don’t remember her name now though I desperately wish I could) set about entertaining me. It turned out she was a junior student at Federal Government College, Abuja and by the time we were half-way through the flight, I had decided that that was the secondary school I wanted to attend. She was so sweet to me – I don’t remember worrying about my mother or what would happen to me. I just felt safe. I didn’t end up going to Federal Government College, Abuja but I will always remember that kind, young girl.
Abuja was amazing to me. I had been outside Lagos before but only to Abeokuta in Ogun state and even at that young age, I realised Abeokuta was never going to be an exciting town. Abuja seemed to have a bit of the energy of Lagos or maybe I projected my 6-year old energy onto my experience. My mother and I were in Abuja to see my dad who worked there briefly. He acted as our guide on that short visit. Dad took us to a market where I saw vultures for the first time in my life. They were even uglier than had been described in the books I had read and I was appalled that they sat undisturbed on the roofs of the stalls of the meat-sellers at the market. I remember making a note to avoid meat throughout my stay there.
Part of the reason I remember that trip to Abuja so fondly was I felt like my parents treated me like an adult. One night, my parents told me to dress up then we went to meet some friends of their friends at Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel (which is now called Transcorp Hilton Hotel). I remember we went to a bar where there was a band playing music. I remember eating crisps and being offered more soft drink. And I remember my parents’ friends making small talk with me. I smiled, looked around and thought ‘so this is what adults do when they go out at night’.
We only spent a few days in Abuja then it was back to Lagos for my mum and I. I don’t remember the plane ride back to Lagos so I assume my mother and I sat together – no adventure there. It was a short holiday but that first plane ride and indeed my first time in Abuja are memories I know will stay with me forever.
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