Category: Nigeria and Ghana, 2013

Meeting Our “Nigerian Family”

August 24

Up at five, but felt rather well rested. One more day, and I figure that I’ll be on local time.

Down for breakfast in the hotel with our group at 8 AM. Spent the rest of the morning in the air conditioned hotel restaurant, implementing Funmi’s clever idea of having people come to see us, rather than our having to run around to see them. Spent time with two of the young Nigerians who were with us poolside last night, Ayo and Uche, exploring a wide range of business ideas. In the 1990’s Nigeria suffered a real “brain drain,” with many talented young people going abroad and not returning, due to a perceived lack of opportunity. That seems to be reversing now, with young people seeing unlimited opportunities to make money here, and the political climate improving somewhat (though it has a very long way to go still).

We were also visited by a person in charge of medical research for a large pharmaceutical company, called Novartis. He and the Olopades all seem to think that a partnership between his company and the University of Chicago was a natural, a win-win situation, giving the U of C access to large amounts of data and giving Navaris the research help of the U of C, along with attendant credibility.

Other discussions with the Olopades included Nigerian traditions of child raising that infused children with a sense of their goodness and value, which interested Susie a great deal. Family songs, Orikis, were created to reflect this practice and to tell the family story, and we will hear some when we visit Sola and Funmi’s mothers tomorrow. We also spent time discussing issues of medical ethics, an area of passion and expertise of Sola.

In the afternoon, we headed off to an art gallery, Terra Culture, which had some well-made wood sculpture and also “paintings” made of buttons. Interesting, good and competent work, but not exceptional. We ate lunch at a restaurant that was part of the gallery. After lunch, we headed for a market area called Lekki, stopping en route at a small marketplace where we changed money with somebody who provides better rates than are available in banks. On the way to Lekki, we drove through Bananna Island, a very high end area, with large, expensive homes and upscale offices.

Lekki is an area that houses stalls of merchants selling crafts of all kinds, as well as clothing. The area was set up by the government to create a place where people could come to shop and buy from a large number of merchants. The market is like many we’ve seen around Africa and Asia, with rows of owners trying to entice you in to their shops/stalls to look at their wares, which they were offering you a “good price” on. The market was interesting enough, but less colorful than some others we’ve seen. The Olopades and Kipharts purchased a few things, and Carol bargained for a couple native-styled dresses for granddaughters, Zoe and Phoebe. At the market, we ran into a Nigerian from Chicago, Ayo, who the Olopades knew, who had purchased a lot of art in the market over the years, who led us around. Ayo was with a Swiss wealth management guy, Marcel, who he’d met the night before. Of course, Funmi, who knows everyone in the world, knew Marcel’s boss, who had thrown a fund raising dinner for the Global Health Initiative in Winnetka. Ayo snapped a photo of Funmi and Marcel to email to Funmi’s friend.

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We headed back to the hotel to shower and change, then rushed out to dinner at an upscale hotel, a surprise party to celebrate Dick’s 72nd birthday. We got lost on the way to the hotel, and there were hilarious exchanges between Funmi, who was barking orders to the driver and demanding his cell phone to seek directions, and Sola, who was telling Funmi to “chill.” Funmi is not a chilling-type person.

Eventually, we made it to the dinner, which Funmi had orchestrated to bring her “Chicago family” together with six Nigerian friends, who she called her “Nigerian family”. There was a printed dinner menu for Dick’s birthday, with choices for each course. All the Nigerians were dressed in local garb, the women in flamboyant dresses, and the men in stylish, understated suits. Unfortunately, I had not brought my camera, but Carol has good, video footage.

One of the women was a high school friend of Funmi’s and one of the men was a high school roommate of Sola. They called each other, “My Boy” and the husband of Funmi’s friend was referred to as, “the Prince.” This was a very educated and highly-successful group of people in their early sixties, and included a prominent lawyer, a woman who worked for the Ford Foundation, an oil and gas consultant, a woman who ran an NGO that made micro-loans to small women farmers, a highly successful business man with varying business interests, including converting cassava into ethanol, and a woman who ran a catering business that sold to airlines. They were not short of opinions, vociferously expressed, on a wide range of topics, so it was a very lively evening, punctuated frequently with boisterous outbursts of laughter. The twelve of us were joined at a separate table, by five young professionals with whom we visited after singing happy birthday to Dick and watching him blow out the candles on the cake the Olopades had bought.

We headed back to the hotel, tired but exhilarated from a most memorable evening.

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