Thursday, April 15, 2010

First impressions of Abuja

The 30-kilometer road from the airport to town is beautiful. Paved and smooth, it is lined with trees, the green contrasting with the orange-brown dirt. It is in the process of being widened, to five lines on each side, so a cloud of dust billowed over the road while workers did their jobs.

There isn’t a whole lot to see between the airport and town, but I still got the very clear feeling of being in Africa. The first thing I noticed was the soil. Something about African earth stands out to me. Perhaps because it is more visible than elsewhere, where it might be tarred over or forested. Perhaps because of the hue it takes on. Or perhaps because of the deep, rich scent. But it moves me and makes me happy to be here.

I saw a billboard urging people to Say No to Overloading vehicles. A man walked down the street carrying an old black sewing machine with a hand crank on his head. Muslim mean wore colorful long robes and pants and round, flat embroidered hats. The non-Muslims dressed spiffily, in suits, slacks, skirts and blouses. I saw fruit – mango, papaya and other items I couldn’t identify- sold in buckets at the side of the road. Peddlers offered their wares to backed up traffic.

My driver was listening to Love FM, a nice blend of music, BBC-like local news and commentary. A short sermon by a Reverend talked about fasting during Lent. I was struck by his understanding and inclusiveness. He said the Bible offers no command regarding fasting and it’s an individual choice. One who fasts should not be ostentatious about it, nor should one judge others who make a different decision. He reminded listeners that there are some who can’t get enough to eat on a daily basis and there is no reason for them to fast. It was positive, uplifting and promoted understanding of others – a contrast to the religious discourse I hear on the radio at home.

The city of Abuja seems to be made up of a lot of new buildings, separated by wide, paved roads. It doesn’t appear to be very pedestrian friendly, as the dust pervades even the city center. My driver pointed out the beautiful gold domed mosque, and the Christian church across from it. He said there are more Muslims than Christian in this area. He showed me the various government offices, most of which looked new and modern. My hotel looks out at the federal police headquarters, a massive white structure that looks more like the United Nations than an African government ministry.

My initial impressions are good – better than I expected actually – and I’m looking forward to seeing and learning more

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